Meet Ruth O’Mahony.
She’s a 49 year old physician-turned health content manager who struggled for years with unhealthy eating, yoyo-dieting, lack of movement, and a constant struggle to stick with anything for more than a few weeks before life got in the way.
This is something we can all relate to!
Although she found Nerd Fitness in early 2015, she spent months telling herself “I’m not ready yet, I’ll get started someday.” So she signed up for our email list, said “eventually!” and did nothing.
After she could barely close the seatbelt on a flight to Disney (where just walking was a chore), her mentality started to change “maybe ‘someday’ will never happen…I need to change my strategy on this.”
Fast Forward 7 months…. and she had a support group to learn from, a basic plan to follow, and excitedly started her push towards a better life.
So WHAT happened? Why, after 11 months of reading Nerd Fitness did she FINALLY take action? How did she go from “I’ll level up someday” to “I level up every day”? How did she drop 70+ pounds, go down 10+ clothing sizes, and radically transform her life?
Steve: Hi Ruth! Thanks for being here to share your whole story. I know after a YEAR of reading Nerd Fitness, you finally invested in yourself and joined the Nerd Fitness Academy. I’d love to hear about those first few workouts and diet changes. How did that go when you first started?
Ruth: When I first started the workouts, I couldn’t do all of the reps, so I did what I could. I also had to modify almost all of the exercises. I did pushups from a bookshelf that was high enough that it was effectively the wall. I did box squats and assisted split squats and leaned super heavily on the counter. I took a mindset of ‘can I do a little more?’ with every workout – can I lean on the counter less, can I get a little lower to the floor, can I do one more rep? Trying to do just a little more each time has really led to giant progress.
At this point I was still having “meh” days. I occasionally had a day where part of my brain says: ‘Why is this so HARD?’ but the NF Academy Women’s FB group was awesome when those days hit. I used it as a place to check in, for accountability, for feeling like part of a community on similar journeys. I realized how important that was the first time I posted an ‘I need encouragement, ladies’ thing and IMMEDIATELY got tons of encouragement.
Steve: I love that, because I know how important a community can be that will support and help you (and keep you accountable!). Now I hear, you fell in love with the idea of the Academy Boss Battles. What was it about them?:
Ruth: I remember when I defeated General DOMS [our level 1 boss] and moved on to Level 2 workouts. What was surprising to me is that I shortly after that went on vacation in July and I didn’t get derailed! I walked and WALKED on vacation, and put together a plan to get back into the workouts, which I stuck to. By that time, I’d defeated The Widowmaker, so I went on to level 3…and even tried the GYM!
And since then I eventually scraped up the courage (20 seconds of courage for the win!) to go to the gym I was actually paying for, and I couldn’t even lift my feet to do a proper bar hang at first. Now I can! Now I can do 25 lb farmer’s carries, 6 pushups with decent form, and I use less and less assistance on the pullup machine each day.
Steve: YES! Nothing makes me happier than seeing somebody (male or female) kicking ass in the weight section of the gym. After all, you have just as much of a right to be there as anybody else. High five!
I want to know, have you tried and failed to get healthy before in the past? What made this time different?
Ruth: I have. I was pretty fit at one point in my late 20s thanks to the US Air Force, but I hated the fact that it was mandated and stopped almost everything when I got out. I tried a few different things in the interim (Tae-Bo, yoga, a treadmill, even a couple of Xbox Kinect games). It was all-or-nothing, boom-or-bust, and nothing to show for it.
Steve: Now, judging by these recent photos you’ve lost a TON of weight. What else has changed about you?
Ruth: Yeah, I’ve gone from a Size 28 to a Size 18, and I’m doing it SUSTAINABLY!
I can fasten a seatbelt on an airplane without difficulty. I ran around Disney without having to stop and catch my breath – and I walked all over London (so many stairs!) without thinking about “I’m going to get tired, how will I get back to the hotel”.
I can pick up my neighbor’s three and a half year old who is the size of a five year old and swing him around, much to his delight. I lift big boxes into the house rather than waiting for my husband. I have enough energy to car dance – you know, when that awesome song comes on the radio and you dance in your seat?
Steve: Dancing and singing is the #1 reason for having a car.
Okay so it took Ruth 11 months to get her mindset right, and now she’s a badass! What did she do?
How Ruth Became a Badass
Steve: You adapted a mindset of leveling up and progression that’s helped you get excited to work out. How did those workouts develop?
Ruth: I’m working my through the different levels of Academy workouts, and I’ve ‘levelled up’ almost all of the exercises in that level which keeps me excited about what I can do.
On other days, I’m either walking or doing what I’ll call ‘running training’ every day – three days a week, I’m out in the morning and doing run/walk intervals. I started with CouchTo5K but couldn’t ramp up that quickly. Old me probably would have thrown in the towel. New me bought an interval timer app and constructed custom intervals that ramp me up a little more slowly, but at a pace that works for me.
On the days that I’m not doing that, I’m still walking.
I had a bad week a few weeks ago, and the old me would have given up. New me reached out to the ladies in the NF Academy Facebook group, got reassurance that ‘eh, bad runs happen sometimes, and if it gets to be a pattern, talk to your doc about it,’ and got back out there the next time I was scheduled to do it.
Steve: I love that you’ve got ‘hooked’ on getting better. It’s definitely a mindset shift from “I have to work out” to “I GET to work out…what can I do today?” So talk to me about support. It sounds like you have both one in real life and the online support group too here at NF.
Ruth: Yea, the NF Women’s FB group is an amazing and special group of women – they have been massively supportive.
In my regular day-to-day, I also have two neighbors who have said that if I pick a 5K race, they’ll come run it with me – and they mean really run it with me, every step by my side. The across the street neighbor runs marathons and has said that she HATES running shorter distances, but she wants to support me, so she’ll run a 5K with me!
Steve: Perfect. So that covers your mindset and workout strategy: “get better, surround yourself with supportive people!” Let’s talk about your nutritional strategy!
Ruth: Eat real food, not too much of it, don’t eat too many carbs, and track everything. I use MyFitnessPal and track everything. I kind of find it weirdly freeing.
When my neighbor comes over with dinner, instead of trying to figure out whether or not I should eat that delicious rice dish, I pull up my tracker and I know exactly how much of it fits into my ‘budget.’
I’ve also tried to take a sensible approach on sweets – if there’s a dessert that I know is absolutely phenomenal and it’s a special occasion? I have it, and enjoy every single bite. I eat it mindfully, and savor it, and by doing that, I find that I don’t really want it very often.
Steve: “Eat Real food, and not too much of it” – amazingly simple philosophy. And I love that you don’t feel guilty about eating something that might not be super healthy. It’s a conscious decision to eat it, just like it’s a conscious decision to get right back on track after!
Are there any tricks you used to get yourself to a point where you could follow it regularly?
Ruth: In the beginning I got into the habit of batch cooking things for lunches and making sure I have 2-3 weeks worth of healthy, tasty, homemade frozen lunches, and had really good stuff in the house for breakfasts and dinners. It takes the cognitive load out of eating healthy – AND it actually makes getting breakfast or lunch from a fast food joint into the more difficult option, because I have to get in my car and drive somewhere to acquire the junk food as opposed to eating the healthy thing that’s in my desk at work.
Steve: Brilliant…working smarter, not harder. Make the healthy eating option EASIER, and the fast food even less convenient! Okay, you changed a LOT. What was the toughest change for you to make?
Ruth: I think it was mindset, really. I had to abandon my “all or nothing” mentality because it was sabotaging me! I had to be OK with slow and incremental progress. I had to become okay with taking tiny steps that continually went forward instead of doing everything all at once and flaming out which I had done in the past.
Steve: So, how did you get there? What was the biggest change that helped you succeed
Ruth: Making fitness and nutrition into habits. Habit gets me out of bed at 4:30AM to go for a walk when the motivation fairy has flown off. The motivation fairy is a flaky friend – she never hangs around for long. Habit and discipline get me through and help me chase the Sloth Demon away.
Steve: What about tracking your progress? Did you use a scale, measurements, or photos?
Ruth: I weigh in once a week or every other week, and I measure neck, biceps, bust, under bust, waist, hips, thighs, and calves once a month. I also see my doc as scheduled, and the biochemical measurements are also changing for the better.
Steve: “That which gets measured gets improved.” You’re proving that adage true! What would you tell others in your “start” situation who is ready to try again and succeed this time?
- Know that you are worth it. You deserve to be healthy and fit, you deserve to carve that time out for yourself.
- It is 100% OK to start with tiny baby steps. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk for 10 minutes, try 5. Then build on that.
- Your big why has to be YOUR big why – not what you think society thinks it should be.
Steve: Now that you have conquered this phase of the journey, what’s next?
Ruth: Working on pull-up progressions and handstand progressions on the workout front, also on increasing number of pullups, etc. I just beat “Berserxes the Squat King” and advanced to Level 4 on the NF Academy workouts, so plenty of challenges there!
On the personal development front, I recently finished a foundation course offered by an international organization and found out I’ve been accepted to their content development course starting in January!
Steve: Okay, on to the important stuff: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?
Ruth: I have the White Tree of Gondor tattooed on my left shoulder – so definitely Lord of the Rings. I love both, though!
Steve: Favorite video game of all time?
Ruth: Mass Effect (all three of them, despite the ending of ME3, and I am SUPER STOKED for Mass Effect: Andromeda)
Steve: Quote to live by?
Ruth: ‘Breathe in, breathe out, move on,’ Jimmy Buffett.
How Ruth Did It. How You can too.
What made Ruth find success this time where she had failed tons of times in the past? It started with brutal honesty and ALSO self-love:
She accepted where she was starting from and finally knew where she was going: She decided she was worthy of the life she wanted, and realized that it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing” – that just a little bit is better than nothing. And that a little bit consistently, step-by-step, can go a LONG way.
In her words, “When I think about where I was in January 2015 – if you’d told me then that I would be where I am today, I’d have laughed myself sick!” I love that.
She accepted it was tough work, but possible. We all have to start somewhere, and it can be depressing if we don’t see progress right away. If you can stick with it (THANK YOU SUPPORT GROUP!), you can build small habits. One day, you’ll get to a place (and maybe a LOT sooner than you think) where you’re looking back and saying WOW, I did that!
She started. This might be the most important step of all. Ruth spent 11 months reading Nerd Fitness articles before finally giving herself permission to try, fail, stumble, fall, and take baby steps. She could have overwhelmed herself with how far she had to go, so instead she just focused on what she could do TODAY:
- She started walking for at least a half hour every day. (It’s how Tim lost 50 pounds.)
- She began making IMMEDIATE incremental changes to her diet. She started tracking her meals, ate a veggie with every meal, and eliminated all white bread.
These changes might seem small, but they added up and made a HUGE difference in a short amount of time. If they seem TOO big of a change to you, make a smaller one!
She gamified her life and fell in love with progress: By tracking her progress rigorously along the way (using the scale and measurements), she could make sure she was still on the right path and course correct when she wasn’t advancing physically (through measurements/photos/scale) or athletically (not making progress or leveling up on the workouts after a while).
Because she knew where she was going, she could make adjustments to her diet or workout strategy and stay on target!
She had a great support team: Life never works out exactly as planned. Shit happens. We get busy. Life gets in the way. If we don’t have a plan to support us during these times, we don’t have an avenue to succeed; it’s that simple!
When things were tough, Ruth had a whole network of people to lean on. The amazingly supportive NF Academy Women’s group and her real life neighbors provided words of encouragement and advice when training got tough or she fell off the wagon.
Follow in Ruth’s Footsteps
If you find yourself in “Before” Ruth’s shoes, here’s what you can do today to change:
- Accept this is NOT all or nothing. Small changes and baby steps will win out in the long run.
- Accept you ARE worthy of a life and body you’re proud of.
- Acknowledge the journey might be hard, but it is possible and you are capable of change.
- Start. Today. Go for a walk. Eat a vegetable. Be deliberate, but start.
- Track your progress. Photos, measurements, scale. Do so every 2 weeks.
- Get hooked on getting better – You don’t HAVE to work out. You GET to work out.
- Surround yourself with positive people, virtually or in real life, who will support you and keep you accountable.
Don’t wait for January 1st, beach season, or your next big event to start. Ruth needed 11 months to invest in herself before she decided “I might as well get started.”
I want TODAY to be the day you get started. Eat a veggie for lunch and go for a walk. Recruit a buddy on your walk during your lunch break.
And then down the road, I want you to email me YOUR NF success story so you can inspire a few hundred thousand people too.
PS: We’re really freaking proud that Ruth applied our mindset, nutritional, and workout strategies from the Nerd Fitness Academy to change her life. I’d be honored if you checked it out and decide if it’s something that could help you on your journey. With over 25,000 students, and a 60-day guarantee, it might be the thing you need.
PPS: Seriously though, just go for a walk. That’s all you need to change your life.