I want you to meet Maya, known as StarsApart on the NF Boards, a proud member of the Rebellion and one heck of a success story.
Like many folks, Maya was fairly fit her teens and early twenties, but when she entered grad school, that all fell apart. She graduated completely out of shape, and the weight piled up: 30 lbs, 40, 50, and beyond.
Maya got stuck in a cycle, and for years let a poor diet add pounds to her waistline. She was in a place in her life where she wasn’t happy with herself or her situation and had spent a year doing hours upon hours of cardio only to see no results.
Finally, after a contest at work (and becoming a Rebel armed with the right tools) got her kick-started, Maya began to turn things around.
Just over a year later, she’s accomplished a TON. In her own words, here’s what Maya has done:
- I lost 70+ pounds.
- I went from a size 14 in dresses/pants to a size 2.
- I cut almost all processed foods out of my diet and began home-cooking everything.
- I threw away my fear and tried parkour.
- I balanced Crow pose. For a record of 20 seconds so far. With a freaking boot on my leg.
- I can now deadlift 170 lbs. That’s more than I weigh.
- I rehabbed a broken bone to almost perfect health (still a work in progress, but I’m at the tail end).
- I tried aerial and discovered I love acrobatics.
- I can climb a rope (or silks) up to a 25 ft ceiling. I could never climb anything before in my life.
- I ran a 5k. Only a month after my foot came out of its brace.
- I can go snowshoeing up a mountain in the snow for 2.5 hours without losing my cool – or my breath.
- I have abs. They still shock me when I look at myself in the mirror. Actually, I’m just shocked by the person I see in the mirror.
Today she’s 70 lbs lighter, and a whole new person. Let’s take a look at how she did it.
Steve: Hey Maya! Or Should I call you StarsApart? Can you tell the Community who are you, and what you do?
I’m Maya, and I do so many things that I hardly know where to begin! My alter-ego is a marketing analyst who spends her days dissecting data, but by night I turn into a professional singer, or an amateur aerialist, or sometimes just a tea-obsessed gamer, dreamer, and cat mom. I wear a lot of hats, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m always off chasing something shiny.
Steve: I know what that’s li…OOOH a butterfly! Anyways, let’s go back in time: What was the old you like?
It’s a pretty sad picture: wake up exhausted, having stayed up far too late the night prior. Consume several cups of black tea with an embarrassing amount of sugar, pull myself together, and make my sleepy way to work.
Go to rehearsal, come home, and zone out in front of my PS3 until it’s suddenly 3am. Rinse, repeat.
Steve: I know there are a lot of Rebels who can relate to that lifestyle, myself included. So what flipped the switch? Was there a specific moment when you decided to make a change?
At the start of 2014, I was at my lowest emotional point in years. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I felt completely hopeless and helpless for a variety of reasons: my self-esteem was at an all-time low, and just going through the motions seemed exhausting. Fast forward to April 1, 2014 – there was a challenge going around my company which required 5 days of workouts a week for 2 months. There was a $20 buy-in and the winner would collect the pot.
At that time, I was already visiting the gym a few times a week, but with utterly NO success because I had not yet realized that I couldn’t out-Zumba my cookie habit. I have pretty extreme willpower when I choose to apply it, so I don’t renege on commitments.
I thought: maybe I can’t control much in my life right now, but at least I can win that money (spoiler: I did). We were asked to track our workouts in MyFitnessPal, so I made an account and figured, why not try tracking my food intake, too?
On my 30th birthday in May, which I had approached with dread, I woke up and thought, “why am I torturing myself? Why do I have to be unhappy all the time? Why do I care what everyone thinks of me?” The first positive thoughts I’d had in months, and I clung to them. I rocked a job interview (which would lead to a new position shortly after!) and started living. I kept calorie counting and exercising even though I believed that I wouldn’t lose any weight. I made myself not care – at least I was taking care of myself…and the weight started to come off.
I discovered Nerd Fitness in July and finally found an online community where I fit in – the final missing piece. Then, in early August, the stumble that inadvertently changed everything: I broke my ankle.
So I started lifting, because what else could I do in a boot? And that’s how I discovered strength training.
Steve: I love that attitude! “I can’t fix everything, but at least I have control over my body, so let’s start there.” What’s a typical day like now?
I’m still not an early bird, but I wake up fairly refreshed because I make it a point to get 8 hours of sleep a night.
My tea is as likely to be green or white as black, and there’s no sugar in it anymore. My breakfast and lunch are already packed and ready to go. In fact, chances are I’ve planned the whole day’s meals in advance.
Instead of taking a lunch break, I head down to the at-work gym for lifting or a group class, depending on the day. The cafeteria ladies don’t know my name anymore, nor do the restaurant servers at my old favorite haunts.
After work, it’s rehearsal or aerial, followed by ravenous devouring of a protein-rich dinner and an early-ish bedtime. Though I’ll still vegetate with a game or a book some days, if I have time!
Steve: Sounds like the leveled-up Maya to me. Freaking awesome. You mentioned it earlier, but tell us a bit more about your exercise strategy?
I started out trying to cardio my way to fitness, and boy oh boy, that didn’t work. These days, most of my workouts have a strength component, though I try to cycle through muscle groups to give my body enough recovery time.
I build my weekly exercise schedule around the idea of 2 days at the aerial gym (soon to be 3!), 2 days of barbell lifts, and at least 1 day of yoga. I still enjoy the occasional Zumba class, but I’m more likely to take one on an active rest day…. or on an aerial day as a bit of extra activity.
Steve: I’m not gonna lie, I love that you love barbell strength training. So, we know that diet is a much bigger component than we often give it credit for. What has been your diet game plan?
I jokingly call my way of eating “paleo plus,” although I guess I fall more in the “If it fits your macros” camp if you want to be technical. I eat mostly whole foods with an emphasis on meats and veggies, with moderate amounts of legumes, fruit, and dairy.
I have no adverse reaction to lactose, and I always neglected calcium in the past. A recent broken bone really drove home to me the fact that I ought to be more careful about that – besides, as someone who once lived in France, I cannot envision a life without good cheese! I also eat grains a few times a month, particularly on heavy workout days.
In any case, I have few hard and fast rules other than a complete, 100% avoidance of HFCS, but functionally this means that I don’t eat almost anything processed.
I also count every bite (or sip) that goes in my mouth and stick to my calorie limits. I’m a data geek anyway, so I’ve taken to calorie counting with relative ease. I like the feeling of balancing my macros – for me, it’s kind of like putting a puzzle together. Besides, it’s amazing how much stronger I feel when I get it right!
Steve: Being strong rules! Looking back, what was the toughest change for you to make?
Giving up (most) sweets. I have such a sweet tooth! In the past, I could easily mow through a package of cookies in one sitting. Just thinking about that now makes me a little queasy……
I ratcheted the sweets down over the course of a few months, and I still allow myself small servings of dessert occasionally, provided I can still balance my macros. That way I don’t feel too deprived, which makes my system sustainable for me.
Steve: As a data nerd, how did you track your progress?
I didn’t start out taking photos, or measurements, or even weighing myself. When I first began to change, it was with the self-defeating thought in mind that I could not actually make a difference. Remember, I just wanted to win that pot of money… and prove a point to myself.
Then I visited the doctor a couple months later and realized I had lost some weight and I was shocked – and hungry for more results. I now take progress photos at the beginning and end of every Nerd Fitness challenge cycle.
I also weigh in and do measurements weekly.
Steve: What would you say was the most important change you made?
Lifting, absolutely. It’s embarrassing how terrified I used to be of free weights, but in August of last year, just as I was starting to really see results from my diet changes and increased activity levels, I broke my ankle.
I refused to quit working out, but almost everything I had done up to that point was off the table. I finally swallowed my fear and engaged a trainer for a few weeks to provide me with a lifting regimen that I could follow while I was limping around in a boot.
By the time the boot came off, my weight loss had taken off, my arms and back were looking significantly more toned, and I was completely sold on free weights!
As soon as the doctor cleared me, I moved on from my cobbled-together dumbbell program to Stronglifts 5×5. I can’t say enough positive things about lifting – I love love love feeling strong and capable!
Besides, when I finally followed a longtime dream of trying aerial acrobatics, the base of strength I’d built allowed me to progress much more quickly to more advanced skills and combinations.
Steve: You mean you used free weights and didn’t bulk up? Who knew! What did your support system look like?
I started with nobody. Then, slowly, I got my spouse on board.
A friend introduced me to Nerd Fitness around the same time and I’ve met so many wonderful and inspiring people via the forums!
The message boards really are my home away from home. If not for the forums, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to try things like parkour or aerial silks.
Now I’m always up for a new adventure, and I can usually find someone on the forums to offer advice and geek out with me about my progress. What a wonderful community!!!
Steve: We’re proud to have you in the community. Seriously. Thanks for being you, and being here 🙂 So, had you tried and failed to get healthy before in the past? What made this time different?
I’ve definitely failed before. After a few months of cardio (and unknowingly eating back everything I’d burned) I’d get frustrated and quit. This time was different because I finally figured out the root of the problem, and the universe tossed me an opportunity disguised as a setback when I broke a bone. A combination of sensible eating and strength training brought results – and once I saw results, I refused to quit!
Steve: What would you tell somebody in your situation right now to help them? Somebody who’s tried and failed but ready to try again?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Find a way to have fun with it. But most importantly, show up. Show up every day. You’re going to have bad days and sad days and painful days, but tenacity will get you everywhere. I promise. Just keep showing up and trust the process, and someday, you will look down and realize you’ve climbed higher than you ever believed possible.
Steve: You’ve already accomplished so much! What’s the next challenge for you?
I’m adding aerial hoop to my repertoire of skills! I’ve had a bit of introduction to the apparatus, but focused mostly on silks until now. And speaking of the silks, I’m starting to choreograph simple sequences for myself now.
I’m not aiming for Cirque du Soleil or anything, but I’d like to perform someday. There are plenty of local opportunities for aerialists – all I need to do is keep working on my skills until I’m up to par!
Steve: LOVE IT! What a unique activity and I love your attitude towards it. So, your physical appearance has changed. What else has changed about you?
My attitude is completely different. Most of the difficulties in my life weren’t a direct result of my fitness, but my fitness journey has taught me that I have more control over my life than I ever thought possible.That was the first building block to putting myself back together.
I’m much more positive now, and much more likely to take an optimistic outlook on things. I still struggle sometimes with my inner demons – who doesn’t? – but I’m better equipped to fight them now.
They’re never going to win, because I’m stronger than they are.
Steve: That last line is absolutely incredible. Thank you for sharing that…ugh look what you made me do. Okay, anyways! On to the nerdy stuff: Jason Bourne or James Bond?
James Bond. He’s a classy guy.
Steve: Favorite video game of all time?
Dragon Age: Origins wins by a narrow margin, with honorable mentions going to almost every game in the Final Fantasy franchise.
Steve: Do you have any nerdy passions or pursuits?
Although I’ve pared it down considerably, I still have a pretty massive collection of anime and manga. I read a ton of fantasy and occasionally write some of my own, though my most recent noveling project, Against All Odds, is about space pirates. Go figure? Also, true nerd cred: I stood in line for midnight releases of every Harry Potter book or movie. There may have been costumes involved.
Steve: You’re full of amazing nerdiness and now you’re strong as hell too. What else should we know?
I’m a trained opera singer, though these days I sing only part time in a professional classical chorus. Life took me another route and I no longer regret it, but if you ever want to geek out for hours about Mozart or Puccini, please contact me. Seriously. I need more music nerds in my life.
Steve: Thank you thank you thank you for sharing your story. Seriously. And thanks for making me cry a bit…not even kidding.
Why Maya Was Successful
After several failed attempts, Maya finally found a recipe to get healthy. What was the key to her success?
- She realized she couldn’t outrun her diet: Maya didn’t realize it until after the fact, but she was sabotaging her work in the gym with her choices in the kitchen. This is why hours upon hours of cardio never resulted in progress! It’s no surprise that this is Rule #4 of the Rebellion! In our humble view, exercise is actually the LEAST important part of the equation. If you put your focus on eating right, you’re already 80-90% there.
- Maya focused on eating less AND eating real food: Not only did Maya focus on eating less and tracked her macronutrients, but she also focused on eating real foods – whole foods. It’s easy to overeat when you’re eating foods filled with sugar, or munching on foods out of boxes and bags all day. While many people can successfully lose weight through only a focus on eating whole foods or tracking their intake, Maya did both. She loved data, and turned the process into something she could truly nerd out about. Win.
- Maya took baby steps: If we took Maya from a year ago and had her immediately start training 5 days a week in the gym with a drastically different nutrition plan, she might have run away screaming. Instead, she started with counting calories, and then mixed in some new classes and built up confidence. And then she made small adjustments to her diet, and hired a trainer to learn barbell strength training. And then she tried aerial and fell in love with that, giving her a purpose for her training!
- Maya knew where she was headed: Once she proved to herself that she could do this, Maya was extremely diligent in tracking her workouts, and tracked every calorie consumed too. She eventually started tracking her progress in almost every way possible: photos every challenge (as you can see from the photos throughout the post), measurements, and weight. If she was headed in the wrong direction, she would have known quickly. Tracking her progress allowed her to put her faith in the process, and just show up day after day.
- Maya found something she enjoyed – After realizing that hours of cardio didnt work for her, she tried something different. She started strength training, and training at an aerial gym. Before long she was diving into barbell training, and today she is looking forward to mastering advanced aerial moves. If you’ve failed to get healthy before and had a miserable time, it’s probably no wonder things didn’t work out. Finding something you enjoy is an essential part of this process. Find something you can nerd out about – something you look forward to!
Questions for Maya?
We don’t believe in true before and afters. Maya has dedicated herself to this quest for life. She a moves forward to slay her next dragon: aerial training!
Maya broke through where many have failed, and I hope her story inspires you to keep trying. But that’s why we’re a community; we’re here to figure out what works and what doesn’t – and then share those lessons with one another. When Maya dove into the six-week challenges, she had a community behind her to support her, answer her questions, and keep her moving forward.
To recap Maya’s journey and success:
- She counted calories and learned how crucial nutrition is in the health equation.
- She slowly shifted her diet toward real food and cut back on sweets.
- She discovered a supportive community that encouraged her to push herself and take challenges (Nerd Fitness!).
- She discovered barbell strength training, and fell in love with it!
- She found an activity she loves and that encourages her to get even stronger and more fit (aerial silks and sing).
So stop by the comments, leave some kind words, and ask questions! Are you struggling with something that Maya has overcome?
PS: It’s no secret we LOVE strength training around here, and hope you do too. If you’re new to strength training, check out our free Strength Training 101 series!