How I lost weight... Even though I was stressed out, extremely busy, and tired of boring gym routines.
Hi! My name is Sarah Pelc Graca, and this is my story.
From my own personal experience, I’ve learned that there IS a secret to losing weight. The secret is finding and creating an individualized nutrition, exercise AND mindset plan that works with YOUR life and that directly leads to results (whether that means losing weight or chiseling your arms and abs!)
Before I begin, I want you to know 3 quick things about me…
1. Even though I’m a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, the biggest role I play for my clients is a mix of cheerleader and detective. I am supporting and motivating my clients every step of the journey, while searching for ways to make their lives healthier without adding too much stress… because nobody has time for added stress!
2. I LOVE my clients and will help them in any way, shape, or form so that they can succeed… with weight loss AND with anything life throws at them!
3. My clients get results, and more importantly, they learn how to lead a healthier life long-term, so that the results last.
As a weight loss coach and group fitness instructor, I’ve created a life surrounded by health, joy, and even wine and chocolate (in moderation). However, this wasn’t always the case.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been active. Growing up, I was a serious ballet and modern dancer, and played recreational sports when I had the time. My parents did a great job of instilling my siblings and I with healthy nutrition habits (thanks mom and dad!) Veggies were a MUST at every meal, as was protein and a glass of milk. We rarely drank pop unless it was a special occasion. More times than not, dessert was a piece of fruit, instead of cookies or candy.
Before I knew it, I was a senior in high school and was accepted into my dream school, the University of Michigan (GO BLUE!) as a dance major and a psychology major. With the stress of balancing two majors and taking 19-21 credits each semester, along with an active social life, I created some unhealthy habits. I often ate quick and unhealthy meals on the go (Wendy’s was my go-to), chugged too many sugary coffee drinks, enjoyed too many drinks on the weekends, and ate enough late night pizza to last a lifetime. My life was so busy that I was letting my health slip through my fingertips. It's not that I didn't care about my health... It's that I hadn't found a way to balance it with my hectic schedule.
I felt hopeless, and I found myself running to food for comfort when I was stressed out or upset about something. Afterwards, I would feel guilty, embarrassed, and ashamed for all of the mindless eating I had been doing.
In my mind, I knew I was making unhealthy choices, but I didn't have the time or energy to know how to make healthier choices, given my crazy hectic schedule. When I would search "healthy eating" on the internet, I felt bombarded and overwhelmed by all of the information, and just gave up on the idea of eating healthier. It was cyclical, and I felt stuck in a downwards spiral.
Throughout my four years at Michigan, I created some unhealthy habits that led to me gaining an extra 15-20 pounds, and were taking me further from my goals—to be a professional contemporary dancer. I always had a petite frame, but the extra weight made me feel tired and sluggish, and I noticed how little energy I had to dance. I would look in the mirror and I wasn't happy with the person staring back at me. As a girl who once loved shopping, it became something I dreaded. None of the clothes I used to love wearing fit anymore. Most importantly, I simply wasn’t confident wearing a leotard and tights in the dance studio, and was ashamed of the weight I had gained. While I LOVED my 4 years in college and had the best time, I simply wasn't taking care of myself or my body OR my health... And my weight gain proved that. A huge reason behind why I gained weight was because I didn’t have the tools or the knowledge to know how to cook healthy, nutritious meals that would complement my goals.
It was easier for me to swing by Wendy’s for dinner or throw a frozen pizza in the microwave than it was to to grocery shop and cook a healthy, balanced meal.
Outside of dance class, I went to the gym occasionally and hopped on the elliptical. In my mind, I thought that working out would help me lose the weight and feel better. However, I hated going to the gym, and and my workouts never lasted more than 20-30 minutes because I found the elliptical BORING! Looking back on my college years, I've learned that I hated exercising because I thought I didn't have the time to exercise, and I hadn’t found the right types of exercises for ME. I lacked the confidence or energy to try a new type of exercise that I may just enjoy, so I just avoided exercising altogether. Plus, I didn't know how to even use half of the equipment in the gym. Because I was so self-conscious, I didn't dare try to use a new piece of equipment I didn't know how to use. I was too afraid of looking foolish and silly. No matter how miserable I was on that elliptical, I kept using it... because again, I thought it would lead to weight loss. After weeks of working out, the scale wasn't budging, and my clothes were't fitting any better. I came to the realization that no matter HOW hard or HOW long you exercise, you can't escape bad nutrition habits.
I became angry for "letting go" of myself and for gaining the weight. At the same time, I felt frustrated and annoyed because I had no idea how to change, or where to even start to begin to LOSE the weight.
Upon graduating, I moved to Chicago to pursue a career in dance, and I used this move to start over fresh. I knew it was time to make a change. I was fed up with feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted to start my new life in a new city with a body I loved. I craved more energy to get me through the day, and my dance teachers began telling me I needed much more confidence if I was ever going to make a career as a professional dancer. I was sick and tired of feeling miserable about how and looked and how I felt.
Slowly, I made small changes to my daily routine, I started taking my health seriously, and actually found new workouts that I loved just as much as dance--indoor cycling, running, and weight lifting. For the first time in years, I began to believe that maybe... just maybe... I could lose the weight! I studied nutrition and exercise physiology, and began tackling one new nutrition or fitness habit at a time. These habits were small... I'm talking REALLY small! The first habit I tacked was to drink more water. My goal was to drink at least 100 ounces of water a day. After doing that for 2 weeks, I already began to notice changes. My skin looked brighter and I had a bit more energy. Other habits I incorporated included eating more veggies at every meal, eating enough lean protein, paying attention to portion sizes, and sleeping 7-9 hours a night. I never gave up my favorite foods or drinks... I still enjoyed them, but I cut way back and just tried to eat smaller portions of them on special occassions.
All of these habits led to massive results. I had completely transformed my body and lost weight. No fad diets. No juice cleanses. No workouts I hated. No magic potions or pills—just by creating new habits and exercising.
Check out my personal transformation photos:
Not only do I look, and more importantly, FEEL better, but also I was able to lose weight while still enjoying my life! Best of all, as my body slimmed down, my confidence skyrocketed, and I had more energy to LIVE my life.
I still went out to dinner with friends, enjoyed ice cream and sweet treats (in moderation), and sipped a great glass of wine, all while slowly losing weight. While I continue to use my healthy foundational habits 80-90% of the time, I still allow myself to indulge around 10-20% of the time.
Losing weight and becoming healthier definitely skyrocketed my dance career. I landed numerous performance roles AND an apprenticeship with one of my dream dance companies! Around the same time, I also began dating my now husband. It's funny how the weight loss affected various parts of my life--including my dancing career AND my dating life! Before I had lost the weight, there was no way I had the self-confidence to begin dating a new guy.
So often, women believe the only way to lose weight is to exercise for countless hours a week, while feeling hungry and deprived on a boring, bland diet. I’m calling complete bullshit on this notion.
I know from my own experience that you CAN lose weight and reach your goals while living a life you love.
No, you can't eat ice cream or brownies for dinner every night of the week (don't we all wish?), but you can enjoy them on occasion. You can also enjoy drinks with friends, eating at your favorite restaurant, and even a home cooked meal. While exercise is important and necessary, what's MOST important is finding a type of exercise that you love and that works for YOU. For me, that means running, and indoor cycling, and weight lifting... But it also includes skiing and surfing!
What matters is that you create small healthy changes that work with the life you love, that you can follow the majority of the time.
An unfortunate ski accident ended my dancing career, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise… Because it forced me to continue my education so that I could share my weight loss success and my passion for exercise with other women. I now spend my days helping women create healthier bodies and lives, while teaching a few indoor cycling classes each week, and I love every second of it!