Mariah, everyone at GetGlutes is in awe of your transformation both inside and out. We are really excited to dive a little deeper into your story. Tell us a bit about your background. What was life like growing up for you as far your activities and nutrition?
I grew up in a family of six with a strong sense of family. Both of my parents are excellent cooks and most of my meals were home-cooked and eaten as a family around the dinner table. We rarely had junk food in the house and the only beverage we had besides water was sweet tea. I have always loved sweets and struggled with being an emotional eater. Whenever I had the opportunity to eat sweets, I took full advantage of it. I started playing softball the summer before my freshman year of high school.
Prior to that my physical activity was inconsistent and limited. Once I started playing softball, I became passionate about it. My dad and I practiced nearly every day. I played tournaments on the weekends, high school games during the week and practiced any time I could. When I went to college, I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I played softball in college so the related exercise helped fight off some of the damage I was doing with my eating, but not much. I had no real concept of what kinds of foods I should be eating or in what quantity.
Having grown up with two excellent cooks, it seems the lifestyle you learned at home didn’t carry with you into college.What do you feel compelled you to change your eating habits in college?
I think it was the freedom of choice, access to lots of different food, and a lack of understanding about what I was feeding myself and why. I was on a meal plan so I ate most of my meals in the commons. Besides a salad bar I don’t recall there being a lot of healthy options. I remember eating lots of full size bagels topped with peanut butter, jelly and cream cheese or topped with bacon, egg and cheese for breakfast. I actually thought that was healthy. I frequently took bagels or a bagful of cereal to eat for a snack. Most of my lunches and dinners were with rich in fatty carbs and fatty meats and low in veggies (my motto was why waste stomach space with vegetables?).
When I traveled for ball games, we often ate at fast food post-game and I usually had fries, a burger and a shake. I didn’t eat fast food growing up and I was completely unaware of how unhealthy the food was.
When did you reach your tipping point where you wanted to create positive change for yourself? Describe that moment or that feeling.
After graduating college, I had nowhere to play ball. I had no direction relating to my physical activity. I became extremely inactive and ate a lot. After several years of this behavior, a pregnancy and birth, I gained a lot of weight. In December of 2008, weighing 229 pounds, I decided to take back control and get myself into shape. I was tired of trying to hide my body. I was tired of feeling weak, out of control, depressed and disgusted with myself. I was embarrassed to go to the grocery store for fear of seeing someone I knew. I was lethargic and spent way too much time in front of the TV trying to numb my emotions. I lay awake night after night hating who I had become.
I no longer recognized myself. I missed the athlete I had once been. I missed the girl who was confident in her abilities to accomplish anything she set her mind to. I was tired of hiding myself inside fat and soothing myself with copious amounts of food. I knew that I had to take control of my health and my life if I wanted to find her again.
It is very hard to lose yourself and not know where to pick back up. I think a lot of former athletes go through these same issues. How did your initial transformation journey begin and why did it fail in helping you meet your goals?
I decided that I could continue to be lazy, binge on sweets, and continue to feel the way that I did or I could change the direction of my life. I started my weight-loss, life-regaining journey with at home workouts. Although I was a former collegiate athlete, I had no clue how to use a gym or eat properly. I was too ashamed to go to a gym in the shape that I was in. I didn't want people to see how horribly unfit I was so I bought an at-home workout program. I treated it the same what that I used to treat my conditioning and practice for ball. I knew that big achievements were the results of the culmination of every day efforts. I committed not to miss a single workout over the course of the 90-day program and to follow the eating plan exactly. I told myself that if I did these two things and nothing changed after 90 days, then I could go back to eating whatever I wanted and zoning out in front of the TV. Guess what? Everything changed during those 90 days. I kept my commitment to myself, completed every workout, and followed the nutrition plan exactly. I found my drive again.
I was reminded of the athlete I once was and wanted to be again. I completed a second round of the program and lost a total of 54 pounds. Although I lost a lot of weight, my physique still needed work.
Sometimes we just need a little boost to get us back in the game. It seems you found that here, but it was missing an element. What did you like and not like about your changes?
I liked that I had lost body fat, could fit into normal size clothes and had endurance to participate in activities that I hadn’t in some time. I didn’t like that I had very little muscle. When I played ball, I had muscular legs, strong shoulders and a toned back. I didn’t have any of that anymore. I wanted to reshape my body, add muscle, and feel athletic. That often is the case with these fat loss home workouts—losing weight, but not gaining muscle or shape. What was the next step for you and why did you feel it wasn’t working? I decided to join a gym. My first year and a half at the gym was wasted as I spent my time on cardio equipment wishing I was brave and knowledgeable enough to go lift weights. As I walked/jogged on the treadmill, I longingly watched others squat, lunge, bench press and do an assortment of weighted exercises.
I wanted to join them, but I had no idea what to do. I hired a personal trainer who unfortunately seemed more interested in my money than giving me the help I so desperately needed. I kept searching for help. I joined a competition team as a non-competing member to work on my physique. The training was time-consuming and intense. I often spent 15-20 hours a week in the gym doing cardio that I detested and lifting weights for hours. The eating plan was very restrictive and the only thing I enjoyed about it was the two slices of pizza I was allowed to eat once a week (which inevitably turned into 5 or 6 pieces and whatever other food I had in the house). Because it was so restrictive and because the training was so voluminous and intense, I rarely could complete it all. I felt like a failure. I spiraled back to the mindset I had when I was at my heaviest. I had so much self-doubt that I wondered if I would ever be happy with my body or healthy (on the outside and the inside).
After my first year with the team, I chose not to return. The commitment required to adhere to their plan was not in line with my priorities or preferences. I continued down the path of trying one plan after another. Time after time I found that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing because I was trying to fit my life into the plan instead of a plan into my life.
This is an all-to-familiar path for many. How did this type of training and dieting affect the rest of your life?
I was exhausted ALL of the time. I woke up exhausted and went to bed exhausted. After work I would come home and have to take a power nap so I could go do my second workout of the day. I dreaded doing the second workout, but told myself I was a failure if I didn’t do it. I didn’t have energy or the desire to do anything else. It was a huge effort to play with my son. I was grumpy, impatient, and I doubt very pleasant to be around.
When did you decided to make this journey about you and your plan rather than meeting the expectations of others?
In early 2013 I decided that once and for all I was going to find an enjoyable and sustainable plan that allowed me to get lean and sculpt my best ever physique. It was going to be my plan and would be conducive to my tastes and the way in which I wanted to live my life. I decided that I would give myself one year to achieve this goal. I wanted long-term success. I was tired of short-term, short-lived changes. On April 4, 2013 I officially embarked upon my one-year mission. I joined GetGlutes.com in early 2013. I loved the workout programs, the member support, and the fantastic engagement and coaching. I was getting stronger (hitting a 400 lb barbell glute bridge and a 310 pound deadlift...what?!?!), but I wasn't getting leaner because I hadn't yet taken control of my nutrition.
My best friend recommended that I look into an eating plan called The Carb Nite Solution. She also recommended that I work with nutritionist and coach, Brian Schmidt of No Bull Schmidt Fitness, to create my nutrition plan. I began working with him on April 4, 2013. I began losing weight and figuring out what I wanted in a plan. Our relationship was very interactive. Brian created an effective plan around my food preferences.I experienced success with the combination of the GetGlutes training and my new way of eating. Each day I gained confidence in my ability to create my best ever physique.
This was a major turning point for you not only physically, but also emotionally. Can you explain why?
For the first time in my life, I began to share my story and how far I had come. I started by sharing with my best friend who encouraged me to share with the GetGlutes members. One night I sat down and wrote about my journey. It was incredibly healing to finally be open about my struggle and to no longer feel embarrassed by it. The amount of love and support that the GetGlutes members and coaches extended truly amazed and blessed me. I realized that in order for me to fully heal and shed my body image issues, I had to stop being ashamed of where I’d been. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who were moved by the honesty of my struggle and the depths from which I had climbed. I realized that my story could provide hope to others in situations similar to mine.
Although my confidence soared throughout 2013, there was still a little piece of me that didn't believe I could get 6-pack abs or that my glutes would ever look good enough not to hide behind shorts at the beach. I came across a motivational picture one day of a female with a beautifully fit body on it that read: “It is a shame for a [wo]man to grow old without ever seeing the strength and beauty of which [her] body is capable.” These words hit a nerve. Although I had lost a lot of weight from 2008-2013 I still didn't feel like I was in control and I certainly was nowhere near seeing the strength and beauty of which my body was capable. I secretly felt like I was one binge away from returning to that girl who was too embarrassed to go to the grocery store for fear of running into someone she knew. There was also a part of me that didn't believe I could do what it took to achieve a fantastic physique and I often sabotaged myself when I started getting great results. I had come so far and yet I knew I could still achieve more. It was time for my biggest challenge yet. In a previous year I entered Bodybuilding.com and Dymatize’s 100k challenge.
I thought it would magically motivate me to get into shape, but the truth is I wasn't ready for it. I didn't have a solid foundation, a plan or goals, and I didn't believe in my ability to be successful. I wanted redemption. I wanted to enter the 2014 100k challenge and completely rock it… and so I did.
How did that change everything for you?
It’s taken me five years of consistent and intentional effort to have the healthy mindset, physical health and figure I enjoy today. When I started my journey, I wanted to see results right away. I wanted to magically erase all of the damage I had done to myself for years in a few short months. I bounced from one extreme effort to another constantly looking for that perfect plan that would make me perfect. I thought I had to follow the plan exactly as designed or it wouldn’t be effective. I completely discounted the importance of actually enjoying the plan. When I finally realized that a perfect plan didn’t exist, I changed my mindset and made the plan about my life.
That shift in mindset allowed me to determine my physique goals, how I wanted to train, and what I was willing to give to my efforts. By giving myself one year to figure this out, I took the pressure off to find a quick fix. It allowed me to shift my focus on fine tuning and enjoying the process and my plan. As I mentioned above, our members are huge fans of you, Mariah. You inspired so many because your story is so relatable.
How has taking charge of your health and doing so on your terms helped you to become a better role model?
This is an interesting question. I didn’t realize how many people were watching my transformation. I remember when I started bringing my food to work and stopped going out to lunches or eating treats in the break room. I’m sure at first people thought it was going to be short-lived. Now five years later, I’m known at work as the girl who will bust out her fish and veggies in a middle of a meeting and eat them. I’ve had other women who are struggling reach out to me to ask me for help. I’ve received hand-written notes and emails from women telling me I have inspired them to change. These were unexpected, touching, and it showed me that my experience can help others believe in their ability to improve themselves.
If you could offer advice to the old Mariah before she went off to college, what would it be?
I would tell her to take advantage of the strength and conditioning coaches and the athlete weight room, and to educate herself on nutrition. In college, I saw weight training as something I was being forced to do early in the morning before I went to class. Most mornings I rolled out of bed, got dressed and walked to the weight room half asleep with the goal of getting done as quickly as possible so I could return to my bed. I literally flew through my workouts with no focus on what I was doing. I can’t believe I wasted all that wonderful training time and exposure to knowledgeable coaches. I would tell the pre-college Mariah to educate herself on nutrition and explain that all of the activity I did with softball would not continue post-college and it would be very difficult to reign in my eating. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your journey with us, Mariah. We look forward to what’s in store for you!