Staying healthy wasn't difficult for Karen Conway—at least, not back when she was growing up in a family that made it a priority to make healthy choices. "When I was living at home with my parents, we had balanced meals," she says. "Fruits, veggies, proteins—I was very used to that."
Karen admits that her own snacking habits weren't always the best, but having healthy influences around her help curb cravings. "Just by having fresh groceries available, I found myself reaching for fruits and veggies a lot of the time," she recalls.
But when Karen went out on her own, she found the temptation of unhealthy food impossible to resist. She gained weight during college, and then more weight during her two pregnancies. Karen tipped the scale at 230 pounds before a realization hit her like an explosion: She was extremely unhappy and felt like she was trapped in someone else's body. Something had to change, but she was the only one who could make it happen.
This is Karen's story.
How did college kick off your weight gain?
To be honest, it all boiled down to laziness. I had the dorm-food meal plan, and while the options weren't always the healthiest, there were still options. Nevertheless, I still went for the refined carbs—the pizza, french fries, and cereal. Add to that the late-night study sessions and alcohol, and it led to me treating my body very badly. By the time I graduated, I'd turned my "freshman 15" into the "freshman 25."
Weight: 228 lbs.
Body Fat: 69%
Weight: 127 lbs.
Body Fat: 24.5%
Did you exercise during your college years or afterward?
I was completely sedentary in college. My "workout" consisted of walking around my college campus. I never visited the gym and wasn't into any sports. Then I maintained that excess 25 pounds for the next eight years.
I had my first child and gained an additional 40 pounds, pushing me into the 200s. After my first child was born, I lost some weight, but baby number two quickly changed that. I gained nearly 60 pounds—when she was born, I weighed nearly 220 pounds.
Lots of women gain some weight during pregnancy. Why did this hit you so hard?
I think I took the idea of "eating for two" way too seriously. Today, after both my pregnancies, I know that you only need to eat an extra 300-500 calories a day, but I'd say I was consuming an extra 1,000-2,000 from bad food.
I had a huge sweet tooth, and I just went for it with everything from chocolate ice cream to lemonade. With my second pregnancy, I was much more aware of how much weight I could gain, so I tried to be more healthy and active. I still gained during my second pregnancy. Looking back, I "enjoyed" my pregnancies a little too much.
What was your turning point?
The beginning date of my weight loss and fitness transformation was January 1, 2015, but losing weight wasn't my resolution per se. Many people reference some sort of "aha" moment they had when beginning their weight-loss or fitness journey, like seeing themselves in a picture or not being able to fit into clothing. For me, it really wasn't like that.
I just remember being so angry with myself. I felt lost and trapped inside. I was trying to tell my husband that it felt like I was inside someone else's skin—that my outside was no longer me. I felt like I was wearing a mask. It was hard for my husband to understand, because he's one of those people who is over 6 feet tall, lean, and can eat whatever he wants.
He didn't fully understand how I was feeling, which made it all the more frustrating. I was angry that I let it get to that place, and that I didn't stop and turn things around sooner.
Why did you choose January 1 to begin your transformation?
I definitely wasn't like, 'New Year, new me' or anything like that. It was a lot less ceremonious. I just thought I'd try making some changes for one day and see how it went. One day turned into two. That turned into a week, and then a month.
I was tracking my diet on MyFitnessPal and seeing my streak add up, which was really motivating. It was so exciting to be able to tell my husband something like, "Look, it's been 45 days!"
How has your husband helped along the way?
He's been my biggest supporter. He constantly encourages me to do whatever it takes to be happy and healthy, and he even adjusted the way he cooks to fit my needs. He's not a runner, but when I was scared to do my first 5K, he signed up to do it with me. Through it all, he's always been by my side.
How did you change your diet in the beginning?
Initially, I just concentrated on cutting back to reasonable portions and figuring out what healthy portions of different foods actually look like. To be as accurate as possible, I bought a food scale and logged all my food into MyFitnessPal.
As I went along, it started to click that eating healthier means eating more. I could eat a whole plate of broccoli instead of just a few crackers. It didn't take too long to learn that better choices sometimes meant more food, which meant feeling fuller.
What does your diet look like now?
Cottage cheese 60 g
Raw carrots 100 g
Apple 1 (approx. 140 g)
Chicken breast 4 oz.
Green beans 4 oz.
Steamed cauliflower 100 g
Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Sauce 15 mL
Reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles 2 tbsp
Grapes 100 g
Buttered popcorn rice cake 2 cakes
Nonfat refried beans 2 oz.
Salsa 2 tbsp
Power Crunch Protein Bar 1 bar
Orange 1 (approx. 130 g)
Sugar-free Metamucil 12 g
What supplements helped you along the way?
When did you get serious about training?
Exercise came into play a couple months after I changed my diet. I began by walking around my neighborhood pushing my giant—and heavy—double stroller. It was hard, at first, but I really grew to look forward to getting out of the house, taking in the fresh air, and feeling a different sense of accomplishment that I hadn't known in so long.
The first month I started walking, I lost an extra 10 pounds. It was nothing crazy or intense—just a 30- or 40-minute walk with the kids in their stroller. At that point, I was already losing about 10 pounds a month just from the changes in my diet, so I remember being blown away by how much more weight I lost with just a little bit of exercise. I was immediately motivated to start adding more exercise to my day.
My enjoyment snowballed, and by the fourth month, I was waking up before dawn to make time to run before obligations took over. It became a priority, and I became addicted. As I continued to learn about running and fitness in general, I started cross-training.
How did lifting become part of your routine?
I had a Groupon for two months of sessions at a local gym, and since the gym was new, the group classes I was signing up for often turned out to be private lessons with me and the instructor. He helped me build a foundation by teaching me form and technique, and he really educated me a lot about kettlebells.
When my Groupon ran out, I couldn't afford a gym membership, so I bought my own set of kettlebells and now I work out at home in a mini gym in our garage.
What do your workouts look like now?
Warm-up circuit: 4 rounds
Circuit: 7 rounds
Warm-up circuit: 4 rounds
Circuit: 8 rounds
Warm-up circuit: 5 rounds
Circuit: 4 rounds
Kettlebell Swing (Two-arm)23, 17, 11, 5 reps
Warm-up circuit: 4 rounds
Circuit: 6 rounds
How did Bodybuilding.com help you along the way?
Right around the time I started going to the gym, someone on Instagram recommended Bodybuilding.com when I asked where I could find more kettlebell workouts. I binge-watched all of the kettlebell-exercise videos on the site.
Once I saw all those videos, I started exploring the rest of the site. I got addicted to transformation articles, and then I set up my BodySpace account and started tracking my goals. It's been a great resource.