It's a common starting point for women who make a dramatic health transformation: low self-esteem and a negative mindset about food. Listening to how they beat it never gets old. Everyone's journey is different—how they got there, where it led them, and what impact they hope to have on others.
Universal-sponsored athlete Kelsey Horton is one such woman who was fed up with crash diets and her lack of self-confidence. After giving birth to her daughter in 2010 and tipping the scale at 175 pounds a year later, Horton decided it was time to shed the weight as well as the negative body image.
"I had always been very active as a kid but never quite felt comfortable in my own skin," she says. "One day I decided enough was enough. I hadn't the slightest idea what I was doing, and since I didn't know any better, losing the weight fast meant 500 calories a day and hours upon hours on the treadmill."
As she learned the hard way, that approach can only continue for so long. Horton shed the unwanted pounds, but her outlook didn't improve until she found the weight room and a purpose greater than just fitting into a certain size of jeans—a passion for lifting heavy weight.
"The minute I stopped trying to train to look a certain way, I started seeing the potential my body actually had, and it was an absolutely beautiful thing to behold," she says. "Becoming comfortable in my own skin and growing to love myself—that was the real treasure."
Today, Horton uses her platform to influence other moms just like her, which led her to becoming a contestant on NBC 's "The Titan Games."
This is her story.
When did your issues with confidence and body image begin?
I always had enormous legs and noticed that they didn't look like other girls' legs. I had it in my head that this meant I was overweight. There's no way I would ever fit into size 0 jeans, not then and not now. People made comments and I took it to heart, but it was something I saw in my own head. It's funny because now people ask how they can get quads like mine, but it was my biggest insecurity at one point.
What triggered that moment when enough was enough?
I was overweight after my daughter was born. You gain all this weight with pregnancy thinking that your kid's going to come out weighing 20 pounds or something! Then one of my good friends was getting married during the summer of 2011, and she wanted me to be a bridesmaid. I knew there would be pictures taken, and, obviously, I was going to be in a dress. I thought, "I don't want to look and feel like I look and feel anymore." It was definitely daunting because I had a lot of work to do in three months to get ready for the wedding. In my mind, I had about 30 pounds to drop. This is when the crash dieting and incessant treadmill running began.
The weight came off. I could finally fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans, and I loved the number I saw on the scale, but deep down I wasn't happy and I knew I couldn't sustain that lifestyle. I didn't want to continue to pass on birthday cake, neglect baking cookies with my daughter, or have such an unhealthy relationship with food.
When did you reach the point where you wanted to train for more than just looks?
My husband and I moved to New Mexico for his new engineering job, and I reconnected with a friend I used to run college track with. He ended up getting a job in that same area, and we started training together. I was losing steam, and I figured maybe there was something I could do besides running and still see results. My buddy said, "Let's get you training at the gym with me. We'll start lifting weights and see if you like it." I agreed, and finding the iron finally gave me some sort of, I don't know, purpose in training. He had grown up in a powerlifting family, training and competing, so I sort of fell right into it with him. After about a year, in March 2013, I did my first competition.
What do you do now to keep a healthy body image?
I look at my own daughter and I am aware that the way I'm acting will affect her. I know she will at some point have self-doubt, but I don't want her to struggle with it as much as I did. So I'm trying to show her what it's like to be confident and to lead by example. She is almost nine, which is a really impressionable age. I'll catch her looking at nutrition labels, and I always tell her, yes, we should know what's going into our bodies, but it's not something we need to worry about too much.
You were recently on "The Titan Games." What was your reason for participating in a physical competition TV show?
It brought me miles outside of my comfort zone. It's not something that I would have thought to do on my own, but I did it to find the courage to tackle that experience and to know that regardless of the outcome, many people have seen me put my best foot forward. I'm there to win, but also to use the platform to reach a lot of people and encourage them to step out of their zones for uncomfortable but growth-filled challenges.
What do you hope to achieve by sharing your journey as a lifter and a mother on social media and on the TV competition?
To reach even one woman and encourage her to triumph over the female status quo at home. I want her to be OK with making self-love a priority and taking time for her goals, fitness-related or otherwise. As moms, we don't have to live only to serve others—we can make some time for us, too. We're often put on the back burner, and it's our own doing. We feel like we have to handle everything, and while that's true in some cases, we also need to put ourselves first.
What goals are on the horizon for you?
Powerlifting isn't a huge thing where I live, and I'm trying to make it more available. I'm helping host the very first USPA-sanctioned meet in South Dakota. Most people have to travel a minimum of six hours to compete in this area. There's one really special gal who has signed up for the meet; she lives on an Indian reservation here, and she said if it wasn't for our meet coming up, she would never be able to compete. She's a mom too, so that's pretty dear to my heart and lets me know we're doing a good thing. I'm hoping to compete again myself sometime this year. I haven't done a meet since last April, so it's been a hot minute, but I had to train differently for the Titan Games.
What supplements do you use and love?