Sometimes, the answer is right in front of you, but you're just not ready to see it yet. In Rachel Auer's case, a little inspiration from her mom was enough to turn her life around, even though she initially ignored the positive influence.
"My mom was a group fitness instructor," she says. "She watched the way she ate and was obviously very healthy, but, for some reason, I just wasn't driven to be that way."
As a teen, some of Rachel's favorite after-school snacks included ramen noodles, microwavable mac and cheese, and popcorn chicken with a helping of ranch dressing. Eventually, though, her unhealthy habits gave her a body she struggled to love. She knew she needed to get healthy.
With her mom's guidance, Rachel transformed from seriously out of shape to fit and strong—a total transformation that happened during those difficult high school years.
This is Rachel's story.
What was your turning point or "aha" moment?
It was May, and I was standing in a fitting room in Target. Summer was coming, I was trying on bathing suits, and I just remember being swept up in feelings of embarrassment. I was embarrassed about the way I looked and couldn't imagine myself hanging around friends and feeling so insecure.
What changes did you decide to make?
My mom suggested I try running and changing up my diet, so I took her advice. The first time I ran, I maybe made it a quarter of a mile, and that was really difficult. I was discouraged, and I came home and told my mom that running wasn't for me and that I didn't want to do it anymore. She told me that it didn't come naturally, and that it took practice. My mom's the one who encouraged me to stick with it until I got better.
In a few days, I was able to go half a mile. Soon after that, I could run a full mile. Once I got up to around 4 miles, it got really easy to run further every time. Before I knew it, I was running 10, 11 miles. After five months, I ran my first half-marathon. A year after that, I ran my first full—26.2 miles at the Detroit Free Press Marathon.
What made you want to start lifting?
My mom has always been into lifting weights, and she has a lot of muscle on her body. I looked to her as a role model for what I wanted to look like. I also wasn't satisfied anymore when I was looking in the mirror. Running got me down to my lowest weight, 125 pounds. I was skinny, but I wanted to look fit and strong.
When you first started, how did you create your workouts?
I had absolutely no lifting experience. That's when I found Bodybuilding.com. I would go into the index for each muscle group, pick out a few exercises each day, and arrange them in a circuit.
At first, I was a bit nervous and embarrassed, because I was sure I was doing the exercises wrong, but I soon realized that everyone at the gym has a common goal. Plus, people were always courteous and helpful.
How did you change your diet?
At first, I was trying to limit carbs as much as possible, so I stayed away from starchy items like bread and rice. I met my carb quota mainly from veggies and salads. Almost all of my breakfasts were just egg whites and spinach. Lunches and dinners were a lot of plain chicken.
It was all very simple foods. The problem was that nothing really tasted good.
Was it difficult to stick to such a restrictive diet?
Definitely. For eight months I ate really clean; I maybe had five cheat meals the entire time. But after such a long period of time, I started to feel so deprived.
My cravings were out of control. There was a point when I would get overwhelmed by them and end up bingeing. I'd see chocolate chips in the pantry, decided to eat just a few, and end up downing handfuls at a time.
I eventually switched to flexible dieting. That gave me the freedom to eat the foods I loved as long as they fit my macros.
What are you allowed to eat now that you're flexible dieting that you couldn't have before?
Before, I would never eat protein bars, because they had so many carbs. Now I eat protein bars almost every day. One of my favorite things is Lenny and Larry's The Complete Cookie. I love those. I eat protein pancakes now, too. I think the biggest change is that when I switched to flexible dieting, I stopped being afraid of carbs.
Why do you think flexible dieting works so well for you?
Personally, I have a big sweet tooth. I think it works really well for people who find it hard to eat perfectly clean all the time.
What was the most difficult thing for you during your transformation?
The aspect that challenged me more than anything was what others had to say about my habits, especially during my marathon training. No one understood why I would go to bed every Friday night at 8 p.m. to wake up and run at 4 a.m. It can be difficult to keep going when even your closest friends talk negatively about your disciplined habits. I often got mocked for turning down "normal" teenager activities like going out and eating a lot of junk.
How did you stay on track when your friends didn't understand your lifestyle?
What kept me on track was seeing how far I had come. Looking back and remembering that I used to struggle to run half a mile kept me pumped for my 20-mile runs. I felt like I had finally found something that made me happy and that I was really good at. I thought about how far I could go. At that point, it didn't matter what anyone else thought.
What's next for you?
When I turn 18, I want to get certified to be a personal trainer. My mom builds relationships with the people who come to her classes. I see how excited and thankful they are for her help. It seems like knowing that you're helping someone feel good and reach their goals would be so rewarding. I want to experience that.