Jessica Learned To Love And Embrace Her Strong Body

Even at her strongest, Jessica's body didn't look like that of a fitness model. It took years for her to learn that every body is different, and that hers was worth loving, too.

Jessica Learned To Love And Embrace Her Strong Body

Jessica Gilmartin's body was made to be strong.

"Since I was a teenager, I've had a thicker, more athletic build," she says. "My stepdad took me to the gym at 13 years old, and I was soon racking six 45 plates on each side of the leg press. I was lifting like crazy."

But even though she was fit, Jessica struggled with her body image. Her thicker build wasn't what she saw on the covers of magazines, so she thought it wasn't good enough. As she grew older, Jessica's self-confidence continued to decline and, when she became pregnant at age 26, it tanked.

"I was pregnant and about to be a single mom," she says. "I grew depressed, and I started to eat emotionally. I gained weight throughout my pregnancy, and when my daughter was born, I was at my all-time heaviest: 270 pounds."

Before 268 lbs.
After 170 lbs.
Age: 26
Height: 5'7"
Weight: 268 lbs.
Body Fat: 42%
Age: 33
Height: 5'7"
Weight: 170 lbs.
Body Fat: 21%

After the birth of her daughter, age and perspective started to give Jessica a healthier view of her body. She realized that when she hated her fit self, it was because she was holding her own body to unrealistic media standards. She made a pledge: She was going to get back in shape, enter a fitness competition, and, along the way, never lose sight of the importance of loving herself and her body.

This is her story.

What was your turning point, or 'aha' moment?

There was no big, exciting moment that inspired me to turn my life around. After my daughter was born, I got sick of feeling sorry for myself. That was the day I took my "before" photo and signed up for a gym membership. I had been so fit when I was younger, and I knew I could achieve some big goals, so I made my first goal competing onstage by my 30th birthday.

What were the first steps you took?

I started by going to the gym four days a week; then I worked my way up to six. I also started researching diet ideas. Since emotional eating is what made me gain all the weight in the first place, I knew that depriving myself of certain foods was just going to set me up for failure. While I was researching, I stumbled upon That's where I learned about macros and flexible dieting. The articles on macros written by Sohee Lee and Layne Norton, PhD, changed my whole outlook on what a healthy diet can look like. I've been tracking my macros ever since, which has worked great for me.

Did you ever want to give up?

I had many days, even weeks, where I wanted to give up. Deep down I knew I had set this goal for myself and my daughter, so I always picked myself back up and kept going. My inspiration mostly came from my daughter. She gave me the strength to keep pushing, because ultimately, I had to be a healthy influence for her.

What was the hardest part of your transformation?

The biggest challenge for me was the dieting. I had to work to understand what foods worked for me, because I knew a cookie-cutter diet approach wouldn't be sustainable. This is where learning about macros helped change my life.

Did you meet your goal to get onstage by your 30th birthday?

I did! I competed in the Emerald Cup in 2013. I didn't place, but I won the Inspiration Award from Elaine Craig, and I was brought out onstage to tell my story. Next to giving birth, it was the biggest victory of my life. What really made it the best was hearing my little girl tell me how awesome she thought mommy was with her princess crown.

What are your fitness goals at this point?

I'm currently an online coach teaching others how to lose weight with a lifestyle change and realistic approach, rather than crash dieting or overtraining. My goal is to eventually compete again, but this time I am keeping quiet about when and where. I'm just training my booty off so I can surprise everyone.