A lot of people tend to label bodybuilders or fitness addicts as arrogant, self-centered, and narcissistic. This could not be any further from the truth. Many of us use fitness as an outlet for depression, anxiety, drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, body dysmorphia or even health issues. Speaking from a personal standpoint, fitness saved my life.

I never really had any weight issues growing up. I've always been a big eater, but I didn't start to see the effects of that until high school. I went through a stage where I was a bit heavier for my size, but then hit a growth spurt and tapered back down. High school is where I started to become very self-conscious of my body and my appearance as I'm sure most people do. Right around graduation time is when I started to notice the weight gain again. At that point, I knew nothing about nutrition or had ever seen the inside of a gym. Instead I tried numerous fad diets; it was easier and it was quicker. As usual, they worked temporarily and when I got sick of starving myself or not eating the things I truly craved, I stopped. Only to gain what I lost back and then some.

My self-esteem and insecurities were at an all-time high. I was being made fun of at work and called the "fat girl" and I almost lost my job from my continual weight gain. When it came to uniform fitting during my job evaluation as a Hooters girl, I was given 3 months to lose the weight I had gained since my hire date or lose my job. As far as my performance went as a waitress, I excelled. However, my appearance to them was more important than my work ethic. I will never forget that day. I was so embarrassed! All I wanted to do was cry. I held it in until I left work and the moment I got in my car I broke down. I was heartbroken and ashamed. I cried the whole drive home. That was a very long night for me. I cried myself to sleep and again in the morning.

Instead of learning how to eat healthier and exercise I turned to quick fixes again. This time I starved myself, I was so desperate to lose weight I started throwing up my food. That didn't last very long. My diet consisted of black coffee, grapefruit, peaches, Slimfast, a salad now and then and cigarettes. I did however, lose the weight and was able to keep my job. But my depression and self-hate was crippling. That's when the depression and anxiety medications started. As you can imagine, in time I put the weight back on again. The difference was, this time I found out I was pregnant.

Seeing as I was pregnant, the weight gain was not an issue at this point, At least for the sake of my job. Sadly, I had a "missed" miscarriage. At 3 months when listening for the babies heartbeat I was told what had happened. I thought at that moment I was going to die. The worst part was having to go back home and wait to pass the baby. I never did! So I went in on Monday to have a D&C procedure done to remove the baby. The next day I got very ill and had to go in again. Weeks after, I was still having issues. So this time I was admitted to the hospital and put under in order for them to remove everything they had missed. I thought the procedure had gone as planned, but I was wrong. It was much worse than I thought and my body was telling me so. No one could figure out what was going on. I was in and out of doctors’ offices and the ER numerous times. One afternoon, I ended up passing out and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. I was so weak and lethargic and on the verge of a blood transfusion. Luckily, I didn't need to get one. I found out I had an aneurysm inside of my uterus. Apparently, through all those procedures trying to remove the baby, something was damaged in my body. I then had a procedure called a uterine embolization done, which is basically stopping the bleeding by wrapping a coil around the artery. I was the 11th reported case at that time to have had this condition. I was glad to have finally figured out what the issue was and to have it fixed...Until I was told I could probably never have kids now because of the restricted blood flow in my uterus.

I thought the depression was bad before, but at this point, I wasn't even able to function as a human being. After two weeks of bed rest, I was instructed to quit smoking and start exercising. Considering my mental and physical health, I knew I had to give it my all. So I joined a gym. I was the person in the baggy clothes in the back of the class who thought everyone was judging me. I suffered from major social physique anxiety. Eventually I become more comfortable and very regular…and lost a ton of weight.

Now fast forward, I still suffered from major depression and self-esteem issues. I wouldn't get in a swimsuit in front of others, or change in locker rooms. I didn't like to wear shorts in the summer because I thought I had fat legs and cellulite that I had been picked on for. I continued playing the “yo yo diet” game for years, as well as exercising on and off. I became more serious about fitness when I started working in a gym. I was training to be a personal trainer. I thought maybe if I was more knowledgeable I would be more successful with my fitness goals. I was a few months into the process and close to taking my certification exam when I found out I was pregnant. It was an absolute miracle! I was so excited and at the same time terrified. I was convinced something bad would happen considering I was told I wouldn't be able to have kids. I ended up quitting my PT job and never took my exam. I wanted to be very careful with this pregnancy and not overdo it. I already had a full time desk job at an insurance company which carried my health benefits. I continued light exercise throughout my entire pregnancy, but mentally I was a mess. The self-esteem issues sky rocketed and when I started gaining and things weren't fitting, I remember locking myself in my room and refusing to go places. 35lbs later I delivered a healthy baby boy. Then in less than 2 weeks after I was back at it. I lost 25lbs within the first month. I became a regular gym goer, about 4 days a week, but still only taking classes (in the back of the room still and wearing baggy clothes). After a move, I joined a different gym and then started working there. This is where I met my now trainer, Jim Valvano, the man who changed me from a fitness enthusiast to what I am today. This is where training became my life and my knowledge greatly increased, as well as my confidence. I owe so much to this man for taking me under his wing!

2 years into training with Jim I became pregnant again. Yes another miracle. Investing in my health, I truly believe is what helped me to conceive and have two healthy full term pregnancies. I continued training at the gym at least 5 times a week, as well as working. I did this right up until the day I delivered; in fact my water broke while at the gym! Less than two weeks after giving birth I was back at it again. This time only losing 15 of then 40 pounds I gained during pregnancy. Yes the depression and anxiety was back as it was on and off throughout my pregnancy.

I was able to lose the baby weight and started to get even more serious about my training. In this time, I transformed my body into the best it has ever been! Everyone would ask me how I did it, what do I eat, what is my routine like? I started to help people close to me lose weight and I loved it. I realized this is what I am meant to do. In the last year I have received my Personal Training Certification through The National Academy of Sports Medicine. I also received an additional 10 certifications through escape fitness®, and I am currently going for my Fitness Nutrition Specialization. I took a position at the Louis S Wolk JCC of Greater Rochester as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, created a free educational fitness page with my coworker Michelle Lombardozzi (www.facebook.com/precisionrocfitness), as well as started my own personal training business.

J9 Fitness was created specifically for women who suffer from social physique anxiety. I spent years falling for fad diets and quick fixes and not partaking in exercise because of my insecurities. I wanted to be able to have a place just for those women. I want to help people achieve their goals the healthy way, the long term way and help them build up their confidence and feel good in their own skin. My knowledge is not only based on education, but my personal experience and years of trial and error. I contributed health and fitness to the reason I was able to have two healthy children and live my life to the fullest.

Fitness has become my outlet to elevate the stress and anxiety I have always suffered from. It has become my outlet to feel confident and secure with myself. Fitness is my therapy. It's easy to judge someone who invests hours into their appearance by going to the gym. However, you don't truly know why that person does it. We are just like everyone else and all start for one reason or another. So before you judge the 'hardcore' fitness addicts, remember, we probably have a good reason why we do it. I am who I am and I do what I do because of what I've gone through.




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