I’ve been worried about my weight since I hit puberty.
I can remember being 16 years old and watching a commercial for a weight-loss pill that was supposed to help people eat less food. They kept showing food left on the plate after a meal. Already feeling fat and hating the way I looked, but having no money for this magic solution, I thought, “I’ll just start leaving some food on my plate.” In addition to this unhealthy strategy, I took up running to help shed my baby fat.
When I moved to Los Angeles for college, I started drinking heavily and quickly packed on the kilos, going from 63 to 88 kilos in less than a year. After college, I stayed in the city for my first job, but got laid off during the financial crisis of 2009. At that point, I was 24, still drinking excessively, and found myself feeling deeply depressed.
After a year of endless job searching, I decided to end my relationship with alcohol, and I set out to take back my mental and physical health. A friend gave me the P90X DVD, and I started running again. But I spent the next three years packing on, then shedding the same 10 kilos through various workout programs from Jillian Michaels to inconsistent cardio.
1. THE CHANGE
Four years later, I was 28, and tired of feeling depressed about my body. I had just gotten into Instagram and I was searching for inspiring ladies to follow. I came across Kayla Itsines and her Bikini Body Guides (BBG).
The gym has always intimidated me, so I loved that these were at-home workouts. I also loved that they were 30 minutes or less. After seeing so many photos of amazing results on Instagram, I was determined to finish the 12-week BBG program.
This program was a great fit for me. I loved that it incorporated running, which I've always enjoyed. But what really made it stick was the online community. I would wake up in the morning and scroll through the BBG hashtags to be inspired and get my booty into gear for that day’s work out. Week after week, I stuck with my routine of three plyo workouts and two days of running.
I wouldn’t see the progress day to day, but I took tons of progress photos. After about 10 weeks, I dared to show my first transformation photo on my account, which wasn’t even my body—it was just the changes my face had showed. The community was insanely positive and uplifting. Then I started to get a little more confident, and shared my full-body progress photos. I felt amazing, both mentally and physically.
After 24 weeks, I'd lost 10 kilos and felt great. I had never stuck with a program for such a long time. What’s more, I loved every second of it, wasn’t getting bored, and felt motivated to set new goals.
But even though I lost the weight, I quickly learned that what I really wanted was to have definition—and constant cardio wasn’t going to build muscle. So I joined my local gym, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing with the weights.
I started using online guides to help me, and soon I was seeing increases in my strength. The scale started climbing back up with more muscle mass.
After two years of doing BBG regularly, my favorite IG crush, Kelsey Wells, came out with her PWR weight lifting program. I was sold. This is exactly what I was looking for in a program. And I've been doing it ever since.
2. THE WORKOUTS
For two years, my workout consisted entirely of the BBG program, with the addition of some weight lifting. Now, I’ve just completed the first 12 weeks of the PWR program, so my workouts are smaller circuits, all involving weights—dumbbells, barbells, Smith machine, cable machines, and a lot of it is lifting pretty heavy, which is cool.
My focus is to get stronger and to keep increasing my weight. When I started PWR I was deadlifting 27 kilos and now I am lifting 43! I was only able to lift 2 kilogram dumbbells for a chest fly and now am doing 7 kilos—all within 12 weeks.
3. THE FOOD
My nutrition got a big overhaul when I learned about Whole30 and clean eating. I have completed 12 rounds of Whole30 over the last three years and I try to maintain clean eating as much as possible when I am not on a Whole30.
Through eating clean, I’ve learned how certain foods react to my body and how they make me feel when eating them. But, I love ice cream and will always make room for that! I try to stick to a balanced diet, which includes all the fun stuff in limited quantities, so I don’t feel deprived and go back to my all-or-nothing ways.
4. THE PAYOFF
After 12 weeks of lifting with the PWR program, the scale says I am only one kilo less than when I started this journey three years ago. My body composition has completely changed though. I have more muscle and am toned in ways I had only dreamed of. One of the biggest struggles was learning to stop worrying about the number on the scale. I'd been so focused on my weight as a measure of success, and it was really hard to let that go. But as I started to rely on progress photos to see real change, I realised the scale didn’t reflect how far I'd come.
What does reflect the progress: Recently, I was out paddle boarding against the wind. Normally I wouldn’t even attempt it, but that day I decided to try—and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to paddle through. Even just a year ago I wouldn’t have been able to do that.
Best yet, in the last three years my mental health has improved, and I don’t fall into the drastic highs and lows that I once did. At 32, I am finally living that balanced life I was never able to achieve in my younger years. My body is going to weigh what it’s going to weigh—and I don’t care because I’m happy.
5. NIKKI'S NUMBER ONE TIP
Give yourself time and grace and trust the process. Stop beating yourself up or giving up after a "failure" and just keep going. I gave up more times than I could count before finally deciding to stick with it, even when I had a bad day, week, or month. I kept working towards my goals, and that effort is what finally helped me break the negative cycle.
Follow Nikki’s journey @nikkirk7.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US