How One Woman Lost Over 90 Pounds with Hard Work, Strength Training and Good Food
Tameika Gentles lost 90 pounds 12 years ago and has kept it off ever since with a true commonsense approach to healthy eating and exercise. She still eats pizza and burgers and drinks wine—all while traveling the world and working for herself as a successful entrepreneur. We sat down to ask her how she did it, what her biggest non-scale victory is and what she wished she knew 12 years ago.
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Q: How did you get started on your weight-loss journey?
A: I was the classic story of the girl who had been overweight her entire life. Growing up, I was the fun, jolly, overweight friend that everyone loved! We're of Jamaican descent and needless to say, being health-conscious was never of true importance. We just ate great food and ate it well! Traditional foods were a huge part of our culture and lifestyle.
As I got older, the weight piled on. I went from being the cute, chubby Tameika to becoming severely overweight. After my first year of university and gaining yet another 20 pounds, I'd reached almost 230 pounds. This is where I hit my breaking point.
After dozens and dozens of attempts at weight loss, it finally clicked. My breaking point was where I was at such a low, the only option left was to fix this. I started with research. This was during a time when Instagram, blogs and the wealth of information available today just wasn't there. I went to the library and took out books on weight loss. I studied the science of weight loss, caloric intake, macros, fitness, weight training and the psychology of obesity. I was basically a sponge, absorbing everything I could.
I started off with deciding I was going to make my own food. As a student, that consisted of very basic and very affordable meals. But I knew making and preparing my own meals was a first step. Over time it evolved into making my meals fun, buying healthy cookbooks and trying new recipes.
At the gym, it started with fitness classes! Initially it started off with just cardio, but through research I quickly learned that strength training was important. Fitness classes taught me the basics; what a biceps curl was, how to properly squat, how to target different muscle groups. I couldn't afford a personal trainer back then, so learning in classes was a perfect alternative.
After nine very dedicated months, I lost nearly 100 pounds. The key to my weight loss was education and taking what I learned to really build a lifestyle that worked for me.
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Q: You've maintained a 90-lb. weight loss for over 12 years! How have you made it stick and what keeps you motivated?
A: After 12 years, I'm in the best shape of my life and have fully adopted this lifestyle—I've even turned it into a career. I now devote all of my time to helping others through personal and online training, as well as running traveling health retreats around the world where we help amazing women on their health journey in destinations like Bali, Thailand, South Africa and Colombia. I'm committed to this industry and helping others achieve the happiness I have found.
What has helped me stay in shape is making my lifestyle work for me! Let's face it, I will never be the girl eating no carbs, taking a ton of supplements and having salad three times a day. I'm a lover of food, so I've learned ways to make all of my favorite foods healthy. I have restrictions, yes, but I never feel without. This is what I now instill in all of my clients and what we teach at our health retreats.
What keeps me motivated? First, I never want to go back to the point where I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. I absolutely refuse. Also, I love being the best me. I love that I'm treating my body the way it deserves to be treated. I love that I am doing everything in my power to avoid sickness and disease. I love that I put myself first, no matter what I have going on in life. I love that I choose me and recognize that when I am my healthiest self, I can be so much more for my loved ones, my purpose and my business!
Q: What have been the biggest benefits to changing your lifestyle beyond the scale?
A: I feel like a new person. Funny enough, more so on the inside. When I was overweight, I lacked confidence in my abilities. For the last 12 years, I have felt unstoppable. Since I lost the weight, anything I've put my mind to, I have been able to conquer without doubt. I've sold all of my belongings to travel the world full-time (and have traveled to more than 50 countries), and I've quit my corporate job to become a successful entrepreneur. I've excelled in all areas of life, and I can't say this would have happened had it not been for my change in lifestyle.
For me, it was so much more than weight loss. At the time I didn't know that, but I see it now. At 20 years old, I did what most grown adults couldn't do. Since then, I've been able to tackle anything that has come my way (literally!). Nothing seems impossible.
Q: What are some of your favorite healthy meals?
A: I now invest time in turning my favorite foods healthy. I have recipes for healthy pizza, pasta, burgers, baked goods—you name it! I've found a way to turn traditional junk foods into healthy versions. I know I am not the type of girl who can eat grilled chicken and brown rice every day. So, I find foods that cater to my taste buds while achieving my goals.
I also allow myself a few unapologetic treat meals each week. I have since the beginning of this journey!
Q: What are your favorite ways to stay active?
A: Well, first and foremost, I love strength training. I weight-train four days per week and have been for the last 12 years. I feel so empowered when I hit new PRs [personal records]. I only want to get stronger.
When I'm not in the gym hitting the weights, I love getting outdoors. As a full-time traveler, I often try to find new hikes or trails that can keep me active while seeing new places.
Finally, I'm developing a love for yoga and stretching and what it's doing for my mental health. It's now been implemented into my daily routine!
Q: What is your biggest challenge to maintaining your healthy lifestyle?
A: I guess right now for me, it's constantly figuring out how to maintain this lifestyle while living abroad and exploring the world full-time. Since losing the weight, I have also sold all of my belongings and live out of my suitcase. So because I am in a new country every month, I am not able to have a consistent routine, gym or healthy food at my fingertips.
It can be hard to find a gym in rural Sri Lanka or healthy food in Cambodia. Having been on the road for two years, I've done pretty well and figured out a system that works; but it still remains a challenge!
Q: What's your biggest indulgence?
A: When traveling, it's trying new cuisines. I can't help but indulge in curries when I'm in India, or enjoy pad thai in Thailand! I'm also a lover of wine and try to visit wineries whenever I travel.
Q: What's something you wish you knew when you got started that you would tell people now?
A: I tried time and time again to start this journey and failed. The main problem was lack of patience and consistency. I would always try to find quick wins that put me in a nasty yo-yo cycle. It wasn't an easy road, but I'm so glad I went through it and got here because I believe my approach has helped tremendously with weight-loss maintenance.
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself early on that it's not about the destination, because there is none. That this is a lifestyle I am creating forever, and there is no end date, so it's completely about the journey.
I would tell people it needs to start with the mind-set of creating a lifestyle. I used to do many extreme diets, and of course they never lasted. Skip the fad diets and the shortcuts and stick to the simple formula: get moving and enjoy healthy portion-controlled food. Taking the simple approach may take longer, but you'll surely be able to maintain it long-term.
This article originally appeared on EatingWell.