How Jennifer the Photographer Discovered a Love of Strength Training, Lost 20 Pounds, and Leveled up Her Life.

“This is why we do this.”

When I heard Jennifer’s story, I knew I had to share it.

She’s a member of the Nerd Fitness community who for years struggled with things most of us can relate to:

  • Seeking comfort in sugary foods and alcohol.
  • A lack of energy and all around feeling of fatigue.
  • An eating disorder as a teenager that created an unhealthy relationship with food.
  • Not knowing her next step towards a healthier lifestyle.

Jennifer found herself stuck in this pattern until rock bottom presented itself: divorce.

When bad times strike, it becomes easy to slip further into bad habits and vices.

Jennifer knew this and realized she had to turn her life around.

Six months ago, she did just that.

Today, Jennifer loves strength training and is the strongest she’s ever been. She changed her views on food and nutrition and is no longer intimidated by the kitchen. Jennifer recently completed her first 8k, something she couldn’t have dreamed of doing before.

And oh, Jennifer just came back from an epic photography trip where her new found stamina and strength allowed her to hike mountains to capture some awesome shots:

That’s her!

I’m honored that Jennifer has been a member of our 1-on-1 Online Coaching program since August, and has used our guidance to level up her life!

While strength training and getting comfortable in the kitchen are important, the real success for Jennifer has been with her mindset. She knows she can’t change everything at once and is using one small change to spring into another change and then another, using each as a stepping stone to the next.

This new frame of mind is something we can all learn from.

It’s how Jennifer was able to transform so quickly and lose 20 pounds in a healthy, sustainable way. While it seems like changing everything at once is the quickest way to success, it’s often too stressful and thus abandoned.

However, if you do what Jennifer did, and start with one simple habit like a food journal – it can start improving other areas of your life too.

You don’t need to hear it from me though…

Let’s bring in Jennifer!

HOW JENNIFER THE PHOTOGRAPHER LOST 20 POUNDS AND LEVELED UP HER LIFE

STEVE: Hi Jennifer! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.

I’d love to hear from you about your past – can you describe a normal day for you before you joined NF Coaching?

JENNIFER: My day was pretty random, with no real set schedule. It would be hard for me to get up in the morning, and then I’d have an unhealthy breakfast – the American South is full of delicious things like biscuits and fried foods. Later in the day, I’d often find myself needing to take a long nap.

Looking back, I did not have any sort of set schedule and spent my days with a foggy brain and zero energy.

STEVE: I hear ya. A super carb heavy and sugary breakfast can send your blood sugar on a rollercoaster for the day. Sometimes a nap is the only way off of it.

What changed? What made you invest in yourself by joining Nerd Fitness Coaching last summer?

JENNIFER: I had a really horrific divorce and hit an all time low. I moved out of my home in Seattle, WA, back to my hometown in North Carolina. Sometimes you just have to escape your surroundings.

I found myself comforting with sugary foods and alcohol. You know, totally healthy antidepressants.

This really started to take a toll on my body.

I had a moment of clarity then, as I realized I just didn’t have enough knowledge or drive to make changes on my own. I’m a believer in the “spoon theory,” which is a metaphor you see around the internet, which helps explain the limited amount of energy we face.

Imagine having twelve spoons handed to you each morning. Every task or difficult scenario takes a spoon from you. Often at the end of the day, you have no more “spoons” to give.

I knew I’d be much more successful with a routine that didn’t require any “spoons” to get to the gym. Instead, I could just start with workouts from home.

It was right about then I decided to give the Nerd Fitness Coaching program a try. I decided I wanted to be told exactly what to do, which again would require less “spoons” from me.

STEVE: I love the analogy of “spoons!” We’ve talked here in the past that willpower can be a finite resource for many. By the end of the day, you really can just be drained. Our philosophy on the subject matches your thoughts on spoon theory. That’s why we always encourage people to design systems that have the least amount of friction and require the least amount of willpower, or “spoons.”

I’m glad you realized this and wanted to create a system where you could start working out from home. You can grow the practice into a gym routine (or not) later. The important thing is finding a system that allows you to start TODAY.

You’ve been with coach Evan now for six months. Can you talk to me a little bit about what he had you do?

JENNIFER: Evan started me out just counting calories, learning about the foods I ate, and getting used to comfortably logging my meals.

I had an eating disorder as a teenager. Hyper-focusing on everything I was eating and logging it all was really starting to trigger a lot of anxiety and bad memories in the beginning.

But I told Evan all of this at our first meeting and he has been very good about helping me completely turn my perspective around about tracking my meals. He told me not to have any judgment about what I was eating, and to view the practice as a scientist collecting data.

That perspective helped (Steve’s note: woo! Science rules!)

For exercise, Evan started me out just taking a walk every day, followed shortly by some basic bodyweight exercises. At first, these were really tough, because I was really out of shape to start. I’d end most sessions a sweaty exhausted mess on the floor.

Then Evan added in more dumbbell exercises (I have a small set at home and borrowed a bench from my family) and I instantly fell in love with those exercises! Evan made sure to add more of those into my routine as well.

STEVE: That’s great to hear Jennifer. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of strength training.

What’s your routine like now? What else is Evan having you do?

JENNIFER: 5 months in, I’m even more of an avid walker. I walk daily, sometimes over 5 miles, or sometimes shorter if my walking buddies bail on me.

Total flakes (j/k, I love you guys).

I do strength training 3 days a week with a combination of bodyweight and dumbbell exercises.

We just introduced some yoga routines to both help with stress relief and to help with stretching and mobility. I have had some issues with cranky muscles and joints on occasion, which yoga is helping with.

The whole experience has been crazy to me.

I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy some kind of physical activity every day of the week.  

And fell IN LOVE with lifting weights.

It is damn satisfying to see myself becoming a chick with “guns.”

At this point, I have bigger biceps than my father and brother, haha. I am loving every second of that. It feels so good to be strong and be able to handle things on my own.

As a female, that is even more important to me because society is pretty much built around telling us women that we can’t be strong enough and we cannot do things on our own. I am fed up with that cultural stereotype!

As an aside, prior to joining NF Coaching, I was greatly inspired by Staci’s story and transformation. I like to think I’m following in her footsteps.

STEVE: Yes! I love it. I think everyone should follow a strength training practice: man, woman, child, grandparent, self-aware robot… all of them! I’m really glad you found this new passion.

Also, I’m glad you found inspiration from Staci! Many a rebel around here have also changed their lives after reading about Staci.

You sent over some awesome pics of a recent trip in Scotland. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?

JENNIFER: It was my goal in 2018 to do a hiking trip in Scotland. With Evan’s help, I got enough strength and endurance to do exactly that!

I went on a photography workshop on the Isle of Skye and completed the most difficult hike I have ever done up to a rock structure called the Old Man of Storr. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I couldn’t have done it without Evan’s help. So I am quite grateful.

I wanted to be able to do the mountain hikes with all my heavy camera gear on my back, without being assigned to the group of folks who couldn’t do as much. I knew I was in no shape to do it originally.

However, Evan and I created a plan, executed it, and boom! Up the mountain I went.

I can do so many cool things with my body that I wasn’t able to do 5 months ago! I power walked my first 8k about a month after starting with Evan. It was hard but I had built the endurance from walking every single day before it.

STEVE: I think it’s so great that you worked towards a goal and then hit it. I often encourage people to try and build up strength for an event. Something like a marathon, a ski trip, or in your case a photography workshop on the top of a mountain.

It gives you something to shoot for, something to motivate you to work out when it seems so much easier to skip it. I’m glad you created a goal for yourself, made a plan with your coach, and then nailed it!

Your physical appearance has changed. What else has changed about you?

JENNIFER: I’ve had vast improvements in my posture which I think in turn has improved my self-confidence.

There’s something about standing straight and tall with your shoulders back that makes you feel a bit like a badass. Someone who can conquer anything the day will throw at you.

I’ve also battled depression for most of my adult life. And while it by no means is cured, the severity of it has been lessened by the daily physical activity and improved nutrition.

All around, today I have the general ability to do more things because I have more energy and focus than I used to.

I still have days when I get overly stressed out and go a bit off the rails with my nutrition and make unhealthy choices. However, I appreciate Nerd Fitness for the “never twice in a row” mindset. It keeps me from feeling like an utter failure if I have a day with too much pizza or delicious cake or something. I just know the next day, it’s time for me to get back on track.

STEVE: That’s so cool! I’m happy “never twice in a row” resonated with you. I think it’s an important tool for preventing bad habits from developing. When people slip up (and we all slip up), it can become so easy to continue. Having a motto that stops this trend from continuing is a game-changer. I’m proud of you Jennifer.  

You mentioned a need to adjust your relationship with food. Can you talk to me a little bit about that? What’s your nutrition strategy like now?

JENNIFER: I’m proud to say I’ve changed my relationship with food. I’ve always used food as a comfort. Knowing this, I was really nervous about even just logging my food. Looking back though, it was such an important first step.

Tracking everything I was eating was eye-opening.

It helped me see what I was putting into my body, which gave me more confidence and determination in the kitchen. As of today, I’ve conquered cooking all kinds of foods, founds healthy recipes I enjoy, and am beginning to work on meal prep. Evan has a strategy for me to plan ahead on food preparation.

Healthy eating really has been a game changer. I am much more clear-headed today than I was six months ago, and I credit nutrition as a huge reason why.

I don’t really follow Paleo or anything like that.

Coach Evan has introduced me more into a “If It Fits Your Macros” style of eating. He really hammered in the thought that I had to eat protein with every meal.

I’ve also drastically reduced my sugar and alcohol consumption, although I’ll still indulge from time to time. Going back to “If It Fits Your Macros,” if I know I’m going to be eating dessert or having some drinks, I’ll plan for it and reduce my calories and carbs beforehand. Again though, I’m doing this less and less. I actually prefer healthier foods now, to be honest.

STEVE: That’s great to hear you say that. We here at Nerd Fitness continuously remind everyone that 80-90% of the weight loss comes down to nutrition. Not only that, but REAL food just makes you feel better. Which will give you more energy to workout. I’m glad that Evan has helped you see a plate of food differently.

What are you still working on? What new habits are you trying to develop?

JENNIFER: I am still establishing a fixed routine for sleeping and waking up, which is definitely something that has been a struggle to do. I have seen improvements though.

I’ve created a pretty solid breakfast routine, prioritizing protein. Oftentimes it’ll be cottage cheese, which I never realized I’d like!

I also have a glass of water upon waking up, which has been a good change.  

Earlier I mentioned I started doing yoga. I’m experimenting with doing it first thing in the morning.

My biggest challenge for creating a successful morning routine is going to bed on time. I would say this is still a work in progress. One habit at a time.

STEVE: Getting to bed on time can be such a critical step. I’ve struggled with being a “morning person” myself, but it really is worth pursuing the routine. Keep at it, Jennifer!

Do you have any words of advice for somebody who hasn’t invested in any program and can’t seem to make any progress?

JENNIFER: Don’t fall into the perfectionistic trap that I did and feel like you have to do ALL the things at once or you are a total failure. No human can dive into deep water before learning to swim.

Trying to do that is like taking a starter character in World of Warcraft and heading straight to a high-level dungeon: you’ll get trampled.

If you cannot commit to a program or feel overwhelmed that’s completely okay. Start small. Pick a small change and stick to that and build onto that routine once you’ve gotten comfortable. This way you slowly mold yourself into the person you want to be.  

I loved RPGs and grew up during the NES and SNES era and building good habits and getting healthy feels exactly like those games in a way. You don’t start at level 99,999 doing max damage to everything. You level up from the beginning and gain spells and abilities along the way and your character slowly evolves into the one you want it to be.

I think the Nerd Fitness “Level Up Your Life” motto is incredibly accurate.

Great change is made by accomplishing many smaller changes. And you’re so much less likely to become discouraged and just rage-quit if you go about change this way.

STEVE: That’s amazing Jennifer. You nailed the whole philosophy on “Level Up Your Life.” Start small, and before you know it you’re a top-level mage slaying dragons with ice spells. Or in your case, climbing up mountains.

Alright, one last question: you’ve already used some of our language, but what makes you a nerd?

JENNIFER: I consider myself a multi-dimensional nerd! If that’s not a phrase I am deeming it thus. I’ve loved video games since I was very small. Loved all the NES and Mario games, as well as the Zelda series and RPGs like Chrono Trigger and the Final Fantasy series.

I’ve played World of Warcraft with an awesome guild of all women for over 10 years.

Shout out to Daughters of the Alliance!

Comics are also a love. My absolute favorite is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and pretty much anything else he or David Mack have been involved in. I pretty much love all things nerdy.

STEVE: I do love me some Neil Gaiman too – I actually have Vol 1 of Sandman sitting on my coffee table! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Jennifer! All the best!

THE SIX KEYS TO JENNIFER’S WEIGHT LOSS AND LEVEL UP SUCCESS!

In speaking with Jennifer, I realized she had a few great traits which helped her succeed.

Lots of people embark on a fitness journey. Unfortunately, many of them are exactly where they started six months later.

Jennifer is different. In half a year, she’s changed her relationship with food, begun strength training, and has taken an epic trip.

After a rough patch, she used hitting rock bottom to turn her life around.

In speaking with her, and analyzing her choices and decisions, I think there are six traits that set Jennifer apart.

Here’s what we can learn from Jennifer’s success:

#1) JENNIFER STOPPED RELYING ON WILLPOWER

I love Jennifer’s “spoon” analogy. She knew she only had so much energy, only so much willpower, to get things done. So she sought a system that would require the least amount from her:

Instead of buying a gym membership she would never use, she started working out from her home.

Jennifer started with simple bodyweight exercises, a solid strategy to build momentum

Once she got a little more comfortable from working out at home, she starting using dumbbells and a bench press that she had access to. Again, all from home.

Working out and going to the gym are not tied together. If you have limited experience and/or motivation, start by doing simple bodyweight exercises at home. This is what Jennifer did!

Second, know that working out gives you more energy. Which can help give you more willpower. Which can help you embark on other habits like cooking or meal prep.

If you want to head to a gym for exercise, great! I do. However, if you have a hard time motivating yourself to leave the house, it doesn’t have to be the only option.

Starting small requires less willpower, which can help make your actions more likely to become routine.

#2) JENNIFER INVESTED IN HERSELF AND ASKED FOR HELP

Continuing on the theme of limited willpower, Jennifer knew she needed to do things differently. She saw herself with destructive habits that needed to be changed.

Doing it alone seemed impossible. It was hard enough for Jennifer to get out of bed and face the day. She knew that creating a plan and then sticking with it would require a lot of energy. Energy and willpower she was already having trouble coming up with.

So she asked for help. Jennifer wanted “Someone in MY corner to help cheer me on and guide me into a better way of living.” I’m proud that she reached out to us for that someone, and that she made a connection with her NF Coach, Evan.

It’s okay to ask for help! Knowing what to do, how to do it, and how to tell if it’s working requires a lot of energy. Some can do it alone. But many can’t. Asking for help, and then being willing to invest in that help can be a life-changing decision. Jennifer knew this and was willing to take the step to hire someone to create a plan and help her execute it.

I’ve had an online coach myself for 4 years and it has changed my life.

#3) JENNIFER HAD DRAGONS TO SLAY

I love that Jennifer planned a photography workshop in Scotland that required some physical strength and endurance. Hiking up a mountain with camera equipment isn’t easy, and Jennifer knew she’d have to train if she was going to make it.

So she asked for help, developed a plan on how to do it, and followed the plan. And boom! She was able to hike up her equipment for her class.

Having a goal gave Jennifer her “Big Why.”

When Jennifer started logging her food, it gave her anxiety. When she first started working out, she would be exhausted. When her walking buddies bailed on her, she went anyway.

Jennifer did these things because she knew they were part of a plan to get her up the Old Man of Storr in Scotland. Without doing the work, she would never get to the top. She would have to be part of the group that stuck to the sidelines.

Having a goal can provide the “Big Why.” When things get tough (and they will get tough), knowing “why” you are working hard can make all the difference.

Perhaps you want to go skiing with your kids and don’t want to be exhausted halfway through. Maybe there’s a marathon your friends are doing, and you want to go with them. Perhaps it’s practicing pull-ups so you can go tag along with your spouse who loves rock climbing.

Having a “Big Why” can be the key to making or breaking a fitness journey. And what happens after you slay a dragon? You go find a bigger dragon!

4#) JENNIFER STARTED HER JOURNEY WITH SMALL STEPS

Jennifer began with two small habits that most people can start today:

  • Jennifer started logging her food.
  • Jennifer started taking a daily walk.

We often advise people to pick a small habit they can imagine sticking with permanently. Once this becomes part of a normal routine, they can think about picking another.

This can be better than planning on “Going full Paleo, start rock climbing, and beginning a ballroom dancing practice.” If you don’t do any of these things currently, it could be very tough to start doing them all at once.

And we all know temporary changes produce temporary results. We want results that last!

That’s why Coach Evan had Jennifer start with small changes she could actually sustain.

For nutrition changes, Evan just had Jennifer track her food.

No judgment. No “eat this, not that.”

Just a log of everything she was consuming. Once Jennifer got comfortable doing this, and only once Jennifer became comfortable doing this, did Evan start to make recommendations for adjustments.

Jennifer also started small with exercises: just a walk.

Walking is a great start for a fitness journey (it’s also a great way to get to Mordor). It’ll get your heart rate up and your muscles moving, and it’s something you can do around your neighborhood. Even just a five-minute walk is a great start. Once you get in the habit of that, you can make take it to 10 minutes or even a full mile. If you start this way, eventually you can be like Jennifer and crush miles each and every day.

After you get in the habit of walking, you can switch to picking up some weights every other day. The habit of walking is easy to adapt to another exercise practice, like strength training.

“Instead of my 2pm walk, it’s now my 2pm bench press time.”

Be like Jennifer and start small. Once the habit is built, you can work to grow it from there.

5#) JENNIFER PLANNED ON WHAT TO DO WHEN SHE FELL DOWN

It brought a smile to my face when I heard Jennifer say “never two in a row.”

It’s a great frame of mind to keep.

Things will come up. You will miss a workout. You will have some beers and eat pizza. You will sleep in and miss your walking groups AM meeting. Your kid will get sick.

When you miss these things consistently, you start creating bad habits. And what you do most of the time is how you create a healthy life.

Missing one workout is okay. Missing two is bad because then it’s really easy to miss three.

Eating pizza is fine. But “once and a while” can quickly become an “everyday” thing. Continue this for too long and then you’re just living off pizza!

“Never two in a row” provides a framework for making sure bad habits don’t develop:

  • “If I miss today’s workout, there is no way I’m missing tomorrow’s.”
  • “If I eat pizza tonight, it’s eggs and a little bit of fruit in the morning.”

Create a mindset of stopping these things before they get out of hand. Be like Jennifer and create a plan on what to do when you inevitable stray from the path.

6#) JENNIFER IS HAVING FUN ALONG THE WAY

Jennifer considers herself a work in progress. When you think about it, we’re all works in progress!  She knows this. But she is having fun now, which makes the days ahead seem sustainable.

We are not on a month-long journey. We are in this for the rest of our lives. To make sure we stick with it, we need to have fun! And as I say in this video: we stop thinking in terms of “weeks and months,” and instead start thinking in terms of “days and years”

Jennifer legitimately loves strength training. You can tell she’s looking forward to one day doing pull-ups.

Jennifer likes eating nutritious food and loves how much energy she derives from those meals.

My favorite part: she views where she’s at as an experiment. She highlights this when she talks about her morning routine and yoga. She’s still not sure how to get the AM just right and thinks a little yoga in the morning might help. She’ll try it to see if it works. If it doesn’t, she’ll try something else.

IN SIX MONTHS, CAN YOU TURN YOUR LIFE AROUND LIKE JENNIFER?

All of us will hit tough spots in life.

Maybe it’s losing a job. Perhaps it’s a sick family member. Or a child that’s struggling in school.

For Jennifer, it was a nasty divorce. At first, she coped in the ways many of us cope: food and alcohol.

Jennifer decided this couldn’t continue. So she sought help. And in six months time, Jennifer has leveled up her life. She can pursue her passion for photography and not be afraid of the literal mountain ahead. She knows the shot at the top of the climb, is not only worth it, but doable.

Where will you be six months from now?

It’s enough time to build some great healthy habits as Jennifer did. However, it’s also a short enough time which can fly by if you’re not looking.

If you’re standing in the same place you were six months ago, think about what you can learn from Jennifer:

  • Don’t rely on willpower, build systems. Take the path of least resistance. Instead of starting with an hour-long workout program at the gym, start with exercises you can do at home.
  • Ask for help. You are not the first person who has tried to get fit. It’s okay to reach out to those who’ve had success, or those who have helped others. You don’t have to do this alone.
  • Have a goal. A “Big Why” can be critical when things get tough. When everyone is ordering pizza, or the gym seems so far away, having a goal can help you remember why you are putting in all the work.
  • Start small. Don’t try and change every aspect of your life tomorrow. Some can handle this approach, but most can’t. Adopt one habit you can see yourself sticking with and grow it from there.
  • Plan for failure. Things will come up. Having a motto like “never two in a row” can help prevent one instance of a slip up into turning into a reoccurring habit.
  • Have fun. Getting fit is not a 30-day experiment. It really is about a lifestyle. Pick and choose things you have fun doing. This will help ensure your new habits are sustainable.

If you relate to Jennifer and find yourself in a tough spot, we can help you turn it around.

Depending on your current situation, our 1-on-1 NF Coaching Program might be just what you need. We help people everyday complete life overhauls.

If you’re trying to get in shape, searching for a new way of eating, or want help developing a strength training practice, we know exactly how to get you there. You can learn more by clicking on the big box below and scheduling a free call with our team!

The next six months will come and go no matter what you do today.

I’d love it if half a year from now, you tell me Jennifer’s story was something you related to. Which inspired you to make some changes.

You started walking every day. You began a food journal. You finally decided to ask for help.

As always, if you do need somewhere to go for help, you know Nerd Fitness will be here.

For the Rebellion!

-Steve

PS: I want to give a special shout out to Jennifer’s Coach Evan, who has been the Dumbledore to her Hermione over these past 6 months. And I’m proud of Jennifer’s success and can’t wait to see what she does next.

If you are somebody that wants to have your own Yoda guiding you in the ways of the Force, check out or 1-on-1 coaching program, and I could be sharing YOUR story six months from now!

PPS: Speaking of success stories…If you’ve had success with any aspect of Nerd Fitness, whether it’s our free workouts, Academy, or Coaching, email us! Send your story to contact(at)NerdFitness(dot)com and let us know so we can share your adventure with the galaxy!

PPPS: We are very grateful to Adam Bulley, Paul Marshall, and David Roby, who provided some of the epic shots of Jennifer for this article!

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