From Fat and Sick to Fit and Quick – How Diet and Exercise Changed My Life

I sat in the cold florescent-lit room covered only in a thin paper gown. My arm ached from the blood draw while bruises confessed previous invasions. I had gone through more doctors than I could remember, and I was still no closer to finding out what was wrong.

It started with a fever after I came home from a business trip. Airports are notorious for spreading the flu, so I dismissed it. I took a few days off from work, but I never got better.

I started back to work still achy and sick with a fever of around 100 degrees. It never broke – for over a year it ranged from 99 to 101. Doctors call it “fever of unknown origin,” and they don’t want to deal with it. I had aches and pains constantly. I gained weight. I lost my hair in the shower. I had night sweats, angina pain, muscle spasms, and insomnia. My hormone levels were very low on all my tests. I was always tired. I tried to exercise, but it exhausted me to the point that I had to choose between running or work. Either one would cause me to be unable to move for the rest of the day. I had chronic UTIs. I was on antibiotics for months at a time. Even though I lived in Florida and was out in the sun often, my vitamin D levels were very low (6 ng/ml) requiring supplementation. Doctors told me a range of things they suspected: endometriosis, mono, chronic fatigue, early menopause, fibromyalgia, and hormone issues. I became depressed, as no one in the medical community seemed to have answers. I was working hard to build up a sales territory, and this was the last thing I needed to deal with.

One doctor told me that even though my ANA test was still negative, she suspected that I was developing an autoimmune disorder. At this point, I knew I had to made some drastic changes.

I was already a vegetarian. But, my current illness was proof that just cutting out meat doesn’t make you healthier. I was still eating a lot of processed foods and cheese, and not many fresh greens. My sales job demanded I drive to visit clients across a territory of almost all of Florida and parts of Alabama and Georgia. When I got home late at night or spent nights in hotels, it cut into my motivation to eat healthy food. I often went for the easy drive through meals or boxes and packages I could heat up in minutes. I was also under incredible stress at work, as my illness was impacting my performance. It’s hard to be in sales and be cheerful every day to customers when you feel like the walking dead.

First, I was fortunate to transfer to another division within my company that drastically reduced my territory size. I switched from calling on veterinarians to physicians. With less driving required and a new manager, my health improved and stress levels went down to the point that I could start exercising a bit. This gave me some hope. If I could exercise, I could pull out of this onslaught of disease and depression.

I set my sights on a marathon six months away. I paid the entry fee so I couldn’t talk myself out if it. I had never even done a half marathon in my college running days, but if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. I needed change. In addition to the multiple health issues, my weight was the highest it had been in years. I needed to drop a good 50 pounds to be race ready. I knew exercise could only carry me so far. So, I went back to eating real vegan food and threw away the packaged junk.

With diet and exercise as weapons to take back my athletic college body I knew was still in there somewhere, I began a new way of life. I focused on eating more salads and fresh fruits vs stuff from a box or bag. I also began my marathon training plan. I was too embarrassed to run with a running group due to how slow and fat I felt, so I trained around my neighborhood with only my iPod for company. Looking back, I wish I had joined the awesome group in Sarasota, Gulf Coast Speed, sooner. When I got faster and joined them, this group really took me to the next level and gave me many amazing friendships. Running is such a social sport and attracts the best people. You should never train alone if you can help it. But, due to my pride, I plodded away on my own, working up to eventually 24 long, boring miles before I started my taper. I also worked in a 5K, 10K, and two half-marathons as training races.

Running to the finish of a half-marathon in St. Petersburg, FL

Running to the finish of a half-marathon in St. Petersburg, FL.

I became a different person. The vegan diet, packed with fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables, combined with running turned my health around. I had energy again. The symptoms disappeared and the fever broke. I got off all medication. I dropped 50lbs in six months and a new person stepped out as the old shell of sickness and weight slipped off me. I have never looked back.

I ran my marathon – the Disney Marathon to be precise. It was the most painfully amazing experience of my life. My goal was to come in at 5 hours, and I smashed that goal by a considerable amount.

Giving Goofy a high five at the finish of the Disney Marathon

Giving Goofy a high five at the finish of the Disney Marathon.

Since then, I have competed in many other road races and multiple half marathons. I also began racing in triathlons. From my first race, I was addicted. Now, I am training for the full Ironman with a professionally-sponsored national team here in Grenada. I no longer believe in limits. My body, with proper training and nutrition, can do things I never believed possible.

Me stretching out after tri practice - wearing the uniform of the national triathlon team.

Stretching out after tri practice – wearing the uniform of the national triathlon team.

I also witnessed the healing power of food in my own life. I have stayed vegan. I even did seven months where I did nothing but raw vegan. This was the absolute best way for me to eat, and I had my fastest running times on this diet. However, now that I live in another country, I have to abandon this for financial reasons. I plan to do it again when I get back to America and do the final push before my Ironman race in 2014.

Raw young coconuts = Nature's Gatorade! The perfect post-run recovery food.

Raw young coconuts = Nature’s Gatorade!
The perfect post-run recovery food.

I also love juicing and have done multiple fresh juice fasts up to two weeks and seen amazing benefits to my health. I still believe in juicing at least once a day as a supplement to a healthy diet, with fasting sprinkled in as needed. There is no better way to pack in the nutrients and lose weight quickly in a healthy manner.

In six months, I went from an overweight person on the edge of developing an autoimmune disorder to running a marathon. I went from depression to hope. Now, when I see others struggling with health issues and weight problems, I can completely relate. I’ve been where you have been. All I can say is, don’t give up. Change is hard, but you never regret the work when you are on the other side. Your body can heal itself if you give it the right tools. It really is that simple. Diet and exercise did what no doctor or pill was able to do – help me find the athlete within. I will never go back again.

O.k. I'm being brave and showing before and after pics. On the left, me at 180 pounds and sick. On the right, me at 130 pounds running to the finish line to win my age division in a triathlon.

O.k. I’m being brave and showing before and after pics. On the left, me at 180 pounds and sick. On the right, me at 130 pounds running to the finish to win my age division in a triathlon.

Can you relate? Have you ever faced these challenges? I want to hear from you! I want to encourage you not to give up. If you have conquered your illness or weight issues, please tell me your tale of triumph. Motivational stories matter! I can’t get enough of them! Let’s encourage each other on the road to a better, faster, stronger version of ourselves! It’s a tough climb to the top of this mental mountain, but… wow… what an amazing view it is!

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33 responses to “From Fat and Sick to Fit and Quick – How Diet and Exercise Changed My Life

  1. I am so proud of you! I feel so weak. I know what I need to do. I keep making excuses, though. I need strength from heaven to get on track and stay on track. Please, pray for me. I am alone here i Ohio. It would be better if I had someone like you to drag me out the house each day. I love you much!!

    • I will pray for you. You are stronger than you know… And you and God together are unstoppable! I wish I could train with you. Try to get connected with a good running group (or exercise of your choice). I didn’t know anyone other than my husband (and he hates running) when I came to both Florida and Grenada. I just found people to train with because I knew I needed that. I know you can find people to motivate you in Ohio. Keep it up beautiful! You’ve got this! Love you too! πŸ™‚

  2. That’s truly incredible, Sarah! Thanks for sharing your amazing story–you’re inspiring so many people including me! πŸ™‚

  3. Sarah! I really needed this! The past 10 months have been really hard for me and the trauma has taken a toll on me both physically, emotionally an spiritually! I feel my body slowing down and the weight just keeps parking on, inch by inch, now I’m even afraid to get on a scale, I keep telling myself that I need to start on this road to recovery but every effort a diet and exercise reform has been a complete failure, I’m kinda at my wits end and totally discouraged. Thanks for sharing your story of triumph, hopefully , with Gods help I too may be able to achieve a fraction of the success that ou have. Keep me i your prayers ,Blessings

    • Leslie, I certainly will pray for you! I know you can achieve what I have and more. I’ve been exactly where you are! If I may, check out this site and watch the free documentary. It may give you some extra tools. This guy reversed his illness through diet too and made an inspiring documentary about it. πŸ™‚ http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com

      God bless sis!

  4. I’ll quit meat the day my heart stops pumping (it’s the bacon), but I did quit drinking 20 years ago. πŸ˜‰

    Congratulations, your story is truly an awesome one.

    • I understand that. Bacon is loved by many! Lol! I’ve just had several people very close to me – including my mom when I was 15 – die from cancer. It was a slow, terrible death. I’m not going out like that if I can help it. And, your taste buds change, so I don’t feel deprived or miss meat anymore.

      Congrats on quitting drinking! That’s a great step for your health too! Thanks so much for the encouragement! πŸ™‚

  5. I feel a gift was sent to me when I found your blog! I identify with so much of what you write (current and past postings) and your journey truly inspiring. I was sick by choice (anorexia) for many years but when I discovered weightlifting it required me to eat, it saved my life and my sanity. And now I am strong enough to do conditioning work I never thought possible. This wonderful world of fitness and health has awakened me to myself. Thank you for sharing your life stories!

    • I’m so glad you have found health and happiness thorugh lifting! Thank you so much for your kind words. You truly made my night. I’m so glad you related to my journey. All the best to you!

  6. You have really inspired me once again, Sarah…i will wiling to take up this journey and change my eating and lifestyle practices to take care of the body that God has given to me. Thank you very much for your inspiring words! Keep it up!

    • That’s great news! You have made my night! I’m so happy when people decide to put their health first. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you on your journey.

  7. So inspiring! Healthy foods are so healing and powerful! I’m excited to follow your progress training for an ironman!

    Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah!

  8. Perhaps the single most inspiring quote I’ve ever read:

    “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” – may I reblog it and link back to this post at a later date?

    It appeals to me on so many levels, I thrive on challenge and if I’m scared of something or don’t think I can do it, it becomes my focus till it’s done. Amazing post. I’d love to know more about juicing and how to stave off hunger whilst you do it. I struggle to sleep when I’m hungry and that really impacts on training. I think my weight is affecting my joints lately and it’s really getting me down… I’ll have to make a change and be more like you. A half Ironman is on my to-do list, but I’ve still yet to complete a half marathon. 10k has thus far been my roof because my knees suffer. Time for change!

    • Wow! I’m so honored. Of course you may reblog and link to this. Thank you!

      And that quote isn’t an original, so feel free to use it. I read it on a Facebook meme and it spoke to me.

      I plan to write a post on juicing in the near future. I will certainly address the hunger issues you are facing. Stay tuned. πŸ˜‰

      And I know you can do your half ironman. Keep it up! I can’t wait to hear of your success!

  9. I have been through many, many battles with my weight and body image since I was 17 years old. I tried running from time to time and even ran a 10k once in my 30s, but it felt so hard.

    After moving to a new state almost five years ago, I looked at my overweight self and I fell down on my knees and turned over my disordered eating and negative body image to the Lord. Since that time, I lost 35 lbs. and began walking in the neighborhood. Then, through people that God brought into my life, I began long-distance running and ran my first half marathon in Fall, 2010. I have since run several half marathons and just finished my third full marathon.

    Thank you for your encouragement in your blog and facebook posts. My prayer is that my daughters will learn to appreciate their bodies as God uniquely made them and to have a healthy self-image and to stay healthy. Please help pray for them and for any other people who need a healthy body image. Pray that they make the right choices. I want to teach them to make the right choices, as well. I appreciate your posts on healthy eating and have learned a lot. I would like to go vegan, but don’t know if I will feel satisfied on that kind of diet, as I tend to do better with high protein and low refined carbs (lots of fruits, veggies and some whole grains, though). I haven’t been eating as healthy lately and my weight has gone up a little.

    What is the best way to start a vegan eating plan?

    Several years ago I would never have believed that I could run a half marathon. My daughters sometimes run with me and also love to cycle. It is very encouraging! Running and cycling with friends and family makes it even more fun!

    Keep up the positive posts. They truly make a difference for many of us out there!

    Thanks again!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words and your inspirational story! You have so much for which to be proud and know you are truly blessed. Yes, negative body image has plaqued the women of this country for too long. I agree. I’m so glad you were able to get past that. We all need to get to this point. I will certainly keep your daughters in my prayers.

      I plan to write a post about being vegan seperately, so I will defer your question until then if that’s o.k. I just don’t think I could adequately cover it on here and I’d like to give you the best information. But, be on the lookout – it’s coming. πŸ˜‰

      Keep up the great work in your endurance sports. I will do my best to continue to post things that inspire others and educate them on healthy life choices.

      All my best!

  10. Really enjoyed this Sarah! How inpiring it is to see how you did what you needed to do to get yourself healthy again. You are a great example of how hard work, diligence, and determination will allow us to climb obstacles that may currently seem too great to overcome. Very proud of you and I’m going to have an extra helping of guacamole on my next Chipotle meal in your honor. πŸ™‚ (You know I had to work that in somehow!) Keep making GCS proud of you with your awesome accomplishments and visit us when you can! God bless!

    • Oh Kyle! You would say that when I can’t get to a Chipotle! Lol! But seriously – thank you! I miss running (and eating) with you guys! And I will do my best to make you all proud! Thank you, as always, for your belief in me! Keep up the awesomeness yourself! Your pacing times lately have been my aspiration! Hugs from Grenada! God bless you too!

  11. After living off cigarettes & iced coffees from the age of 15 to 30, I am now vegetarian, borderline vegan. I have my 4th 70.3 Ironman on Saturday 11th and my 4th Ironman in December. My relationships with my children has never been stronger or happier. My work as a teacher is physically and mentally demanding, but eating well gives me stamina and training clears my head. I try to be a role model for my class as inactivity levels of today’s kids is pretty shocking and they eat more takeaway in a week than I eat in a year. I truly feel that education is the key to creating a healthier, happier and positive future for all. ps keep up the hard training for the IM!

    • Peta,

      I am so sorry for my late response. I missed this comment. Thank you for your kind words! And congrats on the 4th 70.3! You are truly an inspiration and an amazing role model. I agree, education is the key. There are no corporate pushes for a healthy lifestyle, because the best things in life can’t be patented and sold for profit. Keep up the great work changing young lives by your example!

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  13. that is incredible Sarah, congratulations! I live in Guatemala and have progressively evolved towards a clean healthy diet where I make most things from scratch including bread, and feel the health improvement. Now I am starting a couch to 5K, I don’t like running and read your hate running post, the impact bothers me and while I have endurance in swimming and cycling, not so much with the running. Anyway, I am excited about it and reading stories like yours is what makes me want to stick with it.

    • Pauline,

      Thanks for your kind words. And congrats on your healthier eating choices and couch to 5K program. With your swimming and cycling background, if you can get running down, you’re ready for a triathlon! The first few weeks of running are the hardest. Then it starts to get better. Keep at it!

      If the impact bothers you, it may be your running form and shoes. Here’s a great video on getting your form down. Once I improved form, the overuse from impact injuries no longer occurred. Check it out if you get a chance. ☺

      http://naturalrunningcenter.com/2013/01/06/video-the-principles-natural-running/

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