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Emily’s Journey from Skinny to Strong & Sexy

This is such a cool story from JillFit Coach Emily Saunders, and I am excited to be able to share with you guys! Emily and I have known each other for years and *finally* a few years back I got her out of her cardio classes and in to the weight room (perhaps some of you can relate??)–she is an amazingly kind spirit who inspires all around her–a triple threat–fit chick, down-to-earth sweetheart and drop-dead beauty! Enjoy!

By Emily Saunders

I was always a skinny kid.  It was a part of who I was and a strong determining factor in the activities I excelled at and enjoyed. I had a “ballerina body” and loved to dance, I made a great cheerleader because I could be easily tossed around and gymnastics – of course- I was relatively short, flexible and tiny.  You get the picture.

I was heavily involved in all three of these activities from the age of 3 until I graduated from college as a Varsity Cheerleader.   I watched the examples around me and heard all of the comments and knew that in order to be successful I needed to stay thin no matter what.

I take after my Dad.  He is thin and narrow with long legs and a short torso- just like me.  My mom, on the other hand, has struggled with her weight her entire life.  During my childhood she tried every single diet plan in the book (Opti-fast, HMR, Slimfast- you name it) in an effort to lose weight.  Most of them worked for a time, but then she would gain back all of the weight she lost plus more.  I saw how this struggle weighed on her and I knew that I did not want to have to face the same battle.

Looking back now I did not realize how SKINNY I was during parts of high school and college.  I knew I did not want to lose my “dancer body” and the only way I knew to do that was to make sure I was eating less than a certain number of calories and getting “enough” exercise.  Fast forward to the first few years after college:  I became a group fitness instructor teaching tons of spin, “power pump” and aerobics classes and ran like a maniac.  I gauged the quality of my workouts SOLELY on the number of minutes of cardio I did that day.  It didn’t matter if I was leaning on the rails reading a book, if I hit “X” minutes on the stepmill then I felt like I was on my way to a fit and toned physique. I also figured out that I was pretty good at distance running and ran 7 half marathons in a year.  I ended up with a couple of trophies and a bad case of plantar fasciitis.

As far as nutrition, I thought I was eating a healthy “well rounded” diet.  Usually that consisted of 2 packs of oatmeal for breakfast, a Greek Salad with light dressing and 2 Panera baguettes for lunch, some candy in the afternoon,  some sort of chicken sandwich from Quiznos for dinner and copious amounts of fat free vanilla ice cream with hot fudge, caramel, crumbled reduced-fat oreos, whipped cream, sprinkles etc.  Was I thin? Yes.  Was I healthy? No. Was my lifestyle helping me accomplish the “fit” look that I wanted?  No way!

One of my favorite sayings is “when one door closes another opens” because I have seen it happen so many times in my life.  One example:  I met Jill in college but didn’t know her well.  We worked out at the same gym post-college and would chat now and then (she encouraged me to get into fitness modeling/competing regularly but I always brushed it off saying I wasn’t sure it was for me when in fact I had NO idea what it was about).

In early 2009 the gym closed unexpectedly and Jill quickly told me about another place a couple of miles away that she was going to try out.  There is where I met my dear friend, trainer, and training partner Tara Ballard.  As you know from reading her story Tara was a hard core runner too and we had a lot in common.  When I met her she was just getting started training with Jill for her first figure competition.  I watched her body change and was amazed.  She was just the inspiration I needed to start thinking a different way.

I slowly began to wean myself off of the hours of cardio and began training with heavy weights- (something I had never done before), and overhauled my diet.  It took me well over a year to fully commit to the changes and realize that I was finally achieving the physique I had been working toward in all of the wrong ways before. Jill and Tara showed me the ropes and before I knew it I had decreased my body fat by 5% and put on 5 pounds of muscle for my first bikini competition.  A year and a half later I placed 8th out of almost 50 girls at the Model America Competition in Las Vegas.

I still enjoy competing but more than anything I enjoy feeling healthy, confident and comfortable in my own skin.  I now understand how to accomplish my goals – and it has nothing to do with the number of minutes of cardio I can cram into a day.  It has everything to do with consistent HEAVY weight training combined with HIIT intervals, incline walking and giving my  body proper rest.  Also, it requires following my personal unique formula of proper nutrition to continue to build muscle and burn fat.  Will my glutes ever build to where I want them to be, maybe not.  Will I ever have the “perfect” abs that I envision in my head, probably not.  I recognize that I, like everyone else, have genetic limitations and have learned to work with and appreciate what I’ve got and to play up my assets.  The Jillfit trainers are each other’s biggest cheerleaders and I don’t know what I would do without this awesome team!

Old habits die hard and I probably STILL do more cardio than is ideal because I love the “high” (even though it doesn’t compare to the high following a tough lower body workout :)).  Sometimes I’ll see a “stick” figure walk by or a young dancer and my mind briefly goes back to that place where I feel like I should be the skinniest person in the room because that was what had defined me for so long.  I am not that girl anymore though and I am proud of my more shapely physique, body confidence, and knowledge of exactly how to feed my body what it needs to accomplish my physique goals.  Fear of change can hinder us from so many positive things in this life.  Do not let fear of failure hold you back.   You will not be perfect and neither will I – but changing my habits (however slowly) was one of the best decisions and gifts I have ever given myself.

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