Hello 2016! With a list of sincere resolutions firmly tucked in our hearts, we usher in the new year with hope that life, career and love will be richer, more beautiful and infinitely more rewarding. Health goals are often mightily at the top of the list as the gooey delicious decadence of December has left many of us feeling sluggish, out of shape and squeezing into our skinny jeans with extra effort.
If your New Year’s resolution just happens to be losing weight or/and getting fit, then we present you with pure inspiration from five remarkable women who have realized their goals with the unbridled power of working out together.
“The No. 1 reason people fail in their weight loss or fitness programs is because they don’t have a support system,” says Leah Mendenhall, a personal trainer and owner of Anchor Fitness in Batavia. Knowing she had to shed weight after the birth of her sweet son Oliver, who will soon turn 2, Leah selected four of her most-dedicated, most-consistent clients to join her on an incredible, no-holds-barred sixth-month journey that started last April. She dubbed the program #ProjectAnchor.
The end result?
Collectively, Leah and the women gladly bid adieu to 160 pounds and 40 percent in body fat during #ProjectAnchor. At the same time, they welcomed verve, confidence and an overall improved sense of well-being, both emotionally and physically.
“It was so much fun, and lifetime friendships were also built during those six months,” says Leah, whose firm yet kind approach to fitness is refreshing. “But it was tough, of course, and I felt vulnerable sometimes because I was letting them see my weaknesses as well.”
This band of sisters in spirit and sweatpants included Kait, 26; Katie, 26; Emily, 30; and Jenna, 30.
Leah equipped her cadre with dumb bells, battle rope, tires, kettleballs, punching bags and other workout gear as she led them through drills and bootcamp sessions in her no-frills gym setting. Think warehouse chic.
Always one to inject workouts with pizzazz, Leah also added special motivation for her crew: She scheduled before and after photos of the group at Blush Boudoir (both are above this article). With Tracy’s keen and tasteful eye behind the camera, Leah knew the session would launch #ProjectAnchor on a splendidly positive note.
“Normally, when people have before photos taken when they sign up for a fitness regimen with a personal trainer, they are the most humiliating photos. You don’t want to show them to anyone because they are so embarrassing,” says Leah. Imagine standing against a drab concrete wall with poor lighting and unflattering angles framing you.
“I knew Tracy would take good care of these ladies even if they were not feeling the best about themselves,” explains Leah, who first met the Blush team in 2012 when she had photos taken as a wedding gift to her husband.
Katie, an eighth-grade English teacher who lost 27 pounds, smiles when she remembers the telling “before” photo shoot at Blush Boudoir. “All of the sudden, we’re getting naked with strangers,” she says with a laugh. “But Tracy made us feel so gorgeous even when we were overweight.”
Planning her June wedding was ample inspiration for Katie to get fit, and Leah commends Katie for sticking to her guns given all the yummy, but high-calorie temptations that surround a bride-to-be: engagement parties, bridal showers, bachelorette parties and other festivities.
“Katie was fun because during this time, she was planning her wedding and she had all these different trips,” recalls Leah. “She was so strong through everything. She would have to plan her cheat meals around these events. She had awesome, awesome progress.”
Any hint of self-consciousness swiftly disappeared during the first studio session, adds Emily, who dropped 51 pounds. “At first, I was Sweaty Betty; I was so self-conscious. … But Tracy knew all the right things to say, and the hair and makeup team made me feel like a Victoria Secret model.”
As a customer service representative who also helps Leah with Anchor Fitness’ clothing line, Emily is now planning to pursue a career in fitness. “Through this process, she’s discovered her true passion is fitness,” says Leah.
Kait, who Leah fondly describes as the “fun girl who talks during demonstrations,” had gained 70 pounds when she had her son. During her work at a medical spa and off-duty, Kait camouflaged the weight gain by wearing what she calls flowy clothes, but she couldn’t hide the fact that her health, self-esteem and energy levels were suffering. She fell ill often, she recalls. “I had lost myself in being a wife and a mother,” says Kait, who shed 35 pounds during #ProjectAnchor. “I needed time to focus on me.”
Kait’s story, in particular, resonated with Leah. “Kait’s son is only three months older than Oliver,” adds Leah. “Kait is such an awesome mother, but she just didn’t allocate any ‘me time’ for herself. But Anchor Fitness provided an outlet for her that ultimately made her not only stronger, but also her family stronger. Her goal was to keep up with her toddler and she has reached that goal.”
Jenna, too, entered #ProjectAnchor with matrimony and good health on her mind. Jenna came into the program as a single woman who said “I want to look my best at 30,” according to Leah. “By the end of #ProjectAnchor, she was engaged.” (and she’s saving her Blush images for her wedding day gift to her husband-to-be)
Leah set forth a sensible foundation for the women: Work out five times a week (for at least 45 minutes) either with Leah or on their own. “We did mostly weight conditioning, with a small amount of cardio, and they were also following a nutrition plan. We didn’t count calories, because that can be so time-consuming, but we instead focused on taking in the right amounts of protein, carbs and healthy fats.”
Social media proved indispensible in keeping the women on track through the six months. They would share recipes and fitness tips via Facebook, “and we’d check in at restaurants and share photos of what we were going to eat,” says Katie.
“There was an accountability present because we talked all day, everyday,” adds Leah.
On Jan. 5, Leah will start a new #ProjectAnchor, and she again plans to take the new participants to Blush Boudoir to capture the before photos.
Leah smiles as she looks at the photos of the radiant 2015 graduates of #ProjectAnchor. “The No. 1 thing you see in their after photos is confidence,” says Leah.
6 Ways to Kick Off the New Year of You
Personal trainer Leah Mendenhall and the 2015 graduates of #ProjectAnchor share their tips for feeling and looking wonderfully fit and confident as you enter the 2016 — The Year of Fabulous You:
“First of all, be honest with yourself and drop the excuses,” says Emily. Leah says she knew it was time to recommit to her health when she avoided going out to eat and she was embarrassed to be around people.
Have a support system in place to rally around you during the wins (a five-pound weight loss, for instance, or well-defined biceps), but also during the challenging times when you find it hard to stick to your fitness plan. “Always remember, you’re not alone and you just have to push yourself,” Emily says.
Find a gym or fitness center that will motivate you, says Kait. Leah agrees, noting “you need to feel like you belong there and that you fit in. It’s like finding the right dress when you’re shopping; you can’t force it. It has to fit and feel right.”
Stick it out. “It takes time; you have to trust the process,” says Leah. “The weight didn’t come on overnight, and it’s not going to be lost overnight. Think of it was a lifestyle change. As long as you put forth 100 percent, you will see results.”
Re-evaluate your eating habits. “The biggest misconception is that you have to starve yourself to lose weight,” says Leah. “I had the girls eating three regular meals and two snacks daily. I emphasized drinking a lot of water, too, and taking in the right amount of healthy fats, protein and carbohydrates. Your body needs the right fuel to run efficiently.”
Take before-and-after photos to remind yourself of where you started – and how incredibly far you have come. “It helps you to continue your new habits,” says Leah.
Ready to start your own fitness journey with a goal of having beautiful images that celebrate your progress? Schedule your Blush Boudoir shoot for 6-10 months from now and have something to work toward. You will be amazed by your results!