Growing up, I was a cheerleader, active and ate whatever I wanted – I never had weight issues. Being Italian, pasta dishes were always on the menu at home. I looked forward to Sunday dinners with my family that ran from early afternoon well into the late evening & included copious amounts of starches, fatty meats and rich desserts.
I ate this way until I hit a rough patch in my late teens. After some alarming trips to the ER, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) & Panic Disorder. Dizziness, trembling, rapid breathing, chest pains, feeling sick and terrified were some of the symptoms I experienced during a panic attack. It is anxiety at its worst and it can paralyze you with fear. I’m not sure why it happens, but a false alarm goes off inside me – setting me up to respond to a non-existent threat. It can be extremely debilitating.
I looked to food for comfort & soon my 5′ 4” frame weighed over 170 lbs. I tried exercising, but the feeling of my accelerated heart rate would trigger my anxiety & a full-blown panic attack. So here I was – overweight, unhappy & unable to exercise (or so I thought).
A few years later, I decided to try exercise again. I joined a gym and began with some light jogging. It took a lot of effort, but eventually I became a regular – I was even successful at changing my diet. I lost about 30lbs and was close to reaching my goal… and then I was introduced to diet pills.
Diet Pills, and Weight Gain
I was convinced that my prayers were answered. I thought, “No more boring workouts or bland food and I can keep losing weight? Perfect! I only have a few more pounds to go. There can’t be any harm in trying this out, right?”
Wrong. I became thin, irritable, didn’t sleep well, my skin was practically desiccating, my panic symptoms returned, and could hardly carry a grocery bag. My gym membership went out the window, and because the pills suppressed my appetite, I consumed barely 500 calories of unhealthy food a day.
Realizing these pills were ruinous to my body, I stopped taking them – and as a result, I gained a lot of weight rapidly. I didn’t realize how much weight I had put on until I went to a party and a guy said, “I’m not into fat girls, but you can stay.”
I was crushed. I cried the whole way home that night. For a while, I considered accepting myself at this weight, or whether I should try again. I was terrified to exercise because I was sure that I’d have to face my fears of a panic attack again. When I inevitably did, the gym staff was unaware of my condition & had no idea what to do. It was embarrassing.
Nevertheless, I decided to show up again and eventually became comfortable at the gym – but I never pushed myself & still found comfort in food. I managed to keep about 20 lbs. off, but my weight constantly fluctuated and I was obsessed with checking a scale that barely moved.
Two years ago, a friend told me about a trainer she had been seeing. She looked fantastic – better than I had ever seen her look. I contacted her trainer and he introduced me to a program I fell in love with – Crossfit. This is where my transformation began.
Crossfit, Eating Healthy, and My Transformation
At first, the workouts were intimidating. They were hard, and pushed me out of my comfort zone – but in hindsight, this was necessary. Soon, a sense of pride and accomplishment followed every workout.
One of the greatest things about Crossfit is the community. I looked forward to working out with all of my new friends – we traded recipes, gave each other tips on how to eat clean & maximize our results. I loved it. I don’t think I would be sitting here writing this without their support – they are a second family to me.
I now prepare all of my food for the week on Sundays and love making healthy versions of my favorite dishes. It allows me to be creative & I enjoy my meals more because I know what I’m putting into my body. While I do try to eat as clean as possible, I also enjoy my “cheat” meals – balance is key.
As for Quest bars, I always have one with me – Quest is part of my success and makes staying fit so much easier. While I like trying out the 15-second recipes, I love being able to bake with them – one of my favorite treats are Quest white-chocolate raspberry cookies. They get delivered to my office and my home; I keep them everywhere, from my gym bag to my purse, and even my office drawer!
Today, at 32, I am in the best shape of my life. I have embraced my new lifestyle and have stayed at my goal size for over a year. There are no revolving gym memberships or diet trials – I wake up at 5am, workout from 6am-7am, jump on the train from NJ to NYC and get to work by 9:30. If I can’t make it in the morning, I fit it in at 8 pm – and needless to say, I do take rest days!
That being said, my real transformation began on the inside. Once my journey had become less about my physical appearance and more about being healthy – mentally and physically – that is when I truly changed. Making health a priority is the ultimate form of self-love. Every day I stay committed to this lifestyle is a day I decide that I am in control of my life – something that wholeheartedly helps me counterattack my anxiety.
The most gratifying thing about my success is being able to inspire others. When someone tells me I motivated him or her to go to the gym or have a healthy meal, I am overwhelmed with excitement. Even my 6-year-old nephew is proud to show me his fitness moves – he has autism, so it’s difficult to know what he’s thinking, but he often wants me to see him do sit-ups, push-ups and run in place. He flexes and says “see my strong?!” – I love that.
What I Learned, and My Secrets
People often ask me what my secret is. Well, the secret is that there is no secret!
You’ve got to be prepared to work hard and make real changes in your life. Make sure you surround yourself with people who support you. Find a workout you love.
Remember that setbacks are not the end – one “bad” meal does not mean the whole day, week or month is ruined. We’re human, we give in to temptation – and that’s okay! Instead of getting discouraged by looking too far ahead, ask yourself – “Is what I’m doing today taking me closer to my goal?”
Accept that this is a long-term process – not a quick fix. You didn’t gain weight in a day and you won’t lose it in a day. Don’t give up and don’t accept being unhappy!
Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it. As someone who has experienced several setbacks, I am telling you – YOU CAN. We are responsible for the quality of our own lives and we have the power to re-write our story any time we want. How empowering is that?
Be patient and commit to your new beautiful, healthy life because you deserve it, regardless of any obstacles you may face.
My struggles have only made me better, inside and out. Every day that I continue my journey, my fears shrink & my strength grows. I can sprint, flip a tire, squat more than half of my weight and complete complex lifts – I’ve come a long way for a girl who was once scared to step on a treadmill; and I certainly don’t plan to stop here. I am truly on a Quest!
You can find Catherine Cervone at: