Anita Ranhotra knew she was overweight. But from her perspective, she was already doing everything she could to get in shape. She rarely overate, and dutifully went to the gym a few times a week to use the treadmill or elliptical machine. Since her teenage years, Ranhotra, 39, had tried countless diets to shed pounds, including Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem, and even fen-phen, the anti-obesity medication that was later withdrawn by the FDA. The results never varied: Ranhotra would lose a few pounds, then gain it back within six months.
So when a personal trainer at Ranhotra’s former gym in Shawnee, Kan., approached her in February 2010, she thought it was just one more weight-loss sales pitch she’d have to endure. “I signed up for a couple sessions to prove that it wouldn’t work,” she says.
To Ranhotra’s surprise, the personal-training sessions were the jump-start she needed to push herself harder, start eating better and learn more about how her body worked. An engineer by degree, Ranhotra loved the process of tracking her nutrition and exercise with precision. She soon discovered that with the right information, she could indeed make significant and lasting changes to her body.
Open to Change
Ever since she was a pre-teen, Ranhotra had struggled with steady weight gain. The advice she got to count calories and avoid fats didn’t seem to help. By the time she reached her 30s, the 5-foot-4-inch Ranhotra found few stores carried professional clothes that looked good on her. But the most damaging part of her weight was psychological: She constantly wondered what others thought of her appearance. “I worried that people assumed that I sat on the couch with a pint of ice cream every night,” she says, “which wasn’t true.”
Although Ranhotra had little confidence that personal training would succeed where years of dieting had failed, she figured she had nothing to lose. So when one of her club’s trainers offered to work with her twice a week, she agreed to give it a try. At their first session, the trainer immediately swapped Ranhotra’s long treadmill walks with circuit training that included squats, lunges and arm curls. By mixing up the exercises and adding weights, Ranhotra revved up her metabolism. To her astonishment, she started losing 2 pounds a week.
In only three months time, Ranhotra lost 25 pounds — just in time to go to a conference in Cancún in May. “I was feeling so good about the weight loss, and I really enjoyed myself,” she says. Shortly after her return, her gym shut down, so she joined the Life Time Fitness in nearby Lenexa, Kan.
Although Ranhotra continued to gradually lose weight on her own by doing regular circuit workouts, she decided in August to hire personal trainer and metabolic specialist Josh Gibbons to help her achieve her next milestone: a 50-pound weight loss by her September birthday. Under Gibbons’s guidance, Ranhotra ramped up her workouts, allowing her to reach her goal just days before turning 38.
Satisfied with her unprecedented success, Ranhotra was inclined to back off from her intensive efforts and settle into a less ambitious routine. Gibbons proposed another plan: He encouraged Ranhotra to drop another 25 pounds by the New Year. “I knew she was ready to make this a lifetime journey,” Gibbons says. “She was ready to change, and I wanted to help her.”
To help Ranhotra continue losing weight without hitting a plateau, Gibbons recommended she undergo metabolic testing — assessments of her body’s energy-burning machinery. Gibbons felt that if Ranhotra better understood her metabolism, she could use the information to eat and exercise more effectively. He proposed two tests, both of which could be easily conducted at the club.
The first assessment showed Ranhotra how many calories she burned in a typical day, and the range of calories she needed to consume to still lose weight without being in a “starvation zone,” which would slow her metabolism. The results suggested she needed to increase her calorie intake by 300 calories a day, and switch from starchy carb-heavy foods to protein-focused meals.
“At first, I was skeptical. I was losing weight, so why would I risk eating more?” Ranhotra asks. “But Josh helped me understand that when I ate less, I was losing lean body mass and wasn’t fueling my body.” When she started eating appropriately for her body’s needs, she had more energy to pour into her workouts.
For the first time, Ranhotra began focusing on the quality of the calories she was getting instead of the quantity. She added protein-rich foods, like turkey burgers and chicken, to her diet. When eating restaurant meals, she might eat only the chicken and vegetables from a fajita, leaving the tortilla on the plate. Rather than cutting out desserts, she allowed herself a few bites. She prepared her lunches in advance so that she wouldn’t be tempted to make unhealthy, spur-of-the-moment choices.
The second assessment helped Ranhotra understand her base heart rate and anaerobic threshold, the point at which the body starts burning more sugar than fat. The test provided insight about the heart-rate ranges she needed to maintain during specific workouts so she could maximize results. Ranhotra learned that while she needed to push her limits during some workouts, she also needed lower-intensity workouts so she could adequately recover and make progress.
Once Ranhotra realized that her body was no longer a weight-gaining mystery, she had the motivation she needed to stay on track. When she stepped on the scale on Jan. 2, she had lost 75 pounds.
To date, Ranhotra has lost over 90 pounds; her body fat, which she first tested in August 2010, has declined from 41 percent to a much healthier 23 percent. She’s confident that she can lose a few more pounds — to bring her total weight loss to 100 pounds — by continuing to use her latest assessment results in her training (she recently ran her first 5K and is excited to do more).
Once self-conscious about what others thought of her appearance, Ranhotra now embraces the feedback, which is all positive. She’s honored and humbled that her success is motivating others to move. “I’ve had friends tell me that I inspired them to work out again and to join a gym,” she says. “It’s a big responsibility when you know people are watching you, and it’s one more reason I want to succeed.
Erin Peterson is a Minneapolis-based writer who specializes in quality-of-life stories.