Kim Fambro was never a healthy eater — or a regular exerciser. She loved traditional Southern foods like fried chicken with macaroni and cheese. Sports and physical activity, on the other hand, didn’t interest her at all, and she struggled with her weight as a result. Throughout her teens and early 20s, she tried just about every quick-fix weight-loss plan she could find, but no diet worked for long. In fact, she often ended up gaining back more weight than she’d lost.
Her perspective began to shift one day in 2005, when Fambro, then 23, was on break from a waitressing shift. She was enjoying her usual cheeseburger and fries — with ranch dressing for dipping — when she noticed a fit coworker eating a grilled chicken breast with sautéed veggies. As she stared at the two meals, she finally realized what her parents had been trying to tell her for years: Being fit and healthy wasn’t about gimmicky plans that promised she’d lose 10 pounds in two weeks; it was about making healthy choices a way of life.
“I realized I didn’t know what being healthy was,” says Fambro, who then carried close to 255 pounds on her 5-foot-10-inch frame. “I suddenly understood that I needed to change my habits — not for the purpose of losing weight, but just to get healthier. I didn’t want to end up with diabetes or heart disease.”
So Fambro set out to transform her life, first learning as much as she could about healthy living, then applying the strategies she learned. Little by little, she discovered that embracing a healthy lifestyle was easier than she’d thought — and that it delivered surprising results.
Step by Step
For the first time in her life, Fambro decided to make being healthy — not losing weight — her priority. With that in mind, she started making small changes to her daily habits. “With a goal like that, I knew I wasn’t going to see results immediately,” she says, “so I needed to make minor modifications I could maintain.”
She began by cutting out her daily Dr. Peppers and frequent fast-food pit stops, and adding more fruits and vegetables to her meals. She was surprised to discover that many of the healthy options she’d once avoided — spinach salads, green beans with a dash of garlic salt — were far tastier than expected.
At the same time, Fambro added a bit of exercise to her daily routine. She joined a gym and committed to going a few times a week, swapping post-shift bar-hopping with workout sessions with like-minded friends. While there, she’d jump on the treadmill and run until she was breathless, then walk until she caught her wind. She repeated the cycle for 30 minutes.
Within three months, she’d lost 15 pounds — and couldn’t believe how good she felt. “I had so much more energy, and was already buying new, smaller clothes,” she says. Excited about the results, she started checking out the group classes offered at her gym, including strength training and kickboxing. She dropped 65 pounds over the next two years.
Then in late 2007 her weight loss stalled. Frustrated, she refocused her efforts. She’d come a long way, she realized, but if she wanted to progress, she’d have to take it up a notch. “I was determined not to go backward,” she says.
By the Numbers
Fambro first learned about heart-rate training from a kickboxing instructor who explained how monitoring her heart rate and working out at the right intensity could make her exercise sessions more efficient. A monitor could help her train smarter, not harder, the instructor said, plus it could jump-start her weight-loss efforts while improving her overall fitness. Intrigued, Fambro asked her parents for one that Christmas. She got her wish.
Soon after, she began working with an instructor to determine her optimal training zones and started tweaking her routine. (For advice on heart-rate training for weight loss, see “All Heart.”)
Fambro learned that when she worked out in the active recovery zone (zone 1), she simmered off fat. In the aerobic development and endurance zones (zones 2 and 3), she torched fat and carbs, burning more calories overall. In the challenging anaerobic zone (zone 4), she burned mostly carbs, training her body to tolerate and eventually reuse lactic acid as an energy source, which in turn triggered metabolic changes that continued for hours after her workouts.
As Fambro’s body adapted, she pushed herself to spend more time in the more difficult aerobic and anaerobic zones, always returning to recovery so she wouldn’t burn out too quickly. Though the workouts were more challenging, she actually found herself more engaged because of the frequent changes, which helped her stay motivated.
This smarter, information-based approach proved to be just what Fambro needed to move beyond her plateau. Not only did she hit her goal of 170 pounds, but she soon found herself exercising harder and longer with less effort.
The confidence she gained from her new workouts inspired her to push her goals even higher. In January 2010, she began training for her first half-marathon, and three months later she completed the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in her hometown of Dallas. “I never would have dreamed back in 2005 that I could run 13 miles,” Fambro says.
Fambro started her weight-loss efforts with the goal of getting healthy, but she says the process has made her a different, better person. She’s opened herself up to new foods and recipes after relying on old favorites for years; she’s become more disciplined and focused as she works toward new goals, and she feels a new sense of confidence and joy in her life.
Now, she’s inspiring others to make lasting, healthy changes. “People assume I’ve always been healthy, but I always explain to them that it’s not something I take for granted — and that it’s something they can do, too,” she says. “I definitely feel it’s worth it.”
Erin Peterson is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.