Elizabeth Allen was tired of being tired. At 201 pounds, the stay-at-home mom of two from Evanston, Ill., was tired of feeling winded after climbing a flight of stairs with a load of laundry, tired of spending so much time on the couch watching TV, and, more than anything, tired of struggling to keep up with her sons, Fritz, 4, and George, 2. “I didn’t want to take them to the pool because I was too embarrassed to put on a swimming suit,” she says. “And I was so afraid that I wouldn’t be able to run alongside the soccer field when they started playing someday.”
So on New Year’s Day 2006, after struggling with her weight for nearly 10 years, Allen, 33, resolved to get healthy and fit. Her resolution wasn’t so much about changing her body — it was about changing her life.
Allen never struggled with her weight while growing up, but it began creeping up not long after she met her husband, Fred, in college. She was feeling happy, and she and Fred ate out frequently. “I didn’t worry about what I was eating because I had never had weight problems before, and never thought I would,” she recalls. “But before I knew it, I had ballooned up.”
Allen, who stands 5 feet 7 inches tall, lost weight for her 1997 wedding, but her unhealthy eating habits and sporadic exercise routine made it impossible for her to keep the pounds off for long. In fact, thanks to the metabolism-chilling effects of her low-cal diets, they seemed to come back faster than ever. In 2001, she hit a new all-time-high weight of 236 pounds. “I realized then that I might weigh more than my husband,” she says. “It was ridiculous.”
Experimenting with various diets and exercise programs, Allen managed to drop weight on several occasions — as many as 35 pounds before becoming pregnant with each of her sons in 2002 and 2005. But the lifestyle changes were never permanent, so the results weren’t, either. “At that time, [diet and exercise] was just a means to an end: I wanted to get pregnant so I had to lose weight,” she says. “I wasn’t looking to change my life.”
In January 2006, her motivation was different. She didn’t have a temporary objective or even a clothing size in mind. Instead, her goal was to be the active, energetic mom she knew her kids deserved.
Self-conscious about her 201-pound body, Allen was hesitant to work out in public, so she spent the first two months of 2006 exercising on her own elliptical machine. By March, though, she’d lost 15 pounds and felt ready to go to the nearby Life Time Fitness in Skokie, where she’d been a member for months.
Allen weighed 185 pounds and had a body-fat percentage of 33 at her initial fitness assessment. Knowing she needed focused encouragement and accountability, she hired personal trainer Pete Spengler and began working with him twice a week. “I felt like I needed someone to tell me to do 10 more sit-ups or go five more minutes on the cardio machine,” she says.
Allen also realized that pursuing her goal would take time away from her family, so she prepared them for the changes. “My kids had to get used to childcare,” she says. “And my husband had to help out around the house more.” Their efforts and support were integral to her success.
New Habits, New Rewards
When Allen first met with Spengler, her workouts were limited to 20- or 30-minute sessions on the elliptical machine. So he challenged her to expand the scope, length and frequency of her workouts.
“I saw her for an hour, twice a week, and I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a lot of downtime,” Spengler says. “We did total-body workouts, with lots of compound movements, like squatting with arm curls or shoulder presses mixed in with some jump rope.”
He also encouraged Allen to gradually increase her time on cardio machines, moving from 30 minutes to 60 or even 75 minutes. Most important, Spengler never let Allen get into a rut. Sometimes they’d work on an elliptical machine — other times, a stairclimber or treadmill. “There was never a set routine,” he says. “Once the body gets used to doing something, it plateaus, so the more curveballs I could throw, the better Elizabeth responded.”
In addition to her personal-training sessions, Allen started going to the gym several times a week on her own. She began seeing big changes in her body and her energy levels in just six weeks.
“You think you’ll get in shape when you start exercising, but you don’t think you’ll gain all that energy,” says Allen. “I was floored by how much I had. I used to put my kids in car seats so I could drive them four blocks to the convenience store, instead of just pushing them in a stroller. That’s different now.”
As her weight dropped (usually a pound or two a week), Allen also made changes in her diet. She started eating more vegetables and lean meats and fewer refined carbs. And she began to pay more attention to her portions and habits. “I knew I needed to stop eating Ho Hos just because my son had them, and I needed to stop finishing his cheeseburger when he didn’t,” she says.
For Allen, her diet was the easiest aspect of her lifestyle change. “It was just going back to basics,” she says. “Now I don’t make things that are very saucy or cheesy, but I also don’t feel like I’m missing anything.”
More Than Happy
By the time she finished her last session with Spengler in September 2006, just nine months after setting her goal, Allen had lost nearly 60 pounds and had dropped her body fat to 14 percent. Today, she’s still going to the gym six times a week. Her weight is consistent at 137 pounds, and her energy levels are sky high.
Best of all, Allen feels like the person — and the mom — she wants to be. “My marriage is happier. My kids are happier. Now when my sons and I play baseball out in the backyard, I can run after the ball instead of telling them to go get it,” she says. “It’s not about a number on the scale. It’s about how I feel.”