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I’ve been unhealthy and out of shape.

And I’ve been so in shape that I’ve competed in NPC fitness competitions.

But I found true happiness only when I figured out how to live right in the middle of those two extremes. I’ve learned you don’t have to completely go overboard to be healthy. I’ve learned you don’t have to completely let yourself go just because you enjoy a little treat now and then. And I’ve learned simple lifestyle changes can bring big, big results.

Want to know more? Then read on for the history of my relationship with food and fitness, and how I arrived at the balanced place I am today…

I was a thin and active kid growing up. From ages 3 -17, I took on a heavy load of dance classes.

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Caught mid-clap during one of my dance shows at around age 16. Gotta love that big, fake pony tail!

And since I had a sliver of spare time here and there, in junior high and high school, I was on the cheerleading squad and the swim team, as well.

My mom only bought healthy foods for our household, such as lots of fruit and vegetables, wheat bread, a variety of protein sources and naturally brown-colored cereals. There were no packets of artificial sweeteners or canned cheese hanging around, and we never deep-fried anything. My parents did a great job of keeping our family’s food mostly wholesome. The treats we had were fresh homemade cookies along with pancakes or waffles on Saturdays. Oh, and at the grocery store, my two big brothers and I we were allowed to pick out one candy bar each for the week. This approach to food suited our family very well, and through those years growing up, not one of us had a weight problem.

As I look back, however, I realize I was only 12 years old when I first heard my friends talk about feeling fat and wanting to lose weight. This was a foreign concept to me. I had never heard anyone talk about his or her own body this way and it changed the way I felt about mine.  So despite being super active and relatively lean through my Jr. high and high school years, I was always afraid of looking fat, and as a result, put myself on many diets. Some of the diets were more extreme than others, but thankfully my love for food and partaking in social situations always prevailed, so I never wound up with a serious eating disorder.

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Here I am with my closest friends at age 12. I’m the one with the tall bangs and black 90210 t-shirt!

Once I graduated from high school, I also “graduated” from all of the physical activities I was involved in.  I quickly realized that I had been taking all of that physical activity for granted, as the way I looked and felt started to change. One year later, I insisted on staying in California when my parents and oldest brother moved to Texas, which meant finding an apartment and then finding work to pay for it. Unfortunately, all of this combined was a recipe for stress and poor health. From ages 19 to 25, a time when most people look their best and feel the most vibrant, I, well… didn’t. I had become unhealthy and out of shape.

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My life at this point mostly consisted of:

  • Working two jobs to ensure my bills would get paid.
  • Trying my best to get an education beyond the high school diploma and to find my path in life.
  • Eating very cheaply (drive thru, anyone?).
  • Staying out late with friends.
  • Sleeping just enough to get by.
  • Coming down with either a bad cold or the flu several times a year.

My daily snacks consisted of saltine crackers and those yummy Hot Tamales candies. Thanks to my huge purse, I was able to carry both with me everywhere I went!  To drink, I’d stop at the gas station each morning for a 40 oz. sugar-sweetened raspberry iced tea or a large can of some sort of energy drink to sip on and keep me going throughout the day. All of these choices seemed ok to me at the time because they were “fat-free.” I didn’t have a clue as to the impact that these foods really had on my health and my appearance.

Throughout my early 20’s, I tried a few weight loss programs. First was Weight Watchers, which helped me lose some weight, but I then quickly gained most of it back. Next was Jenny Craig, which only lasted about three days because I couldn’t convince myself that the food was satisfying. (Sorry, Jenny.)

I took a spin class here, a yoga class there, but it certainly wasn’t enough to make up for my less-than-stellar food choices. I remember that by age 21, I was the heaviest I had ever been. This was very hard for me to understand, considering I spent all day on my feet at work, constantly moving. It also didn’t seem like I was eating that much. I was stumped and frustrated, and hoped to God that no one would invite me to a pool party.

FYI – I’d add a photo here to show what I looked like, if I could find one!  I must have accidentally (on purpose) misplaced them all. I’ll keep looking.

A couple years later, though, I had one of those instances that changed my life forever. My roommate, Isabella, told me about this really great and astonishingly cheap trainer by the name of David. Four co-workers of hers had been working with him for the past several weeks and their physiques were transforming before her eyes! Isabella asked me if I’d be at all interested in going with her one night to attend his “Nu Tae Kwon Wei” class, which was martial arts moves turned into a cardio workout. I was certainly hesitant, but at $3.00 a class, I figured I had nothing to lose… except the $3.00, of course. So, I went. And wow, what a great decision that was! Isabella and I had a blast! After that night, we went to as many of David’s classes as we could afford and fit into our schedules.

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My roommate, Isabella, heading out the door for our Nu Tae Kwon Wei class!

One evening after several weeks of attending his class, David asked Isabella and I if we would be interested in staying after class to lift weights with him and the boys. We were tired and sweaty after all of that Nu Tae Kwon Wei, but we leaped at the invitation. Then from that point forward, I always stayed after class to lift weights with the boys. Weight lifting was fun and I loved it.  It didn’t take long before I was officially hooked.

After several months of classes and weight lifting sessions, I managed to lose a little flab and gain a bit of confidence. There was one thing I didn’t quite understand, though… How could I be working out this much and not have a six-pack, for goodness sake?? Heck, I would’ve settled for a two pack. It finally dawned on me that maybe it was time to change my priorities. Going out at night with friends, patronizing bars until closing time, followed by a full meal from whichever 24-hour restaurant was closest, and then finally getting to bed around 4:00am three or more nights a week, were probably the things holding me back from achieving my fitness goals. This was especially true since I needed to be up early for work the following morning. Like so many people tend to do, I honestly thought working out constantly was all it took to achieve a super fit body.

Adding up how much money I was wasting each time I went out to party was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly, it all wasn’t worth it anymore; I was tired, poor, chubby, and my life was going nowhere. I was desperate for change.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Soon after turning 26, I did make the decision to change. In fact, I went about as extreme in the opposite direction as one could get. I started carrying nutrition books and fitness magazines around with me and studied them every spare moment I had, making diligent notes in a spiral notebook. Protein shakes and vitamins became a regular part of my life, and bedtime turned into 10 pm on most nights of the week. I even got myself a job working at the front desk of the gym where we trained with David. These decisions, alone, made life so much more enjoyable.

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Around that time I modeled for my friend, Nick Amado’s, 1930’s glamour themed photo shoot. It was by far one of the funnest photo shoots I’ve ever been a part of!

 

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A month or two later, thanks to a notification I found on an acting website, I interviewed for and booked a fitness infomercial gig, where 24 other people and I were asked to train on a particular piece of cardio equipment for eight straight weeks. In the end, the five people with the most dramatic body transformations would then be asked to give their testimonials for the camera to be featured in the infomercial. This seemed like an incredible opportunity, so I committed myself 100% by putting myself on a strict, six meal-a-day diet similar to what I had read about in one of my fitness magazines. Earning a spot in that infomercial became my number one focus during those eight weeks. I’m proud to say that when it was all said and done, I lost the highest percentage of body fat amongst the entire group of 25 people! The day that they taped my testimonial for the infomercial I felt like I was on top of the world.

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My “after” picture.

The obvious question at that point was, “What’s next?!”

One month later, I was introduced to the world of “fitness competing,” and I signed myself right up. Simultaneously, I also made the decision to earn my certifications in both Nutrition Consultation and Fitness Training.

It was an exhilarating time because I finally felt like I had found my calling in life. I had become an entirely different person at this point and had no desire to live life the way I used to.

From ages 26 – 31, I competed in seven fitness competitions.

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During the months of competition prep, my life then consisted of:

  • Seven planned and perfectly portioned meals a day.
  • Oatmeal, fish, chicken, green vegetables, egg whites, and brown rice.
  • Two-to-three hour workouts, seven days a week.
  • Working hard to build up my clientele as a nutrition coach and fitness trainer, all while waiting tables to supplement income.
  • No alcohol or sweets. Ever. Unless you count the occasional chocolate flavored protein shake.
  • Sadly, very little time with family and friends. Between my fitness clients, restaurant job and two-a-day workouts, life was insanely busy and left little time for leisure. Plus, I knew where there was a social gathering there would be indulgent food, and I felt awkward explaining to everyone why I couldn’t eat any of it.

At the age of 28, I started dating the love of my life, Jeff. He completely supported me as I trained for my competitions, especially since he usually ended up eating less and working out more during those months, as well!

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Jeff and I would occasionally take advantage of the beautiful Los Angeles weather and opt for an outdoor workout!

I loved competition training because the results were guaranteed. As soon as I committed myself to a strict competition prep program and had my show date circled on the calendar, for three months, there was no turning back. It was incredibly hard work and very time consuming, but well worth it to me at the time.

No matter how I ended up placing in the competition, I always felt like *I won* because I had made it through those months of dieting and training without cheating or quitting. I also learned that it was “me against myself” on that stage, with the main goal being to look a little better than I did for the previous show.

 

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Taking “progress pics” in the parking lot of Gold’s Gym where I trained. Sounds strange I know, but this was nothing out of the ordinary, as this particular gym was crawling with fitness competitors.

The first two years of this new life were extraordinary. My schedule was jammed packed with work, workouts, and meal planning and preparation, and each morning I jumped out of bed excited to start each new day.

After those first couple of years, however, something shifted. Here’s the dark truth that I haven’t shared with many people until now…

Training for fitness competitions started to truly become work, in every negative sense of the word. I went through the motions of dieting and training, but didn’t enjoy the process like I did in the beginning. And then as soon as my goal was reached and the competition came and went, I was free again. Free to eat what I wanted and workout any number of minutes that I felt like. With this freedom came a good amount of overindulging that stemmed from three months worth of deprivation and unsatisfied cravings…which was followed by a huge load of guilt…followed by slow but sure weight gain…followed by a big crash in self-esteem.

I thought there was something wrong with me. Why in the world couldn’t I just stay in competition shape throughout the off-season? It can’t be that hard to maintain ripped abs year round. How can I even call myself a “fitness competitor”?   I even felt humiliated when I got together with friends and family during those times. In my head I had so obviously put on weight since my last show, and I felt they could see that the moment they laid eyes on me.

Are you ready for the kicker? I’m literally shaking my head as I type these words…through all of this craziness, I had simply gone from being a size 0 to size 2! Occasionally a size 4. I was beating myself over THAT! How could my self-image be that delusional? Especially since I was so much bigger before I started all of this competition business. Also, I should’ve realized that a good portion of what was filling out those jeans and shirtsleeves at this point was muscle, and that even with the off-season weight gain, my body fat percentage was still pretty low for a woman. Ay yai yai….

Sadly, this pattern started to repeat itself after each fitness competition, and then it wasn’t until I started training for the next show that I finally felt “safe” again. I knew I would no longer be faced with decisions having to do with food and whether or not to work out. There would be no options, just a very controlled and trusted plan.  This was an exhausting roller coaster ride, to say the least.

By the time I completed the prep for my seventh fitness competition, I was done fighting the mental war. I had finally come to realize two things:

  1. My relationship with food was shot and had been for many years now. Food went from being something I loved to something I feared.
  2. I had lost sight of what was truly important when pushing to achieve any fitness goal. Instead of focusing on the astounding capabilities of my body and how incredible it feels to be active, I felt like a slave to the gym and resentful for having to spend so much time there. And instead of feeling grateful for the ultra nutritious food I was fortunate enough to eat on a daily basis – the food that kept me healthy and improved my physique with each bite – I instead focused on the foods I wasn’t allowed to eat. I dreamt of the moment I would step off stage and sink my teeth into the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups waiting for me in my purse.

Just when I thought I was ready to retire from the sport, Jeff and I got engaged, and like any other bride-to-be, I wanted to look my very best for our special day. So of course, I resorted to what I knew best and got back on “the program” one last time to get in shape for our wedding day.

At least this time around, Jeff jumped on board and trained right along with me, which made all the difference in the world! It was so much more fun this way. It turns out, Jeff’s quite the hustler when it comes to conquering a goal. Who knew? 😉 Boy, we trained and dieted our hearts out, all while following that same strict fitness competition prep program, except, we allowed ourselves two days worth of “cheat meals” for our bachelor/bachelorette weekend. Oh, and there were a couple of cake tastings and champagne samplings that happened. We absolutely HAD to make sure we were selecting good stuff for the wedding guests, after all!

We both reached our goal weights with two weeks to spare.

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October 12th, 2012 ~ the best day of my life.

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Our wedding day was like a magical dream. It was more beautiful and romantic than we could’ve ever imagined it would be.

A tremendous amount has happened between then and now. By the spring of 2013, I committed myself to the idea of mending my relationship with food. My life had been out of balance for a long time, and I knew the answers to a better way of life were out there. It took a lot of patience, research, and trial and error, but I finally got to the point where food and I were pals again.

It goes without saying that I will certainly explain how I did this through many of my posts on this site. One thing I can say right now, however, is that I wouldn’t go back and change any of what I went through over the years even if I could. All of those experiences lead me to where I am right now, and I wouldn’t want to be any other place.

 

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Comments

Susie

audrey,
I love your story and the relationsHip you now have with food. You have inspired me!
You are a beautiful woman inside and out!
Susie

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Ashley

I love your story!!

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Audrey Dunham

Thank you very much, Ashley!

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Christine Sadlik

Do you have any info or adviCe About going glutrn free and vegEtarian? Been vegetarianfor 2yrs and haven’t lost much weight. ThoUght i might be gluten intolerant, so i cut out most gluten. Having trouble planning meals. Still don’t feel great. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

Reply

Audrey Dunham

Hi Christine, I’m not sure about your situation, but most vegetarians tend to consume too much cheese and heavy starches such as pasta. Regardless if this describes you or not, focus on filling your plate mostly with vegetables and fruit first and foremost. Get creative – different colored squashes such as spaghetti squash and butternut squash are great choices. Fill the rest of your plate with legumes such as lentils and beans, as well as gluten free whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice to help supply protein and essential amino acids. Try and keep cheese or any other dairy for that matter to about one serving a day. However, many people are lactose intolerant and don’t know it. Try eliminating dairy all together for 2-3 weeks if you think this may be possibility in your situation. Hope that helps!

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Dorene Smithwick

HELP!!! Read your story found it to be fascinating.you know both ends of the spectrum. I had lost 80 lbs before. But the same things are not working this time. I think because I’m 20 yrs older. I’m 48 now and care for my mom. Just wonder if you have some pointers for me. Thanks so much. Dorene

Reply

Audrey Dunham

Hi Dorene, my best advice is to be kind to yourself by instead of focusing on foods that will help you lose weight, focus on choosing food and activities that will help you live longer and make you a healthier person. Do your best to completely eliminate the word “diet” from your vocabulary. It adds too much stress and anxiety. When you focus on making one healthy decision at a time throughout the day, (instead of what will make you “skinny”) everything else falls into place. Changing your way of thinking doesn’t happen overnight, though. Be patient with yourself and take it one decision at a time. Hope that helps!

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Rachel

Audrey,
Thanks fOr Sharing your story. You’re an inspiration. Looking forward to reading your future posts!!! Best wishes.

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Audrey Dunham

Thank you, Rachel! I appreciate it very much.

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Sandy wummer

Thanks For SharIng your story. So glAd you aRe so happy and healthy. The relationship to food and eating can be a complicated one and it took me yeRs as well to see mine for what it was and begin to make food work for me and not the other Way around. Ive been a fan of your husband for many years and have seen his show. What a talent !! Im enjoying your site very muCh.

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Audrey Dunham

Thank you for the kind words, Sandy!

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Mandy

Thank you Audrey for sharing your story. It’s very inspirational and I think everyone can relate to a piece of your story somehow. I was also very active and skinny till my mid 20s and even though my doctors don’t tell me to lose weight I get depressed and frustrated trying to get back to how I was before the 2 kids and constantcsit down job came along. *sigh*

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Mandy

Thank you Audrey for sharing your story. I think most of us can relate to a part of this story, even if its a little. I was active and skinny through my entire school life, weighing in at 98lbs when I graduated with wash board abs, sadly I have none of that anymore. I have a full time sit down job and had 2 kids, now 9 and 8. I’ve struggled to get back to what I used to have and no success but not giving up just yet!

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vIRGINIA

Thank you for this post. I am currently in a big slump! I eat what I shouldn’t, gained 10 pounds. I still work out sometimes cause I will like the fact I can not do full push ups and burpies. I recently have found out I have a torn meniscus. Very depressed.
Thank you for these words as I feel the same way about food sometimes.

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donna

Thank you for sharing your life stories! it certainly helps me with my fitness struggles knowing that everyone has their struggles! getting in shape and staying fit seems so easy for some people.

it has been a challenge/struggle for me as i have gotten older (55+) and recovering from serious injuries from a car accident. the weight refuses to leave my body!

this has been a very inspirational read for me! THANK YOU audrey!

love, love, love jeff and his buddies! watch his shows every time I see them on!

Reply

Audrey Dunham

Thank YOU for the comment, Donna! I wish you only the very best for the future.

Reply

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