My Story: A Journey to Health and Wellbeing
By Sheryl Lawry
I originally wrote this for my wonderful friend, coach and fitness mentor, Ryan Carroll of the Gravity Collective. It was for his blog. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel. My story has not changed other than now being a personal trainer is my post military career, and health and fitness is an unstoppable passion of mine. I hope my story touches you. Share it with your friends and read it as often as you like if it motivates you.
Tell me if this rings familiar to you. You didn’t always have a weight problem. As a matter of fact, once upon a time ago you looked pretty darn good. Then something happened to change that. That something could have been an injury, an illness, the birth of a child, the death of a family member… The “something” list could go on and on. None of these things are bad. They are just things that happen in life that have the potential to create a change in us that later down the road when we look in the mirror – or at a photograph – we no longer see and recognize ourselves. If we are lucky, we have our ah-ha moment right there. The moment we see our true reflection, wake up from our self-imposed fog, and seek out help. If we’re not so lucky then the current road and journey we travel down continues unchanged.
With the latter, oftentimes the realization that something has gone amiss never comes because people simply do not want to endure the pain. And make no bones about it, seeing your truth is a very painful. It is way easier to run and hid from it. I know this all too well because I did just that before I finally faced my own reflection via a photograph. It was not easy. It hurt like hell. It was humiliating. And it caused a lot of panic and tears. However, in the end my desire to see me again conquered my fears and insecurities. Here is my story, no my journey, to finding health, real fitness and happiness again.
I spent over 20 years in the Military – the Army to be exact. And while that may conjure images of fit and fierce Soldiers in full gear doing awesome Soldier things; that was not my reality. Like the rest of the population, many members of the military battle weight problems. I am one of those people.
Two years into my career my “something” happened. At a very fit and fabulous 140lbs I was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor. Directly after its removal – the first month to be precise – I gain 30 pounds. Yep, I gained one pound per day. It was nuts. To say my endocrinological system was all jacked up would be an understatement. Then six months later I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Over the course of 16 years I was put on so many different medications for this symptom and that symptom that I darn near went crazy. One medication, a steroid, caused met to jump up over 200lbs. It was a nightmare.
It was during this period that I adopted a get fixed fast mentality. I tried every fad diet, pill and trick out there. “Drink green tea!” Okay. “Take this hydrocy something or rather pill!” Okay. “Only eat potatoes!” Okay (because we all know how the potato famine turned out. There had to be weight loss before death came, right?).
Then out of pure frustration, and more truthfully, not finding a lasting get fixed quick solution in sight, I gave in to the easy excuses and started to craft my own personal narrative and set of talking points: “I am overweight because I have hypothyroidism.” “There is nothing I can do about my weight; this is just how it is for me now.” “I’m not like you; I have a different system…” I would share these talking points with anyone who would listen to me. It was my way of hiding. In hindsight, what I was doing was building my yellow brick road that would lead me straight to my rock bottom.
As with every road we travel on in life, my yellow brick road did have some temporary stops, or “successes.” At my highest recorded weight – 200 lbs in 2005 – I bought into a new get fit fast ad. I drove myself to a company that made and packaged portion controlled meals for you to eat. Their newly svelte television spokeswoman – who boasted about losing 70lbs – promised their program would work for me too. She talked me right into becoming a lifetime member of this weight loss company. I lasted 6 months on their food plan before I got sick of it and stopped. My success here was I did drop down to 180lbs. Upon quitting, I quickly went back to my old narrative and talking points and even added a new one: “food is a necessary poison for me. It’s bad for me but I have to eat.” Yes, I do know how silly that sounds, but when you are in the throes of denial and you simply do not have the education and knowledge to fix yourself, you go with what makes you feel better and my narrative and my talking points made me feel better – sort of.
In July 2009, I deployed to Afghanistan and experienced firsthand the “deployment weight loss” or “DWL” phenomenon. I lost 30 pounds. How did I do that? I was not eating and I was working my butt off 7 days a week for 18 hours a day for 12 months straight. Deployment weight loss never lasts; it is not real. Once you return to life as you knew it, your old habits and way of doing things return too and that includes the weight. I scrambled and fought for four years after that trying and doing everything I could think of to not let the weight come back. Run a half marathon. Done! Run a full marathon! Done! Run a trail race. Done! Run an obstacle course style race. Done! This was when I stopped hiding and just started running. I became Forrest Gump if you will. Yet, all of my running was for nothing. By the end of 2014 I was back at 180lbs.
How I handled this weight gain was not smart. Then again all the stuff I did before was none too bright either, but let’s not focus on my silliness. I was freaking out and the real possibility of being kicked out of the military loomed large over my head. The military has weight standards and I was out of those standards. So my not so smart self promptly went out and found and hired the first personal trainer I met and said fix me. Working with this guy I lost 7lbs. Then I started to experience back issues. I threw my back out three times over the course of 9 months of working out with him. I am talking, on the floor, cannot move, in excruciating pain type of back tossing. I had to quit working with him and quit the gym altogether. That was July 2015.
Skipping over my back saga, by July of 2016 I had not worked out in 12 months. I regained the 7lbs I had lost and added an addition10 more pounds on top of it. I was miserable.
On Independence Day, like most families, my family celebrated with food and fireworks. And accompanying the food and fireworks was a camera to capture all the memories. It was when I saw the photos that I hit my rock bottom. I honestly did not recognize myself. I saw the red hair and the fair skin but I did not see the attractive – yes, I can be just as vain as the next person – girl my mind’s eye used to see. Instead, I saw my reality, my truth. No talking point was going to excuse away my current state. I was out of control. I was obese. I instantly had a panic attack.
I did what I always did – I went into fix it mode and I instantly started looking for the next get fit quick trick. I pulled my sister aside and begged her to help me. She convinced me to try the Ketogenic Diet. I did not do well on it and it was not working fast enough. So I stopped. Then I shut down.
During my shut down phase I did a lot of soul searching. I looked at my life as a whole and started to accepted my failures and see my excuses, narrative, and talking points for what they really were. Lies. Then I asked myself two important, simple questions: how bad did I want to change? My answer: super bad. Was I willing to leave the past and the get fit fast tricks behind me and put in sweat equity? My answer: hell yes.
Falling back on my military experience I knew that hard work – sweat equity – was the only answer. I also knew sweat equity was a slow burn, a marathon if you will, not a mad dash. I accepted that too. I envisioned my future and decided then and there that I wanted to be fit and fabulous in my 80s, and my old efforts with fad and trick diets was not going to get me there. So I went looking for a gym and a new personal trainer.
Enter Anytime Fitness Downtown St. Pete and Ryan Carroll of The Gravity Collective. Ryan is the most seriously trained and qualified personal trainer in the St. Petersburg/Tampa area. I still have yet to come across a personal trainer who can touch his resume. I worked with Ryan for a year before having to move to my next military assignment, but I took him with me (we trained together remotely). During our time together he was the best coach, then he became my good friend and now he is my mentor. He is one of the best in the fitness field and I am lucky to have him in my corner. But enough about Ryan. Lol! As I continued on my journey, I found I had a new passion in life – good health and well-being. All that I was doing and all that I had learned from Ryan, I wanted to do as a job. I wanted to pay it forward. I wanted to help people who found there rock bottom and needed a hand to bring them back into the light.
With Ryan’s skilled help, I lost 35 pounds. I saw him for two days a week at first. My first few sessions with Ryan were repeats of movements I know I did when I was five years old – blindfolded. However now I felt like I was already in my 80s. I hurt all over. I was dripping with sweat. My hair was everywhere. My face was red. I was hyperventilating after each of the very short distance runs he would have me do. But I gave him my trust.
About a week in Ryan had me write down a week’s worth of my meals. I was honest and wrote down everything, both good and bad. I thought I was eating so well. Boy was I delusional. The first thing Ryan said to me was, “you have no nutritional value in your diet.” WHAT?!?!? Come again? That was when the education of Sheryl began.
Ryan put me on what he called an elimination diet. It’s not a fad diet, but a 30-day purge for your system. This purge is designed to bring your body to its baseline and rid it of toxin and sugars.
When my 30 days were up Ryan asked me what my body was craving. “Well… milk!” I was not craving anything else. I also noticed some weight loss, which was nice, but I did not know for sure if that was truly happening. This is because due to my fears I did not let Ryan do his job at the start correctly. I would not let him weigh or measure me to see what my start point was. I was too embarrassed. I knew I was 190lbs and I just could not bring myself to letting him see that. Letting him see that meant I had to look at my reflection again and I hated that view. So I waited to see a success.
After a conversation with my sister, during my wait to see a success phase, she convinced me to let Ryan in. She said get on the scale and record the measurements. I took her advice, controlled my anxiety and told Ryan I was ready to let him do his job. I just did not want to know the results. On the scale, I looked away. During the measurements, I pretended I was not there. To this day, I have no clue what he recorded.
Upon the realizing that I was an addict, an addict to sugar, I went home and purged my kitchen of everything. I filled my kitchen with organic and farm raised, grass-fed foods. I completely cut out all refined sugar and dove straight into the Paleo lifestyle.
Around November of 2016, I increased my workouts with Ryan to three days a week. I had an Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) coming up and I wanted to do well. One morning I was feeling stronger and less fearful so I jumped on my home scale for the first time since July. When the scale displayed 178 I about fell over. By working out and following the healthy, clean eating lifestyle, I had lost 12 pounds. By December 8, when I had my pre APFT weigh-in, the Army’s gym scale displayed 172lbs. I damn near cried. I had not weighed in that low in years. I was 18 pounds down.
By the end of the 2016 I was working out with Ryan five days a week. By mid-January 2017, I was 165lbs, down 25 pounds in five months and five pounds away from my first weight goal. My second weight goal was 150lbs. I reached 147lbs in October of 2017, partly due to a new deployment. I started the deployment in August at 155. When I returned home, I returned to my pre-deployment weight, 155lbs.
Today, for my age and for my fitness level, I bounce between 152lbs and 157lbs. I am okay with this because I know my system now. I am healthier then I have ever been in my life. Because of my journey, fitness is now my career. I first attended the C.H.E.K. Institute and then the National Academy of Sport Medicine. I will continue my education with more courses in Kinesiology, Nutrition and more. This passion led me to create Essential Flow Fitness in Dec of 2018. I want to help people who are where I used to be – rock bottom. I know that place well and I know how to leave it in a healthy, realistic way. I will always give 200% to my clients and if I have a question, I have the training and the resources to develop a solution.