This is an interview that I did with Cheryl Alexander who lives in Nova Scotia. Through exercise and a switch to a vegan diet, Cheryl made massive changes in her life. You may know her from her beautiful Instagram page called ‘changingcheryl‘. I found it very inspiring and wanted to share he story. Here it is, in Chery’s own words. If you prefer to watch the video you can see it here. Below is the written interview.
I was always obese. I was fine with it… I just accepted it. It was normal for me. Then, one day I get my ah-ha moment – rock bottom. I don’t really like those kinds of terms but that was when things changed for me. I had been wanting to change but I just didn’t know it was possible.
I sought out a personal trainer thinking that exercise was the way to lose weight and for a short time it was. But it’s not sustainable unless you can get a grip on the food. So that was about 7 years ago, I was in my early 30s. I moved away and I was still exercising and still losing weight… I guess I should say I was severely obese- I was 340 pounds at my heaviest weight at 5’3.
It’s hard to imagine; people look at me now and they can’t imagine it. They look at me and say: “But you are so small!”, but I was so big. You can see images on social media, it shocks people.
I continued to lose weight, I moved to Nova Scotia which is where I live now. Things happened and I stopped exercising. Inevitably I gained weight because, in my head, I was still thinking that if I could not exercise then I would put on weight. It still had not clicked in yet, whether I exercised or not, it was about the food.
So I put the weight back on and again I was over 300 pounds and I thought, “I can’t do this. I’ll have to hire another trainer. “ And I did. So I spent more money, learned a vast amount of things from my first and second personal trainer. I am still friends with her (the second trainer) to this day. She is a lovely person.
But I never could get there. So, I did not end up losing much weight with her. And I decided that I have to have bariatric surgery. That’s the only way for me and everyone else can do it but me.
So, I went to my doctor to get a referral for bariatric surgery. There was a waiting list for many years in Nova Scotia for the surgery, so I thought “Oh, I have many years to get it together and try it on my own.”.
I struggled, still, farther along. About a year before it became time to have the bariatric surgery, I don’t know what exactly clicked that it was about the food, but I knew I had to get a grip on the food. So, I started- and this is where my veganism comes in.
What was your diet like prior to that?
I’m a good cook, so I ate a variety of very rich food. I ate meats and I still ate animal products of all sorts. It was very high calorie, I could eat huge portions, I could eat a lot of food- and you have to eat a lot of food to be that big! To stay that big, you have to eat a lot of calories to maintain that size. And so, I loved to cook; I loved healthy food, unhealthy food, processed and unprocessed food! I’m what you call a foodie- I’m still a foodie.
When I started to get it together with the food, I realized that the higher calorie food that had less nutrients in it were the animal products. So, I was like, “Okay, so I’m going to cut out some meat. I’m going to cut back on the milk products, and the cheeses. I’m going to cut back on all this stuff to save calories”. It became about this high calorie food that really didn’t have any value nutrient- wise and it wasn’t supporting my weight loss. I started substituting with meat replacements, and I noticed that this was really easy. I didn’t need all these things, I’ll take these out. And in my cooking, I started going, “Well, if I can make this recipe without oil. Why would a recipe need oil? 99% of the time your recipes don’t need oil, that’s a waste of calories!”. So, I would take the oil out, if it needs liquid, I’ll put apple sauce or I’ll put something else in that. I was always creative, so that was an outlet for me. I can take this recipe that I found online and I could reduce the calories by a quarter or more, sometimes even half the calories. A lot of people ask me for a recipe that I made all the time, I would say, “Absolutely! Give me your recipes and I can help you cut back on all the stuff that doesn’t need to be in there and it could still taste delicious”. So, that’s how I started subbing out.
I did end up having bariatric surgery, but a year before, as I was cutting stuff out, I started losing weight and I thought “This is fantastic!” One day, I don’t know what triggered the thought in me, but I started watching some documentaries and I said, “Why am I still eating any animal products at all?!” I went into my cupboards and I took everything out that still had traces of animal products in it- it filled up 2 grocery bags! I went, “There’s no point to any of this. And if there’s no point and I don’t need it- because clearly, I’m extremely healthy.” My doctor is shocked, she said, “Your blood work is a dream!” I lost a substantial amount of weight, now in total I have lost 165-170 lbs. I’m more fit than I have ever been in my entire life, I’ve never been fit and I never exercised- now I love exercise. Medically speaking, I am so healthy, and if I don’t need any of that to be healthy then, what am I doing? It’s pointless.
How much did you weigh before and after the surgery?
Before I had the surgery, I had lost 100lbs from my heaviest weight, I weighed about 240lbs when I had the surgery. Since the surgery, I’ve lost about 70lbs. I do still have more weight to lose for my size and my frame, but I have so much excess body skin too, which is a whole other avenue that I’m pursuing. Basically, from my shoulders to my knees, I do a lot of skin tucking. We have guesstimated anywhere from 15-20lbs of excess skin. So, if you take that off of my small frame, I’m probably- with the muscle building that I do- right around where I should be, so it’s hard to say if I need to lose any more weight or not, we’ll see! I don’t have a goal (weight), my goal is when I’m comfortable and when I feel I’m at my best fitness ability- when I’m feeling physically comfortable in my own skin.
You’ve reached that, and you could go further but today is where you are and that’s amazing!
I want to embrace that and I want to help other people embrace that as well because you can’t hate yourself healthy, you have to love where you’re at, you have to embrace where you are- and that doesn’t mean you can’t change it! You can love your home and want it to look different- you can paint the walls, change the carpet, and reroof. And that’s the point, your body is your home. You have to love your home in order to take care of it and want it to change and improve. You can’t hate your house and want it to be a great wonderful place, it doesn’t work that way. I love the fact that my body is in the place it is now, and no, it’s not the body that I’m moving towards. I’m moving towards a different physical fitness level always, I’m always trying new things, but it’s because I love myself and it’s because I love what this body can do for me TODAY and how far it’s come. And what my body was like before, I loved that body too for what it did for me before and what it taught me. I wouldn’t have learned this without having lived through that.
My favorite definition of what the word “Love” is: To witness without judgment and to show up, and to accept everything as it is. It seems that you’re really doing that!
We have no choice, fighting against it is futile- fighting it will not change it. Yet we spend so much time in the resistance, we’re wasting all the valuable opportunities to embrace it, to grow with it, to use it, and really take advantage of where we’re at! Because if we fight where we’re at, we’re not going anywhere.
You’re going to create some chaos for yourself!
You’re just going to be frustrated, and I’ve done that too!
I remember you telling me that you were interested in personal training, and I believe that you have some certifications yourself?
I did my personal training course. Years ago, when I hired my first personal trainer, she was an awesome person, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if one day I lost a bunch of weight and I did what she’s doing.” I went to somebody’s house and I helped them, this was this little voice at the back of my head- listen to those voices! But it was such a pipe dream, there’s no way. I was so unfit, and I also disliked anything physical. I mean, how could you like physical activity at that size? It was just terrible. I never actually enjoyed doing anything physical, but for some reason, this little voice said that in my head.
As years went by, I started to like exercise, I started running when I was 304 lbs. I remember being 304lbs the day she (personal trainer) made me run for the first time. Now, I run for fun, for the meditation that comes with it, for being out in nature. I still can’t wrap my head around that being me! So, why I decided to take the personal training course was because I want to help other people find fitness in their life and what it means for them. I get a lot of comment all the time, “Cheryl, I can’t do what you do.” Well of course you can’t, you’re not me, and you’ll never do what I do. And that doesn’t mean that you won’t do a million things that I wouldn’t do! But I want to help you find the things that you will do. So maybe, swimming, skiing, rock climbing, yoga, dancing, or cycling is your thing! Maybe those are your things and I can’t tell you that, but I want to help you find it. All the trainers that I had helped me find my thing. I’ve had 3 personal trainers overall these years, and every single one of them has left a lasting impression. I just hope to instill that same thing on somebody else. I’d tell this to people all the time, “Listen to me, pick out the things that mean something to you, throw the rest into the garbage.” I really don’t care, if I’m wasting my voice talking to you, that doesn’t bother me whatsoever because something that I have to say is going to trigger something in you for you to develop yourself and for you to find what works for you. It works the same with food, so in conjunction with the personal training, I want to help people find wellness, wholeness, health and happiness in their life. I don’t just want to be a personal trainer. I can exercise with people and I do, but it’s more than that- it’s so much more than that.
They also say, “I can’t eat like you.” Well, most people don’t because I’m your rice and beans vegan now. I eat very plain food, which is fine! I enjoy my plain food, I can also make very delicious, fancy things too. But don’t eat like me, I don’t expect you to eat like me, I wouldn’t eat like you! But I can help you take your food, the things you like, like your Sunday dinner and I can help you make it healthier if that’s what you want. My passion really delved- it just grew into this thing- like, wow, if these women could have such a huge impact on my life and we are completely different people, then I could have the same impact on somebody else as well.
I’m working on developing my coaching program, it’s a one-on-one coaching via Skype or some kind of interview process, I’m working on that program more than my one-on-one personal training because it’s more than the exercise for me. So, if people do want to reach me, I’m reachable via my email, Facebook, or Instagram. I’m @changingcheryl on Instagram, I’m Cheryl Alexander on Facebook, or you can email me directly firstname.lastname@example.org. I don’t mind, you can reach me in any way if you want and maybe I can help!
The vegan movement has really grown in the past several decades, it’s just so great to hear stories like this and also just go in to supermarkets and see that there is such a huge variety of vegan foods that we can use as meat and milk substitutes.
Absolutely! It’s still baffling to me that everywhere you turn now it’s something new that’s coming up and it’s so fantastic. The great thing is that, you know, I don’t have judgement for people who are testing the waters and dipping their toe in. Like, “I want to try some almond milk but I still want to eat eggs.” It’s fine! I had a journey here, everybody does, very few people were born vegan and grew up this way their whole life. We’re so ingrained with it, it’s so normal in our society to not be vegan, to eat the way everybody else eats. One quote that I really like, it’s about being normal in a sick society. Yes, we’re all happy being so normal but does that make it good in a society that’s so ill? Not really.
So, a group of people decided to educate us in schools and on TV and whoever came up with a health guide that you should eat this, somebody made those decisions and nailed it into our heads through media, and we just think that’s the way it should be.
Yes, my neighbors, my mother, my school are like that- everyone! We’re all just comfortable in this, because everybody is the same. To go outside of that, well, that’s abnormal. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s good.
Any parting words before we end?
I would like people to know that there is hope, whether you’re obese or you’ve got chronic illness, or if you feel like it’s just the way you are, there’s nothing you can do about it. There really is, I felt that way too. There’s one cliché that I don’t like, “If I can do it, you can do it!” I don’t like it because it’s comparing people, but what I do like about that cliché is that you can do it, not the way somebody else did it, but you can do it the way YOU can do it.
Connect with Cheryl on social media, or send her an email.
Watch the YouTube video here.