Hi. My name is Natalia. Though I live in beautiful Charlotte, NC now I was born and raised in Russia. There I studied to become a linguist. My dad has a God-given gift to teach foreign languages and I thought I’d follow in his footsteps. Little did I know that years later I’d fall in love with all things health-related. That passion was fueled by my own journey back to health and body composition of my dreams.
I haven’t always coached people in health, because I was unhealthy myself.
In 2005 I was a young mom of 2 little kids, weighing a couple of lbs short of 200 lbs, with constant low energy levels and bad mood. I was never overweight growing up in Russia, and yet I gained over 60 lbs right after I moved to the United States, got married and had my 1st child. I had no knowledge about good nutrition, and made wrong food choices every day. I’d say I was an ‘emotional’ eater. You know the kind who eats when they are happy, sad or bored. Get-togethers with friends and parties was just another reason to eat to my heart’s content.
My knees started to get affected (I was diagnosed with Chondromalacia Patellae (also known as CMP, Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, or Runner’s Knee) It is a degenerative condition of the cartilage surface of the back of the knee cap, or patella. It produces discomfort or dull pain around or behind the patella.
Not only my weight got out of control putting stress on my joints, but the way I was eating was raising my chances for type II diabetes (I am genetically predisposed). At first I was in denial. Then I realized that by trying to find satisfaction in food, rather than in the relationship with God, I was robbing my family of a wife and mom I was designed to be. I decided to make a change. My husband also prayed for me (as he told me later). When I realized the sorry state I was in, I literally prayed to God to give me wisdom to find a way to get my health and body back.
Having read absolutely nothing on nutrition I still consider it a miracle that I devised a plan for myself to start changing my eating habits. One little habit at a time. The first one to go was reg. coca-cola. That’s it. Just one little thing. I remember substituting it with artificially sweetened coffee. The result? In two weeks I could definitely see improvement in the way my clothes fit and how less moody I was. That was enough to put wind in my sails and keep me going. One new healthy habit at a time.
As I moved on I started educating myself in nutrition and exercise. In 1996 internet was young, and good health and fitness information was scarce. I had to experiment a lot and ‘play it by ear’. It was an invaluable time. I learned to listen to my body for the first time. I managed to get down from 200 to 160 lbs just by adjusting my diet without any serious exercise. I really couldn’t do much more than walk back then.
Once I was able to sustain my new weight for several months, I put a new goal before me: a high and lofty goal of attaining something close to a figure competitor’s body. I created an account on the well-know ‘BIG’ bodybuilding website and started a new phase of self-education. While I’ve always been great at teaching myself new things this time I had to apply them. I had to learn to lift weights. Luckily, I had a friend who was into bodybuilding. She took me to her gym one day. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. There were mirrors everywhere! Big sweaty guys making grunting noises and throwing weights on the ground. But my friend, D, put me at ease. Having someone actually show you what to do with the weights really helped. She also wrote a beginner’s training program for me. I laminated it and took it with me to the gym every time, started working out for health and loved the results!
One day I was checking out my favorite section of the bookstore, Health & Fitness, and saw a photo of Maggie Diubaldo (she a 5-foot-8 Canadian figure competitor, model, etc) in Oxygen mag and said to myself “She’s my height. This is how I’m going to look like!” I put a goal before myself, and I put a photo of Maggie as my computer wallpaper.
At that time, while exercising and eating better my weight was in the healthy range. Instead of size 18 I wore size 12 jeans. But I was not about to stop there. I decided to challenge myself more and achieve that figure competitor’s shape. For me it meant around 10% body fat and around 135 pounds. I kept logs of all my workouts and nutrition. It’s fun to go back and look at them now.
I realized that to reach my goal I had to really fine-tune my nutrition. I found some useful calculators online and found out how many calories I needed a day to maintain my current state. Then I made sure I consumed around 500 less calories/day, while continuing my rigorous training.
I started loosing more weight. But I was not just losing fat, but muscle mass as well. As I came to realize later, my calories were too low and my cardio was too excessive. I looked thin and frail. There was no ‘pop’ of the muscles.
I had to go back to the drawing board and re-think my strategy. First, I upped my calories by 200 on my training days, while eating at maintenance on non-training days (40 protein /30 carbs /30 fats macro breakdown). Then I cut my cardio to 2 times per week, swapping 1 hour steady state cardio for 20 minutes of HIIT (high intensity interval training). I stuck with 8-10 rep range during my weight-lifting sessions, adding weighted ab work. I noticed I was slowly putting on a bit of size while getting more defined.
The final step I undertook to get really lean was cycling my carbs/calories and adding 2 more early morning cardio sessions. LOTS of coffee for energy. No other supps were used except once a day whey protein shake. I tried to get my protein from natural sources like chicken breast, tilapia, salmon, tuna, lean beef cuts. I went with all natural whole foods. Finally, I achieved my goal.
Truth be told not many women can stay at this lean state for a prolonged period of time. Especially if figure competitor is not your profession. And it’s not the healthiest thing to do anyway. You gotta give your body a break. That’s why I found eating whole foods at maintenance level 4-5 times per day, while doing weight training 3 times per week (plus some sprints to keep my cardio-pulmonary health at optimum) works for me. I hovered around 15% body fat weighing 140 lbs.
Since that great transformation of mine I fell prey to quite a few ‘cutting edge diets’. I’ve done keto and Paleo. I’ve done low carb, no carb, carb backloading and carb pre-loading. Most of the time I was just ‘carb overloading’. I’ve counted the calories I eat and I was counting calories burned. I’ve tried a PSMF (protein sparing modified fast), which is genuinely an eating disorder by any other name. I’ve done variations of LeanGains and Intermittent Fasting. In short, I have been around the block when it comes to dieting and exercise. You name it, and I’ve probably done it. In my future blogs I will be talking about them and sharing all the details along with lessons learned. I know there are people out there who can learn from my mistakes.
I was the type of person who tended to set a goal and then right off the bat tried to do a long-jump and land as close to the goal as possible. Sometimes this approach worked, but more often than not, I needed to stop and re-evaluate because I’ve missed the mark and done a faceplant. Everyone needs a navigator to help map out the directions to reach our goals – all of the stuff that comes in between now and the end.
Currently I’m working towards finalising my Precision Nutrition Certification. Although I have completed all the study material I’ve missed the deadline for the exam. Which I’m taking in September. After all the diets and nutrition advice I’ve seen over the years, Precision Nutrition makes total sense. I see my own values and beliefs in a very similar way. Their core philosophy, the way they coach their clients resonates with mine. Which is: “Forget the fad diets, forget the crazy weight loss drugs. Just help people adopt ways to live a healthy lifestyle. Show them how to eat in a nutritious yet sustainable manner that can be kept up for life.
In this course, not only did I learn more about the science of nutrition, but I learned how to be a better coach. This certification focused on teaching me how to help my clients make improvements in health, performance and body composition in concert with each other. I also love the fact that PN Cert is like a college degree in nutrition coaching and change psychology. No need to go back to college.
Since seeing the photo of that famous FAME competitor and model Maggie my goals changed, and I do not look to any particular figure model as my inspiration. My competition is with my own self now. Every day I see to it that I don’t abuse my body, train myself to become strong, fit and function the way I was designed to.
At the end of the day it’s really not about being ‘shredded’ and ‘cut’ for me. It’s about taking care of the Temple, which is your body, that God has entrusted you with.
I have experienced first-hand all the pitfalls of fad diets and all the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. The journey to the place where I am now would have been a lot easier if I had a knowledgeable and motivational trainer and nutrition coach at my side. I want to be there for others now.
It is challenging, but not impossible to eat clean and stay lean (eat right/stay tight) in this ‘fast-food’ and ‘remote control’ society.
Until next time, be well.