Transformations Series: Jessica Vandenheuvel
At 6 Pack Fitness, we know that building a lifestyle of healthy eating and behavior doesn't happen over night. So we spent all of July collecting tons of motivational lifestyle and fitness transformation stories from our fans. Now, with the help of our inspirational Transformations Series, we're sharing our favorites and rewarding one lucky participant with their very own 6 Pack Fitness gym bag. In today's post we'll introduce you to Jessica Vandenheuvel, a 24-year-old ER nurse that has overcome a lifelong struggle with weight loss to compete in strongman competitions.
Weight Loss Struggles
Jessica's struggles with her weight began in middle school. While she tried slimming down using the Weight Watchers program, her success was hindered by an absolute hatred for exercise. At the time, Jessica wasn't ready for the changes needed to develop a healthy, active lifestyle. As a result, Jessica suffered from self-esteem issues that only intensified during her high school and college years.
Jessica put on 80 pounds while earning her undergraduate degree due to stress eating brought on by the rigorous demands of her academic workload. The combination of her inactive lifestyle and newly added weight left Jessica feeling miserable with zero self-esteem. Jessica was so overweight that during her clinicals she needed to take pain medicine after working for only one hour on the ER floor.
During this time, Jessica started taking 20 different medications to try and manage her weight. She also started Weight Watchers again, but after losing 10-15 pounds Jessica was unable to successfully integrate the program into her daily routine. Shortly thereafter, a friend sat her down and talked to her about weight loss surgery. The friend knew that Jessica had been struggling with her weight for quite some time and wanted to see her get healthy. Jessica thought about it but didn't get serious for a while.
Making The Decision To Change
After doing some research, Jessica found that it is very difficult to get insurance companies to cover the cost of the weight loss surgery. She also learned that it would take at least a year for her insurance provider to okay the procedure. Undaunted, Jessica pushed ahead and submitted her request for a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (VSG). In an interesting twist of fate, Jessica was visiting the same friend that first recommended weight loss surgery when she received news from the surgeon and insurance company that she was approved for the procedure!
In October of 2012, Jessica went to the University of Chicago Medical Center for the procedure. At the time of her surgery, she weighed in at 283 pounds. During the procedure, the surgeon removed part of Jessica's stomach, leaving approximately 25% of it behind, now with the ability to hold only about 4 oz. of food. Jessica's recovery was terrible, but after battling through a lot of complications she started to lose weight and began to see a change in her body. The weight really started to come off after Jessica saw a dietitian who helped her focus on clean eating.
Creating A Healthy, Active Lifestyle
Determined to make her fitness transformation permanent, Jessica decided to train for a 5k and as a result got into running. This increased activity significantly sped up her weight loss and helped turn being active into Jessica's main hobby. Curious about other opportunities, Jessica began to do her own fitness research and attended an expo where she met gym owner and sponsored athlete Drew Whitted. At the expo, Drew taught Jessica about the difference between functional fitness and cardio, and invited her to attend a â€œSunday Funday" class at his gym.
The gym, Be Strong in Normal, IL, is essentially three gyms in one as the facility is equipped for elite powerlifting, state of the art strongman training, and, most importantly, personal body transformations through StrongFit sessions. The StrongFit program is designed to help athletes reach their peak performance and help members work towards a fitter and healthier lifestyle, regardless of training level.
Jessica had never lifted weights before in her entire life but she saw this as a new challenge and decided to give it a try. The â€œSunday Funday" training regime featured a combination of high interval intensity training and strength training, and after just one class Jessica knew she was hooked. She started to attend regularly and began to notice other people at the gym doing strongman training and lifting some pretty heavy stuff.
Training For Strong(wo)man
Fascinated by strongman training, Jessica began working with coaches Jessica Kite, Tisha Timan, and Mitchell Dearing and now trains 2-3 hours a day, sometimes even putting in three-a-days. All that training paid off in May when Jessica placed 3rd, right behind her coach, in the women's lightweight division in her second strongman event.
Since she started weight training, Jessica's body has undergone a tremendous transformation that she absolutely loves. Now at 150 pounds, Jessica's focus has shifted from losing weight to packing on muscle and leaning out.
â€œI now exercise to become more instead of becoming less."
To boost her results from strength training, Jessica has also started to food prep. While her job can make maintaining her lifestyle challenging, Jessica has found that by taking one day a week to prepare meals she can easily stay on track and has since seen huge gains in the gym. Although she doesn't own a 6 Pack Fitness gym bag, Jessica recognizes that a Beast Duffle would dramatically improve her ability to prep, store, and carry the food she needs..
As someone that has struggled with weight loss, Jessica is passionate about sharing her story. It is Jessica's sincere hope that others can relate to her experience and are inspired by her example to transform their own lives. While her success is due in large part to the support of her friends, family, and Be Strong coaches, it was Jessica's decision to make the initial change that put her on the path to leading a fit, healthy, and strong life. We salute her perseverance and hope that others take encouragement from her awesome story!