Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Lydia Dziubanek is 37, 5’2” tall, and currently weighs 170 pounds. In 2014, after an abusive relationship pushed her to the brink of suicide, she decided to take control of her life and health for the sake of her children. This is the story of her weight-loss journey.
The Turning Point
I struggled with my weight since I was in high school. I was always “thicker,” and spent ages 15 to 28 in a size 16 to 18. Starting in high school, I always felt self-conscious about my body and how I looked. Once I got married, I became increasingly unhappy and frustrated as I was dealing with a lot of emotional abuse. This is when the weight started to pack on. I was trying to comfort myself with food at every meal and by 2014, I was a size 22 and weighed 250 pounds.
My broken marriage left me in an extremely depressive state, a result of living in a negative and emotionally abusive environment for years. No one knew what my life was like behind closed doors, how many nights I had cried myself to sleep, and how the effort of putting on a fake smile began to wear me down physically, mentally, and emotionally. The shame was heavy and I never felt it was possible to get out of the relationship, because how would I stand on my own with three kids?
I was living with infidelity, feeling incomplete, and being mistreated, all while remaining the provider of the family. Knowing that family and friends tried to warn me about the marriage caused me to become suicidal. With it always on my mind, I felt it would be best to make it look like an accident.
One night in late January of 2014 will always serve as the moment I took back control of my life. I got in my car with no plans of returning, and drove towards a cliff on a freeway close to my house. I fully intended to end my life and drive off that cliff, but instead, I walked through the doors of a local gym, Anytime Fitness.
At first, I thought I must have killed myself and now I was in hell, because why would I end up in a gym? Once I realized I was still breathing, the full impact of what I had almost done snapped me out of my suicidal state. I have never felt such urgency within me to ask for help, to fight for my life, and to make a serious change. I spotted a buff, tattooed, bald man that looked scary enough to face my demons. I walked up to Mike Rike, my now trainer, and said “I need to train with you now.” He asked me about my goals. My response was, “I don’t want to kill myself.” And without hesitation he said, “Let’s go!”
From that night forward, I began to train with Mike Rike three days a week and started to live with feeling sore. The first step was just showing up. I was terrified every time. I knew Mike was going to push me, I knew it was going to hurt, and it was intimidating facing my fears head on. Yet, every time I left the gym, I felt excited that I had accomplished something that I never thought was possible. I could feel hope stirring in me and I began to feel proud of myself.
The first month, my trainer encouraged me to make healthy food choices, but that wasn’t our biggest concern. We just wanted to make sure that I continued to come back. In the beginning, our workout regimen was focusing on my range of motion, light weights, and balance. Throughout the process, I noticed that I was growing stronger emotionally and physically.
About a month after I started training, I realized that if I was strong enough to do pushups, squats, and lunges, I was strong enough to stand up for myself at home. Working out had given me more clarity and showed me that I was strong enough mentally and physically to take my boys and get our own place. I felt terrified, but also brave, excited, proud, and hopeful. I saw immediate relief in the eyes and attitudes of my three boys. While it took some time for them to adapt to spending time between two homes, they thrived in the peaceful environment, catching onto my peace and happiness. Realizing that I was strong enough motivated me to keep going for myself and my boys.
I used the gym as a resource to help battle my depression, and as my safe place to escape. As I got stronger, it lit a fire in me to go harder at the gym and start meal prepping. I started smoking when I got married, and the day I moved out was the last day I smoked a cigarette. I was starting to get used to this bolder version of myself, and man, did I like her.
It felt amazing to see my pants size go down, my spirit felt lighter, and I could feel my overall health improving. I began spending more time at the gym, making healthier choices, and choosing to challenge myself more.
Now, the woman who once struggled to breathe has completed four Spartan Races. I earned a master’s degree in education, and three years after my turning point, I won a prestigious Member Success Story Award from Anytime Fitness and was asked to speak to 3,000 franchisees and trainers at their annual conference to share how my life was impacted. My life changed because I took control and started to live.
Several things have surprised me about weight loss and life thereafter. The first is that it never gets easier. Sadly to say, my body hasn’t turned into a machine that can eat tacos every day and stay a size 6. It also surprises me that even after all this time, depression still hasn’t fully gone away — It comes in waves, even when my life is going perfectly. I have learned to fight the disease with fitness. Even on my worst days, though, I will never be suicidal again because I have found what works for me to fight my depression and know the signs to watch for. Mostly, I am always surprised by how many people relate to my struggle with depression. I have learned that depression doesn’t have a type. It affects people from all races, ages, and backgrounds.
I meal prep, eat clean every day, and allow myself one cheat meal a week. I eat tons of protein like ground turkey, chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and always lots of greens like kale and spinach. My favorite cheat meal consists of margaritas and Texas cheese fries, but normally I don’t get too crazy with the cheat meals, mostly because I don’t want to hear it from my trainer if I go overboard.
Exercise these days consists of training two to three times a week with Mike and doing a weight workout on my own three days a week. I also do cardio every day; whether it be spin class, hiking, a HIIT class, the stair climber, or the god forsaken treadmill. I am very active with my boys, and they love to participate in a lot of my fitness favorites. We all go hiking and my oldest even joins me for some classes.
I work on my mental and physical health each and every day. Actively remembering to be positive in the way I think and talk to myself is crucial. I am continuing to develop a clear sense of boundaries and continue to strive to be a better person. I never miss a Monday at the gym and I never go more than one day without getting to the gym or exercising in some way. Maintaining my health requires an ongoing and lasting relationship with exercise and eating clean. It cannot be a fad, but rather a lifestyle change.
What inspires me is getting kids excited about a lifetime love of fitness. I believe this age of handheld devices and gaming is robbing our youth of exercise, and I am inspired by the sad reality that school districts across the country have put physical education on the back burner. I want to minimize the amount of obese children whose schools don’t prioritize their health, or who have families without the means to offer them after-school sports. That is what fueled me to create an elementary school physical education curriculum for first to fifth graders. I am inspired to facilitate positive change for our kids. I am motivated by that fact that every 13 minutes, someone commits suicide. I have a sense of urgency to reach those who are struggling with depression and suicide and offer them the hope that I have been given. That is what motivates me most every single day.
I keep my guard up and lowering my defensive walls has always been a struggle for me. Sometimes I think it would easier if I only had to focus on me and my boys, but I have seen the dangers of my mental health when I have no support from others or push people away. To work on this, I emphasize my personal relationships every day.
I have a small group of women that I have slowly allowed into my life, and together we help each other stay accountable on our health and fitness goals. We have a group chat and check in with each other frequently on how our days are going. It’s been a process but I’m working on trusting others by opening up about my struggles and insecurities.
I haven’t completed this journey, I continue on it every single day. My advice would be to just take that first step, go to a gym and ask for help. Get a trainer and establish that crucial support and accountability. Once you see how much better you feel and notice changes in your body, you’ll be hooked. It will never get easier but you will continue to get stronger and you will develop a drive to push yourself to new limits.
Understand that you’re not alone, we all are struggling, we are all human and mess up, but we all have the power to get back up and keep fighting. Don’t give up because once you find some exercises that work well for your body, you will learn to love it one day. You got this!
All photos courtesy of Lydia Dziubanek.
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