Before having her first child, 27-year-old Utah native Natalie Swenson didn't stick to much of an exercise routine.
But six weeks after her daughter was born, Swenson, a cosmetologist-turned-Zyia activewear rep, decided she wanted to start working out for reals. After scrolling through countless transformations on Instagram, she downloaded Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide, aka BBG.
Here's how learning to love exercise transformed Swenson's life and her bod.
Starting to sweat
After getting the green light from her doc in October 2015, Swenson started following BBG's 30-minute, full-body circuit-training workouts at home with her newborn nearby.
"It was definitely a struggle at first—I couldn’t even do a pushup," she says. "I was so sore after working out that I could barely walk."
Instead of focusing on what she couldn't do, though, Swenson zoned in on getting through each daily workout. Over the next year, Swenson made it her goal to do a BBG workout six days a week, working her way through four 12-week rounds of the program. She got hooked on the endorphin rush after every session. "I couldn't believe how confident I felt," she says.
When she got pregnant with her second child in late 2016, Swenson continued following BBG nearly every day, modifying to lower the intensity, with the blessing of her doctor.
Working through the hard stuff
During her pregnancy, Swenson’s husband lost his job and a close loved one passed away. Then, after giving birth, she was diagnosed with postpartum depression.
That’s when exercise really came through for her. She told herself that she had to get in some kind of activity every day—non-negotiable. That often meant going for a long walk instead of a BBG workout, but she always felt better afterward. "It was my only outlet when I needed a moment to process my emotions and sweat out everything that was bottling up," Swenson says. "Exercise was real life-saver for me."
Swenson relied on her daily exercise to remind herself that yes, she could conquer whatever life (or the day’s workout) threw at her.
Swenson started using the Sweat app, which features the BBG workout, after her second pregnancy and lost 40 pounds by sticking with her routine. Not long after hitting that milestone, Swenson decided she wanted to conquer weight lifting and switched to PWR, a strength-training plan on the Sweat app that utilizes weight machines and free weights.
"My husband has always been into weight training, but I never felt comfortable," Swenson says. "But the PWR program walks you through exactly how to use each machine, so I look like I know what I’m doing."
Now, after six months of PWR, Swenson has gained a few pounds of muscle and feels more capable than ever. In fact, her newfound strength inspired her and her husband to sign up for a half-marathon and a triathlon. "I couldn't have done that a few years ago," she says. "I am so proud—and so physically and mentally strong."
Finding the right fuel
As Swenson learned to celebrate her body through exercise, her mindset gradually shifted. "I wanted to fuel my body," she says. "It was working so hard for me."
After her second pregnancy, she started filling her plate with foods like sweet potatoes and stir-fried veggies, cutting down on processed stuff like protein shakes and cookies.
"It's all about balance," says Swenson, who still enjoys a burger, fries, and a milkshake on monthly date nights. "It's about what you do most of the time—and for me, that's lots of fresh, healthy foods."
The thing that change her body
Swenson says focusing on the little victories she crushed each day, like logging a workout or making a new healthy recipe, kept her from feeling overwhelmed by the work she still had ahead of her. "Enjoy each day, and the physical changes come," she says. "It's inevitable."
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.