Nessa, a 39-year-old from Luxembourg, grew up playing basketball and eating whatever she wanted without gaining any weight.
Four years ago, Nessa started a new demanding job in finance, and she started gaining weight. "I was focused on my job and not on my body. I was making poor food choices, and I constantly felt stressed and tired," she said. But then she saw an unflattering photo of herself and freaked out. "I didn't realize how much my body changed during the time that I didn't care enough about it," she said, adding that neglecting her body messed with her sleep and made her more stressed at work.
So last March, Nessa decided to do something about it, hoping to surface stronger, healthier, more energetic, and happier with the way her body looked. Because she'd gotten too good at avoiding the gym after work, she started scheduling her workouts *before* heading into the office. At the gym, she followed Kayla Itsines's Bikini Body Guides, a series of high-intensity interval training workouts that rely mostly on exercises involving bodyweight as opposed to lifting actual iron. Although it took her a few weeks to get used to getting up at 5 am to exercise, it wasn't long before she started to wake up before her alarm went off and feel more energetic after leaving the gym.
Even better: She was super happy with the way her body began to change for the first six months. But then Nessa plateaued; she stopped seeing changes despite the fact that she was putting in all this work.
Although she thought she'd been eating pretty healthy about 80 percent of the time, it turned out that she wasn't paying much attention to portion sizes, was accidentally skipping meals on super busy days, and was stress-eating crappy processed food like doughnuts for dinner to compensate. On some days, she says, she'd eat 1,000 calories, and on others, she'd down 3,000 calories.
It's why she couldn't help but blame her diet for stalling her progress. To make more mindful eating choices, Nessa enlisted a coworker with a personal training certification to contrive a meal plan to deliver enough calories to fuel her workouts and provide ample energy to carry her throughout the day—all within the confines of her time-consuming job.
She started eating every three hours, consuming a total of five to six balanced meals amounting to 1,900 to 2,000 calories every day. Before weightlifting workouts, she'd have a protein shake, then eat oatmeal with fruit and nuts for breakfast.
And while most people struggle to pack themselves even one lunch, she began packing three pre-portioned homemade meals to eat per day at work, first using a kitchen scale to teach herself how to eyeball proper serving sizes:
Now, every three hours throughout the work day, she polishes off one lunch container, which might involve sweet potatoes, chicken breast, broccoli, and avocado; basmati rice, cod, and green beans dressed with olive oil; or whole wheat pasta with zucchini noodles, shrimp, and homemade pesto. She prepares her meals all at once a couple times a week.
At home for dinner, she'll scramble up some eggs with spinach and tomato, toast whole-wheat bread and top with peanut butter and banana, or toss up a green salad with smoked salmon and rice cakes.
And while she now gives herself a break from this eating plan on weekends, Nessa followed it perfectly for her first 11 weeks without deviating even once. She credits her diligence for her results:
Because Nessa generally relies on photos, not the scale, to gauge her progress, she couldn't help but notice the way her new lifestyle began to suck the life out of her butt.
Craving a bigger, rounder butt, she did what anyone seeking booty gains would do: She found a random workout plan on the internet.
Now, Nessa hits the gym five or six times a week for 45 to 55 minutes. She does two days of cardio involving either BBG, incline treadmill power walking, or elliptical, and two high-intensity interval-training sessions (30-second intervals of high-knees, jump rope, or rowing for 12 to 15 minutes), and one upper-, one lower-, and one full-body lifting session per week. On lifting days, she follows her internet fitness plan, focusing on weighted squats, hip bridges, deadlifts, and kettlebell swings, lifting the heaviest weight she can handle. Already squatting nearly 90 pounds and deadlifting about 120 pounds, she has noticed small muscle gains in her butt, which appears to be rounding out after only four weeks.
FWIW, she's also gained more than 4 pounds since she began her fitness journey. It's ample proof that bodyweight is a pretty shitty way to assess how awesome you look (and feel).
Inspired by her own success (something anyone can achieve with a healthy dose of dedication, really), Nessa plans to get her fitness training certification this year. And lucky for her followers, she has every intention of continuing to document her journey on Instagram so you can steal all her secrets—or just like her photos while you keep your butt firmly planted on the couch.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.