Through fitness, Nakisha Ramsey gained the strength to fight back against abuse.

Often, unhappiness and fear beget binge eating, and it was this exact scenario that compelled Nakisha Ramsey to sequester herself in her car and consume a gallon of ice cream and a pack of Oreos on the reg. “I was having babies back-to-back, was in an abusive relationship, and no matter how much I prayed for happiness, I couldn’t seem to grasp it,” Ramsey says. Before she knew it, she had lost her identity and had swelled to 220 pounds.

Taking hold of her self-esteem began, ironically, when her father told her she couldn’t in 2004. Ramsey opened up about wanting to leave her abusive marriage and raise her children on her own, and he insisted there was no way she could do it alone. “From that moment, I started to plan my ‘how to,’” she says. “It didn’t happen overnight or even a year after that, but it did happen.”

Finding a Fitness Family

Without the support of her actual family, Ramsey found sanctuary within the fitness community. “I remember the first time I picked up a copy of Oxygen at Walmart — I was in awe of the cover,” she says. “I wanted to look like that and learn how to transform my body and be healthy.” Her first workouts came straight from the pages of that magazine, and even though her husband regularly mocked her efforts, Ramsey kept at it and slowly gained confidence.

But Ramsey and her children — now there were six — were still in peril, and in 2007 when her youngest son was only 4 weeks old, her husband threatened their lives. That was the final straw; Ramsey took her children and left. They lived out of their van until Ramsey could land a job and find a place to live, but as soon as they were settled, they all began to thrive.

Food for Thought

Though working out had become a lifestyle for Ramsey, eating right was still a challenge. She journaled everything she ate, yet those nefarious ice cream binges persisted. Because as much as she was healing on the outside, Ramsey’s emotional issues remained unresolved. But just as she had done with exercise, Ramsey studied all she could about nutrition and soon found that the better she ate, the better she felt and vice versa.

Fast-forward 15 years and Ramsey is 70 pounds lighter, has a degree in nutrition and is a vegan. She shares her home with her new husband — also a bodybuilder — and all her children, now ages 19, 17, 15, 13, 12 and 8. “This journey of getting physically fit is about more than just your body, it forces you to heal on the inside, too,” she says. “I believe each day, month and year is getting better, and you can never stop growing or learning.”

Nakisha Ramsey, after her transformation.

Stats

Location: Rocky Mount, Virginia

Age: 38

Height: 5’7”

Weight before: 220

Weight after: 150

Occupation: Mom, fitness trainer and life coach

Fitness inspirations: Tosca Reno and Jamie Eason Middleton

Favorite healthy recipe: Mushroom burgers with vegan cheese

Ultimate mom multitasking moments: “I would host dance parties for my kids while I was working out, or I would breast-feed while walking on my treadmill.”

Favorite mantra: “Redeem your life and decide your worth.”

Nakisha’s Weekly Training Split

  • Monday: Chest
  • Tuesday Back
  • Wednesday Hamstrings/glutes
  • Thursday Chest/ triceps
  • Friday Back/shoulders/biceps
  • Saturday Quads/glutes

Did you lose a ton of weight? Overcome insurmountable obstacles and come out the other side fit and healthy? Then we want to hear from you! The Oxygen Transform section is dedicated to giving women a chance to share their journeys with others who may also be struggling with weight loss, and give them the hope and motivation to continue forward and succeed as well. Apply here.

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The prognosis was grim, but Cheyann Shaw knew she would triumph — and she did.

“I am sorry sweetie, you have cancer.” It was 2016 when 23-year-old Cheyann Shaw first heard those words. The diagnosis: low-grade serous ovarian cancer. “Ovarian cancer survival is statistically pretty low, but it is even lower for the sub-type that I had,” Shaw says. “But I knew I was going to win, even if the odds were stacked against me.”

Her fighting spirit came as no surprise. Shaw had always been competitive, and growing up she played baseball with the boys, raced BMX (and became a five-time state champion!), played soccer, ran track and field, and earned all-state honors for basketball. An ACL injury ended her basketball career when she was 20, but Shaw never stopped striving for excellence.

From Stage to Surgery

Before her diagnosis, Shaw had seen a friend compete in a bodybuilding competition and was inspired to try it herself. Soon enough, she hit the stage at 130 pounds and 14 percent body fat for her first NPC bikini competition. It was then that she first began to see symptoms of her illness. “I was throwing up, my stomach was cramping and I could hardly walk,” she remembers. She was officially diagnosed the following June and started chemotherapy shortly thereafter.

That fall, Shaw underwent a six-hour surgery during which doctors performed a full hysterectomy and removed parts of her bladder, colon and small intestine. They also completely removed her gallbladder, several lymph nodes, her appendix, her spleen and five cancerous tumors — one was the size of a beach ball and completely filled her pelvis.

“After my surgery, I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror,” Shaw says. “I was 97 pounds and bald, I had an ileostomy bag, and was practically skin and bones. Then I looked at my face and I looked so sad. I decided in that moment that I had to get my smile back. I knew I had to learn how to love myself at all stages of life. I didn’t look like my old self, but I was still me.”

Cheyann Shaw, before beating cancer.

Kicking Cancer’s Butt

For Shaw, the path back to health was about gaining strength — and weight. “After surgery, I was only 2 pounds away from needing a feeding tube,” she says. Working with a hospital nutritionist and a fitness coach, Shaw focused on eating a more plant-based diet in order to gain back some weight.

She also went back to the gym, despite her insecurities. “People kept looking at me — I had no hair and looked like a skeleton,” Shaw says. “But I put my headphones on and felt great. I was ready to kick cancer’s butt.”

Two more surgeries and three years later, Shaw weighed in at a healthy 125 pounds
and was cancer-free. To celebrate, she returned to the competition stage at the Christian Guzman Summer Shredding Classic in the transformation category.
Needless to say she was the victor — in more ways than one.

Cheyann Shaw, after beating cancer.

Stats

Location: Seattle

Age: 27

Height: 5’6”

Weight before cancer: 130

Weight after cancer: 125

Occupation: Online personal trainer

Favorite healthy recipe: Sweet and sour tofu with quinoa

Inspirational words: “There is always light in the darkness.”

Favorite moves: “Deadlifts because they hit almost every muscle group in my body and they make me feel so powerful. And for shoulders, the seated dumbbell shoulder press is my favorite.”

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For Brianna Bernard, the journey of losing 100 pounds began in the checkout line.

As she stood in line at the grocery store with her 10-month-old son Tye, Brianna Bernard noticed a magazine headline that read, “How They Lost 100 Pounds.” At the time, the admitted emotional eater weighed 245 pounds and suffered from knee pain simply from walking up the stairs. She bought the magazine because, although she had been hoping her pregnancy weight would magically fall off, as Tye’s first birthday approached, it was clear that was not going to happen.

Brianna Bernard, before.

Out With the Old Habits

Once home, Bernard devoured that eye-catching article and latched on to a story of a woman who had lost 130 pounds after hiring a personal trainer — a trainer who worked at a gym just 40 minutes from Bernard’s home. She hired this trainer herself and began a regimen of weight training, cardio, food tracking and healthy eating — well, at least most of the time: Though the weight started coming off, Bernard’s pattern of emotional eating persisted.

But one day, something clicked: Instead of binging on junk food when she got upset, Bernard reached for something healthy. “I realized I didn’t need to eat a bunch of garbage in order to feel better,” she says. “The negative feelings were going to pass whether I ate grilled chicken and asparagus or a row of Oreos. Making a healthy choice rather than an unhealthy one also made me feel strong and in control.”

Powering Up

Within a year, Bernard had lost 107 pounds, and with that loss came a change in goals. “I didn’t want to be skinny — I wanted to be strong,” she says. “I began lifting heavy weights, and a group of women in my gym who competed in powerlifting noticed and encouraged me to give it a try. In my first competition, I bench-pressed my bodyweight, deadlifted more than twice my bodyweight, won my age and weight class, set a state record and received the Best Lifter award from the director of the organization. After that, I was hooked.”

Bernard also became a personal trainer and nutrition coach so she could help others prioritize self-care and succeed as she had done. “The physical changes that happened [to me] are perhaps the most obvious, but the transformation that happened on the inside is far more profound,” she says. “My mission now is to arm parents and educators with the tools to teach our younger generations about healthy relationships with food and exercise. Leading by example sets children up for a lifetime of heathy habits and success.”

Brianna Bernard, after.

Stats

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Age: 34

Height: 5’7”

Size before: 16

Size after: 0

Weight before: 245

Weight after: 138

Occupation: Personal trainer and nutrition coach

Brianna’s Favorites

Quote: “You have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved.”

Shoulder Moves: Lateral raises and barbell presses.

Breakfast: Chocolate peanut butter protein oatmeal: Mix together ½ cup oats (cooked with water in the microwave) + 1 scoop chocolate protein powder + 2 tablespoons powdered peanut butter.

Brianna’s Powerlifting Personal Records

Bench Press: 142 pounds
Deadlift: 315 pounds
Squat: 237 pounds

Did you lose a ton of weight? Overcome insurmountable obstacles and come out the other side fit and healthy? Then we want to hear from you! The Oxygen Transform section is dedicated to giving women a chance to share their journeys with others who may also be struggling with weight loss, and give them the hope and motivation to continue forward and succeed as well. Apply here.

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After years of weight losses and gains, Megan Thibault finally found balance.

Few words sting as much as a snide comment about your weight, but at age 7, that’s exactly what Megan Thibault faced when her grandmother’s friend exclaimed, “Oh wow, she’s a chunky one!” That sentiment stuck in her mind with such tenacity that Thibault chose to attend high school online rather than face the bullying from her classmates.

Megan Thibault, before.

Ups and Downs

At age 16, Thibault started going to the gym in hopes of “getting skinny,” and countless hours of cardio and undereating helped her lose 60 pounds. But in college, a steady stream of stresses — including losing her grandfather, being in an unhealthy relationship and dealing with an uncertain career path — turned into three years of emotional eating. By her senior year, Thibault weighed 260 pounds.

She decided to shed some weight — first in the form of her toxic relationship and then in the form of body fat. She reignited her excessive cardio/restricted eating habit, and within nine months, she had lost more than 100 pounds. “I was scale-obsessed, weighing myself multiple times a day,” Thibault admits. “Around that time, I was also introduced to bodybuilding and fell in love with the sport, but my disordered eating habits were too pervasive, so I put bodybuilding on hold.”

After graduation, Thibault landed a job but was not happy with her direction and fell back into her unhealthy patterns, resulting in a weight gain of 50 pounds. Finally, she vowed to stop the cycle. “I was tired of being unhappy and unfulfilled and didn’t want anxiety and depression to control my life,” she says.

Living the Lifestyle

Thibault decided to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, and with the loving support of her new husband, she took small, incremental steps toward wellness. “My goal was to improve in some way every single day, and rather than wishing to be skinny, I wanted to be healthy and strong,” she says.

Over the next two years, Thibault focused on improving her relationship with food and body image. She began eating more protein and vegetables and limited her intake of refined sugars and fried foods. In the gym, Thibault focused on consistency and setting realistic goals — and abandoned the scale completely. “This [lifestyle] wasn’t about an end result but rather about loving what I do,” she says.

Endgame

By June 2018, Thibault had come to peace with her issues and was ready to tackle her long-ago dream of bodybuilding. She hired a professional IFBB coach for guidance and was instantly thankful. “My coach helped me achieve the conditioning and shape of a bikini competitor,” Thibault says. She also can max out the StairMaster at her gym, execute pull-ups without issue and easily run without getting winded.

And while she hasn’t yet taken the competitive stage, Thibault has done several fitness photo shoots and is looking forward to that next step. “This journey has been surreal, and I am very excited for what is to come,” she says.

Megan Thibault, after.

Stats

Location: Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

Age: 29

Height: 5’6”

Weight before: 260

Weight after: 140

Occupation: Geological assistant

Megan’s Weekly Training Split

Thibault trains six days a week with one day off. She also does abs two to three times per week and 30 minutes of fasted cardio five days a week.

Megan’s Favorites

Mental technique: When I have a craving, I replace the food focus by visualizing my goals for that week.

Healthy Recipe: Basa fish pan-fried in coconut oil, hazelnut-flavored stevia, garlic powder and pink sea salt.

Exercise: I love to train hamstrings, and my favorite move is single-leg stiff-legged deadlifts.

Did you lose a ton of weight? Overcome insurmountable obstacles and come out the other side fit and healthy? Then we want to hear from you! The Oxygen Transform section is dedicated to giving women a chance to share their journeys with others who may also be struggling with weight loss, and give them the hope and motivation to continue forward and succeed as well. Apply here.

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