Photo by Ben Amend

In 2016, Katie was stressed. Not the kind of irritating anxiety you feel right before a deadline or when you’re dealing with your in-laws, but the type of stress that weaves its way into each and every aspect of your life. After a sudden death in the family which led to residual familial drama, a painful breakup with her decade-long partner, and constant demands from her career, Katie was feeling the pressure. Never a great sleeper to begin with, she was now barely functioning on 2-3 hours of sleep each night, and her menstruation cycle had become oddly irregular. But it wasn’t until her hair started falling out in large clumps that she finally consulted a doctor. “I panicked,” says Katie. “I begged my doctor to see me quickly because I was afraid if I had to wait, there wouldn’t be any hair left.”

Katie was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid is underactive, often resulting in fatigue, depression, and weight gain, and the stresses Katie was holding onto were exasperating it in a major way. She was prescribed medication to regulate hormone levels and ease symptoms, and she saw some improvement. Along with her meds, Katie’s doctor preached the importance of diet and exercise, as well as managing stress levels. “I was a bit overwhelmed by this. I had gained 20 lbs, got my period every 10 days, and was losing my hair. How could I not be stressed?”

Katie’s weight had fluctuated over the last eight years, and it seemed she was always yo-yo dieting. “I made the mistake of Googling what diet I should be on to control my hypothyroidism,” she says. “They were all so restrictive and I’d end up going back to eating unhealthy foods and feeling lethargic.”

“I was fired up to realize there’s a woman
in me who likes to work out and to be challenged.”

But she was determined to finally make a lasting change after life handed her a laundry list of alterations. Beginning in the summer of 2018, 32-year-old Katie got married, purchased a house which would need serious renovations, and changed careers. She felt the telltale warning signs of big stress moving in: debilitating insomnia and hormonal swings.

She decided to commit to the three-month STRONG Transformation Challenge in September 2018. “The challenge came at the perfect time,” she says. “When I signed up, my only goal was to finish it. I’ve taken so many “before” photos over the years, and I just wanted to see this one through.”

Katie at her heaviest, combatting thyroid levels.

With her husband, Brian. 

She took the challenge one day at a time, dedicated herself to making slow changes for healthier habits such as nixing soda altogether (“It took me two weeks to get past the caffeine withdrawals.”), scheduled quick workouts each day, and learned to make meal prepping easier on herself by keeping it simple. Her husband revelled in the boosts of happiness and decreased stress Katie’s workouts were bringing her. But the most important aspect that ensured Katie’s success was other women rallying behind her. “I realized, more than anything, I couldn’t do this alone. The Facebook group was a lifesaver for me. Knowing other women were making changes and experiencing struggles alongside me was invaluable,” she says.

And when all was said and done, Katie admired the changes she saw in her body (down 18 inches), but the biggest impact was her shifted perspective. “I was in a pretty dark place when I started, but the challenge helped me feel like myself again. I was fired up to realize there’s a woman in me who likes to work out and to be challenged.”

In committing to making her health a priority, Katie finally recognized that putting herself last on the to-do list wasn’t getting her anywhere—and was wildly detrimental to her well-being. “A huge lesson for me was learning how not managing stress affected my body. I literally made myself sick from stress,” she says. “But I realized that having a rough few years shouldn’t give you the excuse to stop caring about your health. I learned that I don’t have to be ruled by my circumstances.”

Chelsea Clarke
Chelsea is a Toronto-based editor and writer, penning everything from investigative reports to inspiring profiles. She’s the current Associate Editor of Strategy Magazine.