Let me introduce you to Justine. I met Justine back when I was in high school (2006ish)—she was my sister’s best friend in college and we’ve been friends ever since. Justine has always been a BLAST to be around; always so sure of herself, outgoing and confident. What’s fascinating to me is how her confidence has shifted throughout her journey (which as you'll read is WAY more than just fitness)—I think what really happened was her innate confidence evolved into something more like power. I’m so excited for you to read her story (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sob when I first read it!).

Justine lookin' fiiiire in our NEGATIVE SPACE Tank

Have you ever caught a glimpse of yourself and have to take a double take because that’s definitely NOT you? Well, if you are reading this, I am sure we can agree that we have all been there a time or two. For me, weight and body image has always been an “issue”. Growing up, I was small, petite and ate whatever my mother would put on the table. She always made sure that we had a meat, starch, and vegetable on our plates. It wasn’t until puberty where I started to really see my body change and did it change quickly. I had developed breasts and wide hips at 8. I got my period in 4th grade. I had stretch marks at 10. I developed so quickly, that I didn’t even know what was happening. On top of this ever-evolving body, I also had crooked teeth and my peers would call me “Beaver”. Bullying became an everyday occurrence for me. My self-esteem went from bad to worse. I can remember trying on a bikini for the summer at age 10 and walking out of the bathroom so ashamed of my body. I was a little girl in a grown woman’s body. Freaked out was an understatement.

Middle school didn’t get much better. Although I had friends and enjoyed going to school, boys would call me “socks” (as if I stuffed my bra, cue the eye roll) and I always felt like everyone was judging me. I HATED my body. I was self-conscious, insecure and felt like no one would ever understand how I felt. Fortunately, high school got better. The bullying stopped. I had friends, a boyfriend and got into a college far enough away from home that I felt a sense of independence and freedom! The same way I gained independence, was the same way I started to misuse alcohol at an unhealthy level. Binge drinking became an every night affair. I honestly racked up a $45,000 student loan debt to party like a rock star. I never ONCE thought about calories. I never ONCE thought about the burgers and fries I was gulping down by the pound. I just ate and drank whatever I wanted. I was wearing about a size 10 in college but still didn’t “feel” overweight. I liked to think of myself as curvy and I always attributed my 5’0” frame as an excuse. “Well, I’m short! There’s nothing I can do about that”.

It wasn’t until 2010, a year after graduation when everything went downhill. And fast. I was at such a low point in my life. I was out of college. Couldn’t find a real job. I spent all of my time going out and making friends with the wrong types of people. I would go out and not remember coming home. The next morning my little sister would be at my bedroom door, giving me a lecture about not calling her anymore at 3am to open the back door to let me inside. She told me I had a problem and she wasn’t going to enable it any longer. I just brushed her off as jealous and kept it moving. I was an adult! I had a college education. How dare her judge me? All my family members were on top of me to find a job, get my life together, but I just kept going in a downward spiral.

Then I met someone… in my most vulnerable state. He was much older than me. He lived in New York City and I felt like I finally found someone who saw past my imperfections. He challenged me and I felt taken by him. We dated literally two months and there I was packing my bags and moving to Queens to live with him. It happened so fast, which seems like an every occurring theme in my life, and I left against my parents’ wishes. If there is ANYTHING you take away from this story of mine, it is that your parents will NEVER steer you wrong. They know you better than you know yourself. They love you unconditionally and always will.

When I left and moved down the city, I had a head full of dreams. Coming from upstate New York, and never really leaving, this was the ultimate path I thought for myself. Little did I know the monster that I was now living under the same roof as. It started as little things. His anger would come out of nowhere. It would be sudden and as if whatever happened was always my fault. I was always doing something wrong. Right after an outburst, he would follow it up with apologies and I just felt sorry for him at first. I felt bad for coming into his life and turning things upside down. Like most things in my life, things went from bad to worse. I was constantly anxious and worried I would do something to upset him. I felt trapped. At the same time, my parents were trying their best to get me to come back home. It got to the point where I needed to prove them wrong. They knew nothing about him so how dare they judge him? I loved him and he loved me and we were doing this with or without their approval. Looking back now, I wish I had listened to them. I ended up getting pregnant. I took a test and literally felt like dying. I knew deep down I couldn’t bring a child into this crazy, abusive, messed up world but it is what he made me do that hurt the most. He forced me to get an abortion. He told me that if I didn’t get one, he would find a way to terminate it himself. I was so scared. I remember him bringing me to this clinic, somewhere in the city, and walking into a room filled with women, waiting for the inevitable. The nurse took me to an exam room, conducted an ultrasound and there it was. A small little spot on the screen, with a heartbeat. All I kept saying to myself over and over again is that I had to follow through with this. The nurse asked me one question I will never forget. “Is this abortion your decision or is someone pressuring or threatening you?” I answered ‘yes this is my decision’ so quickly, it sounded almost believable when I spoke it. That day was the second scariest day of my life. (Keep reading to find out the scariest of all days) I’ll spare you all the details of what occurred that morning, but to anyone who has ever had to go through this, just know that I am with you and I know your pain.

Weeks, months and years went by and the abuse only got worse. There were times that were great. Moments that I felt we could get past his verbally abusive words, his physically strong and hurtful hands, his emotionally draining actions. Nothing ever changed. My anxiety took over my life. This is also where I started gaining A LOT of weight. I ate when I was sad. I ate when I was happy. I ate when I was anxious. I ate and drank and ate some more. I used food to fill a void in my life. I was masking and covering up SO MUCH that food became that one friend I could always count on. I was hiding everything from my friends and family. I couldn’t imagine opening up and telling them the truth about what was going on behind closed doors. It was so shameful and embarrassing. But still, I stayed. I felt trapped.

There were time periods when I would try to lose weight. I bought some Zumba videos and I would work out at home after work. I would eat chicken and salads and nothing else. I had no idea how to lose weight. I would think I lost 10-15 lbs and then give up and go back to my comfort of food to help me through the nightmare I was living and breathing. I had so much going on that losing weight was just not a top priority. I LIVED in leggings and baggy blouses. I avoided mirrors, despised going shopping for clothes and wouldn’t dare step on a scale. I remember going to get my annual physical and stepping on the scale. 186. Oh. My. God. How was that even possible? The doctor told me I was morbidly obese and I needed to lose weight, and a lot of it. I stopped going to that doctor. I avoided my problems. I avoided the truth. In all aspects of my life. I couldn’t handle it.

So I gained all this weight, I was in an abusive relationship, my family was extremely worried for me, I was hiding so much from my friends who love and care for me, and all the while I still stayed with this MONSTER (that’s the only name I can use for him because speaking his name makes me physically sick to my stomach). It took me FIVE YEARS to leave him. And I left with a bang. The day I left was THE scariest day of my life. All the other times, all the previous fights I felt like I could handle them. I felt like things could get better. But that morning, May 8th, 2015, a simple fight one morning turned into a showdown that I will never forget. This was the day the real monster appeared in his full glory and I feared for my life. Clothes spewed all over the apartment. The shower curtain, ripped off the pole, as I was showering. My belongings, shoes, pictures, documents, sentiments, everything I could physically fit into the closest bag, were stuffed and piling up, one by one. He was in another dimension. This was the first time I could actually see him as the monster he truly was. I couldn’t pack fast enough. I grabbed whatever I could, called my friend to come get me and I ran out of the apartment. He followed me in his car. I ran into a pharmacy and hid until he went around the block and then I hid behind a dumpster until my friend had arrived. I had NO idea what I was going to do but all I knew is that anything, even being homeless, would have been better than living another day with him. He reached out to me. Stalked me. Harassed me. Came to my job. I eventually had to get a restraining order. I still have nightmares but therapy is my saving grace. I have PTSD and I still struggle with anxiety, insecurity, and fear but I am working on myself every single day.

Let’s jump to April 2017. I was finally on my own for a while now, working and going about my life as well as I thought I could. Referencing back to the beginning to the beginning of my post, Have you ever caught a glimpse of yourself and have to take a double take because that’s definitely NOT you? I had that moment after seeing pictures that were posted from my cousin’s wedding. I was HUGE. I had even borrowed a dress for that wedding and everything from the photos made me cringe. I had gotten into the habit of saying “Just get the neck and up” whenever someone took a picture of me but there was no more hiding after seeing those professional photos. I was mortified. But that still didn’t stop me from eating and drinking heavily. It wasn’t until a friend of mine texted me asking if I wanted to join Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers? Hm. I know I needed to be doing something for myself. I know I needed to make myself a priority after everything I had gone through the previous years but could I do something like that? I looked online and checked out the prices. I saw that it would only be like $35 for a month. Not too bad, right? When I asked her about the month she said she would be signing up for three months. Three whole months? I wasn’t too sure about this. Could I commit to three months of losing weight? I thought about the pictures from my cousin's wedding. I thought about all the times I got out of the shower and stayed far away from any mirrors, sure to dress myself as quickly as possible. I thought about the poor eating choices I knew I was making every day. So I committed. I joined on May 8th, 2017. I decided to sign up for the weekly meetings too for the support and information since I had absolutely NO clue what I was about to embark on. My friend and I went to one meeting together, didn’t really love the leader and then our schedules conflicted and I started to go to the weekly meetings every Thursday after work by myself. This was convenient for me. I immediately connected with the leader and other members were so welcoming and warm. The Weight Watchers meeting space was right across the boulevard from my job. I had no excuses. What’s great about Weight Watchers is the fact that everything can be tracked on your phone. There is also this awesome feature that allows you scan any and every food and drink item, as long as it has a barcode. At first, I was so nervous about failing. I had failed at so many other things in my life. But this time around it was just different. I was in a better head space. I was living on my own. I had access to the supermarkets and financially I could afford to spend a little bit more on groceries than in years past. Every week I went to weigh in. The dreaded scale!! Oh, did I dread the scale every week. Then, this beautiful thing started to happen. I started to lose weight. My first week I lost a whooping 4lbs but I thought to myself, maybe it’s because I ate light that day. The next week, I lost 1.5lbs. Okay, not bad at all! I was spending my evenings looking up all the different low point foods I could have. I started researching healthy dinners and packed my breakfast and lunch for work every day. Slowly, I started seeing the weight come off every week, some less than others, but still, I was losing weight and I was having fun while doing it! I felt so empowered seeing my weight loss. It was like as I was losing the weight, I was losing that extra baggage mentally and emotionally, too. My body was changing. I was seeing this beautiful shape form and my confidence started to rise. Every week I looked forward to weighing in and see all the hard work I had put in. I joined a gym and started taking classes a few times a week. I wasn’t the biggest person in the classes anymore. I could feel how easy it was for me to move my body without the struggle it used to be. Just getting off of the couch and standing up was a non-scale victory for me. People started to notice the changes and it felt so amazing. This just pushed me harder to keep it up and hit that goal weight. Nothing could stop me.

I feel as though WW worked for me because I needed to see what healthy eating was. I needed to know what foods were good and bad. I was never taught that growing up. My mom would say “have a snack. Here's two cookies”. She gave us appropriate serving sizes but nothing was off limits. In college, the cafeteria was full of bad choices. I didn’t care what I was putting into my body. I didn’t think about sugar, saturated fats or sodium. I just ate until I was full, sometimes overfull. During the years in an abusive relationship, I found food and alcohol to be my saving grace. I found that foods that filled me up made me feel good. Food loved me no matter what. 

My life is so completely and entirely different now. For once, I put myself first. I made this journey of losing weight and getting healthy all about me and no one else. It has felt so empowering to be able to be in control of myself.

I started Weight Watchers weighing 190lbs. I set a goal to weigh 140lbs (in which I NEVER thought was obtainable) and I CRUSHED it! I hit my goal weight on November 29th, 2017 and guess what? The weight just keeps coming off! To date, I have lost a total of 63lbs, something I never once thought was possible. I think back to my childhood and how my body developed. I think about the bullying and insecurities. All of those moments, have made me the person I am today. Now, I embrace my stretch marks because they show my growth. I am working on myself every day and the possibilities are endless!

Sharing my story publicly and being vulnerable to the idea that many will read this, some will understand it, and few are living right this moment, makes me feel empowered that maybe I can make a difference in someone’s life. A healthy mind, heart, and body are all things YOU can do for yourself. No one can ever tell you to lose weight, or leave an abusive relationship, or go to the gym. You have to want it. You have to eat, sleep and breathe it. To me, the Thirteen Fit Apparel brand screams empowerment, self-love, and strength. Overcoming those obstacles in my life and the ones I have before me should be looked at as the ultimate strength. I am a survivor. My body and mind are beautiful. I am worthy. I am ME and no one can and ever will take that away from me.

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