Fourteen years ago, Tameika Gentles was a heavy-set college student struggling to make it from one end of the campus to another. Today, she's ninety pounds lighter, showing off tight abs, toned arms and legs, and a bright smile in her Instagram selfies and training videos.
How did Gentles manage and maintain such a stunning transformation?
The wellness professional and fitness enthusiast had initially pursued weight loss in the way most people do—lose as much weight as possible and get the bikini body everyone talks about. But it was actually at her skinniest and lightest that she realized she needed more than that.
Courtesy of Tameika Gentles
"I got down to 120 pounds soaking wet, and I realized fulfillment wasn't there. I was so confused, because I had done everything right. I lost the weight. I kept it off. I was a trainer. All the things I was supposed to do, I did. Yet there was so much vacancy and emptiness inside. That's when I really had to take a pause and look within and recognize that there was something deeper to this process than just the physical," Gentles explains.
So, Gentles shifted, reframing her entire approach to weight loss. Instead of obsessing over the number on the scale, she focused on how she felt. Rather than fretting about what she saw in the mirror, she put her attention on why being healthy and fit were so important to her. And with wellness—not weight loss—as her anchor, she transformed not just her body, but her entire life.
"Focusing on wellness has been paramount to the trajectory for the rest of my life. I've gotten divorced, moved internationally four times, quit my job and started my own business, and now I'm dealing with the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. And at the core of it all, wellness has been my anchor."
Gentles has now guided thousands of women along the same journey, applying that same attention to wellness to her personal training clients and her travelling health retreat business, The Whole Experience, where she serves women of all ages, races, sizes, fitness levels, and cultural backgrounds.
I asked Gentles to share her advice for women eager to turn their fitness goals into real results. Here's what she said:
Always trust your gut.
Courtesy of Tameika Gentles
Between the billion-dollar industry promoting the 'ideal body type' and the social pressure to be slim here and thick there, it can be hard to figure out how to approach fitness in a way that's actually healthy. This gets especially tricky with the hundreds of IG fitness influencers selling you programs and advice. How do you know whose advice to follow? Gentles encourages women to develop a BS filter by trusting their gut.
"Our body and our intuition, especially as women, are just so on point," Gentles says. "Connect with those people who light up your soul with whatever they post. Whatever their messages are that resonate, follow that."
Gentles also advises women to do a really honest internal check-in as they start their fitness journeys with three key questions:
- Is the approach I'm planning sustainable for the next 1, 5, and 10 years?
- Will this approach be sustainable through all the seasons of my life (job changes, financial strain, starting a family, etc.)?
- And then what?
Gentle explains that the last question helps you get past the surface-level goals, like losing 10 pounds before a vacation, to think about why losing the weight is important to you in the long-term, and how the approach you take contributes to that vision.
Don’t let society, or the scale, define your journey’s success.
Gentles notes that understanding the deeper reasons why losing weight matters to you will keep you pushing when you're feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by all the marketing that says you should look a certain way.
"We've got to connect to something deeper than just aesthetics or just the surface-level things society tells us we need to focus on. It almost becomes like this bulletproof vest that blocks all of society's pressures, and you become so grounded in it, that when you see the ads and stuff, you go, 'That's nice, but that's a by-product of what I really want for my life.'"
Of course, Gentles understands that you'll still have aesthetic goals of your own. But she maintains that the scale isn't your best bet. Instead, she recommends using progress photos or the way you feel in your clothes to see how your body is changing. You'll be able to recognize your results without the mental toll that constantly weighing yourself can take.
Start small for big changes.
Courtesy of Tameika Gentles
A self-professed former food addict, Gentles is careful about food, but she's not restrictive. She's not a fan of fad diets, not just because they're extreme and leave people feeling deprived, but because fad diets—which she defines as 'new, trendy, and unproven' approaches—just don't work. And studies agree with her. Instead, Gentles suggests making tiny improvements to your health habits everyday with what she calls the '1% rule.'
"Look at where you are today and see how you can be 1% better and work on that practice day after day. If you ate 10 M&Ms today, eat 9 tomorrow, and 8 the next day. Before you know it, you're going to have these really small changes that make up a really big change, and it's going to feel seamless and integrated into your life," Gentles says.
Gentles also encourages the 80/20 rule for healthy eating, where 80% of meals are healthy and 20% are more fun. But she warns that 'fun foods' don't have to be really unhealthy.
"I really caveat that 80/20 rule with the fact that the 20 doesn't mean that we throw in the towel and feed our body with crap. So, my 20% isn't filled with fried foods and things that aren't going to serve me, because they actually just don't feel good," Gentles shares.
One solution she offers is using Google to find recipes to make your more fatty and calorie-dense favorites into healthier versions, like she does with the Jamaican food she grew up loving.
There’s more than one road to fitness.
A lot of women struggle with weight loss because, let's face it, the gym isn't always the greatest place to be. But Gentles notes that it's far from the only way to get fit. In fact, she says that if you hate the gym, there are tons of alternatives you can choose from.
"I fell into the bucket of being a 'gym head' and feeling like it's the only thing I could do. But if you hate the gym, don't go to the gym. Go for a walk. Go to a Zumba class. Go pole dancing. Whatever tickles your fancy."
For those who want to get the toning the gym provides, Gentles recommends four exercises you can do right from the comfort of your home: push ups, squats, pull ups, and planks. She notes that these exercises target several muscles and can be effective with just 15-30 minutes of movement everyday.
Ultimately, Gentles' advice to women eager to see their bodies transform is to enjoy the journey. Because as someone who's spent fourteen years changing herself and thousands of others, she knows that the journey is a life-long one.
"Commit to the positive feelings of the process," Gentles continues. "And make sure the process is something you love."
For more of Tameika, follow her on Instagram.
Featured image courtesy of Tameika Gentles