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This Trainer Shed 90 Pounds. Here's Her Advice For Feel-Good Fitness.

"At the core of it all, wellness has been my anchor."

Wellness

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:

  1. Is the approach I'm planning sustainable for the next 1, 5, and 10 years?
  2. Will this approach be sustainable through all the seasons of my life (job changes, financial strain, starting a family, etc.)?
  3. 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

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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