By: Lisa Maguire
You might know Laura Berger from any number of things – her long days at the club in the summers, Dina’s FIT Crew, her appearance in an earlier edition of Enhance for participating in a major Spartan race, or even her two previous features in the Delaware News Journal for running accomplishments – however, you may not recognize her!
Laura, a mother of two – one 13 and one 21 – is no stranger to fitness. An avid runner, she’s run in the Boston Marathon twice, and she’s been an active participant at HAC for ten years. She received a trial pass in the mail and expected to come in and just use the trial since she’d always worked out at home or outside, but fell in love with the kickboxing classes and joined before the trial was even over.
A few years later in 2013, she was still taking kickboxing but felt she needed an extra push – that’s when she found FIT. The heart-pounding, rock-til-you-drop atmosphere of the classes looked like they were exactly what she needed, and the support of HAC Personal Trainer, Dina Saitis, was an added bonus. “I can’t say enough good things about Dina,” recounted Laura as she thought about the many years they’ve had together, “her support and encouragement are why I am where I am right now.”
It wasn’t long before Laura considered herself a full-blown member of Dina’s “FITfam” a term of endearment used to refer to Dina’s many FIT clients. Laura’s love of fitness continued to grow, and she continued to push herself to try more and harder things.
In late 2016, she took on a Spartan Race (along with 90 others!) for Dina’s 50th birthday, and in 2017 ran the Boston Marathon. It was also 2017 when Laura experienced her first overuse injury – a torn plantar. “It was a huge setback, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from running the Boston again in 2018,” Laura remembered. And that she did, but it wasn’t without sacrifice. Not long after the race Laura ended up with a second overuse injury, but this time it landed her on crutches. “I couldn’t do anything except physical therapy and exercise in the water. I went as often as I could, but it just wasn’t the exercise I was used to,” Laura recalled. “I couldn’t even work for the first nine weeks. No school, no real exertion, just the couch, food, and… wine,” she laughed. “I got really demotivated and a bit depressed during the whole ordeal. I turned to food out of boredom a lot of times.”
Fortunately, or un-, Laura’s injury coincided with the holidays, which meant it also coincided with HAC’s Project Zero Challenge. “I do the challenge every year for extra accountability, but this year, for the first time, I gained weight,” Laura said. If you’re unfamiliar, Project Zero is a simple holiday challenge HAC hosts that doesn’t cost anything and the only goal is to not put any weight on from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. “It was obvious that I needed to do more, and the free challenge didn’t work. I started to explore the Lifestyle Challenge as an option.”
When Laura started discussing the challenge with others, she was met with a lot of opposition and discouragement. “Some told me that I didn’t have enough weight to lose, or that it was pointless for me to do the challenge because I was already in shape,” Laura smirked, “but I didn’t let it hold me back. I wanted to prove to them and myself that it was worth the investment.”
Laura knew that in order to see results, she was going to have to make a serious lifestyle change. The upcoming challenge was a big investment for her – the most she’s ever spent on training, and with that in mind, she was very nervous about really committing. She wanted to test her will power and found the perfect preliminary test – a 30-day no sugar challenge with another HAC trainer, Jen Besten.
“I did okay with it. I cut out most sugars, but didn’t give up drinking,” Laura said with a smile. It was the confidence boost she needed, and before she knew it, it was time to get started. “I used to do so much cardio, but Dina insisted that I needed to make some changes other than just diet if I was going to really compete.” From doing cardio six days a week, Laura went to a new routine that revolved around lower heart rate and a lot of strength training. “I’d barely been in the HAC weight room for anything, let alone to use the equipment,” Laura laughed, “but Dina got me in there three days a week after light cardio. I met with her for one half-hour session one-on-one, and she wrote up a plan that included two additional days in the weight room, one Hot Yoga class each week, and one FIT class.”
In addition to the new regimen at the gym, she really committed to a lifestyle change with food as well. She began cooking and food prep for every meal and did a lot of planning in advance if she wasn’t going to be at home. Her new diet consisted of no cheese, no alcohol, no white flour, nothing fried, and no sugar. Instead of having a drink with her friends for happy hour, she’d still go, but only drink water. “I’d look at the menu in advance and try to think about what, if anything, I could eat while I was out. If there wasn’t anything on the menu that fit my new lifestyle, I ate before or after.” The hardest change for Laura came at night, though. “I’ve had a routine, for I don’t know how many years, but I love dessert. Every night, around 9:00 or 10:00 PM, I’d sit down and have something sweet and watch TV. It was my ritual, my treat for the day. But I knew it had to go, and as I thought about it, it really seemed pretty silly. There’s no reason for me to be snacking that late at night. At first, I swapped it with plain fruit, but eventually, I just didn’t need it at all. All of the changes were really difficult, but now, I don’t crave any of it! I couldn’t wait to have sweet potato tater tots after the challenge was over,” she laughed, “but it’s been weeks and I still haven’t had anything that wasn’t on my diet except a little bit of wine. It truly was a lifestyle change.”
She credits Dina in aiding in that thought process, “When I’d talk about the tater tots with Dina, she’d remind me that this is supposed to be a permanent change, not just for the challenge… and I know she was right, I feel amazing. I used to workout so I could eat, but now I eat so I can work out.”
That mindset is the epitome of this challenge. Though Laura had the second lowest starting female body fat percentage – 24.7 percent, she ended the challenge only 0.10% away from the first place finisher, with a whopping 9.5% body fat lost in twelve weeks, and the lowest ending body fat on the books for all of the participants, male or female.
What’s more amazing than that, though, is Laura’s results outside of the challenge. Not only does she feel completely different and healthier, but she’s had other incredible side effects from the challenge. She’d not be running as often or training to run but decided to do a 5k for fun and thought she’d just jog the hilly course. She finished as the fasted female overall! Not one to pass up an opportunity to test her body, she signed up for the Delaware Half Marathon in April and shaved a full two minutes off of her best time. “The changes in my body and ability are incredible now that I’m truly committed to living and leading a cleaner lifestyle and a more varied workout routine.”
Laura learned a lesson often bestowed on runners after it’s too late: more running doesn’t necessarily make you a better runner. By engaging in a dynamic training program, taking time off from cardio, and properly fueling her body, Laura was able to become a better runner and be less prone to future injury. She also learned that doing more and more cardio isn’t the best way to lose weight or develop body mass. As we age, we lose muscle, which in turn affects our metabolism, and makes it harder for us to maintain our weight or fitness levels. Fortunately, with the right training program and diet, it’s something we all have control over, and Laura is happy, healthy, proof!