"BEING STRONG FEELS AWESOME!"
When Mandy Martin, now 26, was a teenager in Gillette, Wyoming, busing tables at a restaurant helped her stay trim despite a greasy diet. "I didn't think twice about what I ate," she says. But in 2005, she took a new job as an equipment operator at a coal mine—and had to sit still for 13-hour shifts. On the way home, she often stopped at a gas station for a supersize burrito called "The Bomb" before collapsing into bed. In just a few months, 5'5" Mandy tacked on 40 pounds.
The Change: Mandy started a string of fad diets but always veered off course when the weekend rolled around. One night after months of on-and-off attempts, she was opening a letter from her mom when an unpleasant surprise peeked out from the envelope: a photo of Mandy taken weeks prior at Easter. "I was stunned that I looked that bad," says Mandy. "That was my wake-up call to do something, for real."
The Lifestyle Shunning convenience-store food, Mandy went grocery shopping—for the first time ever—to stock up on whole grains, lean meats, and produce. Five months of clean eating trimmed off about 20 pounds. That summer, she braved the gym. "At first, I couldn't walk on the treadmill for more than five minutes," she says. "I worked up to 30 minutes of walking and running or other cardio." Another month, another 10 pounds gone. But it wasn't until she added resistance training that Mandy found her favorite fix. "I had never felt powerful before," she says, "and lifting weights made me feel that way." Those curls and squats also helped knock off another 22 pounds over about three more months.
The Reward: Mandy's newfound confidence gave her the guts to pick up and move to Superior, Colorado, to study sports medicine and start a new career as a personal trainer. "Now I get to move around all day instead of counting the minutes till I can go home," she says. She entered her first bodybuilding competition In 2009 and has now done seven shows. "I used to flip through fitness magazines and think, Why can't I be like that?" she says. Her answer now? "I can."
RELATED: Check out the Women's Health workout plans page, and find a goal that you want to conquer.
Plan ahead. "I arranged my work schedule so I could exercise between shifts."
Be a protein pro. "I add it to pancakes by mixing in egg whites instead of water It helps keep me full."
Hit the perimeter. "The food you need most—fresh produce—is around the edges of the grocery store, not in the middle."