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Our bodies are always giving off signals, but often we ignore them. We know we need to do it, so finding that inner strength to become a better, healthier person takes priority.

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We talked to three fit, local women who knew it was time to make significant health changes in their lives. Their bodies ‘signaled’ that something was awry, and they needed to find a way to improve and sustain their health.  

Four years ago, 31-year-old Shalita Ford’s body wasn’t at its best. She was in her late 20s, suffered from asthma, and weighed 235 pounds. She’d been overweight since she was a child, citing that because of her asthma she had been placed on steroids, but she admits she loved to eat. Part of her weight gain was also due to the fact that she’d put on 50 extra pounds while pregnant with her son.

The realization that she needed to take a serious look at her weight issues happened after she and her sister attended a Nelly concert. Shalita was selected to come up on stage, and her sister took pictures and recorded the once-in-a-lifetime event. After seeing the videos, Shalita cringed at what she saw. She knew she had to make an improvement.

“I was astonished,” Shalita confesses. “When I put on that outfit (for the concert) it didn’t look like that, to me, but it looked terrible when I saw those pictures. I said, ‘I need to make a change.’ It was like I was seeing myself for the first time.”

She began her weight loss journey at the beginning of 2015 and started with simple diets, trying things like the cayenne pepper diet and juice diets, but the results were minimal. She says she tried 45 different diets, finally hitting on the right combination, taking a little from each to create her own eating plan. Drinking water and taking probiotics has also helped.

Exercise has also been a substantial key to her weight loss. 

“I exercise three times a week or do some type of activity to keep my heart rate up,” she explains. “I love to walk. Walking is the easiest thing to do. I also love to dance. I’m no Beyoncé, but I put music on for 30 minutes and just move to it to keep my heart moving. I like it the best because I don’t feel like I’m exercising.” She also uses home exercise equipment and adds that yoga has also helped to bring relaxation into her routine.

Shalita’s weight loss journey took several years, but, in 2017, she eventually reached her goal of losing 100 pounds. She now concentrates on maintenance. “I think I’ve done something amazing to my metabolism, because I can eat and I don’t pick up weight. I don’t feel bloated.”

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Shemaine Bridges, 47, has long incorporated exercise into her life. As a teacher and education professional, she finds that exercising is an excellent way to help keep her calm and reduce stress. She was a runner when she was younger, and over the years has continued to exercise as often as possible because she finds it enjoyable. She eats a healthy diet and has never struggled with her weight.

In 2006, Shemaine experienced a rather frightening change to her body. While she was pregnant with her son, her blood pressure began to increase during the third trimester and she had to be placed on bed rest. Five weeks before the baby was due, Shemaine woke up one morning feeling fine, but she sensed numbness on the left side of her mouth. “I didn’t think anything of it, initially,” she says. “I called my doctor’s office and left a message, and as the day went on the symptoms got worse. My doctor called back and told me to go to the emergency room. When I got there the left side of my face was starting to droop. The doctors thought at first that I was having a stroke, but it was determined I had Bell’s palsy.” While at the hospital her blood pressure began to elevate even further, and the doctors decided to do an emergency C-section.

After the baby’s birth, Shemaine was put on medication to help control her blood pressure levels and she began therapy for the palsy.  

Like many who have issues with blood pressure, Shemaine’s was genetic. Both of her parents suffer from high blood pressure, and she says her mother was diagnosed with it when she was in her early 30s. Shemaine continues to take her medication and exercises regularly, which helps to regulate her blood pressure.

She continues to work out at the YMCA doing Body Pump, which incorporates weight lifting, and Pound, which is a full-body cardio jam session, combining light resistance with constant simulated drumming. She also attends boot camp classes at Savoy. “The exercise helps to relieve the stress. It keeps me calm, balanced, and focused,” she says. It has also helped keep her blood pressure at a normal level.

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Our bodies can throw us curve balls at times, never knowing when it will happen, or in what form. For Meredith Walston, the change to her body definitely came from out of left field.

Meredith, 35, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008. The first sign of a problem had to do with her sight. “The first symptom, and what lead to my diagnosis of what’s called optic neuritis, which is a loss or alteration in your vision, happened basically within a day or two. The vision in my left eye deteriorated something like 75 percent, and that was very startling,” she says.

Her first thought was that she had done something to her eye or that it had a scratch or infection. Since she didn’t have a regular eye doctor, Meredith headed to a LensCrafters during her lunch break to have it examined. Although they found nothing wrong with it, they referred her to a retinal specialist.

“I went to see that person, who immediately referred me to a neurologist. From there I had to have MRI’s of my brain and spine. This all escalated very quickly,” she explained.

When they received the results of the scans, the doctors saw images of lesions on her brain and spine, which is an indication of scarring and damage to the nerves. The next step was to do a spinal tap in order to confirm the diagnosis. All of the markers were positive. “Within a week I went from not feeling that anything was out of the ordinary to being diagnosed with MS,” she says. Meredith explains that when the optic neuritis began it was actually what’s called a ‘flair up,’ or a relapse of the MS, which indicates a new lesion now exists or one that already exists ‘lights up’ and is attacking those nerves.

In order to treat an active situation such as this, patients are put on mega doses of steroids intravenously. “This is the first line of defense,” she says, “then they put you on a disease-modifying drug, or a DMD. For the first six months I did that, giving myself shots every day.” Another scan was done, showing new lesions had occurred. They switched her to another DMD, and she now has to go each month to an infusion center and receive an IV drip for a couple of hours.

Meredith’s neurologist told her that it would take her a year or two to grasp the fact that she has MS, but also to understand how her body is going to respond and how to recognize what is an indicator of the disease and what isn’t. “She was right,” Meredith says. “When anything was wrong, I thought it was MS. Learning the differences and being hyper in tune with my body has become important.” Being preventative in her behavior, getting enough rest, trying to limit stress, staying away from people who are sick, eating well, and exercise have become part of her daily lifestyle.

 In 2016, when we first met Meredith she had taken over 400 classes at her gym of choice, B. You Fitness. She started with a goal of 100 classes, increasing to 250 and once she’d hit her goal, she would increase it to another level. In 2017, she hit her mark of 750, and by the end of 2018, she had completed 1,000 classes.  

These include barre fitness classes, aerial fitness — hanging on long silks  from the ceiling — and rebounding. “That’s one of my favorites,” Meredith says. “You’re on a sport trampoline. There are a lot of health benefits to that, as far as detoxifying, and studies have been done on the effects it has on your immune system. It’s not hard on your joints and it’s high cardio. The studio offers a lot of different classes.”

The main purpose of setting goals, she says, is to maintain consistency. She attends classes four or five days a week. “It’s become part of my life, and really, it’s non-negotiable for me because it makes me feel so much better.”

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Would you like to be featured in our upcoming Best Bodies issue or do you need support in reaching your fitness goals? Visit our nominate page to join the challenge!

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