‘I Used To Be Skinny-Fat—And Now I Can Deadlift 225 Pounds’

I never felt self conscious about my body until my high school sweetheart cheated on me junior year with a volleyball player and track star. Up until then, I had been active—cheering, dancing, doing gymnastics—and considered myself to be thin and petite. But this girl had a nice butt and an athletic frame. I started picking myself apart—I wasn’t athletic enough, I lacked a nice behind, I didn’t look as good as my girlfriends or the alluring JV star.

I joined the gym, then track and field. It boosted my confidence a bit, but what it really gave me was an interest in fitness. I graduated high school, ditched the guy, and went to college for kinesiology—the study of body movement. After graduating, I wanted to become a personal trainer. And to supplement my training, I decided to enter a bikini competition.

2008➡️2018 Look at little baby Nat ??… Came across the left photo from the good ol’ college days. I’d say this was my “skinny fat” phase, where I was relatively small but that freshman 15 really did happen! Carried it in my stomach, arms, face, and I actually had boobs?. Naturally those were the first to go though ??‍♀️. But back then, I was kinda lost, adjusting to a new life at school, no parental supervision (hi Mom ??‍♀️), so I was just wilding out! Sometimes putting myself in the most embarrassing situations, things I’m not proud of, yet I don’t regret anything, as it all has helped mold me into who I am today. Clearly so much has changed in the last ten years. Aside from the obvious physical differences, I’ve grown up, matured, and have become so much more mentally tougher and stronger, and am no longer the lost, crazy party girl. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a little of that inside me?, but good health has become my main priority. I have molded into a strong, fierce, and confident woman who now pushes some heavy ass weight, but may also throw back a few Micheladas from time ??‍♀️.. sue me.. #transformationtuesday #10yearsinthemaking

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I was small and slender with little muscle definition and 23 percent body fat. I hired a coach, who instructed me to do cardio twice a day—burning roughly 500 calories each time—plus lifting weights. I was granted one rest day. Of course, I was also restricting calories.

This recipe, plus always being on my feet at work, put me in an extreme caloric deficit. I was losing muscle instead of building it. After three months, my butt got flatter and smaller—the opposite of what I wanted—and I just looked thinner instead of cut.

For the next couple years, I struggled with building muscle and staying healthy. I worked out regularly but was negating it by binge drinking, partying, and doing drugs. I definitely was not practicing what I was trying to preach as a trainer, but justified it to myself with the mantra, “Work hard, play hard.”

During this time, I started dating a co-worker from the gym, and we rushed into marriage. I quickly realized this wasn’t a smart decision and that it wasn’t a healthy relationship for me. I starting fighting some battles with mild depression and anxiety; I felt lost; I became really unhappy with myself. I knew I needed to leave.

With the help of a relative, I moved to a new city, found a new gym to work at, and vowed to take better care of myself.

Even though starting over was the right move, the major change in environment threw me into major anxiety and mild depression. I would fret and cry often, and had difficulty keeping positive emotions in check. I was putting so much pressure on myself to not turn back and not fail. But I shifted my focus toward fitness to keep me sane.

I was still rather slender and petite, and feeling pretty weak. But I set new goals: look and feel more athletic, build muscle, and increase strength.

How to lose fat without counting calories. Well for one, don’t eat like an asshole! “Wahh?, idk why I’m not losing fat..” . ?Think real hard about what and HOW MUCH you’ve been putting in your mouth lately. C’mon really think… Have you been eating out a couple times a week? Maybe had not one, but 4 glasses of wine? Not sugar with your coffee but more like coffee with your sugar? (Aka Starbucks) . Ok let me keep it simple, as I don’t like to count calories myself… and if that’s you too, but want to lose fat try these tips: . ☝?Swap out one of your usual heavy meals for a dish with LOTS of fibrous veggies and an adequate amount of protein. ✌?Scale down the carbs in your other meals.. you normally eat a full cup of rice? Try 1/2-2/3 instead. ☝?+✌?Stop SAYING you want to lose fat, but actually DO it. I would like to buy a nice house but it’s not going to appear in thin air. I actually have to work and save for it. . So ya that’s my little tip of the day. Notice I didn’t even mention exercise? ?But IMAGINE if you added that too? No need to make it more complicated than it needs to be. Just have to be disciplined enough to bring it out of you. ❓What are some other tips I can throw your way? Oh and happy #humpday ?

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I knew I had to show up every day and put forth my best effort. I owed that much to myself. I wanted change and was tired of other things getting in the way, so I needed to learn to dedicate more time to fitness and trained myself to fight the temptation of going back to my old ways.

I wasn’t mentally ready to do it all on my own. I hired my gym co-workers to keep me accountable and provide structure. And slowly, I started to feel my passion for fitness rekindle.

I got more into heavy lifting, focusing on compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, and complemented them with isolated free weights and cable exercises. I pushed myself to lift weights at least five times a week with no more than two days of cardio.

Being so dedicated was mentally exhausting sometimes, and there were times that drinking and partying felt much more appealing than hitting the gym. It was a constant battle, picking between the two. But over time, I found myself always choosing the latter.

It wasn’t easy, but having someone else help hold me responsible prevented me from getting easily distracted.

But when I wasn’t seeing results after months of dedication, I took a step back. My strength wasn’t really improving like I had hoped it would by this time. With all my hours training clients, then all the hours training myself, I was too stressed and not giving myself enough recovery.

?So I did a thing today… . I finally reached my goal of pulling 225! And not just one, but TWO reps. You can see my excitement at the end, and thank you to my Self Made Fam who cheered me on! This is a huge deal to me guys! I’ve been aiming for this for a LONG WHILE. . I weigh just under 120 lbs, and growing up was the weak skinny girl. Coming from a family of athletic boys, I always felt somewhat inferior, and couldn’t play sports to save my life. Lifting heavy has become my sport, and I continue to get better and stronger. This really goes to show what consistency, hard work, and more importantly patience can do! It’s being able to keep going when you want to give up! . To all my girls wanting to get strong, build muscle, and maybe even put on some healthy weight, I’m here to tell you it can be done as long as you keep at it! Don’t be intimidated to move some weight around, because looking good is great and all, but I swear this sense of accomplishment from feeling strong is so much more rewarding! I hope this serves as a little #motivationmonday for you all! ?

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I reduced my lifting to no more than four days a week, kept cardio to the rare occasions when I felt like it, and made a better effort to increase my calories. My muscles started recovering faster, which meant my strength was consistently increasing. The numbers kept going up. I zeroed in on compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench presses). My glutes were noticeably growing; my legs were strong.

When I hit my goal of being able to deadlift 225 pounds and squat 185 pounds, I knew all my hard work had paid off. After years of yo-yoing and putting in work with no real payoff, I finally built—and kept—the strong body I wanted.

And interestingly, I also realized my priorities had shifted. Going into this commitment push (as well as every past pledge to stick with the gym), my goal was directed toward chasing aesthetics—wanting to look good in a bikini, carve a small waist, mold rounded glutes.

Don’t get me wrong—I definitely still desired these superficial goals. But when I shifted my focus onto strength, I actually felt the most happy and confident. Through lifting heavier and committing more, breaking those habits of partying and sabotage, I had unlocked potential in me I didn’t know existed at 29.

I had always categorized myself as this weak, skinny girl, and put partial blame on genetics, as if there was nothing I could really do about it. After spending time on the right exercise program, and realizing that food would fuel my progress, I learned that I could change, and I could get stronger. With that, aesthetics became the cherry on top.

I am now a healthy 120 pounds—up from 105 during bikini competition training—and have managed to significantly reduce my body fat, increase muscle size, and skyrocket my strength. I can now deadlift over 225 pounds, squat 190 pounds, bench press my body weight, and do eight unassisted pullups.

My depression is completely gone, and although I still struggle with anxiety at times, it’s significantly better than it once was. I feel like I have a better handle on general stress.

Hooray for finding balance! . For a while now, I’ve been making a conscious effort to eat more whole foods, but with room for indulging in stuff like sushi, to ice cream, or even a few drinks on occasion. I think this is eating intuitively?? No food scales or calorie/macro counting, just more aware of what and how much goes in my body. Workout wise, I’ve limited my lifting to no more than 4x a week, and zero cardio (simply bc I don’t like it). I feel like my strength gains came out of no where these last few weeks, and I can see my body changing! I wish I could tell you it’s easy to get to this point; a healthy relationship with food, and continuously progressing in the gym, without feeling like a slave to either. What I can share with you is a few tips that helped me along the way: . ?Learn what macronutrients are, and how to track them along with your caloric intake. It all comes down to a science; weight loss= caloric deficit, weight gain =caloric surplus. Which is it that you desire? ?Try using an app like MyFitnessPal to help calculate. If you never have, I swear it can be so eye opening! ?Get familiar with what portions look like in specific foods, especially ones you eat often. I did this for some time before I was able to eyeball almost anything. ??‍♀️Get on a workout program that aligns with your goals. I preach heavy lifting, but there was a time 10 lbs of any exercise was heavy to me. So what I really mean is what is challenging for YOU, and what can provide the results you are looking for. I personally feel anyone can benefit from strength training. ?Stick to it for a while! Until you can notice some changes. What’s a few months of logging to ultimately not having to track for the rest of your life!? . I can take my own advice on this sometimes, as I am continuously learning about my body, but for he most part I’m doing just fine. The human body has always fascinated me, I love what I do. And I encourage you to study yours. You only get one body, one life, please take care of it. . Btw, thank you for the love lately. I do put a lot of thought into my posts and when I get special messages, I can’t even explain how fulfilled it makes me feel!

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I don’t track macros or calories regularly now, but I have on and off over the years, so I can now intuitively recognize what balance looks like. I make a conscious effort to get enough protein, and eat more nutrient-dense, whole foods 80 percent of the time. For the other 20 percent, I indulge in foods like burgers and ice cream. To this day, I will have a drink or two on occasion, but am now much more self-controlled.

Typical #flexfriday post. …I could end the caption there but then thought, ?“What message does that send?” None really. So instead I want to say something that some people may need to hear: . ??F THE DAMN SCALE! . It is NOT the best indicator of your progress or even lack thereof. Ok yes, when you have a significant amount of weight to lose, recommended by medical professionals, you do want to see the number go down. . However, I’ve seen people take drastic measures, or lose too much weight too fast, and look and feel like complete ?. So is that considered healthy? Talking to people on the daily about their goals, often times their initial desire is to be a SPECIFIC weight. Like dead set, “I want to weigh X lbs.” Why? “That’s what I’m supposed to be.” It is? “That’s what I was in high school or my 20’s” ??‍♀️??‍♀️??‍♀️??‍♀️??‍♀️??‍♀️??‍♀️ Then we come to find the real goals are much deeper than a number. If you’ve been working out and trying to improve your eating habits but haven’t really seen the scale budge, then do yourself a favor and: . ?Take progress photos (why do you think us “fitness people” have so many??). ?Pay attention to how your clothes fit (feeling lose, baggy, less snug). ☀️Monitor your mood and energy levels (feeling happy, energetic, etc.) . Eat nutritious foods (most of the time), or even eat a donut once in a while! Exercise regularly, and don’t neglect the weight room! And don’t let a number determine your ultimate success. . Is that asking too much?? So there you have it. I’ll wrap it up here and hope everyone enjoys the weekend! #happyfriday ?

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Before lifting, I foam roll, do dynamic stretches, then activate the muscles I’ll be working for the day. On lower-body days, I use small resistance bands to activate my legs and glutes, and on upper body days, I work on mobility prior to my main lifts.

I start with compound lifts, then move on to accessory exercises—I like to incorporate a couple single-limb exercises like lunges and cable kickbacks, or one-arm movements. Most of my workouts usually consist of just five to six exercises.

I rarely do cardio, but I’ll do it more often in the summer when I can be outdoors.

My week is typically structured as follows:

Day 1: Lower body
Compound lift: Sumo deadlift
Unilateral exercise: Deficit lunges
Other: Leg press, cable kickbacks, some machines

Day 2: Rest

Day 3: Upper body (chest/back)
Compound: Bench press
Unilateral exercise: One-arm row
Other: Pullups, dumbbell and cable exercises

Day 4: Lower body
Compound lift: Barbell squats and barbell hip thrust
Unilateral: Bulgarian split squat
Other: Romanian deadlifts, some machines

Day 5: Rest

Day 6: Upper body (shoulders/arms)
Compound: Standing barbell military press
Other: Seated dumbbell shoulder presses, cable exercises for arms

Day 7: Rest

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Train hard and heavy, eat sensibly, and be patient! Results will come with consistency over time—that’s what I learned, at least.

Follow Natalie’s fitness journey @natalie_saldana.

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