I didn't know that addiction ran in my family when I tried cocaine for the first time; I just wanted to be skinny.
Jennifer Gimenez is a model, actress, and reality star who has appeared in Blow, Vanilla Sky, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, and Sober House.
When I was 13, I was discovered by a modeling agent and my life changed overnight. I tried to be a normal kid in school, but I was traveling and working all the time. When I turned 14, my agency told me that I was getting too curvy. I wasn't getting fat, I was just going through puberty.
At that point, I started using laxatives, subsisting on lettuce, bingeing and purging, and eventually turning to cocaine to lose weight.
I didn't know that addiction ran in my family when I tried cocaine for the first time; I just wanted to be skinny. But I became addicted and drugs were very hard to avoid in the modeling world. I spiraled out of control.
Finally, at the age of 29, I got sober (and stayed that way). But while maintaining my sobriety, I started turning to food as comfort, and the weight piled on.
In 2008, I weighed myself and thought that the scale was broken. I was over 200 pounds. Finally, I looked in the mirror and decided, this is not me. I started thinking about my emotional growth since learning how to be sober. I realized I could use those skills to get back in shape.
When I set out to lose weight, I was overwhelmed. So I thought I could use a quick fix to kick things off. Some of my friends had tried the Master Cleanse, the diet where you drink this lemonade liquid with cayenne pepper and maple syrup for 21 days, and had great results. When I did it, I lost six pounds and gained back 18. That brought the scale to 267 pounds.
That's when I decided I needed a more reasonable diet and exercise plan.
At first, I used cardio as my main method of losing weight. I worked out on the treadmill or elliptical for 40 to 60 minutes, six days a week. After five months, I lost 40 pounds on my own.
That's when I started working with a trainer who really helped me learn new ways to challenge my body. She said I needed to strength train to burn more fat. I started lifting free weights or using resistance machines three times a week and continued my cardio routine on the other three days.
I was able to keep up my habits while working on season two of Celebrity Rehab Presents: Sober House by sweating it out with some of the cast members. Dennis Rodman was especially motivating and worked out with me while we filmed.
About a year into my new healthy lifestyle, I lost 80 pounds. And even though that was a lot, I wasn't totally happy. I wanted to keep losing weight, but I was struggling to break through the plateau.
That's when I started changing up my workouts. I began swimming 45 minutes to an hour almost every day for three months. My friend nearby had a pool, and I was sick of going to the gym, so that was really fun. I also threw in some yoga, which helped me stay strong. Those new workouts helped me keep up my progress.
My eating habits were sporadic when I first started out, and I didn't follow a specific plan. I aimed to eat a small bowl of oatmeal and banana for breakfast, a larger, healthier lunch, and a small dinner. Other days, I would just give up and eat whatever.
When I started working with my first trainer, she taught me a lot of things about nutrition that I had never heard before. For example, she said that I could still enjoy food as long as I chose the healthiest options. She told me that if I wanted to have chicken tacos, using brown rice and corn taco shells were healthier options that wouldn't ruin my weight-loss plans. She also said that I could have pasta, as long as I didn't go overboard. Finally, she explained that eating five times a day would actually help me lose more weight. I was skeptical, but it started working. I began incorporating snacks during the day, like nuts or cheese.
One thing that also really helped me was keeping a food journal. I wrote down what I ate, why I ate it, and how I felt when I ate it. It helped me discover why I was eating emotionally. I did that for nine months, and now I do it in my head without the journal.
I was really excited about the progress I was making after breaking out of my plateau, so I decided to eat very strictly for three weeks: no processed foods, no oils, no salt, no sugar. It wasn't fun.
In 2011, after swimming every day and eating super clean, I weighed 127 pounds. But I realized that I didn't need to be that weight all the time. Now, at 136 pounds, I feel like I'm stronger and more OK with my body than I was at that lower weight. I don't even get upset when my weight bounces around.
STICKING WITH IT
Getting sober is the best thing that's ever happened in my life, but losing weight is so different. You can't stay away from food like you can stay away from drugs and alcohol. So it's been hard to get to this point.
But exercising has really helped me stay on this journey. It helps me feel solid inside and out and benefits my life in so many ways.
I still enjoy good meals, but I plan for them by drinking a lot of water before and during the meal. That keeps me from going overboard. I'm also more aware of what I eat the day after a fancy meal. It's all about moderation.
This journey has made me realize that I am worth so much more than just my weight. It's OK to be me, and I'm beautiful the way I am.
I've also started working with Royal Life Centers, a drug and alcohol treatment service. There’s no greater feeling than seeing hope restored in someone who has lost it. The struggles with weight and addiction that I’ve overcome allow me to help others dealing the same obstacles and issues I had. For so long, I thought I was the only person who had these struggles. The truth is I am not alone.
JENNIFER'S NUMBER ONE TIP
One thing that really helped me was looking at myself in the mirror and saying, "Thank you, weight, but I no longer need you. I'm ready to be my best." It seems weird, and it wasn't easy to look in the mirror and say "thanks" to those extra pounds, but letting myself know that I was ready to live a healthier life helped me move forward.
Also, remember that quick fixes never work. It took me three years to get where I am today.