Formerly fat trainers: Why more fitness stars are sharing their weight-loss stories

Nichelle Hines

“People don’t believe me when they see me now. This was not a three-week process, it was a three-year process,” says Nichelle Hines, who was recently featured in Racked LA’s Hottest Trainer competition. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Daniels for Racked LA)


Keoni Hudoba, 80. Nichelle Hines, 60. Dyan Tsiumis, 65. These numbers don’t represent what these popular fitness trainers charge for an hour of calorie-burning time with them. They represent pounds—how many pounds each of them lost before becoming known for their sculpted bods, that is.

While it seems like trainers with overweight pasts would ceremoniously burn (and de-tag) every picture of their formerly-fat selves and swear friends from their pre-muscled days to secrecy, increasingly, the opposite is true. Instead, they’re using their stories to help clients and class go-ers find relatable weight-loss inspiration.

It’s not that they don’t worry. “I didn’t tell people I was heavy until after Drenched launched. One of my mentors said I had to tell the story, and I was so embarrassed. I thought, ‘Who’s going to take me seriously?” says Hudoba, who was previously an instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp and is now the creative director at CYC.

The relatable factor

Here’s what actually happened: A flood of clients expressed their admiring disbelief and appeared to be newly inspired to work harder. This connection is key: If an overweight college student opera singer who couldn’t get through an audition dance sequence without wheezing now makes an eight-pack look easy, could there be hope for me?

Hudoba, before and after. (Photo: Rateyourburn.com)

Hudoba, before and after. (Photo: Rateyourburn.com)

“It not only helps them connect with the trainer more, it sort of breaks down walls,” explains Julia Dalton-Bush, the founder of Fit Journey. “Students aren’t looking at instructors and thinking ‘You don’t even get it! This squat is the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life!” They’re thinking, ‘He or she did it, and they get it, and this is where they are now.'”

Hines, the head instructor at Cycle House Los Angeles who’s known for her inspiration-mantra-packed classes, agrees. “It can be alienating when students look at the teacher like they’re an ideal,” she says, referring to the sense we all get that instructors are born super-athletes. “I’m very conscious of telling them that they’re not alone in this struggle. I say, ‘I know this feels incredibly hard, but I’m pushing you like this because I’ve been there, too.'”

Honesty becomes easy

Revolve instructor Tsiumis, who also teaches IntenSati, says that a benefit to revealing her weight-loss journey is that it’s allowed her to develop more honest, open relationships with clients, who suddenly see her as a confidante instead of someone immune to diet and fitness woes.

“Clients are willing to be more open about their habits. They’re more willing to be like, “I lost it the other day and ate a box of cookies,'” she says. Which allows trainers to better respond to their challenges and needs.

They really get it

Trainers may also just be more in tune with their client’s needs, since they can draw from their personal experiences when figuring out what will work for someone who’s trying to drop serious pounds. Hudoba, for instance, was drawn to CYC because the brand is focusing on bringing cycling classes to college towns, and his own weight-loss journey took place during college.

“After class, students will come up to me and say, ‘Thank you so much for sharing your story. I never knew that this was possible,'” says Hudoba. “If I had this in school when I was losing weight, it would have been so much easier.” —Lisa Elaine Held

6 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. September 16th, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Very Inspiring! Great Article! :)

  2. September 16th, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Count me in this group. I was 218 pounds with a 44inch waist in 2003. I suffer from a binge eating disorder and have to work daily to control it.

    I share this with my clients all of the time, and I think it does help to know that I have been through something (at least similar) to what they are going through.

    I am happy and fit now, and even host one of the fastest growing fitness podcasts on iTunes. Obesity problems can be overcame with the right mindset and support system, but sometimes I think it’s better coming from a trainer who has been there.

    Jay Scott

  3. September 17th, 2013 at 7:21 am

    I used to be big girl too and it help to know how it feels. Every client that start feeling better about themselves, sparks my life once again. Their success and effort is worthwhile living.

  4. September 17th, 2013 at 5:28 pm
  5. September 17th, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Very inspirational stories! I had a similar experience and this really hit a personal note. I was a typical kid of the 90’s (too many cookies and video games) and was 225lbs and under 5ft tall by 9th grade. I started running the summer after my junior year of high school and lost over 50lbs. This is what inspired me to start my company, YouWantGame.com – we want to make it easy and free for people to live healthy and active lives.

    Nice work, Jay and Youniq Pilates!!

  6. October 31st, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Olivia, winner of Biggest Loser, is one of the most incredible and inspiring Soul Cycle instructors!!!

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