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How One Woman Went from Counting Blueberries on the Plate to Counting Plates on the Barbell

The bar is loaded and the announcer calls her name.

“Katelyn Lipa, you have one minute to complete the lift.”

The clock starts as she walks to the platform; she chalks her hands and approaches the bar. Left hand grips the bar first, and then she squats down, she places her right hand and adjusts her positions. Her hips rise; she sweeps the bar to her shins and snatches the bar straight overhead. Standing tall, elbows locked out, a smile creeps across her face—all white flags. The lift is good.

“In April of last year I set a goal to compete in my first Olympic weightlifting meet in the fall,” Lipa said. “By August, my gym was holding an in-house meet, and after talking with my coach, we decided to just go for it. After that, I was hooked.”

Lipa didn’t always have the confidence she exhibits now.

If you would have asked her about competing a year ago she would have brushed the thought off thinking there was no way that was for her.

Almost a year and four meets later, Lipa has no intentions of slowing down. Her outlook on performance, strength training and body image have dramatically changed. In a world where most women’s motivation to workout stems from a desire to lose weight and be “skinny,” Lipa is proving that when your motivation is rooted in performance great things can happen.

“About four years ago I was eating 400 calories a day while training for a marathon,” Lipa said.

“I remember counting out individual blueberries and taking supplements that I had absolutely no business taking. I was the smallest I’ve ever been, but so much more miserable. The whole goal of the marathon wasn’t to do well at the marathon it was to look a certain way and as a result I was in so much physical distress after the race I had to be carried away from the finish area.”

Lipa knew something needed to change after the marathon but she had no idea where to start. She received terrible advice from a lot of different people and after losing her job, moving, getting married and changing careers her focus on health just wasn’t there. She went from unhappy and unhealthy at 130 pounds, to even less happy and less healthy at 205 pounds.

“Physically I was completely devoid of energy,” Lipa said. “Mentally I was desperate and scared that I would live the rest of my life tired and unable to find happiness with my body. But when I started training at Force in 2015, found weightlifting and saw what my body was capable of doing my life began to change.”

As of late July, Lipa is down 70 pounds from last October and the difference between now and four years ago is that she doesn’t want to get any smaller.

“When I was training for the marathon I didn’t believe there was any other way to be happy with my body,” Lipa said. “I was so angry after living my whole life unhappy, that I just didn’t care how bad I hurt myself as long as I saw the results I wanted — even if I could only have them for a small amount of time.”

She has maintained her results since October and has learned how to approach fitness in a healthy way, thanks to the guidance she has received from coaches at the gym she now calls home. Lipa had a bad experience after placing her trust in various fitness “professionals” who mostly seemed to want to impose their own theories and goals on her, rather than act in her best interest.

She has learned that the results she loves most are her strength gains. The physique changes are just a happy byproduct.

“I’ve never in my life felt like this before.” she said.

“To say that I am happy with the way I look right now and to say that I don’t want to get any smaller is just crazy because I’ve never said that in my life. To go into a store, pick out a piece of clothing and buy it sounds so simple and normal, but in the past it was never like that. I would just be overwhelmed trying to figure out what would look and feel good, trying things on and ending up crying and leaving the store with nothing — that would happen when I was smaller than this!”

Lipa didn’t diet, restrict foods, count calories or suffer. She didn’t turn her life upside down. She simply started implementing a little planning and prioritizing into her, and her husband’s life (who has also lost 45 pounds). She started focusing on eating more protein, cutting back on her sugar intake, and making sure that no matter how busy her life got, a stop at a fast-food drive-thru wouldn’t be the last resort.

As her training got more regimented, so did her diet, but it all happened gradually. Counting macros didn’t happen until she mastered getting enough protein, fruits, and veggies and competing didn’t happen until she mastered functional training.

“I started noticing physical changes in February of last year,” Lipa said. “I just started to adjust little things throughout my day that would always work with my busy schedule.”

Lipa works at the Middle Way House in Bloomington, IN, a crisis line and emergency shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. She said her schedule is so busy and frequently changes that having a foolproof plan is the only way she knows she will make the best nutrition and exercise decisions for her goals.

“It’s all about having the mindset that this is important to me,” Lipa said. “This is the number one priority, and absolutely nothing will get in the way of it.”

There are days when the scale and body image still get to her (like any human being), but she says it gets better as time goes by and as she is able to accomplish more in the gym.

“The results were beginning to speak for themselves,” Lipa’s husband Tyler said. “She was more confident, excited about the way she looked, and felt more empowered in her daily life. I was very excited because I knew there was doubt under the surface, but I felt an immense sense of pride in her for the way she was beginning to self-actualize.”

Lipa walks into the gym now and heads turn. Other clients don’t recognize the woman who can now back squat over 240 pounds, snatch 110 pounds and clean and jerk 132 pounds. They certainly don’t recognize the woman who is now confident in the strong body she has built, and they all want to know her secret — but if they were to ask, she would simply tell you there is no secret.

“With Katelyn it was never about the visual aspect,” Derek Beumel, Lipa’s coach, said. “It was about ‘you enjoy doing that, let’s make you better at that.’ Getting her to do her first pull-up was groundbreaking because it’s something we’ve been working on forever, and it was something she always hated. I could just see the scorn on her face and her eyes stabbing my soul when she walked in and saw some kind of plank variation and some kind of pull-up variation in her program. Now she begs for them!”

For a woman who first started dieting when she was a 10-year-old girl by restricting peanut butter, Lipa said it’s hard to tell someone who only has aesthetic goals to switch their mindset because she’s been there before.

“If someone had told me back then not to worry about what I looked like, I probably would have flipped them off,” Lipa said. “You just have to believe in yourself. You have to try it even if it looks a little bit intimidating, because the feeling of what your body is capable of is so awesome and the fallout of treating your body like crap isn’t worth it.”

Beumel said it’s all about turning weaknesses into strengths. It’s not about male or female, he doesn’t care what your previous story is, it only matters that you’re going to do great things with what you’ve got. He never pushed Lipa into competing or doing anything she didn’t want to do. Everything was on her timeline and involved what she was interested in doing.

“You can tell that Katelyn has a very strong sense of her identity and who she was before, who she is now, and who she will be in the future,” Beumel said. “She’s just finding things that she likes and enjoys more now. As a coach I get to facilitate that, and it’s so rewarding.”

Lipa has taken what she’s got and run with it — farther and faster and with more consistency than many athletes because she is dedicated to the long-term process. She currently trains five days a week, two days focused on Olympic lifting and three days have shifted toward powerlifting. Beumel planted a seed that she might be pretty good at powerlifting, and she has fallen just as much in love with it as Olympic lifting.

“I truly think Katelyn has unlimited potential because of her singular focus and dedication,” Tyler said. “I will always be there for her at every meet whether she PR’s [personal record] or misses lifts. She is unlike anyone I have ever met, and I think she will showcase that in powerlifting and Olympic lifting.”

On June 24th, Lipa competed in her first powerlifting meet. Ironically, that meet was held in her hometown of Louisville, KY at her former gym. The same gym where coaches had dismissed her when she initially inquired about joining their powerlifting team, saying that was reserved for their “athletes.” Needless to say, her old coaches didn’t even recognize the woman who walked out onto the platform. She ended the day with a deadlift PR, made seven out of her nine lift attempts, and proved that anyone can become a powerlifter.

“I have had a full life of being in a really terrible relationship with my body,” Lipa said. “It feels so good to appreciate it more now for what it does for me and to get to see how far I can push it in competition. It makes me feel weird when people compliment my appearance because I would much rather them take notice of my strength.”

Healing Body Image
For You and Your Clients

Did you know that in some countries up to 81 percent of women are dissatisfied with their bodies? Women all over the world struggle with feeling comfortable in their bodies and at peace in their skin, profoundly affecting how they live their lives and show up in the world. The worst part is that they don’t even know it’s possible to feel differently. We are committed to changing that. That’s why this week we’re giving away a FREE copy of our blueprint where you’ll learn:

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About The Author: Tessa Yannone

Tessa Yannone is a health and fitness writer and strength coach based in Boston. She has a passion for strength training, body positivity, and balanced nutrition and believes all women deserve to feel healthy, happy, and empowered in their bodies. You can learn more about Tessa on her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram