Melanie Buck, 27, is pursuing her Masters in counseling for mental health and wellness, and she works part-time at SWERVE Fitness, a team-inspired spin studio, and as a business manager for a wellness coach. The most remarkable thing about all this: None of it would be true if it wasn’t for her 180-degree diet and fitness transformation.
“I think I was in denial for a long time that I had a problem, but I consistently gained weight for three years after undergraduate school. I finally realized I was really unhealthy and needed to do something about it,” says Melanie. “I honestly just couldn’t live the way I was living anymore.”
Since 2015, Mel has lost 175 pounds.
“She’s having so much fun,” says Roz, Melanie’s incredibly supportive mom who accompanied her to Bare Necessities for her transformation photo shoot. “Her weight was getting in the way of the life she wanted. The changes were all her idea—the surgery, what she ate, how she exercised—and she changed everything. It all went hand-in-hand, and she saw how much better she felt. It’s been inspiring to watch her.”
Here’s how Mel did it….
What was your life like before your weight loss?
I was okay—not great, but fine. I didn’t love my job, but it wasn’t the worst. I had great friends, I lived in a great apartment with a great roommate…everything was fine. I would say I definitely wasn’t living to my full potential. I was surviving, not thriving.
What was the impetus for making a lasting change?
I took a fitness class called intenSati by chance at the same time I was trying to figure out how to make a change. The class and the instructor, Patricia, inspired me to put a stake in the ground.
How did you lose 175 pounds?
I had weight loss surgery—vertical sleeve gastrectomy, VSG or “sleeve” for short—in February 2015. They essentially remove most of your stomach. It’s the middle of the road in terms of severity and invasiveness of common weight loss surgeries. It doesn’t put anything artificial into the body like a band, and it doesn’t rewire or rework your natural digestion and bodily functions like gastric bypass. It’s a pretty big deal because it’s irreversible, and it’s incredibly effective when used correctly, but it can also totally not work if you don’t make sustained life changes. I specifically chose this surgery because my surgeon said it would be perfect for me. He didn’t steer me wrong; in fact, we say he saved my life twice: once with the original surgery, and once when I was really sick almost a year later with serious gallbladder issues.
“They essentially remove most of your stomach…. It’s a pretty big deal because it’s irreversible”
The preparation is extensive. I started the process back in October 2014. There’s a lot you have to do for insurance and a lot to make sure you’re sane enough to make this kind of decision. I had to go to a nutritionist once a month for four months to learn about the process, the changes I had to make, how I’d be eating, all these new vitamins and supplements I needed to take…. For insurance, I had to either maintain or lose weight at each appointment so they could see I was committed and capable of the changes. Medical-wise, I had to have an endoscopy, extensive bloodwork, anesthesia tests, an EKG, chest X-rays and general surgery clearance appointments. I also had to meet with a psychologist who specializes in disordered eating to get psych clearance, confirm I didn’t have any overbearing food/disordered issues and that I understood what I was doing.
I don’t totally remember my recovery. I think it was pretty rough at the beginning, but I got better fast. My belt lipectomy (skin removal plastic surgery 360-degrees around the waist) in May was a way harder recovery than the sleeve. I was on liquids for a week or so, then only soft foods.
“It’s a long process re-learning what and how to eat”
It’s a long process re-learning what and how to eat, with foods slowly getting reintroduced. It’s trial-and-error with what makes you sick for awhile, which can be a little crazy-making. I got good at throwing up calmly. At this point, I haven’t gotten sick in ages from something I ate.
From there, I gradually changed everything about my life. I work out almost every day pretty intensely, and I eat so differently—way more under control, smaller portions, better quality, less alcohol, more mindful about everything I put into my body
How do you maintain your new lifestyle? What’s your diet and workout routine?
I love group fitness because it’s fun and inspiring. For me, a big breakthrough was finding a way to work out from a place of love instead of hate. I started working out because I love my body and want to take care of it, not torturing myself because I hated my body and wanted to lose weight. Fitness is really a part of my social life; I have fitness friends. My favorite classes are SWERVE (team-based cycling) and intenSati (high intensity cardio workout combining dance, martial arts and yoga with positive affirmations). I also love yoga and try to get to class at least once a week. I also lift with a trainer once a week for an hour.
“For me, a big breakthrough was finding a way to work out from a place of love instead of hate”
I don’t really “diet.” I say I eat 80/20: Eighty percent of the time, I eat super clean, healthy, balanced, traditionally “well”—protein, fruit and veggies, low carb and only brown/whole grain, a lot of water. Typically, that’s how I like to eat because it makes me feel good physically and mentally. Twenty percent of the time I eat whatever—more carbs, sugar, snacks. There’s nothing I never eat; I just make healthy choices the vast majority of the time, and I try to eat reasonable quantities no matter what I’m eating. I still indulge in frozen yogurt and pizza.
As a busy person, how do you make wellness your top priority?
As my intenSati teacher Patricia has taught me, fitness is a non-negotiable. It’s so important, not just physically—it makes me feel inspired, focused, ready to take on my day. I like to work out in the mornings because I love going into my day on the high a good class gives me. Ultimately, I plan my fitness classes into my day and put them on my calendar the same way I plan my shifts at work, classes at school or plans with friends. If something is on my calendar, I consider it done because once I’ve made up my mind I’m doing something, I keep my word to myself.
What about you changed? How does your transformation make you feel about the future?
Physically, I’m a different person. I’m less than half of my former weight and physical size. I’m so strong and can do so many things I never could have imagined doing, and never even really thought I wanted to do, which is awesome. Mentally, I’m so much happier, more positive, more confident and, I think, kinder. I really believe I can do anything I set my mind to, and I live in a way that reflects that: I set goals, and I make them happen. I can trust myself that if I make up my mind about something, I’m going to do it—I don’t make excuses anymore.
“I can trust myself that if I make up my mind about something, I’m going to do it—I don’t make excuses anymore”
What’s your best advice for women who want to commit to a change like you did?
Figure out what you want to do and why. Until it became about my health, I couldn’t successfully lose weight and keep it off. I was never doing it for the right reasons, and that was why I was constantly losing and then gaining even more and never sticking with it. When you have a why you connect with, it’s easier to commit to something and remember your reasons for doing it when it gets tough.
Start with small, gradual changes. Set little goals, and tackle them one at a time. Work on it as long as it takes to really nail it, and when you feel confident in your ability to continue to crush it, set another goal. Gradually, as you keep setting goals and meeting them, you’ll get closer and closer to the big-picture goals, and you’ll be changing your life drastically without even realizing it.
If you could talk to your former self, what would you tell her?
Never, ever give up or stop believing in yourself. You can do everything and anything—and you will.
You are enough as you are right now. Losing weight, changing careers, being in an amazing relationship—none of it will make you any more worthy than you are now. Just enjoy the process and the hard work you’re putting in. Remember what you feel like and how hard you’re working every single day. Eventually, it’ll be tough to remember what all this was like.
What has been the toughest challenge?
I’ve had a few surgeries and hospitalizations since my original weight loss procedure. Every time, it’s really hard for me to give myself the time to recover and heal properly. I always do it because I know how important it is, but the second I’m feeling good, I want to work out immediately. Fitness has become such an important part of my life and makes me happy, so it’s really hard to go for weeks without it and feel the little changes in my body that occur when I’m not working out for so long.
When are you proudest of yourself?
When I crush a hard workout, when I set a goal and achieve it, when I hit a new size in jeans, when someone tells me that I motivated them to try something new. A lot of people say that seeing my transformation has inspired them to take control of their own lives. I know two people who have had or are having the weight loss surgery I had with my doctor because they’ve seen my success. I think I’ve also inspired my mom to make more time for herself and for fitness because she wants to make her health a priority, and my boyfriend gets his butt to the gym a little more, too.
So what’s your next major life goal?
I finish grad school in spring 2018 and then will be working towards my licensure as a therapist. The population I’m most passionate about working with is those struggling with disordered eating, obesity, weight and body image issues.
I also have my second plastic surgery coming up to remove excess skin on my upper arms and back. The goal there is to heal and recover quickly and healthily and come back stronger than I started.
I’ve been thinking I want to start training to run some races. I can jog three miles pretty comfortably right now, so I’ll start with a 5K, get up to a 10K and see from there if a half marathon and maybe ultimately a marathon are in my future. I’ve also talked about training for some kind of triathlon. I love a good workout, but I really don’t want to do things I completely hate, so if I decide the races aren’t for me, I’ll just move on and find something else new to try.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MELANIE
Personal mantra: I can, I am, I will. I am powerful beyond measure, stronger than I seem and braver than I think.
Favorite activewear: Nike and Under Armour.
Personal style: I feel like I used to just wear what fit; now I can wear more of what I want and like. I would say I’m boho chic. I also really love athleisure—fun, funky gym stuff that can handle a Sunday morning work-out and brunch.
Best motivation: Myself! I look back at old pictures and think about how far I’ve come and how in control I am, and that I have the power to choose anything I want. Then I get to whatever it was I didn’t really feel like doing.
Best indulgence: Massages, facials and Sweet Green, the most expensive, freshest salads in Manhattan. I indulge in “stuff” now instead of food—a much healthier way for me to live.
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