Job: Operations director for the Archdiocese of Chicago
Family status: Divorced, raising a 17-year-old daughter
Peak weight: 226 pounds
Current weight: 143 pounds
Height: 5 feet 6.5 inches
When Vanessa Baldwin left her home country of Peru and came to Missouri for college, she picked up on a traditional American custom — the freshman 15. But she didn’t stop there — she continued to gain weight.
As the years passed her weight bounced around. “I would try different exercises or diets — the latest trends like Atkins, the cabbage soup diet, juicing, cleanses, fasting. I tried everything,” she says. Her weight would drop with these attempts, only to rebound as high or higher afterwards.
She reached a low point in 2017. A small foot injury gave her an excuse to stop the exercising she was doing, and she indulged in what she calls “majorly unhealthy foods.” She says, “I was eating fast food more than once a day, and having a chocolate bar before bed.”
“My unhealthy lifestyle turned into a vicious cycle. When I started eating unhealthily, I started gaining the weight. Unhealthy food tastes great — I enjoyed eating it,” she says. Her knees hurt, she would be out of breath climbing a flight of stairs, and she started feeling unhappy. For comfort, she turned to — you guessed it — food.
She took to hiding at home, eating, watching movies and avoiding her friends. “I lost friendships. I wouldn’t go out anymore. I changed,” she says.
Her weight peaked at 226 pounds. And it was affecting her health, too. She had stopped getting her period due to a hormonal imbalance. Her cholesterol levels were high, and she was prediabetic. She was taking four pills daily to control these conditions, and the medication upset her stomach.
Her brother Arturo Gutierrez noticed the change. As an instructor at Shred415, he thought she would love their workout program if she tried it. For Christmas 2017 he gave her a pass for one month of unlimited classes, and she decided to give it a shot.
The Shred415 workout consists of four 15-minute segments that alternate between cardio work on the treadmill and strength training on the floor, using dumbbells, resistance bands, or body weight. A trainer guides the workouts for up to 30 class members. “It’s like having a personal trainer in a group setting,” Baldwin explains.
At first, she admits she found it overwhelming. “Everybody there is super-friendly, but it was still very intimidating. Going into class was intense. For the first couple of minutes on the treadmill I wanted to leave. I would look in the mirror and get mad at myself for getting to that point. I could barely walk or breathe. I was mad. I was frustrated. I wanted to cry. I wanted to leave. My brother came to that class with me and stayed right next to me the whole time. He pushed me through it, but my first few thoughts were frustration, anger and sadness.”
Even though the first few weeks were tough, she says she could see improvement after every class. “I could jog a little longer, do the floor exercises with better form, lift more weight with different dumbbells. You see progress class by class,” she says. And she enjoyed spending time there. “It’s a cool atmosphere — it’s almost like a nightclub. It’s dark, the music is pumping, and you’re there working out,” she says.
Baldwin knew that if she kept up her unhealthy eating habits, exercise alone wouldn’t be enough for her to see results. So she started logging everything she ate. “That’s something I had never done before,” she says. Once she saw what she was putting into her body she created her own diet.
“I researched what was normal for my age and gender and for how much weight I wanted to lose,” she says. She wanted higher protein to help her build muscle, lower carbs, and low fat, knowing that she needs a little bit of healthy fat in her diet.
She felt as though she could lose weight safely by limiting herself to 1,200 calories a day. “I was very strict for a while, but now I feel like I can reward myself a little bit every week or two,” she says.
She found that tracking her calories helped her stick with her plan. “Counting [calories] make it so much easier,” she says. “It helped when I was on a strict diet, but it also helped when I had to deviate. Life happens — there are birthdays and work activities. Even at restaurants, I could say, ‘OK, I’ve had this much already. How much can I have for the rest of the day?’”
“Once my weight started coming off, looking at myself in the mirror made me happy. My personality started coming back and my health started coming back,” she says. Her period restarted and she could stop taking medication. Now, her cholesterol levels are normal and she is no longer insulin resistant.
She feels confident that other people who want to lose weight can be as successful as she has been. “If you eat well and put the workouts in and you’re patient enough and committed, it will happen. That is something I didn’t do before — I wanted quick results. If I didn’t see results in a couple of weeks I wanted to give up,” she says.
Baldwin is such a big fan of the Shred415 program that she recently started working there as an instructor, and her daughter has joined her working there as well. “It’s a dream come true. If you told me that heavy girl who never got on the treadmill would be an instructor, I wouldn’t believe it,” she says. “Now I get the chance to help motivate people to change their lives.”
Cassetty notes that a workout like Baldwin’s, that switches between activities, can feel more fun and make the time pass more quickly.
She gives Baldwin high marks for her dietary changes. “She had so much experience with dieting, and I think that with that experience she recognized that she wanted to do something more sustainable,” she says. “She has developed all sorts of healthy habits and seen real results.”
She also credits Baldwin with losing weight as a way of caring for herself. “It can be an act of self-compassion, self-love and self-respect to lose weight in a healthy way,” she says. “She transformed her life by focusing on herself.”