Gauge fitness not waistline

 Gisele Winton Sarvis

COLLINGWOOD — Michelle Akitt understands the obstacles between people’s real lives and their dreams of a fit body and healthy lifestyle.

She’s lived on both sides of modern life and has decided to stay on the fit side.

Through hard work, determination and coaching, the Collingwood early-childhood educator has lost the equivalent of another woman.

She transformed herself, losing 120 pounds and becoming a strong CrossFit athlete and half-marathon runner.

Now the 44-year-old CrossFit coach is giving back through an introductory program, the Transformation Challenge, being offered at CrossFit Mozomo in Collingwood.

“It’s for people who are starting out new in CrossFit, looking to make a change in their diet and exercise and make a lifestyle change.

“I really suit the class because I understand — been there, done that. I’ve done the years of up and down,” she said.

It wasn’t until she was introduced to CrossFit personal trainer Heather Korol and her suggested paleo diet that Akitt was able to keep the weight off and gain muscular strength.

Before that, she had lost weight but kept regaining it and felt weak.

People often look at the wrong measures of body health, she explained.

“In society, we are so worried about being skinny. You may be skinny, but you may not be healthy, and you may not be fit and you may not be strong. We need to think about our muscle,” she said.

CrossFit focuses on strength through the activities and weightlifting and cardio, but it’s geared to each individual and success is measurable.

“It taught me to get off the scale. If you gain muscle, it weighs more than fat, but it’s so much smaller.”

Akitt recommends people gauge their physical fitness instead by taking measurements and photos, “seeing how your clothes fit and how you feel,” she said.

When she was 120 pounds heavier, she didn’t feel people were discriminating against her. She said she still had the love of her husband, children, family and friends, but she didn’t feel good about herself.

“My turning point was when we went to Scenic Caves. Some girls from high school and our kids went through the skinny cave. I couldn’t fit. I had to walk around.”

She also had difficulty getting around on the hilly property, calling it the “walk of shame.”

“I laughed it off, but inside I felt awful. I didn’t want to be that mom on the sidelines. I wanted to be active with my kids. I wanted to be a good role model for my kids,” said the mother of a son and a daughter.

At her heaviest, she was 257 pounds.

When she first decided to change her lifestyle, she simply cut out junk food, such as pop, chips and sugary items — the easy stuff. Then she stopped eating after 6 p.m.

“I got up every morning at 5:30 a.m. and I walked half an hour on that treadmill.

“You have to start with something simple that’s attainable,” she said.

She started to run and dropped weight. But she kept regaining it.

“It’s hard to lose weight, but it’s even harder to keep it off,” she said.

“You need to find the tools for you that work for you.”

When she adopted the paleo diet that cuts out wheat, dairy and sugar, her joint inflammation decreased immediately and she felt more energetic.

Within two weeks of going on a whole-foods diet, she didn’t need to go to the chiropractor anymore.

For people who have always eaten wheat, dairy and sugary foods, she suggests cutting them out for the short term.

“If you take them out and see how you feel and you bring them back in and see how bad you feel, it becomes worth it,” she said.

“It’s not that I don’t miss pizza or don’t like it, but I’ll tell you how bad I feel after.”

Now with increased strength, energy and healthy joints, she can keep up with the kindergarten children at work, from sitting on the floor to climbing on monkey bars. 

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