Wellness Wins is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Venn Hering is 5’7” tall and currently weighs 135 pounds. In 2017, after her weight began creeping up year-by-year, she decided to dedicate herself to reaching her peak level of fitness. This is her weight loss story.
The Turning Point
Like a lot of girls growing up, I remember being hard on myself for body issues, including my weight, from pre-adolescence onward. However, looking back more objectively, I don’t think I had much of a weight issue as a child, at least from a medical standpoint. Instead, my weight gain started in earnest after I graduated university and took on my full-time job. I put on over 40 pounds in three years working.
I had my sights set on getting promoted at work and getting into an Ivy League grad school, and until I achieved those things, I consciously let my health slide. Having achieved both, I knew I didn’t have any excuse anymore, and it was time to turn my attention to my physical fitness.
I thought to myself, “I’m nearing my 30s and I’ve never seen what my top peak level of fitness is. What if I devoted as much time and effort in that pursuit, and to myself, as I do to my academic endeavors and my work goals? Imagine what I would achieve!” I remember jogging in Philadelphia shortly after I started school at Wharton and thinking, if I was able to get into this school, I can get super fit.
My first step was to acknowledge that everything I had previously tried was not working; therefore, I needed to try something new that I did not yet know about. So I found the fittest person at school and asked for advice.
Based on that advice, I started logging my food using the MyFitnessPal app. I followed the calorie recommendations. As a vegan, I was also reassured to see that my choices could fall within the macronutrient guidelines. In addition to using it to count calories, I ensured I ate a combination of fruits and vegetables that would allow me to hit micronutrient targets, like calcium and potassium, because it wasn’t just weight loss I was after, but also optimal health and peak performance.
I had been traveling non-stop for work for three years, and being settled in an apartment for grad school, I was so ready to get back into the kitchen. I began cooking all my own meals fresh every day following a whole foods plant-based diet and buying fresh local organic vegetables from a farmers market every Saturday.
I also started a serious weight-lifting regimen. First, I worked out a couple of times a week, but soon it escalated to basically every day, as I started to love it and see results.
In my bodybuilding competition training phase, I was eating 6 meals a day and training twice a day.
I felt amazing. The results came in much faster than anything else I had tried in the past. Every morning I stepped on a scale to track my progress. I also had a great group of friends at the gym, who I loved seeing every day. I posted about all my hard work on Instagram, and my followers also motivated me to keep going.
Very early on, I set my sights on participating in a university bodybuilding competition. As I transitioned from being overweight to a healthy weight to an actually quite muscular and athletic frame, this became a more achievable goal. I would walk home from the gym every day and would listen to music and try to think about what song I would select to play for my on-stage posing routine. Having an extreme goal kept me going both because it would be a great personal achievement, but also so that I could show my peers that it was possible to be both extremely fit and healthy and vegan.
Every day felt like Christmas. I would often think when I was heavier, “How much money would I pay to have my dream body, just hypothetically?” It was usually more than I had. Now, what felt like in the blink of an eye (even though it was a year and a half), I had it. And it was even better because I worked for it myself, completely naturally.
People were much nicer to me. People would speak to me more often at parties and remember who I was. Winning the lottery would have paled in comparison to the high I was on.
This was all on the outside. On the inside, I respect myself a lot more. I now know the type of person I am when it comes to self-discipline and keeping commitments. My standards for all aspects of my life got higher. My apartment got cleaner. I groomed myself better and took better care of myself. I fostered more meaningful friendships and was better able to cut toxic people from my life. I was willing to take more risks because I had seen myself succeed at something that previously felt impossible.
I didn’t realize how low my energy was or the general malaise that came from a subpar diet and exercise regime until I experienced optimal health and energy. I would wake up — 7 a.m. wide awake — and jump out of bed, dancing to some of my favorite tunes. I became a morning person! I never expected that.
Now I am a bit more relaxed given I have no plans to compete again. I still workout 6-7 times a week, but often just once a day. I still cook at home most meals, and follow a whole foods plant-based diet. I just don’t measure and log all the calories as I used to, given I’m pretty good at eye balling things now.
Once in a while, I will break the rules and go out for meals with friends. I’ll drink alcohol occasionally. So basically, it’s the same, but a bit scaled back from the extreme level I was at and more flexible.
Cooking at home helps a lot. I always know what’s in my food (and what’s not, like oil and processed sugar). I try to get to bed at a reasonable hour so I can be well-rested and stay in my routine. And I do try to exercise every day to stay in a rhythm. I love going to the gym now so that helps.
There is so much chronic lifestyle-based illness all around us. People who are struggling, who are gasping for air after walking up a few steps, suffering from heart disease and type 2 diabetes, among other things. While I obviously, personally, want to avoid any of these issues and live a long, vibrant, healthy life, I would love to lead a life by example for others and help spread information for an alternative path. I’ve had a lot of people reach out saying I helped them with ideas for plant-based meals, or exercise regimens and that they are losing weight and feeling better than ever.
Helping people be their best selves is also a passion for me. In addition to health and wellness, the positive impacts on the lives of animals saved, reduced healthcare costs on the system, and the environmental impact for promoting a plant-based approach to nutrition is also something that keeps me motivated.
More strategically, as an actress, I also think maintaining this physique will give me a competitive edge for castings.
My main struggle is trying to find the correct balancing point. I don’t think walking around at bodybuilding competition stage weight is optimal for daily life, and it requires a level of commitment that sometimes doesn’t blend well with being social. It can be difficult deciding when to break free from routine and rules, and when to let loose and enjoy a glass of wine and indulge in a nice dinner with friends.
Transitioning from the idea of just losing weight to being as healthy as you can is also helpful because then you ensure you give your body what it needs (lots of fresh fruits and vegetables with vitamins and minerals, water, sleep, exercise and sufficient calories).
Starting off with small manageable steps, such as cooking more at home, eliminating processed foods, and eating fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes, can make a world of difference. From there, getting more precise and logging calories and food intake can also be an eye-opening experience.
Overall, with whatever you do, it has to be a sustainable lifestyle change and not a “diet.” Counting calories helped me understand how to make high volume meals that would keep me full and had an appropriate number of calories. I failed every “starvation style” diet I had previously tried.
In terms of achieving the toned body I always dreamed of — exercise and especially weight-lifting was crucial. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people and making friends at the gym can help, or having an online community to support you in times you don’t feel motivated.
Need more inspiration? Read about our other wellness winners!
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle: