Meet Kara Lambert, a paediatric physiotherapist and exciting new addition to our lacrosse club this year. As you can see, Kara is gorgeous and an absolute picture of health – a young, athletic, strong woman with some damn impressive guns – but what most people don’t know is that she hasn’t always been this fit and healthy.
Four years ago Kara weighed in at 106kg (that’s size 18) and couldn’t run more than 100 metres let alone play competitive sport. Can’t imagine it? Well here’s the proof…
Read on to hear about her amazing transformation – if you are in a similar situation, Kara’s detailed advice (and photos of how AMAZE BALLS she looks now) might just be the motivation you need.
Thanks for agreeing to speak with us Kara! Can you tell us ‘your story’?
Unlike most people who have these epic weight loss stories, I wasn’t always overweight. In fact, I was actually a pretty scrawny kid! I had always been a really sporty as a child, would run around at lunch time, played footy and cricket with the boys at after school care and even went to the “zone” competition for the 800m run in athletics.
At high school I also loved my sport – I played school softball, tennis, and volleyball and competed in every athletics day and swimming carnival each year. I was in our school aerobics team and competed at national championships. I also did calisthenics for a number of years, and was in the under 16 state volleyball team at 14 years old. PE was pretty much my favourite subject at school!
Although my parents enjoyed watching sport, and were happy to encourage us in activities, we weren’t however a typically ‘sporty’ family that would be active together on weekends. No family bike rides or long walks, things like that. Quite a few members in my family are also overweight, so I have grown up being surrounded by different shapes and sizes.
When I was 15, I was diagnosed with a hip condition (congenital hip dysplasia) and was getting a fair bit of hip pain. I was encouraged by doctors at the time to back off from sport, and as I was also reaching the final years at high school, I decided to concentrate on my schooling. Sport took a backseat, and I slowly started putting on weight.
This coincided with my first part time job and first income! I started spending money on takeaway and junk food, would buy lunch or dinner after every work shift, and worked in a restaurant where I had access to unlimited soft drink. The unhealthy food and more sedentary lifestyle starting taking its toll. As I hit my 20s, this got worse and worse but the weight gain was so gradual over so many years that I didn’t notice (or was in denial!!) about how big I was getting.
I would buy myself takeaway food on the way home after a bad day at work, hiding the wrappers in my car, and then would go home and eat a large dinner. Or ‘reward’ myself with junk food as a treat. Food became (like it often does) my source of comfort. I ate when I was depressed, happy, anxious, bored – you name it! I would justify treats by saying I had ‘earned them’. Meal portions at home were also large, and although we were never forced to finish everything on our plates, I grew accustomed to large serves and never had a true understanding of proper portion sizes.
By the time I hit my mid-late 20s, all this led to me being severely overweight. Sport and exercise weren’t even a thought in my mind! Stepping foot inside a gym? God no!
What was your lowest point, or turning point?
I was in a pretty bad place emotionally and physically. My hips were sore all the time, and I often felt exhausted and sick. My part time work (waitressing) while I was studying required me to be on my feet all the time and I really struggled. I had suffered depression and anxiety for a long time but it was now at it’s peak. I avoided going out with friends, made excuses for why I was busy and couldn’t go to parties or out clubbing – the things most normal girls should be doing in their 20s!
Although it’s taken some reflection, I realise now how miserable I was at the time. I was unhappy in my relationship, had really low self esteem (not just tied to my weight, but in general), and like I said suffered from severe depression and anxiety (which I tried really hard to hide from my family and friends, as I didn’t want to be a burden). I had always been ‘the perfect child’ and felt that I was failing. Interestingly, at the time, although I knew I was overweight, it had never been a conscious source of focus or stress for me – I knew I was a bit (a lot!!) overweight – so what? My self worth was never been tied up in my weight even at my biggest. I had great friends, a partner, a loving family – weight wasn’t thought about other than ‘oh it would be nice to be able to fit into a size 12 pair of jeans’. Subconsiously however, being overweight was a big part of the problem.
I had half-heartedly tried to lose weight a few times over the years, but to be honest I was in serious denial about how big I actually was. I would look in the mirror and see myself and think ‘oh, you’re a little overweight, but not THAT big’. I would then see photos of myself and be shocked that that was how I looked to people.
One day when I was in my mid 20s, the son of a family friend asked me if I had a baby in my tummy, and I was definitely NOT pregnant! That really hit me hard, that I actually looked pregnant when I wasn’t! This also coincided with my hitting my highest weight ever on New Year’s Day, 2011, of 106kg.
I am a health professional (a Physiotherapist) and I realized my weight was going to start severely impacting on my work if I didn’t do anything about it. I was dealing with patients every day who were sick and in hospital – largely because they were overweight or obese! They needed the help of two or three people just to get them up and out of bed, and this scared me that this was the road down which I was heading.
I could no longer deny how big I was. I wasn’t just a size 18 ‘in this brand’ – I had become a size 18. It wasn’t just the style of clothing or a bad angle in a photo making me look fat – I was fat.
So New Year’s Day, 2011 I decided something needed to be done. Hitting 106kg (and acknowledging the fact I was closer to 110kg than I was 100kg) was the wakeup call I needed. Enough was enough. I’m not saying that being overweight is always source of depression or unhappiness. I’m not saying that the only way to be happy is to be thin – not by a long shot! But this wasn’t who I was meant to be.
I think for the first time ever I was in the right frame of mind to lose weight… plus I had also decided to book a long overseas trip to Europe for that year, so I really had the motivation! The first few weeks I tried the weight-loss shakes… What a waste of money! ALTHOUGH I dropped 2.5kg n the first week, I was starving, miserable and had no energy – and worst of all it wasn’t teaching me anything about leading a healthy lifestyle.
I then started off on a website called calorieking.com.au which is free. It has heaps of information and education about nutrition and food, a large database where you can look up almost any food imaginable and also sets you a calorie target to aim for each day, as well as protein, fat and carbohydrate targets. This reeeally helped me to learn more about what I should be aiming to eat each day, and see just how badly I had been over eating! I had been eating heaps of crap… Had a good day at work, get some KFC chips on the way home. Had a bad day at work, same thing… I was a massive emotional eater! I was depressed so I ate, and eating made me more depressed.
So, I cut out all fried foods, soft drink, alcohol and started eating lean meats, fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains, lots of water etc. I still ate potatoes, pasta, bread etc, just in moderate amounts! I even still ate ‘treats’ like chocolate occasionally. In the beginning I was pretty strict with my food as I was taking the weightloss really seriously. Yes – I did the evil ‘calorie counting’ but for me and the way my mindset is, it worked. I know it’s not for everyone.
I also started at the gym, initially 4 days per week, and just did my own thing – mostly cardio. I bought a heart rate monitor so I could actually keep track of how many calories I was burning, and this has really helped with my motivation! I lost of my weight in the first 10 months and it came off pretty easily, made me realise that I wasn’t naturally MEANT to be bigger. I then moved to Darwin, started drinking more, eating out more, stopped exercising…. and the weight slowly started creeping back on, I put 8kg back on in 6 months! I’ve since turned that around again and am at the leanest I have ever been as an adult.
What are some of biggest lessons you learned over the course of your transformation? Were there any unique challenges or circumstances that made your transformation particularly difficult?
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is the power of knowledge. There is so much information out there, it can be really overwhelming to know where to begin or what to believe! I have a natural ‘science brain’ and tend to research everything to death before I make decisions or when I want to learn about a new topic. However, I think it’s really important to be well informed when it comes to health and fitness. Learn about proper portions, learn about the nutritional components of food, learn about your own body and learn how to cook! – it really does make a difference.
I also have learned a lot about myself. Over the past few years I have been through a number of life changes – travelled overseas and went backpacking solo for 4 months around Europe, moved interstate, went through an emotional breakup with a long term partner, moved back to Melbourne, started a number of new jobs…! All of this while trying to battle my weight and weightloss. In the past, these sorts of stresses would have had me turning to food for comfort, but I learnt other coping methods.
I have a lot of personal challenges that have made (and are still making!) this transformation difficult. I thought losing weight would solve all my problems. I thought I would be ‘thin and hot and fit’ and have this perfect bikini body. I thought I would hit my ‘goal weight’ and that would be it, TICK! No one tells you it’s not like that. There are parts of my body I hate and am still coming to terms with. I have saggy boobs that look like I’ve breastfed about 10 kids (sorry to any males reading this!!). I have stretch marks. I have wobbly skin on my upper thighs and tummy. I sometimes feel if I ‘just lose one more kilo’ that life will be perfect… But when will it be enough?
This is something I am still coming to terms with, and struggle with every single day. I hate how I look naked. Being single is hard too. I am slowly becoming more comfortable being with new male partners – but I am in constant fear that they will hate what’s underneath the clothes. Deep down I know that it shouldn’t matter, that the right guy will see past that and love all of me for who I am – but the brain is a powerful tool! It can be your most powerful weapon, both positively and negatively. Where before I was in denial about how big I was, now it’s the reverse. I still think I am much bigger than what I am when I look in the mirror – it’s not until I see a photo of myself now that I realise I AM thin. I actually get a shock sometimes when I see photos of me!
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had – clothes!! My bra size literally went from a 16G to 10D/DD/E (depending on my current weight and the bra) – although I must admit they look smaller than this. My pants almost fell off me at work one day! Buying new clothes all the time wasn’t always practical, so I had to make do in the interim with wearing my baggy old clothes which wasn’t the best, but I can tell you, it’s so much fun going shopping for new clothes and not having a panic attack that you can’t find anything to fit you in ‘normal’ clothing stores. I had never been into fashion before and now I spend faaaaar too much money on clothes!!!
I have also learnt that this is a lifelong journey. This is a lifestyle – not some ’12 week body blast’ program or ‘bikini body’ slim down. This is my life! I know things will come up that get in the way of how I want to eat, or how often I can train (and hopefully these things include a partner and kids sometime in the future!) but on the whole it’s just eating well and exercising often and trying to life an overall holistically healthy life, physically and mentally. At the end of the day you don’t need the latest gadgets, super blenders, 12 week challenges, diet fads, or ‘organic raw triple filtered almond mylk’ hype (although there are some pretty awesome recipes out there for yummy clean meals and snacks). You just need to start with controlled portions of healthy yummy food and some exercise.
I need to be completely honest here. In saying all that, yes – I feel fit, I feel healthy and I feel happy. However, on the flip side I am also more critical and judgmental of my own body now than I was bigger. I know that sounds crazy! I should be loving my new body, right?? However, I have a constant emotional struggle where food and my weight, takes over my entire waking thoughts. I analyse every piece of food I eat. I feel guilty if I miss a day of training. I have a very disordered eating pattern and self image, and this is by far the biggest challenge I face every day. Could I have done something differently to avoid this? I hope so. I guess that’s why I am willing to share this, so that other people in my situation don’t get to that point. Because let me tell you, it’s not fun or a healthy way to be.
If you could write a letter to your former self, what would you want her to know?
Ohhhh – where do I start!!! There is so much I could change if I could, but at the same time, it would change who I am now and the experiences I have had – and these have been so valuable. Would I tell her to watch her weight earlier so as to not make the journey so long/hard? End bad relationships earlier? Make different career decisions?
I think in the end I would want her to know that things work out for a reason. To follow her gut instinct. I would encourage her to lead a healthy lifestyle from an earlier age – not because it’s better to be thin but because you just feel better inside and out when you nourish your body and perform regular exercise. I’d let her know how great it feels to be strong and lift weights. That you need to love yourself before you can love anyone else.
However I’d also warn her that losing weight is sometimes not all it’s cracked up to be, and that it’s not the magical solution to all your life’s problems. I would tell her that you will stuff up and make mistakes but that it’s ok – you have the knowledge and wisdom to keep going and inspire those around you. Don’t get caught up with trying to look like the perfect fitness models on social media – yes they look amazing but it’s their JOB to look like that! Don’t let your weight (either overweight or healthy weight) define who you are because it’s just a small part of the bigger picture.
What keeps you inspired, alive, and vibrant these days?
2014 was a pretty awesome year for me. I started a new sport, settled back into Melbourne, moved out with a great friend, started a new job working with kids that I absolutely love and have reconnected with old friends and made amazing new ones. I hit some awesome health and fitness goals in the gym, and am learning to move the focus away from the number on the scales to other measures of fitness (how much weight I can lift, how fast I can run, how my clothes fit etc).
Learning to play a new sport has been a surprising challenge! I’d forgotten how much fun it is to play in a team sport and be a part of a sporting club, to have that comraderie of teammates. I have made some wonderful new friends and thrown myself in headfirst to the crazy world of lacrosse.
I am the happiest I have been in a long time (although some of my other comments may seem contradictory to this statement!). I am inspired by the achievements of my friends and family (including my baby sister making the Australian Lacrosse team, she is an absolute champion!). I have some wonderful friends in my life who support me, back me up and bring me back to earth when I stress the small stuff. I admire my friends so much – juggling careers, kids, partners, family life, sport … I just have myself to worry about, how do they do it all?!
I have discovered weights and I love them! ‘Lifting heavy stuff’, as my trainer calls it, just makes me feel good. The gym is my safe place… I know it’s not for everyone but for me it’s the place I can go and focus on myself, recharge after a stressful day, or smash an early workout to get me going. I look forward to going every single day! It’s never a burden or a chore. It’s important to find something you love doing, and the gym is that for me.
I have also found a new love of food and am obsessed with cooking and baking. I almost need a whole bookshelf just for my cookbooks! My workmates love it because I’m always baking new things and bringing them in to the office to share with everyone. My favourite snacks would have to be my homemade granola or gluten free banana and raspberry bread – so good! I follow what seems like a million blogs and Instagram accounts on healthy eating and recipes – can’t get enough!
I make sure to treat myself with non-food rewards. Getting my hair done, buying a new outfit, taking time out to sit in the sun and read a book, getting out to a fun event Melbourne has on offer, catching up with close friends for a gossip session – these things keep me sane!
Other than that I’m feeling excited about the future. I love being a paediatric (children’s) physiotherapist and I’m looking forward to completing my Masters degree in the near future and starting my own business one day. I have a trip to Europe planned mid year. I’m enjoying the freedom of being single and free to do whatever I want, whenever I want!
How has your weight-loss changed your life?
I’ll start by saying the right things. Obviously I’m lighter, fitter and healthier. I have more energy. My depression (and anxiety for the most part) has pretty much gone. I am (for the most part) genuinely happy! I love that I can run. I love that I play sport again. I love that I can put on a size 10 dress and rock it!
I’m not saying that you can’t be happy being overweight. Of course you can – women (and men) come in all shapes and sizes. But for me, I knew who it wasn’t what I was meant to be. I wasn’t just fat, I was unhealthy and sick. I wasn’t depressed because I was overweight (I had depression looong before that) but it certainly didn’t help.
I have so much more energy and excitement about life now, and it’s taught me the importance of working hard at a goal and sticking with it: no matter how hard or unachievable it may seem, no matter who gets in your way to try and pull you back. Losing weight gave me the confidence to do things I never would have dared before – travel solo to the other wide of the world, skydive out of a helicopter in Switzerland, go swimming with crocodiles in Darwin, try a new sport, wear a tight dress (!!). I’ve learnt the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, of how good food just makes you feel better within. I know the that when I (hopefully) have my own family one day, I will encourage us all to be active together and hope to be a positive role model for them.
I was almost at my largest weight when I was a bridesmaid for one of my closest friends. I used to feel guilty that I didn’t lose weight for her wedding, that I ruined her photos. However – another friend actually turned to me a few years later when we were reminiscing and looking at photos of the wedding day, and said ‘don’t you wish you had lost the weight for the wedding’? And it hit me, as I turned around and said to this friend – ‘I didn’t need to lose weight for (my friend). I needed to do this for myself’.
Describe yourself in three words.
Hmmm can I say ‘single, single single’? Haha!
Passionate. Insightful. Protective. (And slightly Obsessed at times!!).
Any final tips for people who find themselves in the same situation?
Get some digital kitchen scales and weigh ALL your food, so you know EXACTLY what you are eating and how much. This also helps to learn about correct portion sizes… before I started all this I had no idea I was eating the amount of pasta for 3 people! You don’t need to do this forever (even though I still do) but it’s a good way to educate yourself initially.
Record ALL your food into a website or app like calorieking or myfitnesspal to monitor your calories/fats/protein/carbs/sodium intake (even if it’s just 2-3 lollies or a biscuit). Sodium is a big one, really try and lower this by not eating processed foods, as sodium makes you retain water!
Drink lots of water! If you love soft drink, then drink plain mineral water with a bit of fresh lemon/lime in it for flavour. Water makes such a huge difference, I can’t stress this enough.
Sleep! I’m still learning about this one, but quality sleep has a huge impact on weight gain and weight loss, not to mention overall health. There is a lot of evidence out there about the importance of sleep. Try and ‘switch off’ at least 30 minutes before bed, no phones or laptops in your bed. The bed should be for only two things – sleep and sex!
Be organised and plan ahead – I pack my lunch (and breakfast if I’m doing an early gym session) the night before. I also pack my gym bag/get my work clothes ready so I don’t have an excuse! I prepare bulk serves of meals in single portions, so that if I’m tired at the end of the day and can’t be bothered cooking, I don’t resort to takeaway or unhealthy snacking.
Don’t buy crap (chips/lollies/processed foods) at the supermarket (I need to remind myself of this too!). If it’s not in the house, you can’t eat it. Make as much food from scratch as you can. It’s easier than it sounds!ß
Plan your exercise sessions in advance for the week so you know when you can fit it in. Currently I’m going to the gym 6 days a week, but I don’t have a kids/husband to look after so I have the time. Try and make time to exercise at least 4 x 1hr sessions per week. A good mix of hard high intensity cardio and some weights/resistance work. Doesn’t have to be at the gym…can be at home, the local park etc etc!
Buy a heart rate monitor. Then you can accurately monitor your calories burnt, and it’s a great motivation tool to work that bit harder, to see your heart rate go up and calorie burn go up.
Learn the difference of stopping eating when you are not hungry anymore vs stopping eating when you are full, I had to learn it’s ok not to eat everything on my plate, especially if eating out!
Don’t think of the fact you are on a diet. Eating well and exercise is a LIFESTYLE and has to be done for the rest of your life!! Not just a few weeks while you lose a bit of weight. If you feel like you are being deprived, then you WILL binge on the bad stuff. Let yourself relax occasionally, have a small treat and make it part of your new life.
Try and work out WHY you are overweight... Is it lack of exercise, overeating, not understanding nutrition, binge eating etc. Then try and address that issue.
But seriously, it’s about eating relatively well, monitoring portions, not drinking too much alcohol, and getting out and doing some exercise. I still eat chocolate, eat out, have the odd glass of wine… Just in proportion!
Kara has also been a great source of inspiration, as well as a major training partner, for her younger sister Sharnie (pictured in several photos with Kara) who was very recently named in the U19 Australian Women’s Lacrosse Team to compete in Scotland later this year.
If you have been through a similar transformation to Kara, we’d love to hear your story and continue to spread the word that you CAN change your life. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.