Cindy Santa Ana of Northern Virginia grew up like a lot of kids in the 70s, eating canned Campbell’s soups and Pop Tarts and school lunches that resembled fast food more than they did home-cooked meals. She also had an affinity for popsicles and candy, which all snowballed into a pattern of unhealthy eating. The only commitments that kept her slim through high school were going without soda, dancing and staying active with social engagements.
Despite any unhealthy habits she developed early on in life, Cindy always had an interest in health and fitness and even majored in physical education and health in college. As a result she followed the nutrition advice she learned in the process, following the USDA recommendation of 6-11 servings of carbohydrates per day.
Items like breads, pasta and cereal filled her daily diet, but all along she thought that was a healthy choice.
“At one point in college I had 11 boxes of cereal in my dorm room,” Cindy recalled. “I was also eating everything fat free because the fat-free mantra was on.”
Believing the basic assumption that fat was bad, everything she ate was either low fat or fat free, which meant it usually had ample amounts of added sugar and high fructose corn syrup. This pattern of eating led to a slow and steady weight gain throughout college – at least 10 pounds every year. And Cindy’s health only continued to decline.
At the age of 25 she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and the migraines she frequently experienced as a kid only grew worse. Then in 2005 and again in 2022 kids came along, which left Cindy heavier and more unhappy with her body than ever.
“I became tired all the time,” said Cindy. “I had allergies and was on two or three medications because I always had colds and sinus infections, bronchitis and migraines. Then I started getting leg pain, which my doctor said was fibromyalgia.”
Around the same time Cindy had just moved from San Diego to outside Washington D.C., and it just so happened that her new next door neighbor was a health coach who had attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. The two started talking and struck up a fast friendship, and her neighbor began offering Cindy help with her weight issues and declining health.
“Step by step she had me eliminating certain foods, getting rid of the processed food,” said Cindy. “But the weight loss didn’t happen until 2022 when I got really serious about it.” As a New Year’s resolution of sorts Cindy set out to really make a change for the better, and she document her progress along the way on her blog Unlock Better Health.
Cindy started with clean eating baby steps, as she calls them, replacing things like store bought salad dressings for homemade, and getting rid of cereal, breads and refined pasta. These small changes helped Cindy lose close to 15 pounds and her leg pain and migraines went away completely. But she still wasn’t feeling 100 percent, so through a food elimination process she discovered she had a dairy allergy. It turned out dairy was causing a lot of the post nasal drip she was experiencing as well as most of her sinus infections. Once Cindy eliminated dairy, the sinus infections went away, too.
“A lot of doctors are hesitant to tell patients to change their diet because people don’t want to alter their diets that drastically,” she said. “I was someone who would eat cereal and milk for dinner. Now, I’m completely dairy free and I’m so much healthier because of it.”
When Cindy had lost 30 or 40 pounds, she began incorporating weight training because she had hit a plateau. That’s when the muscle definition started showing up and she even scored a mini six pack. At her heaviest, Cindy weighed 180 pounds. Now, she’s down to a trim 130 pounds. She also went from a size 16 to a size 6!
Cindy’s family has benefited from her healthy changes as well. Because healthier foods are naturally what’s around the house these days and she meal plans everything out, her husband and two girls eat much more nutrient-dense foods and her husband lost 25 pounds along with her. All in all the family of four is enjoying their new healthier outlook on life.
Already having reached her weight loss goal Cindy is considering losing maybe 5 more pounds, but she’s very happy with where she’s at and her confidence has increased tenfold. In March of 2022 she enrolled in the same Institute of Integrative Nutrition her neighbor went through and will graduate in March 2022.
With her background in exercise and nutrition, Cindy hopes to use the new knowledge she’s gaining to coach people on how to make sustainable healthy diet changes. She even plans to launch a program in January that’s targeted at weight loss clients and will provide resources via phone calls, hand outs, and recipes.
For those who may be struggling to lose weight but are hoping to make a healthy change in the New Year like Cindy this time last year, she offers this advice: “It will happen as long as you set your mind to it. If you decide this is what you’re going to do, you can do it.” She also recommends finding some sort of support, whether it’s a friend, family member or health coach, to encourage you along the way.
“I feel how happy I am now, and that’s the bigger thing,” said Cindy. “I went from taking four pills a day to none. I’m a healthier person and I love it.”