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Keeping Your Fitness Goals: Lessons from a Body Builder


How one millennial went from being 30 pounds overweight to becoming a professional body builder.

Cathy Daza was always an athlete. She played sports throughout elementary and high school, and when she graduated, she was awarded a scholarship to play college softball at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. During her time playing college ball, her days began with conditioning at 5 a.m., then she’d hit the field for practice at 3 p.m. (and that was just the off-season). During regular season, she’d add double-header games on Friday and Saturday to the mix.

She was in good shape – you have to be in order to play competitively at this level.

My time became consumed with living a ‘grown-up life.’

But after graduating in 2009, everything changed. Daza moved to San Antonio, Texas, and her fitness routine vanished. Her days were dedicated to making a living and supporting herself financially. She began working as a chemical technician with a lab testing company by day and serving tables at a local college bar by night. “My time became consumed with living a ‘grown-up life,’” she says.

When you start working in the service industry, it’s difficult to avoid getting caught up in the life that goes along with it. This means hanging out at the bar for cheap (or free) drinks after your shift, eating deep-fried food on your break, and creating a social life built around these circumstances.

I was so busy, I didn’t notice the weight gain.

Cathy Daza

Cathy Daza, months into her fitness transformation.

Daza lived in this world for three years, completely oblivious to what it was doing to her health. It wasn’t until she went back home to her parents’ house in Cambridge, Ontario for Christmas in 2012 that reality struck.

“I remember sitting at the dinner table on Christmas, and my dad told me I was getting fat,” she says, with a pause. “Everyone knows I’m a daddy’s girl. Once my dad said that, it hit hard.”

It may sound harsh, but looking back, Daza feels those words were exactly what she needed to hear. “I was so busy, I didn’t notice the weight gain,” she says. When her brother went to hand her a beer moments later, she turned it down. It was the very first step she took to transforming her body and her life.

Daza is 5 feet 5 inches tall, and in December 2012 she weighed 170 pounds. She decided to make a change, and set a goal weight for 140 pounds.

“I started with being active,” she says. Instead of turning to the gym, she began running for 30 minutes everyday for the first three months. Soon she was running three miles a day (about five kilometers). “It turned into a competition with myself,” Daza says. “It turned into trying to see how fast I could run a mile.”

The scale was getting lower and my jeans were getting looser.

For her, making a change in her physical routine was easier than making a change in the kitchen. But she did cut out alcohol completely – a decision that had a significant impact on her social life, especially since she continued serving at the bar for the following six months. “I realized a lot of my friends at the time were just social drinking buddies,” she says, noting her group of friends has changed dramatically over the last two years.

Daza first began to see the changes in her body about three months into her new routine. “The scale was getting lower and my jeans were getting looser,” she says.

It was around this time that she decided to make more serious changes to her diet. “I changed the little things – instead of eggs, I had egg whites. Instead of bacon, I had turkey bacon or turkey sausage. Instead of white toast, I’d have whole wheat.” Of course, this also meant cooking meals at home instead of eating out all of the time.

After six months, Daza quit her serving job and signed up for a run called The Tower of America. Participants had to run a mile and climb 150 flights of stairs. “It’s like climbing a small CN Tower,” Daza says with a laugh. The run was set up for firefighters, but it was open to the public. She ended up placing third in her division.

By this time, Daza had lost 30 pounds and hit her goal weight. But it was really just the beginning of her journey. The run ignited a spark within, and she wanted to do more.

It’s not easy, it’s very time consuming. It breaks you emotionally, too.

In January 2014, one year into her fitness transformation, Daza started lifting at the gym. The following March, she attended one of the biggest body building shows in Texas, called The Phil Heath Classic, named after the current Mr. Olympia. “I ran into a friend from college who was competing, and she told me, ‘you should do it,’” Daza says.

The idea of standing on stage wearing nothing but a spray tan, full makeup and a bikini was not appealing to Daza. “I’m a Tomboy,” she says. “I’m not going to be half-naked in heels, with my hair straight.”

But on the drive back from Houston, her then-girlfriend (now her fiancée), Tori,  convinced her otherwise. “If it wasn’t for Tori, I don’t know how successful I would be,” she says. “It’s not easy, it’s very time consuming. It breaks you emotionally, too.”

She began training to be a body builder, which meant spending two hours at the gym everyday. For her, it’s not so much the physical part but the strict diet that is the most challenging. “I was eating hardly any carbs, so there goes my energy,” she says. “I’d cry, I’d break down. Everything became irritating, I was short-fused.”

You have to put yourself first.

At times, the emotional toll negatively impacted her relationship, and even her job – she now works at H-E-B, which is a privately held supermarket chain based in San Antonio. But she persevered. In November 2014, she participated in her first body building competition.

Daza's "before" photo on the left and her first body building competition on the right.

Daza’s “before” photo on the left and her first body building competition on the right.

Although Daza’s transformation may be more extreme than most, she shares a number of health and fitness lessons we can all learn from:

Remember why you started.

“Never once did I do anything for myself,” Daza says. “I did a lot of things to make other people happy. That’s another reason why I lost friends, because when people needed to go out for a drink, I was the first person they called.”

She emphasizes the importance of starting with a decision to make a change for yourself, and no one else. “You have to put yourself first.”

Set realistic goals.

“Work five pounds at a time,” she says. “It’s not going to be easy but in time it will happen.” For Daza, it took two years – but she says it went by relatively quickly. “All you need is 30 minutes a day; that’s how it started,” she says.

It’s OK to not see results right away, it doesn’t happen overnight.

She also suggests taking a picture of yourself, so you can use it to track your changes. It may be difficult to notice small changes on a regular basis, but having a “before” photo to compare to can really help you see the difference.

Daza (left) and her gym buddies taking a group selfie.

Make your health a priority.

We all feel like there’s never enough time in the day, but if you make the time then you may be surprised with what you accomplish, she says. Don’t get discouraged if you feel like you’re not seeing results. You have to keep pushing through. “It’s really time consuming and that’s where a lot of people fall,” she says. “It’s OK to not see results right away, it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Turn the negatives into positives.

“When my dad told me I was fat, it was a turning point,” says Daza. “I turned every negative into a positive.”

She also found a way to turn weaknesses into strengths. When Daza had her employee assessment at work, one of the weaknesses highlighted by her employer was that she “didn’t follow through.” “It was a weakness at work, and a weakness in life in general,” she says. “So I decided to turn it into motivation. That gave me the encouragement to finish.”

Are you currently working on any fitness goals? How do you cope with challenges along the way? What’s the most rewarding part of the journey? Share in the comments below.


Charlotte Ottaway

Charlotte is Co-Founder and Managing Editor at The Reply. She is a writer, blogger and amateur photographer with interests in positivity, creative muse, generational differences and the future of work. She has written for Canadian Business, Zoomer Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post Canada and other Canadian publications. At her company, Web of Words, she helps solopreneurs and small business owners create real human connections online through blogging and social media. Better known by family and friends as Carly, she currently resides in Newmarket with her husband and dog-child. To learn more, check out her website at and follow her on Twitter @charlottaway.