Get Fit challenger takes healthier approach to second fitness journey

Ten professionals and 10 teams are competing in the 2014 Get Fit Challenge, a spinoff of IB’s popular Fittest Executive Challenge. Who will earn the healthiest marks? Follow along on Facebook and then find out at the In Business Expo & Conference on Oct. 22. This week, IB checks in with Jen Brydges of Insurance Services Group, which is competing in the team challenge. Brydges’ co-workers Nick Krey, Brendon DeRouin, and Josh Meester round out the team.

I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life. I participated in sports growing up and have been an avid swimmer since I was a child. Yet I was always overweight. Blame it on family genetics and my love of delicious, bad-for-you food. But even overweight, I never felt bad about my body or my lot in the genetic pool — in fact, I was ridiculously confident.

Even in my early 20s I didn’t feel bad about myself — I was a good person, had great friends, and got an exciting job after grad school. My weight didn’t really bother me. I was active and having the time of my life.

Then came the day that I binged on The Biggest Loser. Episode after episode brought me to tears. Tears of happiness for the contestants who worked so hard and lost so much. Tears of commiseration. While I wasn’t as big as some of the contestants, I certainly understood what they were going through. Tears of fear. If I kept going in the direction I was going (not working out consistently and eating whatever I felt like), was I going to turn out like some of those people on TV — or in my family — who had major health problems and struggled to move through everyday life? If those people on TV could do it, why couldn’t I?

It was that day in May 2007 that I decided it was time. Time to get moving, change my eating habits, and shed some weight. I cut back my calories and logged them — every day. I worked out for at least an hour, if not more — every day. I fell in love with running and, somewhere between May 2007 and January 2008, lost 75 pounds. I worked my butt off to get there (literally and figuratively).

I ran my first full marathon in September 2008 and subsequently ran four more fulls, a couple of half-marathons, and as many 10Ks and 5Ks as I could. I longed for that feeling of accomplishment and the “runner’s high” that I got from participating in races and pushing my body. I loved training. There was nothing better than getting out on the roads for hours at a time.

The funny thing was, even though I was now at a “healthy weight” and a marathoner, I struggled. During the weight-loss process, I began to think that if I only lost five more pounds, I would be a better person or my situation would change. I’d get a promotion, or I’d find a crazy-hot husband. Five more, five more, five more. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. Sometimes I’d look in the mirror and see myself as I was 75 pounds heavier. Sometimes I would see too much bone and think I was too thin. It was at this point I realized that if I kept going in this direction I could have some serious problems. I worked with a psychologist and, while I wasn’t “diagnosed,” I was heading down the road of body dysmorphic disorder.

It took me a lot of time and hard work to realize that I could eat a french fry or enjoy a beer with my friends again and it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Over time, I got my food and body issues in check and regained that confidence I once had. And the best thing was, I finally realized that since I was constantly training for a marathon, I could eat much more than I had been and not gain weight. This was AWESOME … until I took a break … and turned 30.



My now-husband and I began to date shortly after my 30th birthday in 2010. Like me, he is a total foodie and a wonderful cook. He was not, however, much of a “worker outer.” During those days and months of falling in love, I let my routine go. Instead of being in bed at 9 p.m. so I could get up at 4:50 a.m. to hit the gym, I was spending late nights with beer and pizza talking about goals and dreams, laughing, and watching movies. My routine was broken, and while beer and pizza may have been okay when I was running 20 to 30 miles a week, it wasn’t when I was maybe logging 10 total.

Slowly, I started to gain a couple of pounds. And it didn’t really bother me. I was in love! I was happy! And I was still working out here and there, which helped keep things slightly in check.

During the year and a half that followed, I moved, got a new job (after a very stressful end to one I had had for years), planned a wedding, and got married. More pounds crept on, but my clothes still fit — although things were starting to get a little snug.

Sadly, over the last two years, I’ve gained back all the weight I had originally lost — and then some. We bought a house and I got a new career opportunity, and I kept finding excuses to order takeout and not to get to the gym.

Throughout that time, though, I have maintained my running, and while I have gained so much weight, I have run at least one half-marathon a year. In June, I was part of a 12-person team at the Ragnar Relay from Madison to Chicago, completing 17 of the total 196 miles (I shudder to think how much I would have gained had I not been running!). My pace has slowed way down over the last couple of years, but I get it done and it still makes me happy.

Since coming to Insurance Services Group, I have really been able to have the time to focus on my running and working out, and it has been so nice to have the support of my teammates. I’m thankful for this challenge, which has been a big impetus in getting started on this lifestyle change journey — again. I’m thankful that my company strongly advocates the importance of being healthy and active. And while my husband has always supported me in anything I do, he now realizes the importance of getting out the door and to the gym and of making delicious meals that taste great but are really healthy too.

It’s not easy, and it wasn’t the first time around either. Every day I make a conscious decision to get up at 4:50 a.m. when my alarm goes off and lace up my running shoes or get to the gym for a weight session. Every day I keep track of what I’m eating. There are no crazy diets or gimmicks in my routine. It’s a simple combination of working out and eating more fruit, vegetables, and lean protein (and, of course, the occasional ice cream cone). A balance of calories out and calories in — without any deprivation.

I’ve been able to lose 21.5 pounds since April (even though we started our challenge in February, I didn’t get serious until the spring) and my husband has lost 20. We are much healthier, and I love that he is joining me for runs now. I still have about 23 pounds to lose to get to my goal, but the journey has been made so much easier because of my family and my Insurance Services Group team!

I’ve learned so much from my first journey through abundant weight loss. I know I can do it again — but this time I can take what I learned from the first go-around and be both mentally and physically healthier than ever before. I’m tough, and I have partners in my journey now, which makes things so much easier.

Grab a partner, lace up your running shoes, drink your water, eat your veggies, and get moving! If I can do it (twice!), anyone can!

Meet all of the competitors here and see who wins at the In Business Expo & Conference.

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