When Nancy Mora became pregnant at 14, she felt overwhelmed by stress. Her brother had recently passed away, her relationship with the baby’s father felt strained and she was juggling school and parenthood. She noticed that she gained some weight after having her baby at 15. Then she had three more children and followed a predictable cycle where she’d lose weight, gain it back and lose again only to regain it.
“Everything I was eating was bad,” the now 33-year-old accountant from Houston told TODAY. “That's what made me gain that weight … Eating badly is what it boils down to.”
Mora always wanted to be healthy and would try exercising and changing her diet. But it never stuck.
“I was a teen mom and I was 18 and setting stuff up outside, making a little (obstacle) course and doing jump ropes and stuff like that because I didn’t have the money for a gym membership,” Mora said. “I remember my neighbor coming out and literally laughing at me.”
Undeterred, she kept trying and lost 40 pounds to weigh 160 pounds. When she was pregnant with her third child, her weight increased to 198 pounds. Again, she shed some weight only to return to 198 pounds after her fourth child. This time, she started a restrictive diet, which helped her to weigh 142 pounds. But she felt exhausted and sick often.
“I would eat salads, but I was eating a little bit of salad,” Mora explained. “I was undereating.”
Normally, she’d just have an energy drink for breakfast, a salad and sandwiches for dinner. Not eating enough caused her to feel fatigued. Finally in 2018, she joined her local Life Time Fitness. She kept a rigorous cardiovascular exercise schedule that kept her weight low. But she still didn’t feel great. She recently met trainer Jessica Tucker and during one of the first conversations, Mora learned that she wasn’t eating enough.
“I didn't understand how much protein I was supposed to be eating and I didn't understand, how much fats (to eat),” she said. “I wasn’t grasping it.”
With Tucker’s help she transformed her diet to include more vegetables and proteins. On a typical day Mora eats breakfast, often an egg white omelet with some sort of meat, Greek yogurt with berries as a snack, lots of vegetables, healthy salsas or a protein shake. That’s helped her transform her body from lean but “flabby” to muscular. What’s more, she feels better.
“I just feel good. I have so much energy. My kids are like, ‘Oh my God just chill out,’” she said. “I have more energy than they do and I feel great about it.”
On top of eating healthy foods and regular meals, Mora changed her exercise habits, too. She exercises five or six days and she switches between cardio and core on two days and lifting on the other days. She focuses on different muscle groups each day, such as legs, chest or back. Prior to working with Tucker, she was running, which kept her weight low, but she didn’t have a lot of muscle.
“I just wasn’t toned anywhere,” Mora explained.
When she started lifting weights, she noticed she lost inches but weighed more because she converted some body fat to muscle.
“I get compliments constantly,” she said. “Before people would be like, ‘You look thin but you look sick.’ And now it’s like, ‘You look thin but you look good.’”
In fact, she believes that being in such good health helped when she had COVID-19 in late December 2020. She only spent about two days feeling really ill before recovering and returning to the gym after the illness passed. She weighs about 136 pounds and feels thrilled by her progress.
“If somebody would have told me 18 years ago when I had my daughter, (you) can be one of those (fit) moms I would have been like, ‘You're crazy. I'm never going be one of those moms,'” she said. “Now I’m like, ‘Dang, I’m almost there.’”
She’s shares advice for others hoping to lose weight or make healthy lifestyle changes.
1. ‘Don’t give up.’
Mora found that she’d try an exercise routine or eating habit and when it didn’t work immediately she’d give up. Losing weight takes time, she realized.
“If at first I wasn’t getting the results I was like, ‘I’m just done with it,’” she said. “Don’t give up on it because you need to find the right things to do.”
2. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
Mora had certain ideas about what she could and couldn’t accomplish. At first, she felt like she would never have the energy to lose weight and keep it off. She realized she needed to focus on herself and what she could do — not what she thought was too difficult.
“I’m slowly getting there and I’m going to keep going,” she said.
3. Ask for help.
Without Tucker’s advice, Mora believes she would still be confused about how to properly eat and exercise in a way that made her feel good. Asking for support from others helped her succeed.
“I was doing what I could and what I knew,” she said. “But I didn’t really know.”