Once she quit swimming, Nicole Finkbeiner gained 40 pounds. But a DIY routine got her back in super shape.

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nicole finkbeiner
Age: 33 From: Houston, Tx. Now: 125 lbs Before: 170 lbs How she did it: She changed her diet and realized that cardio could be more than just slogging along on the elliptical, which helped her drop 45 pounds.
| Credit: Felix Sanchez

Felix Sanchez

Nicole Finkbeiner
33, 5'5"
Houston, Texas

Before: 170 lbs., size 10
After: 125 lb.s, size 0-2

Total pounds lost: 45 lb.
Sizes lost: 5

Hit the gym in style: Nicole is wearing the Sweaty Betty Resistance Workout Bra ($55, sweatybetty.com), and Power Run Capris ($90, sweatybetty.com).

Growing up as a competitive swimmer, I didn't have to give my nutrition or workouts a second thought—my coaches planned everything for me. I stopped swimming my senior year of high school, in 1999, and suddenly had to figure out everything on my own. Without a program to follow, I went from six intense workouts a week to the occasional aerobics video. Add in frequent pizza dinners—I'm talking Papa John's on speed dial—and my weight jumped by 40 pounds in three years.

Mom knows best
I honestly didn't notice the weight gain, blaming the dryer for my too-tight clothes. But when my mom visited in November 2005, she immediately pointed out my weight. It was harsh to hear, but I realized I needed help. Our family doctor referred me to a nutritionist, who gave me the 411 on healthy eating. I began cooking nutritious meals, like baked chicken with whole-wheat pasta and steamed broccoli. When I had a lean protein, a wholesome carb, and a veggie in each meal, I actually felt full.

Fighting fat with muscle
Next, I turned my attention to exercise, finally taking advantage of my gym's free trainer. He put me back on a six-days-a-week schedule—three sessions of cardio and three of weight lifting—and within a year and a half, I was down about 40 pounds. When I hit a plateau, I went right back to my nutritionist and trainer for a revamped plan. By the spring of 2007, I was easily slipping into 2s and 4s, a size I maintained for eight years. In May 2014, I decided to shave off another 5 pounds, which was harder than the first 40! But it felt worth it when my family doctor asked, "How much weight have you lost? I barely recognize you!" Hearing that never gets old.

Nicole's weight-loss secrets:
With some expert help, Nicole dropped 45 pounds. Get her tips:

Make it educational
I realized that cardio could be more than just slogging along on the elliptical. I saw it as a chance to learn a new skill, like Zumba, and began to enjoy it more.

Treat yo'self
I love eating healthy but still crave sweets from time to time. When a hankering strikes, I turn to my Protein Churro Cheesecake Bar recipe from The Epicurean Bodybuilder blog.

Motivate with music
Since I'm working on a life transformation, I try to find music that speaks to that. Songs like "Duck and Run" by 3 Doors Down and "Lose Yourself" by Eminem are about sticking with changes.

Travel smarter
I'm always on the road for work, which leaves me vulnerable to unhealthy airport eats. Before a flight, I go to Whole Foods and make a salad to keep at least my first meal clean.