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

By As told to Julie Mazziotta
February 23, 2016
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.
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.