Powerlifting Helped Me Build A Better Relationship With Food—And Lose 165 Pounds

My name is Samantha Manassero (@heysamanthaa), and I’m 34 years old. I live in Southern California, and I’m an emergency flight/transport nurse. After being stuck in a cycle of disordered eating, I found my love of lifting *heavy* weights—and it changed my relationship with food and helped me lose 165 pounds.

I was always active growing up and played lots of sports. But when I went through puberty, I started to notice changes in my body, including weight gain. I was uncomfortable and insecure in my new figure and didn't have healthy coping mechanisms to deal with my body-image issues.

Throughout high school, I desperately tried to diet (the South Beach diet, Atkins, you name it) in order to fit the skinny Orange County girl stereotype. I developed an eating disorder that I have managed since I was 23 years old. I was stuck in cycles of restricting and bingeing, causing me to lose weight—sometimes 100 pounds at a time—for temporary periods, only to gain it back and then some.

While I've always had what I would describe as a complicated relationship with my body and weight, I also struggled with weight gain in a notable way when I became a nurse. I entered a stressful nursing school program, and my mental health took a back seat during that time. For my first job as a nurse, I worked night shifts, which also made it difficult to eat healthy and involved a high amount of stress and little sleep. I spent years as a nurse being obese and gaining more and more weight, meanwhile feeling more and more depressed.

By 2017, post-graduate school and after working as a nurse for years, I had reached my heaviest weight. I felt like I hit my rock bottom.

But that summer, I had a turning-point moment. I was so tired of being alive but not actually living.

My sister was getting married in June of 2017, and I was her maid of honor. I was absolutely paralyzed by the fear of having to stand up and give a speech at her wedding and having all of the guests looking at me. Knowing those pictures and video would forever document me like that gave me the most anxiety I have ever felt.

I had already become pretty socially withdrawn, missing out on trips or fun events because I was ashamed of my appearance. In addition to that, as someone who had worked as a neonatal ICU nurse, I knew that if I ever wanted to have kids and start a family, I needed to get myself healthy first. The combination of these things motivated me to make my mental health a priority and get healthy, inside and out.

I knew I had to tackle my mental health and disordered eating issues before I could ever physically change. So, I participated in eating disorder treatments and therapies to understand more about myself and why I had developed such a toxic relationship with my body and food. When I felt I was at a healthy point mentally, I knew I could approach weight loss in a safe way.

What allowed me to successfully keep the weight off for almost three years now didn't have to do with dieting. It was finally finding a physical activity and sport that I truly loved: powerlifting.

I started powerlifting in 2018 and it has changed my entire life. I love focusing on being strong. This is such a shift in thinking for me; before powerlifting, I worked out solely for aesthetic purposes and obsessed over how I looked. Now, I am fueled by the feeling of being strong, mentally and physically—and that's the focus of my workouts.

I decided to start competing in powerlifting in 2019, and have done my first two competitions. I usually lift heavy weights on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. My rest days are Thursday and Sunday, but I still try to either do some form of conditioning (usually 20-30 minutes of stair climbing or walking on an incline on the treadmill). Or, I just enjoy my rest if my body needs it, and I take my dogs on a long walk.

Powerlifting makes me happy and gives me a reason to want to work out every day—but it has also allowed me to build a better relationship with food.

I now know that I need quality nutrition to fuel my body for lifting weights and getting stronger. Being able to be in that peaceful headspace and have that relationship after such a long history of disordered eating is truly the most freeing feeling ever.

Because I lift heavy weights five times a week and weight loss is not my goal, I have had to significantly increase my carb intake in order to have energy and to fuel my workouts. So I’ve also started working with a sports nutrition coach who helps me calculate my macros and gives me guidance.

Here’s what I typically eat in a day now:

  • Breakfast: Eggs, spinach, potatoes, and mixed berries
  • Lunch: Animal protein (fish, chicken, turkey, beef) and veggies with potato or rice
  • Snacks: Beef jerky, fruit, nuts, Skinny Pop popcorn, oatmeal, or a protein shake
  • Dinner: Animal protein (fish, chicken, turkey, beef) and veggies with potato or rice
  • Dessert: I love dark chocolate (specifically Lily's Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt)

I would never be where I am today if I hadn't taken the time to really understand the connection between the mind and body.

I have lost around 150-165 pounds in a healthy, sustainable way—and I'm stronger than I've ever been. My younger self never would've believed I'd be capable of squatting over 250 pounds, deadlifting 350, or going on strenuous hikes. I have my dream job as a flight nurse, and I know I wouldn't have been able to be flying around in a helicopter helping people in my old body, with my old mindset.

But the changes in my mental well-being are what really matters. I still have so much life ahead of me, dreams I want to accomplish. It took half of my life for me to really learn how to love myself and be kind to my body. I wish I could tell 15-year-old Sam, “You are worthy and you are enough.”


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