Formerly fat trainers: Why more fitness stars are sharing their weight-loss stories

While it seems like super-fit personal trainers would hide their overweight pasts, increasingly, the opposite is true. Here's why.
Nichelle Hines
“People don’t believe me when they see me now. This was not a three-week process, it was a three-year process,” says Nichelle Hines, who was recently featured in Racked LA’s Hottest Trainer competition. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Daniels for Racked LA)


Keoni Hudoba, 80. Nichelle Hines, 60. Dyan Tsiumis, 65. These numbers don’t represent what these popular fitness trainers charge for an hour of calorie-burning time with them. They represent pounds—how many pounds each of them lost before becoming known for their sculpted bods, that is.

While it seems like trainers with overweight pasts would ceremoniously burn (and de-tag) every picture of their formerly-fat selves and swear friends from their pre-muscled days to secrecy, increasingly, the opposite is true. Instead, they’re using their stories to help clients and class go-ers find relatable weight-loss inspiration.

It’s not that they don’t worry. “I didn’t tell people I was heavy until after Drenched launched. One of my mentors said I had to tell the story, and I was so embarrassed. I thought, ‘Who’s going to take me seriously?” says Hudoba, who was previously an instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp and is now the creative director at CYC.

The relatable factor

Here’s what actually happened: A flood of clients expressed their admiring disbelief and appeared to be newly inspired to work harder. This connection is key: If an overweight college student opera singer who couldn’t get through an audition dance sequence without wheezing now makes an eight-pack look easy, could there be hope for me?

Hudoba, before and after. (Photo:
Hudoba, before and after. (Photo:

“It not only helps them connect with the trainer more, it sort of breaks down walls,” explains Julia Dalton-Bush, the founder of Fit Journey. “Students aren’t looking at instructors and thinking ‘You don’t even get it! This squat is the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life!” They’re thinking, ‘He or she did it, and they get it, and this is where they are now.'”

Hines, the head instructor at Cycle House Los Angeles who’s known for her inspiration-mantra-packed classes, agrees. “It can be alienating when students look at the teacher like they’re an ideal,” she says, referring to the sense we all get that instructors are born super-athletes. “I’m very conscious of telling them that they’re not alone in this struggle. I say, ‘I know this feels incredibly hard, but I’m pushing you like this because I’ve been there, too.'”

Honesty becomes easy

Revolve instructor Tsiumis, who also teaches IntenSati, says that a benefit to revealing her weight-loss journey is that it’s allowed her to develop more honest, open relationships with clients, who suddenly see her as a confidante instead of someone immune to diet and fitness woes.

“Clients are willing to be more open about their habits. They’re more willing to be like, “I lost it the other day and ate a box of cookies,'” she says. Which allows trainers to better respond to their challenges and needs.

They really get it

Trainers may also just be more in tune with their client’s needs, since they can draw from their personal experiences when figuring out what will work for someone who’s trying to drop serious pounds. Hudoba, for instance, was drawn to CYC because the brand is focusing on bringing cycling classes to college towns, and his own weight-loss journey took place during college.

“After class, students will come up to me and say, ‘Thank you so much for sharing your story. I never knew that this was possible,'” says Hudoba. “If I had this in school when I was losing weight, it would have been so much easier.” —Lisa Elaine Held

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