Amanda Miller will be the first to admit she hasn’t always…um…let’s say, “lived the healthiest of lifestyles.”
For the first half of her 20s, she spent more than her fair share of time waking up with a hangover and working it off by partying again the next night. A good chunk of the second half of her 20s was spent traveling around Australia, New Zealand and Asia, living a similar lifestyle.
She never thought she’d be anything of significance in the world. And she’d become…kind of okay with that.
“It seemed like, I don’t know, like ’becoming something’ was a thing other people did,” she says, now bouncing her eight-month-old son at her kitchen table between spooning scoops of some kind of purée into his mouth. “But then I literally woke up one day and said, ‘you know what? I am going to be that person. I’m going to stop thinking it will be someone else who does that. It’s going to be me.’”
And it started by going back to school.
She came back to Canada and checked out a few schools and programs before deciding on the nursing program at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.
While she was in school in Thunder Bay, she happened to meet a gold miner who just happened to be from Campbell River. He was working a few weeks on, a few weeks off, flying across the country and back to make his living because he just couldn’t leave Vancouver Island behind altogether.
They ended up dating for a while, realized they needed to be a family, and she moved out here once she’d completed her nursing degree. She got a nursing job here, and everything was going swimmingly.
She took maternity leave when they were having their first child together and decided to continue her studies while she was off work by taking another course through the University of Victoria.
So she returned to work as a more well-educated nurse.
But their family wasn’t complete, apparently.
She took maternity leave again less than two years later when she was about to give birth to their second child together.
When that second child was about six months old – around Christmas of 2016, to be more precise, just four months ago or so – Miller was seeing herself in pictures, in mirrors, and not liking what she saw. She also realized she had very little energy.
“Well, sure,” people would say to her. “You’ve got two babies, of course you don’t have any energy.”
But she knew it was more than that.
She was out of shape, and it was gnawing at her. Yes, the actual physical “shape” of her body was bothering her, but even more concerning to her emotional shape. It wasn’t about her physique, necessarily – she was struggling with being happy.
“You lose weight after pregnancy, just naturally, but then it started going back up,” Miller says. “And when it got back up to 168, and I was just…kind of sad, I just kind of said, ‘okay, that’s enough. I have to do something about this.’”
It wasn’t even really for herself that she wanted to do it.
“I’m a mom now, and I need to be a role model to my kids,” she says. “I was thinking about how I want to be able to play soccer with them or teach them how to play volleyball, but if I’m this out of shape, I won’t be able to do that.
“Not only that, but my eating habits were terrible,” she says with a laugh. “Honestly, I was crushing down poutine and not even thinking twice about it, and that’s not something I want to pass on to them. It’s important to me that I’m teaching my family about food and activities in your life that will make you healthy and happy. Because that’s what’s most important, right? What’s most important in life is to be happy, and that’s a lot more difficult when you’re unhealthy.”
Then a friend told her about how the website bodybuilding.com runs frequent challenges where they give out prizes to people who put in a bunch of work and try to reach various goals. Her friend thought she might be interested in checking it out, if only just to get some motivation that she, too, could slough off the extra pounds she wanted to get rid of and gain back the energy she used to have – by seeing some of the photos of people who have done it.
When she went to look around the website, she saw a free contest called the $250,000 Transformation Challenge, where participants would post “before” photos at the beginning of the contest, choose a free fitness plan to follow, compete in weekly challenges for prizes, and post their “after” after the 12-week contest period ended.
The winners – one male and one female, chosen by bodybuilding.com judges – each receive $100,000. Five “People’s Choice” winners are selected by public vote out of 25 finalists. Those participants each receive $10,000.
“My friend did one of these challenges a few years ago and actually won something, so I knew it was legit,” Miller says. “So I just thought, ‘why not?’”
Well, she had a long list of excuses at her disposal if she wanted to use them. Hell, even if she would have started and then given up a few weeks in, nobody would have blamed her.
She has two children under the age of three. She’s not technically a single mother, but her husband is a copper miner in Yukon these days, so he’s only around about a third of the time. She’s taking more courses out of the University of Victoria to become specialized in maternity nursing. The list goes on.
“I’m not going to blow sunshine up your ass and say it was easy right from the start,” she says. “It absolutely felt like work at first, but I put my head down, went to the gym a few times, and it just became,” she pauses to think of how to express it. “I guess you could say that when I had days that I hadn’t gotten enough sleep and was so bagged, or whatever the situation was, I just couldn’t wait to go for a run because I knew I would feel so much better after.”
Over the 12-week-long challenge, Miller lost over 30 pounds and gained significant muscle mass.
“I just stuck to my plan like a hot damn,” she says. “One thing I’ve definitely learned in my life is that when you’re going to make a change, you have to really give things the time they need and when you commit to something, you see it through.”
Judging was not completed by the time this article was written, but Miller says in looking over the transformations submitted, she thinks she’s got a shot at a prize of some kind, even if it’s not the $100K.
“I don’t think I had the best transformation,” she admits, “but I think I maybe had one of the best 20.”
But while the online challenge may have been one of the motivating factors that got her going on this health journey, it’s never been about winning a contest. “This is my life now,” she says. “This is about being happy, and being the best mom I can be, and this is what allows me to be that and do that.”
And she’s not going to be one of those people who preaches the “If I can do it, anyone can,” type of line you hear so often. She realizes she’s coming at this whole thing from a significant position of privilege.
Financially, for example, it’s a difficult proposition for many to do what she’s done. Food costs more when you’re cutting out sugar, dairy and gluten, she admits. She’s also off work right now, which isn’t an option for many who want to make this type of life transformation. Gym memberships aren’t free, either. But that’s not to say she doesn’t want to spread the message that it can be done.
“Aside from leading by example for my family, it would be awesome if what I’ve done – what I’m continuing to do – inspires someone to make healthier life choices,” she says.
“And to be fair, you don’t need a personal trainer or gym membership just to exercise,” Miller says. “I use VI Fitness because it’s affordable for me and they have a great child-minding situation, but I do my cardio by running around my neighbourhood pushing the stroller, and I could do the weights here in my house, too. You don’t even need real weights. I mean, people could just use heavy things they have around the house if they really wanted to make this happen and couldn’t afford the gym.”
So does she miss that old life at all? Does she miss the sugar, or the gluten, or the dairy, or the beer?
“I really don’t,” she says. “I just feel so good right now that I just don’t miss anything, and I’ve found a whole new world of foods that I didn’t really know about before that are amazing and I really, really enjoy.”
And once in a while, she admits, she does cheat a little with her diet. The difference these days, however, is that “cheating” is having an extra homemade banana and protein powder frozen iced-cream-like desert when she’s already had one that day.
“After all, life’s for living, right?” she says.