By Rebecca Drew
MUM OF four is in the shape of her life after four pregnancies and ditching cardio for weight lifting.
Trainer, nutritionist and women’s empowerment coach, Tara Garrison (37) from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, noticed she was bigger than her classmates when she was just nine, which sparked a lifelong struggle with her weight.
Tara came from a poor background where healthy, nutritious food was hard to come by and by the age of 11 she weighed 7st 2lb. At high school, Tara took control of her weight and started counting calories and running which saw her reach a normal weight.
Despite this, Tara longed to be skinnier and was self-conscious of her legs – in particular her thighs – where she carried most of her weight. Her dad joked that she would inherit ‘Garrison thunder thighs’ from her gran and great gran, which worried her.
Mum to Makenzie (14), Jarom (12), Kyle (9) and Micah (7), Tara bounced back effortlessly after giving birth to her first three children through running marathons and focussing on cardio but struggled to lose her baby weight after Micah was born in the same way.
Tara continued to run five times a week and even ran full marathons but struggled to shed the pounds. She was desperate to lose weight and never allowed her body to rest, she attended exercise classes before going running and felt that such a gruelling routine meant she had earned her three meals a day and three snacks in between. In early 2014, she weighed 12st 7lb and was a UK size 14 – she felt defeated.
At the same time, Tara started having problems in her marriage which spurred her on to figure out why she wasn’t losing the excess weight. She switched to a low carb diet, stopped running so much and started lifting heavy weights of up to 70kg five days a week – the weight fell off over 18 months. Through doing this Tara has found food freedom, never counts calories and eats until she feels full without guilt, knowing that her figure won’t change.
At 5ft 7in, Tara now weighs a healthy 10st 5lb and is a UK size eight, she divorced in December 2016 and now has a great relationship with her ex who once said her legs were ‘almost a dealbreaker’ – she is now proud to call her muscular quads her ‘thunder thighs’.
“I was raised by a single mum of five, of which I was the youngest. We were extremely poor, which I believe led to a lot of my poor eating habits as a kid,” said Tara.
“I remember rummaging for food and basically living off the cheddar cheese blocks our church welfare system provided for us.
“Fast forward to my last two years of high school when I was the only kid left at home. We were still dirt poor so my mum would buy these giant boxes of expired, unlabelled cans of food for $5 that said ‘Not For Human Consumption’ because legally they couldn’t sell them.
“We lived off them. We would shake the cans to guess what was inside, and whatever it was, that’s what we ate. It didn’t really bother me that much. I knew my mum didn’t have money and was doing the best she could.
“It was also kind of fun in a weird way guessing what was inside, we would just laugh about it. Getting ‘real food’ like ravioli was like winning the jackpot.
“I started to notice I was bigger than the other kids in my class. I felt powerless to do anything about it. I was nine. All I knew was I was chubby. By high school, I was able to limit calories enough to be at a normal weight, but it was a constant battle and I felt so frustrated because it seemed like all my friends could eat whatever they wanted and never gain weight.
“[Before children] I would go through waves of caring and not caring [about my weight], but I always wanted to be skinnier. And I was especially self-conscious about my legs, where I held the most weight.
“My dad would tell me growing up I was going to have ‘Garrison thunder thighs’ which created a lot of fear, since the women in my family line had very large legs.
“When I was newly married at twenty years old, my ex-husband confessed to me that my legs were ‘almost a deal breaker,’ that he was shocked the first time he saw them when I was in a dress.
“I also have a distinct memory around that age of seeing a fitness model on the cover of a magazine with nice legs and telling my husband, ‘I just want legs like that.’ He replied: ‘I’m really sorry to tell you this, but you’re never going to have legs like that.’ I was crushed. I remember crying later. And trying super hard for a few weeks to lose weight before returning to my old habits.
“Call me petty, but because of this memory, I do want to be on a fitness cover someday and proudly bear my legs, which are now the most complimented part on my body. Now that I have a loving and honouring relationship with my body, I like to refer to my extremely strong quads as my ‘thunder thighs’.
“Four kids kicked my butt for a while there. I was making up for energy with way too many treats. I also turned thirty, twelve days after I had him (Micah) and it felt like a metabolic switch had been flipped – and not in my favour.
“I was running full marathons and not losing a pound. What had always ‘worked’ was not working anymore. I felt defeated, undisciplined and unattractive.
“My husband also confessed a secret pornography habit that had existed our entire marriage around that time. At the time, we were Mormon – a religion that strictly forbids pornography. I was trying so hard not to take it personally but I did.
“I was devastated. ‘He wouldn’t feel the need to do that if I was hotter’ was the story running through my head. It was the breaking point that kicked me into high gear on losing weight. It was an unhealthy catalyst for sure, but it led me on a journey of healing and health that I’ll always be grateful for.
“My ex and I have a wonderful relationship now by the way. I adore his new wife and we have an awesome co-parenting relationship. We’ve both grown and learned a ton since our divorce.
“I started following fitness influencers on Instagram much like myself now. I saw how they ate, worked out, thought. They ate real food, lifted and did cardio. When I want to learn something new, I just learn everything I can from someone who is already doing it. I became quite obsessed, I admit.
“I became fascinated with the human body. It’s mechanics, systems, nutritional needs. I would research exercises in my free time and create my own training plans to try at the gym. It became like a game to me.
“I found it extremely empowering that I could literally shape my own body through hard work. I fell in love with lifting weights. I stop going to the cardio classes and started lifting weights at night after my kids were in bed. It became an outlet I looked forward to each night as a stay at home mum.”
Now, a typical day sees Tara fast for breakfast, have a large portion of egg scramble with vegetables and guacamole for lunch, have soup, stew or a meat and vegetable dish for dinner, and she snacks on fruit and vegetables throughout the day.
Tara started her own fitness business called, Higher: Women Who Rise, and she coaches women remotely all over the world to help them unlock their inner strength.
She has 19.8K followers on Instagram under the handle, @coachtaragarrison, and is launching a book, The Keleo Code, as a guide on how to switch between low carb and keto nutrition to optimise the metabolism.
People can’t believe what Tara looks like now, but she says the physical aspect of her overhaul is just one factor.
“My physical transformation was the gateway to a personal awakening for me. As I got stronger physically, I got stronger mentally,” she said.
“As I became more confident in my body, I became more confident in my mindset. I began to trust myself. I knew I would follow through with what I said I would. That built tremendous self-confidence.
“I used to do everything for them [my kids]. I was trying to give them everything I wished I had had as a kid – the cookies after school, the perfectly clean house… the ‘perfect’ life.
“Now I’m teaching them the personal development skills I’ve learned, to honour their bodies with nutrients first, but not have a restrictive mindset around food. To use their bodies to play and be active and see what they’re capable of.
“And most importantly, to go after their dreams. Kids see what we do, not what we say. And I consciously model for them that they can do anything they put their minds to.
“People say that I don’t even look like the same person. They can’t believe that was me. I agree with them. Whilst I still have my core personality traits, I look and feel like a completely different person than I was before. I’m much more confident and happy now.”
Finally, Tara shared her words of advice to other mums and stressed that lifting weights is the key to success.
“Find your ‘why’. That’s the first step. My ‘why’ wasn’t healthy. But it was definitely powerful. That’s why it worked. If your ‘why’ is weak, your commitment will be weak. You’ll give up when it gets hard,” she said.
“Visualise yourself in the body you want to live in. Close your eyes and see it. Feel it. What does it mean if you achieve it? What does it mean if you don’t? Those answers better hit you to your core or your chances of success go down dramatically.
“And then from a practical perspective, on nutrition: fill up on protein and vegetables every time you eat. Add it in. Get that positive mindset around food. How many veggies can I add to this?
“For exercise: lift weights. I wish I could shout this from the rooftops. It is the secret. Be careful if you’ve recently had a baby, take your time. But I’m telling you lifting weights will change your life. As you build muscle you will burn more calories all day, feel amazing in your body, and add a beautiful shape to your physique.
“We came to this earth with one possession: the incredibly advanced biotech suits that house our souls – our bodies. That’s all you really own that is yours and yours alone. No one is responsible for your body except you. Own that.
“When we take care of ourselves first, everything else in our lives gets better. Our relationships, our mindsets, our energy to bring goodness to the world. Take care of yourself first.
“Honour your amazing body with the nutrients it needs to thrive. And just like you would a new sports car, see what that baby is capable of. Push yourself. Let’s see what these babies can do.”
For more information see https://coachtaragarrison.com