Today, Jennifer Casey is prepping to compete in her first bikini competition, but working out and healthy eating didn’t always come easily to her.
“I’ve struggled with my weight ever since I hit puberty,” Jennifer tells Shape. “I went from being a size 0 to a size 8 basically overnight and it kept going up from there.”
By the time she got to college, Jennifer started to feel very uncomfortable in her skin and made an effort to lose weight for the first time. “I joined the gym and started Weight Watchers, which helped for a while,” she says. “I got myself down to a size 8 from a size 12 and was comfortable there until I got married and pregnant with my first child shortly after graduation.”
Jennifer had her first son in 2005 and her second son in 2007. Two years later, she had her third son. “At my tipping point, I weighed 220 pounds and just didn’t know where to start,” she says.
Her wake-up call came in 2010 when one of her sons said something that caught her completely off guard. “‘Mommy, why does your butt shake when you walk?’ my middle son asked me one day,” Jennifer says. “It was totally innocent but I just broke down into tears because I was already so self-conscious about my weight. It was that explosion of emotions that made me realize that I really needed to do something now to make a change.”
Jennifer joined Weight Watchers again-this time knowing exactly why she wanted to get healthier and with the intention to put her all into it. “I knew that if I was going to lose weight, I wanted to do it the right way, so I did it all naturally,” Jennifer says. “I used Weight Watchers to teach me how to eat better and took what I learned to create my own meal plan that was balanced with controlled portion sizes.” (Related: Why This Is the Year I’m Breaking Up with Dieting for Good)
Jennifer started eating six small meals a day, making moderation her main focus. She also upped her efforts in the gym and started going five to six days a week. “I mostly did cardio in the beginning, doing either a spin class or body combat (kickboxing), but now I focus more on weight training and do a lot less cardio,” she says. (Sick of the same ol’ cardio? Make your cardio workouts harder, not longer.)
Jennifer was well on her way to her goal when she found she was pregnant again in 2012. “I wasn’t expecting to get pregnant but was hopeful that my hard work over the past two years would help me get back into shape quicker-and it did,” she says.
Within a year, Jennifer was back to where she was before she got pregnant and continued to focus on her diet and exercise. “I didn’t have to completely start over, which was amazing,” she says.
By 2016, Jennifer had lost 90 pounds-something she’s maintained until today. Along the way, she’s become a certified instructor and teaches body combat at her local gym as well as Metafit, a HIIT class.
Now she has her eyes set on her first bikini competition and has already lost 5 more pounds while training. “I like to set new goals for myself,” she says. “I find that I stick to my routine better if I have something to look forward to that’s more than just getting ready for the summer. That’s what inspired me to give bikini competitions a go.”
Jennifer started training for her first competition on January 6 and is set to compete on April 7. “Something that really helped me stick to my goals was joining Shape‘s #MyPersonalBest Facebook page (part of our 40-Day Crush Your Goal Challenge with Jen Widerstrom!),” she says. “I started the challenge the day after Christmas after indulging over the holidays and it really helped me get back on track. Plus, I’m a huge Jen Widerstrom fan and she has a way of helping me step up my game.” (Obsessed with Jen too? Here’s a side of her we’ve never seen before.)
Now, Jennifer hopes that her story will inspire other women, especially moms, to put their needs first and take care of their health. “Before, I had a hard time keeping up with my kids,” she says. “Now, they have a hard time keeping up with me. I hope that by sharing my journey, at least one person is inspired to get out of their comfort zone and reach their fitness goals. I’m living proof that it’s never too late.”