In January 2014, I packed up my three sons and left my husband. After years of living in a volatile situation, I had finally gathered up the courage to make a change. I felt fear, anxiety, and heartbreak — but in spite of all that, I felt the strength to do something better for myself and my kids.
I was 38 years old. I had been an at-home mom for nine years, and I knew what I needed to do. I needed to get myself and my kids out of crisis mode. I needed to find a job with -benefits. I needed to be strong so I could create safe, healthy, peaceful lives for all of us.
And then — wham! — while I was trying to figure that all out, an umbilical hernia cropped up out of nowhere and sent me to the hospital for emergency surgery. It wasn’t exactly what you would call a happy new year.
Once I recovered from my hernia surgery four weeks later, I also decided to train for the Chicago Marathon — an event that had always been on my bucket list. My friend dared me to sign up and said she would coach me through the entire process. I was eager to kick-start my new life, and I thought committing to running a marathon in October would motivate me.
In the midst of all this, I was also enrolled in an eight-week program to become a certified nursing assistant, with a goal of eventually completing nursing school.
But my plan wasn’t realistic. I completed the nursing-assistant training and got a job, but I had to drop out of nursing school; there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. No matter how motivated I was, I could get by on limited sleep for only so long.
I’d also thought that training for the marathon would help me get in shape. But I was overly enthusiastic and wound up with bursitis and IT band tendonitis within a few weeks.
I realized that I needed to be more mindful about my goals and how I was going to reach them. My confidence had been shaken. I needed to figure out how to get my groove back.
Taking the Challenge
I had been a member at a Life Time Fitness club in suburban Chicago for nine years. It was my refuge throughout my marriage, a place where I would take my boys swimming and meet friends for 9 a.m. workouts followed by a kaffeeklatsch in the café.
My membership was the one luxury item I allowed myself after the kids and I moved out. It was like a second home for us — an oasis from all the stress. But I was using it more as an escape than as a place to get fit.
At the same time, I had fallen into the trap of thinking I didn’t have enough time to cook. We were flying by the seats of our pants and spending money carelessly on fast food, using it as a distraction. I fed my kids junk food to make them happy. It really didn’t do anything but make them sluggish.
Then, one day in August I noticed a promotion for the 90-Day Challenge and decided to sign up. It turned out to be the catalyst I needed to get everything in my life on track again.
A Powerful Influence
As part of the program, I met with a nutritionist, who took me grocery shopping. I brought the boys along and we learned about the importance of eating a colorful diet.
After that trip, we started going on family outings to the grocery store, and the boys would grab a cart to fill with fruits and vegetables. I realized I had been wasting a lot of money on processed foods. And for the first time, I felt proud to be that mom who had a cart full of colorful produce and not all those fake-food snacks we used to buy.
Preparing meals became a family event. We started having fun together in the kitchen trying new recipes. My boys loved helping out with prepping, peeling, and seasoning the food. They also loved making their own variety of smoothies.
Soon they started asking for protein shakes for breakfast and snacking on whole cucumbers and tomatoes. They’d say, “Mom, can we have a salad? Can we have a hard-boiled egg?” My middle son, who was 4 at the time, even started saving money to buy hard-boiled eggs at the LifeCafe, because he liked to eat them on the car ride home. Holy cow, I thought. Who are these boys? Have I actually influenced them with my good behavior?
In the meantime, I cut out sugar, wheat, dairy, and alcohol. I also started working with a trainer, who taught me how to build strength with resistance training, including squats and free weights.
Within a week, I noticed a change in my skin. Within two weeks, I was sleeping like a baby. My body was resetting itself. After a few weeks, my son said he could see my muscles popping out!
At first my friends teased me. They couldn’t believe I was eating almonds instead of chocolate and asking for water instead of wine at a party. But I stuck with my clean-eating regimen and my strength workouts. I was dedicated. And the results came quickly.
A Family United
The best part of getting healthy was the effect it had on our whole family. As I slowed down and regained balance, I started treating my boys better. Instead of running around and appeasing them with treats when they were cranky, I started including them in my life — in everything I was doing. We became a team united toward a common goal, and they were my cheerleading squad.
I let go of the toxins in my life. I abandoned unhealthy habits and unhealthy relationships, and made space for family dinners and bike rides with my kids. Our household became calmer and a lot more fun.
In October 2014, everything seemed to fall into place. I signed my divorce decree. I got a job working in private-home healthcare. I won the 90-Day Challenge in my division. And I even ran the Chicago Marathon. It took me six hours, but my boys were there to cheer me on as I crossed the finish line — and that meant everything.
Meet: Shawna Green, 39, certified nursing assistant and professional face painter; single mom of three boys (ages 10, 5, and 3), who lives in Bartlett, Ill.
Big Achievements: Improving her confidence by being mindful of her choices; completing a marathon; teaching her children better eating habits.
Big Inspiration: “I knew I couldn’t give up. My boys were my inspiration. I decided to make better choices for them.”
What Worked: “Cutting out sugar, dairy, and wheat helped jump-start the changes in my body.” Shopping for groceries as a family helped encourage the boys to experiment with and embrace new foods.
What Didn’t Work: “Eliminating treats completely. I still love to have chocolate sometimes.”
Words of Wisdom: “If you don’t confront it, you can’t conquer it. Surround yourself with like-minded people and supportive community, and you’ll all reap the benefits.”