Happy Exhaustion’s Holiday Survival Guide

It is upon us. The season all dieters/fitness enthusiasts dread most: The Holidays.

Oh, God give me strength. No use pretending the holidays aren’t challenging.

On this day 2 years ago, I was not The Girl Who Lost 100 lbs. I was the girl who lost 96 lbs. My 100 lbs goal was so close I could taste it. There was no WAY I was letting Thanksgiving put any extra distance between me and my declaration of success with my very first Before & After picture.

That year I began developing Holiday Survival Strategies.

If you’re closing in on your own goal – or just don’t want some holiday event to send you completely off the rails – then this one’s for you.

All Eyes-On-On-The-Prize, Goal Chasing, I-WILL-Fit-Into-That-Dress-On-New-Years-Eve fitness friends quaking at the thought of a table loaded with trigger foods, never fear! Happy Exhaustion is here to help.

(Note: If your goal is further in the distance and a few lbs don’t matter much in the Here & Now, then dig in! By no means do I believe Healthy & Strong means NEVER INDULGING AGAIN. If a day of “sometimes foods” is just what the doctor ordered, then enjoy the pie! Just don’t forget to get back on track the next day…)

For my friends who need an assist – I feel your struggle. The struggle is real.

Ready to fight?

Here we go!

Ready to Holiday Like A Boss?

Ready to Holiday Like A Boss?

1: Start The Day With a Workout

Your gym will probably be closed, and you might not have any equipment at home. NO EXCUSES! Get that metabolism up & running before your brain has a chance to catch up.

Start the day with a sweat – feel thankful for a body capable of a working out!

Here is a freebie, courtesy of the trainer I’m married to:

In descending reps 15-1 (15 of each, then 14 of each, etc. until the last set is only 1 of each)

15-1: Squats

15-1: Mountain Climbers

15-1: Push-ups

15-1: High Knees

15-1: Abs of your choice.

(I’ll be doing oblique twists, but if you prefer sit-ups, go with it!)

2: Mentally Prepare For Your Trigger Foods.

We all have foods that light up the pleasure centers of our brains and make us act like junkies chasing a fix. For me, it’s sugar. One taste and I lose all control.

What’s yours? Sugar? Buttery carbs? Fried saltiness?

Psych yourself up to avoid your triggers. I mean COMPLETELY. Best way to avoid falling off a cliff? Don’t dance on the ledge.

I will not be having any pie tomorrow. It won’t be fun, but I’ll go to bed proud.

3: If You Didn’t Make It, You Don’t Know What’s In It.

This tip is for my fellow calorie-trackers. If you think you can guess-timate how many calories are in Aunt Mae’s famously delicious green bean casserole, round up! Chances are good that her casserole is so delicious because it’s prepared with a cubic ton of butter.

To survive this hurdle, be the one who brings the low-cal options. If you made it, you know *exactly* how many calories to track when you eat it. This is why I’ll be the one bringing steamed asparagus and a dark green salad. That way I know there will be foods that will satisfy me without hitting my tracking with a giant question mark.

4: Beware of Hidden Sugars

Holiday foods can sneak sugar into unexpected places. Keep an eye out for cranberries, pumpkin, squash, and other naturally high-sugar bites. For the holidays they’ll probably be roasted, boiled & reduced with extra sugar and butter just for good measure.

Can’t imagine Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce? “That’s not even Thanksgiving!” Ok. Go ahead. But instead of slathering it all over everything, take a tablespoon-worth and enjoy the bites with a touch of sauce. Let them feel like indulgences.

5: Don’t Drink Your Calories.

Just a sampling of why this one’s important: The average cup of eggnog (ONE CUP!) has 225 calories. Mulled wine: 210. Cider: 175. Know what your body will love you for? Water.

(Don’t hate me.)

6: Eyes On the Prize

Whatever your fitness goal may be, keep it in the front of your brain. Think how far you’ve already come, how hard you’ve worked. Remember how much you want what your goal looks like. You’ve overcome difficult moments on this road. You know you can do it. You’ve done it before. Now do it again.

7: Is It Worth It?

Do a little math. How many minutes will you spend enjoying those calorie-bombs? Now, how many minutes do you imagine you’ll spend kicking yourself for unhealthy choices?

Know how many calories you burn running a mile? About 100. Is that single cup of eggnog really worth an extra 2.5 mile run?

8: Rise Above Peer Pressure

This one’s hard. Especially because it means I’m saying mean things about your loved ones. But the girl at the holiday table who isn’t cheating on her diet is rarely the most popular girl in the room. She might be doing what those around her wish they had the willpower to pull off. This can make her the target of saboteurs.

“Surely you’re going to take today off! It’s Thanksgiving!”

“Seriously, one day won’t make a difference.”

“You have GOT to taste this! I made it just because I know it’s your favorite!”

Diet Derailment: Dead Ahead! RED FLASHING LIGHTS!

No matter what the motivation of your loved ones, they’re not the ones who have to walk in your shoes. They don’t have to burn off your calories. Don’t let them drive your choices.

9: Say No to Left-Overs!

If you’re not hosting, politely decline to take any left-overs home with you (unless it’s those healthy, yummy steamed veggies you came with!). Leave with nothing more than an epic sense of pride.

If you’re hosting, encourage everyone who brought food to take home their own left-overs (as well as anything else less-than-wholesome that you can unload! Unless your guests are on paths like yours… give them props and let them leave with their pride alone.)

Deliver the rest to the nearest soup kitchen without delay.

10: It’s Just One Day

Even if you have to white-knuckle it through the perilous waters of the holiday, you’ve survived hard days before. Regular old Tuesdays when your co-worker had a giant bowl of pasta and eating your baked chicken made you full-on ‘hangry’. Stupid Fridays when your buddies were out pounding beers while you stayed in.

You killed it then, you’ll kill it now. Your pride at the end of the day is worth so much more than buttery gravy with a side of pie.

Enjoy the beautiful parts of the holidays. Enjoy your family, your friends, your health.

You don’t need to sabotage yourself to enjoy a special day.

Good luck! I’m with you!

When Five Pounds Feels Like Five Million OR: Gaining Weight On Purpose

“You can never be too rich or too thin.”

– Wallis Simpson

I used to take Ms. Simpson’s world view for granted.

Sure, I clucked with concern at the sight of models whose obvious eating disorders were on full display. But as long as you were certifiably thin (and just this side of a walking skeleton), I thought I should look more like you.

When PEOPLE came calling, I was already thin. I was in my happy place – the 140-142 lbs. zone, wearing a size 4. I felt good. I was content.

But the specter of posing in a bikini for the whole wide world to see convinced me that my happy place was too big. I began to pick myself apart for the many ways in which Katey is not Giselle. This belly pooch has to go, those thighs need to slim down, these arms should be more defined.

I set my sights on thinner, and Mama knows how to do thinner. It wasn’t for Healthy & Strong – it was because I didn’t want the internet to eat me alive. I pushed myself to my outer limits by imagining what the trolls would say if my bikini bottom cut into hips that were too soft.

I worked and I sweat and I ran and I cut calories, and I worked and I worked and I WORKED.

It paid off. I went to the shoot in Miami with these abs:

Who cares if my eyes are half-closed? Check my abs!

Who cares if my eyes are half-closed? Check my abs!

It was grueling. But, to be honest, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I needed to feel confident on that photo shoot, and I did. I wanted to be my leanest self, and I was.

But it wasn’t all sunshine.

Pushing my body as hard as I possibly could was full-on painful. It was punishing. It was Me Against My Body instead of Me and My Healthy & Strong Body.

As I reached my lowest weight, people who love me began to express concern. “Are you ok? Are you eating?” Had Happy Exhaustion lost the Happy part and fallen off a cliff into the darkness of an eating disorder?

It was intense.

I promised everyone that I was fine – this insanity was only temporary. It was just for the photo shoot, then I’d go back to normal.

But once the shoot was in my rearview, making good on my promise required some soul-searching. I was thinner than I had ever been. You could see my abs through my tight gym shirts! And you can never be too skinny, right? Shouldn’t I be trying to stay in this skinny body? Shouldn’t I fight *hard* to keep it?

No. Absolutely not.

Thank goodness I’ve been working on my Happy Exhaustion lifestyle for almost three years. That time brought me wisdom. I have learned so much about personal fitness, but the most important lesson is this: None of it is worth anything if you can’t enjoy your life.

None of it is worth feeling fragile.

My husband took this picture of me and my son the weekend after the shoot. I love this picture; except for one thing. It’s a picture of Fragile Me.

Skinny enough to fit into a 100% backless dress isn't worth feeling fragile.

Skinny enough to fit into a 100% backless dress isn’t worth feeling fragile.

I had a thigh gap. I had a bikini bridge. I had abs for days. And I was a woman on the verge of collapse – both emotionally and physically.

I was skinny as hell, but I was punishing myself every single day. 136 lbs might not seem much lower than 142, but keeping my body as thin as I could physically manage was exacting. It’s not a happy place for my system. My body doesn’t want to be that lean.

Maintaining 136 not only meant 75+ minutes at the gym every day, it also means zero – and I mean ZERO caloric wiggle room. No sugar of any kind, no cocktails, not so much as a touch of creamy salad dressing. Strictly raw vegetables and baked lean proteins.

Maintaining 136 made me really cranky. Really, really, really cranky. I was snapping at people who didn’t deserve it, I was spending less time snuggling my kids and more time praying to reach the end of the day without going full-on Mean Mommy at the drop of a hat.

I was too exhausted to be happy.

So, I chose to let 136 go. Skinny was NOT worth it.

I’m afraid I need to call Ms. Simpson out. Sorry Wallis, but you were one very rich, very thin, Liar Liar Pants On Fire. I found Too Thin, and it was real.

It took some courage, but I released the reins. I went back to my Healthy & Strong lifestyle. I still work out 6 days a week, but now I take a day off to let my body rest. I still watch my calories and mind the way my jeans fit, but now I enjoy my occasional glass of wine.

I gained weight. I did it on purpose. And it was one of the happiest and healthiest choices that I’ve made since this journey began.

Fitness is only wellness when you can be happy. No diet, no size, no number on the scale is worth sacrificing your joy.

Make healthy choices. Run in the sunshine. Choose to have a salad instead of a sundae. But drive your wellness with love for your body and your life. Don’t let self-loathing or body image steal your smile. It’s all about finding your own happy place.

Welcome back, 140-142. I missed you.

Raising The Reinforcements

family fun run

My poor, innocent offspring. They don’t know they’re being studied.

My children are the pioneering subjects of an ever-so-slightly off-the-wall social experiment, courtesy of an adoring mother.

Like most kids, they’ve got A Mama On A Mission: I’m bound and determined to raise the happiest, healthiest, kindest, strongest, most brave, curious & well-adjusted kids this world has ever seen.

Sound familiar? If you’re a parent, you’re probably on the same quest.

In our house (thanks in no small part to the loving example set by my own parents), the major check-boxes take care of themselves: Tell them they’re special and important. Be there. Make sure they feel loved. Keep them as safe as any parent can. Etc, etc, etc.

But I also have a *minor* preoccupation with my children’s inner monologues.

In a perfect world, not only do people around them tell them they’re wonderful – they tell themselves they’re wonderful.

Enter: Operation Secret Cheerleaders.

Wanna play? Here are the rules:

Step 1: When in public, keep an eye out for people making strides towards personal wellness. Whether it’s the 80-something man slowly shuffling around the track, the heavyset girl grimacing and sweating bullets as she jogs, or the super-athlete busting out a marathon like it’s no big thing. Find them, and point them out.

Step 2: Cheer for them. Out loud.


You might look, sound & feel like a psychopath.

Do it anyway.

A stranger running along the side of the road? A stranger biking to work? A whole team of strangers on a field practicing with a team?

Cheer out loud.

The idea is not for the strangers to actually hear it. (Though I hope they smile if they do!)

The idea is for the children to hear it. All the way down to the darkest corners of their young, developing minds.

The goal is the development of a world-view that conceptualizes strangers as potential cheerleaders, rather than potential Mean Girls.

I developed Operation Secret Cheerleaders as a Happy Exhaustion response to my own toxic, Pre-Happy Exhaustion inner monologue. That inner monologue had a few tracks in heavy rotation: Self Flagellation & I’m Not Good Enough.

I have a fully pathological habit of taking it for granted that you’re better at (insert just about anything here) than I am.

That habit reads judgment in the eyes of strangers, assuming they are silently, persistently tearing me down.

That assumption kept me on the couch. My insecurities about my physical condition held me back.

“I like the idea of running, but if I go running people will see me. People will judge me.

I had to actively create a mental space where I could allow myself to be a beginner.

I spent decades believing that I should never be a beginner in public. I never went out for sports, because I was sure that everyone else was a superstar and I would be the only unskilled player.

Now I know better. The true beginner is the truest rockstar!

I still have to bust my ass every day to maintain Happy Exhaustion, but the physical effort of today’s got NOTHING on the physical *and psychological* effort that was required to get going in the first place.

To turn it all around, I had to first conquer my fear of the judgment of others.

It was hard work. It was not fun times.

I do NOT want that for my little ones.

Operation Secret Cheerleaders is this mama’s attempt to throw up a few road blocks and detour signs. I will happily cheer for strangers like a maniac if there’s a chance I could steer my kids’ brains away from toxic assumptions.

Whether you have kids or not, I invite you to join Operation Secret Cheerleaders.

And the next time you’re prioritizing your health – out in the world, where strangers may gaze – I hope you will think of me and my super-sexy minivan, driving by with my kids, shrieking about how cool you are.

At the top of our lungs.

Wearing Makeup At The Gym


A few months ago, I saw one of those ‘health’ articles with an attention-grabbing headline – something like ’10 Gym Laws You’re Probably Breaking!’

I’m always interested in articles like these, so I clicked straight through.

There were one or two good points on the list – things like ‘Always wipe down your equipment after you’ve drenched it in sweat’ and ‘2 earbuds in means Do Not Disturb’.

But most of the ‘Laws’ were silly and cosmetic, and left me feeling frustrated.

The author was heavy-handed as he asserted Gym Bossiness. “No makeup or jewelry at the gym! Where do you think you are, princess? A nightclub? Leave that ish at home – this is where we SWEAT!”

Fear of such Unwritten Gym Laws handed me an unpleasant dose of mortification last week, when I noticed the glint of a swinging sparkle reflected in the screen of my cardio machine. I had forgotten to remove my earrings when I changed into my gym clothes.

My face instantly flushed hot. I snatched out the offending accessories so fast my earbuds came out, too. I was mortified, scanning the gym to see if anyone was looking at me – judging my faux pas.

I was doing it wrong! I broke the “Gym Rules”!

Were people laughing at me??

Of course, no one was looking. No one was laughing. In 0.2 seconds I went from cross-eyed mortification to laughing at my own absurdity.

“Gym rules” are so stupid. Like we need a few more silly inhibitions getting between us and our goals!

Before I conquered my fear of the gym (and the bossy gym rats occasionally found there), I was afraid that the operative word in ‘Health Club’ was not ‘Health’ but ‘Club’. Gyms seemed like places with secret handshakes, codes I couldn’t crack, and rules I didn’t know how to follow.

As if the machines aren’t intimidating enough, there’s the scary gym-culture.

I didn’t grow up in a gym. I didn’t know the rites & rituals. Fear of doing the gym ‘wrong’ felt so potentially embarrassing, I let it hold me back.

Now I’m taking a stand for anyone who is intimidated by gym culture: JUST. DO. YOU. If you’re sweating, you’re doing it right.

My husband thinks it’s hilarious that I wear makeup when I work out.

One day not long ago, as I pulled the super-sexy minivan into the gym parking lot, I reached for the center console where I keep my lip gloss. I didn’t give it a second thought as I dabbed on just a hint of color. As I was replacing the cap, my better half burst out laughing.

“Did you just put on lip gloss to go do cardio?!” He couldn’t contain his amusement.

As I parked the car, I looked at the man I married a decade ago and asked “Um… have we met?”

Of course I was wearing lip gloss to do cardio. I was out of the house, wasn’t I?

I’m a very girly girl, and I don’t care to pretend otherwise. I have worn a small amount of makeup every day since I was 14. You think a change of venue is going to change that pattern?

I don’t wear *a lot* of makeup, but my ultra-femme side enjoys a little bit every day. Lip gloss, mascara & a dab of powder are in place whenever I leave the house. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to a formal function or making a run to the grocery store, I’m going to default to cosmetics.

Why should I make an exception for the gym? My waterproof mascara and lip gloss aren’t hurting anybody, and I’m happier with them. If I have to be panting and dripping with sweat, I can at least have pretty lashes!

Sure, you probably don’t want to cake on heavy foundation before a workout, because your pores will clog like nobody’s business. But – if your skin makes you self-conscious, don’t allow silly ‘rules’ about your cosmetics keep you from sweating yourself healthy.

There are gym rules that are in place for your safety, and those rules should always be followed. But the gym rules that are superficial? Take them if you like them, leave them if you don’t.

If you want to do Pretty Fitness, do Pretty Fitness! Mister Bossy Gym Rat is not the boss of you.

It’s Not About the Cookie Dough

If you read the article featuring Happy Exhaustion in the August 4th issue of PEOPLE Magazine, you may have noticed a template.

The five of us each had a bikini picture, a ‘Before’ picture, a brief story, an example of what we eat now, and an EXTRA LARGE FONT example of an astonishingly unhealthy food or drink we consumed when dangerously overweight.





When it was my turn to provide an example, I first thought of the dessert buffet I indulged in while pregnant with my daughter.

That wasn’t quite ‘gross’ enough.

After waxing poetic about my hot & heavy love affair with cheese fries dipped in ranch dressing (*cringe*… also, *drool*) I finally struck magazine copy gold. Cookie dough. Not even good, homemade cookie dough. You know those tubes of raw chocolate chip cookie dough found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store? THAT kind of cookie dough.

Now THAT was gross enough. We had found my giant font.


(I don’t have the rights to the image of that page, or I would post it here. Just imagine me in a bikini with that giant font next to my face.)

Quite an evocative statement, right?

Can’t you just see me? Size 24, utterly despondent, feeling powerless to improve (so why even bother to try?), ripping open the tube and eating it raw? Heaping fistfuls of dough being shoveled into my big, fat mouth until I pass out in a filthy heap?

raw cookie dough

Here’s the thing…

That happened. It did. My wonderful new friends at PEOPLE did not tell you lies.

But despite the huge-font text, you really shouldn’t blame the cookie dough.

My peak weight wasn’t cookie dough’s fault. My peak weight was the result of my consistent, long-term failure to prioritize my health.

Were there crazy high-calorie binges on deep fried treats and raw dough in the mix?

Yes. There sure were.

But is that all I ate? Of course not!

I did not reach 243 lbs because I was a pathetic slob.

Whenever I ate something I knew was bad for me, I felt guilty about it. I detested my own obesity, and I knew the way I ate was making a bad situation worse. But I ate processed crap anyway. It was quick, it was easy, and it tasted good. It was there, so I ate it.

Because I felt hopeless.

Because I was an emotional eater and comfort foods felt good on a bad day.

Because I simply didn’t care enough.

Not because I was a slob.

If you’re carrying some extra weight, I bet you’re not a slob, either.

You’re probably like me. You move through life like everyone else. You take care of the people you love. You’re good at your job. You’re a good friend, good co-worker, good parent.

You have priorities around which you organize your life, and you tackle them well.

Manifesting your healthiest self just hasn’t made the cut yet. It has fallen behind the other issues that consume your day-to-day.

I was only able to get fit because I made my pursuit of health a higher priority than it had ever been before.

My shift of priorities didn’t change who I am. I’m the same girl, just with a reprioritized lifestyle.

Would I eat an entire tube of cookie dough today? No. Since giving up sugar and processed foods, those kinds of things make me physically ill. The few decadent minutes of yummy flavors aren’t worth the horrible indigestion I’ll suffer for the hours that follow.

But, I DO occasionally release the reins and eat as many calories as you’d find in a tube of cookie dough in a single sitting. Usually it’s a date night with my man.

That doesn’t make me a slob now any more than it did back then. But I know that I live in a culture that equates an overweight woman eating raw cookie dough with a pitiful mess. I also know that such judgment isn’t applied to a fit woman seen eating a gigantic bowl of ice cream. And that’s just stupid fat-shaming.

I celebrated the completion of the PEOPLE photo shoot with a bowl of pasta, a cocktail, and two scoops of ice cream. It wasn’t sloppy of me. It wasn’t something I had to be ashamed of. It was a treat.

2,000 calories all at once is 2,000 calories all at once no matter who you are or what kind of shape you’re in. All that matters is what role those 2,000 calories play in your lifestyle. If it’s a regular event, and it’s not burned off with an active lifestyle, you can’t help but gain weight.

These days I don’t stress the rare calorie-bomb, because now I crave my daily cardio. I am a full-on endorphin-junkie. So, when a celebration or a date night create a major spike in my calorie count, I burn it off within days. Because I prioritize my fitness. Because I need physical activity and clean, whole foods for my healthy and joyful life.

When I avoided physical exertion at all costs, all of those calorie spikes added up and compounded themselves.

What this (often exciting, frequently harrowing) adventure has taught me is that I was never A Fat Girl (although for a while there I was pretty sure that I was) any more than I am now A Thin/Fit Girl.

I was a girl who didn’t prioritize lovingly caring for her own body. That’s what has changed.

It’s not about the cookie dough.




Nothing is impossible.


When I got the call, I thought I was being Punk’d.

“I’ve read your blog and was wondering if you would mind being considered for PEOPLE Magazine’s ‘I Lost 100 lbs’ feature?”

I was sure someone had read my post about last year’s 100 lbs feature, and was messing with me.

But, just to be sure, I hit the Google machine.

Holy crap! This girl actually works for People Magazine!!!

Insert a scream only dogs could hear *here*

Well, I suppose I could be persuaded to consider…

Step one: Go ahead and send us a picture of yourself in a bikini.

Um…. Send you a what now? A bikini picture? Moi? An actual Two Separate Pieces bikini?? For strangers??

Can I really do this?? Do I have it in me to put myself out there that much??

Then, after a minor existential crisis:

Hell yes, I can!

There is no CAN’T at Happy Exhaustion. We roll Eleanor Roosevelt Style around here.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Ok, Eleanor – it’s you and me. Let’s go buy a bikini.

(I feel a distinct possibility that just typing those words may have caused the great lady to roll over in her grave… Moving on.)

Back at home and it’s time to pose. Should I wear heels? Flats feel odd, and barefoot feels wrong…

My kids built Lego towers while daddy took painfully awkward pictures of a bikini-clad mommy in the living room. Hot.


Ok. Be brave. Hit send.

Step Two: Commence waiting for what feels like an eternity, stuck in a nightmare mind-loop: What if the sight of your body in a bikini results in rejection on a grand scale? Recovering from that kind of blow to the ego could take some time…

As the days rolled by with no word from PEOPLE, I even begin to consider the possibility that I was not being Punk’d so much as Catfished. What if some perv had talked me into  naively sending out bikini pictures!? My mind was spinning at 12,785,276,920 miles per hour.

But then, another call from NYC knocked me back on my heels. I was in! They picked me!

Suddenly everything hit warp speed. Interviews were being conducted, flights to Miami for location shoots were being booked, facts were being checked.

And, I was sweating my FACE off.

See – PEOPLE didn’t request a bikini picture because they wanted me to come for a photo shoot in a flirty little party dress. PEOPLE wanted a bikini, a small bikini and nothing but a bikini, so HELP ME, GOD!

I was sworn to secrecy until the day of the issue reveal and not a moment sooner, rendering me unable to share what I was really up to here on the blog – so I gave only the faintest of hints as I posted about my pursuit of abs and hamstrings.

WELCOME TO THE ULTIMATE FITNESS MOTIVATOR OF ALL TIME: PEOPLE Magazine is going to show your bikini body to the Whole. Wide. World.

I worked out like an athlete and I tracked my food like a fiend. Not a single morsel went into my mouth that wasn’t a plant, a seed, or a lean protein.

I got into the hands-down best shape of my life. I developed abs! Real ones! Can you see them?!

Eduardo The Great

Eduardo The Great

The Girl Who Used To Wear Size 24 didn’t know abs were possible.

I’m not even going to pretend I wasn’t proud.

The number on the scale did not take a nose dive from the 140 I have happily maintained since reaching my 100-lbs goal, but my body definitely changed. I became what the resident trainer calls ‘lean’.

I hit Miami at 136 lbs, with lots of new muscles and a BMI low enough to make them show.

After dedicating lots of heart and rivers of sweat to my goal, it was finally show time.

The adventure began  on June 12th , when my four new friends (all fellow 100+ lbs losers) and I all boarded planes to Miami.

Lori Filipiak, a fellow mother of two from Illinois was my soul-sister from the start. We bonded right off the bat. Lori and I flew from Atlanta to Miami together with Edwin Velez, the hard-body from Alabama. With his deep southern drawl and boundless energy, Edwin will charm your socks off the moment you meet him. The three of us giggled and gossiped all the way to Miami, sharing our before-and-after pictures, imagining what excitement lay ahead.

In Miami we were joined by Judith Anthony from New Jersey and Erin Banks from California. These two girls not only delivered the hotness, they brought with them the support of their diet plan teams (Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem respectively).

Judith may seem shy, but she’s a tiger whose eye-on-the-prize attitude is an inspiration. Erin rounded out the group with an ambitious fire whose posing experience (gained during appearances in national Nutrisystem campaigns) put me to shame.

Once we were all in the same place, it was full-throttle from the word go. After being collected from the airport and taken to our gorgeous hotel in Miami Beach, it was off to wardrobe fittings. I have never seen so many bikinis all in one place! Rainbow-colored racks of bikinis, all in my size, all there just for me!


All for me! Eeeeek!

After extensive fittings unearthed the best bikinis, it was off to bed after a quick spray tan.

*I may or may not have gifted a bottle of Grey Goose (my favorite cocktail) to the super-goddess that is Jennifer Lee – our spray tan/makeup artist. Before I even met her I had a feeling that after an evening spent spray-tanning the fully stripped-down bodies of five former-heavyweights, a cocktail may be in order.*

Day 1 was Location Day

on location

On location in Miami. A girl could get used to this… Left: Glamazon Lori prepping for her close-up. Center: Yes. Yes, indeed. Right: Celebs get red carpets. Ours were cardboard 🙂

Our first full day was spent on location at a gorgeous, massive private home on the beach.

We met the rest of our glam squad on location, who helped us to bring the sexy.

Jen was there again, this time to manage our faces. Full red-carpet-ready cosmetic drama was not on the docket for our ‘real people in swimwear’ shoot.  But after I waxed poetic about my love of false lashes, she conceded and gave me a *few*. Jen built me up. She was kind, she was insanely skilled, and she made me believe in myself.

It’s hard not to feel like a star when Jennifer Aniston’s makeup artist is touching up your face!

I then fell hard and fast for my new gay boyfriend (seen above) – hair god Eduardo Garcia, who convinced me that I really ought to strut even when my instinct was to hide. He did more than prove to me that my hair is capable of previously-unexperienced fabulousness, he gave a 33-year-old stay-at-home-mom her very own pop star moment.

Know what’s a great thing to have when you’re about to pose in a bikini in front of a whole crew of photographers, stylists, producers and assistants? A pop star moment.

glam squad

The glam squad.

They gave all five of us a ‘story’. Edwin and I both had ocean stories (score!), Lori had a pool story, Judith was cabana, and Erin was palm trees.

At this point, I earned the right to add ‘professional water kicker’ to my resume.

In pursuit of a whimsical and fun bikini picture, I did my utmost to channel every ladies’ razor commercial ever made. You know the ones – with smooth-legged bikini babes flirtatiously kicking water at the camera from the edge of the surf?

I may have looked like a dancing bear, but damned if I didn’t give it every ounce of Baywatch I could muster.

That was also the morning I learned of my pathological issue with dipping my chin in pictures.

Turns out – this is a problem.

Our high-profile and long-suffering photographer must have yelled “chin up!” at me 123,874,805 times. Somewhere in heaven, Perry Hagopian‘s halo was being polished, because at no point that weekend did he assault me with a blunt object.

After all of our solo photos were done, it was time for group water kicking. The wind was blowing our hair in our faces, my smile muscles were sore, and I was having the time of my life.

Sharing that unique moment with a group of new friends all celebrating the accomplishment we had worked so hard for was a moment worth savoring.

That day was FUN.


Group shot. See the chick in the not-necessarily-age-appropriate white Taylor Swift shorts? Yup. C’est moi.

 Day 2 was Studio Day


Primping for Day 2!

Despite continuing to marvel at the sensation of having stepped into someone else’s life, I gotta say – Day 2 was HARD!

Studio Day was Full-On Modeling day.

I take back everything I have ever said or thought about models not having difficult jobs. Modeling is rough!

That was the day I learned that I am capable of perfectly controlling approximately 3 parts of my body at a time. Anything beyond that is beyond me.

If you want me to point my toes just so, and bend one knee just so, and orient my hips in one direction, while twisting my torso in another, and pointing my shoulders over there, and hiding my back hand, and relaxing my front fingers, and smile big!, and keep my stupid chin UP… I might not be able to pull it off.

If ‘pop star’ is the way you want to feel at a bikini shoot, ‘I might not be able to pull it off’ is *not* how you want to feel at a bikini shoot.

But I had worked too hard and come too far to not do my very best, so I gave it 110%. And if anyone can get an awesome pic out of me, it’s Perry!

Thank goodness Eduardo was on hand to keep my hair looking fly while he manned the wind-machine.

Props... oh dear.

Props… oh dear.

Before we got to Miami, we were warned that there would be lots of down time while the rest of ‘the talent’ was shooting. It was suggested that we bring books, magazines, phone chargers, etc. to keep us occupied during all of our down time.

But I didn’t spend a single minute feeling bored. It was too much fun watching my new friends get their model on, interviewing with superwoman Michelle Tan, and picking up hair and makeup tips from the glam squad!


Effing fierce new friends gettin’ their pose on

That night, we all celebrated with more calories than any of us had treated ourselves to in months. After a long time without a cocktail, one was certainly in order.

Raise a toast to THAT’S A WRAP!

Lori, Edwin, Judith & Erin – Team Superstars – We did it! We really did it! We were all dangerously obese, and we just wrapped a bikini shoot for PEOPLE! Never has a tropical cocktail been more well earned.


That’s a wrap & I’ll drink (brightly colored tropical cocktails) to that!

I am so very grateful for this opportunity. As I write this, I have not yet laid eyes on the article. I don’t know how the text will read, or how the pictures will look. But I don’t even care. I made friends and memories that will last a lifetime, and that’s the best reward.

Now – Stay Tuned!

I’ll be sharing the workout routine that got me those abs, keeping you posted on my constantly evolving fitness adventures, and hopefully encouraging you to run hard in pursuit of your own goals.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine posing in a bikini for PEOPLE.

You have no idea what you can accomplish, so get to work!

Adventures await.

Special Thanks:

Photo Editor/Point Man Extraordinaire/Answerer of Incessant Questions/Dear New Friend: James Miller – I know that the five of us must have given you an ulcer. You had so much on your plate, and you handled it all with both compassion and grace. Even when the heavens threatened to open, you kept every single ball in the air. I knew I would adore you from the first email, and I was right. Thank you for all of the things.

Boss of All PEOPLE People: Michelle Tan – You, miss thing, are a force of nature! Your intensity and your heart draw everyone towards you. Full superstar status. Who run the world? Girls.

Wardrobe Stylist: Don Sumada – For your flawless taste. Also, because the moment when you insisted I wear a ‘sample size’ will play on a highlight reel in my head for the rest of my days.

Wardrobe Assistant: Belaxis Buil – Shine bright like a diamond! I cannot wait to watch you soar. Hope all who visit Miami will get to see your art.

Assistant Hair Stylist: Leandra Francuna- gurrrrl, you are the other side of my lucky penny!

PEOPLE Reporters: Stephanie Pfeffer and Catherine Kast – It was so fun working with the two of you. You have no idea how much an email from either of you would shake the snow-globe of my suburban life. Congratulations on successfully putting a Dyck on the cover of PEOPLE Magazine 😉

Production Managers Barbara Garcia and Johnny Beltran – Thank you for the fun. You were like my big brother and sister, keeping an eye out for me and making sure I made it to the church on time. You light up whatever room you’re in.

And finally, thank you to my real-life support team.

To my wonderful, strong & long-suffering husband, who kept me steady as I spun a million miles an hour and wrapped myself around a pole twelve times a day. I’m nothing without you.

To my kids, who think it’s so fun that Mommy is in a REAL LIFE MAGAZINE they can’t believe it.

To Maggie, Amanda & Cindy – the trusted few. Every girl should be blessed with friends like you.

To everyone who has cheered me on. Thank you.

I am so blessed.

Soundtrack For My Daughter’s Brain

Fat shaming hurts no matter how old you are or what shape you’re in.

But when it starts early, it can be especially hard.

Kids should be running, climbing and skinning their knees.

They should not have to worry that cruel gazes may find those knees ‘a bit too chubby’.

I was recently devastated to hear about the tears of an elementary school student (the daughter of a dear friend) who had been called ‘fat’ by some bullies in her class.

The fat-shamed little girl I used to be (who lives inside me still) cried out in a visceral understanding of her pain.

My heartbreak for the superstar girl in question prompted me to finally do something I’ve been meaning to do for years – create a Playlist of Empowerment for my daughter and little girls everywhere.

If I could create a soundtrack to play on a loop through my daughter’s brain, these would be the tracks.

So, for my precious girl, for your daughters, and especially for the wonderful girl who inspired me – play these songs and remember that you are beautiful, inside and out.


Please feel free to leave any and all suggestions for additions to this soundtrack!

Beware: Shallow Waters

Have you noticed? Happy Exhaustion has been in hiding.

I’m sure you have been tearing your hair and gnashing your teeth, cursing the heavens and calling out “WHY?!?

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to abandon you. I’m back now. Dry your tears.

Why now? Well, it dawned on me last night that my rockstar readers might think I stopped blogging about fitness because I threw in the sweaty towel, fell off of the wagon, and landed mouth-first in an enormous vat of ice cream.

I can’t have that! I’d rather make my embarrassing confession than give the impression that I’ve bailed on the journey.

My current fitness adventure is a whole ‘nother thing. I’m brimming with enthusiasm about it and DYING to share – but the desperately undignified lack of nobility in what I’m up to has me holding back.

I’m chasing a goal that is all about (*cringe*) vanity.

I’m sorry.

When I began Happy Exhaustion, I had one guiding principle: This Is Not A Blog About Skinny. This blog is not designed to contribute to the horrifying, *LOUD*, “Thinspo”, Get-Skinny-Or-Develop-An-Eating-Disorder-Trying NOISE.

So, when I found a new motivator (at a time when – I gotta be honest – I was hurting for a fresh motivator) and it wasn’t strictly about health and strength, but vanity-driven self-confidence, I didn’t know how to admit it.

But, it’s time to come clean. I am – for the first time in my life – engaging in the act of Preparing For Bathing Suit Season.

Yikes, stripes!

Yikes, stripes!

I have long avoided public displays of skin. Swimwear is so rude. It does precisely NOTHING to conceal the jiggly bits!

Fear of Swimsuit Judgment holds me back from activities that look like a lot of fun.

Are there any activities that have always looked like fun to you, but something holds you back from participating? You’d totally love to sky-dive if it wasn’t for that pesky fear of heights?

That’s how I am about water. I love to swim and grew up spending my summers on sailboats. But ever since my body issues kicked in (at a frightfully early age) I’ve let my body image hang-ups stand in my way.

I can’t get past my insecurities.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate this superficial side of myself – but there it is.

Hello, my name is Katey, and my post-childbearing torso and soft thighs have kept me out of the swimwear department.

This summer I want something different. I don’t want the nagging demons of vanity to get between me and a summer spent splashing in the pool with my kids. I don’t want to dive for a towel whenever a camera appears. My sights are set on eliminating the things that make me feel self-conscious.

I wish I was here to say “I banished my personal psychology and decided to change!” But I’m not –  I don’t know how. What I DO know how to do is to achieve my goals through hard work.

Once again, I am gearing up to get what I want the way I know how: With rivers of sweat.

Heads up “Problem Areas” – I’m coming for ya!

I am sweating in the direction of ‘toning’. (Sidebar: WTF is ‘toning’ anyway? I think we all have an image in our heads of what we mean when we say we want to ‘tone up’ but what does it really mean? The best way I can define it is developing muscles with a small enough amount of fat on top to make the muscles visible… right?)

I am trying to make my muscles *look* a certain way. Yes – they naturally are becoming stronger as I build them, but this time I’m building them to change their appearance. It’s a whole new thing.

I’m dropping some body fat as I burn extra calories with all the added abs & hamstrings workouts, but that’s not the goal nearly as much as changing my body composition from soft spots to something firmer.

And guys – with the guidance of the resident trainer – it’s working!! Operation Abs & Hamstrings is in full effect and (if you have any interest in my little vanity project) I can’t wait to tell you about it!

If I can pull off a beach body, I’ll let you know – and maybe even see! That is… if the resident trainer doesn’t mind 🙂