If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my line of work, it’s that a lot of trainers and fitness instructors have really interesting backstories for how they ended up in their chosen profession. Take today’s subject for example: Juliet Sabella is the super cute, super fit owner of The Wall Cycling Studio in Manayunk. She’s always been super cute, of course, but fitness wasn’t high on her priority list until about 10 years ago, when she found herself at a pre-going-off-to-college doctor’s appointment at which she was told she needed to go on a diet—pronto. Now, after shedding 85 pounds and keeping it off, Juliet is on a mission to inspire others to get on the fitness train. Here’s her amazing weight-loss story in her own words.
Tell me about pre-weight loss Juliet.
Nobody had ever told me I needed to go on a diet. I heard names in school—I was always called overweight and stuff. But the summer before I left for college, I put on even more weight, maybe 15 or 20 pounds. I was constantly sweating, always out of breath, always thirsty. My mom was like, “Let’s go to the doctor.” The first thing out of my doctor’s mouth was, “You need to lose weight.” No one had ever said that to me before, and it made me really angry. Then she told me I had what they call prediabetes, the precursor for Type 2 diabetes. My grandmother had just been diagnosed with diabetes, and I knew enough about it to know that I didn’t want it. That’s when I realized you’re not going to lose weight until you’re ready—and I was ready. It was like, wow, I do have to lose weight. That day was when I decided to start turning my life around.
What was your starting weight and date?
I weighed 195 in August 2003. I was wearing a size 34 pants, and I’m only 5’2″. I was heavy.
What were the first steps you took, diet-wise?
The Atkins Diet was popular at the time, so I did a modified version. It taught me how to eat. You’re supposed to do 20 grams or less of carbs for the first two weeks, but I did that for about two months because I was so heavy. Then I started slowly adding carbs back in. So I’d have an apple and be like, Okay, I didn’t gain 10 pounds back, good. It taught me how to eat in moderation. It was getting my body used to what it needs versus what it wants. The hardest thing was getting over the cravings, but I learned how to crave good carbs (fruit, whole grains) versus crappy carbs. I kept it up for nine months, adding more and more carbs each month. By a year, I knew how to eat and how to moderate things.
How about your fitness routine?
I started running and spinning. It’s funny—I hated spinning at first. Who does this? Why would people want to do this? But I got so addicted to it. With good music on, it doesn’t feel like exercise. Running, too: I really started to love it and felt like Forrest Gump—I could just keep going when I was listening to good music.
I remember being shy about working out when I first started losing weight. I’d just started my freshman year of college and would run on the track at night so no one could see me. The first couple months were hard because I hadn’t been working out before—it was like going from zero to 100. But eventually I felt like the new person at the gym.
When did you start to feel successful in your weight loss?
You see yourself every day in the mirror, so you don’t see it. But I remember after Christmas break, my friends noticed, and that felt really good.
What was the hardest or most challenging part of the journey?
Knowing that I wasn’t that size anymore. Trying to believe myself: You lost weight, you look good, you look healthier. That, and getting rid of my fat clothes. I was scared I would gain it back. I kept them in a container for year. But finally I was like, I’m not going to do this anymore; I wasn’t going to spiral and yo-yo. It was freeing. I knew I was going to make a change for good. I lost 85 pounds in all.
When and why did you decide to open The Wall?
The studio’s about nine months old now—I don’t know where this past year went. I was a retail buyer for an online company and got laid off. There were no jobs. My friend said, “Let’s open a Spin studio.” She then got a job promotion so she couldn’t go through with it, so I decided to open it by myself. One day I hope to make money from it, but I do it more because I love seeing people reach their goals. We have one girl who said the class is helping to get her through depression, and that makes it worth it. I’m doing what I love.