By Cary Castagna
Sabrina Chanchan uses two F-words to describe how she felt back in the days when she was waging a seemingly futile battle of the bulge - "fat and frustrated."
It was circa 2003 and the five-foot-three Edmonton mom weighed 186 pounds.
"It was really hard for me to be myself. I felt I was trapped in somebody I didn't want to be and somebody I didn't like," Chanchan recalls of that miserable part of her life.
The chronic yo-yo dieter knew she had only herself to blame for her growing girth.
Since emigrating from Nicaragua in 1985 at a trim 110 pounds, Chanchan gradually packed on the pounds over the years.
Through a daily regimen of what she calls "being lazy and not eating the right foods," her bodyweight soared to a personal high while her self-esteem plummeted to a personal low.
Some of the wrong foods she ate included instant noodles, bologna sandwiches, Pizza Pockets and burritos.
Her weight fluctuated wildly, depending on how stringently she adhered to the latest fad diet.
But Chanchan, who also went through four pregnancies, never gave up because she knew that underneath her excess flab there was a vibrant and healthy woman waiting to be unleashed.
Shortly after topping out at 186 pounds, Chanchan used a variety of weight-loss programs - basically touting good nutrition and increased activity - to eventually pare her weight down to about 140.
And then she stalled.
Despite cutting her daily food intake to a measly 800 calories, her weight stayed the same for several months.
"There was nothing I could do to get below 140. I thought what the heck, I will always be fat," she recalls. "I thought this is going to be impossible."
Refusing to give up, Chanchan began training with weights on a regular basis in the fall of 2004 and eventually enlisted the help of personal trainer Raejha Douziech in February 2005.
Douziech, a pro bodybuilder, showed Chanchan the error of her ways, starting with her 800-calories-a-day diet.
Chanchan explains that because her body had gone into starvation mode, her metabolism had slowed considerably.
The key, she learned, was to stoke her metabolism with smaller, more frequent meals
Chanchan - a lab technologist with the Gold Bar Wastewater Treatment Plant - started eating six times a day. Her diet soon consisted of small portions of only the most nutritious foods.
Along with a gruelling weight-training and cardio regimen, the pounds began to melt off.
In fact, Chanchan showed such good progress, she opted to compete in a bodybuilding show - something she had always wanted to do since she was a young girl living in Nicaragua.
Weighing a lean 104 pounds, Chanchan placed ninth in the lightweight class at the Northern Alberta Bodybuilding Championships held in Red Deer in June of 2005.
"I felt so proud of myself," she says.
"It was one of my biggest achievements."
Chanchan improved her placing in 2006, before winning the contest's overall title two months ago, and then capturing first place in the lightweight class at the Alberta Bodybuilding Championships two weeks later.
She plans to compete at nationals in 2009.
In the meantime, she's maintaining a diet of up to 1,600 calories a day that includes oatmeal, chicken breasts, lean beef, tuna, cod, turkey, broccoli, steamed rice, skim milk and low-fat yogurt.
Chanchan, who weighs about 120 when she's not competing, is also pumping iron five days a week at Gold's Gym in West Edmonton Mall.
Her intense workouts consist of an hour of weights and 45 minutes of cardio.
Chanchan, looking to put on some Grade A beef, isn't afraid to lift heavy, employing three sets of six reps for each exercise.
"If you're not hurting by the fourth rep, it means it's too light," she says.
And now, instead of using those two F-words, Chanchan offers three words of sound advice: "Never give up."
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