Trainer Tarrah Lee on clean eating and being up for Women's Health's Next Fitness Star

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Women's Health
Second in from the right, Tarrah Lee, and the other finalists in Women's Health's Next Fitness Star.
Overweight for most of her life, local trainer Tarrah Lee received a heartbreaking wake-up call when her father passed away from a heart attack. At 25, Lee herself was looking down at a lifetime of unhealthy eating, and the life event moved her to make a serious change. Now a personal trainer and certified nutritionist, Lee works out of a fitness studio in Lone Tree training others, while running Denver Nutritionista, a blog and weekly radio show focused on a "clean eating" diet.

At a client's urging, Lee was among thousands who applied for the title of Women's Health's Next Fitness Star. The professional fitness competitor is now one of five finalists up for the title -- which includes a magazine cover story on her journey. With voting opening today, Lee spoke with Westword about weight loss, eating food as fuel and why she gets up every morning to help others get fit and happy, too.

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Courtesy of Tarrah Lee.
You've lost 92 pounds and are a personal trainer and nutritionist. How did you get to be where you are today?

I grew up between Missouri and Texas -- I was raised by a football player dad and a mom who was a true Texan. I ate a lot of chicken fried steak. (Laughs.) I spent most of my life very overweight -- when I was in second grade, I was already in the 130s (weight-wise.) I was 200 pounds by the time I was in the ninth grade. It was from eating, eating, eating. I definitely have my dad's appetite -- I watched him just wolf down food.

The funny thing is, we didn't eat fast food, but we ate heavy foods -- mashed potatoes, fried foods, stuff like that. When I was 25, my dad passed away from a heart attack. He was literally drinking 64 ounce Dr. Peppers everyday. It was a lifetime of unhealthy living. It was extremely difficult on me, so I knew at that point that I had to do something. I wasn't going to spend my life this way and I knew that wasn't what my dad would want for me.

My first step was to start working out. Of course, I thought, I can just work out and work off all of this bad food that I eat. That definitely didn't work. I spent a good year trying without any results -- because I wasn't really doing anything right. Then one day I decided, that's it. I had gotten up to 216 pounds, and I had never been that heavy in my entire life. My cholesterol was high, my triglycerides were high -- my doctor told me I was a walking twenty-five year old example of bad health.

I knew that I had to be done with this -- so I got a trainer and started working out a few times a week. Unfortunately, he knew nothing about food. He had me eating protein bars all day long. I was eating, like, eight protein bars a day -- which is all sugar.

I started researching and reading and realizing, you know what? I can start eating some of the Southern favorites that my mom makes, but I can make them healthy. I love to cook, so I started experimenting in the kitchen -- and my blog Denver Nutritionista, was born. I put all of my recipes and cooking tips and fitness tips on there. My passion grew from there.

The more weight I lost the more that I started realizing I could eat cleaner and better, but still eat all of the things that I loved. I went and got my nutrition certification and my personal training certification and I became a nutritionist and trainer myself, so I could help other people.

It's sometimes hard when we look at our backgrounds -- especially when you know your parents weren't feeding you that stuff because they knew it was bad.

The funny thing is, I can look back and think oh my god, how did they feed me that and not know? But that was what I was raised on, that's what my parents were raised on. We just didn't think about it -- the idea that food was literally making us unhealthy. Now, my mom calls me "the food Nazi," because I'm (saying) mom, you know what is in that, right? You know what that is doing to your body. There is so much information out there now; we just have to open our eyes.

There is so much that we don't know unless we look at the finer details -- protein bars are marketed as "healthy," but the sugar content negates any nutritional value.

It's funny -- I love to take pictures of the backs of foods and post them on Instagram and ask people what they think it is. The other day, I posted a Clif Bar, and there are twenty-two grams of sugar in this tiny bar. I'm like, y'all, this is a candy bar. (Laughs.) It is unreal how much sugar is in things. I always tell people, read labels.


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6 comments
truemayhem2525
truemayhem2525

WOW!! This article says it all, Tarrahs journey and tranformation has been because she has a "Why" and goals that she sets each and everyday. Eating clean, exercising and along with a great ethic for hard work makes Tarrah a success--not to mention that she is genuinely a beautifull person inside and out. I have known Tarrah for about 2 years, I started going to her for meal planning because I found at the age of 56 I had many food intolerances and that I needed to change my lifestyle of eating so that I would feel better, have more energy and be healthy--eating clean and no process foods was the start. She took a look at my intolerances and said I can't wait to get you on a meal plan each week--yours is a challenge that I love to work on. From that point on I have been fixing my meals on sundays for the whole week and know exactly what I am eating everyday--so no snacking just clean eating is needed!! I started training with her in October and have dropped body fat that I never thought possible..not to mention she helped me get ready for running a 10 mile race in Washington DC in April which I successfully ran with my 32 year daughter!!. What I thought was not possible in my forties I am doing in my fifties--and feeling healthy and loving every day I wake up. Yes, it is ALOT of work, both meal fixing and training but it is without supplements and drugs. As Tarrah says there is a WHY-- my why is wanting to be healthy for myself and my family--for my grandchildren so I can get down on the ground and play with them and not be a couch potato! (I am one that would not go gym by myself--lack of self motivation you might call it, but knowing that I have to be accountable to my training and trainer makes it so much easier to get my workout completed everyday. ) Tarrah's positive strokes and encouragment makes each day more possible to being healthly and feeling great!!!  Thank you, Tarrah! You are awesome!!   Here's to health!   DEB

benleemd
benleemd

I first met Tarrah just over two years ago, a little over halfway through her transformation. I was 47, about 40 pounds overweight, and I had high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. I had worked out all my life and had been a collegiate athlete and competitive powerlifter. I knew how to live the healthy life and had simply fallen off the bandwagon, or so I thought. Tarrah doesn't know this, but at first I wasn't going to be an easy client. I was a stubborn know it all in the ways of fitness,and as I said, she was halfway through her fitness journey so she wasn't in shape that she is today (which makes her even more credible in my estimation). Her enthusiasm and knowledge won me over though, and knowledge soon won me over. After two decades of not making any real progress at all, I finally lost those extra forty pounds and gained back twenty of it in lean muscle tissue. My diabetes and high blood pressure are a thing of the past.I now look better than anyone nearing the half-century mark has a right to. The key to her success with me? It was diet. I was eating all wrong, By adopting her ways of eating, I began to see changes in my body composition. It's not what most of us think of when we talk about dieting. In fact, with my busy schedule I struggle to eat as much as she would like me to. It's the types of foods she has inspired me to eat that have made the difference. As for the "supplements" a previous poster alludes to, I can say with certainty that Tarrah is not one of those fitness competitors that uses them. How do I know for sure? I am a physician ( hence the know it all attitude when I first started working with her) and I could spot the signs fairly easily. It's a clean, healthy lifestyle that she advocates, one that has helped her clients who have chosen to adopt it.

tmarkkraft
tmarkkraft

As I read this article it and the comments, I just felt I had to add some thoughts about my experience with Tarrah as my nutritionista!

I have been a client of Tarrah's for 6 months.  I am a 49 year old male, who never had "bad" nutrition but sure wasn't "clean."   Through the use of Tarrah's assesment of my current eating habits and the meal plans she provided, (I have 8 weeks I rotate thru) I have changed the entire look of my body.  I have worked out for years, mostly so I could eat what I wanted to eat.  

Now I cook on 1 day during the weekend and make the entire meals for the following week.  My meals keep my metabolism working, the best way to loose weight, through out the day.  I eat 6 meals a day.  I had sever food allergies, stomach issues etc.... ALL GONE.  I keep this regiment up now because I FEEL good, and now have a 4 pack...this process works, it isn't some magic pill, it takes time and dedication, but it works

Thanks Tarrah!  You have changed my life!  Mark Kraft

M.Montoya
M.Montoya

This article would of been better if you including a quote from one of Tarrah's clients or someone that has had success working with her.  Also, most fitness competitors are huge supplement fans, i.e fat burners, preworkouts etc, I would be surprised if she didn't take those even though they certainly can not be considered part of a "clean" lifestyle.

TrainerTarrahLee303
TrainerTarrahLee303

@M.Montoya - Hello!  You are correct that many bodybuilders use a lot of supplements - but not as often with bikini competitors.  I got healthy on my good ol' vitamin C, E, Bs, probiotics, digestive enzymes, etc....it's definitely possibly to be clean and healthy without all the other supplements! Thanks for reading! :) ~ Tarrah

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