Trainer Tarrah Lee on clean eating and being up for 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.
Women's Health Second in from the right, Tarrah Lee, and the other finalists in Women's Health's Next Fitness Star.
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.
You've lost 92 pounds and are a personal trainer and nutritionist. How did you get to be where you are today?
Courtesy of Tarrah Lee.
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.