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This is part of a series about Chamberlain students who are finding unique ways to incorporate fitness and healthy living into their busy schedules. Jessica Ellis, a student in the associate degree in nursing program at Chamberlain’s Columbus campus, shares her story below: 

For the past three years, I have been competing in bodybuilding contests.

I started working out in 2010 when I finally decided that the weight I had steadily gained over the past few years was getting to be too much. I didn’t know anything about exercise or nutrition, so I started working with a trainer. She got me on the right track with exercise, and I started making small lifestyle changes with my nutrition.

I realized that I was eating out and getting Starbucks almost every day! I started by grocery shopping and swapping Frappuccinos for regular iced coffee. At first I was buying things like frozen dinners and soup. It was still convenient, but it was a little more nutritious than what I’d been eating before. After that I started buying less processed foods like rice, oatmeal, tuna, chicken, lettuce, beans and nuts. I was amazed at how much better I felt! After about 12 weeks of hard work, I was starting to see changes.

Being the competitive and goal-driven person I am, I set a goal to compete in my first bodybuilding competition by September 2011. I placed 4th and was so proud of how far I had come. I did another one in November 2011 and placed 3rd. The next year, I was sponsored by NOW Foods and joined Team Pro Physique, both of which have opened a lot of doors for me. Most recently, I was able to realize my long-awaited dream of competing at the Arnold Sports Festival. It was an unforgettable experience.

545443_10151097630643985_1391482216_nI usually go to the gym four days per week. My gym is open 24/7 so sometimes I don’t get there until 8 or 9 pm and end up staying until 10 or 11 pm. I set aside one day per week to prepare my food so that way I have everything ready to go in the morning. I weigh, measure and cook everything and put it in containers in the refrigerator. When I leave the house, I make sure I have all my food for the day packed. Like creating any new habit, it was hard at first, but got easier.

People sometimes ask me how I balance nursing school, work, training, and my family and friends. I am reminded of something my dad always says, “You have time for the things you make time for.”

Staying healthy is important to me because you only get one body and if you take care of it, it will take care of you. It is the best gift you can give to your family and loved ones and most importantly, yourself.

My biggest advice to someone wanting to change their lifestyle is to start with small changes. Make a goal to eat out less, or start packing your lunch. If you can, join a gym and hire a trainer. They will not only keep you accountable, but also push you, motivate you and be an excellent resource. If you can’t hire a trainer, visit bodybuilding.com for free workout and nutrition plans. Use Chamberlain’s beautiful new fitness trail. Involve your friends and family. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are doing something!

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Infographic: Healthy Snacks for Work

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