For sisters Brianne Canepa – a 32-year-old paramedic and quality manager for Kaiser Permanente – and Cara Garcia – a 31-year-old communications specialist at Stanford Life Flight – weight loss has been a joint effort. In the last year the pair has managed to drop more than 200 pounds together, and it all started with a life-changing visit to the Biggest Loser Resort in Malibu, California.
At their heaviest, Brianne weighed 361 pounds and Cara, 308 pounds. However, it’s a totally different story now ever since the sisters embarked on a weight loss journey that transformed their health and their lives for the better. Today, Brianne weighs 258 pounds and Cara, 197, which is a combined weight loss of an amazing 214 pounds.
In the process of shrinking down together, these sisters have not only kept each other motivated but also bonded and became even closer friends than they were before. To tell this inspiring story, we’ve asked Cara and Brianne to share about their journeys in their own words starting with where it all began: The gain.
When did your individual struggles with weight begin?
Cara: I was a skinny mini most of my childhood and through high school. Wearing size 12 was the biggest size I wore. I was very active and could pretty much eat anything I wanted to. In 2000, I left home and lived in the dorm at San Jose State University. It was my first experience making my own schedule, my own food choices and none of it was good. I was eating crappy food and taking naps between classes. I think I went to the gym once that whole first year. The freshman 30 turned into 10 years and more than 100 pounds.
Brianne: I always struggled with weight. I was not an obese child or teenager, but overweight nonetheless. I can never recall a time where I was happy with my weight or appearance. Coming from generations of emotional eaters, we knew food as happiness. I grew up and made my own choices, food continued to equal happiness. When I was sad, stressed, anxious, it made me happy. It may have been a learned habit for me, but I allowed it to continue.
What changes did you make to your diets to lose weight?
Brianne: Food is how I got here so food is my focus. For me, it’s about portion control, routine and clean, healthy eating. I was eating fast food 2-3 times a week, skipping meals, and caved to the weekly binge on anything I could find. Now, I’m very mindful about what I eat, when and why. Food was something I sought out to cope with life. Now I try to make it about fuel for my life. I made easy switches to brown rice, low calorie whole wheat wraps and removed added sugar I was consuming by the gallons of soda. I will still allow the treat every now and then as it’s important not to deprive. But nothing tastes as good as how this fit life feels.
Cara: I knew I had to focus on calorie counting, which became like a game to me. I use the MyFitnessPal app and I think I will continue using it for a long time to come. I currently eat 1,480 calories a day and change my calorie intake when I plateau. I also replaced ground beef with turkey and only eat red meat once a month. I also try to make sure I have a fruit or veggie at every meal, and eat three meals with two snacks a day.
What fitness methods did you employ during your weight loss journeys?
We started our journey on November 27, 2011 at the Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge in Malibu. We booked two weeks and hoped for the best. We left the resort with a renewed sense of who we are, who we want to be and what it means to focus on ourselves and our health.
The experience gave us the courage and education we needed to really begin our journeys. We returned from the resort and employed the lessons we learned as well as searching for new ones. We started working out with a personal trainer, which was one of the greatest gifts we could have ever given ourselves. Daily texts and calls help us hold each other accountable and motivated. We also joined spin classes, boot camps, hiking groups, and signed up for marathons and most recently completed Mud Factor.
Switching up our workouts has been the greatest part. It’s about burning calories and sweating. It doesn’t always matter how you do it, you just have to do it. We also both have our own gyms at home, which included the investment in treadmills and and video programs like Insanity and Turbo Fire from the Beachbody program.
Who/what was your support system during your weight loss journeys?
Brianne: Without a doubt, my support has been Cara. But I also am blessed with an extremely supportive family unit. We are also so fortunate to have met so many people since our journey started at the resort – including some amazing Biggest Loser contestants – whom we have since stayed very close with.
Cara: As Brianne shares we do have a very very close family, though, she has been my rock. I am amazed at the strength we have formed on this journey and our friendship has improved significantly. I also would not be where I am without the commitment of our sister Nicole and our mother, who have both watched my kids so I can go to my training sessions and classes. My other major support has been my husband Ryan, who has joined the journey hitting the gym sometimes twice a day, finds new healthy recipes for us to try, and has lost 50 pounds as a result.
What was your “ah ha” moment with weight loss?
Brianne: I have had a couple “ah ha” moments, but my most recent one has really changed a lot for me. I am not at a place yet where I love working out and I still crave certain foods. Once you accept that the workout is going to be hard and you don’t get to eat exactly what you want, you will be at peace with the reality of the journey. I stopped dreading everything. Instead, I accepted that there will be smaller amounts of only healthy food available to me and that there will be sweat – a lot of sweat during my workouts. To live the life I want, I should expect nothing less. I have accepted it and now, welcomed what I used to dread.
Cara: My darkest hour was when I had my worst moment of insecurity. I felt out of control and that I was not sure where I was going or where I had come from. It was as if my head had not caught up to my body. That was the week my trainer, Michael Friedman, told me I was going to run a half marathon. I trained for 10 days and ran the U.S. Half Marathon in April 2012 in 2 hours and 47 minutes; I weighed 225 lbs. It was at mile 12 of 13.1 that Michael started telling me that everything that had been holding me back would be left at the finish line; that once I crossed that finish line there was nothing that could hold me back again. My “ah ha” moment happened at mile 12. I look at challenges now or think about letting my insecurities take over, and then I think about mile 12.
What are your current and future goals?
Brianne: There is no secret to this weight loss thing; no magic, no pills, no fads. Just good clean food and sweat. My goals are to ensure that I meet that every day. My future goals are still developing, but there was a lot that I didn’t do in my past because of my weight. I want to do everything that requires a weight limit that stopped me previously.
Cara: Right now my fuel is coming from helping others. We say “inspire to be inspired.” There are days that I get a message from a friend saying they are headed to the gym or they lost weight. In turn I get up and go for a run or do something that contributes to my success. I am inspired by them. I am thinking about getting into swimming and biking; maybe eventually doing an Olympic Triathlon. I hope to someday run a full marathon, and most recently I think about becoming a certified trainer so that I can do more to inspire others. My most near goal is to reach my centennial weight loss and keep it all off for a full year.
What advice would you offer other people struggling with their weight?
Brianne: Start slow. Don’t go all out on day one and exhaust yourself. This is a process, so remember it takes time. Just do it one choice at a time. For me, the secret has been vulnerability and accountability. I am still learning to trust myself and become the best person I can be for me. Our blog, Phat Chances, has become a place for my truth to exist. I tell it like it is. Accept that there may be more hard days than easy ones, but every day is good. Be mindful and don’t go through the motions. Life is passing you by, so live it.
Cara: Believe that you can do it. I think back to all of the excuses and diets and miracles I was looking for. This is old fashioned weight loss, calorie counting and movement. Tell yourself you can’t and you won’t. Tell yourself you can and you will. Set a baseline that you can always come back to, I call them my basics and as long as you get back to basics you stay on the journey.
We congratulate Cara and Brianne on their incredible accomplishments thus far, and cheer them on in reaching their respective goal weights of 180 and 175. Click below to see their and dozens of other stories of incredible weight loss transformation.