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'Powerlifting Helped Me Build A Better Relationship With Food—And Lose 165 Pounds'

Women's Health logo Women's Health 5 days ago Samantha Manassero, as told to Emily Shiffer

a woman and a dog posing for the camera: After weight gain related to eating disorders and a high-stress job as a nurse, Samantha Manassero sought treatment and began powerlifting and lost 165 pounds. © Samantha Manassero After weight gain related to eating disorders and a high-stress job as a nurse, Samantha Manassero sought treatment and began powerlifting and lost 165 pounds. My name is Samantha Manassero (@heysamanthaa), and I’m 34 years old. I live in Southern California, and I’m an emergency flight/transport nurse. After being stuck in a cycle of disordered eating, I found my love of lifting *heavy* weights—and it changed my relationship with food and helped me lose 165 pounds.

I was always active growing up and played lots of sports. But when I went through puberty, I started to notice changes in my body, including weight gain. I was uncomfortable and insecure in my new figure and didn't have healthy coping mechanisms to deal with my body-image issues.

Throughout high school, I desperately tried to diet (the South Beach diet, Atkins, you name it) in order to fit the skinny Orange County girl stereotype. I developed an eating disorder that I have managed since I was 23 years old. I was stuck in cycles of restricting and bingeing, causing me to lose weight—sometimes 100 pounds at a time—for temporary periods, only to gain it back and then some.

HELLO SUNSHINE! ☀️ Saying goodbye to Night Shift- kinda sorta! I’ve worked the night shift my entire 8 year nursing career plus the 1 year spent working night shift as CNA while in school. 9 years of night shift and my body has been screaming at me and begging me to stop. At the beginning of the year I changed specialties and joined the Emergency Transport Team, a very small department. With this switch I knew day shift was not going to be an option for me for a very, very long time. But it was my dream job so I was more than willing to make the sacrifice for nights. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ With how busy our team is, we’re adding a 3rd swing shift team. I just found out that I was chosen for swing shift and I am BEYOND happy! Swing shift is typically 1pm-1am. This is a HUGE improvement from getting off work at 7:30am. Swing shift is also actually more ideal for me than day shift because training at the gym would be really hard to do when working 7am-7pm. Now I can wake up at a reasonable hour and have plenty of time to workout + run errands before starting work AND still get off at night and sleep when it’s dark. For 12 hour shifts, this is absolutely the best case scenario for me! It’s going to be a few months before this change takes place but I can’t wait to see how much better I feel! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Working Night Shift is associated with some pretty significant health problems including: * Insomnia * Increased cardiovascular disease risk * Increased cancer risk * Obesity * Higher incidence of diabetes * Metabolic disease * Depression & Mood disorders * GI problems (ulcers, GERD, nausea, constipation, diarrhea) * Fertility Problems * Decreased quality of life * General feeling of being unwell ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I know first hand that night shift has taken a toll me. Really excited to see how this not only effects my overall well being, but my powerlifting. More gainz please! . . . . #progressnotperfection #girlswholift #strongwomen #nurse #nightshiftnurse #powerliftingwomen #girlswhopowerlift #nursesofinstagram #nurseswholift #powerliftingmotivation #powerliftingchicks #inspire #positivevibes #loveyourself #liftingmotivation #nightshift #nightshiftproblems #nurselife #healthandwellness

A post shared by Samantha ♥ MSN, RNC-NIC, C-NPT (@heysamanthaa) on Nov 12, 2019 at 4:06pm PST

While I've always had what I would describe as a complicated relationship with my body and weight, I also struggled with weight gain in a notable way when I became a nurse. I entered a stressful nursing school program, and my mental health took a back seat during that time. For my first job as a nurse, I worked night shifts, which also made it difficult to eat healthy and involved a high amount of stress and little sleep. I spent years as a nurse being obese and gaining more and more weight, meanwhile feeling more and more depressed.

By 2017, post-graduate school and after working as a nurse for years, I had reached my heaviest weight. I felt like I hit my rock bottom.

But that summer, I had a turning-point moment. I was so tired of being alive but not actually living.

My sister was getting married in June of 2017, and I was her maid of honor. I was absolutely paralyzed by the fear of having to stand up and give a speech at her wedding and having all of the guests looking at me. Knowing those pictures and video would forever document me like that gave me the most anxiety I have ever felt.

I had already become pretty socially withdrawn, missing out on trips or fun events because I was ashamed of my appearance. In addition to that, as someone who had worked as a neonatal ICU nurse, I knew that if I ever wanted to have kids and start a family, I needed to get myself healthy first. The combination of these things motivated me to make my mental health a priority and get healthy, inside and out.

I knew I had to tackle my mental health and disordered eating issues before I could ever physically change. So, I participated in eating disorder treatments and therapies to understand more about myself and why I had developed such a toxic relationship with my body and food. When I felt I was at a healthy point mentally, I knew I could approach weight loss in a safe way.

Video: Halle Berry On Keto And Intermittent Fasting


What allowed me to successfully keep the weight off for almost three years now didn't have to do with dieting. It was finally finding a physical activity and sport that I truly loved: powerlifting.

I started powerlifting in 2018 and it has changed my entire life. I love focusing on being strong. This is such a shift in thinking for me; before powerlifting, I worked out solely for aesthetic purposes and obsessed over how I looked. Now, I am fueled by the feeling of being strong, mentally and physically—and that's the focus of my workouts.

I decided to start competing in powerlifting in 2019, and have done my first two competitions. I usually lift heavy weights on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. My rest days are Thursday and Sunday, but I still try to either do some form of conditioning (usually 20-30 minutes of stair climbing or walking on an incline on the treadmill). Or, I just enjoy my rest if my body needs it, and I take my dogs on a long walk.

Powerlifting makes me happy and gives me a reason to want to work out every day—but it has also allowed me to build a better relationship with food.

I now know that I need quality nutrition to fuel my body for lifting weights and getting stronger. Being able to be in that peaceful headspace and have that relationship after such a long history of disordered eating is truly the most freeing feeling ever.

Because I lift heavy weights five times a week and weight loss is not my goal, I have had to significantly increase my carb intake in order to have energy and to fuel my workouts. So I’ve also started working with a sports nutrition coach who helps me calculate my macros and gives me guidance.

Here’s what I typically eat in a day now:

  • Breakfast: Eggs, spinach, potatoes, and mixed berries
  • Lunch: Animal protein (fish, chicken, turkey, beef) and veggies with potato or rice
  • Snacks: Beef jerky, fruit, nuts, Skinny Pop popcorn, oatmeal, or a protein shake
  • Dinner: Animal protein (fish, chicken, turkey, beef) and veggies with potato or rice
  • Dessert: I love dark chocolate (specifically Lily's Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt)

I would never be where I am today if I hadn't taken the time to really understand the connection between the mind and body.

© Samantha Manassero Instagram I have lost around 150-165 pounds in a healthy, sustainable way—and I'm stronger than I've ever been. My younger self never would've believed I'd be capable of squatting over 250 pounds, deadlifting 350, or going on strenuous hikes. I have my dream job as a flight nurse, and I know I wouldn't have been able to be flying around in a helicopter helping people in my old body, with my old mindset.

But the changes in my mental well-being are what really matters. I still have so much life ahead of me, dreams I want to accomplish. It took half of my life for me to really learn how to love myself and be kind to my body. I wish I could tell 15-year-old Sam, “You are worthy and you are enough.”


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