As a cancer center nurse, pizza restaurant owner and mother of two, Shannon Collins didn’t think she’d ever have to worry about what she ate. After all, she’d been naturally thin growing up — with two gym-loving parents who often brought her along — and her busy lifestyle kept her more than active.
“I was blessed with good genes, and that meant no consequences when it came to eating,” says the Indianapolis native. “Luckily, I coasted on that for a long time. I wasn’t an athlete at all. I had no muscle tone, but since I was the same weight for so long, I didn’t even think about it.”
Then, her mid-30s hit. And stepping on the scale became a shock.
An avid pizza lover, she suspected the pounds were creeping on — her clothes didn’t fit as well and she had started buying larger sizes — but it was when she had an annual physical for work that the realization hit. The scale read 162 pounds, the same weight as when she was 9 months pregnant more than a decade before. She also found out that, for the first time, she wasn’t in the healthy weight range required for the best health insurance incentives at her workplace.
“I couldn’t believe it. I felt numb,” she recalls. “I think I was in denial about how much my body was changing. That was my ‘ah-ha’ moment when I knew I needed to change my diet.”
Not only did Collins want to get back to a weight that felt healthier for her, but as an oncology nurse, she also knew a higher weight is linked to some types of cancer, and excess weight can make cancer treatment more challenging. She didn’t want to end up in one of the chemotherapy chairs she saw every day. Additionally, her family’s history of heart disease was just another reason to take preventative steps toward better health.
She began eating a low-carb diet and boosted her gym time, adding more strength training to her cardio-heavy routine. From those two changes alone, she lost 30 pounds. But it didn’t last. In the summer of 2018, the weight began sneaking back on.
“Although I was eating a pretty decent diet, I wasn’t tracking anything,” she says. “I wondered if it would really make a difference.”
In an attempt to understand the full picture, Collins took a fitness nutrition course and began using MyFitnessPal to track her macronutrients, playing around with a combination that seemed to work for weight loss, but still gave her enough energy for her gym sessions. She settled on a ratio of 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein — and it made all the difference.
“The results were crazy; I lost 10 pounds in the first month,” she says. “But more than that, I had a kind of ‘body shred’ happening where my weightlifting started producing major results. I used to think carbs were the enemy, but then I began tracking and understanding that you need carbs for muscle growth.”
Her Instagram feed is chock full of photos and videos of her gym sessions, complete with ripped muscles and advice on workout options (plus a pizza picture every once in a while). She says weightlifting has increased her muscle tone — and dropped her body fat percentage — over the past couple of years, but it was changing her diet that allowed the results to really show.
Nearing age 40, Collins calls this her “year of awesomeness” and says she feels and looks better than ever. She still feels blessed and lucky in terms of her genes, but now, she knows her weight and health are in her control, not just part of her DNA.
“For the first time in my life, I was eating in complete balance and my body responded,” she says. “I lost those last 10 pounds very quickly and have been in maintenance ever since. I never in a million years thought I could maintain this lifestyle of tracking and scanning my food, and now I can’t imagine my life without it. I’m completely blown away that you can make simple tweaks in your body by adjusting ratios of the food you eat.”