We recently launched a new initiative called “Southern Voices,” which is an ongoing series of articles written by people just like you, people with stories to tell that will delight and inspire. We’re excited to feature our newest Southern Voice, that of Jenny Lutkins. Enjoy her story, and then share your own — learn more about how to submit to Southern Voices here. 


Southern Voice: Jenny Lutkins

My father has been a huge support for me while I’ve struggled to get healthy, switched to a fitness career and started competing. I will be forever indebted to him, but luckily, he’s my daddy, so he doesn’t expect anything in return but for me to be happy. You’d think I would be able to do that by now, you know? Be happy. It has been tough for me recently, as my health took a deep downward turn sometime in the fall. It started as fatigue, and grew to frustration, and then deep depression. I plastered on a happy face and kept moving along. I saw numerous doctors, most of them in an integrative medicine practice, which has been invaluable to me. If you suffer from chronic physical and mental conditions, an integrative medicine center is definitely the way to go. Everyone talks to each other, refers to each other, and really works hard to help you. It took several months, different depression treatments and finally a medication for hyposomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness) to bring me out of this latest “dip” in my mental health. Sleep is serious, y’all! (You know I mean it if I try to talk like a Southerner.) I am extremely compliant with my depression and sleep apnea treatment, but for some reason, I was still too exhausted to think most days. Trying to figure out if I was so depressed I was tired or so tired I was depressed was kind of a nightmare. I can’t begin to describe how difficult it was to drag myself to work, and even more difficult to be motivated to go to the gym. I managed 100% for work, but only about 30-40% on the working out. It was so disappointing, and I really started belittling myself for my lack of motivation.

I started all of this by bringing up my father because I had a very jarring event happen because of him. I was discussing some of my visits to the women at the integrative medicine center and how my health coach, who was trying to help me parse out my daily habits and motivation, congratulated me on the amazing job I’ve already done. I told him that she thought my nutrition and exercise habits were excellent and even my labs were outstanding. (My A1C levels actually astounded them, because for weighing so much, my blood glucose levels were better than average and proved that I do work hard with diet and exercise.) To this, he replied, with one devastating sentence, “But I don’t understand why you couldn’t maintain the success you had with Daryl?”

This was Jenny's original "before and after" from 2010, when she lost 76 pounds.

This was Jenny’s original “before and after” from 2010, when she lost 76 pounds. Image: Submitted

Daryl was my first personal trainer, back when The Skinny Jenny Project began. After about 18 months of training with him, I weighed 175 pounds, almost an 80-pound weight loss from where I began. I’m not going to lie, my pictures looked good. I was a size 8. For about three weeks. Seriously, my body rebounded so fast that it even frustrated Daryl, and he was sure I was cheating on my diet somehow. I’ve never really changed my eating habits since learning about eating whole, unprocessed foods back then. Sure, I quit being super strict, but the basic premise has always been the same. I hung around 190 pounds for a few years. I started doing CrossFit with not much change in my weight, but I seemed more muscular visually. I did a Smolov squat cycle and put on about 10 pounds … did a Paleo challenge and lost 11 … started Olympic weightlifting and gained 15 … did another Paleo challenge and stayed around 200 pounds … had knee surgery and changed my depression medication and gained 30 … started counting macros and lost 5 … changed Oly coaches and gained 10. I’m about a size 14-16 now and 249 pounds on a good day. Some of my pictures these days I love, some I just try not to obsess over.

That one sentence from my extremely supportive father showed me that while he is supportive, he is not understanding. This is the problem with only considering appearances when judging a person’s health, strength and perseverance. Sure, I would love to look like I did 10 years ago after completely overhauling my lifestyle. But I would not love my max lifts to be where they were then, a mere fraction of my personal bests today. Hearing my father say out loud what I had been afraid other people were thinking about me was a shock to my fragile system. I spent a few days crying, ruminating and hating (my body, my dad’s narrow-mindedness, the fitness community). And then I thought through my cycle of fitness that I outlined in only pounds and dress sizes above. I have experienced things I would never have dreamed of during these 10 years, because I got healthy. I found the CrossFit community, I won medals, traveled overseas, I experimented with several different nutrition modifications and weightlifting programming, basically gathering data that has set me apart from other coaches and trainers. But most of all, I was myself. I have done what I want to do and what I am capable of at this moment, basically, living the cliché of “my best life” at any given time. Ten years ago, if my father had said something like, “But why don’t you look like you did before?”, I might not have lived through the consequences. One sentence might have taken everything away from me. While it shook me, it didn’t keep me down, and I used the numerous tools I’ve gathered into my arsenal of hope to get through those feelings that suck the life out of me.

Jenny has traveled the world competing in — and winning — weightlifting competitions.

Jenny has traveled the world competing in — and winning — weightlifting competitions. Image: Diane Wehr

I would encourage you to take a mental walk back through your fitness life. Write it out. Make a manual for things that have worked, things that don’t work and how to troubleshoot your mind and body. Build an arsenal of hope. There is literally nothing I can do about not looking like I did 10 years ago. My only option is to understand (and BELIEVE) that I am doing the best that I can. One meal at a time. One workout at a time. One sentence at a time.

Jenny Lutkins is a former music industry professional-turned-fitness professional. She’s a former Olympic weightlifting coach and CrossFit trainer and now is a private personal trainer. Follow along with Jenny’s journey on the Skinny Jenny Facebook page.