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Michelle Carvalho had never been satisfied with her physique, and as her 40th birthday approached, she did the only thing she knew of to lose weight: She went on a diet. “I have been on and off diets my whole life,” Carvalho says. “In fact, I think [I started] my first diet when I was 12 years old.”
This time around, she decided to try keto, a system of low-carb, high-fat eating with lots of restrictions. Initially, she saw results, but soon the diet became impossible to maintain and inevitably she plateaued. “I started binging and feeling shameful,” she says.
Instead of throwing in the towel, however, Carvalho looked for new ways to eat healthfully. She read in-depth about nutritional periodization and macronutrients, and once she implemented some of these techniques into her own lifestyle, things began to change. She knew she had finally found the secret sauce that her weight-loss recipe had been missing for so long.
Power in the Park
With her nutrition sorted out, Carvalho got to work on the exercise component of her journey and started powerlifting with a friend. “He would bring his equipment to the park and we would deadlift, squat and bench right there,” she says. “It was really empowering to get stronger and be able to lift heavier as time went on.”
Slowly but surely, Carvalho began to develop the physique she had always wanted. And although her initial goal was to lose as much weight as she could before turning 40, she discovered that the scale had lost its power; the only numbers Carvalho really cared about now were the ones embossed into the weight plates.
The big 4-0 came and went, and Carvalho found she was no longer afraid of aging. Today, at age 45, Carvalho is 85 pounds lighter and is still going strong — literally and figuratively. She continues to powerlift and is proud to say that her best lifts include a 308-pound deadlift, a 148-pound bench press and a 246-pound squat. Push-ups and chin-ups are now a cinch, and she avails herself of the hilly San Francisco terrain every week with incline training and hiking.
Never Too Late
Carvalho’s goals have changed drastically over the years, and instead of being focused on losing, Carvalho is focused on building — both muscle and strength. She enjoys sharing her experience and advice with others who are struggling to feel healthy and happy in their bodies, and she scoffs at the idea that lifting will make women bulky. “Women need to strength-train as we age,” she says. “Do it right, be patient, and prioritize protein and sleep.”
Carvalho is also influencing a demographic she never expected: Her 11-year-old daughter, Talia, has followed her lead and has also fallen in love with weightlifting. The mother-daughter duo competed in their first weightlifting meet in spring of 2021, and they cheered each other on the whole weekend.
Carvalho is no longer afraid of the march of time, and she looks forward to the coming years as she becomes stronger and more skilled at powerlifting. “At 45, I’m doing things I’ve never done before,” she says. “You are never too old, and it’s never too late.”
- Michelle Carvalho/ San Francisco
- Age: 45
- Height: 5’4”
- Weight before/after: 235/150
- Occupation: West Coast account manager, Eco Promotional Products Inc.
Five Fun Facts
- I am a coffee snob. I won’t settle for anything less than a good pour — with half- and-half.
- My most memorable powerlifting moment was surpassing my 300-pound deadlift benchmark last month. My daughter was there to see it, too, which made it that much better.
- Before I work out, my favorite meal is oatmeal, egg whites and a banana.
- My coach, Sally French, inspires me every day with her dedication, energy and positivity.
- My favorite saying is, “The hay is in the barn.” Which means that if you put the work in, it’s there.