Indulging in a steady diet of pasta, frozen pizza, and mac and cheese wasn’t necessarily about enjoyment or taste for Margaret Koukos — it represented one of the few things in her own life over which she felt she had authority. Her parents were splitting up, and her resulting depression led her to cease any and all physical activity and gained a ton of weight starting in seventh grade.
“Eating was my way of coping and releasing stress and anxiety,” Koukos says. “It comforted me knowing that it was the one thing I had control over — what I ate, when I ate and if I was going to purge or not.” By the time she was a sophomore, she weighed 185 pounds.
In 2018, Koukos started on the road to self-improvement. She threw out all her junk food and started keeping a food diary. She pushed herself to go to the gym, but she admits it was miserable trying to power through a 30-minute cardio workout on a machine. She decided to give yoga a try, and that’s when everything clicked. “I met a yoga teacher I really connected with,” Koukos says. “She kept me motivated and made me feel good in my own body, which was something I had never experienced.”
A big piece in that puzzle was nutrition, and her yoga teacher also helped here, introducing her to new ways of fueling her body that didn’t include sugar and processed foods as daily staples. Koukos also eliminated foods that caused adverse reactions in her body, such as bloating and nausea, and adopted a Paleo-like lifestyle.
“After making these changes, I saw an incredible difference,” she says. “The hardest part was finding good recipes because wheat, dairy, soy and grains are in so many things.” She adjusted quickly, however, and has since discovered some new favorite foods such as (gluten-free) avocado toast and a cacao and banana almond milk smoothie to die for.
Shine a Light
One year later and Koukos has lost 45 pounds and found her calling: to become a 200-hour registered yoga teacher. “Yoga is my passion and my way of life,” she says. “I would be lost without it, and I want to be able to share this practice with others.”
Among those influenced by her transformation are her grandparents, who at 88 years old support her practice and even work out with her regularly. “And my dad has been extremely supportive since the beginning,” Koukos says. “This has been an incredible journey, and I hope I can inspire and be an example to people of all ages to live healthy and happy.”
Highland Park, Illinois
Weight lost: 55 lbs
Exercises: For arms, overhead shoulder presses and biceps curls; for core, forearm planks and reverse crunches.
Inspiration: Oxygen cover model Lori Harder. She reminds me to be authentic and to dream big. She turned her vision into her reality, and that is what I am striving to do.
Mantra: "You are exactly where you are supposed to be." I truly believe everything happens for a reason, and what is meant to be will be.