Haley Brennan began lifting weights at age 16 and began reading Oxygen magazine and following the workouts at the gym. By 17, she had competed in two figure competitions and was hooked on the fit lifestyle. “I craved the dedication needed for training and eating properly, and I wanted to spend my days continuously improving,” Brennan says.
But while at college, Brennan was the victim of an assault at work, which caused her to disconnect from her social circle and turn to food for comfort. “As if someone flipped a switch, I went from working out six days a week to hardly at all,” she says. “My hunger was insatiable. All the progress I had made slipped from my fingers.”
In six months, Brennan’s weight shot up 60 pounds and she became severely depressed. Though she began relying on her extra weight as a security blanket, the embarrassment and ridicule from so-called friends was unbearable.
Her senior year, the term “binging” came up in Brennan’s psychology class and she realized that she was suffering from a severe binge-eating disorder, averaging more than 13 episodes per week.
“Everyone around me was very judgmental, and I carried a lot of shame,” she says. “I realized I needed to make a change, so I stopped hanging out with people who made me feel bad about myself. I also decided that it was OK for me not to track my foods, have off-limit foods or to have to eat at specific times.” Brennan learned to listen to her hunger cues again and set a goal to work out three to five times per week and eat healthy.
Seeking a Happy Medium
In 2017, Brennan and her husband discovered they were pregnant. “Along with the excitement of having a baby came the anxiety and fear that my binge-eating habits would return,” she says. “But the beautiful thing about being pregnant was that it gave me an opportunity to rebuild healthy and sustainable habits because it was not only about my health but the baby’s, as well.”
After having a girl in May 2018, Brennan sought the opportunity to start over, this time with the knowledge gained from past successes and defeats. She now does high-intensity interval training along with strength training, and her favorite exercise is squats because they are her nemesis; soon she will compete in a powerlifting competition.
“Overcoming my insecurities and having a new sense of self postpartum was no walk in the park, yet my driving force was to pull myself out of the past and work on becoming a healthier person each day,” Brennan says. “By no means is the journey over, but each day brings me one step closer.”
Haley Brennan/Shakopee, Minnesota
Age: 23 Height: 5’3”
Old dress size: 12
Current dress size: 6
Occupation: Personal trainer and job coach for adults with disabilities
Meal: Chicken sausage, peppers, spinach and mushrooms sauteed with butter and olive oil and topped with avocado.
Mantra: Struggle is proof that you have not been conquered.
Advice: Each success and adversity in life gives us an opportunity to learn and grow. Figure out what worked and hold onto that, and discard that which didn’t.
Day 1: upper body/bench
Day 2: lower body/squats
Day 3: upper body/shoulders and back
Day 4: lower body and back/deadlifts