Hi! My name is Ariella Tsafatinos. I am a fitness business owner in Toronto. We’re in the business of changing lives through fitness and healthy lifestyle choices. The reason this is so important to me is that having experienced firsthand the devastating effects of unhealthy habits, both my own and those of my parents, it affects me deeply to see people suffering the ravages of ill health. Not wanting to watch history repeat itself, I have managed to make positive changes in my own life that have left me healthy, with an abundance of energy and happiness to share. The good news is that for most, it is never too late to decide to take action to turn our lives around and feel just as good.
Change can be challenging and daunting. I understand because I’ve experienced those feelings of fear and uncertainty, and even disbelief that I was capable of change. I also know that with the right kind of guidance and support anyone can succeed. At FitnessWorks for Women, we can provide that kind of inclusive, one-to-one support and proper guidance. In fact, it’s what we do best.
Here’s my story:
After I had my first child at the age of 24, I looked in the mirror, and didn’t recognize myself. I had gained 75 lbs., and all my mother’s struggles with weight and ill health came flashing back in my mind. I was going to be like her. I was going get sick, and die, and leave my kids behind, just like she had done. I decided soon after my second child that I needed to take control of my health and fitness and so I started attending fitness classes. Not having moved much since college, starting back up seemed almost too daunting. I was only in my mid-twenties, but boy was I out of shape. I remember thinking that the other women in the class using the 3-lb weights were super fit, not to mention many were quite a bit older than I was. I also was inspired by one instructor who was closer to my age. Her story, much like my own, was one of leaving behind an unhealthy lifestyle acquired as a teenager and turning her life around with fitness. She was super fit despite having had not just one or two, but three children. After I had asked her how she got started, she directed me to the city of Scarborough’s Fitness Instructor course which I attended, successfully passed, and subsequently got hired by the city as an aerobics instructor.
From a young age, I was given many opportunities to be active. I was trained in ballet and other dance forms and this has given me a highly developed sense of body alignment, and body control. Additionally, I was involved in the sports of swimming and skiing, so I also had a great foundation in aerobic fitness and athletics. These things combined gave me an advantage when it came to instructing fitness classes. Developing, teaching and presenting choreography came easily to me. What was challenging initially as a fitness instructor was regaining my fitness level after too many years of inactivity and some unhealthy habits. However, I soon realized that instructors came in all shapes, sizes, ages, and fitness levels, and working as a part-time fitness instructor for the City of Scarborough’s Parks and Recreation, I was able to progress steadily and improve every day. My weight, shape, and health gradually improved along with my confidence and enjoyment of life.
Happily, fitness is an endless journey of discovering and rediscovering your potential. Climbing up Toronto’s CN Tower’s 1,776 steps in 20 minutes without running or running out of breath is a great accomplishment. Marathons never even contemplated and now completed have been an amazing achievement, the medals cherished awards. Hiking up and then back down the Great Wall of China for several hours this past year is a manageable feat. Like many, as I get older, I want to continue to be able to participate fully in the game of life, without limits.
Setting goals and achieving them is incredibly rewarding, and the many heathy side effects, a bonus. Thus, as I get older, my focus is on maintaining a healthy body composition, total body strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, reducing stress, and eating healthy whole foods to improve overall health, and most of all, being grateful for every glorious day I have the privilege of doing a job where I can help others achieve the same for themselves.
The most important decision for better health was to quit smoking. By then, I was fully addicted to nicotine. I am also acutely aware that an important catalyst for me was the prompting of someone who cared about me, encouraged me, believed in me, and convinced me that I would be able to quit, even when it didn’t seem possible. I had a great support system and the tools to help me get through the tough moments when I wanted to give up.
We all need a boost from someone who cares about us to help make us great. Whether it’s a mother’s love or that of a friend, it’s what enables us to take that risky first step towards becoming who we want to be. We also need the right tools. Providing this boost for others, being their cheerleader, guide, coach, mentor, and friend; and to provide the right tools to make the process easier, faster, and more enjoyable is the most rewarding part of my work.
It has been an amazing journey and I have managed to overcome several obstacles to getting healthy. Quitting smoking was by far the biggest challenge I have overcome, and I am certain that further steps to improve my health and fitness would have been unlikely had this not come first. Another daunting challenge was walking into my first fitness class of enthusiastic and energetic women (taught by a super energetic and charismatic male) as an overweight and out of shape young mother feeling quite inadequate. I didn’t continue very long with that first fitness class as it really was too intimidating. I convinced a friend to join me at a different class, and that didn’t work out either as she often bailed a few minutes before the class and left me sitting on the fence as to whether to go. I eventually found a class where I felt just a little bit less uncomfortable going on my own, and I just bit the bullet, faced my fears of being inadequate, and began attending regularly.
The same thing happened when I started running. I felt so inadequate, slow, and worried about what others would think about me. The funny thing is, they probably didn’t even give me a second thought, and if they did, why should I have even cared what they were thinking? As with attending fitness classes, it took me a while to realize that I was in this for me, for my health, and the only thing anyone should be saying is “Way to go! You’ve got this!”
Becoming a fitness instructor was a lot of fun but at the same time frightening. If being a new participant in a class is intimidating, being a new instructor is just plain terrifying. Having some great mentors helped me overcome many of the haunting fears of being “on stage” performing. Being wonderful and generous souls, they inspired and taught me how to be a great instructor. I did have to put in a lot of practice hours to hone the skills they taught, but without their guidance, I would not have been able to develop into a confident professional. Thank you, Denise, Joan and several others.
Doing all of this as a young mother and working full-time took some planning. I was a devoted mother and E.C.E. who ran a home-daycare business so I could be involved in my own children’s early education. I hired an assistant to help with the daycare tasks of setting up activities, daily outings, free play, cleaning, and cooking. One night a week, I would go to the fitness instructor course, and another night or two I would attend a fitness class. The bonus for me was that after a long day of looking after and caring for others, fitness was something that I was doing just for myself, at least at first. And it was important that I took that time to look after myself.
Though I was exercising and feeling pretty good, I was still overweight. Soon after I began teaching fitness classes, I took the time to read a weight loss book called the T-Factor 2000 Diet by Dr. Marin Katahn and Jaime Pope, RD. Though at the time, I didn’t quite understand all the science of thermogenic effects of food, I was highly motivated and committed, so I followed the guidelines, and lost the weight.
I am now a Precision Nutrition Coach and understand the chemistry of energy transfer “from plate to play” thanks to their certification course. Through healthy eating and regular fitness training over the years, I have shed 40 lbs. of excess body fat. Being now perimenopausal, I still struggle with my weight from time to time, but I am aware of the pitfalls such as too much stress, combined with too many excesses, and I have the tools to turn it around.
As a fitness business owner, I have faced too many challenges to mention. But just as I did with my own health and fitness, I have taken personal responsibility for my results, have taken the steps for continuous learning, and made the necessary changes for the benefit of my clients, employees, and business.
I have overcome the human tendency for inertia and increased my cardiovascular fitness capacity to a better level in my 50’s than it was in my teens. I have gone from a non-exerciser to an aerobics instructor, Pilates instructor, personal trainer, canfitpro PTS PRO TRAINER, marathon runner, nutrition coach and fitness business and gym owner.
Like any active person, I have had to overcome injuries along the way, including a frozen shoulder, plantar faciitis in both feet, knee injuries, degenerative tendons, a cuboid fracture and ankle sprain, and have always been able to work a fitness regime around the injuries. I’ve even had to overcome the heart ache of the breakup of a 27-year marriage because it became evident that the continued union was no longer a healthy choice for me.
The bottom line is that I am not exceptional. Nor am I perfect. I understand fears and setbacks. However, I know that my energy and fitness levels directly correspond to the lifestyle choices I make. This also goes for my clothing size. Some years are better than others, depending on challenges faced and how they are met. And I am also aware that what choices I make today directly impact my future health, wellness, and ultimately, my happiness.
A bit more of my history…..
History repeats if we are not attentive. Not wanting to follow in the footsteps of my mother or my father, both of whom died of cancer, I decided to pay attention. My mother was overweight for many years, and even though she managed to lose the weight following a variety of diets, she battled cancer for as long as I can remember. In the 1960’s, cancer patients spent several months in the hospital after undergoing surgery. While she had been able to recover from the first bout of uterine cancer, and later skin cancer, sadly, she succumbed to a brain tumor at the age of 49. I was 19 at the time just finishing junior college.
My mother’s death was a huge loss as she had been my rock. My cheerleader. My inspiration. She had been such a force of nature in everything she did and made such a positive impact on everyone whose life she touched. She will always hold that special place in my heart that continues to inspire me to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
My mother smoked in her twenties and early thirties, but when she first got diagnosed with cancer, she quit. I was about 3 or 4 years old at the time and any memories I have of her smoking are very distant. My father, however, smoked enough for the two of them. And he was proud of his habit. He too eventually died, but not from the 7 or 8 debilitating heart attacks brought on by the sedentary lifestyle of a writer sitting, smoking and eating European cold cuts on rye, but from a painful and slow death from lung cancer.
In the 60’s and 70’s, cigarette candy and cigarette gum were very popular. Teens were easily swayed into the glamorous lifestyle smoking seemed to provide, so I took up smoking at the age of 14, much to my mother’s horror. She understood how dangerously unhealthy smoking was, but as a teenager I felt invincible, very “cool”, and smoking easily became a guilty pleasure that seemed harmless in comparison to the “grown up” status it seemed to provide.
By the time my mother passed away, I had become a well-intrenched smoker, and like many, I was in denial about how damaging it was for my health. However, my eyes were opened while on a business trip to Halifax. A co-worker bet that, based on how much I smoked, I wouldn’t be able to run 3 x around the Mic Mac Rotary, a traffic circle located at the intersection of Hwy 111 with Braemar drive and Main Street/Prince Albert Road in Darthmouth. I had originally thought that it wouldn’t be a problem given that as child, I had won races for similar distances. And I wasn’t overweight, so how hard could it be? I soon realized that a 20-year-old pack-a-day smoker was no match for a healthy 10-year-old child as I began gasping for air after just a few meters. In just a few short years of smoking, and even shorter amount of time being somewhat inactive, I had almost no aerobic capacity. Sheer stubbornness and a distain for being proven wrong was what kept me going, but I will never forget how beaten up I felt after that experience.
A couple of years after the Mic Mac experience, I decided to quit. I was prescribed the nicotine gum that is now readily available over the counter. I quit cold turkey and after a week or two with the gum, quit that too. It took roughly 3 months of literally sweating it out before feeling “normal” again. It is claimed that nicotine is a stronger addiction than heroine. Not surprisingly, quitting smoking was one of the hardest and at the same time, most liberating moments in my life. At the end of 3 months, I finally felt I was back in control. It was such a weight off: not constantly worrying about running out of cigarettes or money to buy them, and not hacking up a lung every morning.
I witnessed the two most important people in my life succumb to cancer. One and perhaps both could have avoided their fates with healthier lifestyle choices, but it was too late for them. Luckily, it wasn’t too late for me. I changed and I feel great.