Kati is one of the members of the X-Project team, and has been training with Michael for over eight years.

I have always been naturally small, both in height and in stature. [I know, I know, so horrible right?] Because of that, it is normal for most people to assume that I put little to no effort into my physique. And for a lot of my life, that was true. Now, I was in no way healthy – I rarely exercised, and wouldn’t be caught dead sweating anywhere near someone who could see me. I managed to get through my teenage years by swinging between eating nothing or randomly binge eating garbage food. But being small didn’t save me from a decade of bullying, and I took on the persona I needed to survive, and that is the person you see most often. My opinions of healthy eating [why bother?] and the struggles of obesity [as if it shouldn’t be that hard] were ignorant and developed with an abundance of defensive mechanisms, arrogance, and combative attitudes that I was privileged enough to maintain.

College brought a whole new level of abhorrent eating behavior, coupled now with the pressures of remaining thin [freshman 15] and the new challenge of overcoming a drastic increase in caloric intake [purple drank]. My first year of college, my roommate and I decided a reasonable diet was eating a lot of salads and smoking a lot of Newport’s. My junior year, all of my calories came from either liquor, SlimFast, or late night McDonalds. I would spend my nights drinking my meals, and my days deleting pictures that I deemed ‘too fat’. I can probably count the number of times I ate the last six months of my college career because it is so few, and at age 21 when I graduated college, I weighed about 90 pounds.

I can hear you cringing because you know me now, or shrugging your shoulders because you did the same thing.

But here’s the deal – I learned at a very early age to absolutely hate my body. With a healthy dose of obsessive anxiety and more than enough perfectionism to cause a problem, I managed to channel my self-hatred into a single focus. Every failure in my life became another way for me to abuse it, to trash it, to be disgusted by it. Every moment where I lost control was another excuse to wreck the only thing I could control.

Unlike a lot of similar stories, my behavior was so much more than casual recklessness or willful ignorance. Not only was I perfectly aware of the damage I was causing, I was purposely and violently trying to destroy myself, seething with self disgust every step of the way.

I continued this pattern after college, now with an income to burn on thermogenic pills, cool sculpting, and 30 minute ab videos. At some point, my best friend and I decided that the correct cultural decision for 22 year olds was to join a gym. With our new memberships, we received 2 free personal training sessions with Michael.

Confident that we only needed to ‘tone’ and ‘maintain’, I didn’t even bother to behave in any way that indicated I was willing to work hard. Now when I think back on it, I can almost dictate Michael’s thoughts when I dumped my garbage life at his feet and expected applause. The first workout where I had to lunge with a 4lb med ball had me running to the bathroom to throw up. I still can’t believe he managed not to roll his eyes when I insisted on constantly complaining LOUDLY about every exercise he handed me.

When Michael decided that he had enough of working for other people and wanted to work for himself, I wish I could say I was already a success story that followed him to his new venture, like Maw-Maw or Swati. But mostly, I was still very much plowing down my path of self-destruction, and at the time thought I could become a runner [stop laughing]. It took me about three months to come visit his new gym. And embarrassingly, after being friends and roommates for over 3 years, I finally started to listen to what he had to say.

The first few months, first few years really, were hard. And I don’t mean because the workouts were demanding or because I was sore, but rather because I abruptly stopped my extreme bodily abuse and tried to play nice. And it paid me back by promptly gaining 50 pounds. I cried constantly, I never took pictures or went shopping; I didn’t even look in the mirror. I tried to compartmentalize and focus on the positives, but I threw away all my clothes in a fit of depression and wore huge baggy clothes for years.

Meanwhile, I deadlifted, squatted, and learned how to do double unders, handstand pushups and pull ups. I would drag myself to the gym at 7:30 after working 16 hour days. It felt good, to work hard and accomplish things. I enjoyed practicing until I could get better, even when I failed. Every tiny progression felt like a big step, and I couldn’t believe how quickly I forgot about my plan of destruction and changed my focus to improvement.

Slowly, with a lot of failures, stops, starts, skips, and stumbles, I learned to view my body as a weapon to shape instead of a vehicle for self-loathing.

There was no light-bulb moment.

There was no single action or reflection to look back on that changed everything. There isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t have to shove away deprecating thoughts about my thighs, or my stomach, or my chin, or my arms. I still have to work hard not to punish my body when I fail elsewhere, and I don’t walk around feeling confident and like sun shines out of my butt every moment of every day. I have made huge leaps in my own self-preservation, but I have to be reminded to take care of myself when I don’t feel like I deserve to be cared for.

I have so much work left to do.

But when I finish a workout and I know for a fact that I worked as hard as I could and did the best I could, whatever the result is, I love that feeling more than I want to hate my body. I built it with blood, sweat, and tears, and in those moments I can allow myself to be proud of it and of the work I’ve done. So I take it as a win. I no longer tie my self-worth to my body image, positive or not-so-positive.

Sometimes you’ll hear me say that Michael saved my life, and it seems as though I’m being dramatic. I wasn’t sick or heavy, fighting the clock against disease or to step back from the edge of my life. But I was barreling head first into a mental battlefield that my body was paying for, and it was only a matter of time until it had no more to give. Whether he knew it or not, he gave me the tools I needed to smash the person I was becoming, and the person I have re-built started on that foundation.

We will spend our lives fighting some kind of battle, and I don’t know that any of us will ever be free of that. But I can promise that we all have layers and layers of failures that hide underneath what looks like the result of a series of successes. This is only one of mine, and I have many more stacked underneath the person I put on display.

Most of us aren’t finished, and we all have a lot of work to do. But when you look around and feel like everyone else is ahead, remember their layers and get to work on your own. Put in the work to achieve those little wins, and make them matter.

Stop thinking of progress as trudging steps on a seemingly never ending path, and turn all those little wins into big victories that make you worth it.

Because you are.