From Cafeteria Food to Pull Ups: Stephanie Pampel on Finding Your Strong

12 minute athlete

When I asked you guys for stories about the progress you’ve made a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect.

After all, 12 Minute Athlete has only been around for a little over a year, and the internet is a vast, crowded place, making it very difficult to find new things and people. I know you guys are awesome about doing the workouts and getting involved, but still, I thought it might be a little too early to ask for results.

So I was totally blown away when you guys sent me story after story of how 12 Minute Athlete has made a difference in your life.

Seriously, it made me tear up to hear about all the success you’re having—and that’s coming from someone who is much more likely to be seen punching something (or someone) in public than to ever be seen crying.

But that’s besides the point. One of the stories that touched me the most was that of Stephanie, an incredibly sweet and awesome 24-year-old elementary school teacher living in Wisconsin. Stephanie has been doing 12 Minute Athlete HIIT-style workouts since the spring of this year, and has made an amazing amount of progress.

Let’s meet Stephanie and hear a little about her story:

christmas 20092009: The College days 

Although it’s taken a while for her to get comfortable looking at past photos of herself, Stephanie was kind enough to send along before and after photos of her progress. The photo on the right was taken around Christmas in 2009, when Stephanie was in college and by her account, the most out of shape she’s ever been.

Krista: When did this journey start for you?

Stephanie: I have struggled with finding and maintaining a healthy body weight since I was in middle school (I’m now 24).

I was never terribly overweight, except for the 2nd and 3rd years of college, but I was never very talented with team sports and hated running for exercise due to every reason you listed in your recent article about disliking running.

Krista: How much did the college lifestyle contribute to you feeling out of shape?

Stephanie: 2008/2009 was definitely my most out of shape time.  Part of it had to do with college eating habits (a little more pizza and ice cream than was normal at home).

But I think a lot of it had to do with cafeteria food in general and the fact that I had been filling my gluten intolerant body with a compound I simply could not digest and dispose of for so long.

I was eating plenty of salad and other vegetables and working out occasionally, plus walking a bit, though my campus was small. I didn’t really know HOW to work out though, often just going through the motions of 30 minutes on the elliptical and some pathetic ab exercises.

I hated the feeling of intense exercising (something I actually crave now).

It was just about two months after that picture was taken, in February 2010, that I discovered my gluten intolerance.  I did not go low carb yet though. I struggled with the concept of removing gluten completely from my life, and still filled my body with gluten free bread, rice, corn tortillas, and gluten free pasta. I lost about 10 pounds in a month though, simply because gluten was flushing itself out of my body and I was eating grains that I could actually digest.

Krista: So when did you first start decide it was time for a big change?

Stephanie: I felt sick and uncomfortable internally after so many meals for many years until I discovered having a gluten intolerance towards the end of college. After drastically changing my diet I lost a lot of body fat but still had a long way to go.

Flash forward 2 years to this past spring. I had decided I needed to make another change in my life and wanted to start eating a more whole foods based diet and increase my workout intensity. I found an online coaching program that seemed to be a good way for me to get started. But after spending $75 and wasting 3 months eating foods I hated (too boring) and being told to run for 45-60 minutes a day in addition to weight training, I found I had made very little progress and was beginning to hate working out all over again.

Nov 2013

It was then that I discovered MindBodyGreen. I had tried a few Tabata sequences through a YouTube channel I really like and found that interval training was a perfect fit for me.  I was anxious to find more resources, when lo and behold, you just happened to write an article for MBG in the same week. I was hooked and immediately subscribed to your site and downloaded a timer app.

Within 2 weeks I could feel a difference, especially in the most stubborn areas of my body.

My boyfriend at the time stated he noticed a difference too, even in just how I carried myself, but certainly in regards to body composition.

He didn’t believe that the workouts would be intense enough for him though (a guy that does 100 mile bike rides and lifts occasionally), until he realized that I was suddenly able to do a few pull-ups (something I had never thought possible for me).

After one 12 minute workout he was a believer (and a sweaty mess collapsed on the floor).

Krista: What’s your diet like these days since discovering your gluten intolerance?

Stephanie: Within the past year I’ve worked really hard to eat as cleanly as possible, typically following the 80/20 rule.  Because I absolutely love to cook, am a die hard foodie, and want to avoid processed foods as much as possible, my daily meals are definitely different than the average person who is eating clean for fitness purposes.  I refuse to eat steamed vegetables and poached chicken for every (or any meal).

I consider myself a flexitarian, rarely eating meat or fish.  If I do, I try my best to make sure it was grass fed, free range, or wild caught.  I don’t consume a lot of grains in general, sticking to brown rice, quinoa, oats, and buckwheat when I do.

In the winter I make a lot of soup, so today I have a homemade turnip soup and a kale salad with roasted sweet potatoes, a bit of blue cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette.  Other days I might roast a bunch of vegetables (broccoli, zucchini, red pepper, etc.) and pair it with a small portion of brown rice and a homemade sauce. Sometimes I even have leftover pizza if I made a zucchini and almond meal crust pizza the night before (that stuff is awesome and doesn’t fill you up like the real stuff!).

I usually have a little bit of super dark chocolate every day, especially if I haven’t baked anything recently (I’m trying to give away my treats more because otherwise my insatiable sweet tooth will cause me to eat them all).

Looking to the future

Recently, Stephanie decided to join a gym so she’d have access to plyo boxes and medicine balls and take occasional spin classes, which she immediately got hooked on by a friend.

Now, I know some of you probably think I’m completely anti-gym because of the whole “Don’t waste life in a gym” message—but that’s not actually the case.

I don’t want you wasting your life doing something you absolutely hate—spending hours on the treadmill or elliptical machine, doing exercises you think you have to do but absolutely hate even though there’s most likely a much more efficient way getting a similar or better result, spending all your time at the gym even though you’d much rather be outdoors, and so on.

But if you enjoy it? Heck, by all means do what you enjoy! If a gym helps to motivate you or get you out of the house or gives you more equipment options, then please don’t give up your gym membership. My whole goal here is to get you doing more of the stuff you love and less of the stuff you hate. 

Ok, back to Stephanie:

Christmas 2013

Krista: How has your view of fitness changed this past year?

Stephanie: I know that I still have a lot of work to do in order to continue losing excess body fat and increase my overall strength and endurance. But for the first time in my adult life I have found a way of exercising that I truly enjoy and that is finally allowing me to see progress and make and reach goals previously thought impossible.

Through your awesome workouts and motivating blog posts I find myself working out even when I really don’t want to (such as in the weeks following the previously mentioned boyfriend breaking up with me). I continue to tell friends about your site and the HIIT concept and have gotten a few hooked as much as I am, even some who previously thought running was the only way to get in shape without a gym membership.

I’ve bought some equipment (a kettlebell and pull-up bar) and am really excited to see what I can accomplish in the coming year.

“My family and friends are shocked at how much my mentality about exercise has changed.”

Krista: Is there anything you want to share with readers about what you’ve learned these past few years or any advice you have for those going through a similar journey?

Stephanie: Of all the things I’ve learned in the past years, a few stick out to me. For one, I really am stronger and more capable than I think (something I learned initially from you).

Before this summer I thought I would never be able to do a pull-up or as many burpees as I can now do. But each day I get stronger, and just yesterday I was complimented by a personal trainer on my pull-up and squat form.

Also, fitness is a commitment to a lifestyle. There will be days when my eating is horrible (the whole week after Christmas for example), but I cannot beat myself up for being human, especially a human with a love for food and sweet treats.

It’s a balance though, a balance that is unique to each individual. People still give me a hard time about being gluten free and eating clean in general. But I know that I will not be my best, healthiest self if I go back to eating wheat products. Some people can eat gluten and be in incredible health and shape. I cannot.

Living well and being fit is about finding what works for you and sticking to it, without listening to the negative opinions of others.

Questions for Stephanie?

I think we can all agree that Stephanie is awesome, and there’s no question that we can all find some inspiration in her story. I’m so proud of her and all that she’s accomplished.

Do you have any questions for her about how she’s achieved so much success? I’ll see if I can convince her to come into the comments and answer any questions you have that I can’t tackle as far as her specific situation went.

And congratulations, Stephanie!

Do you have a success story you’d be up for sharing with the 12 Minute Athlete community? We’d love to hear from you! Send me an email at [email protected] and we’ll talk. 🙂

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1 thought on “From Cafeteria Food to Pull Ups: Stephanie Pampel on Finding Your Strong”

  1. Awesome article Stephanie & Krista! I hope your connection through this website will take both of you far in your personal lives and helping others find happiness and health through diet, exercise and positive attitude!!! …And to think this all started because Mom figured out she had a rash that was related to gluten intolerance and read that gluten intolerance presents itself in so many ways besides stomach pain, so then suggested that Stephanie try giving up the gluten to improve her voice quality in preparation for her voice recital in college. One never knows how far one little comment will lead a person. Keep up the great work Stephanie; I’m SO proud of you!


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