Nine years ago, Beny Hadid's husband died suddenly of pancreatic cancer just six months after his first symptoms appeared. Left to care for her two small boys, Beny felt shocked, scared, and alone. She turned to food to cope with her feelings, which led her to gain a lot of weight and bury her pain and grief.

Two years ago, Beny reached a point where she just wasn't happy with herself and the direction in which her health was headed, so she decided to make a change.

Here is Beny's story.—H.E.

Sadly, 9-1/2 years ago, my husband had pancreatic cancer. It was very fast: He had the first symptoms in January and by June we had lost him. I was left alone, shocked by the situation because it was so fast. I had two little boys who were 6 and 11 at that time. When you have little kids, you don't have time to be depressed or dwell on anything else. I had to keep going.

My way out was food. I started eating like crazy because it was the only way to deal with my feelings. I gained 36 kilograms—about 79 pounds.

It Felt Like I Had an Elephant Sitting on My Chest

I wish I could say I changed because I was committed to changing, but in fact, I had a bad episode of hypertension and my blood pressure went very high. It felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest. I was very scared.

I went to the doctor and he said that while my high blood pressure was not yet life-threatening, I had to be careful. I left the doctor's office and decided that from that day on, I would start changing my habits.

I Knew What I Was Doing Wrong

I knew everything I was eating was processed. Lots of carbohydrates, sugar, soda, and bread. Everything we all know we shouldn't be eating, but we still do it. Yeah, it tastes good, but it's very bad for your health.

I made a choice to change my habits to become healthier. I stopped eating all that processed food and started eating a very balanced diet with fewer carbs and more protein. I didn't start working out right away. I wanted to wait until I had lost some weight because I was very ashamed to go to a gym with how I was looking.

I started working out at home about six months later. I bought a yoga mat and put it in my living room and I started working out 20 minutes a day at home—no more than that. I was doing a little bit of abs, sit-ups, things like that.

Beny Hadid

From Day One, I Was Hooked

One day, I thought it was time to go to the gym. When I first walked in, I felt lost because everyone else seemed to know what they were doing and I didn't. I'd never seen any of those machines in my life because I'd never gone to the gym before. I just started looking at what everyone else was doing, trying to see what they did, how they used the machines. I didn't have a coach or anything, so I had to figure it out on my own.

Well, from that first day on, I was hooked. I loved it. Going to the gym was like a drug, so I kept on going. I was lifting a little more every week, and I was seeing the results. And once you see results, you're hooked for life.

Then I discovered boxing. I loved watching boxing on TV and saw it was an amazing workout. I started boxing at a UFC-style gym. I also started running because after the quarantine began, there were no gyms open and therefore no cardio machines. That meant I had to take my cardio outside. So, I started running, and I just kept adding different things to my workout.

The Biggest Changes Are What You Can't See

Our physical appearance may not be the most important thing, but it gives us a sense of confidence. When I was able to buy something for myself at the store and didn't have to look for the largest size, I knew I was doing something right. And I knew I had to keep on going.

But being able to wear a smaller size or seeing the numbers going down on the scale, those are the smaller changes. The biggest change is what happened on the inside. I discovered I was actually very disciplined, I'd just never had the opportunity to use it. But when I started changing my eating habits and going to the gym more and more, I realized I had always been capable of making healthier choices. I think that was the biggest change because it affected every other area in my life.

When you start working out, and when you start changing what you eat and what you put on your plate, you take control of your life. The changes in the mind are amazing. You become disciplined, you become consistent. You feel stronger, and as a woman, you feel empowered.

You find out you can do anything, and it feels amazing. Is it easy? No, it's not easy, but it's worth it. I would definitely do it all over again.

Beny Hadid

Paying It Forward

I was so scared when I first started going to the gym, but I had no reason to be. All the shame and fears were in my mind. I was overwhelmed because everyone at the gym seemed like they had been going for years, but they were all so nice. I never felt out of place.People at the gym made me feel welcome, and I quickly figured out what I needed to do.

I love talking to people. I am very sociable—I have always been that way. When I see someone new at the gym, it reminds me of how I felt on those first days. If they are receptive—because sometimes people at the gym don't want to talk to anyone—I try to give them advice on how to do a certain exercise or a little encouragement. I always try to make them feel welcome because it's very important and will keep them going.

These days, a lot of people actually approach me at the gym, and when they find out that I have only been working out for a year and a half, they are so surprised. They all assume that I have been doing this for my whole life. When I show them my pictures, they are like, "Oh, wow!" Because I'm not even close to being overweight anymore. They see what I've done and realize they can do it, too. It's amazing when you feel you can help someone change.

Motivation Is Great, but Action Is Better

If you want to change your body, it's just a matter of knowing exactly what you want. That's the first step. You have to know what you want to achieve. Whether it's dropping weight or getting stronger, you have to have it very clear and then you have to take that first step, even if it's a small one.

After that, you just have to take action. I think motivation is wonderful. Listen to a lot of motivational speakers. It's great. It gives you that extra push. But in reality, you just have to take action. You have to get up and do what you have to do.

I don't feel like going to the gym every day, even though I love it. But there are many days where I'm in my bed and I don't want to move. Either I'm too lazy or my mood is not the best. You have to get over that. You have to just go. Then, once those endorphins hit, they do the motivational work for you, and after a while, you're feeling happy. It's amazing.

I've Finally Found the Right Balance

Thinking back to when I left the doctor's office that day, I already had my to-do list. It clicked in my head that the way I had been living was over: I was changing my life.

Now my life consists of eating healthy,strength training, and cardio exercise like boxing or running. It's a great combination: I feel good, my heart feels good—it's wonderful. I'm seeing the results in my body and in my bloodwork. My cholesterol levels are down, my blood pressure is back under control. I know everything I'm doing is working. Now I just want to keep going and see how far I can go with this. It's wonderful. It's really wonderful.

Beny Hadid

Beny's Top 5 Fitness Tips

1. Start Somewhere

Don't try to do it all at once because it can be overwhelming. Just start making small changes; Maybe try eliminating soda. Then the next day, maybe eat just half your normal amount of bread or sugars. Get down on the mat and do five sit-ups. Introduce small changes in your life that you can do consistently. There is no secret formula—you have to take action.

2. Fake It Till You Make It

The first day I walked into that gym, I had no idea how to use any of the equipment. I decided to act like I knew what I was doing and imitate everyone who used the machines. Little by little, I gained some knowledge and figured out how to work out on my own.

3. Mix It Up, but Keep What You Love

I think it's a very good idea to add new things and make changes to your routine because your body adapts so easily to things. These days, I am also doing a little spinning and still boxing some days. But weightlifting—weightlifting is every day. That's my crush; I'm in love with weightlifting.

4. Don't Let Fear or Worry Stop You

When I see those pictures of myself from before, I realize how scared I was of everything. Because of that, I thought I wasn't able to do anything. If I could, I would tell the woman I was nine years ago not to worry, that everything is going to be OK and that she is much stronger than she thinks she is.

5. Set New Goals

There are still so many changes I want to make in my body, and I love setting new goals. Right now, I am really liking deadlifting and squatting with weights, so I would love to be able to get into get some competition on that. I am working a little as a health coach, and I would love to keep doing that and see how far it can go.

You can see Beny's before and after photos and follow her progress on Instagram @beny_hadid. To find a workout plan for your own transformation, check out BodyFit. If you want to share your success story with us to be considered for publication, send an email to​​​​ transformations@bodybuilding.com.

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