DCEventJunkie Gets Off the Junk: Health Heroes

After her doctor told her that she had high blood pressure and cholesterol, liver damage, and a bit of a weight problem, Lisa Byrne kicked her lifestyle turnaround into high gear

By: Chelsea Lo

DCEventJunkie Lisa Byrne lost 20 pounds after making some drastic changes to her daily diet and demanding schedule. Photograph courtesy of Lisa Byrne

Don’t tell Lisa Byrne you’re too busy to exercise. Up until five months ago, that’s what she thought, too. In addition to her full-time job as a social media marketing lead at Network Solutions, she ran her own social media consulting firm and launched @DCeventjunkie, a popular Twitter account for DC nightlife, as a Web site in February. Nights on the job meant attending catered events, and when she came home, she would often order in pizza, too tired to cook or exercise.

“I knew how to eat healthy, but I would just have whatever I wanted,” Byrne says. “If there was a gourmet hamburger, I’d have it with fries instead of a salad.”

But Byrne knew she had to make a change—or several. She had restless nights and noticed that she wasn’t able to multi-task and focus as well as before. In Miami, where she had lived for five years, Byrne had worked with a personal trainer, practiced yoga or pilates twice a week, and found time to train for a half marathon—even while executing six weddings each weekend as a catering sales manager. When she moved to DC in January of 2007, she had fallen out of her routine.

“It’s a happy-hour city. There was always something to do,” Byrne says, adding that the cold weather didn’t help her motivation after years of running outdoors in sunny Florida. “But I said to myself, ‘If I have to put up less content and attend fewer events, then okay.’ I didn’t feel 33. I knew I had to re-prioritize my health.”

In April, she hired Grant Hill, founder of MyBootcamp, to be her personal trainer. She had a doctor’s visit coming up, so she planned to check in with her doctor before starting training the following weekend.

“You’re 10 pounds over your healthy body weight,” her doctor told her.

No problem, Byrne thought. She knew she had put on weight, and ten pounds was nothing her new regimen couldn’t handle. She had even gone grocery shopping the past weekend to stock up on healthy items.

But her doctor wasn’t finished. Byrne, he said, had high cholesterol and blood pressure—high enough that she would need to go on medication if it didn’t go down in the next few months. And she had an inflamed liver.

“It obviously scared the hell out of me,” Byrne says. “I thought, I’ve got to make drastic changes.”

Byrne started slow, going from doing no exercise to doing some. Two times a week, Byrne met with Hill for outdoor circuit training sessions, focusing on strength and resistance exercises for 45 minutes to an hour. They did the usual push-ups, crunches, and planks. But things got more unusual from there. Instead of dumbbells and weight machines, she used fire hoses and sledgehammers, and a half-mile warm-up run turned into running across a field with a 60-pound tire strapped to her waist. Byrne supplemented her workouts with weekly spinning classes and yoga or pilates.

A self-described “adrenaline junkie,” Byrne didn’t mind the workouts, which kept her feeling challenged. Not so easy? Giving up her doughnuts, charcuterie, and pizza.

“I’m from Ireland, I grew up eating potatoes,” Byrne says. “I was bitter. It made me angry.” At Hill’s suggestion, she read Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson and Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes. She didn’t give up her wine or count calories. Instead, she ate when she was hungry, but per the suggestions of Hill and the books she read, she stocked up on veggies and fruit and began avoiding grains, processed foods, and sugar.

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“I wasn’t a believer in the beginning, I questioned all of it,” Byrne says. “Like, ‘So I don’t need carbs before I work out? We’re not going to focus on cardio?’ But I said ‘Okay, fine, let’s try it.’ ”

Three to four weeks in, Byrne noticed a difference. She could sleep for eight hours without interruption and no longer needed an alarm clock to get up in the morning. She hadn’t had coffee, formerly a twice-daily habit, in a week. And her work hadn’t suffered. DCeventjunkie’s Web traffic went up by 700 percent in its first three months, and she felt more alert and better able to focus. Three months later, when Byrne went in for her second check-up, her doctor noticed the difference, too.

“He told me, ‘How the hell did you lose 20 pounds? Let’s put it in a pill and sell it!’ ” Byrne says. Not only had she lost weight, but her liver was also back to normal, and her blood pressure and cholesterol had dropped to safer levels, despite having eaten more eggs and red meat than before.

“Everything I’ve done defies conventional wisdom,” Byrne says. “We don’t focus on cardio when I train. I’ve changed my diet, but I’m not on a diet.” She follows an 80/20 rule, where she keeps to her healthy diet about 80 percent of the time, and treats herself the rest of the time. She notes, though, that she’s craved unhealthy foods less often ever since she ate pizza after a two-month hiatus and her body reacted badly.

“I felt like crap afterward,” Byrne says. “It’s your mind that wants it, not your body.”

And if you put your mind to it, anyone can make the same change she did, Byrne says. Documenting her transformation on her personal blog at DCeventjunkie.com helped keep Byrne on track, she says, and she recently created a blog, The Trainer and the Client, with Hill to inspire others on their health journeys.

“We can’t be our best unless we’re healthy,” she says. “We all have time to make healthy decisions, you have to make it a priority. This isn’t something I dabble in, this is a change in lifestyle.”

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