How I Got This Body: Hiring a Trainer and Losing 99 Pounds for My 30th Birthday

Photographs courtesy LeahTafara-Maddox.

Welcome to How I Got This Body, our look at some of the amazing things the human body is capable of and the Washingtonians who put their bodies to the test. Want to share your transformation story? Email

Who I am: Leah Tafara-Maddox, 42, State Department employee from Alexandria.

Why I wanted make a change: “On the eve of my 29th birthday, I decided that I needed to lose a substantial amount of weight, preferably by the time I was 30.  Especially, because I was contemplating getting pregnant and I figured getting pregnant at my current weight and then trying to lose baby weight on top of everything else was going to be even more challenging.  At the time, I weighed 221 pounds.  I happened to work right across the street from a Gold’s Gym so I went over and said I wanted to work with a trainer—the trainer was Ali [Gelani].”

My workout plan: “For me, the weight loss was accomplished the old fashioned way; it’s simple math.  Less calories in, more calories out.  I got a trainer (Ali) who I worked with once a week doing weight training, core strengthening, and he set my cardio goals (which I did on my own).  I started running—a lot.  At first, I couldn’t run very fast or for long distances but by the end, I was doing a sustained seven-minute mile for about 30 minutes at a time.  I was running about four to five times a week.  And I didn’t skip—ever—if I had to not run on a day I was supposed to, I would run longer the next day or make it up on a day where I was scheduled not to run.”

Don’t get discouraged if you fall off the wagon one day. Just get back on.

My healthy eating plan: “In terms of food, I really just watched my calories.  I didn’t eat out a lot. If I hit a goal, then I would allow myself a treat like a burger out or something.  But controlling what I ate by cooking it myself was really key.  I already ate a lot of fruits and vegetables so that wasn’t an issue.  It was really more about portion control.”

How I changed: “I lost 99 pounds. Ali used to joke and say why couldn’t I go for that last pound so we could make it an even 100. In 14 months or so, I was down to [from 221 to] 122.”

One piece of advice: “My advice for someone who’s looking to lose weight is go for the long game.  I think often people get frustrated by the amount of time it takes to lose a substantial amount of weight, but whether you exercise and eat right or not, the day, month, year is going to pass by. So you really have to look at it from that perspective. Don’t get discouraged if you fall off the wagon one day. Just get back on.”

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Want to share your transformation story? Email with details. 

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.