STRENGTH AND LOVE
By: Krysta Kearney
“You can either be your biggest advocate or your own worst enemy. A lot of times people choose to be their own worst enemy. Negative self talk, stuff like that really impacts everything that you do. I feel like it goes with everything, eating disorders, fitness, trying to better your life in any sort of way.”
Jessica Nicholas is helping women find their own personal strength through guiding their journeys and finding ways to create healthier lifestyles while promoting strength training in fitness and in mind. Her personal training and fitness programs empower people to find their true self while lifting up others. Strength of Change, a health and wellness fitness center was founded by Nicholas in August of 2020 and officially became a business in January of 2021. This venture is not only helping others but also given her own life new meaning and a stronger purpose. Her journey through life thus far has been vast and varied, filled with wonderment, happiness, sorrow and pain. Today, she has found herself filled with emotions of personal triumph and joy while appreciating the reflection of the struggles of her past. By helping others through their own personal journeys of self love an enlightened community has sprouted around her.
“I created Strength of Change to motivate, inspire, and challenge others through high intensity strength training, clean eating, and self love. Building a new foundation starts with supporting a healthy lifestyle and a positive mental state.” - Strength Of Change website
Strength of Change offers personal training, group classes, nutrition guidance and a commitment to accountability. Clients undergo a rigorous program that promotes fitness, clean eating and healthy lifestyle choices. She aids in helping people realize that they hold value, they hold an important place in the world and to not only find love in themselves now but implement practices that are sustainable, that they will use in the future. Programs are designed to look at life with a wide lense, to create new healthy lifestyle choices and not just focus on shedding the weight and being skinny. As much as vanity can promote people to lose weight it does have its downside as people become overly obsessed with the idea of looking good immediately rather than creating a healthy life, healthy mind.
For most of her life, Nicholas was focused on just this, vanity. Her lifestyle choices were poor, unhealthy and toxic. She didn’t care about feeling good, or even looking healthy, she only cared about being skinny. For many years she was naive to her own lifestyle choices, she didn’t realize the negative impact she had on herself. She would tell herself she wasn’t in it alone, there are people out there far worse off than her making much worse life choices, so how could her actions be all that bad? One day she woke up and seeked a different reality, realizing her worth and gained some self respect. Now, we can reflect on this Fearless Female’s past to understand the journey of what brought her to where she is today. Her story inspires us to want to do better, be a better version of ourselves.
“My whole young adulthood I grew up with an eating disorder, it was actually really common growing up, at least in my school district to have one, but no one ever really talked about it. It was always kind of put behind closed doors and the only people that I really ever confided in was my best friend who suffered from one as well.”
Many teenagers struggle with eating disorders. So much can lead to it, changes in body shape and size, depression, bullying, pressures of dating and fitting in with friends, changes in diets and food behaviors. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately 30 million Americans live with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are amongst some of the most deadly mental illnesses and they are the third most common chronic illness amongst adolescent female teens. For years this illness has remained behind closed doors yet it is so prevalent in our communities. There is such a stigma behind anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, it needs to be decenticized, so that people know to seek proper support and help. Take Nicholas for instance, she familiarized with the fact that she knew many of her peers had eating disorders and thought of it as normal, that she didn’t have that big of an issue. Still, knowing what she was doing was wrong, she kept it sheltered to herself. She tried to hide it from her family, but living together of course they found out. It caused problems in her relationship with them and only made her want to rebel more, in other ways. She truly thought that what she was doing wasn’t all that bad and there were worse things.
“It never really struck me as being something that was bad for me until I got a little bit older, I was always really into sports growing up, as a female we were never taught how to fully take care of ourselves. It was more like you need to be really skinny and perfect, I fell hard into that, it sucks to say this now but it just seemed NORMAL!!”
As many highschool students do, during her senior year she contemplated what college she wanted to go to. Her therapist told her she didn’t think she was emotionally and mentally ready to go off to college, they didn’t think that she could handle the stresses. She felt as though she wasn’t progressing in any way and foresaw the shift in environment not being good for her. Ofcourse, Nicholas felt she was totally fine and she wanted to get out, be on her own, not under her parents supervision. She decided to go anyway and make the trek to SUNY New Paltz. Right off the bat she didn’t put effort, started skipping classes, chose not to socialize and found herself in bed most days. Instead of excelling and embracing her new life, she retracted and dug herself into a deep depression.
“Toward the end of the semester I started to cave in on myself and would shut off from the friends I was making there and just be in my dorm room all the time.”
Prior to completing her first semester she called her hometown friends and asked them to come and pick her up. Then she dropped out of school all on her own without telling her family. She had convinced herself that it was totally fine, it was a normal thing to do. In retrospect, looking back on it now, it was a big moment in her life. Once home, she moved in with a friend and recalls running into her parents for the first time. They couldn't understand why she wasn’t in school, they were concerned for her well being and felt heartbroken that she hadn’t confided in them. They reacted as any concerned parent would, gave her some real tough love and laid down their primary concerns. As hard as it was for her parents, they questioned what her motives were, asked what she was seeking for the future and explained that this might not be the best decision for her. They told her she needed to really think about what it is that she wants for herself, what would make her happy in life. They created some physical distance.
“Being the hard headed person I was, I was like, ‘What do you know?!’ So I went and lived with a girlfriend for a long time, I’d say two years.”
Her eating disorder only continued to worsen. Having bulimia, she would binge hard on food and later throw everything up. Not only did she get deeper into the disorder, she started to party harder, promoting an even unhealthier lifestyle. Both she and her roommate faced their own demons and in ways fed off each other's reckless acts and careless treatment of themselves. Not noticing it at the time, they fell into an unhealthy lifestyle, neglecting their worth, not treating themselves with the love they deserved.
“Now looking back on it, I think we partied all the time to get away from what was happening in our real lives.”
She lived in this cyclic lifestyle for many years. To make ends meet, she had a series of random jobs, eventually finding a long career in the restaurant industry. In some ways it was great and in others it amplified her poor lifestyle choices and fueled her addictions. Many times after night shifts she and her coworkers would go out for late night drinks and party past the day's end.
For many years she was in a relationship with a man who ended up spiraling downward. Eventually moving in with each other, their three year relationship consisted of a spactic lifestyle of partying, not sleeping and just getting through each day with little hopes or ambitions or even thoughts on the future. It consisted of high highs and low lows. She once again found herself with someone facing their own demons. He had lived a hard childhood and continued with a rough adult life, not facing his problems only running away with the help of drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t a proactive relationship by any means. Not seeing it at the time, it was what worked, his lifestyle reciprocated hers, it was careless and they had fun. Sadly, his mother passed and he was never the same. He fell into a deep depression and started using hard drugs, stopped leaving the house and would stay on the couch for days, sometimes weeks on end. He became a different person than who she had fallen in love with, it was horrible and sad, she knew she couldn’t go down that path with him.
“It came to a point where I was going to deplode. I thought to myself I can’t be stuck in this anymore. I can’t be stuck in my head anymore with my disorder and how I feel about myself and I just packed all my stuff and left.”
It was hard to leave him but she had to do what was right for her. Her parents came that day and helped move her out. She lived with them for a little bit and started to pick her feet up off the ground. Not too long after, she bought her own house. Slowly, she started to shift certain aspects around in her life that she could handle, little by little without making anything too overwhelming. At one point, she made the decision that she was going to overcome her eating disorder and she never looked back. It was time, she had reached a point in her life where she was ready. Without seeking the support of peers, family, a therapist...really nobody, she was able to do it on her own.
“I completely changed and got more into working out and lifting weights. I got healthier and stronger and I wanted to be more secure in myself.”
Doing something on her own made her realize that she can achieve anything, can be self-sufficient and most importantly start to love herself. As her body became stronger and her mind healthier she was able to recognize just how abusive she had been to herself for years. Life held new meaning and she was starting to feel proud of the actions she was taking. Continuing to work in the restaurant industry, she striped away the bad habits of the job and focused on the good.
“Working in the restaurant industry was like a double edged sword for me because in a way it helped fuel all the bad stuff but it also made me more outgoing and it kind of made my personality shine through.”
Nicholas had always been shy, insecure and kept to herself but being in the service industry made her have to come out of her shell, she didn’t have a choice, it forced her to talk to people, to become social. It fueled her. She loved hearing people’s stories, what other people go through and appreciates human connection. It made her realize that she can overcome anything.
About two years ago she was bartending at a place called Scenic Root, in Manlius, NY. It was a much slower paced environment than she was used to working in, a place where she had the opportunity to talk with her regulars. She would see the same customers night after night and after getting to know them and through conversation, they encouraged her to take action for her life, do what makes her happy. At the time, she was also working at a local gym.
“They would say, ‘You should just leave! Just leave both!’ I was like, ‘What? I need to make money, I can’t?!!?’ They were like, ‘If you don’t do it now, you never will.’ So... I did it.”
Hence, Strength of Change was born. At first, she had one personal training client and hosted boot camp classes in a nearby park that mainly only her good friends would attend. The beginnings weren’t very profitable, slow and made her question if she had made the right move. It was right around the time when everyone was shutting down their businesses due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. She was panicking, wasn’t making any money, the world was literally shutting down.
Thankfully, her boyfriend and his brother had recently started their own business and he continually encouraged her to not give up. As a personal cheerleader he supported her, reassuring that she can make this happen. With the encouragement from him, she pushed forward and seeked out studios. Eventually she found a rental space in Baldwinsville, NY, which is just outside of Syracuse. Things started to come together, she gained a solid foundation and although she still wasn’t making much money, she started to see some benefits. In the spring of 2021, she had an interview with Syracuse Woman magazine and was featured as their cover story in the May edition. The exposure gained her tons of recognition and business skyrocketed. People started calling her left and right and without hesitation were signing up for her services. She gained a lot of praise and her network became stronger. Now, five months later, she is flourishing. Most recently, she found her own space to host Strength of Change in!
“It’s been crazy but it's been so rewarding to work with everyone. All my clients are so different from one another. When I first meet my clients I say we don’t speak bad around here. It’s more about shifting around your thoughts and your lifestyle to propel yourself into the person that you wish to become.”
She makes sure that all her clients realize her classes aren’t solely about weight loss. Ofcourse, she wants to help them lose weight but it’s more about concentrating on the whole picture, each individual client's lifestyle. She aids in people's discovery of themselves.
“This is a safe space, obviously we are working on you and how you look at yourself, it can be emotional some days. Even my most badass strong women come in there some days and just cry.”
Recently she took people on a group hike to Bald Mountain, which is in the Adirondacks just outside of Old Forge, NY. She wanted to find a way for the women to get out, meet each other and realize they are not alone in this. It’s an opportunity for them to open up. Being in nature is one of the best things for people, and she feels strongly about her clients getting out in it and identifying with themselves. She hosts a variety of course structures since everyone seeks something different. In her bootcamp classes, people like how they are in a group setting and the personal training classes, people want to work on their own. Each and every one of her clients inspires her too, they make her want to do better. They feed off each others strength. She spoke of how inspiring it truly is.
“I have a client right now who is 70, she only weighs 100 pounds, she also suffered from an eating disorder her entire life and she’s like, ‘I’m ready to build muscle, learn how to eat better and try to learn to love myself. It’s insane that I can help somebody that has lived the majority of her life this way try to look at herself in a different way.”
Nicholas has created a beautiful life for herself. Through strength, commitment and determination she has totally flipped it around and couldn’t be happier. Adjusting her Moxxi and recognizing her worth has led her to new heights, as she faces challenges every day. Instead of escaping life's realities like she did in the past, she is ready and wanting to take it on, fulfilling her own life and those around her.
“Every day when I’m working out is a new day for me. I never know what’s going to happen, even though I have it scheduled, I don’t really know what's going to happen around the corner and for a long time that scared me. Now i'm trying…I can’t be afraid of everything around the corner and the more I do it the more free I feel with a lot of things. I think a lot of people are just scared to change. We get stuck in a comfortable situation where everything is the same and one day just rolls into the next. Don’t be scared of the unknown.”
Over this past summer she went on a mind awakening road trip to Colorado and Arizona with her brother, one of her favorite people in the world. They camped and hiked for two weeks. At one point in the trip, her whole world came together, she felt complete, was comfortable with herself and was confident in herself, as a person. Thinking about it now makes her cry. She took the energy from the trip and brought it home, it only drove her to be even happier.
“I think it was being with my brother, being out in nature and having everything that happened to me and coming into this and realizing it's really what I’m passionate about. We went into this place one night, it's called Valley of the Gods, I just instantly started crying and I didn’t stop for like two days.”
Recently she has gotten a lot closer with her sister as well. Through the hardships of her recovery she has had to open herself up, allowing a lot of emotions from the past to be conjured up. She and her sister weren’t very close growing up but the past few years she has had a big impact on her life and has helped her through many struggles.
“She probably doesn’t even know it but she has been a huge outlet for me about different things that happened in our childhood that I didn’t realize impacted me so much…not that they drove me towards the eating disorder but were little ticks that were part of the reason I was going the way I was going.”
The beginning of her recovery was incredibly hard, she had always been private about her feelings, especially around her eating disorder and she was forced to face them, to expose them. Now, she is doing so much better. It is almost like a distant memory. She doesn’t necessarily struggle with it but she won’t buy certain foods, ones that used to trigger her. She hasn’t thrown up in years but the thought is always in the back of her mind. It’s an addiction, a disease. She leaves certain things out of the house completely so she doesn’t have it around her.
“I tell myself that I am not that person anymore, that I am bigger than what I eat, that it shouldn’t affect me like that.”
When talking to Nicholas, she recalled a recent night where she had her boyfriend grab her ice cream, she couldn't stop craving it. It had been a long time since she had eaten ice cream and, appreciating all of it’s creamy decadence, before she knew it, she ended up eating the whole thing. After, she was like oh my god, I just ate a whole pint of ice cream! In her mind she thought about how it was one thing she would binge on and always throw up after. Although she knew she wasn’t going to do anything she had to tell herself, ‘It’s ok, it’s only ice cream. It doesn’t hold any power over you, it’s not gonna change your body, it’s not gonna change how you feel about yourself.’ She was able to channel her feelings, woke up the next day and was ok. She went and told her clients the next day that she ate a pint of ice cream (haha)! Which is good, everyone is human, it’s ok to do. She still experiences the feelings but doesn’t allow them to overtake her.
The Syracuse area is lucky to have such a positive woman amongst them. Her positivity and encouragement is helping women around her embrace themselves to be the best version they can be. We know this is only the beginning of the health and wellness journey for Nicholas. Already, she has created a safe and proactive space for so many, we know she is capable of doing more and following her dreams and visions of the expansion of her business.
“I love working out and feeling stronger but it’s never something that can really be sustainable if you don’t treat your body the right way and I would love to have it all combine in one way. I would love for it to come together one day!! Have classes where people make healthy food and everything like that.”
For right now, she will continue to focus on personal training and group classes. She does pair up with local nutritionists and mindset coaches to offer a variety of workshops. She hopes that one day she will be able to combine all these practices into one place. A space where one can learn about nutrition, fitness, health, wellness, mindset...basically everything involved with creating a healthier and sustainable life! In some form, some way, she will make this happen, it has already begun.
“I want to show people how to exercise the right way and help people have better life choices but not have it be focused solely on that. More about learning who you are and falling into or pushing yourself into a better version of you.”
Q + A
What made you decide to make your lifestyle choice into your career?
“Somewhere along the lines with me working out, at first it was not for the right reasons, it was for me to remain skinny and I didn’t get into it for the right reasons but as I started doing it, something inside of me shifted. I was stronger than I thought I was and I feel better when I actually eat whole nutritious food instead of all the processed junk I would eat all the time. Something in me shifted and I thought man, if I could feel this good I wonder how many other people I could help to feel this good.”
What are some things you tell your clients, to help them with decreasing negative thoughts?
“Every time I ask someone to do something and they tell me that they can’t do it I tell them that they either have to implement, 'I won’t do that,' or 'I’m not going to try.' They actually think about it for a while, think, 'Do I have a real reason I can’t?' We try to rephrase thoughts as they come to you because it’s so second nature to instantly think,‘whoa...no!' Anything that’s out of your comfort zone people are instantly going to shut down.”
What’s the biggest message you hope your business gives to women?
“That you are a lot stronger and smarter than you think you are or that you let society believe that you are. WE can do anything. We just have to put our minds to it and get out and do it.”
Have you had many tribulations with men in the industry?
“Because I like lifting weights, guys will say weird comments. Like ‘Oh you’re looking beastly’ which I will take as a compliment. I have a friend who works out at a gym and she recently said she wants to cancel her gym membership because guys are just staring at her the whole time and she feels very awkward. It was like that when I was working in the restaurant industry, I don’t like that, I feel like I can be more vocal about it now.”
She just ended a 21 day challenge with a woman who makes protein shakes, protein balls and such. The very first guy that signed up instantly hit on her friend and her first instinct was she was going to laugh it off and Nicholas was like, 'No! This is our business and why would we let him do that?!?'
They told him that he could no longer take the challenge, hopefully he changes his actions in the future. It’s moments like these where the more women speak up, we will elevate ourselves to the same level as men.
Any advice on taking a leap?
“I would say don’t over think it. There’s always going to be reasons why you should do something, why you shouldn’t do something. If it speaks to your heart, just go for it.”