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Gail Goes Paleo and Crossfit and Loses 114lbs Over 20 Months

Gail OwensWelcome to the How They Did It series, where we spotlight one individual and their body transformation. Learn what they did, and how they did it to succeed at their weight loss journey. Today we are featuring Gail Owens.

Tell Us a Little About Yourself

My name is Gail Owens, and I’ve just turned 40. I live in Northern Ireland; but I’m from East London originally. I home school my nine year old son. I was for 25+ years addicted to food (junk containing sugar), and was morbidly obese.

What Made You Decide to Get Fit and Healthy?

My story is a long one. I was thin right up until the age of 13. I used to do judo, tennis, and was into running in a big way. Then at the age of  13, I went into foster care. My carer used to feed the kids in her care junk. We had access to her fridge (refrigerator), day and night. By the time I was 14 or so I weighed 12 stone (168lb). Out went all exercise. My judo coach tried to help me lose the weight. For 25 years I yo yo dieted but wasn’t that bothered. In the end I was eating 20-30 bars of chocolate a day, endless amounts of cake and biscuits (cookies), as well as 6 litres a day of coke. I was a constant binge and a secret eater.

Then at the age of 38, I had to go into the hospital for an emergency operation to have my appendix removed. At this point I had reached 243lb (17 stone 5lb), I was told by the Doctor I was a walking time bomb – heart attack, stroke, and diabetes were round the corner. If I carried on this way I would be dead in five years. What finally broke me was the Dr. telling me my son “deserved better than this”, she told me I was lazy and selfish and did I want my kid to bury me?

What is Your Nutrition Philosophy?

I’ve tried many diets and slimming clubs. I finally came across a personal trainer who saved my life. He stuck me on paleo about nine or ten months ago. I stick to about 80% paleo. I eat 6 times a day, and I hardly ever eat starchy carbs as I put on weight with them so easily. I eat fresh fruit and vegetables, protein at every meal, nuts and fruit, and drink lots of water. No Processed food, no wheat, no gluten and hardly any dairy. It’s not as restrictive as it sounds!

I found my psoriasis cleared up, my asthma improved, and my skin is glowing as a result. My energy levels went through the roof. Before I went paleo I had constant mood swings, was depressed constantly, my moods would alter suddenly, and I also had violent temper fits. These have all disappeared. I’m a completely different person.  I do have some treat only on a Sunday, but I have to plan it in detail, otherwise it gets out of control.

What is Your Exercise Philosophy?

I have just started Crossfit about nine weeks ago. I wish I’d of known about it when I started trying to lose weight. Crossfit to me is the best exercise ever. You get fantastic coaching at a really reasonable price,. It’s constantly varied, and has great community support from like minded people who want to keep improving themselves.

I started off walking, and then started running. I have been to exercise classes such as step, zumba, and spin (they didn’t work for me). I have done the Beachbody Insanity program 4 times. Then I met a personal trainer who introduced me to strength and conditioning training and the paleo diet. Then I moved onto Crossfit. I got bored, as each time these things got too easy for me. I couldn’t exercise with people who mess about, and who didn’t want to take their training seriously.  My philosophy is kick the living day lights out of yourself, work really hard to keep progressing, keep challenging yourself, keep moving the goal posts, never settle, and keep pushing yourself harder. That is why Crossfit to me is so awesome, as you can keep progressing. I won’t get bored this time.

What Was the Most Important Thing You Learned During Your Transformation?

All in all it took 20 months to lose 114lb. I learned that I’m an addict. I’m addicted to sugar. I’m a recovered alcoholic (of 17 years). The trouble with binge eating, or sugar addiction is it’s respectable. The drug is packaged nicely, and it doesn’t carry a social stigma. That is why it’s not taken seriously by the medical profession, and here in the UK there is no support or help offered by the government.

I have to take one day at a time. The biggest mistake I’ve made in the past is to think I’ve arrived. I have to plan every meal. My cheat meal is only on one day of week (usually a Sunday), and has to be planned, otherwise it gets out of control.  I don’t eat rubbish because I’m depressed or emotional. I eat because I’m an addict. I looked for excuses years ago.  I had to learn I have to keep saying no.

I now love exercise and look forward to going to Crossfit classes. I injured my calf muscles recently and couldn’t train for nearly 4 weeks – I was climbing the walls. Sitting and watching TV for hours was bliss for me before. Now I can’t think of anything more hideous.  I think the most important thing I’ve come away with is eating junk is not worth it. Nothing tastes as good as slim feels. My quality of life is fantastic. Being fit and healthy completely transforms your life. Before when I was obese, my house was untidy, and my garden was a mess. I used to lie in late in the morning. Now my fitness spills over into every aspect of my life. My house is tidy and clean, and I get up most mornings at 6am. If I’m going to the gym at 6:30, I get up at 4:30am.

It’s also not just about numbers on a scale; it’s also about being fit and healthy, and how much flexibility and mobility you have. I can’t do it on my own and need accountability. I see one of the Crossfit trainers regularly and she helps me with my diet and gives me advice to keep on track. I learned to be honest and stop lying to myself.

What Mistake(s) Should People Avoid When Trying to Lose Weight?

Biggest mistake I made was trying to exercise and manage my nutrition on my own. For me personally I needed accountability for what I eat.  Slimming clubs are a waste of time, they teach you about calories but not about nutrition. Also, thinking it’s going to be easy, and underestimating how hard it’s going to be.

What Advice Do You Have For Others?

My advice, start today, get a black bin liner and throw away the junk and processed food. Start walking. Start to journal all that you eat. Find a personal trainer, or better still, go to Crossfit. If that isn’t possible, try to exercise with a friend.  For me, my weight loss really took off when I went paleo and started lifting weights.

Remember, nothing is as important as your health and fitness. Many people including myself feel guilty for spending money on gym memberships, or taking time out for themselves. When you are fit and healthy you have so much more to give, and life is so amazing. Drink plenty of water. Be honest with yourself. If you mess up, don’t lie to yourself. Start over – it’s a journey.

Be sure to check out the past editions of How They Did It. If you or someone you know would like to be featured in the How They Did It body transformation series, email me at and let me know you’re interested. More details will be provided. Don’t be shy. Your story will inspire others!

  • Jean

    Good for you. You are tiny now! What a life changing process for the better.

  • Laura

    This was an excellent article, and Gail looks amazing. I think accountability is what makes a lot of people fail or not carry through with fitness and diet goals. Some people need therapy to get through hard times and some people, like Gail, need a nutritionist to get through hard times. Healthy eating and fitness have an enormous impact on mental health and clarity. As Gail said, once she figured out how to live healthy, the rest of her life fell into it’s organized, neat place! I am going to look into Cross Fit myself after reading this post. I’ve been to a ‘trial’ class but I think it’s worth another look. I see so many seemingly fit people who neglect the nutrition aspect of training. Had Gail not devoted the time and understanding to the nutrition, she would not be at the fitness and performance level is today! Good job, Gail!!! = )

  • Cindy

    Sounds like Gail’s really got it figured out. But, what’s paleo?

  • Amanda Simmons

    Gail looks so pretty and confident now. She deserves a round of applause for coming out of denial and acknowledging the fact that she needed to work on her Sugar addiction. A highly motivating article. I hope my mama reads it.

  • Neel Joshi

    Congratulations to Gail on her terrific transformation. I am curious, however, to know what her diet was like before discovering paleo. I’m not sure what a slimming club is, but I feel like a well-balanced diet that offers a mix of proteins, healthy fats, and vitamins/minerals while not going over one’s calorie requirements is the simplest (while still being effective) diet out there. Some people swear by diets like paleo or keto or whatever–and if it works, more power to them–but I am concerned that it may complicate matters for those who are starting out and trying to take their advice.