When Allie Ruby hit 225 lbs., all she wanted was to slim down. But once she lost weight and got super fit — six-pack and all — she realized her emotional happiness depended on more than being skinny.
The 28-year-old information manager from Des Moines, Iowa gained most of her weight in college, thanks to alcohol-filled parties and dining hall food. By running and swapping her double cheeseburgers for chicken and cottage cheese, Ruby managed to lose 98 lbs. Before she knew it, she was down to 127 lbs.
“I would weigh myself every day, and as it would go further and further down I would decide to keep going,” Ruby tells PEOPLE. “It was self-motivating.”
She also started following workout plans on Bodybuilding.com and learned that she could burn more body fat weightlifting than from cardio alone. By focusing on lifting while paying close attention to her meals, she finally got in shape — but it didn’t come with the satisfaction she expected.
“I always thought that I would love to have a six-pack, and when I got there last year, it wasn’t all the fireworks I thought it would be. I thought that would be a huge high, but it wasn’t,” Ruby says. “The highs that I found from it was the things that I did to get it, from doing kettlebells, and meeting other people.”
“I felt great, but I didn’t feel alive. I felt trapped,” she adds on Instagram. “That I needed to eat a certain way to keep my image, work out a certain way and sleep a certain way.”
Ruby missed parts of her old life, like enjoying Mexican food with her coworkers. Over time she decided to refocus her goals. Instead of dieting and eating less to maintain her six-pack, she ate a little more to build muscle.
“I feel more comfortable at that higher weight, with more body fat,” Ruby tells PEOPLE.
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Now around 163 lbs., Ruby says she’s more content, despite the occasional self-doubt that creeps up when she remembers weighing a lean 127 lbs.
“If you have ever lost a substantial amount of weight then gained some back you probably have an idea of that devastating feeling of going backwards — I think those feelings were more painful at that time than when I was overweight,” Ruby writes on Instagram, adding that it’s been helpful to practice mindfulness at this point in her journey. “I had to remember that a transformation is far deeper than physical.”
She has also shifted from weightlifting to powerlifting, a fitness program that’s more effective at a higher weight.
“It’s so different, because no one cares about your image. It’s all about how strong you are,” says Ruby. “I love it.”