Every mom knows how difficult it can be to lose the baby weight. For Peggy Pullen, she knows all too well. Slim for most of her life, during her first pregnancy, she put on a lot of weight due to medical complications.
“I had five infections and I was bedridden for the last three months of my pregnancy, so I started gaining weight,” Pullen, 48, told PEOPLE. “With my second child, I gained even more weight and went up to 240 lbs. I guess I just stopped caring because I was in survival mode, trying to take care of my children and recover from my sickness.”
After having two more kids, she could not seem to lose the weight, no matter how many different diets she tried.
“I would hear infomercials about different diets and other solutions, and I tried everything that I saw on TV,” the 5’3″ mom said. “I felt lost because I wasn’t losing weight. Now that I know what I know through bodybuilding, I know that diets don’t work because they make you skinny fat — you don’t gain muscle. The more muscle you have, the more fat you burn. I would lose 10 to 15 lbs. with a diet, and then gain that back and more.”
In 2014, Pullen, then 200 pounds, was at the pool with her kids when another child called her a hippopotamus.
“It was in front of my children,” she said of why the comment was so hurtful. “They all have been bullied, and I always talk about believing in themselves, and here I was being bullied in front of them. It was horrible. I went home and cried a lot, but I realized kids learn from what you do, not what you say — and that’s what kept me pushing.”
So although the comment stung, Pullen used it to motivate herself to finally lose the weight for good; that's when she turned to bodybuilding — and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Through weekly Bodybuilding.com emails, she discovered Schwarzenegger's Blueprint program and was "hooked on it immediately."
"I found his motivational videos on YouTube and that was it—he became my training partner, the voice that would play in my headphones as I worked out," she told Bodybuilding.com. I needed someone to talk to me and keep me away from the negative, destructive self-talk I experienced every time I looked in the mirror and realized how far away I was from my goal."
Pullen even says that Schwarzenegger even helped her get through bullying from fellow gymgoers.
“Here’s a mom that’s really fat and getting in their space, and they didn’t like it,” she told PEOPLE about her gym bullies. “They would laugh at me. It was pretty awful, but I had Arnold right there with me, and I got inspired to kick harder and challenge myself. I continued to lift heavier and heavier.”
Now down to 120 pounds, she says she found even more support in Bodybuilding.com's BodySpace online community, and that progress photos helped motivate her too.
“I got hooked on bodybuilding, and it’s been a wonderful experience to know that I can actually do it,” she said. “I’ll be 49 this year, and I feel like I look a lot younger. It’s the secret of youth!”
“I work out six days a week and rest on Sunday,” she said. “Life is hectic being a mom — there’s always drama, and sometimes I sleep two hours, but I don’t care. If I have to go at 2 in the morning or if I’m working out at midnight, I’m going to get it done. It’s become a part of my life. It’s a way to take out stress, it makes you stronger, it makes you think better. After I’m done with a workout, I’m on cloud nine, and I can handle life better.”
In addition to hitting the gym six days a week, she made some major changes to her diet, which she said used to be made up of primarily comfort foods. Check it out now:
Meal 1: Eggs, egg whites, oatmeal, blueberries
Meal 2: Egg whites, protein powder
Meal 3: Grilled chicken, brown rice, tomato, lettuce, olive oil
Meal 4: Egg whites, protein powder
Meal 5: Fish, veggies, tomato sauce, green salad
Meal 6: Egg whites, protein powder
So amidst all these huge changes, what was the main motivating factor for Pullen? Her kids.
“The best part is giving hope to others, and being a role model to my own family, especially my kids,” she says. “I homeschool my kids and I always tell them to be the best they can be, and here I was failing at that. I’ve seen a change in them since they’ve seen their mom become stronger.”