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How she did it: Moving on from rough patch to becoming a personal trainer

Filsan Abdiaman wasn't always the fit, happy runner and personal trainer that she is today.


After a bad breakup in 2014, Abdiaman went back to Kenya, where she had grown up, and was working at a not-for-profit. She felt unmoored. She sublimated her emotional duress in poor eating habits and was gaining weight. Her family wondered what she was doing with her life. Finally her sister came to visit her in Kenya, in the spring of 2014, and talked tough. “I remember crying so much and telling her that I don’t know what to do. She told me to just go back to Canada and start journalling.” Abdiaman took her advice, but first went to the doctor. The results from her check-up scared her.

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“I was borderline diabetic and had high cholesterol. I couldn’t believe that I had got myself to that point over a breakup.” Upon returning to Canada in the summer of 2014, she decided to sign up at GoodLife Fitness and started off working with a personal trainer three times a week. When she wasn’t at the gym, Abdiaman would go walk circles
at the track behind her house in Toronto, sometimes jogging.

“That very quickly became easy for me. I started jogging for 15 minutes and not feeling tired. Then I wanted to do a race.” She ran her first 5K in the fall. “I remember finishing that race and feeling such a sense of accomplishment: I have done this, I have managed to turn my life around, I’ve found something I love.”


That 5K was followed by a half-marathon and a marathon. During that process, she also became a personal trainer herself, and began working to help others change their lives. She now sees that running not only strengthened her physically, but mentally as well. “It’s the one thing that has taught me to reflect on my failures and the stresses of everyday life and see them as small obstacles,” she says. “It’s helped me lift myself from the lowest,
darkest places.”

RELATED: Stories from the run commute: “Running trails to work, I lost 100 pounds.”


Set reasonable goals
Abdiaman encourages her clients to see the transition from being sedentary to a more active lifestyle as being a long, gradual process, full of small victories. “Some clients come to me and say they want to lose 50 lb. in a month or two. That’s an unrealistic goal. I tell them, “let’s focus on changing up your lifestyle and exercising two or three times a week.” Just stay active. Get up and go outside instead of looking at a screen.

Focus on taking it day by day
Abdiaman encourages her clients to keep their focus on the short term. “Just do something positive every day, and celebrate the small milestone,” she says. Not eating chocolate or ice cream for a few days, when you used to eat it every day, counts.

Hire a personal trainer
Sure, Abdiaman is a personal trainer, but she’s not just plugging the profession. Having someone to hold you accountable to your goals – and help you find out what sort of exercise works best for you – can be decisive support.

Keep a journal
Abdiaman found keeping a journal helped her recognize the negative consequences of her unhealthy behaviour, so she recommends journalling to many of her clients. “For me, I had a negative relationship with food. Journalling helped remind me how I would feel after binge eating a bag of chips or chocolate bars.”

Develop a positive attitude
In her work, Abdiaman tries to help clients evolve a positive attitude towards exercise. “Some see it as torture and they dread exercise.” Finding the right activities means that exercise is a positive experience. “Then they start to look forward to it.” Jay Smith is a regular contributor. She’s an avid trail runner in Edmonton.