From struggling with an eating disorder to living a life of fitness and nutrition
By Emma Vallelunga
Every woman has strength inside of her. How far she is willing to go and what she is willing to change or sacrifice to see that strength is up to her. But that commitment is something Jessica Nicholas hopes to spark in women everywhere as she begins her business venture into the world of health and fitness.
Nicholas is a local fitness trainer and owner of Strength of Change, a personal training business built on the foundation of inspiring women to strive for a healthy and active lifestyle through high-intensity training and clean eating.
Growing up in Central New York, Nicholas was active playing lacrosse, volleyball and soccer, but her inspiration for fitness stemmed from a challenging beginning. She struggled with an eating disorder, and her illness only worsened by the time she left college at SUNY New Paltz.
“I came home shortly after my first year there, and I had a hard time with everything,” Nicholas said. “I felt like my world was falling apart, and it was all based around myself, my relationship with food, and that spiraled into bad relationships with my family and friends. I found myself pretty alone, and the only thing I had to back me up was my eating disorder.”
Nicholas realized she wasn’t happy with the direction her life was going and decided to make a change. Working out became one of her stress-relievers, and what began as only trying to lose weight turned into educating herself on better ways to strengthen her body and improve her relationship with food.
“Something just clicked one day when I went grocery shopping,” she said. “I got all the whole, nutritious foods for myself, and I was starting to learn more about fueling my body properly instead of just basing it off of counting calories. I really started to become who I wanted to become. I felt better about my body and how I was able to move and have energy and not be so dependent on what I was going to eat next and what that was going to do in terms of weight loss.”
Nicholas said she always worked in the restaurant industry before making the switch to focus on fitness about two years ago. She got her American Fitness Professionals Association certification and started working at a gym but eventually decided to start her own business last June.
COVID-19 didn’t stop her from starting Strength of Change and establishing a small clientele of women to personally train. During the winter months, Nicholas said there was a lull in business.
“It just seemed like one thing after another with people getting sick and not being able to come in, and everything slowed down a little bit,” she said. “It was difficult for me to establish everything at first.”
Like a lot of businesses these days, Strength of Change has adapted to the pandemic-world around it. In addition to offering small group classes twice a week for clients inside rented space at Infinity Dance Academy in Baldwinsville, Nicholas livestreams the class on Zoom for those who can’t come down to the studio but still want to follow along at home. She also holds outdoor classes at Gillie Lake in Camillus, which can accommodate more people while complying with social distancing and offer a refreshing atmosphere outside when the weather is nice.
Because of her past, Nicholas is also passionate about nutrition. She currently offers nutrition consultations through Zoom for women interested in starting healthier eating habits. She hopes to someday have her own gym to not only host her classes but also incorporate hands-on nutrition education.
“Nutrition is super important to me, and it’s what got me into this in the first place,” she said. “So my dream is to have a gym with a small kitchen attached to it, so I can have healthy things for women to eat there, like grain bowls and smoothies, and also have classes where women can come in and learn how to make properly portioned meals with grains, veggies, fruit and protein.”
Nicholas continues to market herself, her business and her passion by posting inspiring messages about healthy living, video clips of her workouts from her group classes, photos and recipes of healthy food alternatives and more on her Facebook and Instagram.
And her clients know how hard she works. Sue Hanyak knew Nicholas as a childhood friend of her daughter. When she heard Nicholas was starting her own business, Hanyak never imagined how much strength, focus and flexibility she would gain after working with her for almost a year.
“I’m 63 years old, and I had never lifted a weight in my life, and this girl pushed me in such a positive way,” Hanyak said. “She’s always kind, engaging and consistently focused on form and body mechanics, which I think is so important when you’re working with someone [like me]. At 63, you’re worried about getting hurt, and when I’m with her, I never worry.”
Hanyak and Nicholas have one-on-one sessions three times a week over Zoom, and she’s planning to attend an outdoor class this summer. She said being able to train with Nicholas in the comfort of her own home no matter where she is and still get the benefits of her workout has helped her immensely.
“I call her my traveling trainer, because I can bring her wherever I go,” Hanyak said. “I’ve never done the same class twice. Every week is something different. She demonstrates, she does [workouts] with me, she stops me mid-flow if she thinks we can improve on my form, even the way I’m holding a weight. She works with my weaknesses and pushes me within my strengths.”
Karen Khanzadian is another one of Nicholas’ clients who enjoys the lifestyle changes she’s made since she started training with her. She goes to Nicholas’ group classes over Zoom and will also attend an outdoor class soon. Khanzadian said having a fitness routine has helped her not only stay physically active but has also kept her feeling good about her overall health.
“I couldn’t even do a push-up when I started with her,” Khanzadian said. “But the wonderful thing about her is she’s an amazing motivator. She just knows what to say, and she does different levels. You can keep going even if you can’t do the level she’s at, so that no matter what, you will feel like you accomplished something by the time you’re done. I’ve done all kinds of other workout programs, and this one more positively impacts my day-to-day energy and activity.”
As she continues to work with Nicholas, Hanyak said she hopes Nicholas thrives in her new business and every aspect of her life.
“Even when COVID hit and things were hard for her, you never knew it,” Hanyak said. “She just kept pressing forward. I hope for the stars for her, because I don’t know anyone who eats, sleeps and breathes her job like she does.”
Women interested in gaining strength or changing their lifestyle can learn about class prices, services and more by reaching out to Nicholas on her new website at strengthofchange.com, on Facebook at Jessica Nicholas and on Instagram at jess.strength.
By nourishing the body with what it needs, moving it through physical fitness and realizing the self-worth that comes with it at the end of each day, Nicholas said she wants to help other women find self-love within themselves and believes she will empower women with the strength to change.
“Growing up with an eating disorder, I never thought I would fully love every part of myself,” Nicholas said. “It’s been a long journey to get to this point. But now that I’m here, experiencing how good it feels, I am never going back. Every woman is strong enough to overcome any barrier, the ones that are placed upon us by others and the ones we place upon ourselves.”