Andreina De Sousa Abreu, known to her friends and personal training clients as simply “Reina De Sousa,” has lost an incredible 238 pounds of bodyfat in a little over one year, going down from a U.K. dress size 26 to a sculpted size 8. It’s a tale that begins in the bleakest of places, but ends with a ray of hope for anyone battling to the be the best version of themselves. While the theory behind losing weight is simply to cut your calories and burn more fuel than you consume, the process of doing so is a complex journey that goes far beyond willpower and can be determined by an array of psychological obstacles.

Here, Reina De Sousa opens up to M&F in a frank discussion of what led to her initial weight gain, how she took back control, and why being healthy has given her a new lease of life.

Now 36, and operating successfully as a personal trainer in Twickenham, London, De Sousa (who is originally from Caracas, Venezuela) explains that her world was turned upside down in 2014. “I was raped by my landlord and his employees, and this trauma led me to turn to food for emotional support,” she shares bravely. “It’s not something I will truly heal from until I know justice has been served. I was failed by the police, so I suffered in silence until I spoke out.”

Turning to food as a way to deal with her trauma, De Sousa, who had previously taught Zumba and Pilates, and had formerly been of healthy weight, was now on a mission to end her life and block out her pain by neglecting her health. Fried foods and an abundance to takeaway became the norm until De Sousa finally convinced herself that the only way to rebuild her relationship with her children and prevent premature death was to reduce her weight and face up to the mental health issues that were taking hold. Weighing in excess of 375 pounds, doctors provided a grim outlook, but determined to turn things around, she opted to have a gastric sleeve. Gastric sleeves are now one of the most common forms of surgery to aid weight loss. The operation involves stapling off a section of the stomach to restrict the number of calories that can be absorbed by the body. The physical fixes were just the beginning, however.

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Reina De Sousa at the gym after she dropped 238 lbs in her transformation
Courtesy of Reina De Sousa

Reina De Sousa had to learn to love herself before she could take care of herself

“It took me years to heal from my trauma, and even now I am not fully healed, but due to my weight gain I developed many health scares and when the doctor said that if I carried on this way, I would not be around for my kids for very long, that gave me the final push,” she shares. “But even with a gastric sleeve this was not a magical process where I would lose weight and suddenly gain motivation to go the gym. This was a struggle both mentally and physically. I had to learn how to feed my body with good foods. I had to learn how to heal my mind with kind words. I had to learn to love myself as a person, as a mother, as a woman.

She added: I learned to accept that my rape was not caused by me. I learned to forgive myself, and it was at this point that I started making the right decisions with foods, life, and fitness. Recently, I decided that I want to compete on stage with PURE Elite and I believe this was the biggest push into my new fitness journey. I now have a professional body building coach. I eat 7-8 times a day.”

De Sousa tells M&F that she sets her alarm to sound every three hours so that she can eat, and by staying full, the survivor is rarely tempted to snack on anything that might derail her progress.

These days, the popular personal trainer, who is a qualified Les Mills Body Combat instructor, as well as teaching Zumba and being certified as a Nutritionist with the PT Academy, is a strong and powerful woman, being noticed and sponsored by huge brands like MyProtein. Still, losing weight was not a linear process. “I’m not perfect… I’m human,” says De Sousa. “And so, it wasn’t until I learned to have a good relationship with food that I stopped slipping back into old habits. I now walk around with my notes app pinned to my home screen, because I know I get one cheat meal with dessert once per week and when I get a sudden craving for something I know that’s going to be my cheat meal. I created balance in my life. People like me, who come from emotional eating backgrounds, need routine in our lives to function correctly. Without routine there is no discipline and without discipline there is no consistency. I rely heavily on my routine not just for my health but for my mentality. I need routine in place to keep going forward and my dedication to this routine is what got me here today.”

Hard work pays off when it comes to losing weight

“My training is mostly hypertrophy (developing the muscles) from Monday to Thursday,” explains De Sousa. “I alternate upper body and lower body days and have a set plan. Saturdays and Sundays are my heavy lifting days (to develop strength). I can now squat over 400 pounds (200 kilograms) and leg press over 530 pounds (240 kilograms).

“I won’t lie, it was hard to start off with. I wanted to give up from day one in the gym, but I pushed past that negative voice in my head,” she says. “Gym anxiety is real and a significant issue on its own. I had women laugh at my weight, laugh at how I worked out, laugh at me doing cardio… you name it, I went through it. I used it all as ammunition to fuel my hunger for this new body. With my cardio, when I started, I was struggling to finish seven minutes on a treadmill but now I run for a straight 120 minutes and I feel great. I hate it, don’t get me wrong (laughs), but I do it because it’s part of my plan. My joints no longer hurt. My knees and ankles would get the worst of it (bearing the excess weight), but now I can walk and run and jump with no pain. My sciatica has never come back, and to say I feel liberated from body struggles doesn’t go far enough to explain how thankful I am for my fitness journey.”

These days, De Sousa shuns takeaways in favor of meals such as white fish with lemon and parsley, completed by a side of turmeric rice with garlic. Lean beef is another favorite. In time, De Sousa felt able to resume her career as a fitness coach and spent lockdown time wisely, studying to further her qualifications. She now has local clients and internet-based clients from all around the world.

Reina De Sousa’s advice for anyone wanting to take back control of their weight

“Don’t compare your ‘Stage 1’ to someone else’s ‘Stage 20’,” she says. “We all have to start from the bottom and work our way up. As hard as that is to hear, hard work pays off in the long run. You need to go into this with a plan, with a routine. Losing fat will only happen through a calorie deficit and by watching what you eat and then you will see your body fat mass go down. By doing exercise with a set plan, you will see muscle definition. You didn’t gain all that weight overnight so you won’t lose it overnight.”

A healthy lifestyle has positively impacted family life for Reina De Sousa

“My daughter has started going to the gym with me,” she says. “To be your kids’ inspiration is another goal on its own, to know they look up to me and want to follow my footsteps… I can’t even describe how that feels! I think nutrition balance in children’s’ lives is very important and it has started to give them the right outlook on what to eat and when to eat it. My son has been more excited about this the most as he’s seeing his own weight drop through healthy meal plans alone, and they both really enjoy the cookies I make with the MyProtein whey powder. I also love their Salted Caramel Cookies!

“We are able to go on long walks, play football, or ride the scooter whereas before, a short walk to the shops would feel like I had just run a marathon. We are able to go sight-seeing, walk the dog, play more games. We have become closer as a family, and it’s all thanks to my weight loss success.”

Reina De Sousa transformation after losing 238 lbs of body fat
Courtesy of Reina De Sousa

You don’t have to go on your fitness journey alone

Having hit a milestone of 12,000 followers on TikTok thanks to sharing her story, many people have been inspired to take back control of their own lives too. For this strong and independent woman, finding a support network either with friends, family, or professionals is essential. “Speak about your traumas,” implores De Sousa. “There is no competition. No trauma is greater than someone else’s, and we all have our own battles to fight. To speak up takes courage. I believe that healing mentally should be a priority in your fitness journey. Recovery is a process and it takes time and it takes patience.”

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