A few weeks ago, I read an article about a girl who went from over weight to a perfect 10 figure. As usual, my passion for fitness and nutrition and my curiosity of how she did it got me using Google until I found the answer. The name Tia Falcone was everywhere. Further digging got me to Tia’s website where I read the most amazing story of a woman who has transformed her own life through fitness and nutrition. An amazing story of strength and passion. A story of an understanding of what it takes to get mentally fit. I had to talk to her. So I called her and here we are.
She is the brain behind the most talked about Indian American’s perfect 10 figure in the United States and India, Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri. She herself has gone through many physical and personal challenges of her own. No amount of introduction can express my respect for this wonderful trainer and human being. I asked her for an interview and she responded within minutes and within 2 days I had my interview. Here she is, Tia Falcone.
1) Question: I read about your difficult story to get where you are today physically. Tell us what happened and how did you overcome those physical challenges through diet and fitness?
When I was in my 30’s I was injured. Very injured. I had gone through quite a few surgeries and injuries and had gained about 40-50 pounds. I was 75% permanently disabled and in a lot of pain. When my surgeons decided to re-operate on parts of me that had already been through surgery, I decided I did not want to live like this: fat, on an extensive amount of medication and steroids, I had constant asthma attacks and almost died twice. At that point, I had what I would call an epiphany of sorts. It was time to try something new, which was the hardest thing for me—and anyone for that matter. It was the last resort, one I had not tried—eat right and exercise.
My goal was to feel better, to not be in constant pain and to be able to wear jeans again. I constantly lived in sweats as I did not want to buy bigger sizes. I felt isolated due to embarrassment of my weight gain and how I looked. This is actually a big issue as people who have never been through such weight gain like this can never understand how many ways (other than physically) it can affect a person. And when it starts getting to affect your life and mental health, it is a big issue.
At this point in my life, I was in my 30’s and out of shape and unhealthy. I walked 20 feet and would be so winded, I needed to sit down. So I went 100% right away on eating clean and slowly started on the treadmill. I also stopped smoking cold turkey. It took me about a month at that point to get myself moving in the right direction in terms of exercise. Little by Little, I was able to do more and more. It was about 12 weeks later that I noticed a MIRACULOUS change and was feeling better in ALL areas. It was an incredible difference in my health, the aches and pains, my mental state, the depression and isolation I was feeling. At the moment the light bulb went off in my head, so to speak. This was what I needed to FEEL better. At that point, I was VERY motivated to keep going. About 6 months later, I hit the mark I was looking for and I have stayed there for the last 15 years.
2) Question: Did you have any difficulty maintaining what you achieved both mentally and physically?
There was a point where I got too thin. I was losing too much weight and I had to re-asses what I was doing in terms of eating and workouts. That was actually a lot of fun because I never thought I would ever have a point in my life where I had to eat more and workout less! At some point, I finally found a perfect maintenance spot and I have been there for the last 15 years. There have been and currently are times and periods where I cannot workout due to my heavy work schedule (6am to 7pm). I am working on adjusting that schedule to be able to take care of myself. My workouts are important for me to learn and I become a better teacher when I learn new exercises. I like to keep things fresh for my clients and as I learn new things, I can then teach it to my clients as well.
3) How did you motivate yourself to keep working out to see progress during the time you were trying to lose weight?
I will be honest, I HATED to workout, probably even more than the average person. There are theories that say if you workout for 90 days, a person gets hooked both mentally and physically. For me, that did not happen for about 8 months. I did not like working out, but I knew I had to do it to get myself where I needed to be. So I gave it a 120% and MADE myself workout. Almost every day, I always thought of reasons why I could not go workout that day, but at the end, I always went. It was very mental.
4) How do people get past the hunger when on a diet?
Well, when I started eating clean, I was hungry ALL the time. When you are used to binging on wrong foods, your stomach stretches out and it takes time for it to get used to less food. During those times, I would mentally have a talk with myself and say “You got yourself into this, now get yourself out and stop feeling sorry for yourself”. To get through it, you HAVE to be mentally strong and ask yourself “Do you want to continue feeling this way or do you want to feel better?” Mental strength is 200% of the effort. For me, eating clean is the best thing that has happened to me, because I FEEL good. The way I look is icing on the cake. In my life, I never would have dreamed I could look the way I do now. Weight training is miraculous for your physique and how it changes your body. However, getting through this is one of the toughest things in life, and I am sure Nina would agree.
5) What workouts do you recommend for women who are trying to become bikini ready?
The first thing is to have an image in your mind of how you want to look. It is important to have the dream to know where you are going to. When starting out, you need to understand the immediate results are going to be mental. The physical benefits take time to get there. It is not an overnight miracle. Be aware of how you feel mentally.
6) What kind of diet changes do you recommend anyone looking to lose weight or become physically and mentally fit?
Change your diet to 6 small meals a day. When I say 6 small meals, it is not 3 big meals and 3 snacks. All your meals should be approximately the same size. That is the biggest realization I had was having 3 meals and 3 snacks was the biggest mistake. Now, it is 6 small, healthy meals.
What I usually do is save my last meal for around 8pm or before I go to bed (I sleep early because I wake up very early). This way, when I am watching TV I don’t feel deprived of a snack. So I will have something like eggs with fruit or Greek yoghurt with raspberries, chicken on a whole wheat pita, etc. These are small meals, so they do not take much time to eat. When you are eating 6 small meals and eating clean, it is very simple. Calories in vs. Calories out. It doesn’t matter what and when. You should be burning more calories than you are eating if you are trying to lose weight or for maintenance, calories in=calories out. The other recommendation I have is to not over complicate food. Gluten free, organic, fat free are all hype. Fat free has tons of sugars. Others can be high in fat. You have to learn to read your labels and go as clean as you can. Go with right vs. fat free. One great example I tell my clients is mayo. Light mayo is better than fat free mayo. Drink a ton of water. I also use cinnamon on oatmeal, yoghurt, and chew cinnamon gum because it reduces your appetite and helps with hunger pangs. Spicy food also raises your metabolism.
7) Is diet really 80% of the battle?
I think it is a 50-50 puzzle. Everything has to be just right. It is important to have both things. Some people think if they workout, they can eat whatever they want and that is not true. The opposite is also untrue: Diet without working out. You will not lose weight effectively. Neither will work alone long term. It might work temporarily.
8) What differences in workouts do you prescribe your male clients vs. the female clients? Is there a difference? What about diet?
I don’t really go by gender when it comes to my clients. I go by an individual. Each individual has their own set of issues like injuries, knee operation, heart attack, blood pressure, etc.
So it is more important to give each person a personalized workout. Whatever I give you would not work on a 60 year old man or even another 35 year old woman. I never repeat my workouts for clients because you cannot just take a workout and copy it for 10 different people. Every single person is different.
9) Let’s talk about weight loss for a minute. While research shows the number on the scale should not be used to measure success, let’s face it, if someone is eating well and working out and that number does not budge at ALL, it de-motivates a person. What are some reasons for this? And what do you suggest to solve this “issue”?
People over complicate fitness and weight loss. It is not complicated at all. If you are not losing weight, you are either over eating, or not burning enough calories out. All the small cheats in a day add up. A quick bite of chocolate, just ONE drink, leftovers from someone else’s meals, etc. Trainers sometimes get frustrated and try to find something medically like a thyroid issue. First you have to make sure you are right on both diet and exercises and be true to yourself. Calories in vs. Calories out. If after that you are not losing weight, get your thyroid checked. I have an underactive thyroid and I gained 10 lbs in 6 months which is very frustrating because I had no control. Once I got on medication and had it stabilized, the weight came off. But generally, ensure you are eating right and burning out the calories.
10) It is well known you are the brain behind Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri fabulous figure. Explain how she became your client and what her goals were?
Nina bought a living social deal I had put out of 3 sessions for $25. She came in for these sessions and I sit down with all my clients and take a full assessment and she had to divulge her personal info. We connected immediately. Right in the middle of that conversation, I blurted out “You are an absolutely beautiful person” which is when she told me she had wanted to do pageants but had gained weight and couldn’t do them. Then she said she would LOVE to do Miss Rochester and can I help her lose 10 lbs in 4 weeks?
I didn’t know anything about pageants, but I found out they come in quick succession: Miss Rochester, Miss New York and Miss America were all quick. She had 4 weeks until Miss Rochester, about 8-12 weeks after that to Miss New York and another 8 weeks to Miss America.
She asked me to help her by sponsoring her and I told her I would be happy to sponsor her (sponsoring meant giving her free training) but only on the condition that she showed me seriousness and do what I told her to do and not to lie about what she is eating, etc. I told her very clearly I will not put time and money into someone who is not serious and is just fooling around. Nina came in every single week and lost weight every single week. That is how dedicated she was. From the time she came in to Miss America, she lost a total of 40 lbs with me.
11) What is a sample meal plan you suggested to her? Can you give the readers a day’s meal plan she was on during her “Road to Miss America”?
Well I gave her a clean diet. No condiments, no butter, nothing extra. All the food had to be very fresh, nothing processed, nothing white. 6 meals a day, all the same size. Nina said to me that the best thing I said to her was “this is not gourmet eating”. It is all about fueling your body with the healthiest things you can feed yourself and small quantities. It is like filling a car with premium gas and only fueling enough to go the miles you are driving, not the full tank. She understood having 800 calorie meals will not help. Smaller meals raise your metabolism.
12) What about her weekly workout regime? How many hours a day did she workout and how many times a week?
Nina was on a time sensitive schedule to when the pageants were so she had to commit to extra time daily to get to her goal faster. So what she did is not an everyday thing. But she was exceptional and would do about an hour of weight training with me and another 45 minutes to an hour of cardio. So I would say she did about 1.5-2 hours a day 5-6 days a week.
13) Tell us about Nina now post her win? I is she still on your workout plans?
Nina is on the road constantly so we do not get to train together. As Miss America she is never in one place for more than 48 hours.
14) What is next for you, Tia? You have your own gym, you have a celebrity client and you are physically and mentally very fit. What do you want to do next? Perhaps a book or video?
My initial dream was to have my own gym. And at the time, that seemed like a ridiculous dream. But it happened. Then the dream was to be able to make ends meet by having enough business full time (I stayed on as a trainer at planet fitness because I was scared I would not make enough money). I was truly not prepared for any of this. I have clients on a waitlist now. Now that all this has happened, my next vision is to make personalized workout videos for individuals. I am currently meeting with a firm to make that happen.
I also am trying to hire trainers to work for me as I need to be able to have more time myself. But for someone to represent me and my gym, they not only have to be a good trainer, but an exceptional human being. For the interviews, I have them train me and I need to make sure how they treat people, how they help people, the attitude. It is not about the money. I also want to hire a massage therapist for my gym. It is my DREAM to be able to make personalized workout videos for people who are remote. I want to be able to talk to my clients over the phone/Skype, make their workout videos to match their needs.
End of interview
Well, I know for sure I will definitely be hiring Tia for my own workout needs! Having done this interview, listening to Tia’s journey and Nina’s journey has definitely inspired me and I am sure it will inspire every single one of you!
Nina—if you are reading this, I would be HONORED if I could follow this up with an interview with you. I am sure the readers would also LOVE that!
Visit Tia’s website: