shondelle-solomon-miles-and-sonia-tigero_web.jpgSonia Tigero knew she had transformed her life when – after an emotional break-up with her boyfriend – she cried while doing push-ups instead of smothering the pain with fried chicken.

The 48-year-old private chef said that response is a far cry from the way she used to deal with emotional issues. “I used to use food to deal with my emotions,” said Tigero, who tipped the scale at 332 pounds when she began her weight-loss journey in February 2008 by entering a fitness challenge at Synergize, a semi-private, personal health and fitness gym in Hollywood.

Competing with 44 other people, Tigero won the challenge by losing 35 pounds in three months. What she did next helped her shed an additional 115 pounds.

Tigero, who is 5’9” and now weighs 182 pounds, said the prize for winning the contest was a trip to the Bahamas. But instead of going to the tropical island, she asked Synergize owner Shondelle Solomon-Miles to apply the cost of the trip to additional exercise sessions.

Solomon-Miles said Tigero began the fitness program and, after one nutritional counseling session to correct her poor eating habits, she never looked back.

“At the beginning, my first few weeks, I was eating anything. Also when I’d come to the gym, I couldn’t move because I was so big,” Tigero told the South Florida Times.

The mother of an adult daughter said that after her consult with Solomon-Miles, she had a talk with herself, and made the changes to her diet that helped her body begin to shed the excess weight.

“Why don’t you get the food that [Shondelle] said is good for me?” Tigero said she asked herself. “Instead of white rice, brown rice, instead of french fries, boiled potatoes, instead of fried chicken, roasted chicken.”

Synergize has become a way of life for Tigero. She works as a nutritional coach at the gym in addition to continuing her thrice weekly sessions that last for 45 minutes. The sessions include exercise routines such as squats and circuit training.

Tigero’s success was due primarily to her own strong emotional fortitude and self-motivation, said Solomon-Miles, 35, who opened Synergize in 2006 after gaining experience at other fitness gyms.

The Columbia University graduate said her passion for fitness began while she was a student in New York, and blossomed after she graduated, became a certified fitness instructor, and went to work in a few nationally recognized gyms.

“I did the whole health club route for a while, and then I realized that I did not like the health club environment. First and foremost, it didn’t feel like they really cared about the results of the clients. It was more about meeting your goal and selling as much personal training as you could,” said the wife and mother of two small children.

“I created Synergize as an alternative to that. We could focus on really getting results with clients, and keep it small and intimate,” Solomon-Miles said of the small group workouts that max out at six people.

“It’s a lot more cost effective, and it’s also the support and camaraderie which I think is important for maintaining a program. And the clients have a good time coming and therefore they’re consistent,” she said.

Consistency was a strong part of Tigero’s success, both women said. And in addition to the high-intensity workouts at Synergize, Tigero worked out solo by swimming or walking so that she was exercising six days each week.

“Sonia is not a typical scenario. I told her which foods to focus on and her frequency of eating and she just basically did it,” Solomon-Miles said. “She just made the decision that she would eat healthy. She was very consistent with her workouts.”

The right attitude is essential to permanent weight loss, and is the foundation at Synergize, Solomon-Miles said.

“Synergize embraces five philosophies: mastering your mind, detoxification and cleansing your internal body, nutrition, exercise and stress management,” she said.

Negativity, especially the use of the word “can’t,” is not allowed, and is punishable by 15 pushups.

“If you come in here and you don’t believe you can lose weight, chances are you’re not going to work hard enough and you’re not going to stick to it,” said Solomon-Miles, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia and a master’s in sports medicine from the University of Miami. 

Tigero said losing weight is an inside-out job.

“It is not about clothes [or] how you look,” she said. “It’s about how you feel. You don’t have to lose weight to be happy. When you lose weight, and you’re OK, you can find yourself. I don’t get food because I’m happy or blue. I’m getting food because I need my body to be fit.”

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Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Sonia Tigero, left, and Shondelle Solomon-Miles, right.