Andreina De Sousa Abreu, known simply as "Reina De Sousa" to her friends and personal training clients, has lost an incredible 238 pounds of body fat in just over a year, going from a UK dress size 26 to a sculpted size 8. It's a story that begins in the darkest of places but ends with a glimmer of hope for everyone struggling to become the best version of themselves. While the theory behind losing weight is simply cutting your calories and burning more fuel than you expend, the process of doing so is a complex journey that transcends willpower and is dictated by a series of psychological obstacles can.
Here, Reina De Sousa opens up to M&F for a candid discussion of what led to her initial weight gain, how she regained control and why a healthy lifestyle has given her new life.
w 36, De Sousa (originally from Caracas, Venezuela) and a successful personal trainer in Twickenham, London, explains that in 2014 her world was turned upside down. "I was raped by my landlord and his employees, and this trauma led me to turn to food for emotional support," she bravely shares. "It's nothing I'm really going to heal from until I know justice has been done. The police abandoned me, so I suffered in silence until I spoke up.”
De Sousa, who previously taught Zumba and Pilates and was formerly a healthy weight, turned to food to deal with her trauma and was now on a mission to end her life and block her pain by improving her health neglected. Fried meals and copious amounts of take-out became the norm until De Sousa finally convinced herself that the only way to rebuild her relationship with her children and avoid an untimely death was to reduce their weight and face the increasing mental health to face problems. Weighing over 375 pounds, doctors gave a bleak outlook, but determined to turn things around, she opted for a gastric tube. Gastric sleeves are one of the most common forms of surgery to aid in weight loss today. During the surgery, part of the stomach is stapled to limit the number of calories that can be absorbed by the body. However, the physical fixes were just the beginning.
Courtesy of Reina De Sousa
Reina De Sousa had to learn to love herself before she could take care of herself
"It has taken me years to recover from my trauma and even now I am not fully healed but due to my weight gain I have developed many health problems and when the doctor said I would not be there if I was like that my children would continue for a very long time, that gave me the last push,” she says. "But even with a gastric sleeve, it wasn't a magical process where I would lose weight and suddenly get the motivation to go to the gym. This was a struggle both mentally and physically. I had to learn to nourish my body with good food. I had to learn to heal my spirit with kind words. I had to learn to love myself as a person, as a mother, as a woman.
She added: I've learned to accept that my rape wasn't my doing. I learned to forgive myself, and at that point I started making the right choices about food, life, and fitness. I recently decided that I want to compete on stage with PURE Elite and I believe that has been the biggest boost in my new fitness journey. I now have a professional bodybuilding coach. I eat 7-8 times a day.”
De Sousa tells M&F that she sounds her alarm every three hours so she can eat, and by staying full, the survivor is rarely tempted to eat anything that might affect her progress.
Today, the popular personal trainer, who is a qualified Les Mills Body Combat instructor, teaches Zumba and is a PT Academy certified nutritionist, is a strong and powerful woman recognized and sponsored by big brands like MyProtein. Still, losing weight wasn't a linear process. "I'm not perfect...I'm human," says De Sousa. "So I didn't stop falling back into old habits until I learned to relate well to food. I now walk around with my notes app pinned to my home screen because I know I get a cheat meal with dessert once a week, and if I suddenly feel a craving for something, I know it's mine cheat meal will be. I have created balance in my life. People like me, coming from an emotional eating background, need routine in our lives to function properly. There is no discipline without routine and no consistency without discipline. I rely heavily on my routine, not only for my health but also for my mentality. I need a routine to keep moving forward and my commitment to that routine is what got me here today.”
Hard work pays off when it comes to losing weight
"My training is mostly hypertrophy (muscle development) Monday through Thursday," explains De Sousa. “I alternate upper and lower body days and have a set plan. Saturdays and Sundays are my heavy lifting (to develop strength) days. I can now do 450+ squats and 500+ leg presses.
"I'm not going to lie, it was hard to start with. I wanted to quit the gym from day one, but I got over that negative voice in my head," she says. “Anxiety about the gym is real and a significant problem in its own right. I've had women laugh at my weight, laugh at how I exercise, laugh at how I do cardio... you name it, I've been through it. I used it all as ammunition to fuel my hunger for this new body. When I started I was struggling with my cardio to finish seven minutes on the treadmill, but now I'm running 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 take it the worst (carrying the excess weight), but now I can walk, run, and jump without pain. My sciatica never came back, and to say that I feel relieved from physical struggles doesn't go far enough to explain how grateful I am for my fitness journey."
These days, De Sousa eschews takeaways in favor of dishes like white fish with lemon and parsley, complemented by a side of garlic turmeric rice. Lean beef is another favorite. Over time, De Sousa felt able to resume her career as a fitness instructor and has been spending the lockdown period wisely studying to improve her qualifications. She now has local clients and internet based clients from all over the world.
Reina De Sousa's advice for anyone looking to get their weight back under control
"Don't compare your 'Level 1' to someone else's 'Level 20,'" she says. “We all have to start at the bottom and work our way up. As hard as that is to hear, hard work pays off in the long run. You have to approach it with a plan and a routine. Losing fat only happens by being in a calorie deficit and by being careful about what you eat, and then you will see your body fat mass decrease. If you train with a set plan, you will see muscle definition. You didn't gain all that weight overnight, so you won't lose it overnight either."
A healthy lifestyle has had a positive impact on family life for Reina De Sousa
"My daughter now goes to the gym with me," she says. "Being your kids' inspiration is another goal in itself, knowing that they look up to me and want to follow in my footsteps...I can't even describe how that feels!" I think that a balanced diet is very important in children's lives and it has started to give them the right attitude about what to eat and when to eat it. My son enjoyed this the most as he sees his own weight drop just through healthy eating plans and they both enjoy the cookies I make with the MyProtein Whey Powder. I also love their salted caramel cookies!
“We can go for long walks, play football or ride scooters, whereas before a short walk to the shops felt like I had just run a marathon. We can go sightseeing, walk the dog, play more games. We've grown closer as a family, and it's all thanks to my success at losing weight.”
Courtesy of Reina De Sousa
You don't have to start your fitness journey alone
After reaching 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 as well. Finding a support network with friends, family or professionals is important for this strong and independent woman. "Talk about your trauma," De Sousa urges. “There is no competition. trauma is greater than anyone else's, and we all have our own battles to fight. Speaking up takes courage. I believe spiritual healing should be a priority in your fitness journey. Recovery is a process and it takes time and patience.”