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Personal trainer’s prewedding drill blends positivity and scientific principles to help women prepare for the big day
Story by Jana Eisenberg, with photos by Douglas Levere, BA ’89
RACHEL LYNN SUNLEY, MPH ’10, upbeat, easygoing, ambitious, is an ideal personal fitness trainer. She’s lived it: As a preteen, she put on weight and found her self-esteem suffering. Lessons from each of her parents on exercise and eating right helped her to drop weight. And along the way, she realized a deep-seated passion.
These days, Sunley is happily helping others learn the same lessons—adding in science and savvy. During the process of earning her master’s in public health, her integrative project focused on weight-loss maintenance among American adults. She learned that about 50 percent of those who successfully lose weight gain it back in fewer than six months. She decided that she wanted to address this discouraging statistic.
“Immediately after earning my master’s, I got my personal-training certification and was working part time at a fitness club. I developed a comprehensive fitness program. Then I thought, ‘What would make this different?’ I love instructing boot camp style workouts; weddings, fashion, nutrition/eating healthy and cooking are some of my favorite things. I realized that bridal boot camps were exactly what Buffalo was missing! Some of the most motivated clients are women who want to feel beautiful and confident on their wedding day.” Her Buffalo-based business, Bridezilla Boot Camps, was born in 2011.
With her scientific knowledge and positive attitude (plus her undergrad degree in psychology), Sunley provides her clients with the tools to get and stay fit. It’s not a new idea—Google “bridal fitness” and you get about 48 million results—but her melded, science-based philosophy is innovative.
Her two closest advisers at UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions were Gary Giovino, chair of the community health and health behavior department, and Marc Kiviniemi, assistant professor in the same department who focuses on health-related behaviors. “Dr. Giovino and I frequently talked about eating the way our grandparents did,” Sunley says. “Mostly ‘real’ food, prepared from scratch.”
Sunley says consulting with Kiviniemi helped her to realize how much she wanted to apply her knowledge to the needs of real people. Now she’s deeply connecting with real people and real food on a daily basis—so much so that she recently gave up her job as a corporate wellness specialist to focus on her business full time. Her six- and 12-week bridal boot camps encompass multiple sessions in groups of six or fewer women—often a bride and her attendants, sister and/or mother. Sunley’s approach offers a 50/50 split between physical training and nutritional education. She rents space at a local gym, though some training is conducted at area parks and trails.
While she plans to experiment with couples boot camp, right now, it’s a female thing, Sunley says. “Including men changes the dynamic. In a gym or other co-ed environment, women can be intimidated or self-conscious. I want them to feel comfortable—in a private and intimate environment.”
The biggest challenges in Sunley’s business are clients with unrealistic expectations. “Everybody wants quick weight loss,” she says. “We educate them on healthy and realistic goals. Whether they want to lose weight, tighten and tone, or take their fitness to the next level, I help them establish ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goals— those that are specific, measurable, action-based, realistic and time-constrained.”
As for the “b” word? “Most people find the ‘bridezilla’ name fun, like I do,” Sunley says. “Actual ‘bridezillas’ probably won’t come to me! Once they meet me, and see my personality, and sense of humor, they get it.”
To keep weight off, people need to make lifestyle changes, Sunley says. Start small and these modest, incremental changes can add up to big results. Here are some of her tips:
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