Lyzabeth Lopez transformed her personal struggles into a business designed to stop other women from facing the fad diets, calorie counting and exercise trial and error she went through herself.

Lyzabeth Lopez hit send on an email, then threw up. The resignation letter she’d emailed her boss meant she was leaving behind her stable job as the active living supervisor for the Toronto Municipal Government to run her own fitness business. “I’m not going to live for my pension,” she said to herself.

It was a tough decision. Her job paid the bills, but she was tired of spending her days in an office pushing papers. She begged to take six months off work to model in a fitness show while she also worked for a gym. When both jobs left her without a paycheck, she considered heading back to the office with her tail between her legs.

Instead, Lopez decided to start a group fitness class for women. The small class of seven students would eventually become Hourglass Workout, a business with 15 gyms across North America, a training app and Hourglass Shaper Kits that help women build curvy figures. “It was kind of a happy accident,” she says.

Building a business from the ground up meant putting in long hours, but the daughter of two entrepreneurs knew what she was signing up for. Besides teaching the fitness classes, during her 19-hour days she acted as a marketer, social media coordinator and web designer. Now she’s a go-to expert on shaping women’s bodies. Even a Kardashian has called her an inspiration. But learning to love her body and fig- ure out how to be healthy has been a long road.

The Kate Moss era

Lopez always had an interest in fitness. She was always active, including taking part in gymnastics. After an injury kept her off the gymnastics mat, she started hanging out at the YMCA with a group of boys. When one of the trainers offered to show 12 year-old Lopez and her friends how to lift weights, she began using the leg and bench presses.

The workout world of Lopez’s youth looked different from today’s. Women worked up a sweat in aerobics classes and stayed out of the weight room. There was little knowledge on how to shape the female body. Keeping up with the boys, Lopez was pushing 250 lbs on the leg press. She’d hoped her workouts would result in the rail-thin body she saw on magazine covers. In- stead, her efforts increased her muscles and size.

“It was a Kate Moss era,” says Lopez. “That’s her body type and it looks great on her, but that’s what I thought I was supposed to look like too.” Desiring a thinner figure, Lopez began to obsess over her body, eventually developing anorexia.

The struggle with food followed her through high school. She wasn’t eating and worked out obsessively in pursuit of what she felt was the perfect body. Meanwhile, her genes were working against her. “My genetics on my mom’s side are to be bigger,” she says. “My mom’s side of the family has very big lower bodies, big bums and big thighs.”

It wasn’t until she began taking part in fitness competitions and saw a fitness model who wasn’t a bodybuilder on the cover of a magazine that Lopez began to eat again. “I remember seeing her and thinking, ‘Whoa, she’s fit and slim,” she says. “They had what she ate in the magazine and that kind of got me to think maybe I could eat a bit of food.”

It was only a partial success. She followed a strict diet during competition season and then binged during the off season, which left her feeling guilty.

Lopez overcame her eating disorder, but food still confused her. When she was young, fat-free diets were all the rage, then the dietetics classes she took during her health science degree had her counting calories. She thought she was eating well, but remembers when a breakfast of mini wheats cereal caused her stomach to get so bloated that it “looked like there was a basketball under [her] shirt.”

Fed up with her struggle with food, Lopez took a two-year holistic nutrition course. It taught her about herself and resulted in a healthier relationship with food. Her passion for what she was learning went beyond the classroom.

She took the lessons and created a monthly nutrition workshop for the women in the fitness class she was running. She and her clients became guinea pigs, seeing what worked and didn’t work for each woman. The fitness class eventually turned into her Hourglass Workout business.

The “thickfit” trend

Lopez has seen a major change in the industry since she began her business a decade ago. When she started the “thickfit” body trend, which celebrities like Kim Kardashian are famous for, hadn’t yet blown up. Lopez remembers curves were seen as acceptable but women weren’t striving to build curves through their workouts. “Before every-one was aiming for this one shape and that’s just not how it is anymore,” she says. “There’s so many different body types to be celebrated.”

But in the late 2000’s, when big butts were joked about on television and exercise videos were teaching women how to shrink their glutes, a class where women were working for a larger butt stood out. Women were driving over an hour every day to take part in Lopez’s unique classes.

With curvaceous figures beginningto fill Instagram feeds and a growing desire for big backsides, the workout world got busy. The new fitness trend helped Lopez’s business, but at the same time her competition grew. No-one was teaching classes like Hourglass when Lopez started. Suddenly every- one was showing women how to build curves.

Today, Lopez is working to keep her business fresh. “It’s challenging as an old-school person who started from scratch and used trial and error,” she says.

She does see a missing piece in the fitness world’s chase for curves. A lot of the material out there is similar. “There’s not a lot of innovation happening in the field,” she says.

She spends time researching ways to improve her program as a way to set her apart. One key is to figure out what causes women to fall off the workout wagon and back into bad habits. “I want to be at each door so if they fall off I can say, ‘I have this—this is going to help you stay on,’” Lopez says.

The business is about more than money. It’s her clients’ success that’s most important. She works closely with students, listening to what they want from their workouts and ensuring they get it. If someone wants a big butt and thick thighs, Lopez can adjust the routine so clients get the results they want.

Her urge to help women comes in part from of her own struggles with body image. “I would wear three pairs of pants and two sweaters,” she says. “I would try to be invisible. I don’t want anyone to feel that way.”

Taking it to the next level

Although she’s been in business for 10 years, was named one of Forbes’ magazine’s top fitness influencers in 2017 and was featured on Khloe Kardashian’s workout app, Lopez doesn’t think of herself as a success. “I still feel like I’m trying to make it,” she says.

She’s constantly looking for what else she can do for her clients. For her, the best indicator of success will be when she is able to give women the skills to keep up with their healthy routines. Figuring out what these skills are is her current research goal. “It’s about more than just success and money,” she says. “I want to keep building my program until I can get the maximum amount of success for clients.”

Lopez isn’t alone in her pursuit to improve the business. The first moment she remembers feeling like she was making it was in 2014 when her husband left his banking job to join Hourglass as her partner. He brings practicality to the business, ensuring they slow down and talk plans through.

“I’m too much of a risk taker where I’m just like, ‘Let’s try this and throw everything in,’” says Lopez. “I’m a bit of a jump-in-with-two-feet-kind of person, so it’s good to have balance.”

While other entrepreneurs may strive to build a business and sell it, Lopez says that isn’t the case with Hourglass, “I want my husband and I and our team to be the ones to take it from the bottom and explode it and help people.”

As for her personal journey, Lopez has found her own sort of balance, symbolized by her daily health store cookie or other natural treat that satisfies her sweet tooth without leaving her feeling guilty.

Lopez has transformed her personal struggle into a business designed to stop other women from facing the fad diets, calorie counting and exercise trial and error she went through herself. She wants women to find happiness with their own bodies as she helps them build curves and confidence.

This article originally appeared in Optimyz print magazine in 2017.

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