'Fitness saved my life twice': Woman overcomes 2 health crises with help from exercise

Andrea Logan is a certified physical fitness trainer who splits her time between Los Angeles and Charlotte, North Carolina. At 55, she’s been an instructor for 35 years, helping others get stronger and healthier. She also credits being physically fit for saving her own life twice. Logan shared her story with TODAY.

Fitness is a lot of things to everybody. People want to stay thin or just be able to enjoy food or look nice in their clothes or compete. Fitness for me is so different. Fitness has saved my life twice. It actually changed my whole life. 

I was a top athlete all through high school, but when I went to college, there was a rude awakening of having to work harder for the top spot. I gained a little weight and I developed an eating disorder, bulimia. I thought it would keep me thin. It was my own little secret that I controlled, but then eventually it just controlled me. It stayed with me for over 13 years. 

I’m 5 feet, 10 inches tall with a healthy weight of about 155 pounds, but I got down to 115 pounds. I looked like a lollipop — someone with a really big head and a small body. 

When I was binging, I would probably eat 20,000 calories at a time sometimes. I would go from Burger King to Taco Bell to McDonald’s all in within 30 minutes. It was a very self-destructive journey. It was terrible. I’m surprised I’m still alive. All my teeth are crowns now and I lost my gallbladder — it was totally impacted with stones — because of vomiting. I had a few heart issues going on.

Still, I wanted to be like GI Jane, strong and muscular — my goal was to become a truly strong female. I was training Marines and needed to do what that they had to do. But I couldn’t be strong while binging and purging — those were never compatible. So I started my journey of wanting to get healthy, and fitness kept me mentally strong, it kept me sane. I became healthy. I realized that food is not the enemy. That’s how I say it was the first time fitness saved my life.

Worried about 'ugly monster' coming back

The second time fitness saved my life was after a car accident in 2017. I was sitting at a standstill in traffic in Los Angeles when another driver who was texting hit me from behind while going at 55 to 65 miles per hour. I don’t remember her hitting me, but I do remember calling 911 because I started getting tingling in my hands. The first thing I thought was, “Oh my God, my neck.”

I had a disc collapse and the disc had gone into my spine, meaning it was hitting all the nerves. If I hadn’t been as strong as I was, that kind of impact could have broken my neck. I don’t think my body could have sustained that kind of force if I was still that weak, frail girl from my past.

The first doctor I went to said I needed fusion surgery, meaning I would have lost all movement in my neck. I wouldn’t have been able to look left, right, up or down. I thought, "Oh my God, I’m going to lose my fitness, which is my best friend." The scariest part was I didn’t know if my ugly monster, which is what I call the eating disorder, would come back because fitness was my sanity.

I went to another doctor who put an artificial disc in my neck and he was truly my savior. I had the best surgeon who understood why it was so important for me to be able to stay active. I came back full force within a year. Today, it’s like I’ve never had a neck injury.

The journey with my neck led me to realize how important our spines are and how we need our joints and bones to be strong even as we get older. I tell people you just need to start moving for at least 45 to 50 minutes three to four days a week. It doesn’t have to be fitness classes all the time, but you do need to lift weights. We need to make our bones strong. 

If we stay active and eat right, we’ve got it all figured out. I don’t put people on diets because a lot of times diets aren’t sustainable. I eat modestly, I eat clean, I eat a ton of vegetables. I eat the good carbs, like sweet potatoes and brown rice. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but I do eat a lot of chicken and fish. Raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and watermelon are my go-to fruits. 

I don’t ever keep myself from anything at all. If I want a piece of candy, I know how to do it moderately. I cheat on Mexican food, which is my favorite, every week. 

Fitness is still is one of my biggest passions today. It helps us think better and clearer, and it brings an empowerment.

I want people to realize you can go through anything in life and you can come back stronger from it. It doesn’t have to be a setback.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

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