We all know that it is in the winter when we gain a few pounds. From Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year’s, how can we not indulge? Yet, although the temptation is real, we can still try to make small, healthier choices.

Bikini competitor and personal trainer based in Las Vegas, Mikaelah Villacruz (@mikaelahvillacruz), has a few words to give for those interested in being more aware of their health. Whether it be your goal to make life changes and become more fit or if you’re just interested in gaining a few tips, read on. We could all use some more help on how to go about this healthy journey.

Can you walk me through your journey when you became more aware of your fitness and health?

I’ve always been super conscious of my weight. I was a chubby little girl who stopped growing at 4′ 11″ so my appearance was always on my mind. Around 17 years old, my peers introduced me to weightlifting. At first, all I had were aesthetic goals and all I wanted to do was workout to look good. When I graduated high school, I was lost in life and stopped putting my health first. I was over-eating and it affected my work ethic negatively. I used the gym as my outlet and began participating in bikini competitions and haven’t looked back since.

Mikaelah Villacruz, bikini competitor and personal trainer| Mikaelah Villacruz

On your Instagram bio, you say you are a personal trainer. Can you tell me what made you want to do that and what it’s like being a PT today?

Truthfully, I never thought I would be a personal trainer. Exercising was my hobby and I didn’t think to make it a career. It wasn’t until my first bikini competition that I realized fitness wasn’t just a hobby to me – it was my passion. My coach at the time was unlike anyone I ever met before. He was funny and didn’t take anything too seriously yet at the same time, he was encouraging, empowering, and ultra motivated. He put the idea in my head and a week later, I registered for my course. I hope to help people the way he helped me to realize my potential.

What are some common misconceptions that you have noticed when people try to start being healthy or lose weight? What do you say to those misconceptions?

People always assume that working out your abdomen means automatic fat loss. I have to remind my clients that there are other effective ways to shave off inches on the waistline. It has a lot to with the media bombarding the public with false information about exercise. There are many misconceptions out there that continue to circulate and there will be probably be more to come. It’s important that we all do our research and not just follow the leading fads and also to remember that there isn’t one way to approach fitness.

With the holidays around the corner, what are some tips you have for people who want to stay more on the healthy side? Are there any rules you’re following as far as what to eat or how much? If so what are they?

Around the holidays it’s no question that we tend to indulge and for me personally, there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s important to enjoy the food that you eat with the ones you love because life is short. There are much more important things in life that keeping up an appearance. My only rule is not to eat until you’re full and not just to eat simply for the heck of it. Pace yourself and don’t make yourself sick. I think we’ve all been there before where we eat simply to pass the time with family. Know your limits and keep your digestive system happy.

Do you know of any good replacements for food that might be helpful for the holidays?

I would say to just avoid deep fried sugary items and leave it at that. Nutritionally, there isn’t a huge calorie difference between white and brown rice and starches like sweet potatoes or regular potatoes. I do recommend that people learn how to track their macronutrients and learn the nutritional value behind the food they eat. I don’t believe in “good” or “bad” food because we’re all difference and we all react to diet differently.

Macronutrient profiles are the required numbers each individual must fulfill on a daily basis in order to meet their desired goals! It’s important to know what your macro range is if you choose to track them. There are numerous macro calculators online but just keep in mind that they are ballpark estimations and that each individual has a unique and specific set.

Besides the guidelines that you’re following, what are some general do’s and don’ts for the holidays?

Don’t drink heavily in succession. Again, pace yourself and know your limits. Alcohol yields nothing but empty calories. If you’re watching your weight, try not to go too crazy on the shots. Do, however, enjoy yourself. Enjoy the time you have with family and catch up with them. Live in the moment!

Mikaelah Villacruz, bikini competitor and personal trainer| Mikaelah Villacruz

For those who are looking into being more aware of their health, what are some tips you have to begin doing that in a positive way?

Before you start following insane diets and workout plans, ask yourself why you are starting a fitness journey in the first place. Having a powerful “WHY” really makes a difference. Motivation is fleeting and it isn’t something to rely on. You have to push through those days where going to the gym doesn’t even feel like an option. Exercise is a form of therapy. It’s not a requirement and it’s not an obligation. To be able to utilize our bodies and push ourselves to limits that we once thought were unachievable is a blessing in itself. Sometimes it’s just a mental switch up that you need.

How can we turn these healthy choices into a lifestyle?

Consistency and dedication is all you need to make these choices into habit. I don’t even have to think twice about exercising now. It’s not a job or a requirement for me – it’s just something that’s part of my day that brings me immense happiness. If I don’t work out, I feel empty.

Any last words on wellness?

I want to emphasize the research aspect of health and fitness. It’s fine if you watch Youtube videos and use those to aid in your journey, but don’t get so stuck in what you think is the “right” way to lose weight or build muscle. The beauty of fitness is that there are many ways to approach the lifestyle.

Anything besides health that you would like for readers to know about yourself of what you’re doing?

I’m currently pursuing my second certification in nutrition! In this industry, the room for growth is endless. I’m very excited to see where the future takes me.