TAMPA – Nicole Sampson was 20 years old and she was dying, and it was mostly her own fault. So she did something about it.
Sampson, an athlete in high school, started to overeat once she got to college. At 5-foot-2, it wasn’t until she reached the 300-pound mark she decided it was time to save her life. It was time to diet.
Since then, she has lost more than 50 percent of her body weight thanks to a strict diet and plenty of exercise. But she wasn’t the only one reaping the benefits – numerous charity organizations became recipients of Sampson’s old clothes.
She is now the healthy eating and green mission specialist at Whole Foods Market in Carrollwood. She runs free classes on everything from cooking healthy to how to buy the right foods on a daily basis and is never afraid to share her story.
“It takes a long term effort to eat healthy, but it is so different when you eat the right way,” Sampson said. “It changes your whole lifestyle for the better.”
Sampson grew up in northern Michigan where she skied, ran cross country, and played soccer and softball. When she got to college, she knew all about the infamous “freshman 15,” – the amount of weight a lot of college students gain once they get to school.
“I gained the freshman 100,” Sampson said. “I became a compulsive overeater. I ate even when I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted food. All I could eat.”
She started learning about nutrition and attending cooking classes. Soon, she changed her habits and, mixing in a healthy dose of hard work, the extra weight started to melt away.
“People can understand where I am coming from because I have been there,” Sampson said of her job at Whole Foods. “I didn’t recognize myself when I decided that I had to lose all that weight. I was dying. I had to make a change to save my life.”
First, she quit eating all animal products, and soon after found a taste for tofu. She said that changing her diet and forgoing unhealthy foods has been easier than she expected.
“It’s been fun to find new foods and also to share them with the people in my classes,” Sampson said.
Anna Payne, a marketing team leader at Whole Foods, said that Sampson has done a tremendous job with her classes and her attitude.
“This is a very exciting time, having Nicole here teaching people how to lose weight and eat healthy,” Payne said. “It’s not about just dieting, it’s about being a healthy eater and Nicole is a perfect example.”
As for Sampson, she sees people now that knew the nearly 300-pound girl who lost control of her body. She said there are two ways people react.
“First, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, what did you do?’ Next, it’s like, ‘I don’t recognize you,’ “ Sampson said. “It’s a whole new lifestyle and I love it.”
For more information on Nicole Sampson and her classes at Whole Foods, call (813) 264-3600.