In 2008, Gina Arakelian went looking for a surgical solution to her plantar fasciitis pain and discovered a new lifestyle. “The doctors told me I was borderline diabetic,” recalls Arakelian, owner of Gi’ara Hair Studio in Indian Head Park, Illinois. “That freaked me out!” Her grandfather had suffered from diabetes and died at age 70, and her father also has the disease.


Instead of giving up and taking medication, Arakelian decided to try exercising and improving her diet first. By a year later, she’d lost 70 pounds. She’s no longer borderline diabetic and loves feeling good. But for Gina, this is a journey, not a destination.


“At first I became a gym rat,” Gina says. “But I was beating myself up. My knees were hurting, and I got scared because I noticed that people my age were getting knee and hip replacements. My sister and I did this together. It’s always been easier for her, and the weight just fell off her. We all expect to see results right away, but I had to let go of that.”


Gina took the approach of changing one thing at a time but continually moving forward. “It’s slow and steady,” she says. Always an outdoors person, she hikes and bikes. Even during the harsh winters of suburban Chicago, she’ll put on snowshoes and explore the natural wonders.


“Nature makes me feel connected, inspired, creative,” Gina says. “Finding what you like to do is important. If you’re not enjoying your workout or activity, it’s hard to get yourself to do it the next time.” Gina also became dedicated to yoga and now teaches yoga. She also has launched the Yogi Behind the Chair inspiration initiative. 


“Yoga and frequent massages have helped me deal with being a hairdresser,” Gina says. “We give so much to our clients. If we don’t take care of the giver, there’s nothing left to give. I wish I’d known this when I was younger, but I’m grateful I learned when I did. Yoga breathing, coming to that quiet space—it all helps you to know whether you’re in the flow and things are going well. It’s been a wonderful gift.”


Deciding she never wanted to be on a diet, Gina started exploring the joys of cooking, blending and eating. “There are so many amazing flavors that are healthy,” she notes. “And there’s so much information—great recipes and apps, books and classes.”


Now she maintains her weight at a comfortable level and accepts her body image. She limits sugar but still enjoys a daily dose of chocolate. Recently she noticed that she hadn’t eaten red meat in a while, so she’s dropped it altogether. “I’m not a skinny person, but I’m a fit person,” she says. “It’s been hard, because I wanted to be that skinny person—but I’m a person who indulges in one meal and gains 3-5 pounds. So it’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve come a long way, too. I try to celebrate my accomplishments.”


As a hairdresser, you’re always propping up other people, helping them to feel better about themselves. Apply that approach to yourself, Gina urges. “Once you start, you’ll begin to see that you’re worth better,” she says. “I remember walking up the stairs out of breath and thinking this is just the way it will be. Then I realized I deserve better—I am worth better! It has to sink into your brain.”


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