As a biology professor at an Ivy League university in New England, Nathalie Oulhen ought to know her own value, but a lack of self-confidence held her back from enjoying life to the fullest. Convinced she was chained to her desk, she denied herself the time to work out, or even take walks and play sports. She had a dream of writing children’s books, but couldn’t pull the trigger to finish one. Her boyfriend had to push her into taking the Onnit 6 Challenge—our six-week fitness and life transformation course—and join the Onnit Tribe (our private Facebook group).
But once surrounded by the positivity and encouragement that the Onnit community provides, Oulhen, 39, started to see past her self-imposed limits. Originally from Brittany, France, Oulhen spoke to us in her melodious accent about how Onnit helped her find freedom and overcome malnutrition, pain, and other obstacles, ultimately reaching potential she never knew she had in all sorts of areas.
Onnit: What was life like before you discovered Onnit?
Nathalie Oulhen: Before I found Onnit, I wasn’t eating healthy at all. I was vegetarian, and I still am, but I wasn’t taking the time to eat healthy food. I used to eat sugar all day! I would bring chocolates with me in the car when I went to work—that’s how I started my day. I wasn’t getting enough protein, and I was deficient in several vitamins and minerals. I was so malnourished that I would get dizzy just from walking up the street. I even passed out from time to time. I went to the emergency room several times, and doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me other than my nutritional deficiencies.
I didn’t work out because I would get bored at the gym, or tell myself that I didn’t have the time because I worked day and night. I love my job, but I need to distract my mind from it sometimes. For a long time, I had nothing else outside of my work, and that’s not healthy. I live in Massachusetts, but I work in Rhode Island, so I have a 45-minute commute each way. Most days, I don’t get home until 1:00 a.m., and I’m not in bed until 2 a.m. I used to wake up at 9:00, read emails, prepare for classes, have online meetings, and then go off to the lab.
I had a lot of joint pain, too—another reason I believed I couldn’t work out. Just turning my wrist hurt, so lifting anything heavy was scary to me. I thought I might hurt myself more.
How did you come to find Onnit?
My boyfriend, Steve, is a part of the Onnit Tribe, and he’s really into fitness, but I didn’t know anything about Onnit. One day, he said to me, “There’s this Onnit 6 workout program, and it would be good for you. I signed you up for the Onnit 6 Challenge as well.” I said, “What?!” I hadn’t worked out in years, and now, all of a sudden, I had to follow a structured, six-week workout plan.
A lot of people would be offended that their boyfriend would push them into doing a workout program. Did you put up a fight?
I was upset at first, but I didn’t take it as, “He’s giving me a not-so-subtle message that he wants me to get in shape.” I was angry because I felt obligated to do this workout now. My boyfriend really knows me better than I know myself, in some ways. He knew that I needed to try Onnit’s program, so he provided the outside perspective that I needed to get healthy. Like I said, he was already a member of the Onnit Tribe, and he signed up for the Challenge too, so I didn’t have to do it alone.
To make me feel more comfortable, he said I should join the Onnit Tribe before the Challenge started. “They’re a really supportive group,” he said, “and you’ll see that you’ll be working with nice people before you start the Challenge.” I joined the Tribe at the end of April 2021, and I had a month to get familiar with it before the Challenge began in June.
As soon as I joined the Tribe, I met all these great people who were supporting each other and telling their stories. I went in thinking that, because it’s a part of the Onnit 6 fitness Challenges, it was going to be all about the competition. That people would be posting about who’s the strongest, and who’s pushing themselves the most. But the Tribe doesn’t feel like a competition at all. Everyone is helping each other get better, and you can ask questions and talk about anything in your life that you want. I still look at the Onnit Tribe page every day—those people are a constant inspiration.
I was immediately touched by Angi Sanders’ story. She’s a Tribe member, and she’s amazing. She helps you realize that there’s so much we can learn to do better in life. That helped me understand what the Tribe was like, and it made me feel confident to post my own feelings in it.
The Tribe is one of the main reasons I did the Challenge in the first place, and why I’m still doing Onnit’s workouts today. It’s like having a big family around you.
What kinds of changes did the Challenge and the Tribe help you to make?
They taught me about nutrition and got me to change my eating habits. I added more protein to my diet, including Onnit’s Whey Protein powders, and I started eating more eggs. The more protein I ate, the less sugar I craved, so the problem of me eating chocolate all day solved itself. As I ate better and got stronger from the workouts, my joint pain went away. I can see muscles in my arms and legs now [laughs].
I also gained so much mental strength. I became less stressed and more confident. I learned the power of positive thinking: Just by telling myself that I can do something, I do it better, not just in my workouts, but at my job as well. I used to stress out when I had to speak at a conference, but now I’m more aware of my skills and I’m able to reflect on things better. I tell myself that I can do things and then I do them!
That Onnit 6 Challenge took me from doing nothing to working out every day for six weeks, and it completely changed my nutrition. I guess that’s why I was a semi-finalist in my first Challenge. I can’t believe how Onnit has changed my life in less than a year.
Which Challenge did you start with?
I did the Steel Mace Challenge in June, and I was really scared of it at first because the mace is so unusual. But I started with the seven-pound mace, and before long, I was able to lift the 10-pound one and then the 15. The Onnit 6 program is progressive, so you can build your strength gradually.
I used to go to the gym for a week and get bored, and then not go again for years. When you go to a gym, no one guides you on how to use the equipment—you’re on your own. But when you do an Onnit 6 Challenge, you have coaches that explain everything to you. The workouts change after a few weeks, so I never get bored. I also really enjoyed doing exercises I knew no one else was doing. When I told my friends I was doing a Steel Mace Challenge, they said, “A what?!” [Laughs] Onnit’s workouts are fun, and there are so many things to learn about them that you can repeat them over and over and pick up something new every time.
How were you able to fit your workouts into that hectic schedule you described earlier?
I didn’t think I would have time to work out, but when I got into the Tribe, I saw people talking about organizing their schedules to make time for workouts. I thought, “OK, I can do this too.” I realized that I only thought I couldn’t make time for exercise because I wasn’t making it a priority. The funny thing is, I found that once I started working out, I had more energy throughout the day. That helped me finish my other work faster, so I became more efficient. I still work really late and get home late, but I can usually squeeze in a workout at 11:00 or noon. I even have time to make a healthy lunch before I leave for the lab. I didn’t have to sacrifice anything else in my day to do the Onnit workouts. And because the Onnit 6 workouts let you train from anywhere, I can make up workouts when I miss one. I don’t have to race to a gym before it closes, or be there right when it opens.
I used to make excuses for why I couldn’t go to the gym, like it’s too cold out. But now that I train in my living room, I can’t let myself off the hook like that anymore [laughs].
Making time for workouts has shown me that I can have time for other things I like, too. Onnit was the start of me doing several other physical activities that I hadn’t done in years, such as walking and playing tennis.
People in the Tribe are calling you an “unstoppable tiger.” Why?
Because after my first Challenge, I told people I went from being a sloth—because I was doing nothing—to a tiger. I went from always sitting down to having the energy to do anything. I love to work out now and push past my limits and get better every day. A tiger is more fun than a sloth!
Are you taking any supplements to help with your workouts, or any other aspect of your day?
Apart from the chocolate and vanilla Whey Protein, I like New MOOD® for helping me relax. I also love the HYDRATech™ Instant Tangerine powder. It’s delicious, and I feel like I can push myself harder when I drink it.
Rumor has it you’re a budding children’s book author. How did that come about?
Yes, I had started trying to write books for children years ago—stories that had science facts so kids could learn about marine animals, which is my field of study. During my second Onnit 6 Challenge, people in the Tribe were asked to pick an activity that we wanted to do better, and I chose to go back to my children’s books and finish them.
I wrote a book about a little girl who finds a starfish and sea urchin in the ocean and keeps them as pets, but they want to go back home. So the three of them go on an adventure back to the ocean. I found a lady to illustrate the book, and now we’re submitting it to a publisher this month! I wasn’t confident enough to finish the story and send it to anybody before, but, thanks to the Tribe, I am today. And now I’m working on a second book.
Onnit is really not just about workouts. It’s so helpful for getting you to reflect on your life and see what you can do better. There are actually a lot of scientists in the Tribe, and we make science jokes together all the time. We have so much fun. Whatever you’re interested in, I think you can meet someone in the Tribe to share in it.