There is No Secret to Getting Fit

My Journey to Fitness

How I lost over 100 pounds, part 1: The Food

How I lost over 100 pounds

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Yes, yes, I know I said there is no secret to getting fit.  And that’s true, it’s all about a healthy diet and exercise.  But it’s definitely not an easy point to arrive to.  I often get asked about how exactly I lost my weight, specifically, how did I change my diet.  Obviously I had to change the way I eat quite significantly to have lost the weight that I lost.  Of course it’s not just about the food, but I’ll talk more about exercise in another post.

So, here we go, the food… About 9 months into my weight loss journey, I finally realized that exercising a small amount each day and trying to reduce my portion sizes just wasn’t working to continue to take off the weight.  I had hit a plateau already and I was only about 20 pounds down.  I realized that if I wanted to get significant results, I needed to change my lifestyle drastically.  What I was eating and what I was doing for exercise worked for a few months, then stalled because I never actually changed my eating habits or took my exercise to the next level.

I arrived at the way I eat today over a gradual process of listening to my body and changing my food choices based on how I felt after eating certain foods.  I didn’t use a nutritionist, but I did read a lot about nutrition and “clean eating”.

First things first.  I had over 100 pounds to lose.  This was extremely daunting, especially considering I was NEVER fit, I was ALWAYS significantly overweight, from childhood through adulthood, and I was addicted to food. I made every excuse in the world to avoid changing my habits from “I’ll just go back to worse habits if I deprive myself” to “I really don’t eat all that unhealthy” to “If ‘Suzie’ is so fit, and she can eat junk food, then I should be able to do it too”.   I was convinced that there was an easy way that didn’t involve giving up sugar and treats on a daily basis and was minimal effort.

Finally, I was ready to give it a “real” try.  I was ready to admit that there’s no magic pill, no quick fix, no easy way, no secret.  This was all on me and I had to put the work in to get there.

The beginning of my diet overhaul was probably the most difficult.  I was used to eating dessert every night, I was used to eating processed foods, “diet” foods, and foods filled with hidden sugar.  My fist step with food was pretty drastic.  I completely eliminated white flour and processed white sugar.  I forced myself to skip dessert.  It was hard!  I craved the sugar, I was addicted to it.  Dessert had become an ingrained habit.  It took about 2 weeks before the massive sugar cravings went away, but I continued with no sugar or white flour in my diet because it was working!  Between this change in my diet and a significant increase in my exercise levels, I was consistently losing weight every week.

As the weight came off, I gradually started tweaking my diet.  In the beginning stages I was a little bit “afraid” of food.   I was afraid to let myself explore too many options, so I would typically eat the same limited foods and snacks every day.  At this point, I was still eating packaged protein bars almost daily, Kashi frozen meals, whole grain breads, crackers, pretzels and beans.  I still ate a good deal of foods that were “pre-measured” for me.  I knew I needed to get out of this tiny box of selections I backed myself into, so I started experimenting with different foods.  One of the first things I did was cut out the “safe” 200 calorie protein bars and I came up with little grab and go whole food snacks.  I always have an option with me while I am out and about.

After about two months of eating no sugar or white flour, I started noticing that I no longer really craved grains at all.  There were many days that I would go without adding any grains in my diet.  On days I had grains, I started to notice I didn’t feel great after eating them.  I naturally started steering away from grains.  After a bit of experimenting, I did find that oats do not affect me if I have them once in a while.  Quinoa and brown rice also seem to agree with me in small quantities, once in a while.  I generally don’t add these into my diet more than once or twice per week at most.  Another food sensitivity I became aware of was beans.  Every time I had beans, I would feel awful for up to 3 days after eating them.  Interestingly enough, my brother has found he has the same food sensitivities and reactions that I do and we hadn’t discussed it until we had both already figured it out for ourselves.  We are both able to have dairy (cheese, butter and ice cream), without adverse reactions, however, I still limit my dairy consumption to greek yogurt in my smoothies and some cheese in my recipes.

For those of you familiar with Paleo and Primal eating, you’ve caught on to where I am going with this.  Once I had realized on my own how different foods affected my body, I had started researching recipes and ideas for meals I could make.  Of course, that led me to Paleo and Primal eating websites and recipes.  All of the recipes I make are made with whole foods, that’s the #1 most important factor.  From there, they are typically grain-free and/or gluten-free, primal or paleo but sometimes with cheese.  I eat full fat versions of everything, nothing low fat or diet, and I eat lots of vegetables.

I do have people ask me if I recommend Paleo or Primal eating for weight loss.  My answer is, no.  I believe that everyone is different and every body reacts differently to different foods.  What I do recommend is shifting to a whole food, “clean” diet.  And from there you can start to experiment and see what foods make your body feel good and what foods you have a sensitivity to.  For some people this may mean eating a vegetarian diet, vegan, balanced diet with some whole grains, paleo, primal, or gluten-free.  There is no “one way” to eat, but getting rid of overly processed foods is a MUST!

Over the past 2 years I gradually tweaked what I eat and what I feed my family to be meals made from whole foods.  I don’t eat frozen boxed meals or “diet foods” any more, and I avoid anything overly processed.  Overly processed to me means more than 5 ingredients on the package, but typically I purchase packaged whole foods like bagged spinach or plain greek yogurt or other packaged goods with just one ingredient.  I enjoy cooking and coming up with new recipes using all whole food ingredients.

One of the things I find has made the difference in being able to lose the weight and stick with it, (versus the many, many yo-yo diets and failed attempts) is that I didn’t follow a diet plan.  I didn’t go on Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, I wasn’t counting calories, starving myself or trying weight loss pills.  I learned about white sugar and processed white flour addictions (which are in just about every overly processed food), and I eliminated those and LISTENED TO MY BODY.  I refined my diet to consist of the foods that make me feel good and I focus on my body’s hunger signals.  It sounds so simple, eat when you’re hungry, don’t over eat, make sure you aren’t snacking just because the food is there or because it’s “time to have a snack”.  Yes, though this concept is simple, really honing in and listening to your body takes time.  It’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger, and it’s easy to keep eating when something tastes good, even if you’ve had plenty to eat.  It’s also important not to eat until you’re full.  If you keep eating until you feel full, you’ve over eaten.

Anyone that’s binged before or over eaten knows that it’s almost an out of control feeling.  You start eating and you just can’t stop.  Eating triggers the desire for more food and your brain says “lets eat this fast so we can have the next thing”.  It’s something that’s extremely difficult to stop when you’re in the midst of a binge.

I came up with a list of some key things to help avoid binging and over-eating.

  1. Have a glass of water about 10 minutes before your meal.  This will speed along your brain’s hunger signal, which normally takes about 20 minutes.
  2. Plate your meals on smaller plates and use small bowls.  You will see a full plate of food and this helps make you feel like you’re not eating a smaller portion of food.
  3. Don’t leave food on the table in serving bowls.  This encourages “picking” at the leftovers and you may mindlessly plate more food.
  4. Load up on the veggies.  Your plate should be colorful and it should be loaded with fresh vegetables and a small amount of protein (and grains if you eat them).
  5. Once you have eaten and you begin to feel satisfied (not full), clear your plate away and quickly find something else to do.  In the beginning of your journey, you may need to remove yourself entirely from the kitchen until the urge to continue eating passes.  This may be 10-30 minutes.
  6. Brush your teeth/tongue!  Most people don’t want to eat right after they brush their teeth because not many foods taste good with the flavor of toothpaste in your mouth.  Brush your teeth and/or brush your tongue.  Brushing your teeth too often can be bad for your gums, so brushing your tongue also works!  You’ll be less likely to continue eating and, bonus, your breath with smell lovely!  Brushing your tongue when a craving hits can also help you get past the craving.
  7. Keep busy and avoid temptation.  Whether you’re a stay at home mom, you work from home, or in an office, steer clear of the kitchen and keep yourself busy.  Put snacks somewhere that they aren’t readily accessible, so you have to make a conscious decision as to when you actually need a snack.  It’s so easy to have that healthy snack ready and mindlessly eat it, rather than listen to your body and eat it when you’re actually hungry.  Boredom also leads to snacking, so get out of the house or make a plan of things you need to do.  If you need some relaxing time, try to avoid temptation by staying away from the kitchen.
  8. Eat at the table without distractions.  I’m sure you’ve all heard this before, but it’s true.  It’s so easy to mindlessly eat in front of the TV or while driving or reading.  Practice conscious eating.  Enjoy your food with no distractions, and take your time.  Eat with others if you can, too.  There’s nothing worse than realizing you just polished off an entire bag of chips or carton of ice cream and you barely even remember tasting it.
  9. If you have a time of day that you normally binge or find yourself over-snacking, make a conscious effort to drink a glass of water before this typical time or have a cup of hot tea.  Don’t try to replace your normal “go-to” junk food with a “diet” alternative.  It’s likely that your body is craving the snacks you normally choose because they have become a habit.  The best way to break a habit is to completely eliminate it rather than looking for an alternative.  (Don’t replace a sugary treat with a whole foods sweet alternative, because you’re still feeding that sugar craving.  Same goes with salty foods, chips, etc…)  It’s OK once in a while to enjoy these foods, but as an overweight person, it is so important to break the habit before introducing these trigger foods back into your diet.
  10. Finally, if you slip up or have a day that you’ve over-indulged, just forgive yourself and move forward!  No one is perfect and we all have days where we aren’t in tune with what our body needs and instead we fuel our emotions.  Recognize what’s happening and STOP it in its tracks before you spiral out of control.  Remind yourself that you’re in control of your own health and your weight loss success.  Don’t tell yourself you’ll get back on track tomorrow, start the moment you recognize what’s happening.  Start with a tall glass of water, followed by brushing your teeth/tongue.  Then pat yourself on the back and find something to occupy your time.  You’ve got this!  YOU’RE in control!

Remember, this is not a diet.  This is a way of eating that is a permanent lifestyle change.  Recently, I had started having a few extra “treats” and snacks here and there (read about it more here).  I eat all clean foods that I make from scratch, but I do make grain-free treats that are meant to be a “once in a while” thing.  An extra little treat here and there, then craving one at night started to become a habit.  My maintenance weight began to stay at the top of my normal fluctuation.  One day, I was making a treat to share with friends that I’d normally only ever have 1 of in a day, but I had quickly eaten 4 of them!  Thankfully, this was enough to remind me that my old habits can VERY easily come back if I start to be lax with my healthy habits.  It’s also a reminder that sugar is sugar.  Even though I am using natural sweeteners, it’s still sugar and I can easily get hooked on it and start to crave it if I have too much.  Once in a while is OK.  Every day, becoming a daily habit is not ok for me. I am happy to say that I am back on track and remembering to follow those tips I outlined above.

I often hear people say “I love food too much and life is too short not to enjoy good food”.  Well, I agree to a point.  I do enjoy good food.  Everything I eat is delicious, nourishing and satisfying.  I never feel deprived, but I do start to feel out of control when I let too many treats sneak back into my diet (sugar was my trigger!).  Sure, if I could eat ice cream and other treats every day and feel great and stay fit and healthy, I’d probably eat the ice cream and treats.  Unfortunately for me (and most of us), that’s just not the case.  I would rather enjoy my life being active, healthy, having fun with my kids, running, boxing, weight lifting, and doing all the things I couldn’t do when I was obese.  Life is too short not to make the most of it.  Life is too short to spend time feeling bad about unhealthy food choices I’ve made.  I wasn’t comfortable when I was overweight.  I was limited in the things I could do, limited in activities I could participate in, limited in so many things.  I’m not saying that overweight people can’t be happy, I was happy when I was overweight.  I wasn’t happy about my body or my health, but I was happy with the life I had made.  However, getting fit has improved my lifestyle and made my happy life more enjoyable.

More to come on my “secret” to getting fit, part 2:  exercise!

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“How I Got Through Treadmill Running” and a potential downward spiral!

This morning marked the end of of a ritual.  Though I much prefer road running to treadmill running, I do still hop on the treadmill when kids are home or weather is awful.  When I first started “wogging” (walk/jogging), I would just listen to music with a fan pointed at me, hoping I wouldn’t become a sweaty mess.  Over time I worked up to running and eventually started outside running.  Once I was consistently running outside, I found it really hard to get back to treadmill running when it was my only option, so to pass the time I started watching “How I Met Your Mother”.  It was a great show to watch while running.  It was funny, I didn’t have to pay close attention to various plot lines and it passed the time.  I’d typically get in a little over 2 miles per episode (without commercials), and I’d usually run to between 2-3+ episodes at a time.

I’ve had the last 2 episodes left in my queue for a little while.  This morning, with kids off from school, I found myself doing a treadmill run to the last 2 episodes.  Please remind me not to watch the ending to a show I enjoy while running, especially with the chance that it will be an emotional one.  For the record, keeping your footing while running, and breathing, all while trying to hold back a sob is not easy!  Then, with another 20 minutes of running after the series ended, it was not ideal!  So in that last 20 minutes of silent running (well, as silent as it can be with 2 kids playing and asking me questions and trying to show me things and practicing piano), I found myself thinking about the number of hours I’d spent just running on the treadmill.  There were 208 episodes of the series at about 2 miles per episode is 416+ miles, and that’s just a fraction of my total running when you add in the outside running I do.

I’m still amazed at how far I’ve come, but I also get frustrated that I still haven’t lost that last bit of weight I’ve wanted to lose.  Lately, my normal 5 pound weight fluctuation has been staying at the upper end and I have been too liberal in letting myself have more of the sweet treats I test and make for kids and friends and my blog.  So about a week ago, I decided I needed to buckle down on my eating habits.  I recognized I was eating when I wasn’t hungry and snacking more often.  I am refocusing on being a more conscious eater.  I do eat clean about 95% of the time.  Most days it’s 100%.  For me, “eating clean” means making everything from scratch.  The only packaged ingredients I use have one ingredient (like packaged spinach or diced tomatoes).  BUT, there have been days lately that I have been more “snacky” and found myself wanting to eat more even after a meal.  An extra handful of nuts, an extra treat here and there… they add up to my weight creeping on the wrong side of my maintenance weight.

How does all this tie in with my treadmill run this morning?  Well, in that extra 20 “silent” minutes this morning, I was thinking about all those episodes and miles and hours of just running on the treadmill.  Then I thought about how hard I work out 6 days a week, between weight training, boxing and running, I burn a huge number of calories!  I had already started re-focusing on my eating habits, but I was thinking about writing this post and putting it out here to make myself accountable.  So, here it is.

I was also thinking about how crucial it is to have been able to stop myself from getting back into really bad habits and re-focus on my health and eating habits.  The old yo-yo dieter in me would have had a much more difficult time with it.  Sure, I could kick myself for not buckling down sooner and just focusing on those last few pounds (and for the record, it’s not so much a number as it is just a comfortable size for my frame), but I just need to look forward and set my goals and work towards them.

Set backs for many people can turn into binges, depression, hiding out, avoidance, and so many other things.  I remember for me, any time I was on the gaining end of a yo-yo, I’d think, well it’s just a few pounds, I can easily lose that again.  I’ll start tomorrow, or the next day or the next day… and more often than not, it took a long long time to get back on track.

Why is it so difficult for us to forgive ourselves and move forward?

Why do we instead “punish” ourselves by binging or hiding from the scale and mirrors and from confronting ourselves on it?

I’m not sure of the answer, but I can tell you that I am thankful to now be able to forgive myself and move forward.  Perhaps teaching classes and being a role model for others is part of the reason I am able to quickly get myself back on track?  Again, I am not sure exactly what the difference is.  I suppose it’s the same change of thinking I had to be able to lose the weight to start with.  I do recognize how difficult it can be, and I know that being able to pull yourself out of a potential downward spiral takes a tremendous amount of mental will power and effort!  I want my clients and others struggling to know that it’s not just you.  I’ve been there and though I am able to now pull myself out of the potential downward spiral, the possibility is still there.  The challenges, the temptations, the old habits… they are all still there.

The answer for me?  I just have to get out of my head with the “tomorrow is another day” mentality, buckle down and remember that I am responsible for my health.  I can’t let occasional treats turn into every day, more frequent treats, because it leads to my old bad habits.  No excuses.  That has been my motto to myself from the start of my journey.  Excuses don’t give me results, and they don’t make me feel any better about myself, they’re just there to try to “justify” my decisions to others.  Plateaus and speed bumps are inevitable, but moving forward from them is what matters.

My hope is to be able to reach others that are going through these downward spirals and help them get out and move forward. You’re not alone.  You’re not weak.  You just need to yell at that little voice giving you the excuses and telling you “tomorrow, or the next day.”.  Make yourself accountable.  Ask for help!  Set a goal.  It’s not easy.  It’s hard work, every day.  But I know if I could do it, YOU can too!  (Yes, YOU!)

Now… who is going to recommend a new series for me to watch while treadmill running?

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Feeling Fabulously Fit at Forty!

 

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Well, here I am…  40 years old today!

In September 2011, I took my first step to getting fit.  For me, that step was meeting with a personal trainer once a week and doing my exercise “homework”.  She asked me what my goals were, and initially, I just told her I wanted to lose some weight and feel better.  I had “dreams” and “fantasies” of being able to wear cute sundresses and clothing that wasn’t plus-sized, but it never occurred to me that I could have far bigger dreams, rather, goals!  It was such a huge journey ahead, that thinking past each workout was daunting.  I will never forget my initial session with my trainer.  We walked up to my clubhouse, which is about 1/4 mile from my house with hills.  I was huffing and puffing and could barely speak.  I was embarrassed at how out of shape I was.  I remember feeling embarrassed that I couldn’t grab my ankle to do a quad stretch, and I would sweat from the smallest amount of exertion (sweating was always a source of huge discomfort and self-consciousness for me).

Once I began losing weight, I remember telling my trainer that I did have a goal, I had just never said it out loud until then.  My goal was to be a single digit clothing size by the time I turned 40.  At that point, the goal was still a fantasy that seemed out of reach.  After initially losing about 25 lbs by January 2012, my weight loss stalled.  I kept up the workouts, but my eating habits never really changed.  In July 2012 I finally “woke up” and decided to really change my life and I began eating clean and eliminated white flour and refined sugar from my diet permanently.  I consistently lost about 10 lbs per month by eating clean and turning the notch up on my exercise.  In April 2013, I hit my goal.  I was officially a comfortable size 8 and by the end of that May, I was wearing mostly size 6.

One year later, as I celebrate turning 40 years old, I have not only maintained my weight loss (over 125 lbs!),  I have become stronger, fitter, faster and much more confident.  The number on my clothing tags really doesn’t matter to me.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m giddy with excitement about wearing cute sundresses and clothes that I would never consider trying on, let alone wearing and feeling great in them.  However, just like my age, my clothing size is just a number.  Losing weight has done far more for me than a silly number on a tag could ever do.   I’m more energetic, more confident, more willing to try new things, I’ve accomplished things I never dreamed of, and it has changed my path and life goals.

I still have many fitness goals that I would like to achieve, but today, I am taking a moment to reflect on what I have accomplished.   In the past 18 months, I have completed 3 mud runs, 1 adventure run, a 17-mile cycle event, a sprint triathlon, eight 5K runs (taking my time from 37:22 to 28:38), a 4 miler, a 10K, two 10-milers, and two 1/2 marathons.  I have a hard time believing that I accomplished these events.  I take multiple weekly group classes, boxing and I run at least 3 times a week.  I started out this journey huffing and puffing with a short 1/4 mile walk.  I had asthma, knee issues, plantar fasciitis, and plenty of other weight related issues that always gave me excuses NOT to exercise.  I haven’t suffered from ANY of these issues over the past year.  My asthma is completely gone, including in cold weather.  My plantar fasciitis is gone, knee pain is rare (only if I do hundreds of box jumps in a matter of hours- LOL).  I can run, jump, zoom up and down stairs, get up from the floor with ease, and do countless other daily activities without thinking about them or feeling that they are at all taxing.  Most importantly, I can run and bike ride with my kids and comfortably fit on rides with them at amusement parks.  I have become a healthy role model for them.

As I previously posted, I am now a certified personal trainer.  I specialize in working with clients that have a significant amount of weight to lose.  I not only enjoy working with these clients, I am passionate about showing them what they are capable of.  I know it is a struggle to lose weight and I am so honored that they have chosen to work with me and allow me into a very private part of their lives.  We have had long conversations about food issues and emotional eating; things that are often times “taboo” topics for an overweight person.  Before starting this journey, I would always hide my issues with food rather than talk about them or admit to them.  I am so proud that I have fostered a supportive environment of sharing and discussing these topics.  My clients are getting fit together, they are accomplishing goals they never dreamed of together and they are becoming their own success stories.  I am so proud of them for the hard work they have put in and continue to put in.  I am still in awe that it’s ME in front of clients TEACHING an exercise class and working with personal training clients.

I am humbled to be an inspiration for others.  I am proud that I can help a population of people that many trainers don’t understand or don’t want to work with. I want to see others be just as successful.  I want to continue to inspire others and make exercise not only fun, but I want them to see what they are capable of.  There is a fit person inside of all of us, and it is possible to get there.  Our bodies are forgiving.  They will forgive us for what we have allowed them to become and reward us with energy, strength and even confidence.  It is not as simple as discipline, willpower, determination, drive or motivation.  There is so much more from being ready to take the step to getting fit, to staying on track and getting back on track when there are little bumps in the road.  It is a struggle.  There are always triggers, obstacles, excuses, and many, many emotional factors. As I have said before, there is no secret to getting fit, there is no easy way.  It is hard work, but it is not a journey you have to take alone.  Find a trainer, find supportive people to work with, set goals and take it one day at a time.  Believe me, time will pass either way, so it’s up to you to take the steps to get a little closer to your goal each day.

I am excited to continue this new path and passion.  I am excited to be a part of so many journeys.  I no longer dream or fantasize about being something I’m not.   It took me nearly 40 years, but now I know, anything can be an attainable goal, anything is possible!  I stopped wasting time dreaming and I took action to make my dream, my fantasy, my wish a reality, and now I am feeling fabulously fit at forty!

 

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These are pictures from today.  The sweaty one at the gym is me after my tough group class workout this morning (my birthday gift to me was to swing the 40 lb kettlebell during my AMRAP rotations)  and the others are of me in a new sundress I picked up for the summer.  Sweaty and sundress… two things that you would have never gotten a picture of me in before this journey!

 

 

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A new milestone in my journey!

I have officially taken my fitness journey full circle today. I am now an ACE Certified Personal Trainer!

I would have never imagined (NEVER EVER) that I would become a personal trainer, and probably would have laughed at the thought, you know, the kind of laugh where you spit out what you just took a sip of? BAH HA! Yeah, that. It is utterly surreal to be the one now standing in front of clients teaching fitness classes after a lifetime of being unfit. My primary focus (and passion) is working with clients that have a significant amount of weight to lose and beginners with a goal of weight loss. I hope to inspire, motivate, educate, excite, and spark a passion for fitness in my clients.

Weight loss is not an easy journey, especially for those of us that have battled it for years and years. It’s important to remember to take it one step at a time, but most importantly to take that FIRST step and make a commitment to yourself to find the time, put in the effort and fight the mental battles that go along with it.

I am thankful for the support of the trainers that have helped me along my journey (and continue to help me!), and I am thankful to Clay Fitness + Nutrition for the opportunity to pursue this passion. These trainers inspired, motivated, educated, excited, and sparked a passion for fitness I never knew I would have. I am fortunate to have such great mentors and educators as I embark on this new career path.

Though it seems I have taken my journey full circle, there is still much to be learned, and many goals to continue to work towards and new goals to set. I am excited about the possibilities, the people that will allow me to help them along their journey, and the many things I will learn along the way.

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Oh jeggings, how I’ve always wanted to wear you…

I do realize, in the grand scheme of things, this is a completely frivolous thing to get excited about, but I did. I’ve never been able to wear anything on my legs that was fitted. Leggings were always completely out of the question, and I have never owned a pair (other than my workout clothes). It hadn’t even occurred to me that I could now wear leggings until I was picking up a pair of tights to go with a dress I was wearing, and the leggings were there too. I grabbed a pair of jeggings and they’ve been sitting, unused for a few weeks… until today!

I still shop and think like the overweight version of myself, so I figured they still wouldn’t work on my legs. But, much to my surprise and delight, I can now wear leggings! Don’t worry, I do know the rules that go along with wearing leggings. Leggings are not to be worn like a pair of pants. There should be something covering one’s tushy when one wears leggings! 😉

I think it’s OK to celebrate things like this. I’ve worked hard to get here and though there are far more important things that really matter, sometimes it feels pretty awesome to be able to wear something I couldn’t wear before.

So, celebrate! I’d love to hear about your own celebrations and successes too!

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I’m NOT fat anymore?

I was overweight my entire life. I was 37 1/2 when I finally took control of my health and started on my journey to fitness. Being overweight and unhealthy impacted me in so many ways, both mentally and physically.

As a child, I remember being in summer camp on a nature hike. One of the counselors was feeling everyone’s pulse for heart rate and talking about how our hearts were beating faster after the hike. When it was my turn, she felt my neck and told me that she couldn’t feel my pulse because my neck was too fat. It’s events like these that are never forgotten. They leave a mental scar that never fully heals.

There are countless events like this one, from a childhood classmate calling me cow, to my own grandmother telling me a few months before my wedding that I wouldn’t be a beautiful bride because I was too fat (yes, that really happened!). Though I tried not to let things like these bother me on the outside, they’d always be there, in my head.

In addition to things that were said to me, I battled with my body image for my entire life. Sure, most women have body image issues; we are our own worst critics, right? But women (and men) who are significantly overweight have many additional barriers they need to consider. For example, when I was growing up, there were limited plus-sized clothing store options. I had to have my middle school graduation dress made for me (and it wasn’t anything like what I really wanted to wear). It was very difficult to find prom dresses that looked good on me, and I certainly couldn’t wear the trendy dresses many of the other girls were choosing. I felt awkward, uncomfortable and self-conscious in the dresses I did find. I probably don’t even need to mention how incredibly self-conscious I was about wearing a bathing suit in front of others. I never owned a pair of short shorts or wore a bikini past the age of 5. Once I climbed up into my largest sizes, you couldn’t catch me in anything that didn’t cover my upper arms, and capris were the shortest length bottoms I would ever wear.

My high school had P.E. class every day, and twice a week we did aerobics. We also had the much dreaded 1-mile timed run. I had been diagnosed with asthma as a child, so I was always able to get out of running and just walk, but I was always embarrassed to be one of the only walkers in the gym. I had 20 minutes to do my 1 mile walk, and usually came in just under that time, but long after everyone else was finished. I always hated aerobics days because I sweat so easily. Most of my classmates managed to get through aerobics class without so much as a drop of sweat, while I would pour buckets of sweat and turn bright red after just a few minutes. I was always completely embarrassed to go to my next class still dripping with sweat and all red. Turns out, this is just how my body works, but it does take a lot more exertion to work up a sweat now. I’ve finally realized that it’s not unusual to sweat a lot while working out, and I think of it as a way of measuring an excellent workout. This is definitely a big mental shift for me to be able to “embrace my sweatiness”, and not have it be such a source of self-conscious embarrassment. Of course, I still envy the women that can take a 1-hour spin class at my fitness center and manage to leave with not much more than a healthy glow, while I’m wringing out my 1980’s Jane Fonda style sweatband.

The most difficult aspects about being overweight were the limitations I had. There were so many considerations I had to take into account with all sorts of activities. Will the airplane seatbelt even fit? If it doesn’t, do I pretend it does to save myself embarrassment? (The answer was YES!) I would always try to sit near the back of the airplane, hoping that there would be empty seats so I’d have more room, and when I had someone next to me, I would squeeze my arms in and sit in a terribly awkward and uncomfortable position for the duration of the flight. I hated knowing that the person sitting next to me was probably annoyed to have me stuffed in next to them.

I always enjoyed rides at amusement parks. As I got older and bigger, I would tell people that I didn’t enjoy the rides to save myself the total embarrassment of not fitting in the seat after waiting in line, because this actually happened to me once. Truth was, I never stopped enjoying roller coasters, I was just too afraid of not fitting in the seat! Even movie theatre seats were quite tight, and I would always choose an end seat to avoid spilling over into a stranger next to me.

There have been countless activities that I declined in the past because I simply couldn’t enjoy them or my weight, energy, or size wouldn’t allow me to do them. Hot air balloon rides, horseback riding, kayaking, zip lining, sky diving, bike riding, and even running were just a few of the things that were impossible at my heaviest weight.

There was always weight related anxiety and mental “calculations” happening throughout each day. Will I fit between those two chairs, or do I have to go around? Should I get the table or booth, because the booth might be tight? Will that plastic chair hold me, or be wide enough for my hips? Am I the fattest person in the room?

As I started dropping the weight, I could obviously see the differences in my clothes, on the scale, in the mirror and most importantly, with my energy level. I began to do many more active things with my family. I was feeling good and stayed focused on my goal. What’s difficult for people to understand is that I lived as an overweight (I always hated the words ‘fat’ and ‘obese’) person for my ENTIRE life. The mental image I have of myself is not the same image that I see in the mirror. The success others saw in me was not what I was seeing or feeling.

When I hit my original goal back in May, we went to Busch Gardens. I was a size 8 and I knew that I would fit in all of the roller coaster seats, however, I still went through my usual thought process and found myself in line for a roller coaster feeling very anxious. I was looking around to see if there was anyone that was bigger than I was, but, what I was looking for was someone that compared to my much heavier self, not the healthy person that was actually standing in line. I knew what I was thinking didn’t make any sense, I “knew” I would fit in the roller coaster seat, but for some reason there was still a part of me that really thought I wouldn’t. When I sat down, easily fitting, with plenty of room to spare, it wasn’t excitement I was feeling, it was relief.

I continued to shop at the clothing stores I was used to until I realized that I had a whole new world of stores that have opened up to me. When I first went into a clothing store that wasn’t plus-sized, I was sure the sales woman was wondering what I was doing in there. When a sales person asked if she could help me find a size, I would think to myself that she’s wondering how on earth my body fits in that size. I even find myself justifying the sizes I fit into by thinking they must run big. Every time I pull out my current jeans, I look at them and think there’s no way these are going to fit, but somehow they do. My mental image of my body is much, much different than the reality, which I actually do see when I am in front of mirrors. Though it’s fun to be able to shop anywhere now, I definitely have no fashion sense and have no idea what actually looks good on me. I was always so used to just buying what fits that fashion was never a consideration.

The most important changes to me are the changes that have impacted the way I live my life. When I take my kids to a new playground, my daughter looks around and then quickly starts trying out each slide, swing and other climbing apparatus. That’s how I feel about all of the possibilities being fit has opened up to me. I tell people I feel like a kid that wants to try it all out. I never played sports, took exercise classes, or signed up for runs or races. I want to experience and enjoy all of these things now. I’ve always enjoyed nature and the outdoors, and now I’m able to, and want to, do so many more outdoor activities. Kayaking, zip lining, biking and running are all activities I have now been able to enjoy and there are so many other activities I am looking forward to trying out.

I love being able to share my love of fitness with my family and others. This past summer, we participated in fun family track meets, went on hikes, and did lots of fun outdoor, active activities that I wouldn’t have done in the past. I love being a healthy role model for my children. I’ve always encouraged them to be active, but now I am able to participate with them and enjoy being active with them.

I am sitting on an airplane as I type this. As I sat in my seat today, I didn’t automatically loosen the seatbelt strap to the biggest length. “Pull on the loose end of the strap to tighten the buckle”. Wow, I actually have a buckle to tighten now! I have room on either side of my seat and I can even cross my legs as I sit here with the tray table down, without it hitting my stomach or thighs. Though things like this are becoming easier for me to mentally wrap my head around, I still don’t recognize the body I see in the mirror.

At some point I did go from ‘fat’ to fit. I can’t tell you exactly when that was, but I did it. Being healthy and fit has enabled me to do so many things I couldn’t do as an obese person. I’m still working on the mental image I have of myself, but it’s getting easier.

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These are pictures of my kids enjoying our family track meets over the summer. They ran relays with each other and with me and my husband. It’s days and activities like these, seeing their faces and how much they enjoyed it, that I am so glad I made this commitment to health.

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Me on one of the only rides I fit on at Busch Gardens before getting fit.

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Me with my daughter after we rode together on her first upside-down roller coaster. I wouldn’t have been able to fit on this coaster before getting fit. THIS is what matters most. Not the clothes or how I look, but being able to experience this with my daughter! (She didn’t want her picture taken, but she did enjoy the ride!)

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I ran my first 1/2 marathon today… sorta?

One of these days I’d like to buy a bunch of ribbons, you know the ones kids usually get in a race with the little bit of cardboard on the back so you can write in your time?  I want to get a bunch and go to the local park that many runners train in and hand them out to people at the end of their runs.  Last week there was a girl (who happens to go to my fitness center) who ran 18 miles.  There was another person I know who did a 20 mile run, and another woman I didn’t know who ran 14 miles and she’s 13 weeks pregnant!  I’d love to stand there and hand out ribbons to these runners.  I love hearing their stories and getting motivated by seeing them accomplish their goals.  Many of the people doing runs at this park are training for a long run, and many of them (like me today) have never run as far as they did that particular day.  No one is asking for recognition, they’re just training for a goal.  But how fun would it be to get a little recognition?  A little motivational boost to say, wow, stop and take a look at what you did today!  You are pretty awesome!

This morning was my last day of building up mileage before the 1/2 marathon I am running on November 9th (in Disney!). My training plan called for 12.5 miles this week, but I really wanted to do the full 13.1 miles just so I know I can do it.  Of course, my long run last week was 12 miles, so I knew I’d be able to get in that extra mile and a tenth, even if I had to crawl it, but it’s nice to know I’ve done it.

I do my long runs at a local park that runs along the river.  It’s scenic, and best of all, mostly flat, which is very hard to find around here.  I had to flip my workout schedule around this week, so I did my long run alone this morning, which was actually quite peaceful.  There were a few other runners and walkers, but not like the busy Saturday morning I normally run.    The weather was also quite cold, only in the mid 30s by the time I finished my run.  I think the cold air helped with my pace because my body was numb, so the aches and soreness were numbed too.  This cold weather running might not be so bad after all!

I am still absolutely astonished and amazed at what my body is now capable of doing.  1 year ago, in October, I “ran” my first 5 miles in 1:10:17.  At that time, I wasn’t able to maintain a jog for the entire time, so I did some walking and jogging to get my miles in.   Part of the reason I would have to slow to a walk was to catch my breath.  I had asthma since I was young, but it had gotten much better as I got older.  It was mostly just affecting me when I was doing strenuous exercising or doing any physical activity in cold weather. As I continued to run and lose weight, running became easier, and so did my breathing.  I walked less, ran a bit faster, and eventually, I could run a full 5 miles without stopping.  I did most of my running on the treadmill.  I’d do the occasional outside run, but as the weather got colder, I had difficulty with my asthma acting up.

I hadn’t had a cold weather run since last winter, so it’s been quite a while.  At that time, I would have to warm up slowly and eventually, as I warmed up, breathing got easier.   As I said, I am absolutely astonished at what becoming fit has done for my health.  For the first time today, it was cold enough to see how my breathing was affected by the cold air.  I am thrilled to report that I had absolutely no asthma, no tightness in my chest or any difficulties at all with my breathing!  I was able to maintain a 9:54 average pace for the entire 13.12 miles that I ran.  This is huge to me and really shows what getting fit can do for your health.  The smaller clothes and the lower number on the scale are nothing compared with the changes in my health.  My blood pressure, resting pulse, cholesterol, everything is phenomenal and I am so happy I did this for my health, and for my family!

With all of that said, as I finished my “1/2 marathon” without the race bib, without the finish line, without anyone cheering me on, without the medal or photos or crowds of people.  I had a moment for me.  I had time to reflect on what I have accomplished, on all the people that have helped me along the way, on my family for supporting me, and on hopefully helping other’s begin their fitness journeys as I continue mine.  I joked that someone should be waiting at the end of my run today with a ribbon, because I just ran a freaking 1/2 marathon, but I think I liked the peaceful end to my run just as much.

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At the end of my run, I asked a mom at the playground if she could take my picture.

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I blame my mother!

A few months back, I saw one of those motivational quote pictures.  The quote was, “You are not responsible for the programming you had in childhood, but you are 100% responsible for fixing it as an adult.”  This quote really resonated with me.

I started out as chubby baby and by three years old, my mother had me on a “diet”.  I remember, I wasn’t allowed to eat ice cream, and as I got older, everything in the house was “healthy” (or so she thought) “diet” food.  This led to an obsession with food.  I would sneak food when she wasn’t around and over eat when I got “treats” I normally wasn’t allowed to have.  I remember wanting to go home on play dates with friends with the number one agenda of being able to score a snack of cookies or some other treat I was never allowed to have.  I’d play with one of my neighbors and always ask if we could have a snack, knowing it would be a Little Debbie snack or something like that.  As I got older, on the way home from school, I’d stop at the local ice cream store for milkshakes or the convenience store for candy bars or junk food.  I was addicted and obsessed with food.  I could make junk food out of just about anything in the house.  Give me 2 eggs, some white flour and butter (actually, margarine) and I’ll make a puffy oven pancake and top it with more margarine, sugar and fruit cocktail (or the lite pancake syrup that we sometimes had in the house).  I’d even crack open a can of peas and eat the salty, green, mushy peas straight from the can if there wasn’t anything else in the house.

One year, I got the E-Z-Bake oven as a gift (SCORE!).  I was so excited and had always wanted one.  I think I was allowed to use it once or twice, but since my mother didn’t want me eating my baked creations, I wasn’t allowed to buy any more of the mixes to make new goodies.  Keep in mind that the little cakes the oven created were probably smaller than the size of a cupcake.  I loved that oven.

I’ll never forget, when I was a bit older,  the night I heard something under my bed.  I had hidden cookies under my bed and a mouse had found its way in the house.  I was woken up to the sound of the crinkle, crinkle, crunch, crunch.  I realized almost immediately that a critter had found my stash.  I was faced with the dilemma of yelling for help and having my secret cookie stash exposed or lying there awake and frozen with the fear of this little critter (in my mind it was most certainly a huge rat or a large-fanged-mutant-cookie-eating-killer-squirrel) under my bed.  I eventually gave in and faced the embarrassment of exposing my sweet secret.  This wasn’t the first or the last time one of my secret stashes had been exposed, but it was one of the most memorable.

As I headed off for college to live on my own, I had the freedom to eat whatever I wanted… and I did!  My Freshman 15 was probably closer to a Freshman 25.  My unhealthy obsession with food didn’t get any better, but now I had more freedom to eat what I wanted, when I wanted to.

It wasn’t until just after college that I went on my first real diet and first attempt to lose weight.  I met someone that had success with Jenny Craig, so I gave it a whirl and it worked!  Jenny Craig did teach me about portion control, eating throughout the day and eating lots of vegetables.  Of course, they still offered sugary, low fat desserts and lots of processed junk, but the smaller portions and lower caloric intake worked to help me drop weight at first.  After getting down to a size 14 (the smallest I had ever gotten before), the weight loss stalled.  I wasn’t exercising during this diet and I eventually went back to my old eating habits.

This yo-yo continued through my 20s with a variety of diets, pills, and other weight loss fads and methods.  Sometimes I’d incorporate some exercise and other times I’d just rely on the diet change.  Every time I “dieted”, I would always tell myself that I couldn’t deprive myself of the things I enjoyed like sweets, ice cream, breads and pasta.  I convinced myself that this “deprivation” always led back to my old habits.  In every diet I tried, I always looked for the substitution for my weaknesses.  I’d eat Frozen Yogurt instead of ice cream, and “diet” versions of things I enjoyed, mostly highly processed foods.

This time around, things changed for me.  I finally took responsibility for “fixing” my eating disorder.  I finally realized, there’s no one to blame any more.  I’m an adult and I need to take responsibility for my own health because no one is going to do it for me.  I finally came to terms with understanding that there is no “easy” way to get healthy.  The way I was so used to eating was clearly not healthy.   I was trying to find some way to eat like I always had but call it healthy because I changed it up a bit.  I decided to try something drastic, something much more mentally difficult than anything I had ever done before.  I completely eliminated sugar from my diet for more than 3 months and I eliminated white flour and processed foods.  After about a month, it became much easier, and my palate completely changed.  I now crave fresh fruits and vegetables and protein.  I rarely eat grains, and only occasionally have sweets (no processed junk though).  Yes, I had a cupcake on my birthday (but it was made from scratch).  I have ice cream from time to time (but it’s real ice cream without all the added junk).  I’m not on a diet.  There’s no plan I follow.  I don’t count calories or points, because for me, that never worked.  I do read all food labels and am fully aware of the foods I put into my body.

When I hear people say they don’t want to “deprive’ themselves of processed foods like chips, candy and sweets, I know exactly what they are saying.  But, in my experience, there is no easy way to do it.  There is no “cheating” way to do it.  But, I can say for sure, there is no deprivation either.  I have never regretted not eating that pint of Ben & Jerry’s or that donut or chips or other foods I have passed by.  However, there have been plenty of times in the past that I have regretted choosing to eat them.  I try to remember that saying (and I hear it in Dolly Parton’s voice from Steel Magnolias), “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”

I’ve been “eating clean” for over a year now and I still feel great.  I never feel deprived, not even a little bit.  Sure, there are times I’d love to sit down with that pint of Ben & Jerry’s, but I look at how far I’ve come and I never want to go back.  I’m more than satisfied with the foods I eat.  I have a lot of variety now and I actually take the time to really enjoy my food rather than the mindless eating I used to do.  Food tastes better to me now, and I can immediately taste a difference if I have anything highly processed.  It no longer tastes good to me.  I’ve taken responsibility for my health.  This is all on me.  I have no one to blame but myself for my health and how I take care of my body from here on out.

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Don’t take my picture!

I’ve always thought “before and after” pictures were inspirational and would often help spark my motivation to get fit.  I’ll be posting pictures on my blog because I believe it helps people see that it IS possible.  It CAN be done.  

Being overweight my ENTIRE life, I had absolutely no idea what I’d look like as a fit person.   I always hid from the camera.  There are many pictures of my kids without me in the picture, or of me hiding behind something or taken from the neck up.  I would always screen pictures and avoid the camera.  It ‘s sad really, I don’t have all that many pictures of me with my kids when they were little, but I do have some.  I trained my husband so well not to take my picture that he’s still reluctant to include me in pictures now, even though I said I’m no longer off limits for candid pictures.  I still screen pictures, as most women do, but I am no longer cripplingly self conscious about my body.  Believe me, it’s still a process and a huge mental shift for me.  39 years of worrying how fat I look in pictures doesn’t get fixed over night.  I often find myself going through pictures now and not even recognizing myself right away or I’ll think, “wow, I don’t look fat in that picture”.  Apparently, that’s because I am NOT fat any more… but that’s an entirely different blog post.

The “before” picture in the “My Story” link is actually from about 6 months before I started my journey.  I really regret not talking any true “before” pictures and measurements.  I didn’t realize at the time that THIS was it.  I was actually going to do it FOR REAL this time.  What saddens me even more is being so self conscious that I’d never want to be in candid pictures with my family.  For me, being overweight was crippling in so many ways.  

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