I know it may seem like all I do is cook and eat (well…I mean okay so I DO do that the majority of the time, but work with me here), but today I wanted to finally share the story of my journey towards healthy living. I call it a journey because it’s taken my whole life to get here, and it won’t stop until my heart does (which will hopefully be many years from now). And I call it a journey towards “healthy living” because that’s what it is. Building healthy habits and practices for a lifetime of good health. Not being a slave to the cult of “weight loss” and achieving your “goal weight.” More on that later.
I want to start by saying that nothing I am going to tell you is terribly unique or different from the millions of other women out there who have made a change for the better. I think this is a good thing, because healthy living and body change is, at its core, actually terribly easy. Work out effectively. Don’t eat so much. Eat quality foods. See results. It’s our brains that get in the way.
So here is the story of how this transformation occured:
Elementary & Middle School: Shopping in the “Adult” Section
I had been overweight for the vast majority of my life. Growing up I was never the biggest kid in class, but I was always pretty far above the recommended weight range for my age at any given time. My diet certainly left a lot to be desired–as I mentioned before, I was eating bologna sandwiches every afternoon, a lot of ramen, and I avoided veggies like the plague. I was an extremely picky eater. My family would eat out a lot of the time–we certainly had plenty of meals at home too (and some GOOD home cooked food, I might mention!), but we ate out frequently.
As an elementary & middle school kid, I knew I was bigger. I could never fit into the clothes in the junior’s section at stores, which is like a social death sentence to a kid that age. That said, I had plenty of friends, both “popular” and “not so popular.” It was all in my head–I really believed that the other kids would know that I was getting my clothes from the adult section of the store. Needless to say, my self-esteem was pretty low for the majority of my pre & early teen years. I felt like an outcast, even though I wasn’t. My insecurities caused me to build a wall between myself and those around me that didn’t exist. I felt like my only saving grace was my singing–it set me apart from others, and saved me from being tossed into the “forgettable” pit of those angsty teen years.
The High School Years: Change & Acceptance
In high school, I embraced music more than ever because I knew I was good at it. I felt like I had found my place–in the choir room and on the stage. But outside of those two places, I still felt like “the fat girl.” Or, “the girl who would be so pretty if she was skinny.” I walked with bad posture, held my head low, and generally kept quiet. I floated around 180-185 pounds for the majority of my middle school and early high school years.
Halfway through my sophomore year, my family moved to a new town, and I was devastated. how was I going to start this social life thing all over again? The insecurities about my body were even worse–in my head, I was the “fat new girl” that came in during the middle of the school year. I was so scared to make new friends that I didn’t go to lunch for months. I just sat in the library. Eventually I stopped eating breakfast, too. My only meal was dinner with family because I had to. I wouldn’t say I developed an all out eating disorder, but my eating was definitely dangerous.
But again, music was my saving grace. I found my best friends in choir. Friends that I’m fortunate enough to still keep in touch with today. When they found out I was skipping lunches, they MADE me come into the cafeteria with them and eat. My life started to turn around because of their love. I felt…happy. I began to feel more and more comfortable in my own skin. I joined the cross country team. Then I joined the track team. I was becoming healthier, and I was losing weight. In fact, I even began to love food. I certainly wasn’t eating healthy food, but I felt fine eating pizza and chips–no guilt! I became so confident and happy with who I was, that my zest for life was contagious! By the end of high school, I was voted (in a tie :) for “best personality.” To go from the quiet, insecure girl to someone who others saw as a kind, happy, friendly person was life-changing.
…and then college happened.
College: A Roller Coaster of Epic Proportions
When I left high school, I was around 170-175 pounds. Not the best weight for my height, but I looked good. But after a year of college eating and a lack of exercise and sports, I blew up like a balloon. I also had my first relationship as an “independent adult” (HA), and that relationship comfort led to lots of eating & not caring what I was doing to my body. By the end of spring semester, I was up to 191 pounds–which was the heaviest I had ever been in my entire life.[caption id="attachment_619" align="aligncenter" width="230"] me at 191 pounds in the spring of 2005. I definitely DON’T miss that dorm room…!![/caption]
I went into crisis mode that summer. I logged every. single. calorie. that went inside my body. I strictly stayed to 1400 calories per day. I worked out every single day at home–pilates, walking, biking, running, some light weight training, and on & on. I would not miss a workout for any reason. In fact, I was so obsessed with losing weight that I would blow off plans with my friends to avoid extra calories and get more workouts in. I didn’t care about going out anymore. I just wanted to be skinny and regain the confidence I had when I was in high school. I was going to do whatever it took to have that “happiness” back, even if it meant alienating those closest to me.
By the end of the summer, I got what I wanted–I was the skinniest I had ever been at 155 pounds. I felt invincible.[caption id="attachment_622" align="aligncenter" width="453"] me doing my best korean model impression.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_623" align="aligncenter" width="267"] true story: I HATE mascots. they creep me out. I know I am one now, but…at least I don’t wear a creepy costume!![/caption]
For the first time ever, I could shop in the junior’s section. I felt amazing. Okay, so I felt awesome minus the ridiculous hair perm I got during my trip to Korea. Admit, you were wondering what the heck was up with my hair in those pictures! Here’s a tip: if you dye your hair and heat style it all the time, and it feels like hay to begin with, DO NOT get a perm. It was supposed to be loose waves. I wound up with what one of my sister’s korean students accurately described as, “teacher sister has einstein hair!” That little korean punk! But he was right! :)
Ridiculous hair aside (I’ve refused to dye it since then), I was skinny and I felt great. But it didn’t last. I entered my second “real life” relationship, and as I became more and more comfortable, the weight slowly started to creep back on. It didn’t help that he has an amazing metabolism and could eat whatever he wanted without gaining weight–we ate out quite a bit, and I didn’t hold back on portions. I also slowly stopped working out. Junior year was incredibly stressful–twice a week I had classes from 8 AM until 10 PM with only a 30 minute break in the afternoon. By the time senior year rolled around, I could feel that I was gaining weight, but at that point I was student teaching and had a difficult time adjusting to a teacher’s schedule. In my head, there was “no time” for working out. So the pounds kept piling on. I avoided the scale, because I just didn’t want to know. I have no idea what I actually weighed when I graduated in the spring of 2008.
The Real World: The “It Gets Worse” Edition
After graduation I moved to Connecticut to begin my teaching career. That first year, I either ate out or ate instant/boxed foods because I had no idea how to cook. The summer after, I started cooking at home…perhaps a bit TOO often, because I was eating all the time. I didn’t even own a scale at this point. I paid no attention to my health, and it showed.
Halfway through my first year teaching, I started having a “mysterious” health problem. Around noon, I would get extremely fatigued. I would often fall asleep on my desk at work. I was going to bed when I got home at 3:00, waking up for dinner, and then going right back to bed. This went on for about three months. I had blood tests & ultrasounds done, but no one could figure out what was wrong. Eventually it faded away. To this day, I don’t know what it was–but I can guarantee that it had something to do with my ever-increasing weight. To make matters worse, diabetes runs in the women on both sides of my family. By some miracle, I didn’t test positive for diabetes, but I was surely on the path to it. Even with all of that, I stuck to my lethargic, “who cares” lifestyle.
I had jumped into another relationship as soon as I moved to Connecticut. I think I was afraid of being alone. I knew I was becoming extremely overweight, and I hated myself for it–and I needed to have someone who loved me. That’s not to say I didn’t have feelings for any of the men I’ve dated, but I think I was more in love with the idea of having someone who would accept me even if I was obese, which is why I was in relationship after relationship. I was, once again, a victim of gaining “relationship weight.”
By the early spring of 2009, I had begun shopping in the “Woman” section, and began to frequent plus-sized clothing stores. As depressing as it was (I definitely cried the first time), I still did nothing about it.
A Wake-Up Call & A Life-Changing Decision
I’ll never forget that moment. People who decide to make a change in their lives often recall that one moment when they made a conscious decision to change course. For me, it was in the early morning, before heading to work. I had undressed to take a shower, but forgot a towel. I grabbed one from the closet and walked back into the bathroom, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I stopped dead in my tracks and gazed at my stomach.
No. It couldn’t be.
Stretch marks. Deep. Red & purple. On both sides of my belly button.
I had an instant flashback in my head: I was in elementary school. It was a youth group camping trip, by the lake. There was a family in our church who were all severely overweight, and the three children were on the trip with us. The oldest son took his shirt off to get ready to go swimming, and I saw that the had deep red & purple stretch marks all over his stomach. I remember thinking, “I will never let myself get to that point.”
Somehow, this moment from my days as a 9 or 10 year old came raging back into my mind as I stared in the mirror. I had made a promise to myself, yet there they were. It was as if they had appeared overnight. More likely, I was so uninterested in my own body and health to notice their arrival until that moment.
Call it vain, but that’s what kicked me back into gear. I said to myself, “I deserve better than this.” And it was that frame of mind that has kept me successful. Before, I had lost weight only because I wanted to be skinny. I thought that would make me happy. But I wasn’t able to make a true, lasting change until I loved myself enough to believe that I deserved a better quality of life.
I joined a gym that afternoon. It was May 2009.
The Transformation: A Good Old Fashioned Ass-Kicking
When I signed up for the gym (Big Sky in Simsbury), they included three free sessions with a personal trainer. I decided to do them, to help me get started. In the first session, he weighed me and took my body fat & measurements. I knew I was going to be overweight, but I was actually obese, clocking in at 221 pounds!!! After those first three sessions, I decided to get serious–mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially–by hiring that trainer, Dan Lee, to kick my ass. And boy did he ever. The morning after my first session with him, I literally could not move to get out of bed. My entire body hurt in a way that I did not even know was possible. Over time, of course, it got less drastic–but he can still deliver a great ass-kicking to my now-fit body! :) What I have loved about working with him is the variety of exercises I have learned that can be performed anywhere–all of them can be done without a gym membership. That’s the kind of tool that makes personal training worth the money, in my eyes.
I also joined the site Daily Burn (which was Gyminee at the time) to track the calories eaten & burned. They also have a really awesome journal feature, as well as a forum that I found incredibly helpful. Both the staff and community members are often kind and more than willing to offer support and advice. Now they have a new site that offers workout videos you can do at home or on the go. I haven’t played around with it much yet, but people seem to love it! On their logging site, I eventually made the transformation from question-asker to answer-giver.
(Disclaimer: neither of these companies sponsored this post. I am endorsing them purely because of my personal experiences with both.)
I was faithful in eating a range of 1300-1500 calories a day, and I worked out at least three times a week, but usually four–I was sure to take rest days, too.
Early on in the process, before I had lost much weight, I started to notice changes. I was happier. I had more energy. And more importantly, I had begun to love myself. I noticed that I really like my eyes. Even when I was overweight, I still had a defined waist. I realized that my natural hair is beautiful without all the dying & heat styling I used to do. I started treating myself kindly. I was falling in love with who I was, naturally, and that was what fueled my desire to be healthier–I honestly and truly believed that I deserved a better life.
In the spring of 2010, about a year after I began personal training, I ran my first 5k since high school. It was in the town I work in, and seeing parents & students I knew both running and cheering people on made me feel great–I realized that I not only had a responsibility to myself, but also to my students to set the example of being a healthy young adult. Whether or not they realize it, kids are influenced by the adults they are surrounded by. As a teacher, I have a moral obligation to live a life that is an example to teenagers. Especially since I am a young teacher, I need to show them the importance of being a responsible and well-balanced young adult. I feel that I have a “bigger than normal” responsibility because I teach music–musicians are often “anti-sports” and working out. It is my goal to show them that you can be an athlete, lift weights, and still sing. Pigeonholes only exist if you let them. I can sing the heck out of an Italian aria AND bench press some heavy weight, too! It’s okay to do both…although I doubt I could do both at the same time…! :)
In early June of 2010, I left the relationship I was in and I spent a few months being single. I realized that I had never enjoyed the time between relationships. This time, I took the time to enjoy the world around me. To reconnect with friends that I had alienated during my days of self-loathing and hate. I began classes for my Masters degree that summer and embraced how much I enjoy intellectual pursuits too. I finally became a well-balanced, healthy, happy adult–without a man by my side.[caption id="attachment_631" align="aligncenter" width="130"] okay so there is a man by my side in this photo that I cropped out–but it’s my mom’s boyfriend, Tom! :)[/caption]
In September 2010, I started officially dating Dan, the love my life. Is that cheesy? I don’t care. I freaking love that man. He is dedicated to being healthy–he eats well, and he works out regularly (okay, so maybe we are both guilty of not working out much for the past year, but we are both getting back on track!). Aside from the fact that our personalities fit together really well and we have similar views on life, I was SO happy to be in a relationship with someone who cares about being healthy and takes action. It makes it so much easier to eat well. He was even on board when I ate my version of paleo for a few months!
In November of 2010, I finally hit my goal weight of 155, which I set with my trainer Dan (I know, it’s confusing…so I’ll call them Trainer Dan & Boyfriend Dan). Even with working out, I was stuck around 155-158 for many months, but I managed to maintain that weight for about a year and half! Because I built healthy habits for the long-term, I was able to stay in that range long after I got there.
Where I Am Now & Where I Am Headed
So where do I find myself on my health journey in the summer of 2012? Well, back in February I got to travel to Sicily. I readily admit that I gained about 10 pounds during and after that trip. Do I regret it? HELL no! When else am I going to be eating fresh pasta and enjoying some of the finest food on the planet? If there is one thing I have learned, it is that living a healthy life is about having the right mindset and balance. I now believe that I am a beautiful person, inside and out. There are moments when old insecurities begin to creep back into my head (like when we were eating so much during our trip to Colorado…I had a few hard days mentally), but I am often able to fight them. It’s a growing process. It took my brain about a year to realize that I really wasn’t obese anymore. I think that was the hardest part–dealing with the transition of going unnoticed to being whistled at and cat-called every now and again. At least now I can say that even though it’s not the classiest way to get a woman’s attention, it sure does make me feel good when someone lets me know that they think I look good! Haha. I am constantly reminding myself of why I am worth the time it takes to be a healthy person. I’ve invested in myself, and I will continue to![caption id="attachment_636" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] my undergraduate graduation–May 2008 vs. my graduate graduation–May 2012. what a difference four years and 65 pounds makes. :) pretty cool because I got both degrees at the same university, but I am a completely different person in these two pictures, both physically and mentally.[/caption]
These days I tend to float around 163-167. I haven’t been hitting the gym faithfully (I go about once a week), but I have been keeping my eating in check. I’ll be posting more about fitness in this blog to help motivate me to get back into a gym routine. But I always remember that my journey isn’t done. It never will be. I will always be a work in progress, and I think that is a beautiful thing. Too many people just accept where they are and give up–they don’t change, they don’t try new things. They always stay the same. Like statues. But I refuse. I want to continue to grow and learn.[caption id="attachment_634" align="aligncenter" width="640"] at the top of one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done, in Virgina![/caption]
So cheers, friends! Here is to commitments, healthy living, and finding your own path to that happy place. I am more than happy to answer any and all questions anyone has–so much of my success on this journey has been because people on Daily Burn or bloggers have taken the time to talk to me and give me advice and encouragement. My door (well…email inbox) is always open! :)