I used to think fit people were strange and kind of freaky. Then again, I used to think and do a lot of things differently but in the past year I’ve changed. Two years ago I had tweaked my knee and used it as an excuse not to exercise. I was working too much and eating purely for pleasure. All three led to weight gain, unhappiness, and feeling exhausted all the time.
Late last summer I decided I was done feeling that way and decided to make regular exercise and clean eating my lifestyle, and not just with willpower but by forming new healthy habits. I’m proud to say I’ve stuck with it consistently, today I am strong, fast, flexible, and confident in my body.
It all began in July of 2014 in this public park down the road from my house. It’s there I began meeting with a personal trainer I had hired to teach me how to get fit for life. I met with a trainer for two months, we would meet twice a week and rotate between outdoor workouts and the gym. In this spot he’d make me do pushups and lunges and jumps and squats and V ups, on and on. Just yesterday I went back to that park to stretch before one of my regular strength training sessions (I lift weights on my own now) and I thought about how far I’ve come.
I’ve learned a few things along the way and wanted to share them today. I know we all struggle with finding the time and energy to lead a healthy lifestyle. I hope today’s post doesn’t come across preachy and instead inspiring.
Small Steps = Big Results. When you’re overweight or out of shape it’s overwhelming to think of fitness and weight loss and healthy eating in the big picture at first, it’s enough to make most people quit. Concentrating on “all the weight I have to lose” or “I’ll never be as fit as (blank) is” is a recipe for failure. I’ve read it takes three weeks to break a habit and two months to form a new one. What’s true is changing bad habits and forming new healthy ones works when you focus only on getting through that particular day or that week, not a year down the road. Do that and guess what? A year down the road those small steps really do lead to big changes.
Small steps in fitness over time lead to major results. When I first started exercising regularly I could only do 1 real pushup and an 8 pound bicep curl felt heavy. Today I can bust out 20 pushups and do several sets of 20 pound dumbbell bicep curls, no problem, such progress! It took many months to build up to that but I learned never to compare myself to others, only with my own performance the week before. This week could I do a little bit better? That’s my goal, it still is. If you fail to perform or miss your workout, don’t stress, just get back up and start over again.
Small steps worked for me with nutrition as well. In the beginning of my transformation, I stopped eating just three things: fast food, processed food, and fried food. I ate only natural food for about six months to get my mind and body used to it. Once I’d broken that habit of eating crappy food I took my nutritional goal a step further. I limited starchy carbs like bread and pasta. Then a few months later I cut out most sugar and a lot of dairy. What I was left with after a year of small changes was a new habit of clean eating.
Nutrition Matters. For breakfast I make superfood smoothies, for lunch I eat a lot of chopped salads. I’m not on any diet with a name, I eat three regular and two small meals a day (yes five meals!) and I’m never ever hungry. I eat mostly plant based food and a lot of lean protein, but I’ll indulge in wine, chocolate, and savory sauces in moderation. I drink a glass of water before every meal and a glass in between meals too, I bought myself a cute water bottle and carry it with me everywhere.
One thing I’ve learned is I can curb cravings for junk food if I’ve prepared in advance which comes down to being proactive instead of reactive. Stocking my fridge with healthy choices just works. If I’m on the road, I bring a protein bar or small snack with me, and if really hungry I’ll stop at a supermarket and take 10 minutes to grab something natural to avoid the drive thru temptation. Another tidbit: someone once told me “remember the first bite tastes the same as the 20th so don’t have 20, have 3 or 4.” That has always stuck in my head and helped me stop eating too much of indulgent foods like sweets. I credit better nutrition and eating habits as 75% of the journey toward a healthy body.
Start Moving. The couch to 5K program is really great for those that are just getting started, the idea is just to get started somewhere, even if it’s simply walking an extra mile with a friend or with your dog. You can exercise anywhere, at the park, around your house, you don’t always have to go to a gym. Yoga, swimming, dancing, anything that gets you moving that you enjoy, find that and keep doing it!
STRONG, Not Skinny. I suffered from the common misconception among women that “weight lifting makes you bulky” but guess what, lifting weights does not make you bulky and it never will. You’ll never look like a body builder you’ll become toned which is what you want!
Building muscle melts the fat faster by increasing your metabolism so what happened over the course of a year was my arms got stronger and more sculpted and my legs did too and only strength training will do that. Not dieting and not cardio (although good nutrition and cardio matter!) Toned arms and legs come from weights and resistance bands, so ladies, learn to use those machines and free weights at the gym, or buy a resistance bands and do strength training at home. Watch videos on You Tube and work out with a few dumbbells. You don’t need heavy weights but you do need to do the reps that tone the muscles. As you age, you need strong muscles to prevent injury too so I’ll continue to lift weights for life!
Making Time. I think this is the biggest struggle for everyone in our fast paced society. Jobs, families, obligations, it all takes us away from time spent exercising. But what I learned is what we’ve all heard before, you’ve got to MAKE time and you only do that by saying no to unimportant things or making certain sacrifices. I had to give up time watching shows and hanging out online in exchange for finding an extra hour to exercise. I had to seriously examine what I was willing to give up to make gains health wise. Now looking back I can’t even remember thinking about what I missed on television or online! A healthy body takes both time and effort, what will you give up in order to make the time?
Make Exercise Social. I lift weights on my own during the week while I’m jamming to my tunes with headphones, but I also take fitness kickboxing classes three to four times a week and I really look forward to them because I love the camaraderie there. Taking the first class is always the hardest! But that little step of bravery has brought me some genuine friendships. Having a tribe of people around you who share a common goal (or even just 1 workout buddy) helps you stay accountable. Others on the same journey will encourage you, share in your challenges, celebrate your victories. Human connection is so helpful on any fitness journey!
There is No Finish Line. I’ve mentioned before whenever I’m asked what are you training for, my answer is always “For life!” I finally came to terms with the fact it wasn’t about getting to a certain weight or being able to run a certain speed, it was about feeling good all the time, appreciating my body’s ability to move, and loving my body enough to feed it properly and pushing it to stay strong.
The Carry Over. Being stronger and losing weight are not the only good things that have happened to me. Having a healthy body carried over into so many other aspects of life with residual benefits I didn’t expect. I sleep better, have a clearer mind, and much more energy. I feel so much better in clothes, and don’t get winded chasing my children around the house or on the soccer field. Endorphins from exercise fight off any depressing feelings, a good sweat session puts me in an amazing mood. Eating natural foods also carried over into better skin, hair, eyesight, all of it improved by feeding my body the good stuff instead of junk.
I’m not skinny gal, and I really don’t ever want to be. But I’m strong, I can jump and bend over and run and punch and lift in a way I couldn’t a year ago and that is a gift. Sometimes I’ll catch myself smiling as I drive around town and I realize it’s just because I feel so good. It took a lot of hard work to get where I am but now I feel as if I’m on cruise control. It’s a place I never imagined I’d get to, but I have.
If you’re struggling I hope you’ll take the right steps for you to give yourself the gift of health too.