I did not grow up fat. I was skinny up until I was 15 years old.
As a child, I never stopped moving so the fact that I never stopped eating, either, never caught up with me. As a teen, however, I moved less and ate the same amount, donuts being a favourite. Factor in all of the hormone changes and I steadily gained weight. I must have known I was gaining weight, but I was so morose about life in general that I didn’t care how I looked, or if I had any energy. I barely looked in mirrors.
It wasn’t until I bought my grad dress that reality sunk in. The lady muttered, “Let me see what I have in large plus sizes in the back,” walking away calmly as if she hadn’t just planted a truth bomb in my brain. I was a size 18 (this is before “glamour sizing”) and I felt hideous. I ended up picking a deep purple gown that made me resemble a walking behemoth of an eggplant.
Once that reality sinks in, you know you either lean into it and get air-lifted out of your house by a crane when you die or do something about it. It took me YEARS to finally admit that I needed to get healthier.
Over time, I tried and failed a billion times (or so it felt) at getting healthier and losing weight. I saw a little progress on weight loss and then quitting: either because I would decide it wasn’t happening fast enough, or because a personal “crisis” would cause one bad day of binge eating.
I wish I had known that healthy living is not something you “endure” short term to get a result, but is something that you can enjoy long term if you find a way to live it that leaves you filled with joy or passion- the Stair Master is not mandatory and walking IS considered exercise.
Fitness is hard to fit in sometimes, but I book it in just like I would find time to have coffee with a friend. If I think about it as optional, I don’t do it. Fitness is a different definition for everyone, but I feel like it should be something you enjoy, at least partially, and I wish I knew that at the beginning of my journey. I try not to overthink it! It can be long walks.
For me, it is a game of catch with the kids (with the way they throw, it is a lot of running!) or a bike ride with friends. Often it is time alone in the basement, lifting weights to my favourite music. I struggle with letting it get too easy and not pushing myself, but that’s when my husband usually steps in and gives me the courage to push a little harder, lift a little heavier.
I also wish I had known that giving up on healthy living for a meal or two (or even a day or two) is fine, but that getting back to it is important because it’s worth it to see the long term effects. I am working to enjoy food and enjoy where I am at now. This is hard for someone who has had low self-esteem since grade 5 and has struggled with food since she was 14 years old. My biggest struggle is to make food something I eat at mealtimes to give me energy and joy; not something that worries me constantly.
Eating and fitness have to go hand in hand. In fact, the whole journey is linked, from your mental state, emotions, and hormones to the physical fitness part. Humans are a machine of sorts, everything working together and helping another piece of the puzzle. So it is foolish to ignore any one part of it.
Food should be eaten in moderation and, in my opinion at least, a homemade hamburger isn’t a cheat meal unless ¾ of your bun is mayonnaise. I don’t like the words “cheat meal” since a cheat makes me feel like I sinned and I am worthless. Then I am going down the shame spiral and giving up all of a sudden.
My philosophy now is to let myself eat badly every once in a while, especially during my menstrual cycle when my body knows what I need more than I do. I do know that I need a firm deadline or my one day of eating old favourites turns into a month and then a year. So…. I tell myself everything in moderation, don’t eat from the box, one portion is enough if you listen to your stomach, stop eating when you are 80% full and stop listening to your tongue.
I still sometimes struggle like everyone does, and my biggest challenge is battling my “All-or-Nothing” mindset. I keep thinking that if I eat a packaged cracker (not a homemade one), I have failed myself and should quit. I missed Tuesday’s workout? Might as well skip the rest of the week- or month. It’s a sort of self-sabotage that happens when I start to lose faith in my ability to succeed. I feel that this mindset is perpetuated by the fitness community, and I try to disregard anyone who sees any kind of food as a sin to avoid. That type of thinking makes me feel like a criminal if I put salad dressing on my salad and only leads to self-sabotage.
I am determined to succeed this time! I won’t be afraid of success, which is a big pitfall for me. I will remind myself I am not doing it because I “have to” but because I “want to” and change “I can’t have” to “I choose not to have”.
I recently saw a photo of myself in a friend’s photo album, and I am holding my daughter just after she was born. I am at least 220 lbs. and I am not smiling. I remember being tired and overwhelmed and filled with negative thoughts about my body; I was completely unreasonable and hard on myself, giving myself a hard time about my weight despite the fact that I just had a baby and was dealing with her colic. Most of my support system at the time wasn’t that helpful either. So much has changed since then!
Now I have a wonderful support system in my current tribe of friends, my husband and my mom. They cheer me through the hard times and constantly celebrate my successes. My tribe encourages me to work out when I don’t feel like it. My husband helps me plan healthier snacks and reminds me I don’t want to choose the unhealthy option because I will feel like garbage after (physically and mentally). I’m grateful for these gentle reminders.
My supportive tribe keeps me motivated, but I also use technology to keep me going. Video game “prizes” on Wii U Fitness, such as “coins” or a personal best score, help a lot, so when I don’t feel like working out, I will do yoga or fitness on the Wii to keep it fun.
The most consistent tools I use are my favourite phone apps. Instagram, as silly as it sounds at first, is a great motivator. I follow some really great people and they follow me as well. It helps me voice what I am trying and get some feedback, or I can ask for help with a move. I celebrate my successes on there and it makes me feel less alone. In fact, when I have shared progress photos in the past, people have pointed out gains that I don’t see! I am sitting there picking myself apart and then someone notices my shoulders are stronger or my posture better and it motivates me.
I also try to eat more mindfully since I have a tendency to eat without thinking when I’m stressed. I use MyFitnessPal to track my food, but wish I could celebrate how much fiber or iron I ate that day instead of using the calorie count, since I have struggled on both spectrums of eating disorders in the past. However, I still use the app and it has helped immensely with keeping me aware of what is passing through my lips. Even though I use it inconsistently, it never fails to get me back on track.
Another, extremely important, part of my day is when I use the guided meditation app, ‘Stop, Breathe and Think’. It helps me feel centered when I am stressed.
My personal motivation to continue to eat healthily and be active include: being around for my kids long-term, having energy (mainly to run around with my kids but also in general), feeling alive, vibrant and present. I find that if I feel healthy, I am more confident in myself. So I try to remind myself of these motivations with sticky notes of them EVERYWHERE.
Now that I know what I do, I would get back in to that time machine I mentioned earlier, to my younger self, and say:
“Look foolish!! It’s okay; no one is really judging you that much!”
“Talk to someone or journal a lot about your journey!”
“Do what feels right for you and really listen to what your body needs, not what you want at the moment.”
“One step (literally!) at a time. It’s okay to start small, take baby steps and fail. Just do a little bit at a time and keep getting back up to try again.”
Every day I accept that I am a work in progress, and the negative mental ‘weight’ I have shed is just as important as the physical weight shed. I think that is as amazing as any muscle gains I see.
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