BEWARE! THIS POST IS LONG! FAIRLY WARNED, BE YE!
So I’ve been talking a big game about making a post discussing my fitness efforts and it’s time for me to make good on my threats.
Before I get started I want to point out that this is going to be a deeply personal blog detailing my weightloss and fitness efforts over the last year. It comes directly from my mind and experiences, and with that comes the emotional highs and lows I have felt going through this journey. Everything I say in this post is directed solely at me and my experiences. In saying certain things about myself, I do not imply anything about the fitness/health of others. I hate to sound like Veruca Salt, but this is about me and my journey only. I don’t want anyone to read this and feel upset or down on anything because that is not my intention! I just wanted to say that going in, because I’m putting some harsh truths about myself in here that reflect solely on me, my mental health, and my own body. None of my comments are meant to pass judgment on anyone else’s body or their lifestyle. Live your life as fully as you want, be beautiful, feel amazing in your own skin no matter what!
So let me preface by explaining why I began this journey. I was very, very thin in high school. Probably to an unhealthy point. I wouldn’t really eat lunch, I’d grab a bag of chips and sprite from the vending machines and then walk all over the school with a heavy backpack. I’d eat dinner at home, but when I see pics of myself around that time I was mostly skin and bones.
Aaaand then I went to college and gained the freshman 15. Thankfully having to walk to my classes and all over campus kept that gain at 15-20lbs.
BUT THEN I STARTED MY CAREER AND EVERYTHING CHANGED WHEN THE SNACKS NATION ATTACKED! Suddenly my lifestyle was COMPLETELY sedentary. Working from home didn’t help the matter, as that dropped my average daily exercise to basically the amount of steps between my home office and my bed. Every now and then I’d go for walks or take the dogs out but beyond that, I was lifeless.
My eating habits went in the crapper as well. I didn’t realize how poorly I was eating at the time, because one doesn’t set out to eat an entire pizza or family size bag of doritos on their own – it just kind of happens. Whenever I went grocery shopping I’d grab all kinds of snacks like cheetos, oreos, etc. and then after bringing them home I’d graze on them all day. Walk past the kitchen to let the dogs out? Better grab 2 or 3 oreos on the way back! Because goddamnit, those things TASTE good. Same with takeout food like pizza or whatever else. Even now I struggle with cravings when I know better, that I shouldn’t be ordering a medium sized extra cheese pizza and breadsticks for ONE person.
The main point I’m trying to make here is that my weight gain happened slowly over the course of 5-8 years. A box of oreos here or there, some pizza on Friday night, ice cream from Dairy Queen when I was coming home from work, etc. I would buy whole bags of hershey’s miniatures and just eat them in a weekend WITH my other meals. ALL of them. An entire bag of chocolates. Coupled with little to no exercise and that means that as I got older, I was gaining more and more weight. But it was such a slow process that I didn’t even notice.
Now, I have always had a mental image of myself that is, well, my concept of a perfect me physically. She’s beautiful, intelligent, and has a traditional hourglass figure. When I imagine myself doing things or whatever else, that is the “me” that I think of. It has always been this way, from when I was a little girl until now. I like to laugh about sexual dimorphism and overtly sexualized women in games, but the truth is that this mental image of myself is just as leggy, busty, and sensual as any leather-clad leading lady in a comic book movie or fantasy novel cover.
What does that make me? I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve ever seen as “wrong” about myself. I don’t think I have any kind of body dismorphia, I just think I have an over-idealized version of me bouncing around in my head so I can feel good when I imagine myself taking over the world during my daydreams.
So here’s where it all comes to a head. I went to my endocrinologist as I have a thyroid issue. Hashimoto’s, it’s an autoimmune disorder that cause hypothyroidism. (At this point when I went to my endo, it had been under control and treated for at least a couple years by that point so no, it wasn’t the main source of my weight gain.) I got on their scale and it read almost 200 lbs. That was, according to the BMI scale on their wall, clinically obese. The endo sat me down and told me that since I already had an autoimmune disorder and my weight was increasing, I was going to be at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. My general practitioner had expressed concern about this and my weight as well, as had an orthopedist I had seen for a hip issue. All of this genuine concern from medical professionals plus actually seeing my weight right there in big bold letters on the scale caused that beautiful mental image of myself in the mirror to crack and shatter.
I went home and for the first time I looked at myself and saw how much weight I had gained and I saw that perfect image of myself in my brain compared to how I looked and felt and I just cried. Literally cried myself to sleep that night.
Now, not every woman holds weight the same way, we have some seriously diverse body types! Some women hold weight more in their chest, thighs, and butt. I was not so lucky. All of my weight gain was centered on my stomach and abdomen which, in terms of health, is one of the WORST places you can carry it. All your organs are located in those areas which means the fat is more likely to collect around them and cause things like heart issues, liver disease, etc. Plus, I looked like I was pregnant or smuggling a beachball under my shirt. I had resorted to wearing unflattering tops that fluffed out at the bottom in the hopes of hiding it. I actually had a cashier at a restaurant once ask me when I was due. I just gave her a sad smile, a quiet laugh, and replied, “I’m not, I’m just fat.” and she turned almost scarlet and was silent the rest of the transaction.
Now please understand, I’m not pulling any punches here in terms of myself and these comments/opinions are only directed AT myself, nobody else. I was very unhappy with how I looked and felt. On top of being depressed about my appearance, I started having pain in various parts of my body. My shoulders, neck, hips, and knees would shift between dull aches to just throbbing pain depending on how I slept or moved during the day. Surprisingly, my elbows even started hurting after a certain point because of my posture.
And so, after crying, I fell into a bit of a slump about the whole thing. My ideal image of myself was in ruins, and I no longer felt cute, powerful, or whatever else. To me, I was just a walking lump with a big mouth.
Now, I could go on and on about this aspect of my growth but I won’t, because it’s uncomfortable. I kept the feelings bottled up and for a time, I got worse. Food was comfort for me, and I sought it out as much as possible which just made it a self-fulfilling prophecy. And before this, I had looked on things like calorie counting and whatnot as tedious, pointless, and just making life complicated for the sake of being complicated. Who wants to count their calories for EVERY meal of the day? I certainly didn’t. And you know why I didn’t? Because it would have made me responsible for everything I was putting in my mouth.
So now that all that nastiness is out of the way…how about when things turned around?
The first part of my weight loss came solely from the kitchen. Or rather, came from things I kicked OUT of my kitchen.
In June of last year, I went on a trip to visit my family. I spent a bit with them and saw how they lived their lives. They were all very active, ate healthy, and just were overall much, much happier than I was at the time. THAT was my turning point. I saw how they lived, and I knew I wanted the same kind of life for myself. So after coming back home I knew I had to make a change. I went through my kitchen and threw out all the junk. Buh-bye cookies, buh-bye super sugary cereal, buh-bye candy, buh-bye buh-bye. I also bought a scale to FORCE myself to accept the reality of my own weight from then on.
Then I went shopping and I shopped specifically for my new lifestyle. I got skim milk, greek yogurt, fiber based cereals, veggies, healthier bread, etc. etc. I have a “no snack” rule in this house and I stick to it. I wish I could say that I had the restraint other people do with snacks, but I don’t. To me, there is no such thing as one reeses from the package and saving the other for later. No. Both are going in my mouth. I know this aspect of myself, and I accept it. In accepting it, I set these boundaries for myself knowing it was the only way I’d be able to stick with it.
I learned very early on not to drink my calories. Thankfully I don’t like coffees or teas, so that just left soda and fruit juice. Fruit juice is meh, I don’t usually buy it at the grocery store so cutting that out wasn’t hard. Soda I just had to force myself to quit cold turkey. I tried switching to diet, but for some reason any time I drank the diet sodas I would retain water like a sumumabish. So I’d wake up the next morning, get on the scale, and freak out! Thus, diet sodas have become relegated to a “once in a while” thing. I will NOT drink them when I go out to a restaurant. I find that in a restaurant setting I will gulp down my drink like gangbusters. If that drink is soda, that’s baaAAAdddd. So water it is.
I went into this lifestyle change hating water, to be honest, but I have learned to love it. Now the only drinks in my fridge are my skim lactaid milk and a pitcher of filtered water. My body is MADE of water, so I wanted to learn to like it. And I did. I’ll still get sodas, but usually just a regular can or bottle of diet as part of a Thai takeout meal or whatever else. That way it’s a limited amount as a treat.
The change with food came down to one thing: counting my calories. As much as I groaned and eye-rolled at it before, I realized I needed to learn to do it. I downloaded the Lose It! app on my phone and started tracking as was utterly surprised at the type of things I was eating in a day.
The important thing with calorie counting is that, outside of water, you are tracking EVERYTHING you put into your mouth. So you’re having a bagel and add the bagel in? Great. But did you add the cream cheese too? They’re both going in your mouth, both are going to be converted into energy for your body, so you NEED to keep track of it. This was the hardest, and most eye-opening part for me. Suddenly I was learning what was actually sabotaging my weightloss efforts. Salads with dressings? Wow. Soups? Can be tricky. Pasta? loooooooooooooooooool. Do you know just how many restaurants will add things like sugar, butter, and mayo to meals that otherwise don’t need it at all to increase the “flavor”? It’s more than you’d think, and it might be worth taking a second look at certain chain restaurant menus to see their calorie counts before you go out to dinner.
But then here’s the thing. Those foods I listed above? THEY ARE GODDAMNED DELICIOUS. How can I LIVE without cake?! I’ll tell you – I don’t. I have cravings, they are very real and they are very persistent. I don’t think I will ever get rid of them, especially given my previous eating habits. The key with food is balance. If I want cake, I will have cake, but I will budget the rest of my day so that I’m not overconsuming calories because of the cake. So maybe instead of a bigger lunch I’ll just have a salad with a balsamic dressing. Then, at dinner, I will shove my face squarely in the biggest, chocolatiest piece of cake I can find for myself.
And that is it. That was the key. Balance. Balancing my meals, balancing my lifestyle. There is no such thing as a successful diet. There is only changing your lifestyle and learning how to eat properly. I can still have junk when I want it, just in moderation. This moderation, this balance, and this knowledge and acceptance of my own flaws and cravings is what has kept me successful with changing my eating habits.
Changing what I ate was how I lost most of my weight.
Are you still with me? I told you this was going to get long!
Around the end of October of last year I was very happy with my progress but I had hit a plateau. Plateaus are the ugly part of weightloss where you get stuck and can’t seem to budge the scale. At that point my mental image of myself was coming back into focus and I could see her in reach again. I decided that I wanted to be healthy, not just thinner, so I opted to add some exercise to my new lifestyle.
There’s a small, 24-hour gym local to me that I love. The ladies that run it are very kind and encouraging, and I had gone there in the past. My first foray into gym life from a couple years ago was a mess. I’d walk slowly on the treadmill for 30 minutes and consider myself good to go, but couldn’t understand why I wasn’t losing weight. This time when I went back to the gym I was DETERMINED to make that $30 monthly subscription worth it. I told myself that if I wasn’t sweating or if I had time to be watching a TV show on my phone, I wasn’t doing it right and needed to work harder.
I started my cardio slow with the elliptical and recumbent bike. The first few weeks were filled with me wheezing, sweating, and just plain miserable and out of breath. But over time, as I went, I realized that each day it got a little easier. I could stay on the machines for a little longer…push the resistance up a little higher. Even though I couldn’t really “see” a difference and my weight was still stalled, I FELT the progress. I FELT myself getting healthier, more in shape. There is no greater feeling in the world than knowing your body is turning into the well-oiled machine it was always meant to be.
Suddenly those aches and pains in my neck, shoulders, legs, etc. were disappearing. My muscles were firming up, and my body was able to support itself better. I equated my body to a machine in the last paragraph, and that’s true. Have you ever heard the old adage that cars like to be driven? That’s how our bodies are too. They LIKE to be used, made to work hard. I’ll be the first to admit that cardio can be boring as HELL, but afterwards I could feel my body and mind completely invigorated. PLUS I got the added bonus of that dopamine release you get when you tell yourself you need to do something and then you actually accomplish it.
By this time, I was starting to feel good. That mental image of myself was in clear view and SO close. I started losing weight again, but at a much slower pace. And that was okay. By then I had hit what is considered a healthy weight on the BMI scale. I still had my goal in mind, but at this point I’ve stopped using weight as the measurement and started using visual assessments to see if my body is where I want it to me. I still step on a scale, but I get a better idea of whether I’m on track to my goals just by looking at myself in the mirror. I can see what needs to be firmed up or worked on, and I can see how far I’ve really come.
SO! I stuck to doing cardio at the gym because I thought, y’know, that’s what women are supposed to do at the gym, right? WELL. One thing they never tell you about weightloss is that it the weight does not drop evenly. I was losing weight from all the areas I wanted to keep it while my tummy was still a freakin’ disaster. I didn’t want to lose my butt, thighs, and hips, darnit! But, that’s kinda what cardio does, right? You lose weight, but you lose it indiscriminately. You can’t wave a magic wand and ONLY lose tummy weight. Your body is just gonna be like, “AAYYYY WE NEED ENERGY, TAKE THE FAT STORES FROM THE CHEST AND THE BUTT, AND THEN MAYBE THE FACE???”
But this…this mental image of myself. She’s got the hourglass, she’s got the thighs and hips, she’s got the boobs and the toned arms! What am I gonna do if I l have the body of a potato?
Ohoho. Here’s a fun secret that they don’t market to women. They don’t market it to women because if you tell us women that you can essentially build your own body, that means that the fad diet and fad cardio exercise home workouts won’t sell. The secret is…wait for it…weight lifting. Weight lifting is specifically designed to target muscle groups on your body so that you can literally build the body you want by toning certain areas. Women seem to have this mistaken impression that if you do a few squats or bench presses, you’re going to break out in GIGANTIC veiny muscle patches and just, no. It doesn’t work like that. And I’m not saying this to be controversial. I mean, just talk to random people and the general idea is that weights and SICK GAINZ are for men while cardio is for women. I SPIT ON THIS STEREOTYPE! PETH PTHH! SPIT! BOTH ARE FOR BOTH!
Cardio and your diet are for losing weight. Weight training is for gaining it back IN THE AREAS YOU WANT IT.
So, to me, I wanted my killer thighs and toned arms. I’m not as big on abs, I just want a flat stomach. (That is still a work in progress.) So I took the dive. I got some help from the gym trainers and just, y’know, went for it. I sat down at the weight machines and…I did the reps. I started with the vertical bench press for my arms, and leg presses for my legs. (As a note, if you aren’t sure what these machines are, google it! You can find some great diagrams that explain them.) I was sore, but I took that soreness with a sense of pride because I knew it meant it was working. And the results were fairly immediate, I could see them after a couple of weeks. One day I was bending over in the shower to reach my body wash and I saw the gentle slope of my upper thigh and I saw it. I saw that mental image of myself reflected in the actual physical sense. I was becoming the person I had always dreamed about.
Oh gosh, I’m tearing up as I write this but it’s true.
Over time I’ve added more machines to my routine. At this point I’m doing bicep curls and using a machine that specifically targets the outer thighs on top of my other stuff. As I’ve started toning up I’ve realized that the toned areas look great, and I want more of them. So I totally get why people spend hours doing weights at the gym every day.
But to me, having an amazon body is pointless if I can’t walk for more than a block without getting winded. So my usual gym routine is 30 minutes of cardio followed by my circuit on the weight machines. I usually go 3-5 times a week and keep rest days in between for the days I really push myself by upping the weight limit or adding more reps. To me, this is balance.
The important thing is that I am still a work in progress, physically and mentally. But I feel better now than I have in the last 5 or 6 years, and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. If anything, this whole experience has taught me that if I really put my mind to it and WORK for something, I can DO IT. It’s HARD and downright unpleasant at times, but it is doable.
As for my current progress, well, here’s a collection of pics I took to celebrate my new pair of leggings:
Like I said, I still have work to do. But the point is, I’m doing the work. And I’m getting SO close to that mental image of the amazon in my head. Even better, that mental image is changing as my journey continues. She’s changing…well…into me. Actual me. And that just feels pretty damned good.
Thank you to everyone who read this far. And thank you to all my friends, family, etc. online and offline that have supported and encouraged me throughout this journey. You guys have been an invaluable resource, and I hope I’ve made some of you proud. :’)