“Progress not perfection”. I have said that probably a thousand times. “Fitness is a lifestyle change”. I have also said that a thousand times. Yet despite the frequency we are reminded of these encouraging statements, people continue to struggle with the process of living a healthy lifestyle. I want to spend some time talking about living a healthy life and explain how distracted views, unrealistic goals, and difficult expectations make fitness for life challenging.
I want to start with my personal journey. I was not athletic as a child. I was not tough or strong. I was sensitive, creative, whimsical, and fun. I wanted to spend my time hanging out with friends and sought to discover life on my own terms. At a young age I started to experiment with drugs and alcohol. It is by the grace of God that I never physically harmed or arrested, although I did land myself into some legal troubles, during my escapades. I witnessed numerous friends make life altering choices that left emotional, mental, and physical scars. I saw myself go from a secure young lady to a confused and morally lacking young adult. All I cared about was the next party or the next opportunity to hang out. This lifestyle started to negatively impact my professional future. I was at a University and I was broke, alone, miserable, and depressed. One night my parents had an intervention with me and threatened to pull me out of Baylor University. Mind you, going to Baylor had been my childhood dream. They threatened to force me home, make me get a job, and start drug and alcohol rehab. I had hit “rock bottom”. I re-focused my priorities and my responsibilities, found a job, and I was able to find a balance to graduate successfully from Baylor University.
Picture of me and a friend not long after graduation from Baylor – I am the brunette and at a heavier weight.
I was quickly accepted to graduate school in Chicago, Illinois. Living in Chicago proved to be too much for this young, small town girl. I quickly returned to the party lifestyle. My days were spent in school and my nights consisted of drinking and dancing until it was time to go back to class. My diet consisted of “hangover food” from any grease filled fast-food chain or Chicago-style pizza. Needless to say I was overweight. Eventually I added an internship to this mix. I worked with children that had witnessed domestic violence or abuse and helped mothers that had been violently abused by their partners navigate the court process and start the emotional healing process. Most days I left my “job” in tears feeling hopeless and angry of the hate that existed in the world. This only fueled my desire to drink more. I held it together long enough to graduate with a 4.0 and land my “dream job” immediately following graduation. I worked with young women with eating disorders, trauma, and substance abuse issues. Rather than carefully learn to cope with what I heard and saw I choose to cope by staying up until 5 and 6 in the morning drinking and eating poorly. It all caught up to me one morning as I was driving to work on a busy Chicago interstate when I had to pull-over and vomit from being too drunk from the night before. During supervision later that day, my director looked at me and asked, “Is anyone using drugs or alcohol to cope?”. Although I knew she was talking to me I denied this to her, the group, and to myself.
I was a hot mess. I was overweight, sick, and hated myself. It was time for a change. During this time my sister was planning a wedding. I purchased my bridesmaid dress and gained so much weight that when I needed to have it altered the seamstress said to me, “why do you buy a dress and gain so much weight”? I was at least 4-6 dress sizes bigger! My wake up call came when I moved for a job to a small East Texas town. My friend and I decided that in order to save money we would stop eating out and drinking for 60 days. I bought food to eat at home and since my social life was lacking I bought 2 $10 dance workout DVDs. This was late 2006 that I started to eat healthy and workout. I started using the DVDs in my living room 3 days a week. I started feeling better. I started spending time working on my spiritual life grew spirituality and emotionally. I had improved self-esteem, confidence, and fulfilled relationships. I was truly happy.
I am not sure what I weighed when I started my journey in 2006. I do know at one point I weighed as much as 160 pounds and I was wearing between a size 12 and size 14. However as I improved my life my physical body started to shed weight. My clothes got bigger. They were so big they were uncomfortable to wear. I had to buy a whole new wardrobe. I became stronger and started working out in my apartment complex fitness center. It felt so good to be in charge of my life that I was working out 5 days a week. As I continued to work on myself I obtained a job promotion and once again moved. This time I moved to a suburb of Houston. I was thin, happy, and confident. I started to workout more. I was the girl in the gym 3 hours a day 7 days a week. I read books and journals on food and found that I was eating less and less. After reading Skinny Bitch, which I advise anyone interested in the quality of our food to read, I threw away all the food in my house and vowed to be vegan. I lost even more weight. People commented on my body and my physique and how they wanted my abs, my arms, and sought to weigh as much as I did.
Sadly I, too, was obsessed with the number on the scale. I thought that if I weighed a certain number I would have achieved the ultimate goal. As I lost more weight I became sicker both emotionally and physically. I lost my period for several months. I would weigh myself 3 times a day and if the number went up, I would lock myself in my house, cry, and tell myself I was fat. One night I had plans to hang out with friends. These were great plans too, it was going to be a fun night. However, I weighed before I left for the night and I had gained. I drove around for 2 hours crying and squeezing all the “fat” on my body. I drove home and knew I had a problem.
A picture of me at my thinnest – I was unhealthy and obsessed with the number on the scale.
I had to find “balance”. That was the word my psychologist said to me and it made total sense. I had spent my life letting something consume my thoughts, behaviors, and my emotions. She explained I could have health, fitness, friends, professional success, and love all at the same time. When I stopped worrying about achieving a particular goal and enjoyed the daily process I was able to find balance. This was 2009. Since that time I enjoy the daily process. I enjoy the work that needs to be done today because in 6 weeks, 6 months, 1 year, 6 years, I will be a different, better, and more fabulous place.
How I started to look as I found a balance – I was fit, active, healthy, successful, and happy.
So many people ask me, “what do I do to lose weight?”, “what do I do to have toned arms?”, or “what do I do to have a better booty?” Here is the answer – WORK – every single day! The fitness instructor you see or the toned and strong person you see in the gym did not wake up looking that way. They have been working toward their physique everyday. Most often for YEARS! They embrace the daily grind and know the decisions made today will lead to results tomorrow.
Progress picture – from early in my prep
Progress this week – 8 total weeks!
I know so many people that spend hours in the gym, and they are in every group fitness class. As a group fitness instructor I love people like you in my classes. You make my classes fun and challenging. However if you want to see progress the key is not to spend hours in group fitness classes. (Please keep coming to class, but understand I did not achieve my physique by attending group fitness classes). However I want to keep you from hitting rock bottom and having to experience the emotional and psychological pain I felt. I want you to know that you can achieve a healthy lifestyle.
The key to living a healthy lifestyle is to eat with balance, workout with balance, and live life with balance. You must eat healthy. Your diet must be consistent from day to day. A healthy lifestyle is actively making a decision to chose to eat fruit instead of cake at the company party and not feeling deprived. A healthy lifestyle means eating a meal at home rather than the drive thru. A healthy lifestyle means drinking water instead of soda, EVERY SINGLE DAY! However living this lifestyle means that you can afford to eat cake or you can afford a nice dinner at restaurant and do it guilt free and without sabotaging your hard work.
Living a healthy lifestyle is knowing that physical fitness and exercise is necessary for mental, physical, and emotional health. It is a decision to workout daily. It is knowing that a balanced workout regime should include some cardio and strength training. Your cycle instructor with the toned arms did not get toned arms from riding a stationary bicycle. No, the lean arms comes from lifting weights. My physique did not come from teaching cycle or RIPPED, no it came from lifting heavy and hard before and sometimes after class.
A healthy lifestyle means it is OK to say “no”. There are times when your family will need your attention, your support, and your love. Family is always more important than a workout. You can plan accordingly and get your workouts in prior to the commitment and enjoy a family day and a rest day at the same time. Rest is necessary to build muscle and burn fat. You body will not improve if it is constantly under stress from working out.
Going to the gym consistently 3-4 days a week, or more, for 6 months may not yield the results you want. If you started working out in January and still have weight to lose and muscles to tone than keep going. If every time you work out you expect to reach your goal, you will never be satisfied. A healthy lifestyle means doing the work because you know that each day you get a little better. Give up on achieving your goal and start living life. Start living a life where you choose health, you chose happiness, you choose love, and you choose wellness. One day you will look back and see how far you have come!