Now that the new year has begun, we are well into working on our resolutions or goals. It’s our chance to start all over again, clean slate! However, for some of us, that clean slate has happened again and again and again to no avail. I think back through all the years, all the many times I had said, “this year I’m going to lose 20lbs, I’m going to be confident, I’m going to be successful and then about one or two months into the year I was crying about my job, eating ice cream (low fat, I’m sure) out of the carton, missing my daily workout. I share my struggle not for sympathy but as an expression of empathy toward anyone who has been through this vortex of starting strong and failing in the end repeatedly.
I was a chunky baby! But, that’s okay, that’s what we expect with babies, cute, chubby cheeks! Then, during my young years, I was a very skinny (to the point of an occasional picking on). I ate whatever I wanted (Oreos), I was active but no more than many kids my age. Come my early teenage years, along with puberty, I started growing hips and thighs, and a tiny roll. At first, I thought not much of it until one day a relative commented that I needed to get back to running and a school friend (a guy with a ton of humor) said, “Hmmm, those pants are looking a little snug on you”! Mortified is the word that describes these moments.
I was certainly a very insecure young lady. I was always doubting my looks and my body. I never felt like I was good enough, or pretty enough. This, perhaps, played a huge role in my life’s experiences (I won’t go into detail about this part of my life now, maybe a future blog…). No matter the psychology, the truth of the matter is that I seriously abused my body and struggled year after year to look like, what I thought, was perfect.
I recall going out with friends (who I always compared myself to, they were beautiful and skinny and didn’t have to worry about their weight in my mind), and after a late night out we would notoriously go to Taco Bell or Denny’s and order up high calorie, high fat foods and scarf it down like we hadn’t a care in the world, but I had a secret, I did care and I made sure that those calories weren’t going to settle into my body.
Once I arrived home my secret life began. I went into my private room (the bathroom) and the ritual began. After a night of binging I spent the rest of the evening purging, well into the wee hours of the morning. And…if I still felt unsure that I got rid of it all, I would down a few laxatives to make certain all that food was out of my body. This cycle (and there is much more detail…again, perhaps another blog), continued for years! All the way through college and into my early 20’s. I lived this secret of self-hate and body shaming. To make matters worse, I became a flight attendant during the years that you had to be a certain weight for your height. I was weighed every week and every week I dreaded that scale! This began the cycle of binging, purging, starving and over exercising. I was full of anxiety and fear all the time.
Finally, one day, locked in my apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, after a night of ignoring the phone, binging and purging and crying I knew I hit rock bottom. It was then that I decided to check into an Eating Disorder Hospital. The day I checked in they did an EKG and they found my heart was weak to the point that I was restricted from activity. I was in this place for about 3 months and then was an outpatient for about another month. My treatment included very intense therapy both one on one and group. Unfortunately, through all of this, I still struggled. I just couldn’t get my eating under control.
Once I got to my 30’s I started working out…A LOT! I trained seven days a week, two times a day. I ate lots of protein, limited carbs and only the “good” fats, but not small portions. This was simply a band aid to a much bigger wound. Yet another time in my life that deserves its own story. Bottom line, I switched one obsession for another.
Fast forward to the birth of my amazing son. Proudly, I only gained 17 pounds, but as many of us have experienced, it’s still not easy to lose. My body shifted, my hips were back, my belly was loose, I found myself slipping back into old behaviors. So, what do you do? You start running marathons! Training is not just going out for an occasional run, training is a mix of sprints, short runs, long runs (20 miles at times), hills and for weeks. I repeated this pattern eight times. After my last marathon, my body sent me a huge message. That message came in the form of aches and pains and illness.
At this point I knew I had to make some changes, internal, emotional changes. Living my life in such extremes was hurting me. I had to stop looking to have the “perfect” body to make me happy. I was desperately seeking a life of balance and self-love. I spent some time in therapy, I began reading and journaling about emotions and spirituality. I realized that I couldn’t change my body type, I was never going to be 5’11”, 130lbs, but I could have my ideal body for my body shape. I accepted that marathons were no longer in my future and that finding a balance between resistance training, flexibility, cardio and even rest was the healthiest route for me (and truly anyone). I chose a vegetarian lifestyle (not for everyone), but more importantly a balanced diet between healthy proteins, carbohydrates, and fats and, awesomely, I feel more satisfied and find that I am not craving all those crazy binge worthy foods. This didn’t happen overnight, quite the opposite. It took years and research and determination to get to a place of peace with myself and especially my body.
My shortened version of my life story is a true testament that quick fixes, fad diets, balls to wall exercising will ultimately fail you. My advice for anyone who struggles with diet, exercise, and/or body image is to first, get to the heart of it and own it. We all have a story that got us to where we are. We don’t need that story to define us, but it is the reason we’ve become who we are today. My story broke me down for years, it was when I was accountable for my chapters that I started to feel the shift from victim to the CEO of my mind and body. As a professional in the field of fitness for over 22 years, I’ve heard every excuse, story, blame there is. “I exercise all the time and I eat salads every day and still can’t lose weight”, etc.… There’s so much more to it.
Questions to ask yourself:
1. When I exercise, am I getting my heart rate up to a rate that will burn calories (to figure it out take 220-your age= your maximum heart rate, multiply that by 60-70%=your target heart rate to burn fat-obviously, the higher end will burn more calories)
2. Am I keeping my heart rate up for 20 minutes or more?
3. Do I get at least 150 minutes of moderate (brisk walk, swimming) or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (running, higher intensity aerobic exercise) in every week?
4. Am I adding resistance training to build lean muscle (lean muscle being a high metabolic tissue)
5. Do I control my portions when I eat? Your plate should be no bigger than the circumference of your hand.
6. Am I counting my “drinks” and the little bites I sometimes take as calories? A calorie is a calorie is a calorie!
7. Do I eat small meals throughout the day or just one big portion at night? Eating five to six small meals a day is best to continuously keep your metabolism working.
8. Am I getting enough rest? At rest our muscles, tissues, bones, connective tissues and nerves rebuild and repair.
9. Do I take time to de-stress? Stress wreaks havoc on our bodies. Stress releases cortisol which blocks the hormones needed for weight loss.
10. Am I living with regret? Regret is normal, I certainly made a ton of mistakes in my life that caused regret, but as I’ve grown “older” I’ve learned to convert regret into lessons that have moved me forward to the awesome place I am now in.
There is no denying the struggles of weight loss and changing old behaviors are real. I lived it. We need to remember we are in control of our lives, we are in the driver’s seat. It is unhealthy and defeating to look outside of ourselves to find happiness, especially when it comes to our own bodies. This journey is a lifetime and is not always easy and sometimes painful, but, when done with love and respect for yourself, it’s the most rewarding and amazing journey you’ll ever take.
“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination” ~Jimmy Dean