Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Who does this girl think she is?"

I am sure you may be wondering, "Who does this girl think she is?" I am not a doctor. I am not a personal trainer. I am not a fitness expert. So, why listen to me, right? Well, I am a person who has gone through the weight loss process. I have first-hand experience that I am going to share with you all, if you care to hear it. If you'd rather read a book by a fitness expert or meet with a personal trainer instead, that is great! I am often asked how I lost the weight, so this is just my platform for sharing my experience. By all means, seek out professional help along your journey, too. I did, and I am so glad I did! But in the meantime, I hope some of the information I share might at least get you started and point you in the right direction. So, before I get to the details, let me first tell you a little bit about myself and my weight loss journey.

My weight issues started all the way back in late elementary school. I'd say around the time I was 11, I was starting to chunk up a bit. I definitely had a gut. I was an active kid, though. It wasn't like I was sitting around on the couch playing video games. I was an active dancer and my friends and I liked to play outside. But, back in the 80s, processed foods were the norm. Most of us kids came to school with a sandwich, a bag of chips, a cookie and a "juice" box full of high fructose corn syrup. Things were different back then, and we did not know the things we know today about how bad these foods are for your overall health. Those foods definitely took a toll on my body. I started to gain weight, and then middle school hit. I started eating things like french fries and pizza and other horribly unhealthy foods that were offered in the lunch lines. I continued to dance and play volleyball and basketball, but these activities were no match for my horrible diet. I gained a lot of weight in middle school. I remember feeling fat all the time as a middle school student. I knew I was getting bigger, but I had no idea what to do about it. After all, I was still a child. I was eating foods that tasted good and that were right in my face every day. I was not thinking about calories or overall nutrition. Not at all. Sure, they talked about the food pyramid in school, but it was just an abstract idea to me. I didn't feel like it really connected to my actual diet.

By the time I entered high school, I was around a size 10/12. I was never obese. I carried my weight pretty well due to my 5'9" height. I was definitely overweight, but not in a way that really made me stand out. I don't remember ever being bullied for my size. I had friends who were smaller than me and friends who were bigger than me. I was sort of in the middle. I definitely felt terrible about myself, and I wanted nothing more than to be a beautiful, skinny girl. You know, one of those size zero models that were plastered all over the teen magazines I was reading... Yet, I had no idea how to go from point A to point B (never mind the fact that point B was not even healthy!). My activity level was still high with sports and dance, but the eating of processed foods and fatty foods continued. It was during my junior year that I decided to try to fix the problem. I resorted to extreme calorie cutting. I was eating around 1000-1200 calories a day, sometimes less. Given the fact that I was so physically active, this was not a good choice. I was essentially starving my body. The kicker is that even with that low calorie count, I was still eating bad foods. I was not even making those low calories count. I did end up losing weight, but at what expense? I was hungry all the time. I hated my body. I hated dieting. I was not learning how to live a healthy lifestyle. It was just a quick fix, and it wouldn't last. I got myself down to a size 4/6 by my senior year. Though I lost the weight, I still wasn't happy. Probably because I was too hungry, too deprived to ever enjoy it.

College rolled around and the food got even worse. Dorm food is probably the most unhealthy garbage you can possibly eat. That, along with pizza and Pokey sticks and Jimmy Johns subs had me putting on the freshman 15... ok, more like the freshman 25. Add in the fact that I was no longer doing the sports and dance that I had been doing in high school and I was a mess. I gained a lot of weight that year, and I found myself once again struggling to figure out what to do about it. How was I going to lose it this time? I did get to the gym once in a while, but not often enough. Through more careful choices on food, I did lose some of the weight and was about a size 6/8 for sophomore and junior year. My busy schedule in senior year really cut the time I had for snacking and partying, so I was able to maintain that size for a while. Then I graduated from college and entered the working world. And with all the stresses that came along with the shift in lifestyle, I once again found myself gaining.

My first year of teaching, I was back to a size 10/12 again. I was working so many late nights trying to keep up with my new job, and I turned to fast foods and processed junk just to get me through. This is also when I started looking into diet fads. I tried using those frozen diet meals. I tried the Alli Pill. I tried the Atkins diet. None of that offered any success for me. I held my size for the year as I worked through a bunch of these options. I didn't have a lot of time for working out, so my metabolism continued to be low, which did me no favors.

In my second year of teaching, my now-husband and I got engaged. I knew I wanted a change. I did not want to look heavy in my wedding photos. I am a picture person. I love the memories that photos can capture. I did not want to look back at my wedding and see this heavy woman I had let myself become. So, after trying all these diets and pills without success, I decided I would revert back to the only thing that ever worked for me. I started the extreme calorie cutting, again. I ate really, really lightly throughout the day and then I would eat a regular-sized dinner. I did sign up for the Avon Walk for the month before my wedding, and I used that as motivation for exercise. I was doing really long power walks on the treadmill to prepare for the event. I was also coaching a poms squad, so I was dancing with the girls as I taught routines and such. The low calories and high exercise put my body into starvation mode. The weight had no choice but to come off in an unhealthy way. I got myself back down to a size 4 by my wedding. At the time, I was really pleased. I would not look heavy in my wedding photos! But, looking back at some of the pictures now is disturbing. My arms were like sticks. I was TOO skinny. I was not healthy skinny. I was borderline gross skinny.

Sure enough, after the wedding was over and I started to eat normal amounts of food again, the weight started to come back on as soon as 2-3 weeks after the wedding. That was quickly followed by... my first pregnancy! After spending months working out a ton and eating so little, I was so hungry when I became pregnant. I had no idea how much to eat and since I wanted to keep my baby healthy, I just kept eating. I ate so much I ended up gaining a whopping 75 pounds during my pregnancy. I also developed pregnancy-induced hypertension that headed towards pre-eclampsia. I was on bed rest for the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy which only made the weight pile on faster. After finally having Lucy in 2007, I was up to a size 14. In less than a year, I went from a size 4 to a size 14. It was quite the leap. I started to feel horrible about myself again. I knew I just had a baby and that it would take time, but given how unsuccessful I was with keeping my weight in control and consistent in the past, I was feeling overwhelmed. I was exhausted. I was unsure of my new role as a mom. Getting through my day was hard enough, so trying to figure out weight loss too was almost too much.

A lot of the same tricks and short cuts started to come into play again. Though, this time, the calorie cutting did not work. I had no energy for exercise. I tried some diet pills, which were later recalled by the FDA for being unsafe. I signed up for a weight loss contest through work for extra motivation. Anything I could try, I did. I ended up losing about 50 of the pounds before I became pregnant for the second time. Then another 60lbs was put on. The story was the same after Henry was born. I got my weight down a bit before getting pregnant with Charlie and putting on 60lbs, again.

I was a size 14 again after Charlie was born. I did lose some weight naturally in the first couple months and then I was stuck in a size 12/14 for several months without luck. It was as if something switched in my body and suddenly weight loss became nearly impossible. It seemed that no matter what I tried: diet, exercise, etc, nothing worked. I would lose a few pounds and then I would plateau for months before seeing any noteable loss again. I felt like it was going to take forever to lose the weight. Not to mention I was a busy mom taking care of three kids who were 3 years old and younger. I had little-to-no energy. I hated my body. I was embarrassed of myself. I didn't want my photo taken with my kids, because I felt so fat and gross. I did not want my kids to look back at pictures of me with them and think they had a fat mom. It also did not help that we had a lot of friends who did not have children yet... who still had their prebaby bodies. Not only did I gain weight, I gained stretch marks, I gained loose skin. I just felt horrible. I started to wonder if I would ever be able to make a change. A big part of me gave up for a long time thinking, "This is it. Maybe it is time to just accept the body I have been dealt and learn to like it." I did just that for a while. I stopped trying. I just hid behind large, baggy clothing. I continued to avoid being in front of a camera. I tried to accept it.

When Charlie turned 1, I remember looking through baby pictures and realized how few I was actually in. I thought about it and considered the fact that my children might not look back and see a fat mom, but they would see no mom at all. It was almost as if I didn't really exist. I saw there was a problem. It is not normal to hate your body so much that you would hide from cameras to this extent. If I were truly happy and I truly accepted my body, I wouldn't be hiding behind those baggy clothes. I wouldn't be embarrassed to go to my husband's friends' parties where people would see me and how big I had become. I was clearly UNHAPPY. I was depressed. Because I was depressed, my relationship with my husband was strained. I would get easily frustrated with the kids. I had no energy to play with them. I had no desire or energy to workout. I was in a downward spiral, and something needed to be done. What I had been calling "baby weight" for so long was no longer "baby weight". It was just plain fat. My baby became a toddler. It was time to finally fix the problem.

Something in my head clicked that time. I finally realized that I needed to make a bigger change in my life. I could not just fix my weight. I needed to learn how to be healthy. I needed to do this the right way, because I wanted to set a good example for my kids. I realized that if I did not learn how to eat right, if I just dieted to lose the weight and then returned to old, processed-food habits, what would I be setting up my kids for? What kind of life would they end up having? Would they struggle with the same weight issues I did? This was not something I wanted for my kids. I did not want them to go through the struggles I experienced. I needed to learn how to live a HEALTHY lifestyle so my kids would be healthy, too.

It was at this point that I set out on a year-and-a-half long weight loss journey. It started at the YMCA, though this gym ended up not being a good fit for me and my family. I quickly set my sights on Life Time Fitness. I never could have imagined, walking into the club for the first time, that I would experience the phenomenal changes I have made in my life. I had no idea I would be met by supportive, knowledgeabe staff who actually wanted to help me reach my goals. It was overwhelming at times. There is just so much that goes into weight loss and lifestyle changes. I had to take my time and let it all sink in a little at a time.

But in the end, I made the changes that my trainer and my nutritionist recommended, I did the cardiovascular tests, I learned my heart rate zones, I started training with a heart rate monitor, I learned about the benefits of strength-training and incorporated it into my workouts... and suddenly, my world was flipped upside-down. I started journaling my food and realized I CAN eat and lose weight. I no longer had to go through extreme calorie cutting or weird diet pills. I didn't need to eat processed, frozen diet meals. I could actually EAT, A LOT, and still lose weight. My workouts actually became meaningful. I was listening to my body and for the first time ever in my life, I was actually holding the steering wheel with my workouts rather than aimless spinning out in every which direction. I had a goal and I had the tools and the support. I was able to not only lose 40lbs, but I lost 40lbs while also gaining a TON of muscle tone. I did so the HEALTHY way. My body is stronger and healthier than it has ever been in my entire life. The best part is, I made healthy choices that are affecting my entire family. My kids are eating healthy now. We are an active family, TOGETHER. My kids are learning how important it is to eat healthy and stay active. I truly hope that when the time comes, they will be able to bypass all the weight drama I experienced. I hope they will have learned how to be healthy people, naturally, by our example, so that hopefully they can live a healthy lifestyle their whole lives.

I feel very blessed to have come across the knowledge that was shared with me. So, when people ask me, "How did you lose the weight?" I feel very compelled to share what I have learned. I want other people, people who may be experiencing the same depression I have felt, to feel like they are not only not alone... but that there is an answer out there. I want people to see they too can change their lifestyles and become the healthy people they want to be! I decided I would start this blog as a way to slow share some tips I have learned. I am not an expert. But, I have been through this. I have tried a lot, and these methods have allowed me to not only lose the weight, but months and months later I have not gained any weight back. The weight is finally gone for good. If I can help motivate even one other person to take the leap and make it to his goal, then writing out all of this information is completely worth it.

I realize this is really long. That's one thing you'll learn about me. I am wordy. :) This is my story. This is my life, my real-life experience. Maybe you've been through something similar. Maybe your story is totally different. Either way, I hope the information you read here will be of good use to you. I look foward to sharing this wealth of knowledge with you in future posts. Though I am not a professional, I hope you will hear me out and take these suggestions as a starting off point on your journey to weight loss success, your journey to a new, healthier lifestyle.

**Please remember, with all of my posts, you should always consult a doctor before taking on a new diet or exercise plan to be sure that it is safe and appropriate for you. The information I share worked for me, but that is not a guarantee it will work for everyone. You may need to take the information and adjust it for your needs.

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