This is the cliff-notes version of how I went from being a pudgy, depressed girl with terrible self-esteem to a fit, confident woman who is happier than ever before.
As of today, I look like this, give or take a few pounds of hormonal bloating each month.
But just about six years ago, when I was in undergrad, I looked like this:
In this photo, I was 21 years old and 5’3″. This was about when I was my heaviest, and while I don’t know how much I weighed when I took this photo, the highest number I ever saw on the scale was 152lbs. To be transparent, this photo is still hard to look at. As you can see from my face, I was not the happiest camper in all the land. (Frankly, looking back now from the perspective of a mental health professional, it’s clear that I was most likely clinically depressed at the time.) Ironically, at the time I was working out almost daily and preoccupied with dieting…and that was likely the main problem. My obsession with diets and losing weight – and, on a deeper level, with achieving a “perfect” body – led me to bounce around between all sorts of different diets. My workouts consisted of mostly “bodybuilding” style weightlifting and cardio machines, although I did not have a programmed training regimen (i.e. I just went into the gym and made up workouts as I went, unless I had a workout torn our from a magazine to follow). My diet was centered around “clean eating” and consisted of a lot of protein powder, Greek yogurt, fruit, and all the foods you could find in Oxygen magazine…as well as the occasional dessert bender when I got sick of eating the foods I tried to restrict myself to.
These days, I look like this:
This is me at 27, still 5’3″ and now sitting at about 135lbs, which puts me in anywhere from a size 4 to size 8 in US jeans sizes. I usually work out 4-5x per week now, instead of 6-7x per week like when I was in college. For the past six months, I have not had a gym membership, so all my workouts are done at home with nothing more than a pull up bar, a set of small (10lb) dumbbells, a swiss ball, and my own bodyweight. (To be fair, I have been strength training for more than a decade now, so I have a fair amount of muscle for a female who’s not an athlete.) My diet is just “the way I eat,” and no longer a “diet” in the traditional sense of fad diets like South Beach, etc. Generally, I consistently eat”healthy-ish,” with frequent doses of treats – think a lot of beans and rice, potatoes, frozen veggies, nuts, chicken, and the like…but with daily (homemade) iced lattes and plenty of chocolate mixed in, too. I don’t spend nearly as much time stressing out over my workouts or my nutrition, and more importantly, I am much happier with who I am, what I see in the mirror, and my life in general.
Obviously there are six years between these pictures, and a lot happened between the first picture and the year I was 25, when I finally lost weight and felt more at peace in my body. There are a lot of factors that contributed to the changes, but the biggest factor was that I stopped trying to be make fitness become my lifestyle and started fitting fitness practices into my lifestyle. In other words, I got a life outside of obsessing over fitness. I discovered other interests, developed other skills, and started committed mental energy and time to pursuits outside of the gym and diet books. As I did this, I gave myself permission to stop pursuing the (arbitrary, unrealistic) “ideal” and start actually pursuing and achieving “good enough.”
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? As nice as the perfect body might be – that is, if such a thing even existed (spoiler: it doesn’t) – most folks who have fitness goals just want a body that feels/works/looks better than it does currently. Healthy bodies have a lot of variability, and for most folks, that means that you can be quite healthy and still not have a six pack or a body that looks like it was sculpted from marble. In my experience, it was when I relaxed enough to let myself pursue “good” instead of “perfect” that I finally started to see the physical changes that I had wanted. In practical terms, this meant letting go of the expectation to go to the gym every day of the week and make each workout more draining than the last. It meant letting go of the need to never eat anything that was “off plan” or “unhealthy,” and to make all my meals perfectly healthy. Instead, I embraced rest days and moderate workouts and food that was healthy-ish and food that was sometimes just for fun. The most extreme part of my lifestyle these days is consistency, and I’m able to be consistent because these habits are sustainable rather than extreme. The best part? Without that preoccupation with being perfect in my eating and working out, I’m happier with my body than ever before. Not only am I more confident, but I find more joy in my daily life and am, on the whole, much more content with life than I ever was when I was slaving away in pursuit of the “perfect” body.
Funny enough, the obsessive approach – which seemed so sexy in theory – left me much heavier than I wanted to be or should be at my size. Wouldn’t you know, it’s the boring, moderate, reasonable, common-sense approach that helped me to achieve a much healthier, leaner body and a much happier, healthier mind.
I’ll be sharing more about the specific habits and tactics I used to lose weight without losing my mind in the coming weeks, but if you have any questions or things you’d like to hear more about, please holler at me in the comments below!