Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My journey into the world of fitness

     As this topic has preoccupied my mind for the past seven months I figured I would write my story so far.  As you read please remember that this is my journey.  My measurements, my weight loss, my troubles.  I'm no doctor.  It's not meant to be a guide because everyone is different, it is hopefully just to be an inspiration for those who may  need an extra kick.
Fall of 2011
Fall of 2011

     This fitness journey began in January of this year, 2012.  During the summer of last year I still lived in New York and was a member of the local YMCA which had an excellent exercise facility as well as child care.  It made exercising easy.  I loved the spin classes there and I had friends there.  I wasn't eating as well as I perhaps should.  After having Kate the weight just came dripping off.  I had hoped it would do the same after I had Asher.  Not so.  Even though I was breast-feeding I didn't lose weight rapidly.  From that time I never really got to a trim size.  After moving to Utah in the fall my schedule and lifestyle changed dramatically.  I had no friends here, I had no where to exercise.  Okay, let me stop and interject an obvious fact for most people - you don't have to have a gym to work out in, you can work out at home.  I have to admit it was hard for me to work out at home.  With kids climbing all over me it really was just harder.  Plus there always seemed to be someone demanding my time to do something else.  I started to gain weight.  Not a lot of weight, but enough.  I have fluctuated in my adult life from a size 10 to a size 12.  Pound-wise I would say between 150-175 (that includes pregnancy which is really atypical as I lose weight, not being able to keep any food down and all).  About January I was finding it hard to zip up my big pants.  My size 12s.  I only had two pairs of "big" pants and the thought of having to go buy more, especially in a 14 which I have NEVER done, terrified me and made me ashamed of the point I had reached.  I knew I needed to change.  Now I've felt this way before and have gone on little "healthy living" binges but they never seemed to stick for long.  I was a little desperate for a new plan.
     So what was I to do?  I figured the first step was to get back into exercise.  I had done exercise videos for many years but just never seemed to find results with them.  I had an elliptical in storage and I think it kept me from being seriously overweight but I was looking for something to be in even better shape, not the same shape I had been in, slightly overweight, for most of my adult life.  I loved biking but couldn't afford (and still can't) a bike.  I had always seen people running on the street and they seemed almost universally fit.  How did these people do it?  I always felt like I was just lugging myself down the street.  I had heard about "runner's high" but had never experienced it.  To be honest I just hated running.  It made me feel weak.  I was weak.  But even more than running, I hated what I had become.  I was a slave to habit and it was killing me emotionally and physically.  So running it was.
     Now I am no runner.  I decided to become educated.  I found a website on Runner's World called "The Runner's World 8-Week Beginning Runner's Training Program".  Here is the link:,7120,s6-238-520--9397-0,00.html.  It looked reasonable.  I had a pair of old work-out shoes that I'd had for a few years.  I laced them up and began.  The first three weeks were just intensely painful and difficult.  I hated it.  HATED it.  But I kept with it.  Mostly because I was still short on pants and was reminded of it every day, but also because I had given myself a goal: I signed up for a 5k in March.  I followed the runner's plan and each day I got better.  My legs got stronger, I found myself more able to run without dragging my body behind me.  I won't lie, it still hurt like hell and every run was hard.  But it began to be more and more worth it.  My body was changing.  My big pants zipped up easily and I was even squeezing into a couple of my size 10s.  When March came I ran my race.  I wasn't in the top times but I did achieve my goal.  I kept my split times even and I ran my best.  If you've ever run a race you will know the high it gives you.  You feel proud.  You want more.  
March 2012 5k
     I decided I needed to join a gym.  Now I'm going to stop here for a minute.  I know this isn't a possibility for everyone and it was a personal decision.  It is possible to achieve weight loss without a gym, it was just getting harder and harder for me to do it because of the same reasons I had stopped exercising in the first place.  Running was good but I wasn't very regular with it and it was frustrating not knowing when or even if I would be able to run eventually whenever someone would come home to watch the kids.  Money is extremely tight for my family.  Joining a gym was no small decision.  But I needed it and I knew it.  I signed up for Gold's Gym because they offer day care.  One of the greatest benefits of this decision was at first an annoyance.  If you have a child under two you have to schedule a week in advance to get a time.  It is almost impossible to just walk in.  It really was a blessing in disguise though because it made me go.  I knew that if I wanted a time then I had to keep my appointment.  I started going three days a week.
May 2012 5k
     When I joined I talked to a personal trainer.  He gave me some great advice which I will pass on after I'm done with the story part but the most important bit is that weight training is absolutely vital to shaping and changing your body.  So I began weight training.  Sure enough, within three months my body was different.  I was stronger, leaner, and I had lost 15 pounds.  I continued to sign up for 5k races.  My last one I was able, thanks to Sarah who ran with me, to shave 1.5 minutes off my best time.  
Sarah and me on our trail 5k in June
     Along the way to today I have had multiple set-backs.  I had shin splints and found the importance of good shoes - you have to spend the money to get good shoes and it's worth it.  Go to Salt Lake Running Company.  They will find you the best shoes.  I injured both hips and had to do non-running exercise for a month.  I have struggled with hip pain in one hip ever since and continue to cross-train so as not to exacerbate the problem.  When I push it hard I have a hard time catching my breath and have to stop for a second to be able to breathe deeply.  In spite of the issues I have never felt better.  I hate days that I don't go to the gym.  Exercising makes me feel more energized, less likely to eat poorly, and just happier.  
The funny thing about this journey is that my goals have changed.  I began to want to be stronger and faster.  I wanted to be more athletic, not thinner.  My goal, eventually, is to be able to do a sprint-triathlon.  That entails a 5k run, a 15ish mile bike ride, and 800 meters in the pool though the distances vary by race.  Six months ago I would have just laughed or thought that was neat.  Now I think, "Well, why the hell not?"  I am now a size 8-10 and weight 145 pounds.  And my journey continues.  My hope is to be an ideal weight in terms of body fat and physically active.
Me today, July 2012
     So what have I learned that I want to share?  Here is my list:

1. Start now, no matter your age.  I wish that I had known how lucky I was to be physically able to do things when I was younger.  I wish I had started this journey in high school.  If you are young start now.  Don't wait. I love that my daughter sees me exercise and wants to start running like mama.  I feel like I am a good example and a good mom.

2. If you aren't sweating you aren't working.  I see people at the gym all the time who are just casually pedaling or walking or whatever.  Unless you are injured and cannot push it then you have absolutely no excuse to be lackadaisical about your workout.  You damn well better be out of breath and sweating or nothing is ever going to change.  Changing up your workout is important.  Work the same muscle in multiple ways.  Look online for some ideas of how to train the muscle groups. 

3. Splurge on good music.  A lot of times it is my music that pushes me to go a little further.  Don't underestimate the value of a good playlist.  I like using my iPhone because I have a Music ID app.  Whenever I hear a song I think would be good on my playlist I will use the ID app, then get it from the iTunes store.  It keeps it interesting.

4. Don't let your old habits of quitting let you stop.  Exercise is hard physically but the self-discipline and mind power is often the biggest battle.  Your brain will tell you hundreds of times to stop before your body actually needs to stop.  Injury is bad but learn the difference between injury pain and good pain.  It is a battle of the mind.  DON'T STOP!  One of the most satisfying things about this is that I feel like I am controlling myself far better than I ever have.  I tell my brain to shut the hell up, I still have a mile to go.  Then I go.

5. Water, water, water, water.  Drink it all day, take a bottle to the gym, and drink a little more.  I have always had a problem drinking enough.  I just never feel thirsty.  But what I have discovered is that my body often confused thirst for hunger.  I eat less when I am well hydrated.  Also if you are dehydrated your workouts are harder and far less effective.  

6. Muscles burn calories at rest.  The personal trainer at the gym told me that weight training is second only to diet.  Cardio came third.  The reason is that after you are done exercising it is the muscles that continue burning calories.  Having more muscle mass decreases body fat.  He suggested doing a 15-minute cardio workout, then the weight training, then however much cardio you wanted to finish it off.  I think I do better training to run if I do all my running at first but on cross-training days I do as he suggested.  Running made my fat start to drop but it was the weight training that changed my body.  They are both vital.  Remember that as you gain muscle mass the scale may just show it as weight.  Don't give up, the weight will come off eventually as well.  

7. The less sugar you eat, the less you crave.  This is the absolute hardest thing on the planet for me.  I am a sugar addict.  I was reading about how sugar lets off a high similar to street drugs.  It is truly a drug for some people, including me.  I found that I would go around the house looking in every cupboard to get my sugar high.  It was sad.  And it is hard hard hard to stop completely so I didn't.  But I cut way back and I find that I don't have those cravings to scour the house like I did.  Except for PMS week.  

8. Make a date.  By this I mean schedule your gym time.  Find a buddy to exercise with so you can't back out so easily. 

9. Good eating is vital.  Remember, food is fuel.  Every time you eat, think about that: food is fuel.  Don't let it become more.  There are a few rules here that everyone should follow.  Don't eat anything after dinner.  Your body burns more calories if you don't eat for at least a couple of hours before bedtime.  This, honestly, has made a HUGE difference in my weight-loss when I seem to plateau.  Eat a balanced meal every time you eat.  Protein, vegetable, fruit, dairy, grain, you know what I mean.  The last one is to WATCH YOUR PORTIONS.  Stop eating when you are full.  In spite of what your mom told you when you were little, you do not have to clean your plate.  Eat slowly so you don't overeat.  One thing that I have begun that isn't for everyone but has made me feel better and more energized is to stop eating so much red meat.  I cook with lots of beans and vegetable.  Fish, poultry, cheeses, milk, soy, use whatever floats your boat, but try to eat red meat sparingly.  I was amazed at the noticeable difference in how I felt and how my body reacted.  

10. For women: Allow yourself a little lee-way during PMS week.  On gym days I find I have been eating way less than I used to.  I fill up with water after a hard workout and I am just less hungry when I eat the right foods.  Except during PMS week.  Although it may deter my diet a bit I do allow myself to eat a little more during that time.  I think my body needs it.  Listen to your body.  I found that it was happening every month and that I could expect it.  It helped me anticipate the need to binge and cut it off at the pass with better choices.

 11.  It is worth the work.  Remember that it takes three months of regular exercise to become strong enough to enjoy it and to start seeing the benefits.  Promise yourself to do it for three months.  Sign up for a race at the end of that period to give yourself extra incentive.  Don't give up on yourself.  You are stronger than you ever thought possible and you will find that out if you give yourself a chance.  Don't get down on yourself for bad days, just make the next day better.

     You know, during all this I have had personal ups and downs, trials and big decisions.  But I still feel more confident and more energized than I ever have.  I truly feel like I am becoming my best self.  I have learned patience, discipline, and most of all I have learned that I have strength of mind and body.  Good luck to you.  Please let me know if you have questions.  One of the best things I can do is to inspire someone else.