on becoming (for real) healthy; a lifestyle change

This is my journey.  It’s long.  I wrote it all out mostly for myself, but also in hopes to inspire other to do the same.  My story is different.  There’s not a dramatic weight loss part where I lose 50 pounds (because, let’s be honest, that’s a lot harder and takes some serious dedication and I’m so proud of the people in my life that have done that!). There is however, a dramatic mental change. Everyone’s “health” story is different and I wanted to share mine.

People always complain that they wish they could eat healthy, but they rarely do anything about it. If you aren’t serious about it, that’s fine.  Stop stressing yourself out and just live life.  But, if you are really wanting to make a lifestyle change, it’s hard. And long. And you will make a billion mistakes. But, for better or worse, here’s my story:

If I’m being really honest with myself, sometimes, I just like to jump on the bandwagon with things and get SUPER obsessed and into whatever it is, then it slowly fades out of my life until in disappears. Thankfully, the past year and a half have actually been a lifestyle change, both physically and mentally.

I’ve almost always been active.  I’ve always been thin. Up until I was 21, I’d always eaten TERRIBLY and been insufferably picky (Like, I think I consumed a total of 5 vegetables in 21 years.  And ate a HUGE bowl of ice cream every single night before bed, like a really big bowl.)

I started gymnastics when I was 2 years old and didn’t stop until I graduated high school and realized that, despite my 16 years of pouring my life into this sport, I wasn’t going anywhere collegiately.  And, that was ok with me. When I was 12 years old, against the advice of my coaches, I joined track, mostly just because I wanted to experience something other than the sport of gymnastics.

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After a pretty successful high school career in both gymnastics and track (pats self on back), I decided that I was done being an “athlete”.  It defined my for my entire life and I was ready to shake it.

My first two years out of high school consisted of lots of crazy study nights (wooo!), a LOT of fried food and an embarrassing amount of Diet Coke. A favorite meal was mini corn dogs, french fries, 3 glasses of Diet Coke, 3 cookies, and coffee. I probably owe my entire first years of staying awake in college to Diet Coke alone. It also didn’t help that there were places that sold 56oz sodas for like, 36 cents. I pretty much gave up on “working out”.  I think I went to the Co-Rec (what we called the gym at Purdue) like 2 times and tried to run on the treadmill.  Oh, and one time, I tried to run loops around the outside of the football stadium, which is situated on a giant hill, with my roommate and I nearly passed out.  Anyways, point is, I ate like crap and never exercised, but I was ok with that. My mind was in a healthy place.

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ohhh, freshman year…

Then, all in a whirlwind, I decided to transfer schools and switch majors and found myself in the lovely city of Nashville, TN going to a small private school called Belmont University.  Now, for some crazy reason, I decided that I was going to walk onto the track team.  I guess I thought it was time to kick myself back into some sort of shape. The athlete was still hidden deep down inside me (or more likely the competitive soul that I somehow picked up over the years).

So, in January of 2009, after not working out AT ALL for two and a half years, I joined the Belmont Women’s track team as a long and high jumper (and later a javelin thrower, which never should have been allowed, EVER). It was a rough first couple months.  I jumped, like, 14.5 ft at my first college track meet. (That’s REALLY bad, like 6th graders can jump that)  It was UTTERLY EMBARRASSING. But, somehow, I found the strength to carry on through the the constant burn in my lungs and legs. By the end of my college athletic career, I had earned some scholarship money and earned some points for my team at the Athletic Sun Conference (code for ‘We are division 1, but barely).

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When I became a college athlete, I decided that college athletes should probably think about being healthy, so I started actually thinking about what I ate for the first time in my life. My cooking repertoire was small and unskilled, but it was a start. I started cooking for myself and making vegetables not out of a can! And guess what? They were pretty good.  But, I still was pretty bad at cooking ate a lot of pretty terrible processed things.  But, for the first time in my life, I noticed that I felt better. I started to catch of glimpse of what an actual lifestyle change could feel like. But, it didn’t really last long.

Fast forward to August 2011, I graduate college, I move back to my first college town in Indiana for a job.  This is the part where my entire eating goes basically back to terrible again.  I still would attempt to cook things, but often got persuaded by cheap, crappy, and let’s be honest, disgistingly good college life food again (like were’re talking burgers with peanut butter, burgers with huge soft pretzels and cream cheese to buns, and cookie delivery to your door until 4 am). Overall, I was just pretty unhappy with a lot of the aspects of my life (which to this day, I can still barely explain why).  Hence, the crappy eating and no exercising.  I was back at square one.

For some reason, something changed in me as 2011 turned into 2012. I decided I was done with my unhealthy lifestyle and needed to make a change in a part of my life that I knew I could control; what I put in my mouth and the amount of activity I was getting. My body was just always tired and I felt weighed down and just gross.

Since it was January in northern Indiana, I had to find something to stay active indoors, so I started Jillian Michael’s Six Week Six Pack. And I did it.  All 6 weeks, 5 days a week.  And guys, it works.  It really works.  I mean I didn’t have washboard abs or anything but there was a DEFINITE huge change in my body.

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In conjunction with that, I really started looking into not only healthy foods, but also all natural foods. When I started a rigorous work out schedule, my body actually started craving better foods. So, I wanted to really feed my body right and try to do that in as natural way as I could. For some reason, this time the healthy eating stuck.  It made sense, probably because I was desperate to feel like I was in control of any part of my life. Also, I was probably a heck of a lot better cook and a heck of a lot less picky that I had ever been in my life.

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As soon as the weather was bearable enough, I started running outside.  Now, I don’t know what compelled me to take up running.  I have never liked (long distance) running.  In high school, the 200 meter dash was too long for me. I think I was just so happy with the results I had already had, I wanted to keep the (small amount) of fat off, so I forced myself into running to burn calories. But, something inside my head clicked with running, so I continued. And I fell in love. I don’t know how because I’m pretty sure the first 4 weeks, I couldn’t feel my knees or ankles because of the throbbing pains.  But, being the competitive soul that I am, I pushed through and kept getting better; kept upping my mileage and setting PRs on my mile paces.

It was addicting. I felt awesome. I loved the way my body looked and felt.

But, this is where the unhealthy body image thoughts come creeping in, right when I thought nothing could derail me.

I’d never struggled with any kind of eating disorder and couldn’t really wrap my mind around what type of mindset you would have to be in to contort your body image.  This all came crashing down when I started really focusing on what foods I was eating and how many miles I could run in a week. I became so obsessed with never eating anything “bad”, I would punish myself and feel miserable.  I would FREAK OUT if I didn’t get to workout almost every day.  ‘Oh my gosh’ , I would think, ‘I’m totally going to get the layer of fat back on my stomach if I eat that’. And, if I ate something I deemed as “bad”, I would run extra that day and push myself even harder to make up for the extra fat I ate.

I would incessantly look at my stomach in the mirror and always be unhappy because all the fat wasn’t completely gone. (Like what was I even thinking?!)  I would take photos of myself to compare to weeks past and convince myself that I didn’t look as good as I did the week before.  So, I would punish myself more, both in eating and exercising.

I pushed through injuries.  I sprained my ankle bad enough to hear a loud pop when I landed on it wrong during one fo my famed Jillian Michael’s workouts. I crawled up the stairs, iced it for 20 minutes, and continued on with the rest of my workout. On a freaking badly sprained ankle. I didn’t care.  I would still run miles a day on my ankle and even re-sprained it a few weeks later while running. I couldn’t stop. I would become fat.  It’s still not fully healed and will forever be a bit swollen and bigger than my other ankle.  That was a really low point for me.

It was exhausting. I was trapped inside my own miserable thoughts.

But, I convinced myself it was worth it because I wanted to “be healthy”. I never deprived myself of food or counted calories, but I definitely was not in a healthy mindset about my body. Nothing was every good enough for myself.  I never ate good enough.  I never exercised or ran enough.  I was still not perfect. (I could write a book on how much my struggle with perfectionism has shaped my life, but I will just leave it at that for now.)

Fast forward to August/September 2012. Through a whirlwind of events, I moved back down to Nashville. Finally my eyes were opened to the fact that I was seriously unhappy.  Now, it was time to dig into my heart and unearth all of this weight that I had burdened myself with the past year. It was a painful process, but slowly I realized that my worth didn’t lie in my body image or how much fat was in my stomach (DUH).

I was transformed inside and out in a way I can’t even describe.

I finally started to see my eating and lifestyle as a truly healthy thing.  It was no longer a race against myself to see how healthy I could be.  I wanted to be healthy to respect myself and my worth.  I wanted to run because I enjoy it, not because I’m burning fat (although it is a nice added bonus). It’s a completely freeing feeling, to not be trapped by your own head.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have those crazy thoughts creep into my head.  Sometimes, I have to forbid myself from looking at my stomach in the mirror.  But, it’s a process and I’m learning to come out on the healthy side a lot quicker.

I just ran my first half marathon on April 27 in 2:00:39 (yes, I was THAT close to breaking 2 hours although I did run the entire race in the pouring rain, so I would guess my adjusted time without my 8 lbs of wet clothes  would be like 1:58:34 right????!).  I was so proud of myself, not because I ran 13.1 miles, but because I did so with a healthy mind and soul. It was a really transformative experience for me.

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(soaking wet, exhausted, and looking rough, but so so happy right after my 1/2 marathon)

So, I’m going to keep running and keep feeding my body foods that are natural and make me feel great. (It’s amazing how much better your body can feel when you just start to feed it right!) But, I’m also going to do things like eat really good pizza and bake scones and macarons without feeling guilty because those are things that I really enjoy doing.

My advice after all of this? Just listen to your body.  Give it what it needs. Be patient.

And finally, of course, don’t forget to…

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(seriously, you have to or you’ll never make it)

Stay healthy kids, both in body and mind.

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