My Health & Fitness Story
Hello and welcome to the big ass post where I overshare! I’d like to talk a little bit about my weight loss transformation and fitness journey, which I’ve eluded to in other posts. But first, be aware that part of my journey was dealing with non-purging bulimia. So, if you have a history of an unhealthy relationship with food, the story below could contain triggers.
The “fat” kid
I distinctly remember the first time I felt fat. I was in second grade and the school year had just begun. Pittsburgh was abnormally warm that year, so I had on my white summer shorts. When I sat down, I noticed how my thighs quickly took-over the entire seat. The small classroom chair made my legs feel so much bigger than our big, family couch at home. I looked at my friend next to me, and I noticed how her legs stayed slim as she sat down, leaving plenty of room on the chair. Suddenly, I became acutely aware that my thighs were bigger than any of my friends in that class. Blood rushed to my face as I frantically began to tug at my shorts, trying to hide as much of my legs as possible.
Later in life, my classmates would kindly point out that I had what’s considered “thunder thighs.” Family and friends also pointed out the rolls that formed on my belly when I sat and the fact that my soft jawline that quickly evolved into a double chin when I looked down. I was never obese as a child, and looking back at photos, I was perfectly healthy. However, in my mind, I had already become the fat kid.
Developing an unhealthy relationship with food
In middle school, I began my first diet: SlimFast. I would deprive my growing body of calories all day, only to binge later in the evening. While I didn’t stick with the SlimFast diet very long, I did continue the binge and restrict pattern for most of my teen years. I would spend a few days exercising excessively and trying to eat as little as I possibly could. Then, I would crack, sneak food into my room, and eat until I felt sick. Looking at empty boxes and containers, I would feel embarrassed and ashamed and weak. Then the cycle would continue. Sometimes I would make myself throw up or use laxatives. Occasionally, I’d try diet pills. Most of the time though, I just fell into the same binge and restrict cycle.
My weight fluctuated throughout high school, but I was always chubby enough that no one suspected I struggled with any type of eating disorder (FYI – “Individuals with bulimia are usually of normal weight or are slightly overweight”). By the end of my freshman year of college, my weight hit over 170lbs. While I was still not obese, I was definitely overweight. More than anything, I was unhealthy. I was embarrassed about eating in front of others and exercise was just a form of punishment. I obsessed about my weight and let my appearance define my worth.
Being diagnosed with PCOS & Hypothyroidism
Then, I had a doctor’s appointment that sparked a change in my life. To make a long story short, an endocrinologist diagnosed me with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and an underactive thyroid. If you’ve never heard of PCOS before, just think of it as severe PMS THAT NEVER ENDS. Sounds horrible, right? Basically, your hormones are all out of whack and it can lead to a variety of complications, including weight gain. In my case, I had also developed insulin resistance and had to be placed on blood sugar medication (metformin). Add in an underactive thyroid, and you’ve got surefire recipe for easily gaining weight.
When I found out I had PCOS, my doctor warned me how easily it could lead to other medical issues. Since I already had insulin resistance, my unhealthy habits had me on track for developing diabetes down the road. It made me realize I needed to stop asking, “How can I lose weight?” and start asking myself, “What do I need to do to be healthy?”
So, I started trying to eat more consistently. I took my thyroid and blood sugar medications. I started seeing a nutritionist at my college. I started going to the gym regularly for shorter amounts of time instead of sporadically for 2-3 hours. It was gradual, but I made changes in my life. And you know what happened? I started losing weight. Slowly. By the time I graduated college, I had lost a little over 20 pounds. More importantly, I was healthier and happier than I could ever remember. I no longer needed the blood sugar medication. I was still insanely insecure, but I was inching towards starting to feel comfortable in my own skin.
Two steps forward, one step back
After graduating college, I continued to focus on my health and fitness. Though there were a few bumps along the way (maintaining a healthy & active lifestyle was a little harder in the “real world”), I continued to make baby steps and gain more confidence. I started getting really into running and completed a half-marathon when I was 25. I started finding myself doing things I never thought I could be capable of. Still, looking back, I was too restrictive. Even when I would complete a 10 mile run, I was terrified to eat more than 1600-1700 calories. I still focused too much on calories burned than just enjoying my exercise. I still let the scale have too much control over my happiness. I was much healthier than I had been in the past, but I still wasn’t healthy.
Then, I started to backslide. I was in a relationship with a guy who was very critical of my appearance, despite knowing my insecurities. I thought I deserved to be treated that way. Eventually, I recognized how unhealthy the relationship was, but some of my old habits came bubbling back up first. After that breakup, I realized I was sick of trying to morph my body into what I felt everyone else wanted it to be.
Falling in love with weight lifting
When I was training for the half-marathon, I started weight lifting. At first, it was just doing Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred as cross training. I was convinced if I picked up a dumbbell that weighed more than 8lbs I would suddenly transform into The Hulk. However, after I saw how much a little bit of light weight lifting helped my running performance, I decided to get a few sessions with a trainer. I instantly loved lifting, but it didn’t have the same calorie burn I saw with running (or so I thought). I also notice my weight stayed stagnant when I was working with a trainer (I was probably gaining muscle), so I decided to continue to mainly focus on cardio.
A few years later, after that nasty breakup, I decided to start lifting more again. It was something I was doing purely for my own enjoyment. I did a couple training sessions here or there as my budget would allow, but mostly, I read The New Rules of Lifting for Women and started following that program to start. I slowly stopped caring how many calories I burned and started getting excited by how much I could lift. It changed my perspective on food too – I saw the way what I ate influenced my workouts. I started looking at macros more than calories, and at some point, food went from being an enemy to something that fueled and supported me. I started “reverse dieting” and building back up the amount of calories I consumed. The scale didn’t change much (maybe one pound a year), but I saw my body changing and growing stronger.
(Side note: I still enjoy running, but I do it more now for the peace of mind it gives me. I’m one of those weirdos who actually likes cardio AND weights)
Final rambling thoughts
Since I first started my journey, I’ve lost a little over 30lbs and went from a size 12 to a size 6. However, those numbers are pretty meaningless. I no longer need blood sugar medicine and have greatly reduced my risk of diabetes. I’ve completed a half-marathon. I’ve gone from not being able to squat a barbell to being able to squat more than my own body weight. I’ve learned to embrace my “thunder thighs” and the power they’re capable of. I fuel my body with the calories it needs and don’t beat myself up for eating pizza with friends.
Most of all, I realize my weight and how I look doesn’t really matter at all. I am more than a number on the scale or the size of my jean. My self worth is not defined by the definition of my abs. I eat healthy to be healthy. I workout to feel strong and have “me” time. Everyday, I’m finding a little more balance and confidence.