My Health Journey.

Today is my 1-year anniversary of getting healthy!

On January 4th, 2013, something clicked and I made the commitment to log my food intake on MyFitnessPal and started a version of the Couch to 5K program (I used an app on my phone). I’d just had several inconclusive tests for intense gallbladder (or heart?) pain that I’d been having daily for months. I was also uncomfortable sitting with all the extra weight I was carrying in my midsection. I especially felt uncomfortable driving with my belly folding over itself many times over. Sometime on January 3rd, I came across a few success stories for people who had used MyFitnessPal and I knew it was time for me to make a change. There was one story in particular; and if you are reading this, thank you.

I’d tried MyFitnessPal before and got frustrated because it’s a pain to enter food when you cook mostly from scratch. It’s super easy if you can scan everything you eat; but that’s not how I eat. My food issues were not based on junk — I rarely ate out of a box or package. My problem was quantity, and MyFitnessPal laid it all out for me. I was regularly eating one to two thousand more calories — EVERY DAY — than my body needed. That was eye-opening! No wonder I’d been gaining an average of 1-2 pounds each month for the past few years.

The first thing I tackled was portion sizes. I figured out how much I needed to eat based on my height, weight, gender, and activity level, and then subtracted a small deficit of 3-500 calories. I didn’t want to do this the hard way, fast and furious. I gave myself a year or more, and came up with a target weight that I wanted to reach. I thought that number was the one that corresponded with the clothing size I wanted to be. I started by not having second or third servings, and eventually decreased my portion sizes. I didn’t change what I was eating; I continued to eat the same things as before. This wasn’t a diet, and because there were no food restrictions other than quantity, it wasn’t that hard to do. I’m a firm believer in snacks throughout the day, and from my South Beach Diet days, I already knew to always, always eat protein and healthy fat every time I put food in my mouth. So even though my meal portion sizes were smaller, protein-filled snacks kept me from going hungry.

Meanwhile, I was faithful to C25K and saw huge improvements in my huffing and puffing in a few weeks. But, in late February, I realized that what I really wanted was to be STRONG. I’ve always been so weak, stereotypically asking my husband to do things like open jars and carry groceries into the house. My then-6-year-old could climb the rock wall at the gym, but when I tried, I couldn’t even make it halfway up. Through the user forums in MyFitnessPal, I learned about weightlifting.

Free weights, that is. Not the machines. Never the machines!

I decided to ditch C25K and all cardio, good riddance, and jump into the New Rules of Lifting for Women. It was scary! I had to go to the section of the gym that is typically dominated by men. Thankfully, I went at a time of day when the gym was mostly empty except for the cardio room. I gained confidence quickly and felt like I belonged by the barbells. (Seriously, lift a barbell someday. It’s awesome.)

The fat started melting off, and I wasn’t doing a lick of cardio. The pounds were coming off, too, but I learned that the number on the scale is arbitrary when you’re putting on muscle. Still, it was nice to see the scale number go down. This doesn’t happen for every female lifter, though; it just happened to work for me at the stage that I was in.

By late spring, I was down two sizes but still overweight. I wanted to step it up and found a program similar to New Rules that targeted fat loss. I was several months into better eating, and noticed that we’d naturally shifted to making healthier choices, limiting white rice and pasta while increasing chicken and vegetables (I don’t like beef or pork very much). The new program, Drop Two Sizes, included a planned-out diet and calendar for 12 weeks, but I decided to stick with the types of food I was already eating. The biggest dietary change was committing to fill half my plate with green vegetables at lunch and dinner; no skimping, ever! For reference, I used to eat vegetables once or twice a week, if I even remembered that often. I started eating 4 to 6 ounces of chicken or other protein at every meal. If I had pasta or rice, I served half a cup or maaaaybe a cup. I continued to log my calories in MyFitnessPal, even though Drop Two Sizes doesn’t discuss calories at all.

I didn’t miss a workout for the entire 12 weeks (even on vacation!). I was shocked. I’d never followed a program all the way through before. I really loved the program and looked forward to each workout. I can’t say enough good things about it!

Now, a word about the scale. I “only” lost around 12 pounds while I did Drop Two Sizes. Those 12 pounds translated to three clothing sizes. I (unbelievably) had reached my size goal, but still had 15 pounds to go to reach the arbitrary weight goal I’d set for myself. When you are lifting weights and gaining muscle, the scale doesn’t tell the whole story! I still don’t feel that I should be this size at this weight; I “should” be wearing at least a size or two larger. Muscle! Muscle is the secret! Go pick up a barbell!

After I finished Drop Two Sizes, I moved onto another New Rules program to focus on big muscle gains, but a long-standing injury resurfaced and put my goals on hold. Now I’m doing Drop Two Sizes again as part of my rehab, but not as strenuously as last time. It keeps me moving and lifting. I just discovered this morning that I can do a few push-ups on the floor! Just yesterday I thought I still need to do them at an angle. (No knees, please. That’s an outdated method.)

I have to give props to my husband. He hopped on this journey a month after I started. He didn’t have nearly as far to go, but it was great having a partner in crime. He started lifting weights, too, which eventually gave him to energy to start finishing our basement so we can put in a free-weight gym down there. As for food, we all eat the same thing. I don’t make special “kid food” or “mom food.” Eating lots of veggies and chicken is good for all of us! Snacks need to contain protein for everyone. My 4-year-old loves my protein shake and always asks for the last sip. It’s amazing to think that just over a year ago, our weekends were spent on the couch all day long. That’s not an exaggeration.

In a very wordy summary:

  • I use MyFitnessPal to log my food intake. All of it. No cheating. Even that coffee with sugar and cream, because that adds up. And no, I never gave that up! If we’re going out to dinner, I check out menus beforehand and check MyFitnessPal so I can make a decision. If I’m choosing an 1,100 calorie dish, I want to be aware of it.
  • I love lifting weights and think everyone should try it! Drop Two Sizes is a great program, but start with at least 10-15 pound dumbbells. Dumbbells coated in neoprene are probably too light. New Rules of Lifting for Women is great if you can get to a gym. Or, you can follow in my footsteps and buy a barbell set to use at home.
  • Fitness machines are boring! If you don’t like them, don’t sweat your life away on them. Lift heavy instead.
  • For the first time, I believed that I could get healthy. I’d tried it half-heartedly before but wasn’t ready to really commit. I scheduled everything around my workouts. Only now, 10 months into it, am I becoming more flexible with my workout times. I needed to make sure it “stuck” first.
  • I do lifting workouts 2-3 times a week, for an hour each including a warm-up. That is plenty for building muscle and losing fat. Someday  I will commit to being active on recovery days (I miss Zumba!), but I can’t make it work right now. I’d burn out.
  • Foam rolling is soooo gooooood! The first time I tried it, which was with a trainer, I thought it was evil torture. I couldn’t believe how much it hurt, yet the trainer made it look like nothing. I couldn’t even get into the positions he was getting in. Now I know why it looks so easy and pain-free in the videos… because it eventually does become easy and pain-free! I crave it. It’s one of my favorite discoveries.
  • Planning is everything. I didn’t even realize how important it was until I read this blog post yesterday, and knew that that was how I did this in 2013. I made a decision every week about what my menu and workout schedule would look like. I never waited until the morning to decide; that was too late. I made a commitment for the week on Sundays. It wasn’t an afterthought. It was my MAIN thought.

I was the laziest slob a year ago. I thought I was doomed for obesity for the rest of my life. I gave away all my “smaller” sizes, which were already plus sizes. I remember the day that I mentally succumbed to being overweight forever. I’d given up without even really trying. It’s cliche, but I truly believe that if I was able to do this, anyone can.

I’m still very lazy, but I’m working on that. Maybe in another year I’ll be posting about how I go hiking or rock climbing on my recovery days. I’m now fully aware that anything can happen!