I set a goal to lose weight. What started out as a weight loss journey to lose 50 pounds evolved into an overall healthy and balanced lifestyle.
before we get started
Before I really get into the content of this post, I should note that throughout my weight loss journey, I have learned a lot about nutrition, fitness, mental wellness, and body image. There are some things that I will mention that worked really well for me that might not work as well for other people. What started out as a journey to weight loss has evolved into a journey of an overall healthy and balanced lifestyle.
A Little Backstory
Growing up, I never thought too much about weight, exercise, or nutrition. Thinking back to my body’s past, I was on the heavier side most of my life. I was never extremely overweight, but never skinny. I remember the occasional times of filling my mind with negative thoughts related to body image, but I never considered it to be a serious problem. I remember the times of being frustrated in a fitting room or embarrassed looking at a picture of me with several of my skinny friends. I remember really wanting to look different and form healthy habits, but in the end, I never had enough motivation to make a change.
My weight was pretty consistent throughout middle school, high school, and into college. As a middle schooler, there was so much going on in just trying to develop as a human that fitness, nutrition or creating a healthy lifestyle was never going to be a priority. I exercised by figure skating (I used to be a competitive figure skater!), track and field, and soccer (I played goalie for one year so honestly I shouldn’t even count that.) I also remember many sleepovers spent eating pizzas, candy, and soda. I specifically have one memory of me and a friend challenging each other to eat entire medium pizza from dominos by ourselves…and we both succeeded…so that’s where I was as a 7th grader. I remember feeling bigger than a lot of girls and embarrassed about my weight sometimes, but I had super great friends, kept busy with activities, and overall was supported and I think that is why my weight never got me down too much. Overall, I probably lived a generic middle school life.
In high school, my body didn’t seem to go through many changes. As far as exercise goes, I stuck with track and field and figure skating. I never exercised outside of whatever practice I was going to during the week. As far as nutrition goes, I had a lot of the same habits as middle school but developed quite a few new unhealthy habits. Once I could drive and spend late nights with friends, my nutrition was crap. I remember stopping at QT (the best gas station in existence) on the way to every shift to work and getting a drink and snack or candy. I remember meeting friends late at night at whatever fast food joint. I remember ice cream multiple days of week in the summer, snacking after school before dinner, and snacking again before bed. One positive choice I made as a high schooler was when I vowed never to eat fast food meat again (I had to read the book “Fast Food Nation” in an English class and was disgusted about the fast food meat industry and have never missed it since). As far as body image goes, again, I remember feeling overweight and embarrassed, but also being muscular because of figure skating. Again, like middle school, really solid and supportive friends surrounded me so I never felt isolated or disliked because of my weight. However, I would say in middle and high school I never felt confident in my body or loved the way I felt or looked.
the transition to college
We’re almost up to speed, but still rewind a little bit back to the early years of college. In the fall of 2012 I started school at Truman State University in good old Kirksville, Missouri. If you’re in college or have been to college, you know that it’s the time to form independence and truly make decisions, on your own, for how you wish to live your life. For a lot of people this means starting over, turning over a new leaf, making new habits, developing a new lifestyle, etc. Honestly college is crazy and weird and I don’t want to ramble on it too much because this post is focused more on the fitness/nutrition journey I’ve experienced (though I now realize its all connected.)
ANYWAY, as far as the beginning of college goes, I thought a lot about nutrition and fitness and really wanted them to be incorporated into my life. For exercise, I joined the women’s ultimate frisbee team. I honestly joined because the team was a built in community of really amazing people who were great friends but even better accountability partners that kept me coming to practice and pushing myself while I was there. We had practice for 2 hours about 3 times a week, and I never exercised outside of those times. On the topic of nutrition, I never thought I ate that bad. However, college dining halls can wreck your body. Unlimited buffets with more unhealthy than healthy options was not in my favor. Of course I ate salads, chicken/fish, and veggies on a regular basis, but I also ate my fair share of french fries, frozen yogurt, cookies, and whatever desserts were available. So many weekly activities and meetings had free food, and late night study snacks were a regular occurrence.
My body went through a slow weight gain throughout the years and because it was so slow, I didn’t really notice too much, or really, I noticed once it had already happened and the weight was there. I remember the times getting frustrated in dressing rooms, when older clothes didn’t fit, feeling terrible in my body, and the comparison of feeling like there were so many people around me that ate more unhealthy foods than me and exercised less that were somehow still so much smaller than I was. I thought that my body would stay the way it looked forever, no matter how hard I tried to change it. I wondered if I would ever accept how my body looked or be comfortable in it. For all of the years building up to this one, I was not quite hopeless, but always a little let-down in myself, specifically the choices I made, the way I felt, and the way I looked. I didn’t feel the best in my body and wanted peace.
Fast forward to January of my senior year of college (the beginning of 2016). One day I decided to weigh myself – I never weighed myself throughout high school and college, mostly because I was scared of disappoint but also because I didn’t have access to a scale and didn’t want to buy one. I stepped on the scale, and I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. I felt embarrassed, shameful, and defeated. I knew I needed to finally commit to making a change. I wanted to commit to healthy eating and exercise because I thought weight loss would kickstart my journey to a healthier lifestyle
The first couple of weeks of wanting to make a change were in a very busy season of life. The first two weeks of January were filled with healthy food and exercise, but as soon as classes started, the business really kicked in. There were weekly ministry activities, ultimate frisbee practice, classes, research projects, trying to hang out with friends before everyone moved across the country after graduation, etc. The busier my schedule was, the less important healthy eating and exercise became. It was only a few weeks and I fell of the bandwagon and was back to my old habits and feeling frustrated. I would tell myself “I’ll eat better tomorrow” or “I’ll work out tomorrow night” and then had such difficulty following through. I pushed it off and pushed it off. I had some short streaks of eating well, but my lack of self-control would lead me to easily giving up. I made excuses for my unhealthy lifestyle like “I’ve always been overweight” or “I’ve never consistently worked out” because there were overweight people that loved themselves well too.
commitment to myself
From January through May, it looked very similar to previous months and years. With my little spurts of doing okay and thinking about my choices more, I maybe lost a few pounds in the semester, but nothing that made me look or feel different. It was when I graduated college in May of 2016 that I recommitted to a healthy lifestyle, specifically nutrition and fitness. I was all in.
The Summer of Forming Healthy Habits and Making Lifestyle Changes
That first summer of all in was the summer of forming healthy habits and making lifestyle changes. They say (who is they? the internet? scientists?) it takes 30 days of doing something every day to form a habit. While that might be true for most people, it wasn’t for me because it took me the entire summer to form my habits. My nutrition habits were focused on eating nutritious foods and figuring out what those were. Specifically, I wanted to eat nutritious foods that fueled my body, figure out the right amount of foods I needed, eat less processed foods, and monitor sweets. My exercise habits were focused on incorporating activity into each day. Specifically, I wanted to start running, lifting, and be active every day.
forming healthy habits
I wish I could tell you the habits formed without a problem, but it was HARD. I had to figure out what worked best for me. I learned that packing my lunch the night before work was super helpful. I also learned that nights were hard for me. There were days I ate super well all day long but then felt like I ruined it when I ate a bunch of candy or dessert. I would also indulge over the weekends, late at night, or when going out to dinner. I was also not in shape so working out was hard. I felt super weak and was tired after work so it was extra difficult motivating myself to get to the gym only to find out and remind myself I was not good at running or lifting. It took me a while to learn that exercising over my lunch break was a good fit for me – it gave me a break from work and I had enough energy to push myself. There were a lot of days of missing the mark, when I would be too tired to work out or days when I didn’t think about what I was consuming and ate whatever was in front of me (not the nutritious kinds of food). There were many days when I felt like I was making any progress whatsoever. The biggest and most important thing I started to learn in this summer was to give myself grace. I hard to learn to forgive myself and move on when I fell short of the mark I set for myself. I had to learn to keep my head up and remind myself that the tiny baby steps would lead to progress.
A Lifestyle Change: Habits
At the end of the summer (August) I weighed myself again and found out I had lost 10 pounds since January. I didn’t get down on myself when it felt like I had working so hard for little progress, but instead decided I was going to kick it hardcore into gear. It was at this point that my healthy habits were formed and I could continue in the direction of a healthy lifestyle. I could work harder in the hopes of seeing results. I realized at this point going forward it would be more of a mental battle than physical battle. The habits were formed, but I needed to continue believing in myself, staying encouraged, and thinking positive. I tried my best.
A LIFESTYLE CHANGE: exercise
In terms of exercise, I kept working hard. Exercising was one of my priorities and so I fit it into my schedule every day, usually on my lunch break. I exercised 6 days of week, and the bulk of my exercise was focused on running with the occasional lifting or circuit (my amazing sister, Lindsay, a certified personal trainer, created lifting plans for me). It was important to me at this point in my journey to have a cardio-based plan and running seemed the most practical. I started running over the summer (it was a SLOW journey of gradually increasing the time and speed on the treadmill every day) so by the time it came around to fall I could actually go run on the roads and continue to improve my endurance. (Note: I am planning on writing a whole post about my relationship with running because it has grown into such an important part of my life. Running used to be extremely hard and I hated it but stuck with it because I knew it would be good for me, but now I love it and the way it makes me feel).
After the summer of hell on the treadmill, I started running outside and built my endurance. I bought myself a pair of good running shoes and used the MapMyRun app to track where I was going and how far I went. Some days of running were great and I could go for three miles and feel awesome the entire run, but then other days were so bad. I remember there were times I was in the middle of a run and wanted so bad to give up and I would have to walk for a little bit to give myself a break before running again. I remember sometimes I would get so discouraged that I would cry and call Alan to see if he could pick me up because I gave up on myself in the middle of a run. Again, I had to learn to give myself grace on the days when I didn’t do as well as I wanted because I knew that in terms of big-picture, I was slowly making progress. I trained my body to relate exercise as a way of relaxation.
A LIFESTYLE CHANGE: NUTRITION
On top of exercise, it’s nutrition. I believe they go hand in hand. In the beginning, improving nutrition was just as hard as improving fitness, except for sometimes now I think nutrition is more challenging. Exercising was just 1 - 1.5 hours a day of busting your butt, but nutrition was the remaining 22 hours, so there were way more opportunities to fall short or not eat as well as I could. However, because I think it is important to be optimistic, I will say that there were 22 hours a day to nourish my body with good and healthy foods. It just took me a long time to figure out the best way to do that (and just to clarify, I'm still figuring it out.)
Over the summer, I began to figure out what "eating healthy" even meant. I spent the summer learning to balance meals with protein, veggies, fruits, and carbs. I learned what kinds of foods were good for me and ate less and less processed foods. Once the healthy foods were a regular part of my routine, I didn't have to think as much about making healthy and smart choices. My self-control was more focused on trying to avoid slipping into old habits.
There are a couple of things I tried my best to remember each day. One of the biggest things was portion control. Portion control makes such a difference! What I mean is having one serving of something instead of two or three. It means that when I went out to dinner, I would eat half of my giant plate and take the other half home for lunch the next day. I think I always thought my body needed more food than it actually did. I used to eat something as soon as I started feeling hungry, but it's actually totally normal for our stomachs to feel hungry sometimes. That isn't to stay you should starve yourself by any means, but let yourself get hungry before you go in for a big meal. I remember packing multiple snacks (granola bars, pretzels, candy, etc.) for the 3 hour drive from Kirksville to St. Louis, which just wasn't necessary at all - I now pack one snack like some fruit or granola.
I also think its important to note that having portion control is not the same thing as being on a diet. I never considered myself to be on a "diet." I remember a few co-workers asking me what kind of diet I was on and I didn't know how to answer because I never thought of myself of dieting because I still ate all foods that I loved. It was more just eating all foods in moderation. I could still eat a good burger and sweet potato fries if I went out to dinner, drank wine on special occasions, ate dark chocolate and ice cream, etc. I never stopped eating the foods I enjoyed, I just ate them less.
Also, my perspective of what a meal was evolved. I grew up thinking every meal needed to be a plate with a meat, veggies or fruit, carbs, grains, and dessert; and that just isn't accurate at all. I learned that it is totally acceptable to make meals like a bowl with veggies and protein. Or breakfast could include a big bowl of oatmeal with almond butter, greek yogurt, granola, and fruit. I incorporated a ton of fresh produce and didn't let myself buy junk food from the store. It's not always about eating less of everything either, it's less of some foods but more of others.
It was (and still is) important for me to have a game plan for the day. Usually I prepared the night before for all my meals for the next day. I would pack my lunch, think about my breakfast, or talk to Alan about what we would make for dinner the next day. If I was going out for a meal, I would think about healthy choices I could make. If I was going to have to work late, I would pack a healthy snack to hold me over. I found that it was really helpful for me to set myself up for success ahead of time.
I am a person of routine. I can eat the same kinds of foods every day for weeks before wanting to switch it up. I have a lot of go-to's for my meals, which are things like some below.
- Breakfast: Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day! I usually have greek yogurt with fruit and granola, english muffins with eggs and avocado, toast with almond butter and banana, oatmeal with hella toppings (like berries, banana, almond butter, yogurt, granola, nuts, seeds, etc.), or smoothie bowls with all the toppings.
- Lunch: I usually pack a protein (chicken or turkey are my favorite), grilled veggies or raw veggies and hummus, fruits like apples, peaches, bananas, pears, or whatever was on sale at Aldi's that week. Lunches also look like a lot of leftovers from dinner the night before. I switch up between hot and cold lunches, but always pack the night before.
- Dinner: Dinners are all over the place. If you missed my blog post from a few weeks ago, I made a Recipes for Success post which included a lot of the meals I've been cooking recently. You can read the post for actual recipes, but basically my favorite thing to make is "bowls." I like having quinoa or brown rice with veggies, greens, and protein. You also don't need to be a cook to throw everything in a bowl. I just tried to make a lot of "lighter" means with protein and fresh foods.
- Snacks: Fruit is my favorite. So snacks usually look like fresh fruit, raw veggies, nuts, pretzels, or some kind of bar.
- Desserts: I really tried to cut back a ton on desserts. I have such a big sweet tooth though. What worked for me was keeping a bag of Dove dark chocolate pieces in my office for when I had a big craving for something sweet. It was so much better for me to just be satisfied with one piece of candy than an entire candy bar or pastry.
- Drinks: I started drinking so much water! I found a water bottle I love and brought it everywhere with me. If you don't have a water bottle you like, find one and have it on you 24/7. Along with water, I'm a huge coffee drinker so that is regularly apart of my diet. I also drink Diet sodas (specifically Diet Dr. Pepper and Diet Coke). Other than that, I don't drink much else. I know a lot of people tend to consume extra calories through drinks but I don't have as much issues there.
Like I said, all of this revamped progress started in August and the weight loss was slow. Slow like an average of 1 pound a week. Some weeks I would lose 1 or 2 pounds and other weeks I would lose nothing. For a while, I didn't notice any physical changes and if it wasn't for the fact that I was standing on a scale looking at a different number, I wouldn't have any guessed my body was changing. The biggest change for me during this time was not what my body looked like, but what it felt like. I noticed the food I ate (in combination with my work outs) left me with more energy. I felt less sluggish and more ready to take on the day. Completed workouts and nutritious choices filled me with confidence and empowerment.
After keeping this up from August through the fall, some of my close friends started to notice a difference. I was down around 15 pounds and the encouragement from my friends kept me motivated. So, I kept going. Every day, I kept working hard. I kept my head up and challenged myself. I believed in myself.
The winter came and several work outs happened at Truman's Rec Center. I also committed to my first half marathon in April, so the start of the new year brought many morning runs. I kept experimenting with meals and trying new ways to cook foods I loved. Some weeks were great, and others were not. I kept my head up and reminded myself the hard work was worth it. It was worth it to take care of my body, to take care of my heart, and to take care of my mind.
As my body changed, people started to notice. The encouragement and positive talk from friends and family was helpful, except for when people would say things like, “wow you look so great now!” Now. It didn’t quite sit right to hear that some people thought I looked a lot better now, but that I didn’t look as great before. It was important to remind myself that I looked great no matter what. More important than what other people think about my looks, I needed to accept and love myself and my body, even if my body never changed. I didn’t set out on the weight loss journey to have other people change their minds about how I looked; I started the journey to create a healthy body, healthy mind, and overall wellness.
By May, I had lost 50 pounds. I felt accomplished and confident. My body was the most fit it had ever been – I had completed my first half marathon and my muscles were strong. Stronger than my muscles was my mind. I continued to push myself, believe in myself, and love myself.
what worked for me
Everyone’s journey will be different. What worked for me, might not work for you. However, I want to share a few things I found helpful since I began my weight loss journey:
- Fitness and nutrition were my two focus areas, and I completed some sort of action for them each day. Fitness each day looked different, but it was usually an hour of busting my butt. If you’re a list person, this is a tangible action that can be “checked off your list.” In my opinion, nutrition is not as concrete. Again, if you’re a list person, it’s a little difficult because either you write things like “eat balanced, nutritious breakfast” or “don’t eat sweets” or whatever. It also lasts all day long instead of one hour. This category leaves a lot of room for improvement.
- With fitness, just get active. Find an activity you enjoy, and stick with it. Progress will come with time. If you’re a student, try walking to class or taking laps around buildings for study breaks. If you work full time, take a lap every hour or two, use your lunch break to work out, and just find something that works. One of my favorite things was taking walks when I talked on the phone to people – that’s at least a 30-60 min time to get moving.
- One area that I didn’t focus in the beginning months of my journey that I have been valuing so much recently is mental wellness. Improving your mind goes hand in hand with fitness and nutrition. I have made life-changing discoveries in this area that I will write about soon, because there’s a lot to share.
- Meal prepping was super helpful to me. Packing lunches and making dinners that lasted more than one night were great strategies for my meals. I usually used Sunday as my day to prepare lunches for the week, and my dinners on Sunday and Wednesday. There are so many amazing meal ideas on Pinterest, and you can experiment with all of the meals you life. My Recipes for Success blog post lists a lot of my favorite food bloggers where I get several recipes. Overall, more mindfulness about when and what I was going to eat set me up to make positive choices.
- I started listening to my body. It was really easy for me to mindlessly eat food in front of me, even if I wasn’t hungry. I noticed my body also did this thing where it would feel like I was hungry ten minutes after I finished a meal, which I would then need to tell myself I actually wasn’t hungry yet. As your body changes, you will notice that your appetite might have changed and you don’t need to eat as much before feeling full.
- I taught myself to look at food as not “good” or “bad” but look at eating all foods in moderation. It’s crazy because the more I ate nutritious foods, the less I craved all of the processed foods. I love avocados, vegetables, fruit; and my body craves those way more than it ever craves a bag of chips.
- I learned (and am still learning) to GIVE MYSELF GRACE. This is something I will probably work on my entire life. It’s humbling to know that even when I work so hard, I will fall short and miss the mark because I am human. With that in mind, I must forgive myself and love myself. It's important to keep my head up and remind myself that the tiny baby steps lead to progress.
- I try my very hardest not to compare myself to others. Everyone is going to have a different journey. It’s hard when I can look at people that seem like they can eat whatever they want and not have to work hard to look great. I get that. But my journey is about the progress I an making and discovering my best self. I found a community to celebrate accomplishments together, which was a game changer. It is helpful, fun, and encouraging having buddies to journey with.
Fast forward to the present. In terms of weight loss, I have kept off those 50 pounds, but it took me over a year to find a comfortable weight. More important, I am not as focused on losing weight but on building lean muscle and getting toned. My energy levels, positivity, confidence, and purpose are more important than size and weight. In terms of nutrition, I prioritize eating wholesome foods and nourishing meals; and I am learning more about the ratios and best foods to fuel my body for my lifestyle. For exercise, I still consider myself a runner though and through, but I have struggled with some injuries. I tend to go super hard at the things I love, so I have gone in and out of working my body too hard. That being said, I have been mixing up my workouts with running (I have a destination half marathon planned for March!) and more lifting (thank you to Lindsay for all of the lifting plans!) and yoga (Yoga with Adriene is amazing.) I have also had an epiphany on self-care, but that’s for a different post. I am working towards real-deal peace and happiness. I’m getting fit, healthy, happy, indulge when I want, have confidence in what I’m doing and the choices I make daily, know my way around a kitchen, and listen to my body.
The Beginning of 2018
In the past year and a half, I have had a lot of people asking me about weight loss and about my journey. After sending the same long messages to multiple people, I decided to start this blog to help. Really, this blog has been so helpful for me to process and learn, but I hope it helps other as well.
It’s not about the fancy tricks or fast fixes. It’s not about losing 20 pounds in two weeks. It’s about the slow, day-by-day actions that turn into sustainable habits. It’s about learning how to develop sustainability and consistency. With nutrition, instead of thinking of foods in terms of yes/no lists and strict rules, it’s more about eating wholesome foods, cooking nourishing meals, and developing sustainable habits. I love cooking, exercising, and learning about living a balanced lifestyle. I am prioritizing lasting wellness.
I want you to know you can find inspiration through healthy perspectives. It’s not about weighing 100 pounds and eating kale every day. You don’t have to run 10 miles every morning. It’s about finding balance and enjoying the journey. It’s about filling your world with a balance of all things – fitness, nutrition, faith, friendships, and all things. It’s about focusing on a healthy lifestyle that works for you.
What started out as a journey to lose weight evolved into a journey to make me feel more like me. My world is about a balance and healthy lifestyle. More importantly, it is about finding strategies for attainable and sustainable wellness.
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