I’ve done some thinking over the last few weeks. Actually, not just “some” — I’ve done LOTS. I felt compelled to get my thoughts out of my system and into written form (not 100% sure why), and I don’t really have anywhere else to do that. I certainly didn’t create this blog to build a following or have some sort of self-centered public diary. It’s built for sharing health-minded recipes. While this post is definitely health-focused, it doesn’t have a recipe or any pictures of creative food (sorry); it’s just my life in a nutshell over the last 12 months and really the basis of why I started approaching food in a different way. It’s the foundation for all of these recipes, the reason I choose to cook the things that I cook, and how I’ve made my health and fitness a focus since last October.
I came to a realization at the beginning of the month. Where I am now compared to where I was exactly a year ago (to this very day) are two completely different worlds.
A year ago, I was moving into my new 1-bedroom apartment and was coming to terms with being “by myself” for the first time ever. The move meant more than just being roommate-less. It meant moving away from downtown, away from all of my bar scene friends whom I had spent my college years with. It meant pulling myself away from the lifestyle that I had come to know and love with every bit of my heart for the last 5 years. It meant bringing myself closer to work, in terms of both physical proximity and mental investment. It meant change, and all of it impacted my lifestyle.
At the same time, I started seeing Ryan. Things got serious pretty damn quickly, and it worked. I’d spent so much time avoiding letting anyone in, mostly because I was dealing with my parents’ (still-fresh) divorce. Romance had zero appeal to me before we met, but once he broke down that wall, we were instantly inseparable. In terms of our eating habits, he was used to eating from the drive-thru, so I wanted to show off my cooking skills. Staple meals included fried chicken with macaroni and cheese or lasagna with cheesy bread (all made from scratch, because I’m talented and wanted to be sure he knew it). When I wasn’t trying to impress him with my culinary abilities, he was taking me to nice dinners where we ate enough food to feed a family of 4 (or 5… Maybe 6). To top off our impeccable diets, we hit up the bars every weekend. It was the only way I knew how to spend my free time. Plus, we met on 6th street, so it just seemed right. We had fun together. Again, similar to the move: the relationship marked a big change in my life.
A year ago, I was new to living in a 1-bedroom away from the bars and had a committed boyfriend for the first time since my freshman year of college. My life did a 180-degree spin in October 2012, and my lifestyle definitely changed. However, none of it was conducive to my health. I gained and gained and gained, and before I knew it, I was well over 200 pounds. I had no idea how I got there, but what I did know is that I was more disappointed in myself than ever before. Then, my coworker made me buy a Groupon for a 6-week boot camp trial.
I spent November and December getting to know Synergy. Moving north meant moving away from the gym that I’d been going to for years. Synergy was conveniently 5 minutes from work AND home. I fell in love, and by the end of my 6 week trial period, I had no hesitations about signing up full-time. I was addicted to pushing myself through 45 minutes of murder every day. I felt marginally better about myself because I was making an effort, but I wasn’t seeing results. The scale didn’t budge and my clothes didn’t loosen up whatsoever. By April/May, I’d lost a measly 8 pounds.
5 months of busting my ass, and no changes in my body. I convinced myself that something else must’ve been wrong with me — my habits couldn’t possibly be the problem, and my diet was “pretty good.” Maybe genetics were making me fat and incapable of losing weight. I wanted to blame anything or anyone except for the real culprit: me. I was scared to admit my faults and own my mistakes. Excuses were my best friend.
I started tracking my food in MyFitnessPal in May and found that I had been lying to myself. My diet totally blew (for lack of a better word). I struggled with documenting what I was putting in my body even though I was the only person that would see it. I realized that if I couldn’t be honest with myself, something really needed to change. Each day, I took small steps to improve. I’d eat more vegetables, cut carb portions down a little, or skip the 9pm FroYo trip. I made it a habit to document during the week, but thought weekends were “free.” (WRONG.) I saw a few more pounds come off, and by June, I was down 13 pounds total. (6 months of work; only 13 pounds gone. Better than nothing, I guess?)
In June, my coach (Kristina) made me her “Camper of the Week” and built me a custom meal plan as a gift. I never would have bought one if she hadn’t offered it — after all, I loved cooking and thought I knew how to build a healthy diet. But, since she spent her time creating one that was custom-built for me, I felt like I needed to at least give it a shot. Weekends weren’t “free” any more, but the occasional dinner date wasn’t anything to freak out about. “Balance” became a key word in my vocabulary.
6 weeks later (by late August), I’d lost 10 more pounds and 7% body fat. I’d tried Nutrisystem, different weight loss clinics/pills, and even had SmartLipo surgery in college (which was a big waste of a few grand for my mom and resulted in me being hospitalized on Christmas). I had never once seen results like this, and I didn’t even feel like I was doing anything drastic. What worked?
The simplicity of Kristina’s guidelines combined with my curiosity of “clean eating” and love of cooking made it fun. I tried new recipes for dinner, and figuring out what to cook felt like a weird puzzle-adventure-game thing. (This blog is a product of it all.) For lunches, I cooked and packaged everything over the weekend. I stopped spending money at the cafeteria and there was no question about what would fit into my calorie budget for the day.
It boiled down to 3 immediate positives:
- Cost-saving (no more $8/day lunches or waiting in cafeteria lines)
- Simplistic/stress-reducing (there was a pattern to my eating, and I thrive with a consistent routine because it’s easier to keep up with — and I’m a bit OCD)
- Fun (who knew you could fake-bread Tilapia with ground almonds or make cookies with oats?!)
I didn’t have to wait to see the benefits. These were perks of simply following the meal plan, which made me want to keep doing it. Eventually, my strength and endurance both increased exponentially. I could do REAL push-ups, and box jumps stopped scaring the shit out of me. Each workout left me wanting to do more reps and lift more weight. I started competing with myself. I didn’t know it, but I was building some serious muscle. The way I was feeding myself sent my body into what I (unscientifically) refer to as “super-burn mode.” Fast-forward another 6 weeks to early-/mid-October, and I’d passed the 30-pound mark. (That’s more like it.)
Where was I a year ago?
The biggest changes that impacted my lifestyle in the most drastic ways did nothing to help my health. They harmed it. Yes, the purpose of the term is to categorize small changes that impact the day-to-day in a positive way, but it has been overused and fails at doing anything to articulate the “how.” People who are frustrated with their health and/or weight don’t need to hear “it’s a lifestyle change.” What the hell does that even mean to them? It only communicates something meaningful to the people who have been successful in their journey, but to those of us who still struggle, it sounds like a load of bullshit. People who haven’t started seeing progress and aren’t already on a path to success need to know the “how.” Instead of “lifestyle change,” I’d say it’s a step-by-step, iterative process:
Step 1: Make a small change (ex: Buy a Groupon and start working out. Cooking at home. Pack your lunch. Cut out processed foods.)
Step 2: Be consistent with the change for a month or two
Step 3: Document your progress/success (What worked? –> Keep doing these things. What failed? –> Try a different approach.)
Step 4: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
We all have goals. We can all improve. Getting healthier is a long and oftentimes frustrating process of trial-and-error. There needs to be a concrete element of how to actually get there when we hear advice from people who have seen real success. I had a fellow camper ask me what changes I had made after a workout earlier this week, and my response was “it’s a lifestyle change.” I started thinking about it, and realized that what I said probably meant NOTHING to her. The term only means something to people who have figured it out internalized it. I cringed at the thought of how much I’d failed when I was given the opportunity to help a sister out. She was asking for guidance, and I under-delivered. Clearly, if someone is wanting to know how I got to where I am now, I can’t just tell them that I made some changes in my life. That’s way too vague, and it doesn’t communicate what has actually happened in the last 12 months. It means nothing unless someone already knows the “how” behind it all. Continuous dedication, motivation, and learning from your mistakes/successes — that’s how you make it happen.