my complicated on again/off again relationship with exercise
Over the course of my life, I've had a complicated, love/hate, off/on-again relationship with exercise and weight loss...how about you?
We were not friends - more like frenemies, actually. Historically, me and exercise found ourselves stuck in a totally unhealthy and unproductive routine that went something like this:
--> feel unhappy and uncomfortable due to carrying extra weight and an unhealthy lifestyle, decide to "eat better" (whatever that means) and add in exercise --> commit to "eating better" and a new exercise routine... --> LOSE 3-5 POUNDS (yay!)… --> reward yourself with dinner out because you "earned it" with all that exercise... --> gain back 2 pounds (insert eye roll)... --> hit the gym again: more reps, add a day... --> DANG IT! you overdid it and now you're so sore you can't even sit on the so you take a day off to recover...then two...and then, next week, you snap out of it and get back on track... --> WHEW! That new workout kicked your . What a great sweat session! Definitely burned enough today to drop by Starbucks for that cinnamon dolce latte. You worked so hard - you can have a venti and maybe that banana nut bread - after all, you "earned it" and it’s just this time... --> GAIN BACK 1 POUND (wtf! obviously, all this exercise isn't working)... --> OMG work is "too busy". You don't have time left in the day to hit the gym AND still get any sleep this week...or next... --> ten days later the wheels have completely fallen off the workout wagon. You berate and shame yourself for failing to stick to exercise - AGAIN - and eat a bag of chips because
"what does it matter. You suck at sticking to exercise and it doesn’t work, anyway. You’re probably just meant to be heavy. Maybe you should have your doctor check your thyroid, again.”
This was my pattern, folks. I have had this EXACT conversation with myself REPEATEDLY over the years. I’m embarrassed to admit to this line of thinking but, I also suspect that I'm not the only one to ever have these thoughts.
Does this feel familiar to you, too?
I’ve heard all my adult life that you “can’t out exercise (or outrun) your fork,” but I never believed it or, at least, I never listened.
I watched my younger, fitter and incredibly athletic siblings (seriously, they're all former college athletes) easily prioritize, stick to and ENJOY regular exercise. I was always equal parts envious and incredulous. I would get mad and defensive when they encouraged me to try to do the same or questioned why I couldn't maintain an exercise routine. Over time, I resigned myself to being the "creative" one rather than an athlete of any kind.
I allowed myself to believe that I was DIFFERENT. I told myself that exercise just sucks and I'm a weak, lazy, obese failure. (wait, what - whoa! HELLOOO self-loathing - did you see how quickly that line of thought went downhill? Yikes!)
The truth was that I WANTED to be like them. I WANTED to be an athlete or, at least, to be able to maintain a regular exercise routine and I was mad at myself for not being able to make that happen as easily as they could. I was ashamed of myself for not seeing results and, ultimately, ashamed for being (and staying) overweight.
So, I would go through spurts of intense, hard exercise in hopes of finally being fit and healthy, losing weight. I'd work with a trainer or without; I'd do several weeks/months of P90x, Insanity, TurboFire (maybe even all the BeachBody workouts - lol); I swam; I did Zumba (badly, btw); I trained for and completed 2 half-marathons; I tried Crossfit (once, lol); I joined health clubs (hell, I WORKED at health clubs)…but, none of these efforts alone were ever enough to help me achieve my weight loss goals and so, inevitably, I’d quit for a variety of reasons such as: I didn’t lose weight; I didn’t have time; I hurt myself; or it was too expensive…etc.
And, I 100% believe that cycle would have continued for the rest of my life, if I hadn't decided to really commit to this health journey, and learned that I was focusing on the wrong part of the equation; that it's your diet and not how much or how hard you exercise that makes the difference.
Exercise is important. Healthy, regular movement is IMPERATIVE to maintaining a healthy lifestyle BUT if your nutrition sucks, then how much or how hard you exercise won’t matter. You can walk miles, but if you routinely fail to properly and wisely fuel your body, then your efforts will be for naught. You will remain unhealthy and, very likely, overweight. I sure did.
When I finally committed to my health journey, I decided to trust the structure of the program that I chose and began my health journey focused 100% on my nutrition. And this changed the weight loss game for me -- immediately.
Over time, I came to appreciate and learn that the NUTRITIONAL QUALITY of what I fuel my body with is of greater importance than HOW MUCH food I feed it. 2 cups of grilled green veggies will trump a handful of Doritos any day - even if the calorie load is the same (for the record: they're not the same, but for the sake of illustration, let’s just pretend).
As the weight began to come off, it became and easier easier to make better, healthier choices. The emotional fog lifted; my inflammation decreased; my confidence began to come back; and my energy increased. I was getting more steps in each day simply because I had energy during the day and was sleeping better at night.
I stayed focused only on nutrition through the 2020 holiday season (100%) and kept losing weight. Three months in on my 41st birthday, I’d lost 30+ pounds and it was only then that I began to THINK about adding exercise to my routine.
Then, I hit my first big goal - 50 pounds - around the 5-month mark, and I hired a personal trainer. I couldn’t afford her, but I committed anyway and told myself I’d figure it out (just like I did when I started on program). I needed her help and the accountability.
I began working out with her and my weight loss stalled for a few weeks while my body adjusted - building muscle, finding the appropriate nutritional balance, etc. Then, suddenly - it truly felt like overnight - I saw muscle definition that I hadn’t seen in a LONG time (if ever). Sure, I’d built muscles before, but I’d never been able to SEE them under all the extra “cushion”. This was exciting, rewarding and made me feel so good about my body. It kept me motivated, make exercise rewarding, and I began to feel like an athlete after all...
But, even working out and seeing results, my primary focus never changed. I stayed focused - first and foremost - on my nutrition. I followed the program and treated exercise as a bonus. Amazingly, now, it almost feels like fun. ;)
As time has progressed, I've come to better understand the relationship between the food I eat and how it makes me feel or, even more importantly, how food choices can effect my physical performance. For example:
on days where I made less healthy choices, my energy lagged and workouts were hard;
if I wasn’t properly hydrated, then everything was harder - I'd get headaches or heart palpitations (both pre-existing conditions for me); or
if I really pushed myself when working out, then some extra lean protein (1-2oz) was definitely in order or I would be HANGRY later.
So, maybe there was some truth to the saying after all.
Maybe the equation for losing weight and a healthy lifestyle really is: 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.
Maybe exercise doesn't have to hurt or be a chore.
Maybe I can be creative AND athletic.
Maybe I can do this...
And, if I can, then maybe YOU CAN TOO!