DISCLAIMER: I’ve been working on this blog post for what seems like three years and let me stop and let you know right here that it’s LOOONNGG and very picture heavy. What began as a fun idea to post photos from when I was 22 turned into a total self-analysis of the way my thoughts on healthy living have changed over the years.
CONTENT NOTE: I talk a lot about my guilt surrounding eating, counting calories and not being happy about my weight. If any of that is upsetting or triggering for you, I suggest skipping this post.
THANK YOU FOR READING! I hope that those of you that do read this post all the way through realize that I am not in any way commenting on anyone else’s way of living. Everyone’s story is different and this just happens to be mine. With all that said, here goes nothing.
As I was looking through old pictures for my post about my 13-year anniversary with Jeff, I found a few of myself that really made me stop and take a second look. It’s really interesting how we judge ourselves and our bodies at certain points in our lives and then see something completely different when we look back at photos several years later.
It’s incredibly humbling to look back at photos of myself when I thought I was in really good shape to find that I was actually alarmingly skinny.
Similarly, to look back at photos of myself as a teen when I thought I was fat but was, in fact, a perfectly normal weight is completely eye-opening.
Body image is something I’ve struggled with since I was a preteen. I distinctly remember sitting in the passenger seat of my parents’ car when I was in sixth or seventh grade and asking my mother if my thighs were fat. It was something that had never occurred to me before that moment but suddenly I felt incredibly insecure and worried that my legs were just a little bit larger than the other girls’ at school.
This blog began as a weight-loss journal. I was 22 years old, just a little over 5 feet tall and 143 pounds. At the time I thought I was awfully overweight, and while it was true that I probably could have stood to lose a few pounds, I definitely didn’t need to lose 30.
Still, I became incredibly passionate about health and fitness. I never felt like exercising was a chore; I actually enjoyed it. Learning about nutrition was fascinating; I even thought about getting a second degree in it. The truth is, and I can see it clearly now, I probably wasn’t eating enough for my activity level. I did a lot of cardio and absolutely no weight training. Hindsight is 20/20 though, right?
By the time this blog was a year old, I’d lost 30 pounds and weighed 111 pounds. I wore a size 2 dress to my brother’s wedding in May 2010 and was absolutely horrified a few months later when the scale tipped to 115, then 124 pounds. I thought I was huge.
I’m not going to beat myself up too much because I truly thought l was doing all the right things to live my healthiest life. I never thought of myself as having an addiction to exercise or having an eating disorder. At the time, “healthy” was synonymous with “skinny.” I read all the popular Healthy Living blogs and tried to emulate the authors. Everyone else was talking about reaching their “happy weight” and eating oatmeal and drinking green smoothies. I wanted to be part of that club, too.
It’s really crazy to look back at pictures of myself from college. In some of them, I can clearly see my hair thinning and how frail my arms were. Some friends and family members even showed concern, and I ignored them because what did they know? I was sure I was being ‘healthy.’
Early in 2011, I started focusing more on weight-training and less on cardio. Looking back at pictures from that time I can see how much healthier my body looked. After my father passed away in 2011, however, exercise and healthy eating fell by the wayside and, boy, did I beat myself up for it.
I remember sitting at dinner with Jeff the night my father died, feeling guilty for eating a stack of banana chocolate chip pancakes. At least they’re whole wheat, I thought. Let that sink in for a second. I was so obsessed with my weight that the night my father died I was worried about eating a stack of pancakes.
The week after my father died, friends and family visited daily and always brought with them some type of baked good. I ate my weight in brownies and cookies that week, and though I was numb with grief, I still found myself thinking, I’ll get back to the gym and work this all off soon.
I even wrote a blog post about the weight I gained after my father died. I was back to my pre-blogging weight and felt I needed to change that ASAP. Writing this blog has been so amazing in keeping me motivated and accountable but looking back now I can see how many times I apologized for not working out or eating too much, terrified that my readers would think that I wasn’t actually that healthy of a healthy living blogger after all.
Over the years this pattern continued where I would spontaneously decide that I was going to get back into the shape I was in college. I told myself that I had done it before and getting back to that weight would be no problem. I alternated between getting up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym and feeling my pants become looser, and completely falling off the wagon and apologizing to my readers when my pants felt tighter.
March 2014 began my struggle with severe health anxiety that popped up when my right leg started to bother me seemingly out of nowhere. In the seven months that followed, I went to what felt like a million doctors appointments and physical therapy sessions and underwent tons of tests to try to figure out what was wrong with me, all the while not being able to work out at all because of my ailments.
My anxiety combined with my new-found passion for the real food movement and cooking absolutely everything from scratch caused me to lose weight even without exercise, and that summer I found that I weighed 125 pounds again. I was thrilled and horrified at the same time, convinced that I had some horrible disease that was causing me to lose weight. Still, 125 pounds was less than 140 pounds and this time that felt like a win instead of a terrible failure.
That fall the doctors finally figured out what was wrong with me–I’d torn my labrum in my right hip and needed surgery. Up until that point, I’d felt like a failure. I was a healthy living blogger who had been physically active for most of my 20s and at 27 years old, I couldn’t even walk and no one knew why. Surgery was scheduled for January 2015 followed by three months of physical therapy. I don’t remember worrying much about my weight then. I was more focused on being able to walk without assistance. I do recall being excited about some of the PT exercises, like the leg press and hamstring curls, because I knew they’d tone my legs. By the time I was done with PT, I was eager to get back into the gym.
Shopping for clothing was the worst. Convinced that I’d someday soon fit back into my size 4 jeans, I told every salesperson who tried to sell me a size up that I was ‘in between sizes’ and I just needed to wait a few more weeks. Somehow I was wearing size 8 jeans and extra small tops and still thought I was huge.
Fitting Into ‘The’ Dress
Jeff and I moved to Asheville in September 2015 and got engaged not long after. Thus began my real efforts to size down. I was 140 pounds, my wedding dress was a size 12, and I told the seamstress at every fitting that the next time I’d be smaller.
I began taking spin classes 2-3 times a week and working with a trainer. I complained to her every week that the scale wasn’t budging even though I was losing inches and gaining muscle.
By the time our wedding came around, I still hadn’t lost the all the weight I wanted to but was excited at my last fitting when they had to take the dress in even just a little bit.
A Healthier Community
Even though 140 pounds still felt unacceptable to me, I slowly managed to gain another five pounds in the months that followed my wedding. Then in August 2017, my friend Holly introduced me to Strength Ratio. I quit my Gold’s Gym membership and began taking their classic strength and conditioning classes three times a week. A few months later, even though I felt stronger, I was slightly horrified at a doctor’s appointment when the scale read 152 pounds–the most I’d ever weighed in my life.
Because I felt so much better and healthier training at Strength Ratio than I had at any other gym, for the first time in my life, I didn’t worry too much about what I ate. As my clothes started to feel tighter or outright not fit anymore, I convinced myself that I was just gaining muscle. I continued getting stronger and working out three times a week at my new favorite gym and eating whatever I wanted.
Stepping Onto The Scale
At the beginning of March 2018, I wrote a post about my March workouts. I had just returned from a trip to New York and, in not so many words, I apologized for not working out and eating too much on my vacation, but assured my readers that the month would be full of so much exercise that it wouldn’t matter! I added kickboxing and yoga classes to my regular workout routine and felt pretty good about it…that is until I stepped on the scale.
I hadn’t weighed myself in months because I was trying not to obsess over numbers, but one day, while I was at Strength Ratio, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to just do it. When the needle on the analog scale pointed to over 170 pounds, I walked out of the bathroom and told my coach that there had to be something wrong with it. It was an old scale and, surely, it just needed to be calibrated.
There was no way I weighed over 170 pounds. I was a ‘healthy living blogger’- I couldn’t weigh 170 pounds. But I stepped on a digital scale a few days later and, sure enough, it read 174 pounds. I was flabbergasted. How had this happened?
Although this was the most I’d ever weighed in my life, it was also the first time I didn’t see myself as huge when I looked in the mirror. Working out at Strength Ratio had not only made me physically stronger, but it had made me more confident and emotionally stronger as well.
Still, I was super confused and frustrated. I worked out all the time. How had I put on an extra 30 pounds?
At first, I was in a whole lot of denial that my diet might be to blame. I’d been a vegetarian for almost nine years, a ‘healthy living’ blogger for even longer, and, in my mind, I had completely embraced the ‘everything in moderation’ philosophy.
Except I realized that ‘moderation’ for me meant cooking for myself 10% of the time and eating out 90% of the time. If you look back at my Instagram from the beginning of the year, you’ll see that I was at a different bakery or cafe practically every day of the week.
Working Toward A Healthier Goal
Once I accepted that the extra weight I’d put on might actually be my diet, after all, I met with Becca, my coach at Strength Ratio, to talk about what to do. This was the first time I’d ever consulted a professional and not a health magazine or another blogger about my nutrition.
I was extremely hesitant to count calories because, in my head, I was way past that. I hadn’t done it in years because I felt that I had a real handle on the whole healthy eating thing. Plus, I felt like counting calories was obsessive dieting behavior for people who didn’t know what they were doing.
When I expressed these concerns to Becca, she suggested I focus on counting macros- fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. We calculated my percentages based on a body fat analysis I had done (I’ll get to that in a second), and the only rules were that I hit those percentages daily. Even though this new eating plan did involve reducing my daily calorie intake, it felt less like restricting calories and more like a game of hitting my macros. Plus there were no rules about what I could and couldn’t eat. It essentially fit exactly into my ‘everything in moderation’ thinking, except this time, I focused on eating healthy, homemade meals 90% of the time and indulging the other 10%.
Becca also suggested I get a body fat analysis done by her friend Reena at Get 2 Know Your Body. The test would tell me how much of my weight gain was fat and how much of it was muscle. The results really helped us zero in on a healthy weight loss goal.
This time I felt motivated to reach a healthy weight, not what I considered a happy weight, and that healthy weight just happened to be 140 pounds.
That’s right-PLOT TWIST- the weight I had struggled with so much in the past was now my new goal. Funny how things work out like that, huh?
Fast forward to the present and I’ve slowly lost around 20 pounds since March. I’d be lying if I told you that I’ve reached a point where I feel completely secure in my body but I’m definitely trying to get there.
When I first started trying to lose weight in March, I was terrified to take vacations or go out with friends because I thought it would reverse my progress. I also stepped on the scale a little too often at first. Imagine my surprise when I returned from indulging a little more than usual on vacation in April and realized I hadn’t gained a pound. I loosened up a little bit after that.
I realize now more than ever that healthy living is a lifestyle, not a fad diet or a particular exercise trend. That to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, I can’t beat myself up over every time I miss going to the gym or eat an ice cream cone. That I’d rather focus my efforts on having a strong, functional body than reaching some arbitrary ideal body weight. I’ve done a lot of work to reduce the guilt I feel around eating too much or the ‘wrong’ thing. I listen to my body more now than I ever have and feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin.
It’s so true that working toward any goal should be a marathon, not a sprint. I’m slowly but surely getting closer and closer to not only my goal of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight but also to my goal of accepting and loving my body at whatever shape it’s in.