Why did I recently decide to finally embrace and commit to a healthier lifestyle?
I mentioned in my last post that I would discuss how I got into cooking and weightlifting, but to do that I need to talk about the foundation of my inspiration. This a story that I think a lot of others can relate to – a long history of poor self-image growing up due to society’s beauty standards, which I was never able to meet. I was never skinny, but I always equated the idea of getting skinny to bringing happiness.
Quick Disclaimer: My future posts will never be this long but this journey was indeed a long one, and I want to give it the attention it deserves so I can be as realistic and honest as possible. Additionally, I am not claiming or consider myself to be a fitness or nutrition expert – I’m purely a hobbyist discussing my own experience and sharing what ended up working for me because it was a very long time before I started changing my habits. Okay that being said, let’s move on!
Growing up Chunky: The Early Years
I was always on the chubbier and less active side growing up and throughout elementary school – my mom did cook for our family a few times a week, but we also regularly ate a ton of processed food (Chef Boyardee and Kraft Mac & Cheese, I’m looking at you!) Inhaling a family sized bag of Lay’s Potato chips while watching TV was pretty much a weekly norm, and I was totally content with eating frozen, microwaveable dinners.
When I became more self-conscious about my weight in middle school, I started getting obsessive about trying to lose the extra weight. I would try to exercise at home sometimes (sit ups, push ups, eventually Windsor Pilates videos in 7th and 8th grade). I also started developing really unhealthy eating habits at this time and a terrible relationship with food. I would either try to practice “fasting” to lose weight quickly, eat very little, or eat once I couldn’t continue fasting and then purge out of guilt. Around this time I think my diet primarily consisted of Starbucks Frappacinos, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Chinese takeout, and pasta when I did eat – clearly I had no idea what it meant to eat quality food at this point in my life so that didn’t help the cause, and that continued on into high school. Yo-yo dieting was a perpetual source of ups and downs with my self-confidence pretty much up until I graduated high school.
Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred: My First Experience with “Weightlifting”
I first started working out consistently when I was 18 or 19 – I started the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred and got pretty great results as a beginner. Jillian’s workout videos helped me get comfortable with the functional movements I still regularly use in my current workouts (squats, lunges, rows, push ups, etc.) and introduced me to HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). I would definitely recommend the 30 Day Shred for anyone who is an absolute novice to any kind of lifting and wants to lose some fat while simultaneously building strength and learning some basic, effective movements and good form.
Note: They have Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred available on Amazon for purchase (Amazon Video and the DVD) and I always see the DVD at Target, so it’s readily available if anyone is interested in checking it out. I also do believe they have one of the workouts on YouTube. However, I did not lose 20 pounds in 30 days, just sayin.
Fast forward to college (Undergrad years Jan 2012-Dec 2014) – I was drinking heavily, as was mostly every other student, binging heavily at night once I started living outside of the dorms and had closer access to late night food. I was still working out religiously (mainly cardio) but I did manage to gain (and lose and gain back) somewhere in the range of 10-15lbs because I was never consistent with my diet (and you know, drank a lot of booze).
During my last semester of college, I was working out regularly again (I’d either go to the gym, do an at-home Jillian Michaels workout, or both) and started cooking healthier food after discovering Trader Joe’s (I love you TJ’s!). This helped me get back down to a size I was okay with but not necessarily a body I was happy with – I was 5’3 and around 140lbs, busty, still a bit chubby around the middle, and had a pretty flat ass (to be quite frank) which didn’t complement a top heavy figure. See FLATTERING pic below.
Post-College Weight Gain
The year after college (2015), I went from being around 140lbs to 156lbs – my heaviest, ever. I am only 5’3 so that 16 lb weight gain made a huge difference, physically and mentally. By the beginning of 2016 I hated looking at myself in the mirror more than ever and just felt heavy/sluggish overall. It was that point I decided I really wanted to commit to exercising regularly, cooking at home, and improving my overall health and fitness. I was tired of being unhappy with how I looked and felt and really wanted to find out what it would be like to actually love every part of myself for once because I never really had before. I had been fixated on hating my body for so long though and wanting to “get rid” of parts of myself so it was going to require a lot of hard work – not only physically, but mentally as well. Weight loss was always viewed as a temporary concept for me because I could never maintain my weight loss. But learning about the benefits of lifting weights changed everything for me!
Getting Comfortable with Lifting
During the first half of 2016, I started taking group fitness classes 4x a week (Zumba 2x/week, Body Pump 2x/week). I also started following a lot of female bodybuilders/weightlifters which sparked my initial interest in heavy lifting. I was reading all this new information about how having more muscle mass helps you get lean and lifting heavy could help you build an ass! So I had my boyfriend show me how to use the squat rack at my gym and it was love at first squat. The first time I used the squat rack, I was only able to squat with the bare barbell (no weight loaded) but after learning the proper movements, I was really excited about challenging myself to build up my strength, use more weight, and transform my body (Google: body recomposition).
Lifting Promotes GAINS instead of LOSSES – Positive vs. Negative Connotations FTW
I started out by lifting during my lunch breaks and then doing group fitness classes in the evening after work. Lifting was so exciting and fun, because for once in my life I was focusing on GAINING something positive (strength) instead of focusing solely on LOSING or GETTING RID of something I didn’t like about myself. It completely changed my attitude and mentality towards fitness – I was becoming stronger, fitter, more capable, and my OWN progress became my motivation. Not someone else’s
Unfortunately, I ended up injuring my lower back pretty badly after neglecting to warm up one day and couldn’t lift for a few months. This set me back significantly that year. I ended up gaining back a lot of the weight I lost in the first half of the year, and by the end of 2016 I was fluctuating between 149-152 lbs which was really disappointing. But the whole time I was injured I was primarily concerned with recovery so I could return to the gym and start off where I left off. Thankfully when I was recovered enough I was actually excited to start working out again (I’d never been excited to work out in my life before I started lifting heavy!). Starting January 2017 I was lifting 5x/week and incorporating HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) into my workouts. By May, I was down to 136.5 lbs and stronger than ever. I couldn’t have done it without adjusting my diet though and I did track macros which I’ll get into more detail about in a future blog post.
I spent a lot of the last part of 2016 starting to cook at home more often versus eating out to save money. I also started meal prepping to save time and ensure I was making better choices at lunch. It turns out that I not only actually started enjoying eating healthier meals because I noticed a difference in how I felt and looked, but I also loved showcasing my food creations. I was so proud of them once I finished cooking and would always share pictures on my personal Instagram account. Getting into the Food Network show “Chopped” really inspired my passion for cooking (and food presentation)!
It was January 2017 that I created the @cook2lean Instagram page to share my meals, inspire myself to continue to cook healthier, and also post my workouts so I could track my own fitness progress and hold myself accountable. I stayed inspired by following other food/fitness pages and reading articles online about nutrition, diet, and weightlifting, and I continue to post regularly and do all those same things now.
There were a lot of other things that kept me inspired, motivated, and on track this past year, and of course there were also a lot of times where I felt unmotivated. But I will be saving the motivation tips and tricks that have worked for me in a future post as this went on much longer than I had planned!
How about you guys? What sparked your interest in health/fitness? And what do you do to inspire/motivate yourself? Leave me a comment – I’d love to hear your stories!
P.S. My next blog post will be a step-by-step how to guide for this dinner I cooked last night! Pan seared salmon with creamy garlic cauliflower mash, and sautéed brussels sprouts! Stay tuned.