Note: This post has been edited since publishing, and I apologize that I had to slap unsightly watermarks over most of the before and after photos. It was brought to my attention that my personal photos were being used by others on websites with fake stories and names promoting weight loss products I absolutely don’t use.
Oddly enough, considering I open up a certain portion of my life to millions of people on the internet on a regular basis, I’m actually a very private person. It’s an interesting dynamic when your job requires you to stretch those boundaries. Kate and I are both very hesitant to steer away from our comfort-zone of comfort-food because 1. There are some things we just prefer to keep private, and 2. We’ve found that the internet can be a cruel place, where good intentions are often skewed and hate loves to hide behind the anonymity of a screen name. But sometimes we do go out on a limb and get personal. And we’re always nervous about it. We worried when we wrote about our tender feelings of motherhood, and the heartbreaking experiences we’ve both had with our own Mothers. I know one of the hardest things Kate has done was share the horrific experience of coming moments away from losing a child in a near-drowning we both witnessed. And then just last week I published something I’ve been working up the courage to write about for over a year now.
We’re always a little nervous to put stuff “out there,” but the more we do the more we realize one very important thing: everyone has a story. Those 3 posts I just mentioned are 3 of the most highest-trafficked posts on our site. Every one of them was flooded with comments and personal emails and we never know how therapeutic/inspiring/relatable they are until they are in fact “out there.” When I started focusing on my own personal health and fitness a couple of years ago, I did it very quietly. I’m not the type of person to post workout announcements on Facebook or shout from the rooftops that I lost ten pounds. I did it for me. And I did it privately. Then just a couple of months ago I posted a photo on Instagram. It was just a little peek at an object lesson I was using to teach my kids about goal-setting and New Year’s Resolutions. It was this picture:
The response to that photo was overwhelming. I’d never had (or had since) a bigger response to a photo on Instagram. You asked for more of this story, so I tested the waters with my recent post on fitness. Again, I was amazed at the response and I loved hearing all of your stories. So many of you have emailed me, and left comments, and communicated via social media, and one thing is clear. My story is not unique! So many of you can relate! SO many of you communicated that you felt inspired and that alone was my goal. There is so much false inspiration in the media when it comes to health and fitness. You’ve probably all seen those before and after pictures taken by trainers on the very same day to demonstrate how easy it is to embellish those types of results. So here’s what I want to say: This is real life. I’m a real person. I’m probably a lot like you. I’m going to tell you my story in hopes that many of you can relate and if anything- can be inspired that if I can do this, so can you. Because one of the most satisfying feelings in the world is gaining control of something that has controlled you.
It all started in August of 2011. I went on a family vacation and when I got home and unloaded the photos from my camera I was very concerned. About my camera. Surely there was something wrong. Some sort of lens malfunction. I was shocked to see myself. Somehow it didn’t seem that bad when I looked in a mirror, but seeing photos, it really hit me. I had gotten way off track. (Every before photo in this post is from that trip. While going through my photos I found many recent photos that seemed to mirror the poses in older photos so I grouped those together and I’ll scatter them in this post.)
I’d like to say it was baby weight- I had a one year old at the time. But the truth is, I did a really good job getting a good chunk of that baby weight off in the first few months after having him. Something had happened in the months since and I let things go. I gained it all back and then some. The moment I got home from that trip, I vowed to change things, and I did. I joined a gym. I started eating better. Over the next few months I lost a little weight and was feeling much better but I had such a long way to go, and the thought was overwhelming. I was running like crazy every day, but not really seeing any big changes so it just all felt like a waste of time and that was frustrating. I was so sick of always being consumed with my weight. I didn’t want that to be something I stressed about day in and day out. I’m a very type A kind of person (just ask my husband or my business partner). I like to be in control of things. I’m a very driven person and I’ve found success in almost every area of my life- except this one. It drove me crazy that this owned me, and I wanted to change it but I had failed so many times that I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself.
About that same time I re-connected with an old friend on Facebook. I grew up with Paige, and vividly remembered her infectious smile. This is the Paige I remembered, but I hadn’t seen her in over 10 years.
The Paige I found on Facebook wasn’t the same person. In fact, I double checked the name. Was it really her? What the heck happened? Did she have surgery? Go on some sort of juice diet?
I clicked over to her blog, and was instantly drawn to her story because I could see from her photos that she didn’t just lose weight. She was an athlete. She was strong, she was toned, and she did it all the good ol’ fashioned way. That was inspiring. I read a post about her trainer and instantly recognized him. He trained at my gym. I saw him nearly every day. After reading about Paige’s experiences, and how instrumental her trainer was, I decided to talk to him one day. What I kind of assumed would be a quick chat, and maybe turn into a few sessions where he gave me some pointers, turned into something much, much bigger.
I spent over and hour talking to Jacob that first time and realized that my problems were deeper than just the simple fact that I liked to bake cookies (and eat them.) I needed to make some big changes. Some big life changes. I needed to get away from the idea of crash dieting and really learn how to manage my health for the long term. I have been on a million diets. I’ve done everything under the sun and I always end up right back where I started. Every. Time. I’ll find something that works for the short-term and once I lose a little bit of weight I get comfortable and let go again and then before I know it, I’m starting over. I wanted this time to be different. I didn’t want to quit. But it also seemed like a really big goal. We calculated numbers and got a realistic picture of what it would take and inside I wondered if I had it in me. Sensing my hesitation, Jacob said very matter-of-factly, “Extraordinary things are only extraordinary because not very many people do them. Just be one of the people that does it. Finish it.” When I left that meeting, I wrote down two words on a post-it note. My goal. He asked me what the one thing was that was most important to me; what did I really want to accomplish?
I wanted to finish it for once. Do it all the way. Not do it a little bit and get comfy. Go big or go home. That was the moment it clicked in my head. I was actually going to do this, no matter what it took. I wasn’t just going to lose a little weight; I was going to get fit. Get strong. Now I sit here writing this post, one month away from my 35th birthday. A thirty-something mother of 3 who cooks food for a living, and I can honestly say I’m in the best shape of my life. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t all that hard either. It took a lot of dedication, focus, and hard work. If you want to see big changes, you have to be willing to put in big effort.
I’m not saying I’m perfect. I still have work to do, and I’m constantly trying to push myself to get rid of the many, many things that jiggle (and shouldn’t). I’d still like to lose a few more pounds and push down my body fat percentage by a little bit, but I’m here. I’m doing it. I didn’t quit, I didn’t give up, and I’ve kept off the weight, and truly changed my lifestyle, which has made all the difference. I’m going to share a few of the most important things I’ve learned along the way, in hopes of inspiring someone else out there. If you’re reading thinking you wish you could do this too- YOU CAN! I may have had a trainer, but there was no top-secret diet, so never-before-seen workout program. Everything I did, you can do too. I promise.
Even if you’re a private person like me, if you’re going to take on a big goal, and make big changes, you need the support of the people around you. If no one else, your spouse or significant other. The people closest to you can be your biggest support, or your greatest challenge. I’ve seen enough weight-loss reality TV to know that when your spouse isn’t on board, it can be detrimental. It doesn’t mean they have to completely change their lives like you’re changing yours. At some point you have to be strong enough to make decisions for you, even if everyone around you is tempting you to do otherwise, but let them know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Let them know you need their support and encouragement. My husband is without a doubt the most supportive, encouraging, motivating person in my life. He arranges his schedule so I can make sure to get my exercising in. He passes up things he knows will tempt me when I’m trying to avoid them, and he tells me often how proud he is of my accomplishments. I couldn’t have done this without him cheering me on, and making sacrifices to help me succeed. The fun side-effect is that we’re now a much more active couple. We still love to go out to eat and watch movies on dates, but now we also go hiking together, work out together, ski, snowshoe, backpack together. We have so many active hobbies now and that has been awesome.
If you’re starting from zero, don’t try to drastically change everything all at once. I was notorious for this. Out of the blue, I’d make a huge goal, “I’m gonna lose 30 lbs by my vacation in 8 weeks!” “I’m going to workout for 2 hours every day!” “And eat no sugar! And only salad!” Sheesh. No wonder that never lasted more than about 7 days. When I first started training, my only responsibility was to exercise every day and eat about 1500 calories, keeping track of my food. That made it easy. I could manage that alone. After a few weeks, when those things were habit, we added more. Increasing the intensity of my workouts, focusing more on what I was eating, etc. If you want long-term success, I suggest starting with a few basic things that you know you can manage. It will help you develop good habits that you can actually stick with and make you feel successful.
When I had my first meeting with my trainer, I expected long list of certain foods I was to eat and not eat. Surely there was some top-secret miracle trainer diet that I would finally get to see. Nope. My only responsibility: log my food. When it comes to nutrition people make it so much harder than it needs to be. The math is simple. Every day you burn a certain amount of calories, an you intake a certain number of calories. If you eat about the same amount that you burn, you maintain your wait. If you eat more than you burn, you gain weight. If you eat less than you burn, you lose weight. 3500 calories = 1 pound. If you want to lose 1 pound each week, you need to have a deficit of 3500 calories, or 500 calories per day. Keep track of what you eat, religiously. I use MyFitnessPal. It makes it ridiculously easy to know where you stand. You might feel frustrated that you don’t have a lot of time to exercise, or you don’t have a gym membership, or you simply don’t have the energy to work out as you’d like to. The one thing you have 100% complete control over, is what you put into your body. You control what you eat. You can manage that.
End the mindless eating. If you’re going to snack, don’t stick your hand in the bag of crackers and munch away. Look at the serving size, count them out, and write it down. Invest in a Food Scale. Be aware of portion sizes and know exactly what you’re putting into your body. It takes effort sometimes to calculate the calories in a recipe and figure out the serving size, but take the time if you’re serious about weight loss. You can still enjoy good, indulgent foods, if you can learn to do it in moderation. My birthday last year was during a time where I was trying hard to lose weight. Instead of a big cake and ice cream binge, I made mini Somoa Cheesecakes. With all the good stuff: real butter, full-fat cream cheese, whipped cream, and creamy ganache. They were perfectly delicious, fit into my daily calorie needs, and I invited over some friends so I wouldn’t have leftovers; it was perfect.
Avoid Extremes. I would say that any diet that completely eliminates any food group is one to stay away from. Trust me: you don’t need to go crazy. You don’t need to go on a no-sugar no-carb low calorie blitz or any other weird thing that promises you’ll lose 10 pounds that week. Sure you might lose weight, but at what cost? (Including your sanity). Focus on things that are long-lasting. That’s why I finally, after all of these years, I feel like I have my nutrition in check. Is it perfect? No way. I do stupid things and eat way too much all the time. Just last Friday night I went out to an awesome restaurant and demolished a 16oz ribeye. 16 ounces. Do you know how big that is?? (It tasted like heaven. Amazing cow heaven.) But I correct it. I do better the next day. I find that if I make good choices 80% of the time, and live actively, then that allows plenty of wiggle room to still eat things I love (like dessert.) I’m going to dive further into nutrition on my post tomorrow on The Scoop (okay, not tomorrow because we’re having a technical issue with The Scoop- but soon!), so if you’re interested in this topic, check that out.
I talked about this in my Fitness post, so I won’t repeat too much. Dieting and cardio will only get you so far. You will absolutely lose weight that way, but chances are good that you’ll end up in that state people lovingly refer to as “Skinny Fat”. If you want to be fit, strong, and lean, you need to build muscle. You’ll lose weight and inches faster, and burn more calories while you’re doing nothing! The minute I started weight training, the weight melted off.
This was a big turning point for me, and I’d say it was key to why I had been unsuccessful with my weight loss and fitness so many times before, and why this time was different. My trainer taught me to work out differently. He taught me to be comfortable in the weight room. To lift heavy. As I did, I saw my body transform. I saw definition in places I had never seen without flab (like that arm and shoulder below).
When I first saw this picture (below, upper) from that infamous trip a few years ago, my first thought was, “Sheesh. I guess I don’t ever look at my back. Does it seriously look like that??”
And then I had the exact same reaction when I saw the photos below it, snapped just a few days ago. “I guess I don’t ever look at my back. Does it seriously look like that?? Are those muscles?”
I can’t emphasize this enough. The real key to my success when it comes to fitness is that I stopped exercising like a girl. Don’t be scared of the weight room. Get in there and lift. If you can do 12-15 reps and not struggle by the last one, you can probably try something heavier. Keep going until it’s really hard at the end. Stay at that weight until you conquer it and then slowly increase. Cardio is still important, and your diet is important. It’s finding the balance of all 3 of those things that will give you the magic combination.
I have such a love-hate relationship with my scale. My trainer, on more than one occasion, has instructed me to hide it on the top shelf of my closet for a few weeks. DO weigh yourself. That’s important. One of the reasons I got so far off track a few years ago was because I literally refused to weight myself. I had absolutely no clue how much I weighed because I didn’t want to know! Weighing yourself regularly will help you keep things in check. That being said, DON’T be a slave to the scale. It’s not the only indication of what’s going on.
(That’s a Special K Scale, I admit I kind of like those cheesy commercials.)
Just because the numbers aren’t moving, doesn’t mean that that you aren’t making progress. One of the many reasons a trainer has been helpful to me is that I don’t just stand on a scale. Every 3 weeks we do measurements, where we measure with a tape measure pinch the fat, etc. Those numbers don’t lie! Combined with the number on the scale, you can see exactly what’s happening, like last December, when I was depressed I only lost 1 pound all month, but after measurements I could see that I gained 3 pounds of solid muscle. That explained why my weight didn’t change much, but my clothes fit better and I felt so great. Try weighing yourself once a week, on the same day and stick to that. And don’t freak out if you worked really hard and the scale doesn’t show it. Over time, if you’re doing the right things, it will reflect that.
Without a doubt, the key to my success being long-lasting this time, is that I figured out a way to simply live a balanced life. People are constantly asking how I stay fit when I’m obviously cooking lots of treats and indulging in good food often. The key is balance and moderation.
When you live actively, there’s room in life for good food. I love food. I always have and always will. I don’t live life on a constant diet anymore. I eat normal food, I just eat reasonable amounts of it. And I live actively. My entire family is more active now. We love exploring the world around us, and getting in exercise while having fun together.
I have so much more energy for my kids now, and I enjoy opportunities to have fun while also being healthy.
I’ve taken up so many new hobbies with my stronger body. My husband I love to ski, hike, play sports, backpack, and snow shoe. The best exercise is the kind disguised as a hobby!
Don’t quit. Don’t make excuses. No if’s, and’s or but’s about it.
See what I did there? And yes, I did just post a close up of my butt on the internet. There’s a first for everything. Seriously though. If you make a goal, follow through, but don’t let a bad day (or two, or three, or 10) make you quit. If you feel lost right now, find yourself. Out of control? Get in control. My entire journey has been 2 steps forward, one step back; the point is that you continue to move in the right direction. I think that’s normal. It’s impossible to be perfect, so don’t expect it of yourself. If you get off track, get back on track. You’re stronger than you think and you CAN do it! Getting fit and learning to better live a healthy lifestyle has changed my life for the better, and not just in a physical sense. Yes it’s nice to feel comfortable in my own skin, but it’s also very mentally and emotionally empowering to master something that’s been haunting you. If you want to change, do it. Be extraordinary. Finish it.
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below- I’ll do my best to keep on top of them and answer them all. I also love hearing YOUR stories! If you have any tips and advice of your own, please leave a comment and share. There’s lots of people out there looking for inspiration!