Sunday, February 10, 2013

Warning: Fat Kid Running

For as long as I can remember, I have been acutely aware of my weight compared to those around me. I recall my little, petite friends in the fourth and fifth grades; I remember being the slowest kid in middle school P.E., and getting picked last for teams. In high school, not much changed, except for the fact that I found my niche in band...I found a place to belong with a teacher who ultimately affected my career path by convincing me that I was fully capable of pursuing a music degree.

Fast forward to college. I think I actually lost a little weight at first, since I was walking all over campus every day, and I lived on the third floor of a dorm without an elevator. Once grad school hit and I moved into my first apartment, however, I became lazy; fast food and studying on the couch became a way of life. Once Andy & I got married, the fast food consumption curbed somewhat, but the trend of sitting a lot continued, because I began work on my PhD. I didn't think I had time to do anything but study!

For years I fed myself vicious lies which eventually destroyed my self-esteem--I'm not good enough to succeed at my goals, nobody could possibly want to be my friend, I don't deserve to be healthy and happy--and I think that a great deal of my self-abuse stemmed from deep insecurity with my own body, and just festered from there. This all came to a head around July/August 2012, and I realized that I had to do something to change my attitude toward myself, and I started with focusing on how I could nurture my body. Though I wanted to make huge changes right away, I quickly found that I had to take small steps into a healthier lifestyle, rather than jumping in head-first, getting frustrated, and quitting when I didn't see results immediately. It's human nature, I suppose. 

Before this summer I never felt capable of exercising because I have became accustomed to living life as the slow, chubby kid (and what budding academic has time for that crap, anyway)?, it turns out. First, I began practicing yoga a few days a week. Yoga is something I've enjoyed sporadically for the past 4-5 years. I even took classes for a few months, but never practiced consistently; however, it was in those classes that I realized I'd finally found a physical activity I felt capable of doing (and even enjoying)! I may not be able to do some of the crazy, pretzel-like poses, but it still makes me feel good. It was on my mat that the seed of self-respect was finally planted.

The next step was figuring out what cardio exercise was going to work for me. Andy & I started walking around our neighborhood, which was nice because it was something we could do together that didn't involve sitting on the couch. Then toward the end of July I thought, "Hmm. I wonder what would happen if I tried to run?" Of course, that also made me wonder if the heat was getting to me or something, but I researched beginner running plans, and kept putting off starting for various reasons. I think I was a bit embarrassed to be a fat kid running; that changed one morning when Andy went to school for a while, and I decided to just go for it. I alternated 60 seconds of running with 4 minutes of walking, and it was TERRIBLE: I thought that my lungs were going to explode, and every pore in my body was pouring out sweat. But something strange happened: once I was done, I felt great, and actually wanted to continue the torture later in the week. I couldn't believe that I'd actually gotten my lazy butt off the couch to run! When Andy came home and asked me about my day, I casually mentioned that I ran; rather than the "pffft, really?!" that I was expecting, his response was, "why didn't you wait for me?" I had no idea that he would be willing to give it a try too. Exercise and health were topics we never discussed, and now they are quickly becoming things we focus on together. Anyway...I continued to slowly add to my running time and subtract walking time, and reached my first goal of running for 20 minutes straight at the beginning of November. It was such a great feeling; that day, I realized how little credit I had been giving my body, and how much it is capable of doing. It was (and still is) a very slow process, but I'm in it for the long haul now. I wasn't consistent at all during the holidays, and even took almost a month off from running at one point, but I'm now less than a mile away from my next big goal: a 5k.

A component that we are now starting to incorporate is strength training. Both of us did pretty well at slowly taking off weight during the fall semester, just by getting a bit of cardio and paying close attention to what we were stuffing in our faces, but now we've both been sitting on a plateau for a couple of months, which is a little frustrating. Hopefully building some lean muscle through body-weight exercises will help shift our body composition in the right direction, and get us back on track. We're still experimenting, but perhaps when we find routines that work for us, we'll post about them.

So, where does nutrition fall into all of this? Right now, we're focused on creating meals and snacks that incorporate as many whole foods as possible, and keeping the processed carbs to a minimum. We are not cutting out grains and starches entirely, but are focused on eating whole grains in sensible portions (whole grain crackers, oatmeal, brown rice, etc.), eating quality proteins (such as Greek yogurt, eggs, beans/legumes/nuts, and seafood), and getting as many veggies as we can. For me, I've found that consuming large amounts of fruit does not work well--too much sugar. This whole nutrition thing is something that we are still learning about and experimenting with, but I imagine I will post some about our changing relationship with food, and share some of the recipes we like.

I think the most important lesson I've learned so far is that I am a work in progress, and that I'm strong and capable of succeeding. It has been (and will be) a long journey, but I truly believe that I can do it: that BOTH of us can. I don't know if anyone will ever read this, but if you are out there wondering whether you can make a positive change for your mind and body, you CAN do it. If I can, anyone can! Find someone who can be your "support group." It really does help when you have someone pushing you to be better, and encouraging you when you temporarily lose focus. Take it one day at a time, and don't become obsessed with your "big" goal: focus on the little successes along the way, such as consistently going for that evening walk, having to buy pants a size smaller, or finding muscles you didn't realize you had!

Life is short, and you only get one body. Make sure the journey is a healthy one.

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