Before I dive into my past health journey, I’d like to begin by stating my honest feeling about body image, weight, and self-esteem:
The number on my scale is how much I weigh. That number matters in terms of health reasons, but beyond that it is simply a number. That number does not represent my happiness, my joy, how pretty I am, how fun I am, how others view me, or what my God thinks of me. That number does not justify my personality or my identity.
I love who I am as a person. When I look at my life, I am beyond grateful for all my blessings: my husband, my faith, my family, my pup, my home, my career, my tribes, and so much more. I believe I am a good person who cares not only about her loved ones but also those in my world I have never met. I look at Life with a positive attitude and thank the Lord for every second He allows me to experience it.
This understanding of my weight and this thankfulness for my Life does not diminish the fact that I am human though. I grew up with an unhealthy body image. I cannot tell you a definitive moment when I became aware of my body’s imperfections and grew self-conscious of my weight, but I have memories of comments on my weight from an early age. Those negative references followed me through puberty, into high school, and beyond my university studies. I’ve only fallen in love with myself in recent years, but I remember vividly the years where I neither loved the person I was nor the person I saw in the mirror.
Fumbling through high school as a socially-awkward honor student, the majority of my wardrobe included baggy hoodies and flared jeans to hide my body. Images from those awkward years are of a girl with a fake smile and poor posture, hiding behind her friends like they were shields to the camera. I half-heartedly participated in sports for the sheer benefit of socializing with my teammates — I attended a small, parochial school where academics and extra curricular activities were commonly shared among students. I held no love for exercise though, and by my senior year had ended all participation in lieu of working part-time to save some money for college.
When I went to college I gained the typical Freshman Fifteen, plus some. By my junior year (2012) I was having a difficult time fitting into my size 14 jeans (I reached 210lb) and lacked the funds to purchase another size up to stock my closet. Instead, I took this as a sign for change and enrolled in Weight Watchers. I lost eleven pounds within my first month on the program simply by tracking what I ate and becoming more aware of healthy vs. unhealthy food options — a difficult feat for a full-time college student commuting an hour to and from school while working two part-time jobs. As I watched my weight drop, I felt the first surge of pride I had ever felt in myself. I was doing something specifically for me, and I was succeeding.
And I realized I could do more.
Though I hate to admit it, feeling self-pride was a new experience for me at this time. I am typically a very self-critical individual, and had an unhealthy view on my successes — I could not take a compliment or feel contentment for an achievement; I always believed there was more room for improvement. However, this new emotion of pride stirred something within me. And I wanted more of those happy butterflies… so I decided to include exercise into the mix to accelerate my weight loss goals.
With my busy academic and work schedule, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly how to exercise though. I could not afford a gym membership, I couldn’t commit to any sort of sports leagues, and I had a hard time holding myself accountable to follow workout videos during my free time. Low and behold, as I scratched my head at the possibilities, a friend posted about the local running group offering its first Couch to 5k training program. As I looked deeper into the program, I saw the fee was only $20 for eight weeks of coached training to get someone who has never ran (aka ME) across the finish line of a 3.1 mile race. The schedule required weekly group runs on Saturday mornings which did not conflict with either of my jobs and provided the accountability I desired, plus offered weekly group runs as individuals were available. It took me only an hour to think on this possibility before signing up.
My first C25k training began March 2013, and I ran (completely ran) my first 5k in May 2013. Not only did I get those happy butterflies as I crossed the finish line, but I earned praise from my new friends and training mates which encouraged me to stick with the sport. By August 2013 I ran (completely again) my first half marathon in the wine country of Michigan. Not only was I bettering my mental state by achieving daily endorphins, but I lost nearly 60 pounds. I felt incredible and I looked good. I had never felt so empowered.
I continued to run and eat healthy for several years. I dropped as low as 148 pounds (21.1 BMI, 18% body fat) in 2014 and settled around 160 pounds and 23% body fat long-term. Though I initially lost weight and gained health through good intentions of feeling better, eating healthier, and beginning to exercise, my habits became a bit obsessive after awhile.
At the same time I found that I was suffering from poor spiritual health as well. I was living the bar-fly lifestyle, focused solely on earthly pleasures. Growing up in a Christian household and being educated at a Lutheran school kindergarten through high school, I knew the Lord but was taking full advantage of His grace. I stopped going to church, I stopped praying, and I lacked a deep connection with the one, true Living Water.
I am not sure when my epiphany occurred, but one day as I was living this sad lifestyle I realized I no longer wanted to continue down the path I currently was walking. I remember sitting at my work desk, hanging my head, and asking God to come back into my life. I know He never actually left, but it was not until I reopened my heart to Him that my life seemed to get back on track. I joined a Bible study group, began attending weekly church services, and felt peace reenter my soul. The Bible study group, called House, became my family as I grew more and more involved, eventually leading me to step into a leadership position with the group.
With a renewed spiritual health, I began to look at Life differently. I recognized that my physical, mental, and emotional health needed a lot of work in order to reach my full potential. I remained at a low weight but not due to fulfilling means. So as I continued to grow spiritually, I put more focus on bettering all areas of my life as well. Not only did I work to strengthen my body, but also my mind and relationships. As I bettered myself, I witnessed new tribes evolving around me. When I once relied on my own will to build myself, I now leaned on those around me and my building bricks were all the stronger. I recognized and I thanked my new support systems — I was not alone in this adventure.
Summer of 2015 I decided to register for Disney World’s Glass Slipper Challenge happening in February 2016. This challenge is a back-to-back race weekend: a 10k held on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. As I began training for the challenge I incorporated yoga into my weekly routine and followed a Whole30 paleo diet. My mind became clearer, my body fitter, and my attitude happier. I was once again able to look in the mirror and love the girl smiling back at me. My parents joined me in a week’s vacation to Disney, and I completed the races strong. Three medals, two races, and one very joyful girl.
As I move through every new year, I marvel at how Life ebbs and flows. 2016 was a year of many ups and downs. Only months after this huge feat, I lost my mentor. A beautiful individual, Denise not only inspired my love for event planning and charity work, but her loss left my life a bit darker than before. I had never experienced death in my life and her passing was abrupt and I fell into a depression. To make up for her absence, I jumped into activity after activity, allowing limited personal time to breathe. During this time I was also floundering in a stressful job. I suffered daily migraines that eventually resulted in black outs — once while driving. I mustered the strength to walk out but entered into a few weeks of job searching, endless tears, and questioning my future. Then, as I finally landed a stable job, my two-year boyfriend broke my heart, my dog died, and my best friend ghosted me. Within the course of a few months my life was turned topsy-turvy. What I once thought was my lowest point towered above me as I hit my true rock bottom.
Yet God is good! My emotional health was depleted, but the progress of strengthening all other aspects of my life over the past few years allowed for a solid foundation to rebuild. I lived and I learned. And I prayed. A lot. I prayed for silence during the night, sunshine during the day, and love in every facet of my being.
And God provided.
With encouragement from my close friends and advice of my physician, the imbalance of my mental chemistry was corrected and Life continued to progress upward. Though difficult at the time, in retrospect I view this period of my life as a turning point. I relied heavily on my loved ones and God as I maneuvered myself into a better direction of Life. Within a few months I began dating Grant (G), fell head-over-heals, married, and bought our first house. I began a new career along the lines of my college degree, and I learned how to say “no” to opportunities.
Adoring my career, my husband, and Life in general, there still seemed to be something a bit off with my health. I had experienced a considerable amount of weight gain since 2017. Along with the increased pounds came fatigue, daily cramps, and digestive issues as well. In Spring 2019 I decided enough was enough, and visited my physician for blood work and various other tests. Over the course of 2019, I was diagnosed with IBS, an intolerance to gluten, and a hormonal imbalance. I continue to fight a few of these issues, but having answers has allowed me to understand not everything happening inside my body is within my control.
But I still want to put up a battle in whatever capacity I’m able.
I have spent the last year learning what my body can and cannot handle. I keep a diet journal and track my intakes. I’ve discovered I cannot eat more than a serving containing gluten without feeling ill, tired, and heavy. That little tyrant wrecks my gut, sometimes causing me to double up in pain as cramps hit me. I’ve learned that gluten hides in so many odd products — such as soy sauce, ice creams, and even supplements and vitamins! — and I’ve had to teach myself to do research prior to grocery shopping. I still struggle from time to time, but overall I’ve gotten decent at choosing gluten-free options.
The worst part of this entire journey hasn’t been the tedious research or immobilizing symptoms though. No, it has been the blow to my self-esteem. My wardrobe has grown in size, literally — I have totes in the basement of size small blouses and size 6 jeans waiting for a body I may never have again. I feel shame at the mere glimpse of my reflection. I even make excuses to remain home, something my once-extroverted self would have scoffed at doing. I had worked so hard to get my body into peak condition only years before, and now here I sit, unmotivated, at my heaviest weight ever.
Knowing I did not want to go (or grow) any further down this path, I figured it was about time to pull myself out of my slump. With my digestive issues mostly ironed out and a rejuvenated sense of motivation, I felt ready to change my lifestyle a bit to accommodate better eating habits and implement daily working out.
Which brings me where I am now.
During my December 2019 holiday break, I began to create a game plan for 2020. A new decade, a new year, and a new view on my health! Since the beginning of 2020, I have joined a running group, bought a treadmill, enrolled in a CrossFit box, and increased my daily movement. I am still struggling with my eating habits though, especially with being isolated inside due to coronavirus. So the future “badashery” posts are my plan to hold myself more accountable. I want to become more disciplined with my food options, eat cleaner, and remain consistent with my daily workouts.
I’ve got a personal goal set that I feel will be challenging but I KNOW I can do it — run the Wine 13.1 Half Marathon on Sunday, August 16, 2020.
This is a process of progress, and I will be learning every day.
I would love to connect with you and hear about your own personal health journey. I am a huge proponent for setting personal goals, but also for creating support systems to encourage and motivate you to excel towards those goals. I’d love to be part of your cheering tribe! Best wishes, my friend.