My Real and Raw Fitness Journey
When I tell people I’m a certified personal trainer, they often assume I’ve been training forever, and think I probably can’t relate to what they are going through. I rarely discuss my personal journey with health and wellness, but it’s important we share our stories. Your struggles and past failures do not define you, but they can inspire someone else to keep working and not give up.
I was never an athletic child. My parents didn’t have time to take me to sports, I wasn’t in clubs and my neighborhood was fairly small, so it didn’t require much biking to get to my friend’s houses. I detested P.E. and would walk the slowest mile I could. We are talking a smooth 25 minute mile. My parents were not much into fitness, either. While my dad was a boxer for a brief period, and had converted our garage into a gym, he rarely used it.
I was a typical teenage girl. I always feared gaining weight, restricted my food and thought I was overweight. In highschool I was a healthy weight, but struggled with major body dysmorphia (an inability to see yourself as you are). My parents hyper focused on my appearance and I spent years taking diet pills to keep my weight down. Right after graduating high school I began working out. I would bike ride and use the weight lifting equipment at my home. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but that didn’t stop me from training twice a day. Unfortunately, my only goal was to lose weight and after a month or 2 I gave up. This was in late 2007.
Not much changed from 2008-2011. I went to college. I drank and ate too much, and while I only put on maybe a few pounds in those years, I was still always unhappy with my body and very self conscious. Then in 2011 I fell down a flight of stairs at work and fractured my spine. I was barely able to walk and had to wear a back brace. While I did physical therapy, I never fully recovered and went through many periods of almost complete inactivity due to pain.
By 2014, the pain was almost constantly unbearable, and my activity levels lessened. As someone working in the theatre field at the time, I had to move around a lot, but any time work didn’t require it, I was sitting.
Come the end of 2015, this is when my metabolism slowed down, my inactivity increased and the weight started to come on. The more the weight was added on, the more self conscious I became and the less time I wanted to spend with people and be out, which only made the pain worse and more weight got added on. This is when my binge eating began.
From 2015-2018 I suffered from binge-eating disorder. While I ate normal and somewhat healthy throughout the day, at night everything changed. I worked long days. Some days I’d work 12-16 hours at the theatre and I’d get off work at 1-2am. I’d be so stressed from work and so depressed about my life, I’d stop by Walmart almost every night and pick up a feast for myself. If not Walmart, I’d stop by a local drive thru. I’d tell myself I was just starving, but the reality was that I was trying to fill a void in my life with food. This pattern continued through May 2018, and by then I had put on roughly 60 pounds from 2014 and my back pain was so intolerable from the added weight, I couldn’t do many activities. I couldn’t even walk through a park or a museum without being in so much pain I’d end up in the bathroom crying.
In May 2018, though, everything changed. I was finally able to get a back procedure to reduce the pain and I got a job with a theatre company in California for 4 months. While I was nervous for my job in California, I was so excited for a change and a chance to start over. The back procedure worked immediately and I could walk again without pain. By the time I got to California I was ready for new adventures. I didn’t know anyone, so I would go on hikes at the many parks near my home. I was so excited to do something I hadn’t been able to do for years, and it inspired me to do even more.
The company I work for in California even provided their employees with a free gym membership to the local health club and I began working out a few days a week there, and still took my regular hikes. While I only did cardio and basically the elliptical machine at the gym, I noticed progress within a few weeks. My energy levels were higher, my body started feeling stronger and by the end of my contract in CA (4 months later), I had lost about 15 pounds.
Come October 2018, and arriving back to DC where I spend the rest of my year, I was still inspired to keep working out and making progress. I noticed that the binge eating had stopped and I was logging my meals into a tracking app and educating myself on what I was eating. One of the biggest struggles I faced was actually understanding what I was consuming. Food education in school can be quite lacking in most areas. I had no idea about the way to make a balanced meal of carbs, protein and fats. I found I was almost always low in protein. I also realized that on those binging nights I was consuming 1800-2000 calories in that one sitting and that was about the number of calories I should be eating in a day! For more on balancing your meals or learning about how many calories you should be eating, I did other blogs on those topics!
In October 2018 I also joined my first gym and began training 3-6 days a week. I would train around an hour each session and began trialing with weights and working on strength. Youtube and instagram became a great place to start learning, though ultimately I learned that I had a lot of form issues from following videos from fitness enthusiasts like myself instead of actual trainers. Tip: Make sure you are following the advice and videos from people who have actually learned proper form and engagement. For every 1 educated person, there's 10 uneducated ones with a huge social media presence.
From October 2018 - May 2019 I continued working full time and training 5-6 days a week. I had also learned a better diet for myself after a lot of food trials (I’ll be doing a full blog on my struggles with food and digestive health soon!)
In May 2019 I traveled back to California for another 4 month job. By this time I was down about 30 pounds total and feeling strong and healthy. I continued my training while I was gone and alternated between formal weight lifting sessions and outdoor hiking. My California life is very busy. While I didn’t have any changes in my weight, I was getting stronger and could see muscle growth. When I got back to DC in September 2019 I picked up my old routine and nothing changed until January 2020.
Come January I had been training the same way for a long period of time. I had definitely hit a plateau and wasn’t noticing any change happening. When you hit a plateau, it can be key to change up your routine. This is when I decided to do 75 Hard. If you’ve never heard of 75 Hard, I don’t recommend it to everyone, but it worked for me. Within the challenge you will spend 75 days testing your mental and physical stamina. You will train twice a day, everyday. One workout must be outdoors, but otherwise it could be as simple as a walk. You also have to drink a gallon of water a day, read 10 pages of nonfiction a day, stick to a diet you’ve set for yourself and take progress photos. You must do these tasks everyday or start over. I realize it’s quite a strict challenge and may not be for everyone, but I loved it. It forced me outside to explore new places and to this day, I go for a walk outside almost daily.
I started 75 Hard on March 3, 2010 and noticed my plateau had lifted almost immediately. I was training once a day at the gym and taking a walk everyday. I found so many great places to explore and was loving my new routine. Then the pandemic hit and gyms closed on March 18, 2020. I took this as a challenge and just began doing multiple walks a day. I’d walk to get my groceries, to drop off packages at UPS. I was a walking queen! I kept this up until April 16, 2020 when I fell ill with Covid-19.
I’ll probably do a separate blog at some point about my experience with covid, but I was not one of the lucky ones. Getting it has changed my life and almost 14 months later I still have long-covid symptoms that may never resolve. I was on bed rest through most of June, couldn’t get out to start walking until mid July, and didn’t get back to a somewhat normal energy level until mid August. It wasn’t until October that I felt strong enough to begin any kind of formal training again. From April - June I had put on all the weight I had lost from 75 Hard plus an extra 10 pounds. I was eating whatever I could keep down. Come June I wanted to feel healthier but couldn’t train and I became very focused on my nutrition. I went back to eating healthy balanced meals, started practicing daily yoga, and took leisurely walks and by October I had lost about 15 pounds.
On August 14, 2020, I also passed my NASM certified personal trainer exam. The downtime from weightlifting definitely gave me time to study. I then started my nutrition certification and by December 1, 2020 I was a certified nutrition coach. From December to June 2021 I have kept up the same routine. I take leisurely walks, practice yoga daily, lift weights a few times a week and I also do a physical therapy session almost daily to help with recovering from one of the many issues that arose from having Covid. I’m still not back to my old self, and may never get back there. It’s important for me to recognize my limitations and know when to rest.
2021 has been a fantastic year for my health, though. Despite the health struggles I continue to face and the daily challenges, I have such a good mindset towards exercise now. Prior to getting sick I was training way more than I needed to and put too much pressure on myself. Getting sick forced me to acknowledge what is actually important on my journey and give myself the flexibility I need to improve my physical health while making sure my mental health doesn’t decline. I can honestly say that my mental health is the best it’s ever been. I also no longer track my calories, exercise when it feels right and I have maintained my weight since January. The only goals I have for myself is to keep building strength and stamina, but I don’t feel the need to set dates, and will accomplish these goals as my body allows me to.
It’s so important that wherever you are on your journey, that you take the time to appreciate your body and what it can do. Cut yourself some slack and remember that physical health shouldn’t cost you your mental health. Find the balance that works for you and love yourself throughout the entire process.
Until next time… and remember fitness is for all!