When my middle school cross-country team gave out awards at the end of the season, I received the “Bottomless Pit” award for my impressive appetite. One summer in high school, I dominated a challenge called “The Dynamite Dozen” that consisted of eating 12 bowls of ice cream. In college, an entire fraternity knew me as “Butters.” I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say I didn’t not drunkenly eat plain butter. For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked to eat and I like to eat a lot.
At my college graduation in May 2013, I was 20 pounds more than I was when I began college. That might not sound like a lot, but on my 5’1” frame, it was. For that first year out of college, my weight hovered around that place. I ordered takeout multiple times a week, I drank like a fish, and I didn’t workout once the entire winter – and in Chicago, winter is approximately seven months. I was puffy and depressed, and I was unbelievably uncomfortable in my own skin.
When I stopped drinking in June 2014 and was searching for a healthy way to unwind, I started running again. Obviously, when you replace entire bottles of wine with jogs around Chicago, it does really great things for your figure and your confidence. I started shedding all that weight (30 pounds in total) and for the first time, I felt really good about myself. That was three years ago, and I’m happy to report I’ve kept that weight off in a healthy way. However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. These are the biggest things I’ve learned in my (almost) three year journey of weight loss and self-love, and the things I still have to remind myself of daily.
Counting calories can be extremely addictive.
When I started logging my meals and exercise into the app MyFitnessPal, it was eye opening. I realized I must’ve been going over my recommended daily calorie goal for years, and I was determined to start staying within the new caloric goal I was given. That meant logging every tablespoon of salad dressing, every gram of fruit, and even things like cough drops and Emergen-C. Sometimes, I would go for a run just so that MyFitnessPal would tell me I had enough calories for dinner and I wouldn’t go over my goal. Guys, that’s nuts.
I realized that counting calories and logging food was taking away from just enjoying my days and my meals. It’s easy to get addicted to it – after all, it’s math and it works – but it can also quickly make your life miserable. As soon as I started eating intuitively and lightening up on MyFitnessPal, I was a lot happier (and much more satisfied!).
Exercise should never be a punishment.
I already mentioned that sometimes I would workout so that I could enjoy a good meal later. I did it backwards too – if I overdid it at dinner with friends or on a date, I would make myself work out for an hour longer than usual the following day. Often, I’d cut back calories the following day as well to “make up” for the treat I had.
No, no, no, no, no! Just writing this out for the first time makes me cringe. You do not need to punish yourself for being human and enjoying “junk” foods. These foods help keep you sane… enjoy them and move on. Most importantly, exercise should be a way to show your body that you freaking LOVE it. Run because you want to move your legs, get some endorphins, and let off some steam. Do yoga because you want to keep your body limber and ache-free. Lift weights because you want to feel strong and capable. Exercise to show your body that you respect it and want to take care of it – after all, you only get one.
Food is fuel.
I know this is an overused mantra in the trendy fitness industry, but viewing food in this way really helped change how I approached it. In my unhealthier days, I viewed food as something I ate purely for enjoyment. That meant mac & cheese, pizza, chips, fries, wings… anything and everything. I had no concept of portion sizes or macro and micronutrients. Once I started losing weight, I was all about calories. Everything in my fridge was “low fat” or “zero calorie” or “fat free.” Basically, I had a kitchen full of weird frankenfood with ingredient lists I couldn’t pronounce.
I was overthinking it. My body wanted real food, the end. Real peanut butter isn’t scary. Avocados aren’t a crazy treat. Fresh fruit is always more satisfying than a 100-calorie pack, and almonds aren’t “more calories than they’re worth.” Our bodies run on the food we give them, and I want mine to run smoothly for a long time. Getting rid of [most of] the processed junk was the best thing I ever did.
Health looks different on everyone.
I love fitspiration on Instagram as much as the next girl, but you must must must remember that everyone’s body is different. I whittled my way down to a very low weight and still had a stomach pooch. I did more cardio and counted every calorie and still had my trademark cankles. Guys, don’t fight your natural body shape. Eat good, healthy foods and do exercise you love. Don’t try to starve or run your way to a Kayla Itsines body! Health looks so different on everyone, and your ultimate fitspiration should be a healthy, happy YOU.
If it’s not sustainable, screw it.
Running six miles a day and eating 1,200 calories will make you lose weight, I should know. However, that’s also incredibly unsustainable and, frankly, miserable. If you’re going to bed hungry every night and you feel like you’re dragging your body to the gym, you’re doing something wrong. You might meet a short-term goal, but you will not have long-term, healthy success. What is the point of doing something that you can’t do day in and day out? I know that when I restricted myself too aggressively and felt hungry all the time, I would end up binging hard in a matter of time. I felt like I was constantly white knuckling it or I’d “lose control.” I’d much rather lose 10 pounds over a year than a month if it’s going to be gone for good.
At the end of the day, I think the ultimate test of a diet and exercise routine is this: does it add to your life? It should make you feel confident, good in your skin, strong, capable, and healthy. It shouldn’t make you feel deprived, neurotic, or miserable. As cliché as it sounds… listen to your body. Eat because you love it. Exercise because you love it. You need your body to last you a long time – the sooner you befriend it, the better.