Ginger is my new friend and fellow photographer (make that FITographer!). She has totally inspired me and I hope her story will do the same for you – we are all at different places in life and we’ve all gotten to our personal “unhealthy” places in different ways – it’s so great to know that we can also find our own path to FIT and HEALTHY!
I was always a very skinny child, a thin teenager and an average young adult. Then after our second child I never really lost all the weight I gained – which was a considerable amount. I might go on some crash diet and lose a few pounds but always gained it right back. I gained and lost the same 20 pounds several times. Through the years I would consider myself a “casual” exerciser. In other words, walking, maybe a little aerobics class here or there, but nothing too strenuous. I tried to run a couple of times but when my knees would start to hurt I would give up very quickly. I was never an athletic person, never played on one single sports team. I have always been uncoordinated and downright clumsy. This led to me becoming a real couch potato. My lifestyle had become extremely sedentary over the past few years, working a day job sitting at a desk then coming home and working on my photography business. Fattening food was my stress reliever, boredom-filler and friend. Both my husband and myself gained weight and lost energy. I always knew in the back of my mind I would have to make a drastic change for my health because I had developed high blood pressure and even on three medications it was still running on the high side. I was just reluctant to dive in whole-heartedly.
I remember very clearly looking in the mirror one day in 2011 and saying to myself, ” This is the best it will ever get, it’s all downhill from here. You are overweight, unhealthy and look bloated and tired all the time and nothing will ever change.” I really felt like my life was over because my kids were grown. I am not a mom who was anxious for my kids to grow up. I cherished every minute with them and know that raising those two exceptional people to serve God, be healthy happy people was a major purpose of my life. I was a run down middle aged woman feeling lost and not knowing where to go or how to change anything.
Then my friends started a Bible study called “Run for God”. It is a couch to 5K type program with Bible study. Even with all the pain I stuck with it (and used ice packs every night for the first several weeks.) The added component of scripture really helped me and I was able to complete the 5K at the end of three months, much to my surprise! At the beginning I could not run for more than 60 seconds at a time. This process showed me that I could push myself really hard and make gains in my fitness. But still I hadn’t lost any weight and could not see any real difference at all.
Then in Januaray 2012 I saw my son-in-law’s mom who I had not seen in at least a year. I could not get over how different she looked. She had been small at the wedding but now she looked so fit! I asked her what she was doing to build all that muscle and to be so lean. She told me she was doing P90X. I had sort of heard about it and seen a few minutes of an infomercial for it but it looked much too hard for me. But she is about my age so I thought maybe, just maybe I could do it too. I bought the program and started in. It is the hardest thing I have ever done physically. For some reason, I stuck with it, continued no matter how sore I was and completed the 90 day program. Then again, and again. Once I made it through the first time, something changed inside of me and I began to think of myself a little differently. I felt stronger and more determined than ever to complete some sort of transformation of my life, not just an exercise program. At the beginning of 2012 I had also decided to make some major nutritional changes. Not to go on a diet, but to change the way we eat – pretty drastically.
Where you are now? (how long did that take?) And do you have before/after pics you can share ?
It has been one year this week that I started P90X, which is when a real lifestyle change began. Now I still do portions of P90X but I have increased my running and am training for a half marathon in April. I am going to continue with some cross training so I don’t lose what small muscles I have. I still have areas that I am unhappy with. I have lost 35 pounds and gained some muscle. It took about 9 months for me to lose that amount of weight. Some months I would not lose anything and I was very faithful to nutrition and exercise. There were months that I hated the scale but when I paid more attention to how I felt and how my clothes fit, it was better. The scale is not always an accurate measure if you are building muscle.
What do you love best about your transformation?
Wow, where to begin? I really love everything about it. I feel better every day (except for a couple nagging injuries I am trying to rehab), I have more energy, I feel stronger. Surprisingly it has helped me with self-confidence and feeling more accomplished which are areas I am still working on. I like knowing that I started something and did not give up when the going got tough like I have always done previously. I don’t think of myself as a quitter any more and that means so much to me. I am able to do more physical work. I am looking forward to future mission trips where I know I will have increased stamina to work harder for the causes that mean the most to me. And something that sounds strange but means a lot to me is that my kids and my husband are proud of me. The day my 20 year old athlete of a son told me he was proud of me for getting fit meant so much to me! I like knowing that because I didn’t quit and give up I can now help to encourage others to stick it out and hang in there. Also, on a more shallow level, I always hated clothes shopping and now I actually like it and like to take care of myself. I have had to buy new clothes several times and gone from a size 12 or 14 to a 1/2. My original goal was a size 8 believe it or not. It took me a long time to actually believe what size I am now. I kept picking clothes up that were too big to try on. (I am sure people thought I was some crazy lady when I would come out of the dressing room repeatedly to just ask someone, ” Does this fit?” and then laugh in disbelief. I really thought the clothes were mis-labeled.) I still think of myself as a bigger person actually.
Any health benefits you’ve seen? any benefits for your family?
My blood pressure has gone down, my cholesterol has gone down and we all eat healthier now. My husband had lost weight also and now he is doing P90X and told me he is going to start running in the Spring. People who haven’t seen us in a while are always commenting on how young we look. For us at our age, we feel great about it!
Now to the nitty gritty…
All the gurus say “eat well and exercise” – this is so generic! what exactly did you do to transform?
I have already talked about what exercise I do, P90X and running. The other component of course is diet (nutrition). My husband and I both use myfitnesspal app on our iPhones. If you don’t have a smart phone you can use it on your computer. I highly recommend it because it makes it so easy to track all your calories, fats, carbs and nutrients. It’s so important to know what you are eating daily. We tell everyone about myfitnesspal. There are other calorie tracking apps this is just the one we chose. You can also scan the barcode on whatever you are eating and the database of foods is amazingly complete. It has lots and lots of restaurants and name brand, even store brand foods. I also tried to really educate myself on how many calories my body uses. There are formulas you can look up on the internet and use based on your lifestyle, age, weight and gender that give you a good idea of what your basal metabolic rate is. (Mine was as slow as a slug, but it’s getting better) More muscle means faster metabolism. Overall, I tried to educate myself on what exactly “healthy” food is and how to eat it while getting ride of junk food. It is still a learning process.
What did you eat (maybe a typical day’s menu)?
A typical day of food for me includes a healthy breakfast which usually is egg whites and a slice of whole wheat toast with a piece of fruit, or oatmeal with fruit and ground flaxseed. We do need healthy fats so I use flax seed and chia seeds which are high in Omega 3′s. I really like to put a little Tabasco Chipotle on my egg whites. They are surprisingly good that way. Oh and of course black coffee. Then I try to eat a snack a little while after that of fruit and some sort of protein. Maybe a piece of string cheese or almonds. I must admit, I don’t always eat every 2-3 hours like they say you should. I am working on that. Lunch is usually whatever we had for supper the night before or a baked sweet potato and some veggies and maybe non-fat Greek yogurt and salad. I bake about 4 or 5 sweet potatoes at a time and then just put them in the fridge. You really don’t even need butter if you sprinkle a little cinnamon on them They are one of my favorite foods. For supper, I make something low in fat, along with a big salad. I have found lots of really delicious healthy recipes at skinnytaste.com. You should check it out if you haven’t. I eat very little bread now. At the beginning I missed bread so much because I was addicted to that kind of carb. It did take several weeks, maybe 3 months, but unbelievably what they say is true. If you feed your body good nutrient dense food, gradually you will quit craving the bad stuff. I was totally addicted to chocolate and everyone who has ever known me knows that! One of my favorite sayings was “Chocolate – It’s not just for breakfast any more!” I still like and eat it occasionally but it is a special treat, not one of my major food groups. The same thing applies with chips. There are some things I just can not bring in the house. Pringles are kryptonite to me. I can not withstand the allure of them. So, I just don’t every buy them. I have not had a Pringle in over a year. I used to eat one can in two sittings. Many times on the same day. Yikes! I walk very quickly by them in the store so their siren song does not pull me in. On non exercising days I eat about 1200 calories and then I up the calories on exercise days based on how many calories I burned during exercise. I try not to go below 1200 but to be honest, I don’t always get quite enough. If you eat a lot of veggies and lean protein, you would be surprised by the quantity you can eat and still remain under your target calorie goal. I am hardly ever hungry when eating right. The other thing I eat a lot of now that I didn’t even know existed before is quinoa. It is a seed and is a complete food. It has protein, healthy fats and is so tasty when prepared properly. I use it in place of rice in recipes and as a side dish.
What did you do in the gym?
My house and sidewalks and running trails are my gym. I really would like to join a gym in the near future. What I really want to do is crossfit! Have you seen those women? I just can’t seem to afford to pay the price for a crossfit gym membership. I keep hoping one will want to show that middle aged women can do it and sponsor me. haha But really, I am proof that you don’t need a gym membership to get in shape. You just need the motivation to stick with a strenuous exercise routine. I like pushing myself and don’t need the presence of others to spur me on. Actually, at the beginning I was glad I was alone because I would not want anyone seeing how I was floundering around or laying on the floor crying at the end. I didn’t even want anyone seeing me running because I felt like I was just, well, bouncing along if you know what I mean. (As an aside – ladies, if this is a problem for you, wear 2 sports bras at the same time. I did that for a long time just to hold everything in place). I like the solitude of running also. It’s a great time to be outside in nature. I am always so thankful to be running outside in God’s creation. Someday I want to go for a run in the mountains or by the ocean.
What might a typical day’s schedule look like for you?
I am self employed so my day varies if I have a photo shoot or am editing. I prefer to exercise during the lunch hour but since my husband has been doing P90X we sometimes do it together in the morning before he goes to work.
How did you deal with meal planning for a family? as we find often kids reject our new healthy foods like brown rice, fish and asparagus.
I admit I am a bad meal planner. It is something I struggle with even still. My kids are grown so I don’t have to worry about what they like. Our college aged son still lives at home but he eats what I cook or he eats what he makes for himself at this point. He is very health conscious and works out and eats better than most 20 year old guys but he still – he is a college kid who is on the go a lot.
What is your best strategy for dealing with cravings for the “bad” stuff? (chocolate, soda)
Soda is one thing that I had cut out of my diet before any of the other changes. I worked at a dental office and saw the effect of the acid and sugar on teeth every day and did not want to ruin my teeth. Years ago I was addicted to Diet Coke but once I quit bringing it into the house the cravings diminished. We had quit drinking it when we went out to eat because we couldn’t afford to eat out often so when we did we had to be frugal. Soft drinks add a lot of unnecessary expense to your bill. (I am a tighwad too.)
Chocolate, well that’s another story. As I mentioned, I am, or was, a bona fide chocaholic. For several months I brought nothing into the house that was chocolate and refused to give in to the temptation at the check out line for that oh so yummy Dove Dark Chocolate. After a while the cravings actually did go away and now I can buy a chocolate bar, eat a little and put the rest away. (Most of the time.)
Did you find ways to deal with stress without turning to food? No one can be perfect 100% of the time… Do you allow treats or splurges or do they happen unwillingly?
I would be lying if I said I never turn to food when I am stressed out. Our daughter and her family are moving to Nicaragua to be missionaries in a few months. The thought of that distance between us (we are very close) has caused me to reach for the fatty salty thing now and again. I don’t give in very often though. I find that when I am tempted under normal circumstances, I think about the calories in the food and how many miles I would have to run to burn that off. It’s about 90-100 calories per mile so it’s easy to figure. But mainly, I have really tried to look at food in a new way. I try to think of overall health and think of food as fuel. I want to give my body good fuel so it can be efficient, not artificial junk food that is going to clog it up, slow it down and make it feel and look bad. The consistent thought process of food as fuel has helped me more than anything.
How do you get back on track if you had a not so great day with food/exercise?
I repeat the Tony Horton line, “Do your best and forget the rest.” When I mess up, I know tomorrow is a new day and I can start again.
Do you take supplements? anything to boost energy?
I just take a daily vitamin and that is all.
Any other advice you’d give for someone starting to get fit? or someone who’s lost motivation along the way?
If I could say anything at all, I would say, don’t be afraid to jump in whole heartedly and commit to being a healthier you no matter what your age. Realize that it will take time, there is no quick fix, magic diet pill or sprinkles that will change your entire life. A lifestyle change and new mindset is the only way to make those health changes a long-term reality. I am just a middle aged woman who wasn’t ready to have my life be downhill and slowly become less and less active. I want to be young feeling and play with my grand kids. I know I am just at the beginning of this journey still and each day I can decide what I want to do that day with my nutrition and exercise. Sure, it will hurt and there will be days you want to give up. Just hang in there and something inside of you will change gradually. Exercise will go from being almost punishment to something you look forward to. (Or at least it has for me and I am just a normal everyday average person like everyone else.) Also, educate yourself on nutrition. Read labels and understand what those labels mean. Learn about good fat vs bad fat. Find out what you are eating daily and change it if you need to. Do it for yourself, even if you are the only one in the house doing it. The others will see and gradually want those changes too. I have learned that first hand. And most importantly, ask for God to help you keep the commitment to being healthy. I have been amazed at what incorporating scriptures into my fitness has done. If the yoga people can do it so can we! God bless you as you continue on your quest for improved health and fitness. You won’t regret all the hard work it takes.