Putting it out there: My love hate relationship with exercise

Now that I’m a mom, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the steps I’ve taken to get to where I am now. This includes my personal journey with health and wellness and fitness. Mostly fitness. I went from not having a clue to exercise fiend and now somewhere in the middle.

Next year’s Halloween costume?

I was never athletic, so to speak. I played youth soccer when I was 8 for one season. I remember that I hated the running. I also hated running in gym class at school. Every year we had to run a mile and I dreaded it. Most students didn’t enjoy it or even participate, especially the girls. It was only a select few that ran like no problem. I just remember feeling frustrated with my body.

That feeling of course continued and I stayed away from almost all physical activity. In middle school I would sit out in gym class, accepting a D as a passing grade. I snacked on chips and soda after school, and I regularly ate a honey bun and a fruit juice for lunch. I had no idea this was bad. There was junk food at home and junk food at school. When we would go out to eat, there was even more junk food. I was surrounded by it.
My weight went up. I had issues with digestion and even high cholesterol at a very young age. But the habits never changed.

Circa 2006 – on a band trip to California during my senior year

That is, until I met a boy when I was 17 and he was 19 and I learned that he use to be the fat kid. Until he joined a local gym and changed his diet and boom, 60 lbs. gone. And so, about six months into our relationship I finally pushed myself to join the gym down the road from my house. My boyfriend and I would usually go together.

 I remember the first time I ran on the treadmill. I stared at that digital clock watching the numbers advance like my life depended on it. I hit a wall roughly one minute into my run and I had no idea how I would be able to get better at this. People enjoyed running? Really? I somehow pushed myself to run for a solid five minutes. Then I slowed down, gasping for breath, and patted myself on the back. It certainly wasn’t fun, but I did it. And I knew I needed to keep doing it if I wanted to see my body change.
Eventually, once I enrolled at the local state college, I started to go to the gym on my own. I attempted to jog there and back because it was only about half a mile from my house. I started going to group classes, mainly cardio kickboxing. The first class I took cardio kickboxed my ass. I made sure to get there early so I could sit in the back, and I casually looked around the room as I practiced leaning forward to touch my toes. The burn. The stretch burned, I was still out of shape. I had a ways to go.
But time went on and I kept going to class. I kept going to the gym and I started lifting weights. I got on the dreaded treadmill and I ran. It sucked, but I learned the benefit of listening to music while working out. Music that got me fired up. I remember the first time I ran a 5K. I didn’t even realize it was a 5K, all I did was set a goal for myself to run for a half hour straight. Within that time frame I had ran just over three miles. I felt good.
I went on my first real vacation with my boyfriend. We went to Jamaica, and I bought myself a couple new bikinis. And I looked good. I still wanted to lose a bit more weight, but I had already made so many great changes. I felt it.

Life is good – on a catamaran in the DR (2008)

I hired a personal trainer. I could do these things when I was making great money waiting tables and living at home for nothing. Her name was Kristen and I liked her immediately. She was spunky and bubbly, but also serious. She introduced me to so many new exercises. She pushed me to push myself until I was dizzy. We formed a bond, even though she was 12 years older than me. We got coffee and we would go on hikes at a local reservation. Kristen is the reason I’m now obsessed with sushi and a certain Asian restaurant that Evan and I are both making a stop at when we go back home for the holidays.

I really enjoyed the time I spent not only working out with Kristen, but getting to know her. A few years later I would learn that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. My trainer: this amazing woman who pushed her body to amazing lengths and was, in my eyes, a vision of health. But it got to her and she fought it. She fought it and she won.
I had also drastically changed my diet by this point. I no longer drank soda or ate fast food, except for the very rare occasion. I learned to like veggies that I never even looked at before, and I introduced skim, whole wheat, and high protein foods into my diet. I would chug a whey protein shake following every workout. Looking back I probably wouldn’t do all of those things exactly the same, but it worked for me then.

Shameless selfie, but check out the biceps! (Summer 2008)

I became slightly obsessed with keeping track of everything I ate, down to the last macro nutrient. It was a little much and I needed to step back. Because by now I had officially dropped 30 lbs. and went from a size 12 to a size 4. I was very happy with how I looked yet I still had this nagging voice in my head that told me it wasn’t enough. I needed to drop my body fat, I needed to be more toned, my thighs needed to not touch. Even at 128 lbs. I felt like I had to push further.

So I stepped back a little bit. Just slightly. Because my boyfriend had broken up with me and I had that to deal with. My first real relationship had turned into my first real heartbreak. Kristen helped me through it, since I had hired her again to get my ass out of the house and hopefully out of the funk I was in. I was super moody, emotional… of course, I just had my heart stomped on. I was 20 and still living at home and I needed to start making some moves.
By the end of that summer, I paid the first and last month’s rent for my first apartment. I’d be living with three roommates in the next town over from where I went to college. It was a bit of a hike from the gym. I was a little sad about this because I really liked the gym. That cardio kickboxing class? I stuck with it, and eventually moved my way up to the front of the class. I even had a couple friends from school who I chatted with at the class every week. Not to mention the gym was so close to my house and offered all the amenities I enjoyed and really took advantage of.
I immediately sought out the gym closest to my apartment. Unfortunately all the gyms within that radius were either more expensive or lacked the same amenities. I paid $50 a month to join a gym right down the street from me, but that got old fast. I made decent money but I had rent to pay for now. I was worried I would gain weight if I didn’t work out the same way I had been for so long.

Tanned and toned in the Bahamas (2009)

I actually managed to maintain a healthy weight for quite a while. I guess I had done some things right by taking my time, eating healthier food, working out regularly and doing a variety of things like classes (kickboxing, spinning), lifting weights, cardio, hiking, etc. I made a lifestyle change and I had to be proud of myself. I even inspired my mom to regain some control and lose 65 lbs. by eating better and working out at Curves.

By now I’ve met the man who will eventually become my husband. We just started spending more and more together and eventually we moved out of that first apartment and into our own. Once again I was in a new town and needed to search for the best place to work out. We happened to choose that particular apartment because of the location. It was a block from Lynn Shore Drive, a roadway that will take you along the coast of Swampscott, Lynn, and into Nahant. Right down the road from us was a few beaches, an ocean-side park and the perfect spot to get in a jog or perhaps an evening stroll down to the ice cream shack attached to Red Rock restaurant.

Still squeezing into tiny dresses in 2010

Not long after we moved a few towns away into Beverly. I joined a friend of mine at a very expensive women’s only gym in Salem to take an easy yoga class once a week. This was my first experience with yoga. The class was filled with yogis at various levels. It was mostly posing and breathing. I liked it.

I also decided I needed a routine again and enlisted the help of yet another trainer. She ran a boot camp class that I joined and completed. I really only went to the gym for the classes. But then we moved again and I needed to conserve my pennies because I had a new job not making close to the money I made at the restaurant.
I put weight on, but not an unhealthy amount. I still looked good, and felt good. By now I was actually close to the original gym I joined back in the day, but I couldn’t rationalize spending such an exorbitant amount of money every month to go push some metal around or take a class when I had the great outdoors. At least that was my reasoning. Evan and I went jogging. I couldn’t run like I use to, since I really didn’t do much of it anymore. Plus I didn’t want to be a runner; I wanted to be a yogi.

A break from the bikini the day before my wedding (2012)

We ended up moving once again and I discovered a Bikram yoga studio very conveniently located near our house. I realized it was a 90-minute class in a 100 degree room and it wasn’t cheap. But I did it once and I was hooked. I brought Evan along. We both agreed we had never sweat so much in our lives, but we loved it.

By the time we made the big move out to Ohio, I was officially 15-20 lbs. heavier than I was when I hit a peak at age 19-20. But I didn’t look anything like I looked when I started. I should hope not anyway… ages 17 and 24 are pretty different. I had curves that wouldn’t quit and I needed to embrace that. I was healthy, and I felt like I couldn’t ask for much more.

Up North at Sleeping Bear Dunes (2013)

Then I got pregnant. My body felt pretty foreign to me for a little while and I had a difficult time adjusting to those changes, both physical and mental. I didn’t freak out when my weight slowly crept up in those nine months. After all, it was supposed to. I had a very complication-free pregnancy and happily a complication-free labor and natural water birth. My body has gone through some amazing changes and done some cool things over the years, but this takes the cake. Ever since the day I gave birth to Sienna my entire perception of myself and my body has changed.

I now want to be as strong as I feel. I could care less about the number on the scale. I care more about being able to hop, skip, jump, lift a baby who will become a toddler, run around with her, keep my house up, spend time outdoors, and not be worn out by these things. I want my muscles to become stronger and my body to feel energized. I feel it happening, slowly…

Now I’m on a new journey. I realize that it took nine months to grow our baby and six hours to bring her here. My body knew what to do. I’m nearly 12 weeks postpartum and I’ve already begun the process of reclaiming that piece of myself that is healthy and fit, inside and out. I don’t expect to look the way I did when I was 19, nor do I expect to look the way I did when I was 24. In fact I’m not going into this with expectations. Only drive to push myself to set and accomplish goals and be a vision not only of health, but of someone who loves and takes care of herself so that she may love and take care of others.

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