How Making Health and Fitness a Priority Gave Me My Life Back

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Hi, I’m Stephanie! Welcome to my first blog post here at Burgers and Bells!

You know what I loved to do when I was a kid? I loved to sing. God gifted me with a talent from a very young age that I used from the time I was four, all the way through my short time in college. I also loved playing with my Grand Champion horses. (Do you remember those? They were so cool! Each one was a specific breed and came with its own name and facts; I loved those horses). I loved to read, I loved my pets, and I hated being outside.

I was also a very chubby kid. Even worse? I was aware of it.

I remember playing with my cousins once. We took turns sitting in one of those storage tubs and carrying each other. When it was my turn, they grunted, their neck muscles straining as they tried to lift me before dropping me and saying they couldn’t do it. I remember when I was in sixth grade, someone in my family was looking through pictures of me on a beach trip with my dad, remarking that I looked like a “beached whale.” I remember another relative commenting “no wonder you’re so big” when I wanted two burgers from McDonald’s instead of one. I was probably nine or ten at the time.

I’m not sharing these little anecdotes to shame anyone; I’m not interested in that. In fact, I bet most of the people referenced above don’t even remember these casually painful remarks, and I have no intention of pointing out who’s who, even when they inevitably ask after reading this post.

But I remember. Even now, twenty plus years later.

And if you’re like me, I bet you have some of those hurtful words buried in the back of your mind, too.

You know what the worst part was? I didn’t know how to fix it. No one taught me how to eat right and eat well. No one impressed upon me the value and importance of exercise. I remember being so desperate to be skinny as a kid that I saw the appeal in those commercials for Slimfast: “Drink one for lunch for weight loss!” So that’s what I did.

I drank my mom’s Slimfast after eating whatever I wanted for lunch (until she caught me one day and corrected me), because in my little kid head, I thought Slimfast was a magical concoction that would cancel out whatever I had just eaten.

It’s funny, now. It’s also very sad. I just wanted to not be embarrassed of how I looked anymore.

I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. Thank God for one significant summer spent with my dad in middle school where I actually saw the effects of eating well and exercise. I went to my dad’s in Virginia every summer, but this particular summer, my mom sent me with the message that she was “worried about me.” Dad didn’t do anything extreme with me, which is impressive considering he’s a Marine; nothing he implemented was unreasonable at all. What he did was make sure at dinner, half the plate was full of vegetables, a quarter of it lean meat, and a quarter of it carbs (potatoes, pasta, etc). All other meals were portioned out reasonably and had limits placed on them (“No more than two slices of pizza.” “Eat what I give you and if you’re still hungry, you can have a snack later.”) He also showed me very simple exercises, and we went for a walk around the neighborhood every single night after dinner.

I don’t know how much weight I lost that summer. But what I remember is meeting up with my mom’s side of the family for a beach trip on the way back from Dad’s, and all of them commenting in disbelief on how much weight I’d lost.

I kept it off the rest of middle school and high school. I wasn’t fit and toned, but I stayed at a good weight (ranging from 110-120). I gained 10 pounds in college, but it wasn’t a big deal to me then.

No, my real weight problems began again after my daughter was born a few years later.

A huge part of my problem was the birth control I was on. Now in hindsight, and now that I’m wiser, I see that I possibly wouldn’t have lost much weight even if I’d been doing everything right. My body chemistry was too messed up due to my birth control.

But the fact that I was doing everything wrong only exacerbated the problem, so my weight wasn’t even stagnant; it was increasing. And just like that little girl who chugged a Slimfast after every gluttonous lunch, I had no idea how to fix it.

I remember buying yet another size up in jeans, hating how I looked in the mirror, but feeling at such a loss that I thought to myself, “I guess this is just who I am now.” I know the current message in our society is to be loud and proud in the skin you’re in, but I wasn’t. Having rolls and a double chin, never feeling good in what I wore, was not what I wanted for myself. I knew I was never going to embrace myself that way; I couldn’t accept staying this way. But I was at a loss on how to fix it. It was too hard thinking about calories and sugar and protein and sodium in my food. And I was so embarrassingly weak that working out felt pointless. So I gave up. I didn’t even try, really try.

Depression followed. The worst depression of my life. For those who don’t know me, this wasn’t just due to my weight. I suffered from lingering side effects from my stupid IUD birth control long after it was removed, and infertility was one of those side effects. My body was out of control, inside and out. I could go to work, I could meet up with family and paste a smile on my face, meanwhile the whole time, I would be tugging at my clothes, positioning myself in ways they couldn’t see just how plump my rolls were. I’d pretend I didn’t go home later and scream and cry at God because my body was so messed up. I didn’t truly understand it back then, but I do now; my mind was messed up, too. I didn’t become suicidal, but there were days I wished my car would crash. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted a break from life. Everything—from my marriage, my body, my writing career—was completely out of my control. I was lost in a downward spiral I felt incapable of stopping.

So let me tell you about the day that all changed.

1

I was so depressed I would lie in bed after work. I wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t read, wouldn’t write, wouldn’t do anything. Just lie there. Thinking. Trapped in the hell inside my head. And this one particular day, I could hear my daughter playing in the living room, all the way on the other side of the apartment, and I thought to myself, “How many times have I let her play in there alone? How many times has she seen me retreat to the bedroom just to lie down for as long as I possibly could? How much time with her have I wasted? How much time will I continue to waste? This isn’t who I want to be.”

I think a part of me shut down in that moment. All of a sudden, I just got angry. Furious. Everything that I felt was bad in my life was controlling me. I’d given it that power; I knew I had.

Without a second’s hesitation, I immediately got up and worked out. I didn’t even give myself time to talk myself out of it. It was probably a pathetic attempt to watch, but I did it.

I was angry at my body for not working right. I was angry at the doctors who had misled me, outright lied to me, and brushed off my concerns. I was angry that it seemed like God had stopped listening to my prayers. I was angry at how it felt like every aspect of my life was completely out of control. I. Was. Just. Angry.

So I put into practice a new rule for myself. Instead of turning to alcohol to “relax” in the evenings, I would work out. Instead of lying in bed because the pain I was feeling inside and out was too much to carry, I would work out. Instead of dwelling on my secret, repressed rage, I would use that negative energy to work out. Instead of crying, I would work out. I hated my body. I didn’t just hate how overweight I was, I hated my body for not working right. So I was going to punish it.

2

And punish it I did. When I was younger, if I was out of breath while running, it was because I had “exercise-induced asthma” so I needed to stop. When I was younger, when I felt that first pang of a muscle being put to work, I was too weak, it hurt too much, so I needed to stop. When I couldn’t do a push-up, couldn’t do a plank, couldn’t do a squat, it was because I had been born with artistic genes instead of that coveted exercise gene, so I needed to stop.

But I was an adult, and I was angry now.

Can’t breathe while running? Screw you, “exercise-induced asthma,” you work for me now!

Muscles hurting from those shoulder presses and lunges? Screw you, muscles, you’re going to feel pain and you’re going to like it!

Can’t do a push-up? Can’t do a plank? Can’t do a squat? Screw you, body, you’re going to do what I say, and then you’re going to do ten more…with added weight!

I pushed, and I pushed, and I pushed because I hated my body. It deserved everything it got.

But then, something miraculous happened:

I began to love my body.

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These crummy lungs that wouldn’t let me jog before were breathing endurance into entire laps at the local park. These crummy arms that once shook from five pound weights were now lifting fifteens. This crummy body that couldn’t do a single push-up before were now doing twenty, holding almost three minute planks, and doing 50+ squats.

I was amazed; and suddenly, I was working out just to see what my body could do, not because I hated it.

This changed my entire perspective, not just on exercise and health, but on my life. This, along with earnest, constant prayer, completely turned my life around.

My body healed. My marriage healed. My mind healed. My writing career…is healing.

And even when I found out I was finally pregnant after three-and-a-half years worth of negative pregnancy tests, I continue to workout and watch what I eat, because after a solid year, this has become a sincere lifestyle change for me.

I’m not an expert. I’m not super fit and super knowledgable about health and fitness. You won’t see me raising my shirt to show off six-pack abs anytime soon. I guarantee you’re going to see me make a lot of mistakes along the way. You won’t see me looking more like Barbie in workout gear rather than something from The Walking Dead in my post-workout pictures. In fact, these facts were almost what stopped me from starting this blog.

But then, I realized why maybe what I have to say, and what I have to offer is still valuable. I’m just like you; especially you who has looked in the mirror and thought, “Well, this is just who I am now.” It doesn’t have to be. Not if you don’t want it to be.

Now that you know where I’m coming from, I hope you’ll follow me on this journey, and let me encourage and inspire you along your own. This health and fitness lifestyle has been a learning process for me and will continue to be—it has been all along. I’m going to make mistakes and embarrass myself, and I sincerely can’t wait to embarrass myself with all of you.

Now that I’ve taken up all your time, take up some of mine! Introduce yourself! Tell me what you struggle with most and what you feel like you can’t change. Tell me if you have a testimony, how discovering healthy eating habits or consistent workout habits have changed your life. I want to hear about it!

Until next time,

Stephanie