A Balance of healthy mind and body


Body image, diet, food, and healthy living are all “hot topics” for me for various reasons, like for most women (and even men). The first time I was called fat was when I was in the 5th grade, which looking back, is absurd. From that point on, my body was a significant concern, which I thought about constantly. I remember in the 7th grade, when I broke my skull from ski jumping at the Olympic Park, I was driving with my mom to see a specialist and I remember saying, “maybe he'll wire my jaw shut.” She had asked me why and I said, “because then I would go on a diet of blended food and I would lose weight.” She told me that was crazy, and that I was skinny. As a seventh grader, I shook it off, blaming it on her “mom goggles.” I grew up the youngest of five girls, with the oldest being 9, 10 and 16 years older than me, respectively. From a young age, I heard my sisters’ and my mother’s concerns about their bodies, and this implanted in my mind a number of body issues (without my even realizing it). One of my sisters, though I didn't know it at the time, had a severe eating disorder which she sought treatment for. Another one chose to use cocaine to sustain a low weight. Outside of that I had 4 more girl cousins and 3 aunts. My cousin closest in age to me constantly said to herself, “I'm so fat” (which always made me feel fatter because I was always at least a little bigger than she was.) She would say this all the time from a very young age. Her mom was in the public eye, so her image was very important to her and hence my cousin heard her mom say negative things about herself, just as I had heard my mom. All these experiences boiled up in my mind, and by the time I headed to an all-girls boarding school in the 10th grade, where all the girls talked about was giving up food, working out, being skinnier., etc. I just decided “f!*ck it, I'm just not going to care, this is all so unhealthy, I'm just going to live my life.”

Part of saying F*!ck it to diets was that it was too hard to eat healthily and workout, because I was a picky eater, and I liked so few of foods. Some of my unhealthy food repertoire consisted of: teriyaki chicken, orange juice, pasta, pizza, burgers and lots of bread. For most of my life, this was it-- add some sugary desserts, and soda, and that's it. The first time I had to confront this head-on was when I started at camp at six years old: I ate nothing they served most days, and instead took the sandwich option at most meals. I basically lived on peanut butter sandwiches. I hated even smelling the other food, like sloppy joes or biscuits and gravy. This camp ritual went on for 25 days for 10 years. While at home, my mom always made me a separate dinner option (though we ate out A LOT) and my dad would groan every time I served my separate meal. He even had this whole speech to the waiters about how plain and boring my chicken needed to be. With the other food I would eat, he would tell me, it was going to make me wider than I am tall, and other poignant points about my food choices and body. When I was 15 I went away to boarding school, and my food limitations were suddenly more of a problem. I went from only 25 days at camp having to deal with my limitations to a full 7 months away from home. At school, I would have a giant drawer full of food (junk food since we didn't have a kitchen or a fridge) to supplement the cafeteria food and would have food delivery often. I also missed any non-mandatory meals or would just check-in and leave. This is a clear connection to my social anxiety- I didn't attend meals, so I lacked the social connections others had. Eating and the social eating experience were unbearable. On Monday nights we had formal meals that you had to attend with teachers, and every week the teacher and new tablemates would ask me “you're only eating bread?” Then, a 30-minute conversation would follow with them asking me “how I survived on this and what exactly I ate.” This all just made me not want to deal with any of it, as it was easier to stick my head under a rock and just do what I had been doing. I wasn't the skinniest kid, but not the fattest kid either. I always said I don't eat great, but I also don't eat that badly.

Over the years my picky food habits became a part of me, and my thoughts on body image was a key characteristic. If I did change my lifestyle people in my life would make such a big deal about it that I would get embarrassed and not want the attention (I still don't). Also If I evaluated any part of it, i.e., check my weight or care more about my eating, I knew it would all fall apart. I remember my sister saying in response to me telling her to be more positive about her body that “I just don't get it, we can't all just be happy with our body like you are”, but the truth was I wasn't. I had constant negative thoughts about my body and eating habits, that my body image thoughts were just a facade to help me not pay too much attention. In July of 2018, my mom and I went sky diving and after years of avoiding the scale I was forced to step on it as per the safety protocol. The number I saw was not one I felt comfortable with and couldn't believe I was at. I knew that although I was concerned with not being attaching a number to my self-worth, but also realized there's a use for those numbers in terms of a spectrum of health and wellbeing.

My parents, (my dad in particular) had always asked me about working out and my eating habits. I took the offensive most of the time and would tell them “this is who I am and I eat what makes me happy and I am the size I am so be happy for me.” Though I still stand by this ideal, I felt that my parents were partially bullying me, but there was an overall concern for my well-being. When I hit this point in my head of “oh dear I'm that much,” I was lucky because I had parents who had not only the willingness to help me but also the means, as they had been offering to pay for different solutions to help me. With that in my mindset, while we were at the skydiving location, I asked my mom about the trainer that my grandmother and aunt used. I had a month remaining of summer before I headed back to school for my final semester. So together with my mother, I started seeing this trainer. It so happens that the trainer's husband had invented the anti-gravity treadmill (used for athlete recovery without putting pressure on their hurt joints and muscles) and other training devices used for elite athletes. We went five days a week for almost a month, which in truth didn't have a huge effect but got us to workout and was the perfect catapult into a full transformation.

Before heading back to school, I emailed Equinox in London about setting up a membership, since I had looked into them before and knew they had an anti-gravity treadmill that I thought I would continue to use. Once I arrived back in London, I started going to Equinox. I also got an email from the management about my two complementary training sessions (most gyms do something similar when you sign up). They asked about the goals and I mentioned my main goal was to get healthy and that I had a marathon I was training to walk in (I had done one the year before by just walking 20,000 steps a day. I really just used it as an excuse to go to Disney World.) They assigned me a trainer who was running focused. I scheduled a meeting with her, which she missed (I was not amused) but it was free, so I rescheduled and met again a few days later. In the first sessions we did a body composition test, and talked about the goals I had in mind. I kept on saying that I just wanted to get healthy, and she seemed very confused that there was no dress size or ideal weight or physical goal. I insisted it was just about health. As we talked about going forward I said I could commit to sessions once a week, but she tried to push for me to sign up for 3 sessions a week. I told her to email me about the program, and that I would talk it over with my parents, not thinking I would actually go through with it. But when she emailed me, something inside me said I really should try, as I had been to the gym a few times at that point by myself and felt clueless. I began working with Jane three times a week for just over three months. I was only taking two classes in school, so I was able to put a lot of time into the gym.

I was very clear with Jane about my background and thoughts on a "diet lifestyle," but slowly we came up with changes that did not scare me and helped me achieve my fitness goals. First I agreed only to eat one pizza a week and two burgers, and then we moved on to talking about my meals through the week. One thing I was having each morning was croissants, until Jane explained to me how calorie dense they were. When Jane made me realize that I could have been eating four chicken breasts for the same amount of calories during one of our lively conversations that took place during my work out (she found if she got me talking I complained less and worked harder at my work out.) Instead of the croissant, I started having a slice of toast with bananas and peanut butter. Then, I added a protein smoothie. I changed my orange juice drinking habit from whenever I wanted (about a total of 1 gallon a week) to just one cup a day, and mixing spinach into it to get me some veggies. The important thing about these changes was that they all kind of small and gradual, so I didn’t feel back into a wall to change all of my habits at once or deprived of favorite foods.

I found myself improving during my workouts, so Jane challenged me to start working out on my own on we did not meet. I started to do a run/walk on the treadmill for 3km, then 5km and then eventually got up to a 10km run-walk combo. A few weeks later, I decided I wanted to work on my outside distance, so I started with 6 miles (almost 10km) and then each Sunday I would add a mile to get up to the 13.1 half marathon training. But, the way I did this was by choosing places in London I wanted to see before leaving, and then setting them as my goal: Primrose Hill, Greenwich, Battersea, the full loop of Hyde Park. I walked for the vast majority, but it didn't matter because I was doing something. I was also doing 20,000 steps every day (the steps from the treadmill and walks counted, so those days I would do hardly any outside of those). Having a trainer who really knew her shit, and had interesting things to say to me every time, and had the proof and experience to back it up (she's an Olympic Marathon runner who competed in Rio 2016 for Thailand) made all the difference. I had joined Virgin Active a few years prior and had the complimentary session, but the guy had no come back to me eating a croissant as I told him I was going to burn it off so didn't matter. It was Jane, however, who had said agreed that I was burning calories, and they're not "bad" per se, but opened my eyes to seeing how many unnecessary calories I was forcing myself to burn). After three months of building muscle I was able to do 13.1 miles easily and changed from doing a mile in over 13 minutes (huffing and puffing) to under 10 minutes without trying. I had changed my body composition completely, even losing 8 kg (about 16IBs., but the best part was that it was all very natural and I thought very little of it all).

In December of 2017, I finished my degree in London and left to go home- healthy, strong, and determined to continue on my healthy lifestyle journey. At first, I got home and tried to continue my workouts, but between the altitude of home (8,000 feet) and jet lag from London to Utah it was incredibly hard. I did a few days, and then got sick from travel, and then was wiped out with the Christmas holiday. The thing is, when you go home, you suddenly want all your home favorites, and you get into the old habits that you associate with home. I learned after having been strict with my diet and exercise plan for so long, I started allowing myself treats and cheats that started adding up before I even realized it. Suddenly my focus was shifting away from the health and wellbeing journey I started. When I was away at university in London, I wasn’t able to have my favorite American “junk” foods like Chipotle, pizza (it just isn’t the same in the UK!) and root beer as often as I could at home, so my trips home were often the perfect opportunity for me to indulge. Even though, I was back home for good, my brain was trained to think that I needed to eat all that I could of these “junk” foods. After all, I was back living in the US for good, and they simply weren’t as scarce as they were when I was living in England. I was spiraling back to the bad habits that I had worked so hard to undo when I was living in England. I had a marathon coming up the first weekend of January, so I tried to work out a bit with my mom and sister, going on hikes and walks whenever I could. The marathon came and we successfully finished our 26.2 miles, but as people traditionally take time off from training after completing a marathon, so did I. By the end of January I was moving to New York and so again, working out wasn't my focus.

I did join back up with Equinox, but it was hard, as I had lost a lot of muscle tone over time. But I tried. Life in New York had no routine, so it made it hard for me to commit to something. I also found that my routine in London was hard to recreate; for starters, the restaurants I ordered from in London weren't in New York and then the foods I ate in London weren't at the grocery stores either-- EVERYTHING was different . On top of that, I was dealing with the hardship of post-graduation and interviewing for jobs (and not getting them!) as well as the stress of finding an apartment. I found it impossible not to reward myself with food way too often. Then, I got a few jobs and would try and get in a routine, but then something would happen: between March of 2018 and April of 2019 I had five different jobs, two of which I was devastatingly fired from. This just made continuing on my journey to health and fitness seem impossible. In March of 2018, I enlisted Jane to help me all the way from London by sending workout plans. It did help, but without that constant contact and sense of responsibility to someone it just wasn't as effective as before. My food wasn't up to the standard required of me, and when I would do the workouts that Jane sent virtually, I had accountability and would get distracted. By November of 2018, I knew things had to change, so I asked Jane about a recommendation for a trainer in New York (as she was originally from NYC). She suggested someone, agreeing it was for the best, and I worked with him for two months. However, after Christmas I had to end the workouts for family reasons. I also realized that what I had in London was a perfect storm: very little responsibility, food in this “vacuum,” a trainer I really connected with and laser focus on this one thing- my health. After a year of ups and downs, I was frustrated because I didn't know what else to do.

By March of 2019, I was incredibly frustrated with my life and my health routine. I continued to run and do bits in the gym, but I wasn't really a creating routine or a lifestyle. I knew I needed to try something different, Thanks to Jane, I had a good relationship with my working out though I needed a bit more commitment to it. I remembered when I had been working with Jane virtually, she had asked me if I wanted to be connected with a nutritionist. But, I had said “no” as I had been skeptical of working with a nutritionist. I had seen my sister work with a real “Hollywood” one, who in fairness, had helped her lose a lot of weight, but with a very strict, structured meal plan. I had no interest in such a lifestyle and which I felt was focused on the wrong attributes. But in March I knew something had to change, so I contacted Jane about who she had suggested. I arranged a free consult over Facetime (she’s based in LA, though she works with people all around the world,) and I found this was nice because it meant I could have meetings during my lunch break (because of not having to consider travel time). After almost an hour of conversation talking about everything, from my weight and health goals to my medical history, up to my daily stress and sleep, I also told her my thoughts and opinions on on body image and, most importantly, about my very limited diet. This proved to be a challenge for her. She agreed with me on not starving myself, and a gradual change rather than a complete change in food, and swore one day I would yearn for vegetables. I still meet with her weekly since May, slowly changing my diet and lifestyle. Her first request was simply adding water into my life, with 4 17- oz bottles a day, which I would keep track of using rubber bands around my bottle for each bottle left. She then started having me add some vegetables into my life, having a fruit smoothie in the morning with spinach and hemp protein in it. Then, by trying spinach with olive oil, and so on, giving me recipes to try and just asking me to “give it a go.” By talking about why we need these foods in our life (besides just saying the government recommends 5 servings a day). We also set stress, sleeping, and exercise goals and challenges. While I'm not done with my journey with her, I can say I meal prep my weekly meals with spinach, carrots, eggplants, and yellow squash for a sort of stir fry or chicken terriyaki, as well as fajitas with spinach, yellow, green and orange peppers, and onions. I also now love my bean-based pasta and homemade tomato sauce (I used to not even to cook mac and cheese, because it was too much to clean up). Today, I’ve been continuing on with workouts, trying to run three times a week and doing short exercises on three more days. I try to set a strict sleep schedule (10pm-7am) each night. Though it's all still a work in progress, I have lost 10 Lbs and continuing to work despite work changes, fallbacks, and trips outside my routine.

This all started with how I learned to accept my body, and ended with “and now I’ve lost 10 lbs and would like to lose 10 more!” It’s kind of absurd, yes? Correct-- it is, but the thing is, as much as the journey was about weight loss, the real problem is: how do you quantify the health of mind? Is it never thinking “I look fat” or loving myself unconditionally? Ideally, yes, but my ideal weight is also 50 lbs lower than I most likely will ever get to. The truth is that working out is hard, and eating right is hard, but loving yourself is harder. Particularly when you know that in order to do so, you have to find the balance between loving yourself, healthy living, and accepting yourself. But truthfully, self-acceptance is just as much about acknowledging that there will always be a part of you that you’re not 100% happy with. I know I will never be a 6 foot tall model that weighs 110 lbs, and I will never be a petite girl that wears a size 00. Most of us are mistakenly taught that the point of working out is to achieve a certain kind of body (maybe the ideal “00”). But the point of working out is to be healthy, not to try to make your body look the way society tells us it should. I've definitely felt better about my body when I've worked on my body, and truthfully, it is a great motivator. But you also have to continually remind yourself that it's not about that. I’m not a model, but my body makes me great at sports. This is body I was born with. I think that it’s important to keep reminding ourselves that our bodies are the way that they are for a purpose. It might seem like all that positivity is a lie, but when you finally begin to believe that your body beautiful, it becomes your truth.

This may not end with, “and that's how I lost 50 pounds!” because the story has never been about the ending; it's about the journey. I am proud of each step in my journey so far. Though each step may have been difficult, the lessons lead me onto a new path. The difficulties of body consciousness and food pickiness allowed me to learn acceptance for myself, while my introduction to health taught me to exercise and enjoy bits of it. Backtracking and failing taught me the difficulties of health and well-being as a journey, not a destination. Finally, my work with my nutritionist has taught me to be patient, and how I can eat better. Your health is not about one choice, it is a daily, hourly relationship.

For example:

Should I stay asleep or wake up and workout?

Should I have a cinnamon roll or a fruit smoothie?

Is a fruit smoothie really healthier it has quite a bit of sugar, even if it is natural? Should I walk to work and chance being late or ensure I'm on time?

Lunch- should I grab a pizza or find a healthy alternative? I've had a long day, should I reward myself with something to eat, or be good?

I really want to watch one more episode, but I really should go to sleep!

...

And then it starts all over again.

But like most things in life, you just have to start. You are never going to be perfect with any of these things, and the most important thing to learn is that it takes a balance of all these healthy mindsets (including control over your stress, sleep, healthy eating, and living your life for you.) The point of all this is that the journey is long and hard and might have many stops and goes. There is no finish line, so set some goals along the way, (like exercise goals, weight goals, and more) and enjoy the benefits of a healthy life.


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