“You’re so skinny. I bet you never eat.”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I could probably retire at 25. I also hear “but you’re so tiny,” “these clothes were made for people your size,” “you can pull off anything because you’re so skinny,” “you’re so lucky,” etc. etc. All of these are meant as compliments, at least most of the time. I understand that. But number one it discredits my lifestyle, and number two it perpetuates a mentality that there is this one ideal body type: thin.
I have been skinny in the past. I have a small frame and fast metabolism. I was an athlete, a horse back rider, gymnast and soccer player. I spent a lot of time outside. I was an active kid/young teenager. Going into my sophomore year of high school, I started feeling weird. My energy was low. I never felt 100% I was having heart palpitations and getting weak and dizzy spells. I had anxiety all the time. I would go weeks where the feeling in the pit of my stomach made it almost impossible to keep food down. I quit soccer. I was way less active. I lost muscle mass really quickly.
Beyond just regular teenage girl, “I don’t like the way this piece of clothing looks on me,” or “my legs are so muscular they look weird compared to the rest of my body,” I didn’t have body image issues. I had never worried about my weight. I had never even thought about counting calories or paying attention to what I was eating. So while I was not starving myself to stay skinny or to keep my weight down, I did get addicted to the way my body felt when I didn’t eat. I liked being in control of not feeling good, because I didn’t feel good anyway. I struggled with self esteem issues and had panic attacks on a regular basis. I was wearing a size 00 and had hardly any muscle tone, and no body fat.
Going into college, my anxiety was much better. I paid a little more attention to how I ate. My friends and I worked out four times a week together. It was probably the best I had felt in a long time. And then there was a lot of ups and downs. More anxiety spells, some different medications that changed my metabolism. Working out and eating “healthy” was kind of on and off. For a couple of years I fluctuated from a size 0-2 to a size 4-6. I felt better physically when my weight was a little higher, but for the first time ever I was incredibly self conscious about how I looked. I had always been super skinny, so to see myself looking different was hard. I didn’t know how to reconcile feeling less sick but feeling unhappy with how I looked.
When I was 21, my dad had a heart attack. My dad was 46 years old. He is not a big guy. He played flag football. He and my mom both thought they were eating relatively healthy. The doctors were fairly certain my dad’s heart attack was the result of decades of smoking cigarettes, but it was enough of a scare that all of us starting researching exactly what was in the food we were eating. Basically what we found is that we eat food-like products. My mom and I started following blogs. We started looking at families who ate zero processed foods. We bought cookbooks. We pinned recipes. We did more and more and more research and the more we did, the more we were disgusted by the way we had been eating in the past.
Some of the things that were the first to go: anything “light,” non natural peanut butter, flavored greek yogurt, anything with bleached enriched flour or processed sugar, canned soups, canned sauces, instant oatmeal, our brand of “whole wheat” bread, shredded or sliced cheese, fruit juice and things like pre-packaged apple slices or packets of nuts (lots of sodium).
A lot of things that we chose thinking we were picking “healthier” options were really not any better. They had tons of chemicals to make up for what was taken out to reduce fat and calories. It became less about looking at the fat and calories, and more about the ingredient list. We started paying more attention to what kinds of foods fuel your body and what a truly balanced day looks like.
In the 2 1/2 years since all of this started, I’ve continued doing research. I’ve continued to cut things out of my regular diet as I learn more about what they are. I’ve committed to a lifestyle that is about health, not weight. It’s about feeling good, taking control over my own health: physical, mental and emotional and honoring God with how I treat the body and soul he’s created. Instead of doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts that are not good for my particular cardiovascular health needs and are focused on torching calories and dropping weight fast, I do vinyasa and power yoga on an almost daily basis. (Think higher impact/intensity than what you typically picture as deep stretch yoga). I do steady running to strengthen my heart and as an outlet for my anxiety. And I definitely eat a lot. I choose whole ingredients for their nutritional value, complex carbs, healthy fats, tons of fruits and vegetables and I don’t feel bad about eating something with a lot of fat and calories every once in awhile if it’s all REAL food.
Your personal fitness is about what works for you and what makes you feel good. Not all bodies are created equal. Not all taste buds are created equal. And not all personal nutrition choices are created equal (I can’t eat meat, it has a face, can’t do it). The goal is never “get skinny.” The goal is always to feel strong, feel empowered, feel comfortable, feel beautiful, feel confident, feel healthy. Here’s a little bit of what that looks like for me:
Workouts: First of all, understand that your overall fitness is about 75% diet and 25% workouts. You cannot outrun a bad diet. You’ll see a much bigger change in your body much more quickly if you change just your diet vs. just changing your activity level. I wake up between 5-5:15 five days a week and do a yoga or cardio routine. I don’t do a lot of yin yoga (slow, deep stretching). I do a lot more vinyasa flows that mold breath and movement and I usually focus on balancing poses that build core strength, binds and twists for detox and lower body strength, and inversions for upper body strength. If I do a yin routine, it’s usually a quick one before bed, or on a day that I’m really sore from an intense practice or not feeling well.
DO NOT look at yoga and say “well I’m not flexible I can’t do that.” Yoga is so much more than that, and your body is capable of so much more than you can possibly give it credit for. It’s about positivity, doing what works for you, and connecting to the power and strength of your own body. Lemme tell you how many times I’ve fallen out of poses, flopped over trying to get an inversion, gotten frustrated because I can’t do a pose one day that I’ve done a million times. Fitness is always a journey and yoga is no different.
I try to do cardio once or twice a week, but that’s not my main focus. I’m not trying to lose weight, I’m just trying to build endurance and cardiovascular strength. And as mentioned above, it’s an outlet for my anxiety. I listen to loud music and I block out everything but my own heartbeat and breath. Some days I have to push really hard and I don’t want to do it and it makes my chest hurt and the whole thing is a struggle. Listen to your body and never go beyond what your body can handle, but also know when you need to push through and suck it up when it gets hard. I always go based on my form. If I can maintain my form and keep going even if it’s uncomfortable, I push through, if my form starts to fail, I take a break.
Food: I eat complex carbs and protein for breakfast. Things like greek yogurt (plain, full fat) with fruit and a little bit of honey, natural peanut butter, steel cut oats with berries cinnamon and honey, I have a sprouted whole wheat bread I like without tons of chemicals that I use for toast, fruit smoothies, mueseli and eggs. Eggs are my best friend.
I carry around snacks with me at all times. At any given point in time, I probably have carrot sticks/raw green beans/edamame, grapes/strawberries/cherries, a Lara bar (fruit/date/nut bar), raw mixed nuts and lemon water in my bag with me. When I get up and work out my metabolism is revving all day, and so if I’m hungry, I eat. It’s usually every two hours or so until dinner.
There’s a brand called Amy’s that does natural, organic food that is actually pretty good/reputable. I eat those canned soups for lunch (low sodium and no added nonsense) a lot. I also will eat avocado and tomato sandwiches, throw a bunch of vegetables in a pan with some olive oil and put it in a corn tortilla, lots of salads and organic blue corn tortilla chips with natural salsa or hummus.
A lot of days by dinner I’m not super hungry. Some days I’ll just eat hummus with vegetables or have an avocado smoothie. A lot of times I’ll make scrambled eggs with vegetables. If my workout was really hard that morning and I am hungry, I’ll make a sweet potato, or quinoa with stir fry vegetables. If I have some time I really like stuffed portabella mushrooms and roasted asparagus, and if I’m feeling super fancy I’ll do some sort of salmon or tuna or whole wheat pasta/pasta alternative ie. spaghetti squash with homemade sauce or vegetables and olive oil.
Some tips and tricks:
-If you’re not a morning person, do not commit to a morning workout. I like being awake early. Don’t like getting out of bed so much, I’m not saying it’s not a struggle, but once I’m up I like being up that early. I like starting my day that way. I also cannot make myself come home after a day of work and then go work out. Choose a time that works best for you and your lifestyle, but then commit to it. Make it a non negotiable for two days a week, then bump it up to three, then maybe bump it up to four or five. Lay out your work out clothes, create a schedule for yourself, make it as easy as possible and limit your outs.
-Throw in super foods/metabolism boosters whenever you can. I put chia seeds and cinnamon in pretty much everything. I put lemon, lime and mint in my water most of the time. Pumpkin seeds are good. Things like berries have a lot of rich antioxidants so I put them in my salads or my oatmeal or my yogurt.
-Meal plan. Can’t stress this enough. Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan. You are less likely to overeat or go out and eat something that’s fast and easy but not necessarily nutritious. You will save money when you’re grocery shopping. Your meals will be more thoughtful and your life will be easier. Busy day? Choose a crock pot recipe. Have an intense workout planned? Plan to eat more carbs and/or lean protein.
-I process my food right after I go to the grocery store. I cut up a lot of fruit. I put everything in visible containers. I freeze some vegetables for eggs/tacos. I hard boil eggs. I make oatmeal for the week. I make up smoothie packs. When you make healthy food visible, easy to grab, easy to cook you’re more likely to eat it.
-Drink a lot of water. I drink 32 oz. of water first thing in the morning. I carry an insulated water bottle with me all the time. It’s good for your metabolism, helps keep you from overeating, and flushes out your system. Just good stuff all around. Fancy it up with an infuser and add berries, lemon, lime, herbs (watermelon and rosemary is one of my favorites, or lemon, lime, cucumber and mint). You can use sparkling water. Just drink water!
-I have some go-to craving busters when I’m over the rabbit food thing. Frozen banana and avocado, raw cacao powder, raw local honey, some almond milk (I like Califia Farms) or iced coffee in a blender and you basically have a rich chocolate shake. Dark chocolate is my jam. Chocolate is actually packed with nutrients and antioxidants, but look for 70% or more cacao and watch out for added sugar and other processed additives. I like frozen fruit dipped in dark chocolate. HEB carries gluten free rice pita chip type things that are all natural and I like those with natural peanut butter and a little sea salt. Raw nuts are always great for a quick energy boost and to curb hunger. Another favorite is kombucha.
-Be mindful of things like calories and fat (ie, nuts are really calorie dense so know that if you eat a handful of nuts it’s a lot of calories. Avocado is packed with healthy fats, but it is still high in fat so maybe don’t eat six avocados in one day), but pay more attention to nutritional value and how food nourishes your body. And don’t beat yourself up if you eat something outside of the parameters you set for yourself or miss a work out or plateau. It’s a journey. It’s a process. You’re a beautiful human being with flaws. Focus on positives and how good you feel rather than shaming yourself when you do something “bad.”
People ask me a lot if it’s hard. Giving up meat was never hard. Processed sugar was a little bit hard, because you don’t realize how much stuff it’s in. Eating out can be hard sometimes. Bread is a really hard one for me. But the more I learn about what is in stuff, the easier it is to say no to it. Empty calories and processed junk just really does not even appeal to me. And because I eat so clean 98% of the time, I don’t feel so bad if I say yes to the ravioli with cream and cheese once in a month. Like if I’m going to eat something not super healthy, I’m not going to waste it binging on processed/packaged empty calorie stuff. I’m going to pick something expertly prepared with real ingredients. So for the most part, it’s not hard. The benefits far outweigh saying no to stuff.
I am physically thin. Yes. That’s a reality. Right now I wear a size 0-2. But my body is all lean muscle. I am almost capable of holding my body weight up on the palms of my hands. I am not skinny. I am strong. I am fit. I am nourishing my body with healthy food and becoming a kick butt athlete and it feels great. I am not “lucky.” I am not immune to weight struggles. I am committed and put a lot of time and effort and thought into how I treat my body. And there are things that I’m not so good at. I drink a ton of coffee. Like a whole lot of coffee. And I still drink alcohol sometimes. I don’t binge drink regularly, but it does happen. Sometimes I will eat the cookie or the cupcake. Some weeks I’m exhausted and I just really don’t feel like getting up to work out. I may only make it three days. But I don’t get discouraged and I keep working at it and I keep learning more and getting better.