When I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, I was elated to receive my 3 degrees and wrap up over 3,000 hours in the research lab at the School of Social Work. Unfortunately, along with my degrees and work experience, I also gained 40lbs and underwent a couple of panic attacks. In the midst of pulling all-nighters to study for midterms and scrambling to complete my senior thesis, I lost the motivation to maintain my physical and mental wellness. I came face-to-face with this when I looked through all of my graduation pictures to find none that I liked – none that looked like the me I remembered when I was a freshman walking to her first class in Calhoun hall.
Before I go into how I found my way to health, I just want to preface this entry to say that my health dip in college wasn’t just a fluke or the “freshman 15”. It was an accumulation of years of misinformation on what true healthiness was. When I was younger, I was always scrutinized for my weight with comments like, “Why are you so round?” or “You should eat less.” I remember thinking there was something wrong with me and me being the problem solver that I am decided to try and “fix it”. In middle school and into high school, I battled with an eating disorder for some time – limiting my calorie intake to 500-600 a day, working out for 3 hours to burn everything off, and pretending to eat dinner but secretly spitting it into my napkin. This ended when I went to the school nurse to ask for her advice on why I had lost my period for 6 months. Apparently, there were not enough nutrients in my body to produce a menstrual cycle, which scared the hell out of me. After a few more visits to my family doctor, a couple of talks with my parents, and a few more months, I resumed my previous eating and exercise habit. Since then my weight never truly maintained a stable state, bouncing between states of thin, chubby, and overweight. My attempt to fix my problem damaged my metabolism and pulled me further away from the path to true healthiness.
After graduating and being sick and tired of staring at myself in the mirror with disgust, I decided to work on myself – not my degree, not my work, but just myself. I knew it wouldn’t be a quick fix, but I was and am still determined. It’s been 3 years since I made this lifestyle change and I couldn’t be happier with the way I look and feel. There’s always room for improvement, but in essence, I learned to love myself after I learned to treat myself. Below I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned on the road to true health:
1. Exercise should be fun and eclectic
When I first started exercising regularly, I would only run or use the elliptical because I thought calories = weight loss. Yes, cardio helped me lose weight. Yes, cardio increased my endurance. However, doing the same exercise everyday doesn’t challenge your body and is extremely boring. I started incorporating plyometric exercises (e.g. Insanity, Kayla’s BBG workouts), strength training, interval training (e.g. sprints and spin classes), and sports into my weekly workouts. Only after this did I see the fat start to melt from my body. Not to mention, I feel STRONG and athletic!
2. Food is your enemy only if you let it be
I know some people who can eat simply to live. As in, they don’t care about taste or variety; they just eat to sustain their body. I am not like that and nor is most of the world (I’d like to believe). The biggest thing for me in the food arena is relying less on “dieting” and becoming more in tune with clean eating. Clean eating, to me, consists of fresh produce, fresh meats (not frozen or preserved), whole grains, superfoods (e.g. avocados, nuts), and lots of WATER. I try to avoid packaged foods and refined sugar when I can… but seriously, how can you resist sometimes? So I guess, 2 main points here: 1) moderation is key and 2) the only diet you should be on is a life-long diet filled with nutrient-rich foods.
3. Self-care is your most important job
When I was a research assistant at the School of Social Work, the staff and students there always emphasized “self-care”. This is the idea that caring for your mental and physical state trumps all – work, friends, and even family. If you’re not fully functioning, then how will you provide care to others? I learned to make time for myself every day (if possible) to get in a workout, read a chapter of a book, or go on a walk in the neighborhood. It helps me feel in-control of my life and gives me time to recuperate from a busy day.
I’ve been asked a lot of questions over the years: “How did you lose the weight?” “How do you manage travel all the time?” “How did you get so involved at Accenture?”. I can truthfully attest my accomplishments to those 3 lessons above. When you first focus on developing yourself from the inside out, you’re better suited to face the world and all of its random quirks. 🙂
As a reference, here’s me at my worst:
And here is me a couple of days ago (5/20/16):