Prioritizing Fitness & Health in 2017

weight loss
unedited photos showing transformation from week 1 to week 13

2017 has thus far been filled with milestones, successes, and lots of inspiration. There are a few different milestones worth discussing but this blog post is going to focus on my health and fitness journey which has led me to adopt a strict exercise/diet regiment and dramatically increase my muscular strength. In the process I lost 16 pounds plus 6 inches around my waist. I can deadlift almost 200 pounds, I can easily do 30 pushups straight with perfect form (no struggle pushups or “girl” pushups) and my biceps are. . .well. . .amazing for just 4 months of strength training.

At the top of this page I’ve shared pictures of my body. This is not to tout being “thinner” or to promote thinness as something everyone should aspire to. What my pictures show is that choosing to adopt a healthier lifestyle will change your body. These changes are a marker of progress and I’m very proud of my progress.

I’m at a time in my life when I’ve never been more motivated, focused, or consistent in applying myself to specific long-term goals.

But I didn’t magically get this way.

It’s been a long journey of little wins here and there—little changes in personality here and there.

Within 2 years of graduating from college I’d gained almost 30 pounds because of an unhealthy and inactive lifestyle. I regularly indulged in fast food and desserts. I often binged on food when I was stressed or depressed. When I had money I ate out regularly and when I didn’t have money I ate whatever was available. Every attempt to be healthier lasted a few days or weeks before I reverted back to bad habits. I’d had a long history of saying I was going to do something and not following through, or starting something and quitting very quickly. Failure was very familiar to me and striving to be healthy was just another goal I’d kept giving up on.

2017 has been very different for me. I guess it could be called a “breakthrough”? For the last 15 weeks I’ve had a consistent routine of prepping/cooking all my meals and exercising 4-6 times a week. It took time for me to develop a routine that worked for me but by week 8 I had figured it out and I’ve been maintaining that routine ever since.

I will share what my routine is and how I chose it. But you’re probably wondering what led me to develop the self-discipline to actually be consistent this time around.

When I try to think about what woke me up or inspired me to change, it’s hard to place my finger on exactly what it was. I know that Donald Trump getting elected made me realize how unpredictable the world is. I know that planning to leave my job in the middle of 2017 meant that I would lose my health insurance and I wanted to minimize my chances of getting sick or needing medical attention while uninsured. I was definitely getting tired of having to buy new clothes because of my constantly increasing size. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was shortening my lifespan or complicating my future each day that I chose to be irresponsible with my health. I’d been thinking that 30 is around the corner and starting a family might be too but I only want to start a family if I’ve established positive, healthy, and conscious lifestyle habits to model for my future children. Plus, I would hate to be a burden to my family as a result of health issues that I could have prevented if only I’d had the self-discipline to get my shit together.

Around Christmas time of 2016 something clicked and I decided to start 2017 with a change. Serendipitously, a great friend of mine and fitness fanatic was advertising her first ever 6-week fitness challenge. I wanted to support and figured this would be a good way to start the year off. So I signed up. I took pictures of my body, I charted all my measurements, I got my gym membership, and I hit the ground running.

The 6-Week Challenge was hard. It required 2 days a week of pure cardio plus 4 days a week of weight lifting with 30 minutes of cardio after each workout. The Challenge gave me a meal plan and I was encouraged to prepare most of my meals including snacks. I ate lots of vegetables, fruit, meat, oats, and brown rice but just about everything else delicious was cut out.

I did well during the first 2 weeks. I quickly lost about 5 pounds but the workouts were hard to keep up with. They were very time consuming and sometimes took me up to 3 hours to complete. Nonetheless, I pushed through and did them. During the 3rd and 4th week I began cheating here and there. I didn’t plan my cheating moments, it was just hard to resist when someone came by my room at work with a cupcake or there were doughnuts in the teachers lounge. I would trick myself into thinking a tasty dessert like this won’t present itself again for a long time so I might as well just eat it this one time. That was a lie I told myself. Tasty desserts present themselves all the time, I just didn’t have the self-discipline to resist.

I continued to struggle at avoiding sweets whenever they were offered to me but for the entirety of the 6-Week Challenge I was consistent with two things. First, I continued to prep all my meals and because I needed to save money anyways I avoided eating out or buying takeout. Second, I remained committed to my workouts each week. But nonetheless, my weight went up and down (probably because of my dessert addiction) and I ended up losing only about 1 more pound by the end of the Challenge.

But the end of the Challenge wasn’t the end of the road. It was just the beginning. I had spent 6 weeks exercising consistently and not buying food out on the road which was actually a big accomplishment. I reminded myself that my primary goal was not weight-loss, but to create a healthy routine for myself that I could stick to for the rest of my life. I had been teaching my students that bad habits don’t disappear over night—repetition and perseverance is what makes the difference. So I took my own advice and continued forward.

I needed to customize the exercise & diet routine that the 6-Week Challenge gave me. I did heavy research on different types of diets plus the effects of sugar, carbohydrates, and junk food on your body. I researched power lifting, strength training, different approaches to building muscle, and the nutrients you need to fuel a heavy weightlifting regiment. I loved the health benefits of building muscle so I settled on that as my focus. Then I created a new exercise schedule that worked better for me by reducing the number of workouts each week from 6 to 4. I also reduced the length of my workouts from 2+ hours to around 1 hour and my cardio from 30 minutes to 10 minutes. Though my workouts were shorter they were also much harder because I began lifting heavier weights as well as sprinting during cardio instead of jogging. Excluding warm-ups & warm downs my current schedule looks something like this:

Monday: Shoulders & Biceps + 10 min cardio
Tuesday: Legs & Abs + 10 min cardio
Wednesday: RECOVERY (Optional cardio)
Thursday: Chest & Triceps + 10 min cardio
Friday: Glutes & Back + 10 min cardio
Saturday: RECOVERY
Sunday: RECOVERY

10 minutes of cardio may not seem like much but I do High Intensity Interval Training which can burn more than 150 calories in 10 minutes if you work hard. I much prefer this to a 30 minute run. It’s intense but quickly over! The 3 days of recovery allows my body to heal from the beating it takes throughout the week and I intentionally target each muscle area once per week. Many people target each muscle area 3 or 4 times a week but I’m not trying to win a body building competition. I just want to be strong, fit, and agile.

In regards to my diet, I’ve chosen to follow a low-carb diet (see link at bottom of page to read about the different types). The overload of sugar and carbohydrates in the typical American diet actually slows down our metabolism over time, causes dangerous spikes in our insulin levels, and makes us very susceptible to diabetes and major weight gain. Diabetes runs in my family so I knew that sugar needed to go. I became even more convinced of the low-carb diet when I went to the dentist for the first time in 6 years to discover that I had 8 cavities. The dentist’s advice moving forward was to clean my teeth after every meal & avoid sugar entirely. So I made the decision to focus on overcoming my sugar addiction. Though I love sugar, I love my body more so now mostly everything I eat is sugar-free. Occasionally I have protein pancakes with “sugar-free” syrup which doesn’t actually mean the syrup is sugar free. It’s just free of the dangerous sugars like fructose or sucrose. These sugars cause cavities and dangerous spikes in our insulin levels (at the bottom of the page I’ve linked a few articles with information about the different types of sugar).

So here I am, 4 months into 2017 and feeling incredible. I’ve bought food out on the road 4 times this entire year, only because it was an emergency, and never sacrificing my diet. I cook every week and I LOVE all my meals. I’ve never once had to starve myself but I have had to control myself. I LOVE my workouts too—they are the best part of my day. I leave the gym feeling invigorated, strong, and accomplished plus my workouts give me this incredible high that keeps me going till the end of the day. This endorphin high is probably just as good as any drug.

I don’t let anything interfere with my regiment, whether its friends, family, my boyfriend, or the social justice work that I do. I’ve informed everyone around me of what I’m doing with my life so they know not to try to pressure me into doing things I don’t want to do. I don’t skip workouts for meetings, I don’t skip workouts to spend time with friends—I don’t skip workouts unless it’s an emergency and if I have to skip I always make it up during a recovery day. My health is my priority. Everything else can wait.

If you’re on your own health/fitness journey and you need someone to talk to—feel free to reach out to me. I will give you my time. The rest of this blog is filled with tips, info, and links. Enjoy!


Tips to help you stay committed:

  1. Do Research: The more you understand why you’re doing something the more likely you’ll stick with it. Understanding the science of health and fitness makes a big difference. Research is time consuming so spread it out. In addition to reading dozens of articles I would add Youtube videos to a playlist and listen to them on my way to/from work, during my lunch break, and while I’m working out.
  2. Alter Your Social Media Environment: Surround yourself with images of people who are doing what you want to do. I have been following dozens of fitness fanatics on Instagram so my daily feed is filled with images of fit and healthy women plus great health and workout tips! It’s all very inspiring and keeps me going.
  3. Personalize Your Routine: Create a routine that suits you and your schedule. Whether you have to wake up extra early in the morning or do workouts late at night, most people can find an hour or two to spare. Don’t make excuses. Just find the time and don’t over do it.
  4. Alter Your Home Environment: Encourage the people in your household to join you. Keep unhealthy food out of your kitchen. When everyone is working towards a common goal it makes things easier. But by no means should you rely on anyone but yourself to stick to your goal.
  5. Pay Attention to Your Body: It’s important to know how food makes you feel. Since changing my diet, I’ve noticed how uncomfortable junk food makes my body feel. It doesn’t take more than 2 minutes for my stomach to start hurting. Paying attention to and acknowledging this feeling has helped me get better at staying away from the bad stuff.
  6. Track Your Progress: Whatever workouts you’re doing, whether it’s martial arts or weight training you should keep track of your progress and periodically set new goals.
  7. Focus Your Path on Long-Term Goals: Your biggest goals should be measured in years not months or weeks. Give yourself time to get good at something. For example, my focus for 2017 is strength building & weight training. 2018 will be dance and flexibility. 2019 will be martial arts and self-defense.
  8. Use a Schedule and Stick to It. Don’t let anything interfere with your regiment. Anything!
Foods I Rarely Eat Foods I Commonly Eat
juice, soda, sweetened tea, sweetened coffee water, water, water
wheat, rice, bread, crackers, bagels, eggs, chicken, turkey, cheese, butter, occasionally beef & pork,
sugary cookies, brownies, pastries, cakes, doughnuts etc low carb protein pancakes & syrup made with alternative sugar, low-sugar or sugar-free desserts
cow’s milk unsweetened almond, soy, & coconut milk
white flour, wheat flour almond flour, coconut flour
candy, chips, dried fruit, ice cream avocado, spinach, celery, onions, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, asparagus, arugula, zucchini, cauliflower, & string beans
highly processed or packaged foods

Its okay to indulge every once in a while. I don’t plan to never ever ever eat a regular cookie ever in life again.

 Links:

  1. The Complete Guide to Sugar
  2. 5 Types of Sugar that Harm Your Teeth
  3. The 8 Most Popular Ways to Do a Low-Carb Diet
  4. Benefit of Strength Training

 My Typical Meal Looks Like This: Sometimes I Replace the Meat With Eggs

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