I should preface this by saying that I became a Certified Personal Trainer this summer, but I wasn’t a trainer when I started writing this post. I got certified because I thought I could be a better trainer and help people more effectively, based on some of the experiences I’ve had.
I can’t remember a time in my life since age 12 when I wasn’t trying to lose weight, even when I wasn’t actually overweight. I grew up during the 90’s when the “waif look” was cool. I’m not built like Kate Moss so I always struggled to become what I saw on magazine covers. I even bought magazines that would advertise the best crash diets, and I would beat myself up for getting hungry and eating. This started a decades long struggle with yo-yo dieting, starving and then binge eating.
For me, going to the gym was always a punishment: I’m at the gym because I’ve let myself gain weight again. August 2007 I walked into Bally Total Fitness in North Carolina and I got a free session with a trainer. I weighed 172lbs which was the highest number I’d ever seen on the scale. (Little did I know that because of my unhealthy eating patterns, I would see 212lbs 4 years later). I had an awkward session with a trainer who was this super buff guy who didn’t say much during the session. He told me what to do, I remember doing walking lunges across the entire gym floor and feeling judged by his silence. Working out with a trainer who doesn’t even talk to you is a weird feeling. To be so down on yourself and you’re working out and its super hard because you haven’t walked into a gym in so long, and there is this really ripped dude just standing over you saying “ok, 3 more…”. As a trainer now I struggle mentally with the “do I even look like a trainer since I’m not super lean and shredded?” but fit doesn’t have a perfect size. I almost think I would have felt more comfortable as an overweight person working out with someone who was a little less shredded and a little more approachable. I also felt like I was being sold to: “we can get you to your weight goal for $1200”. Everything has a price.
A few years later my second encounter with a trainer was better, but he seemed to be missing 2 things: he wouldn’t tell me what to eat, and he didn’t understand the mental struggle I was going through. He was a great trainer and coach during workouts, but he kept trying to use my goal weight number as motivation for me and it only made me more mentally drained. I had lost 30lbs on my own before going to see him, and I was tired of focusing on the numbers because I wasn’t losing weight as fast as I wanted to be. He also had no idea that I was still restricting and overeating, he would weigh me and if I lost weight he’d say “just keep doing what you’re doing!” which is pretty irresponsible considering that he didn’t ask what I was doing to lose weight and I wasn’t always doing things the healthy way. We never talked about food. HUGE MISTAKE. He would show me this picture of the government recommended plate and the portions but really couldn’t have been less helpful. I would ask him “what’s the best way to lose body fat?” and he would draw me a diagram showing how women gain fat 3 times faster than men and lose it 3 times as slowly. That was the least motivating thing I’ve ever seen. Good information to have, but very discouraging when that isn’t followed by “and these are some things to do to help increase fat loss…”. This trainer also told me that I need to be eating between 1400-1500 calories. And when I told him I was starving when I restricted my calories to those numbers, he shrugged. That’s what the scale said I needed to be eating, so that was what he thought I needed to be eating. I learned later from a female trainer and bikini competitor that you actually DON’T want to restrict calories that much because it slows your metabolism. The trick is to eat as many calories as you can while still losing weight. On her plan, I got to choose what I wanted to eat, and I was consuming 1900 calories a day and still lost weight! Listen to your body, you know it better than anyone else. Biggest lesson I learned from her.
Most trainers seem to wonder why people don’t “just eat healthy” or “put down the fork”. What they don’t realize is the mental difficulty involved with losing a significant amount of weight. It’s hard to keep going when you feel so unhappy about your body. I’ve lived a life where I lost 20lbs but I was still obese. I’ve felt at times like there’s no point in continuing because it’s going to take too long to see results which is daunting to think about and that crushed me. Trainers probably don’t realize how many people are starving then binge eating, and if trainers would help people with those issues, the mental aspect, they would be helping people more. Finding a way to love yourself during the process of bettering yourself is critical to maintaining results. Also it’s easier to lose the weight, it’s maintenance that is the real challenge. A lot of people don’t realize that the method you choose to lose the weight is the method you have to use to maintain. I’ve been there a million times thinking “I’ll just eat low carb for a while to lose the weight and then I’ll add carbs back in when I’m done.” Doesn’t work. The best way to eat for weight loss is the way you can maintain forever, you need to enjoy it. It’s a lifestyle so choose your diet wisely.
In October 2011 I started a weight loss path that led me to losing 50lbs. The first time. The first 44lbs came off in 4months because I was totally obsessed with calorie counting. It worked for me to lose the weight but it drove me to gaining it all back. I had a heart rate monitor that I would wear to track the calorie burn when I worked out at home or hiked. It helped me to push harder when I saw those numbers, and the math all added up to weight loss. But I was going insane. The numbers, and the counting, and the obsessing and the logging. I logged my food and exercise every single day for a YEAR. Over a year. But I was 10lbs away from my weight loss goal and I was so frustrated by the image in the mirror. I thought: “It just doesn’t look like I’m only 10lbs away. I bet I’m 20lbs away. I just cant bear to have to lose 20 more pounds.” So I quit on myself. Instead of maintaining, I just quit. I ate whatever I wanted because I felt deprived for so long. I distinctly remember when I had gained back 9 lbs, that’s when I gave up. I gained the weight back so fast because my body was working against me since I had starved it for so long. But I also just didn’t know how to live life at a steady weight. I had always been in a cycle of starve and binge. It’s hard to understand the “lifestyle” when you’ve never had a normal relationship with food.
I remember the moment I understood what a “lifestyle change” was, I was in the shower after a workout, thinking about what I was going to eat before work. Then it hit me. This is my life now. This isn’t the way I’m eating temporarily, this is how I’m going to have to eat forever. And I was sad. Food meant that much to me. I missed my binge eating for a while. It took me a long time to get past the feeling of wanting to be overly full, because that feeling used to comfort me.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS: LIVE YOUR LIFE
Being “on a diet” is a real downer. You want to bridge the line between participating in your own life and being a slave to the weight loss path. You want to feel free to go out knowing that you can still have a social life and stay on a path towards your goals. This is especially important during the holidays. I just want to be like everyone else, live like a normal person, eat without feeling guilty about everything, no regrets. And you will have food regrets, or overeating regrets, but you have to keep going. Use it as a learning experience, it’s not the end of the world. Get an understanding of why you over-ate, were you starving all day? It’s not our fault that we binge eat, if we restrict food for too long our body’s systems will kick in thinking that we’re in a state of famine, and we get the instinct to eat everything in sight. You are not a failure. We’re built to eat food.
GETTING FOOD ON POINT
Look at eating patterns and figure out what time of day you’re falling off the wagon. For me, in the past I was not a weekday breakfast eater. I would skip breakfast or have a bar of some kind. When I was first trying to eat healthier I would mix plain Greek yogurt with fruit for breakfast, but that wasn’t filling and I ultimately cut out most dairy. (You’ll never take my cheese though). I learned to front-load my food during the day and pare down food at night. I was a nighttime binge eater. I learned that in order to be hungry for breakfast I needed to eat less at night. Working out in the morning also helps me. The biggest thing is, don’t let yourself get too hungry. Snacks are key, and if you’re hungry EAT. I don’t care what your calorie count for the day is, you don’t need to starve yourself to lose weight. You will have higher calorie days and lower calorie days. Keeping some snacks around is key: nuts, protein powder, boiled egg, piece of fruit, string cheese, ½ a turkey sandwich.
THE RULES I USED TO GET STARTED
No calorie counting (because I got too obsessed with it before and I didn’t know how to stop). This one was really hard because I felt like I had control when I was counting food.
Cook my own food. I focused on food before exercise. Food is the biggest component to weight loss, so get that going first. Once I had the food on a consistent path, I started waking up earlier in the morning so I could workout before work. I hate evening exercise, if I save it until the end of the day I probably won’t do it. Also, I have a better day (I’m in a better mood) when I have already accomplished my workout first thing.
I gave myself a year to lose 30lbs. I set an initial weight goal based on the last time I felt good about myself. I knew if I got there then I could set a new goal later.
I had to talk myself down from a ledge many times when I wasn’t losing weight fast enough and I wanted to give up. But I always remind myself that maintaining is better than gaining, and it’s ok to take breaks to maintain.
FIND YOUR WHY
When I was obese, I avoided exercise. I didn’t want to sweat and I didn’t want to breathe heavy. That would be work and it would be hard, uncomfortable, I would be tired and feel bad about myself. I had even started to avoid hiking because I was always so much slower than everyone else and I was tired of being the slow fat sweaty girl on the trail. I stopped participating in my own life! I enjoy hiking and it’s sad that I spent a summer avoiding it. At first I started exercising so that I could keep up with my friends and my husband on the trail. The best form of exercise is the kind you enjoy, you’ll stick with it. Stop thinking of exercise as “I’m going to lose weight, or get a flat belly” think of it more as movement something we should do all day. Also, we generate energy when we exercise, which is why we feel like we have more energy when we exercise regularly.
In the end, you should enjoy your life, celebrate all the things your body is capable of, and workout because you love your body and you want to make it even better! Exercise is the best anti-depressant.