When I was in second grade, one of the boys in my class told me I was fat because girls have to have babies. That was the first time I ever felt embarrassed or discouraged about my body. I was bigger than everyone I grew up with-a little taller, a little rounder, and it bothered me. I had very little understanding about nutrition or exercise or weight, so I just assumed that that’s the way I was, and I accepted that.
As I grew older, my weight steadily increased. I was unhappy with the way I looked but felt helpless and powerless to change. I didn’t understand how to be healthy, or what healthy habits really were.
The summer after my junior year, I had knee surgery on both of my knees at the same time. The doctor explained it would be a couple weeks before I could walk at all, even just to get up to go to the bathroom. That meant bathroom trips were always assisted by other people. I slept on the couch on the main floor of the house, and my siblings were always happy to run and get me food. I got a little bit depressed. I couldn’t leave the house. There was nothing to do but eat and sleep and watch tv. I figured that I’d probably gain weight anyway and I could “Fix it” the next year.
Starting out my senior year, I weighed in at 220 pounds. It blew my mind how my weight had crept up on me. I was really ashamed of myself.
I tried lots of things senior year. I learned that there are lots of ways to “lose weight”. I went on the “just vegetables” diet. I avoided proteins and fats because proteins help your muscles grow (didn’t want any more bulkiness going on) and fats are high calorie. I avoided dairy because I heard that too much dairy could clog up your digestive system, and I wanted to make sure there was nothing preventing me from losing weight. Then my brother pointed out that I was lowering my metabolism by not eating enough, so that would make me gain weight eventually. So I switched to eating 12 almonds in the morning and then not eating anything till dinner that night. My dinner would be a sandwich, or a candy bar, or a serving of whatever my mom put on the table. I’d snack on Altoids throughout the day so I felt like I was chewing something. I went through a pack of Altoids a day. I got down to 175 in 3 months with my “Diet” and my friends complimented me all the time on how good I was looking and how I had such great self control. The Altoids and the compliments fueled me. But when I was by myself, I felt fatigued and sick and tired.
One day at my after school job, I felt so tired that I just sat down on the floor in the corner. One of my coworkers stopped by and said “There is something seriously wrong with you. I don’t know what it is. But you’re not okay.” I decided I needed to change my relationship with food and be okay with eating again. As a family, we went out to breakfast for my brother, and I ordered a big cheesy omelette to prove to myself that I could eat and still be okay.
I downed that omelette in record time. It tasted amazing. But moments later, I was in agonizing pain. My stomach hurt incredibly bad. Bad enough that my mom took me to the doctor later that day. I described my symptoms to the doctor and she asked me about my eating habits. The doctor said that by cutting out entire food groups like that, my body had sort of forgotten how to digest food. My digestive system just wasn’t used to having so much work to do and was overwhelmed by what I had done. I felt so discouraged. When I don’t eat? Tired and sick. When I do eat serious pain. Either way, I wasn’t getting anywhere and couldn’t figure out how I could make it right.
That feeling of discouragement and desperation is common. I was ready and willing to try any quick fix or pill. I craved change, but the habits I was trying to build were either too many all at once or ones that were not realistically sustainable.
I started working out with a personal trainer one time a week. That meant that once a week for 30 minutes, I knew I was getting a solid workout. But I also talked with my trainer about nutrition. She had me keep a food journal for 3 days and then she went over it with me. She told me which things I needed more of, which things I needed less of. She gave me target portion sizes and a sample eating schedule. I did everything exactly how she told me to do it, and it started to work. The weight came off (more slowly, of course) but it was working. I would lift weights with her once a week, and then come in and do cardio on the other days.
I got a new trainer. He was awesome. He brought out the competitive side of me with our workouts. He pointed out and highlighted when he saw improvements in me. He told me that he’d been bragging about me. I tried my best to follow his prescribed exercise program and when I did, I felt awesome. I felt strong. I followed the meal plan set by the earlier trainer and tried to always go above and beyond with the exercise. I was hooked. I loved changing my body.
When summer came, I was at the gym first thing every morning. I’d get in about an hour of cardio, and another hour around midday, and then an hour or two in the evening if I ate something I felt guilty about. I’d go to the Cardio Cinema room and watch movies while I casually exercised. I’d leave sweating. I’d do some casual strength training, and then I’d leave.
I found a balance with my eating and my exercising that I felt good about. 2-4 hours of exercise a day and a pretty solid nutrition plan, and I was set.
And then I sprained my ankle.
And school started.
And I got a job at a fast food restaurant.
I was absolutely and completely totally frustrated again. I didn’t have time to be at the gym late at night. I couldn’t get up early enough to exercise in the morning.
And then I found CrossFit. CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that uses functional movements in different combinations, for different lengths of time, at a high intensity. The intensity component was something that was of great interest to me. Because intensity? Intensity is scientifically and chemically the key to physical change. When you push yourself as hard as you can stand and then a little bit harder still, you find that you’re working faster than your lungs can keep up with. So after you exercise, you’re in a state of “Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption”. You might notice this for a short time after you stop exercising. Breathing heavier, heart’s thudding? But the total recovery part after the intense training goes beyond what you can physically see and lasts after your heart rate returns to normal. One thing that happens is your body releases free fatty acids into your blood stream to be metabolized. Also known as, your body burns even more fat after you’re done exercising. Your metabolism revs up as you’re body strives to recover. If you hit that intensity pretty consistently, your body will learn that you’re not going to let up and that it better get tougher if it wants to survive. So your bones get more dense, your muscles get tougher, your connective tissue becomes more resilient, your heart and lungs become more efficient.
And then, like magic, you can go harder. Faster. Stronger. Leaner. More toned. Healthier.
I didn’t really understand that intensity factor until I became a coach. I knew I loved it. I knew I loved not needing to be on a machine for about 1/6th of my day. I loved having a social life, not just watching movies in the dark by myself. I loved meeting people at the CrossFit box and hearing their stories and finding out their goals and discovering what they’re doing and why it’s important to them. I love talking to people who know more than I do about quality nutrition, who really understand what quality nutrition means and how to apply those principles. I loved the results I saw. I still had to work for the results, but it was more enjoyable. I don’t panic if I occasionally eat something I shouldn’t have. My focus with my nutrition now is to eat in a way that will give my body quality fuel to drive my workouts and to eat in a way that will give my body the nutrients it needs to recover from my workouts. That helps me to bring the intensity which in turn helps me see progress.
I’ve learned also that progress doesn’t mean just the number on the scale. I still check the number on the scale because old habits die hard. But progress for me can also be the ability to lift heavier, move faster, feel stronger, and be happier.
And that’s why I wanted to be a coach.
I’ve been all over the spectrum. I’ve been overweight, I’ve had an eating disorder, I’ve had an obsessive exercise problem. And with my eating habits? Same thing. I’ve binged, starved, emotionally ate, ate just vegetables, ate just protein and with my years of experience in messing up my own health, I have learned how to improve my health.
I’ve learned what it takes to truly improve health for the long term, and that all comes down to lifestyle. I’ve learned more about balance and about acceptance and about needing to have patience with myself.
I’ve read textbooks about nutrition, anatomy, physiology, and tried to understand everything I could about how the body physically functions.
I’ve read books about human behavior, about change psychology, about willpower, about habits.
I’ve searched internet sites about supplements, different exercise styles, different nutrition patterns, different ways of reaching different goals, and different ways of reaching the same goal.
I’ve read studies and analyzed them for flaws and drawn some of my own conclusions.
I discuss nutrition, exercise, and other lifestyle habits with people at work, people at CrossFit, and my husband every single day.
I’ve been a CrossFit coach for 17 months and a wellness coach for 10. I’ve learned so much. And I’m always hungry to learn more and to improve.
I absolutely love coaching. I love being able to use my background and my experience to help other people change their lives.
I was asked today to think about and write out “Why I Coach”.
This was probably way more than anyone would ever want to read.
But thanks for trudging through it anyway.