I always hated sweat and dirt. As a result, I spent most of my childhood with my nose in a good book. My individual athletic career (ice skating, gymnastics and ballet) pretty much ended before my tenth birthday when I realized
I had neither the aptitude nor the desire to excel at any of the athletic pursuits I had tried. My basketball career ended ignominiously in eighth grade when I develop stress fractures in my feet that have bothered me ever since. (It hadn’t been much of a career – in seventh grade, my team had been defeated 42-0 in one game, and the highlight of the season was breaking into double digits one game, as a team!) I tried out for the swim team in high school, only to be lapped by almost everyone out there. In short, by the middle of ninth grade, I concluded I wasn’t much of an athlete but because I was an excellent student, I would concentrate on that. I’d always been able to eat whatever I wanted and still stay slim, so I saw no need to run or do anything that made me sweat.
In college and law school, I wore spandex leggings and crop tops because they were fashionable, and not because they were good workout wear. I’d occasionally swing by the gym with friends if they dragged me, but continued to eat junk and drink lots of beer of questionable origins. I never gained the freshman fifteen and thought I’d simply gotten lucky and ended up with the amazing metabolism with which my father’s side of the family is blessed. I actually lost a ton of weight my first year of law school because of stress, and took that as license to eat like a jerk to gain back the weight I had lost.
As a younger adult, I worked too much, pretended to exercise on occasion and pretty much ate whatever I felt like without any real thought to its long-term consequences. Breakfast didn’t exist, lunch was usually a sandwich at my desk or in the hall of the courthouse between case, and dinner was either takeout or eaten out. I was too busy to eat enough, let alone too much. Even as a young parent, I took neither nutrition nor exercise seriously. There were more nights that I can count of takeout or precooked comfort food meals from the grocery store after a long day of work, with little or no thought given to the nutritional contents of what I was eating.
It was only when I reached my forties and I started packing on five or so pounds a year with no change in my diet or exercise routine that I realized I needed to do things differently. I began to treat exercise as a priority, and saw some gains in both physique and strength, but didn’t really change how or what I ate. I’d lose ten pounds, then gain twelve back, over and over again. I had a master’s degree in yo-yo dieting, with no real knowledge or understanding of nutritional concepts. I stalled out at the gym, pushed too hard with not enough muscle on my body, and starting piling on the injuries as a result. I was the quintessential definition of skinny fat, and had been for more than three decades.
Fast forward a few years, and I finally found a set of nutrition habits that work for me. I began to lose weight, look and feel leaner and more powerful, and have more energy, all while eating MORE food than I thought I needed. In particular, I found I had been undereating protein, vegetables, and some kinds of carbs and overeating less healthy carbs and fats. With more energy and less body weight, I was able to put in harder and longer workouts more consistently, resulting in more changes to my strength and work capacity. Putting together the critical link between exercise and nutrition has been my key to transitioning from flab to, well, feeling fab. Today, in my late forties, I am stronger, leaner, and healthier than I was when I was twenty-five.
Now, my goals are about getting even stronger and healthier than I am now. I’m deliberately trying to put on more muscle, which by necessity means purposefully putting on some fat as well. The number on the scale is no longer a driving force for me – the numbers in the gym are.
What have I realized on this journey? First, it is NEVER too late to start. Whether you are in your twenties, forties, or sixties, dialing in your nutrition will result in lasting improvements to your health and happiness. Second, you don’t have to be an athlete to become one. I’m still never going to win any feats of strength or agility, but I do consider myself an athlete today. I train, I make sacrifices for my training, and I eat like an athlete, so yeah, I am an athlete too! Third, it really is all in my head. Once I started changing the way I think about myself and believed I could make changes to my body and my performance, they started happening. Finally, as a good friend from the gym always says, it is about progress, not perfection. I constantly have missteps in my nutrition, exercise, and everything else in life, but I don’t let them derail me like I used to. Instead, I move on to the next meal, workout, or project and nail it as best I can. One step forward and two steps back has turned into two steps forward and one step back, and I’m going to keep walking down that path to a fitter, healthier me.
Nutrition Coach, Mountain Strength Crossfit
Owner, Fit & Fabulous LLC
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