This is me in July 2013, walking our cat Orange on a leash. (He also comes when he’s called and sits up and begs for treats.)
I have a BS in biology and a master’s in German, and at that time, I was a writer, editor, translator, language teacher, volunteer and mom. Pretty much everything I did involved words and thinking (or cooking).
Even as a child, I’d been a nerd and a reader, uncoordinated, nearsighted, non-flexible, and generally picked last for teams during gym class. Although I did enjoy swimming, riding my bike, and galloping around my back yard pretending to be a horse, being physically active was not part of my identity.
A few months after the photo above was taken, I read a book called Younger Next Year, which presents two simple principles to fight and even reverse aging (which was starting to be a concern for me at age 52): (1) “Don’t eat crap,” and (2) Work out for an hour a day, including strength training twice a week, for the rest of your life.
That sounds right, I thought. But it seemed hard to imagine.
This is me in December 2013. I had just joined 24 Hour Fitness, recommended by my good friend Jen. My plan was to lose 20 pounds, getting back to the borderline between normal and overweight (where I’d hung out basically all my life). I would achieve this by going to a water aerobics class at my new club several times a week, accompanied by a “don’t eat crap” eating plan that focused on whole foods and cut out refined carbs, including (gulp) pasta and bread.
I started a food journal and promptly found that I wasn’t eating as healthfully as I’d thought. I added more vegetables and developed strategies to combat the almost-daily “special occasions.” My new friends in the Aqua Zumba class encouraged me to try “land” Zumba. I am terrible at following dance moves, I said. And I can’t jump with these knees.
But I got a pedometer and started walking 10,000 steps a day. I used some meal-replacement shakes such as CalNaturale . I watched the documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead,” bought a juicer, and started drinking “Mean Green” with kale, ginger, cucumber, celery, apple and lemon.
I finally ventured into the regular Zumba class, standing next to friends in the dark at the back of the room, behind a post. Nobody cared if I was doing the “right” steps. And the boundlessly enthusiastic Elvie played irresistible songs and made the moves easy to follow. At home, I started to run in the neighborhood. Half a mile, then one mile without stopping. For the first time in my life.
This is me in July 2014. I’d lost the planned 20 pounds. More importantly, my new lifestyle was fun, and I was feeling great. I ventured into more classes: Les Mills Bodypump (yes! weights twice a week!), Combat (kicking and punching the air; sounds cheesy, but the teachers made us feel like martial artists). Indoor cycling and “Bodyattack” were not my thing. But I found at least one class a day inspiring and fun, sometimes even two. An hour a day. For the rest of your life. I was there.
I ate Rao’s spaghetti sauce on shredded vegetables, hamburgers on lettuce, and fruit. After a while I stopped missing things that were “not on my list.” A few exceptions were still OK, logged into my food journal and balanced out with more healthful choices.
By November 2014, I was 43 pounds down. I knew that to stay there, I had to continue working out and eating in the same way. Fortunately, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
By this time it was clear that my journey was about much more than weight loss. I was prioritizing my own well-being, claiming new powers (meditating! fasting! fixing my posture! asserting myself!), and gaining new respect and appreciation for my body, including all of its potential and all of its flaws.
In 2015 my husband became the U.S. Consul in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. I set up a weight room at our house, did Bodypump with DVDs and yoga with a YogaGlo subscription, danced Elvie’s Zumba routines by myself, and worked out in a small pool. Thanks to new friends, I also found local (free!) boxing lessons and great Zumba and Pilates classes. I even participated in some 5K races and a sprint triathlon.
And I started getting other people moving: I led a water aerobics class; organized lunchtime yoga and Meditation Monday using streaming classes; taught two adults to swim; drove a group to boxing class; and coached a colleague as he took up running for the first time.
This is me doing Bodypump at home in 2018 with my great and fierce Mexican friend Viviana (a PhD scientist). (The flooring is horse stall matting from Tractor Supply Inc.)
In Mexico, I finally decided what I want to be when I grow up. In April 2017, I passed the qualifying exam as an ACE® Certified Personal Trainer (favorite unofficial study aid: Poke-a-Muscle), and then in November I became an ACE® Certified Health Coach. I’m now working on further education as a Behavior Change Specialist.
I’m qualified to be your health coach, or your personal trainer, because of my education, training and experience, not because of my personal story. I know very well that we are all unique, and what worked for me may not be right for you at all. But my story gives me insight and compassion, and just seeing me change has inspired many people, who realize that if I can do it, they can too.
I set out to lose 20 pounds, but I ended up in a place I never could have imagined. And what I realize now is that the journey isn’t about weight loss at all. It’s about learning to calm our minds, sleep restfully and manage the inevitable stress in our lives. It’s about protecting ourselves from a dysfunctional environment of processed foods, sedentary lifestyles and joint repair surgeries. It’s about nourishing and healing our bodies with the foods we evolved to thrive on; straightening up from our hunched postures; and sending our muscles and bones daily messages to get stronger, even as we age. It’s about taking a clear-eyed, compassionate look at ourselves (or a photo of ourselves walking a cat), accepting where we are now, and bravely stepping forward in new directions. Thanks for reading this, and let’s be fierce together!