Posts Tagged With: diet

Welcoming 2013 with New Goals…Not Resolutions!

First things first: for those of you who have followed me over the years, as well as those who are seeing this blog for the very first time, I vow to you that THIS will be the year that I uphold my promise to update more frequently! I’ve set a very realistic and manageable goal — two posts per week — and I’m sticking to it.

So here it goes.happynewyear

Although I love the idea of a fresh start every January 1st, I’m really not a New Year’s resolution kind of gal. Anyone who has ever promised themselves that they’d lose weight in [insert year here] only to find themselves back on the couch with a bag of chips by January 15th knows that it takes a whole lot more than declaring a “resolution” once a year to make a permanent lifestyle change.

I prefer to live my one and only “resolution” — leading a healthy lifestyle — 365 days a year.

However, if there’s anything that the last six months of 2012 taught me, it’s that consistent goal-setting really is EVERYTHING. And best of all, you don’t have to wait until January 1, 2014 to set new goals for yourself…you can do it all year round!

Early last year, I would describe myself as a recreational runner at best. It was something I did to exercise, and that was pretty much it. At that point, I had participated in a few 5Ks and 4-milers “just for fun,” and had to admit that the thrill of crossing the finish line was unlike any I had ever experienced. I couldn’t deny my growing desire to give running a real shot.

I wanted to try a real training plan and I wanted to learn how to get faster and stronger, but I still couldn’t quite deny that nagging little voice in my head telling me that I would ALWAYS be too fat to run.

So when I raced in my local Firecracker 4-Miler on July 4th and found that my finishing time had not improved one little bit from my first time running the race in 2011 (it was also my first race overall), I decided it was time to make a choice.

Was I going to be a “real” runner, or what? And if so…what the heck was I waiting for?

I had to set a goal. A real goal. One that I couldn’t back out of even I wanted to. And that’s why, last August, I ended up setting the ultimate goal: to run a half-marathon. And not just any half-marathon…the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Feb. 2013.

I paid the pricey registration, booked myself an on-site room on the Walt Disney World resort, started comparing airfare, and Googled like crazy to find half-marathon training plans and advice on how I was actually going to make this goal a reality.

In the last six months of 2012, I followed training plans from Cool Running and raced in a handful of 5ks, 4-milers, and a 5-miler — and, surprise, surprise — my times started getting better and better! I even participated in two 10Ks, and much to my amazement, finished both in under 60 minutes.

I began the year struggling to maintain a 10-minute/mile pace, and now I’m averaging a 9-minute/mile pace. In 2011, I was running a 40-minute 4-miler, and now it takes me about 35 minutes. My 5K PR once hovered around 29 minutes, and in October I completed a sub-28 minute 5K for the first time.

thanksgiving

I celebrated the holidays not with alcohol and turkey and sweets (okay, fine, there was SOME of that going on!) but by racing in “turkey trots” and “jingle bell” runs. My Christmas list consisted of pretty much nothing but running gear and accessories, from a Garmin Forerunner 410 to more BondiBands and Sparkle Skirts to another Spibelt and fuel belt for long runs.

Yes, that’s right…I’m even doing “long runs” now! I used to think that the idea of me running five miles was laughable, if not downright impossible. And now my long runs are up to 10 miles and counting!

christmasBottom line? I am absolutely, utterly addicted to running. And it’s because I finally mustered the courage to set a goal that I can proudly say today that I am a “real” runner.

Whether it’s a weight loss goal (say, shedding those few extra holiday pounds!) or a running-related goal (like setting a new PR), consistently challenging ourselves with new feats to accomplish is how we grow. And that is why I’ve decided to make it official and declare my top three goals for 2013:

1.) Cross the finish line of my first half-marathon. An obvious choice! Aside from my weight loss, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything this much. I don’t care how long it takes me, or if I have to crawl across the finish line…I WILL do this!

2.) Pay closer attention to what my body is telling me. This is a big one for me. In the last few months I’ve dealt with a few minor injuries that I know resulted in pushing myself too hard. I combine my half-marathon training with my Muay Thai kickboxing, and because my two workouts of choice happen to be very high-impact, I’m working on learning how to just let my body rest (without the need to call myself “lazy”) and to know when I need to scale back my efforts for the sake of my well-being.

10k3.) Strive for improvement, not perfection. I am notoriously hard on myself, so when setting new goals this year, I will focus not on being “perfect” but on recognizing and celebrating my own personal improvement. That means no more beating myself up at the finish line when I miss setting a new PR or other time goal, or berating myself for indulging in dessert or not exactly following the day’s food plan. I am not perfect. I will never be perfect. And it’s time I start admitting it!

What are some of your goals for 2013?

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Five Years Later: In for the Long Haul

At this time five years ago, I was embarking upon my most recent weight loss journey. I started Weight Watchers for the umpteenth time in November 2007 — the weekend right after Thanksgiving, no less!

This is, by far, the longest I have ever succeeded in sticking to a “diet,” and it is absolutely the first time I’ve ever been able to maintain my weight loss — I’ve been maintaining my 90-pound loss since the beginning of 2009.

And it’s all because it stopped being a “diet” to me after the first week or two on the program.

If you had told me in 2007 that I would one day train for a half marathon or wear a bikini or actually enjoy eating spinach, I would have laughed in your face. These were things that were so completely foreign to me, and yet just five years later my love of quinoa and addiction to 10Ks are part of my daily life.

It took me quite some time to figure out that weight loss isn’t about going on a diet and starving yourself. It’s about making a commitment…to healthy eating and exercise, of course, but also to not allowing yourself to give up.

pumpkin2007I am where I am today because I decided to make eating nutritious foods and exercising several times a week my new lifestyle. I made it part of who I was as a person, not just something I was doing to drop a few dress sizes. I don’t just run…I became a runner. I don’t just go to kickboxing or Taekwondo classes…I became a martial artist. I didn’t just start eating salads and skipping dessert…I took the time to educate myself on what my body needs to function at its best, and became passionate about nutrition.

At first, however, I was inspired to rejoin Weight Watchers at age 22 for no other reason than fear: I had stepped on the scale (“just for fun”) and saw that I was well on my way to becoming a 300-pound 25-year-old.

My first official weigh-in clocked me in at 263.4 pounds. At the time, I was busting out of my size 20/22W pants.

Today, I continue to hover right around 175 pounds, and am a very comfortable size 8/10M.DSCF1718

Did I think that I would be at my “goal weight” by now? No question about it. I’d love to step on the scale and see a nice red 135 or 140. But if there’s anything that I’ve learned in the last five years, it’s that weight is truly just a number…and that it is far more important to learn to accept your body and appreciate your health. I don’t love my loose skin or my stretch marks, but you know what? I earned them — and they will forever remain visual proof of just how far I’ve come.

Instead of constantly tearing myself down, I’ve learned to take pride in my efforts. I don’t eat perfectly every single moment of every single day, but I do the best I can — and if I happen to indulge in an extra holiday cookie or two (or three or four…) this month, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

I eat ice cream and chips and chocolate, but they no longer control me…I know that I can enjoy the foods I love in moderation without falling victim to my old ways. I’m not the fastest runner, but I continue to lace up my sneakers almost every day and register for races because I’ve learned to be happy with progress — not perfection. I’m doing everything I can to take care of my body and make up for two decades of taking my health for granted.

Five years ago, I couldn’t begin to describe the misery I was experiencing every single day. Being obese is about more than having trouble finding cute clothes…it affects the way you see yourself, and touches every aspect of your life. I refused to participate in anything for fear of what people might be thinking about “that fat girl.” To me, everything was impossible, and I decided that any dream I had (e.g. becoming a writer) was simply out of my reach. And that was that. I was unhappy, and I just didn’t like myself…and that’s the only logical explanation that I can offer for allowing myself to pack on 100 pounds over the course of five years.

bryantpark2007My non-working hours were spent gouging myself on junk food when I thought nobody was looking, and I was practically on a first-name basis with the drive-thru employees at every fast food chain in a five-mile radius.  While I graduated high school as a reasonable size 10/12 (only because I crash-dieted and lost 60 pounds for the prom), I proceeded to pack on the freshman 50 once I started college…and an additional 50 after that by the time I was working at my first magazine job and struggling to find the confidence to pitch stories and take on more writing assignments. To me, nothing I did was good enough. I suffered from severe acid reflux and who knows what else, since I refused to visit a doctor for fear that they might give me a lecture about being too fat.

I did nothing to fix any of these problems, because I was so sure that I was destined to live a life of obesity. I had given up on myself at age 22, and simply resigned myself to being fat for the rest of my life. I can tell you from firsthand experience that there is absolutely nothing worse than believing that you are not just not worthy of happiness.DSCF1930

Today, I still have my share of problems. Believe me when I tell you that weight loss does not magically make your life perfect, and I continue to struggle every day with many of the same issues I had when I was 100 pounds heavier, from difficulty making friends to dealing with stress without making a trip to the refrigerator.

But for someone who has relied on food for comfort since childhood, the fact that I am here, five years later, has changed my entire outlook on life. If I can finally develop a healthy relationship with food or learn to love working out, then I can do ANYTHING. Sure, it’s great to wear cute dresses and not hate the way I look in every single photo, but knowing that I have done something many people struggle to do their entire lives means more to me than anything else in the world.

I have changed my life. I have rewritten my own life story. I have transformed myself from someone who couldn’t walk for 10 minutes to someone who runs 10 miles on the weekend.

I look forward to another five years of health and happiness…and, who knows, maybe by my 10-year anniversary blog post I’ll be training for my second or third full marathon. Anything is possible!

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Staying in Control Through Hurricanes and Snowstorms

As you may (or may not) know, I write from the great state of New Jersey. After living through Hurricane Sandy and witnessing the havoc it wreaked across my state, and now bracing for this lovely Nor’easter that has just arrived (in fact, I’m blogging from a power-less apartment after my electricity was shut off, AGAIN) I have slowly been losing control…over my mind, and also over my fitness regimen.

And I am not happy.

As someone who has come to loathe running on a treadmill, I do all of my race training in the Great Outdoors. But then a hurricane knocks down countless trees and power lines along my usual running routes, or blistering cold, rain, and snow (in the first week of November, for crying out loud!) make it unsafe to pound the pavement, and I’m finding myself losing momentum.

The Disney Princess Half Marathon is but a few short months away, and yet my latest long training run (8.5 miles, my furthest yet!) seems a distant memory. Meanwhile, my car is now officially out of gas, since I refused to wait in 3+ hour lines to fuel up, and my lack of ability to do any recreational driving means I can’t even get to my kickboxing or Taekwondo classes…not to mention the fact that the studio where I take class lost power for over a week.

The cherry on top of it all? Local supermarkets have been picked clean, and we currently have nothing but carb-laden pastas and boxed macaroni n’ cheese in the house. Meanwhile, I’ve always been an emotional eater, and thanks to the news and images of the death and destruction caused by the hurricane, I find myself fighting every day to keep my paws out of the Halloween candy that we never had a chance to give out (trick or treating has been cancelled until further notice in my town). I’m sure that I’ve certainly put on at least the “Sandy 5” already...quite possibly the “Sandy 10,” if I’m going to be completely honest.

Runners know that without a consistent training plan and lots and lots of practice, there’s little chance of improvement — not a problem a person training for her first half marathon wants to have! I was very disappointed when the Jersey Shore Running Club’s Trick or Trot” was cancelled, as was my much-anticipated PurpleStride 5K for pancreatic cancer, due to the storm. However, I was fortunate enough to run one Halloween-themed 5K right before the storm hit (dressed as Winnie the Pooh, in my new Team Sparkle skirt!)…and even though I had spent the previous evening dressed up as Minnie Mouse and guzzling cosmos, I somehow managed to PR! I’ve never broken 28 minutes in a 5K before, and my official chip time was 27:59.

As a Type-A personality, I need structure and consistency like most people need air — and now that inclement weather has interrupted the majority of my training runs and races these past two weeks, I feel completely out of control…and out of shape.

But then when I do make it to karate, or successfully complete even a quick 3-mile run, I feel a thousand times better. As soon as I feel that first bead of sweat begin to pour down my face, suddenly, everything feels right with the world. Call it endorphins, call it “runner’s high,” call it whatever you want, but these days, sticking to a workout regimen seems to be the only way for me to feel in control of my life.

When you witness the devastation of a weather event like a hurricane, you also can’t help but to feel grateful for what you have. I survived the hurricane with little more than a temporary loss of electricity, but there are people whose homes and all earthly possessions are gone — and whose lives were lost. It makes me think about the material possessions I am fortunate enough to be enjoying right now, like a roof over my head. However, as someone who has taken my health for granted for so many years, it also makes me genuinely appreciate everything that I can do now — from running to martial arts — and just how strong I am.

I am healthy and I am fit, and as long as I keep eating right and running and kicking, nothing can take that away from me.

Not a hurricane, and definitely not a snowstorm.

There are a whole lot of things in life that we have no control over, including natural disasters, but what we do have a say in is what we put into our bodies and how often we lace up our sneakers.

I may not be able to officially return to my stringent training plan for another few days, but I am squeezing in a sweat session as often as I can!

Has the weather ever affected your training plans or workout routine?

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Racing for a Cure: PurpleStride New Jersey 2012

I’m not one who usually solicits donations for anything, but I did want to share the details of a particularly special upcoming 5K race here in the hopes that someone might find it in their heart to donate just a few dollars to a very worthy cause.

On November 4, I will once again be running in the annual PurpleStride New Jersey event in Parsippany. The timed race and awareness walk benefits the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, a nationwide team of incredibly devoted people who are doing everything in their power to find a cure and create awareness for this horrible disease.

In 2004, my life was forever changed by pancreatic cancer when my beloved grandfather, Charles Gleason, succumbed to the disease. He was diagnosed in January after complaints of abdominal discomfort and loss of appetite — and by July, he was gone. Like most cases of pancreatic cancer, by the time he experienced any symptoms, it was too late.

Overall, there is only a six percent survival rate for pancreatic cancer over a five-year period, and it’s the fourth leading cause of cancer death. Though anyone who sees a pink ribbon immediately thinks about breast cancer, unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is a disease that nobody seems to talk about…it remains the most under-funded and least-studied of all major cancer killers. In fact, pancreatic cancer research earns only two percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget.

And that is why those of us who were touched by this disease have to continue the fight. During my first PurpleStride race last year, I had been listening to a special playlist of Johnny Cash hits — he was Pop’s absolute favorite, and it was a rare occasion to enter his home without the sounds of “Ring of Fire” or “Folsom Prison Blues” playing in the background. Just as I crossed the finish line, I yanked out my iPod earbuds and realized that music had just started playing over the loud speaker…and it was “I Walk the Line.”

It was the first time since his death that I knew without a doubt that he was with me…and that I had made him proud. He was always concerned about my weight struggles and endless bouts of yo-yo dieting, so it’s especially meaningful to me that I can honor his memory through my newfound love of running and 90-pound weight loss.

This year, my sister Christine and I will be participating in the PurpleStride New Jersey event together as team “Charlie’s Angels.” I’ve been training for a new sub-28 minute 5K PR, and it will be her very first race!

Losing Pop remains the most devastating experience of my life. He was more than just a grandfather to me. Our relationship was truly special. When I was young and my mom had to return to work, he was the one who took care of me. As we grew up, he took my sister and I everywhere, from amusement parks to the race track, and there was nothing that he wouldn’t do for either of us. He was there to cheer us on through every dance recital, every softball game, every graduation.

Like most grandparents, he spoiled us rotten with gifts and treats, but it was more than that — Pop wasn’t one to be overly affectionate, but yet he always somehow made sure we knew we were loved.

To this day, my family commonly remarks that I am just like him. There is nobody who understood me the way he did. I credit Pop with my strength and my tenacity. He always encouraged me to do whatever made me happy. While everyone else was questioning my decision to pursue writing as a career, he remained my biggest fan and supporter.

Pop taught me that I should never be afraid to fight for what I believed in. When I was being bullied mercilessly throughout elementary and middle school, he was the one who stepped in to try to pick up the pieces of my shattered self-esteem. He is the one who taught me not to let anyone take advantage of me, or to allow anyone to put me down or make me feel unworthy. He taught me how to stand up for myself.

Because of him, no matter what I start — whether it’s my fledgling running career or my own writing business — I never, ever give up. I often catch myself wondering what he would think about a decision I’ve made, or if I’ve made him proud. He is always with me.

And that’s why no matter how many years pass, I will continue to fight pancreatic cancer in his honor, even if all I can do is donate money to research or participate in awareness events.

There are no words to describe what it was like to watch Pop suffer from pancreatic cancer. When I was 18, I was the one put in charge of driving him to his chemotherapy treatments several times a week; my grandmother was an amputee and could no longer drive, my parents worked full-time, and my sister was too young to have a driver’s license.

We didn’t talk much during those hospital visits, but I am so grateful for those few extra hours that we spent together. It was heartbreaking to watch a man who had always been so strong in my eyes growing weaker and weaker, but he remained courageous until the very end.

I remember during one of his final treatments, a nurse was asking him how he was doing, and he responded, “I will fight this until it’s over.” And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

If you might want to make even just a small donation to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in support of our team and in honor of Charles “Pop” Gleason, please visit our team page, “Charlie’s Angels,” here. We appreciate every dollar!

Thank you so much!

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Persistence Pays Off

If I had a nickel for every time I quit something…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be writing this blog post from my tiny apartment, surrounded by furniture purchased from the likes of Walmart and Big Lots.

My weight has fluctuated up and down (and up and down again) since I was in elementary school. I’d start a weight loss program (read: starve myself), lose 10 pounds, then quit. I’d start a new diet a year later, drop a dress size, and quit. After ballooning to 220 pounds in middle school, I managed to lose 60 pounds in time for my my senior prom…but then, that’s right, I quit again, and returned to Weight Watchers (my weight loss program of choice) for the final time as a 267-pound 22-year-old.

When I first started running — strictly as a way to torch as many calories in as little amount of time, mind you — there were weeks when I was committed and consistent, squeezing in at least 3-4 runs each week and basking in my ability to run longer and harder without having to take as many walk breaks.

I didn’t start registering for races until a year ago, and suddenly, my finish time in local 5Ks started affecting my attitude about running in the same way the scale had always managed to sabotage my diet plan of the month.

If I had a bad week on Weight Watchers and, heaven forbid, gained a pound or two, I’d get discouraged and start letting my efforts slide. I’d go into hiding for several weeks, vowing to return to my meeting only when I was satisfied that the scale would not show a gain again. I probably don’t need to tell you how many times I simply never returned.

When I struggled through a 5K — even if it was because I hadn’t been training properly, or the weather was humid, or I wasn’t eating right  — I’d take what I believed was a less-than-satisfactory finish time and use it as an excuse to quit running for a month or two…because, after all, one bad race surely meant I was just too fat to run. Why bother?

I guess with age comes wisdom (or something like that), because the secret of what it takes to lose weight, or to become a better runner, finally clicked: persistence.

When I began my most recent weight loss journey in November 2007, I made a promise to myself that no matter what, I was not going to give up. Nearly five years later, I’m still not at “goal,” and I’ve certainly had my share of not-so-successful weeks (and months), but I never once allowed myself to completely throw in the towel and return to my old ways. I’ve lost 90 pounds, and am maintaining my weight loss for the first time in my life…and all because I just keep going.

After my unsatisfying performance in this July’s Firecracker 4-miler, I realized that I had a decision to make. Was I going to continue running recreationally as a cardio workout, or was I going to take the sport seriously and commit myself to trying to improve? I realized that my 2-3 mile walk/runs every few days were probably not doing anything for me (duh), and that if I was going to keep dropping 20 or 30 bucks on races every couple of months, I should probably give a real training plan a shot.

You know…actually try to succeed at something before convincing myself that I’m going to fail.

And that’s the real reason why I signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon…I needed to plop down a few thousand dollars (yes, that’s right…I just booked a six-night getaway at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort — French Quarter for $1,500, on top of race fees, airfare, park tickets, etc.) to force myself to choose a running-related goal — complete a half marathon without being hauled away in a body bag — and then actually stick to it.

And the crazy just keeps on coming. I’ve already signed up for my first 10K this fall, Brian’s Run in Wayne, NJ — the day before I leave for a 9-day vacation to Disney World in September. I have my sights set on a few other 10Ks in October and November.

But it’s working.

The Cranford Jaycees’ Firecracker 4-Miler and the Central Jersey Road Runner Club’s Not Quite Fall Classic 4-Miler, which I just ran this past weekend, both follow the exact same course.

On July 4, I came in at 40:37, for an average pace of 10:09. I constantly kept having to stop to “tie my shoes” just to catch my breath, and the 4 miles felt more like 14 miles.

After a month and a half of following my own unique blend of a 10K and half marathon training plan that I found on Cool Running, I ran that same course on August 26 in the Not Quite Fall Classic 4-Miler in 35:46, for an average pace of 8:56.

Not only have I been training consistently, but I went into the race with a very specific plan: I wanted to finish the first mile at an 8:30 pace, the second at 9, the third at 9:30, and the last mile at 10. Much to my utter and complete shock, I finished the first mile in 8:30 and then maintained a steady pace hovering right around 9 minutes for the duration of the race. Best of all, I legitimately took 3rd place for my age group (but was awarded the 2nd place medal because there are no double awards).

People have asked me how I stay “motivated” to lose weight, or continually put my body through the rigors of running. I can promise you this: whether you’re trying to shed a few pounds, or you’re a fledgling runner training for a race (or both, like me), “motivation” often has very little to do with it.

You don’t necessarily have to be motivated to achieve a goal — but you do have to be persistent.

I’m rarely “motivated” to choose a veggie burger and side salad over a juicy cheeseburger and fries, or to log a 5-mile run when my legs are sore or I’m tired from working all day or I just plain don’t feel like it. To me, it’s kind of like asking someone how they stay “motivated” to brush their teeth every morning. It’s just something you do.

I can definitely feel motivated by the way my jeans fit or setting a new PR, but on those days when I lose a battle with a bag of kettle corn or struggle through a slow 2-mile run, it’s persistence alone that keeps me moving forward.

How has persistence helped you achieve your goals?

 

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How Self-Discipline Makes All the Difference

In my Muay Thai kickboxing class, the instructor talks a lot about discipline. The cornerstone of martial arts training, self-discipline is even part of the “Student Creed” we have to recite before leaving class (along with things like perseverance and honesty), and he often ends class with a speech with cutesy quotes like: “A disciplined life is a happy life.”

But there’s one saying that always seems to get me. Recently, he ended class by saying: “If you have self-discipline, you can have anything.” And now that I am officially training for a half marathon, and — I don’t want to jinx it — the scale is budging ever-so-slowly in the right direction again, I can say with absolute certainty that self-discipline is the absolute most important quality I’ve had to develop along my health and fitness journey.

As I’m sure any runner would agree, it takes a special kind of self-discipline to pull yourself out of bed before the sun rises to log miles, or to lace up your sneakers after a grueling day at the office. And anyone who has ever attempted to lose weight knows that there’s often nothing standing between you and that extra slice or pizza or a heaping bowl of ice cream except your own ability to tell yourself no.

To me, self-discipline is about saying you’re going to do something — and then actually doing it. It’s about making yourself a priority, and keeping your own promises. It’s about setting a goal and not allowing yourself to quit. It’s about developing the strength to deny yourself something that may be easier or more fun — e.g. skipping your run to lounge on the couch, opting for the cheeseburger instead of the salad — because you know it will only hinder your own success.

As someone who used to tip the scales at over 260 pounds, I can tell you exactly what it’s like to not have any self-discipline at all. While I was always an over-achiever in the classroom, when it came to my health, laziness was the name of the game. If I didn’t “feel like” doing something, I didn’t do it. If I had a sudden craving for a milkshake, off to Baskin-Robbins I went. I’d promise myself I wasn’t going to overeat at a restaurant, but then proceed to order the greasiest, most unhealthy option on the menu — fettucine alfredo was my go-to meal of choice — and polish off the entire plate. My short-lived attempts to exercise were always lackluster at best — I could stick to a walking regimen for about a week, tops, before allowing myself to quit.

In some ways, I’m sure it sounds fun to do (or, in my case, not do) whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s a certain freedom that comes with giving up on yourself and having no goals. By the time I started college, I had completely resigned myself to a life of obesity; I figured I was “meant” to be fat, so I did absolutely nothing to stop piling on the pounds. It’s just oh-so-easy easy to stuff your face with whatever happens to be in front of you, and never have to worry about the ramifications to your health.

At first, developing self-discipline meant having the strength to say “no” to the temptation to skip a workout or eat something that I knew would come back to haunt me on the scale. But these days, the ability to set my own goals and stick to them has proven more rewarding that I ever thought possible…and I’m finding that it’s getting easier.

Last week, I earned my brown-tip belt in Muay Thai, which in my school is granted after approximately 18 months of training. This week, after returning from a weekend getaway (more on that later), I went out and pushed my body through five miles. Every morning, I plop myself in front of my laptop in my home office, even though the TV is just steps away and sometimes I just don’t feel like working.

Sometimes, self-discipline means sacrifice. But to me, developing self-discipline has proven the only way to really have everything I’ve ever wanted in life.

What are some ways you’ve practiced self-discipline to reach your goals?

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Appreciating The Body You Have…Right Now

For as long as I can remember, I hated the body I saw when I looked into the mirror.

Everyone has their body hang-ups. I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who couldn’t name at least one part of their body that they wished were different…bigger, smaller, more shapely, perkier, rounder, tighter, flatter, whatever.

For me, I always had one wish. Just one.

I wanted to be skinny.

To me, being “skinny” was the be all and end all of my time on this Earth. It was my life’s dream. It was the culmination of so many of my most innermost desires…from walking into any clothing store and zipping a pair of jeans without having to lie on the dirty dressing room floor to wearing a spaghetti-strapped dress like all the other girls to my eighth grade dance (I ended up in a size 20 gown that was surely designed for a 50+ year old woman).

To me, being skinny meant I might actually be able to make — and keep — a close circle of friends, and stop assuming they were embarrassed to be seen with “the fat girl.” All throughout my childhood, I fantasized about how being skinny might finally put a stop to the bullying and humiliation I faced on a daily basis.

I really did think that being skinny would be my key to happiness…and that it would solve every problem I could ever have in my life. Some people dream of scoring high-paying jobs, falling in love, starting a family. All I ever cared about was what it would be like to wear a size 4.

Lately I’ve been thinking about my wish, and how, even after a 90-pound weight loss, it never did come true. I am not skinny. I am confident now that I never will be. No matter how much more weight I lose, I will never be the kind of woman who can strip down at the beach wearing little more than a washcloth. I will never be able to leave the house in a short skirt. I will never be able to emanate that inner confidence of someone who hasn’t suffered from extreme body image issues for the majority of her life. It’s just not in the cards for me.

But I’ve come to a realization. I really, truly, do not care about being skinny anymore. And I think that has a lot to do with how I finally managed to lose — and maintain — my weight loss (which, as an aside, has not solved all of my life’s problems).

Truth be told, I’m ashamed and saddened that for so many years I allowed my entire sense of self-worth to be wrapped up in the number stitched into the tag on my jeans, or what my romanticized ideal of a skinny, “perfect” body looked like. I’m also ashamed for the way I abused and mistreated myself — I had such low self-esteem that I essentially poisoned my body with milkshakes and bacon cheeseburgers for years. I like to tell myself that at age 12, or 15, or 21, I didn’t know any better…but, let’s face it, I knew exactly what I was doing.

It took 26 years to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect body (for those of us who aren’t celebrities or Victoria’s Secret models, anyway), and in order for me to achieve something that even comes close to the “skinny” physique I coveted, I’d probably have to consume 800 calories a day and spend three hours in the gym every night. Oh, and that’s not to mention that pesky tummy tuck and loose skin removal surgery I’d need to rid my body of any evidence that I used to weigh 260 pounds.

Today, I can look at the mirror and see my imperfections — the stretch marks, the loose skin, the cellulite and all — and be content. I can see myself in photos — even when I’m wearing little more than a flimsy cotton dress — and feel pride. I’m pretty okay with the person I see staring back at me these days. Honestly, I would be tickled to remain a size 8/10 for the rest of my life.

I’m not saying I love every inch of my body, but what I have come to realize is that I’ve finally reached a place where I can appreciate my body…and what it’s capable of doing. I may not have the perfect body, but what I do have is my body — and I’ll be damned if I ever take it for granted again.

I see people all the time who are disabled or ill, or I read about former athletes who sustained one injury and are now relegated to the sidelines forever. It forces me to put things in perspective: how could I hate a body that is healthy? A body that is whole? A body that is strong? I can run 5Ks and go for 10-mile bike rides whenever the urge strikes. I can walk all over Walt Disney World (my happy place!) for days and experience little more than sore feet. I know now that I am one of the lucky ones — I escaped a lifetime of obesity without diabetes or heart problems or any of the long list of diseases associated with being overweight. I feel blessed and fortunate for every day that I can climb a flight of stairs or walk my dog or lift groceries or do any of the things I can do as a healthy, average-sized person.

While I appreciate the “you look great!” compliments I still get every now and then, I am genuinely overwhelmed with emotion when I cross the finish line of a race, or am complimented by classmates for my “bad-ass” roundhouse in my Muay Thai kickboxing class. To me, discovering something that I love to do, and recognizing how my body — exactly the way it is — allows me to do it has forced me to realize that maybe having larger-than-average thighs isn’t really the end of the world.

I truly believe that’s the key to body acceptance: realizing how your body allows you to do the things you love, and understanding that there’s more to you than a number on a scale or an idealized dress size. If you have the ability to chase your kids around the backyard or practice yoga or lace up your sneakers and go for a walk whenever you feel like it, I’d say that’s something to celebrate.

So I’ll continue to eat as healthy as possible, and take vitamins, and exercise daily, and slather on sunscreen, and drink plenty of water, and avoid smoking (always) and drinking (most of the time)…and I’ll never take my body for granted again.

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Letting Go of the “Old Me”

I have a confession to make. Prior to this weekend, I hadn’t weighed myself since before the holidays. And by holidays, I mean Thanksgiving.

These past few months have included some of the the most defining moments of my life — not the least of which was finally moving out of my parents’ house.

For years I have struggled with self-doubt when it came to both my weight loss and my writing career. I think it’s a fair claim to make that living under your parents’ roof in the post-college years somehow intensifies the inner turmoil that’s typically associated with the quarter-life crisis. But for me, self-confidence and the belief that I am actually capable of success — whether in the form of reaching my weight loss goals or landing assignments in my dream magazines — have always seemed just out of reach.

I have dreamed of being a writer since I was in the second grade. Interestingly enough, that was also the year when I suddenly found myself at the receiving end of the bullying that would continue until the day I received my high school diploma. In an era where my cruelest high school foes are just a click away on Facebook, I tend to avoid writing about my painful childhood years here, but I feel as though I can’t fully express the victory I experienced this weekend without at least a mention of my past.

Of course, I was teased and tormented because I happened to weigh more than just about everyone else in my class, and to this day I attribute my constant need to drown my emotions in food — and my inability to see myself as worthy of success — to my years of being bullied by my classmates…and, on many occasions, even those I considered my closest friends.

This weekend, I returned to a Weight Watchers meeting and stepped on the scale for the first time in months — and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was showing a loss of .4 pounds.

After over a decade of gaining and losing 20 pounds here or 60 pounds there, or having to sneak to the mall to buy bigger pants every couple of months, I realized that after months of holiday hooplah, a Florida vacation, and a move to my first apartment, I am actually succeeding at maintaining my weight.

For the first time in my life, I felt…cured.

I could have easily emerged from these past few months carrying around an extra 20 pounds, but instead, I realized that I have finally learned the secret to maintaining my weight loss…and that I have genuinely achieved what I once thought impossible. I am a healthy, active person now.

As my own worst critic, it’s often hard for me to recognize my own accomplishments, but to continue following my usual eating and workout routine despite weeks of skipped weigh-ins and the overwhelming task of having to pack 26 years of my belongings (and all the not-so-good memories associated with them) into boxes — and to come out in the end of it all maintaining almost the exact same weight — forced me to realize once and for all that while the old Jen still lives inside of me somewhere, I am, truly, an entirely different person. I no longer need the specter of a weekly weigh-in to keep me in check. I am enough.

I know I’ll have to work hard for the rest of my life not to give in to my old ways. I’ve accepted that the struggles with my weight aren’t going anywhere. I definitely succumbed to some of my former habits this weekend, as I was surrounded by hearty St. Patrick’s Day fare and festive green cocktails, but the difference now is that I know a day or two of not-so-great food choices or skipped workouts are not going to be enough to bring me down.

I no longer let the slip-ups that would have once completely derailed whatever diet I was on at the time make me feel like a failure. I’m living proof that allowing one mistake — like, say, avoiding the scale for weeks on end — to undo all of your hard work is all you need to send you right back to where you started.

I’ve even been pitching my dream magazines lately, and though I’m often faced with rejections — or, worse, a wall of complete silence — I’m starting to acknowledge myself as someone who can succeed as a writer. All I have to do is not give up.

I may not be at my goal weight, and I may not have bylines in all the newsstand magazines, but I’m slowly but surely starting to believe that I can reach my goals.

I’ve finally learned how to pick myself up when I fall, and not let my past dictate my future. The holiday season, family vacations, paying rent for the first time (not to mention having to cook all of my own meals!), and other life events are no longer powerful enough to send me to the refrigerator. I am finally in control.

And that, I believe, is truly the key to losing weight…and keeping it off.

 

 

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Keeping My Own Promises

When you’re trying to adopt healthy living habits, I truly believe that success can boil down to just one factor:

The ability to make a commitment, and actually stick to it.

Now, this is not something for which I’m traditionally known. I’m shamelessly of the “I’ll finish it later” variety who starts a project only to abandon it halfway through (the disaster zone known as my bedroom is proof positive of that one).

Of course, when it comes to family, friends, and work, I always fulfill my commitments…but when it comes to doing something for myself, it’s always been a different story.

These days, I’m working hard to make myself a priority, which means setting a goal or promising myself that I will do something (yes, even if it means learning how to keep my room clean), and then doing it. No matter what.

Maybe my current vigor for keeping my own promises to myself is the result of my still very fresh New Year’s Resolution mindset, especially since I silently made just one very important promise as the ball was dropping on December 31, 2011.

I vowed that this would be the year I finish what I start. No matter what it is, I need to learn to commit to something and follow through. Whether it’s that half-finished query letter to my dream magazine that’s been taking up space on my hard drive for six months, or the fact that I once made it as far as 93 pounds lost and yet still never managed to hit that 100-pound mark, this is going to be the year that I muster enough confidence in myself and my abilities to set a goal and see it through to the very end.

That’s why on a rainy, miserable Tuesday this week, I decided it was a fine time to go for a run. As I declared in my last blog post, I’m madly in love with exercising outdoors, but the winter months certainly present some unique challenges. I can brave the cold, but the rain is usually enough to make me slip out of my running tights and vow to save my workout for another day — heaven forbid my new sneakers get wet!

But not this time. I made a promise that if Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday are my kickboxing days, that Tuesday was going to be one reserved for running. I’ve let my training regimen slack off quite a bit since completing my last 5K back in November, and I started to fear that my running career would become a thing of the past if I didn’t get back to business ASAP.

So when I woke up Tuesday morning to the sound of rain pelting against my window, I promised myself that I was going to suck it up and lace up my sneakers that afternoon — even if there was a monsoon waiting for me outside that door.

And I have to say, even though it was the smallest of goals, actually heading out into the rain that day (with my snazzy new waterproof running jacket) still felt pretty damn good…if not a tad wet.

I’ve learned that’s really all that leading a healthy lifestyle is about: making a commitment to go to the gym, or to eat more veggies, or to run through the rain like a maniac, and then actually doing it.

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Oh, Gym, How I Loathe Thee. Let Me Count the Ways.

Recently in my journey to optimal health and fitness, I have discovered a shocking new development.

I absolutely, positively hate the gym.

When I first began losing weight, if I wasn’t at home or at work, I was on the elliptical at my local YMCA. As a result of juggling two jobs, my only available workout time was 5:30am — and that’s precisely when I would arrive at the gym, every single weekday morning.

While at first I was intimidated and insecure about how I, a 265-pound young woman, would look to others as I sweated and grunted my way through 30 minutes on the cross trainer, it wasn’t long before the gym became my second home.

If I missed a day, everyone wanted to know where I had been. As the pounds began melting off my body, I became the subject of admiration. People wanted to know how I was losing the weight, and — believe it or not — some women even began asking me for diet and exercise advice.

The gym had become a place that I associated with success, so it was no wonder that I did everything in my power to squeeze in a workout at least five times a week — at one point, I even belonged to two gyms at once!

Suddenly, my identity had transformed from an obese, lonely couch potato to a fit, healthy gym rat — and I was loving every second of it.

I really can’t pinpoint when my hot-and-heavy love affair with the gym began to fizzle out. Maybe it was after I signed up for my first 5K, and found running outdoors far better preparation for tackling a 3.1 mile road race than pounding a treadmill. Possibly it was after I began plunking down a significant portion of my monthly income to join a local karate studio and participate in Muay Thai-style kickboxing classes three times a week. Or perhaps it was when I received a truckload of fitness accoutrement, from kettle bells to a BOSU ball, for my birthday and Christmas and assembled my own makeshift workout studio in the basement.

Whatever the reason, in recent months I’ve been finding myself dreading my sessions with the treadmill. For weeks I’ve been falling victim to the evil Excuses Monster whenever it comes time to hop in my car and hit the gym.

I just don’t want to go, and I’ll do anything I can to substitute 40 minutes of pedaling my way through a ho-hum elliptical workout with another form of physical activity for the day — yes, even housecleaning!

Now, before you get a mental picture of me spending my afternoons lounging on the couch in my sweats, let me assure you that I am continuing to exercise just as often — and just as intensely — as ever. I still work out 5-6 days per week, and typically for at least 45 minutes. Sometimes I’m taking my kickboxing class, and sometimes I’m eking out lunges or experimenting with new kettle bell routines from my favorite fitness magazines in the basement.

(And yes, I do, of course, still have a gym membership.)

The only difference is that I’m now harboring a new love interest: the Great Outdoors. Even in the midst of frigid New Jersey winter temperatures, my second home has become the local park and biking trails.

I absolutely love lacing up my sneakers and giving myself an opportunity to enjoy some fresh air as I head out for a run around the neighborhood, or a bike ride to the park with the help of my favorite 2011 Christmas present: a Trek 7.3 hybrid.

Exercising outdoors has a way of making me feel energetic and invigorated in a way that watching the clock as I jog mindlessly on a treadmill never has. Better yet, I know for a fact that I get a more vigorous full-body workout from running or biking outdoors than one on a treadmill or stationary bike — I can tell you that it’s a heck of a lot harder pushing myself through a four-mile run on the sidewalk than on a treadmill that does a lot of the work for me!

The best part of all is knowing that I have lots of options for getting in my workout, even if the desire to pump iron in a stuffy gym packed with New Year’s Resolutioners just isn’t striking.

I know many people take cover and hibernate their way through these bitterly cold winter months, but for anyone who feels that they have to solely get their sweat on at the gym until April, I can assure you that all you need is the right attitude — okay, and the appropriate winter workout wear — to experience some of the best outdoor workouts of 2012 right now!

What are some of the ways you exercise outdoors — even in the winter?

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