Posts Tagged With: weight watchers

Putting Myself ‘Out There’

For more than three years now, I have been keeping a secret.

I have a blog.

While those of you who follow me on Twitter — my main forum for publicizing the goings-on here at “The Final Forty” — may be scratching your heads right now, allow me to explain.

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2007, size 20W

I started blogging in January of 2010 after my weight loss progress on Weight Watchers halted to a standstill. I had shed 80 pounds in 2008, followed by a SLOOOW 10 pounds in 2009, and then after that…nothing. Nada. Zilch. I did absolutely everything I could think to do to kickstart my weight loss again, and yet that scale just would not budge.

Meanwhile, throughout the process of losing so much weight in such a short period of time, I was forced to face an endless string of emotional issues. As I watched my body shrink from a size 20/22W to a size 8/10M, all of the issues that had led me to become so overweight in the first place came rushing to the surface. I had been drowning my emotions in food for so long that once that crutch was no longer there, I didn’t know how to deal with it all. Desperate to keep the weight off, I went in search of anything I could do to make sure my various issues didn’t become so overwhelming that I ended up returning to my old ways…as I had done so many times in the past.

And that is why I started blogging. It was for no reason than to serve as a place for me to sort through all of the issues that go along with making such a drastic lifestyle change so quickly. I told a select handful of people about my blog, assuming that nobody would ever care to venture into the inner-workings of my mind, and that was that. I posted a new blog every week or two…or month or two…and it continued to serve as a personal diary of sorts.

The reason I write this post today is because I am tired of hiding. I have spent the majority of my life hiding behind my weight and using it as an excuse not to do what I really want to do.

I was bullied day in and day out for years for being “the fat girl,” and it’s hard for me to admit it, but I am so not over the pain and humiliation that comes from being singled out and having what I believed was my worst flaw pointed out to me over and over again in the cruelest ways imaginable. I am not over it. I probably never will be.

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2012, size 10M

I always wondered if some of my former classmates would ever stumble upon my blog, and that thought used to terrify me…but it is within the last few months that I’ve realized that, in many ways, I owe a part of my success to them. I use the pain of what they put me through to fuel me today…and while I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, facing that kind of adversity from such a young age has forced me to work so much harder and made me so much stronger than I ever thought I could be.

This whole quest to lose “the final forty” has been frustrating, to say the least, but it has also been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience of my life…and I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything. Whether the scale reflects it or not, my body continues to change, and five years later, I can say that my mind is FINALLY starting to catch up with the person I am on the outside.

I owe a lot of that to the incredible support and encouragement that I started to find as soon as I began opening myself up to others, whether it was on Twitter or Facebook or through the countless amazing blogs I read written by people who continue to inspire me to chase my goals every single day, whether it’s pitching my dream magazine or registering for my next half marathon.

princesshalf4My blog is starting to grow now — in fact, I’ll be sharing a new brand ambassadorship here very soon! — and while it will always be a little strange posting personal thoughts and feelings to be read by people I know in “real life,” I’m not afraid anymore. Believe it or not, until today, I never even advertised my own blog on my personal Facebook page…I was judged for so long that it was hard not to obsess over what people would think about my musings on such personal topics as loose skin, or my most embarrassing “before” photos.

But you know what…this is me today, and as hard as it is for me to admit it sometimes, I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, I’m proud of who I am, and after 20+ years of hating my body, I’ve finally reached a place where I can accept myself just the way I am…and I don’t care who knows it. I mean, if I can post pictures of myself in a bathing suit for all the world to see, then I shouldn’t be afraid of anything, right?

People sometimes tell me that I am an inspiration to them (in fact, this awesome runner I’ve been following actually wrote a blog post inspired by something I talked about here, and that is just so unbelievably flattering to me…thank you!), and while it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the notion of inspiring someone else, I do believe I have something to offer the world…and I plan to do just that.

princesshalfI don’t think I would be where I am today in my running journey if it wasn’t for the community of runners who are always willing to share advice and words of encouragement and, yes, even to talk me off the ledge, so to speak, when I was convinced that I’d never be able to finish a 5k…or a 10k…or a half marathon.

I want to fully engage in that community, and I want to fully commit to my running goals — and it all starts with not being afraid to put myself out there.

Discovering my passion for running (and martial arts!) has helped me to conquer so many of my demons, and maybe I’m as addicted to running as I once was addicted to food — jury’s still out on how healthy THAT is! — but I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t finally discover something that has helped give meaning to my transformation and my future as a healthy, active person.

So…if you’re reading this, and would be so kind as to connect with me, here’s where to find me. No more hiding!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenniferlnelson

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheFinalForty

E-mail: thefinalforty at gmail dot com

Professional website: www.jenniferlnelson.com

Do you ever have a hard time posting about personal topics when people you know in “real life” are reading?

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Mastering the Art of Self-Confidence

This weekend, I earned my Bo-Black belt in Muay Thai kickboxing (in this program, it’s the belt right before black…and, not gonna lie, I’m excited because our names are embroidered on the belts).thaicertificate

As per my usual MO, I spent weeks freaking out about this test. Was I going to survive the workout? Could I remember all of the forms and self-defense moves? Could I break all of the boards? Was I going to fall flat on my face in front of everyone? Were spectators going to think I was strong enough, fast enough, fit enough, flexible enough to be a martial artist?

Then when I found out I was going to be expected to give a speech (mind you, a mere 60-90 second “testimonial” about what our martial arts training has done for us), that’s when I began losing sleep over the whole thing.

I know it’s only natural to feel butterflies before an event like this, but for me, I also happen to know that my nerves tend to run a little bit deeper than jitters.

After all this time, I still struggle with my self-confidence, and have to constantly force myself to believe that I CAN finish a 10K or ace a martial arts test or submit a great article for that new-to-me magazine. I waste an unbelievable amount of energy convincing myself that I’m not going to be able to do something — even when I know it’s ridiculous.

thaispeechOn Saturday, I had a few little amusing missteps — four attempts to break a few stupid wooden boards with a side-kick! — but you know what? I did just fine. Like I always do.

And that speech I’ve been panicking about? Thanks to the help of my my theater-trained sister, I was the only one who didn’t read straight from a piece of paper (which, by the way, I was told we were NOT going to have in front of us). I spoke from the heart about what martial arts has done for me, and all the words I had rehearsed just came pouring out. I even received a round of applause for my announcement about running my first half marathon next month, and several of my fellow candidates told me that I’m an inspiration and/or they had no idea I used to be overweight — both of which are still so hard for me to wrap my mind around.

I’m finding that every time I prove to myself I CAN do something, whether it’s crossing the finish line of a race or even having to (gasp!) speak in public, my self-confidence grows just a tiny little bit.thaiknee

Maybe someday I’ll be able to stop doubting myself and finally find my self-confidence, but for now, I’m thrilled with each and every step that gets me there.

In case anyone was curious, I thought I’d share the “testimonial” I submitted to be chosen to speak. Like running, I really do believe that martial arts has changed my life — so while it’s always a bit awkward for me to share the sordid details of my weight struggles, it really was an honor.

Shortly before I began the Thai Kickboxing program, I weighed almost 100 pounds more than I do today. I’ve struggled with obesity since childhood, and have always been 40, 60, or even 80 or more pounds overweight at any given time throughout my life.

 thaifrontAfter losing 90 pounds on Weight Watchers in 2008, I found myself getting bored with the treadmill and my usual gym routine.  I was terrified of gaining my weight back — as I had done so many times in the past — and wanted to find something that would keep me motivated and ensure that I never again returned to my old ways.

After my first Thai Kickboxing class, I was completely hooked…and today I can’t imagine my life without martial arts.IMG_1404

My training ended up doing so much more than helping me maintain my weight loss.  Today I’m in the best shape of my life, and feel both physically and mentally stronger than I ever thought possible. It has helped me break the cycle of constantly obsessing over my dress size, the number on the scale, or the need to be “skinny” — all I care about is being the healthiest person I can be, and pushing myself to become stronger, faster, and more physically fit.

Proving to myself that I could succeed in this program has given me the confidence to pursue my career goals and try other things I never thought I could do; I’ve recently started taking Taekwondo, and I’m training to run my first half marathon next month. 

thaithumbsup Five years ago I never could have imagined that I would enjoy waking up on a Sunday morning to endure an agonizing kickboxing workout, or head out for a 10-mile run.  My training has inspired me to live by principles like perseverance and self-control, and ultimately develop the tools I needed to conquer my weight problem once and for all.thaikick

I want to thank all of the instructors for always motivating us to improve, and for pushing us harder than we think we can go. I also want to thank you for the words of wisdom and motivation you share with us during class.  They are truly powerful for people like me who need the reminder of how far we’ve come — and why our health and physical fitness is worth fighting for.

What are some things you’ve done to help boost your self-confidence?

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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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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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The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

There was a one-credit course I was required to take during my senior year in college — “Personal Fitness” — and as part of our final test at the end of the semester we were required to run one mile around the indoor track in the campus’ recreation center.

The humiliation of that day is seared into my memory. I remember I had completely forgotten my change of clothes, so I showed up at the gym wearing those Skechers sneakers with the platforms that were “in” at the time (and I commuted, so it wasn’t like I could go back to my dorm and change my footwear). At least I was wearing sweats, since that was pretty much all that fit me at the time.

I weighed at least 250 pounds by the time I graduated from college, quite possibly more (I wouldn’t know, because I avoided scales and mirrors at all costs). I grew winded walking across campus to the library, and did nothing but study and work, hitting the drive-thru hard between classes and munching on vending machine snacks whenever the mood would strike.

I think it goes without saying that running was a physical impossibility.

To make a long story short, not only did I come in dead last on the mile that day, but I never even finished. As I was grunting, sweating, and trying to ignore the blisters forming in my platform sneakers, some of my classmates were jogging up beside me to lend their encouragement and chant “you can do it!”

By the time everyone else had finished and I still had another two laps to go, I pretended like I was done just so I could leave the track and rush to my car and burst into tears. That mile felt like a marathon to me, and I was so ashamed that I was the only person in the class who seemed to have such trouble completing the test. I know the instructor knew I hadn’t finished, but I saw the pity in her eyes when she let me call it quits.

And that, my friends, is just one of many of my not-so-wonderful memories associated with running. It was always something that I simply could not do.

That is, until now. I don’t remember the last time I wanted something this much. And the difference now is that I can.

I am officially registered for the Disney Princess Half Marathon, and I’m also lining up a fall racing schedule that includes at least two 10Ks. I’ve never competed in any race longer than four miles, but I want to get used to running longer distances — and, more importantly, be able to submit a 10K proof of time to the folks at RunDisney to qualify to start in one of the earlier corrals on race day.

This weekend, I ran seven miles — my longest run to date. Mind you, I pretty much shuffled through the last mile, but I made a decision to complete seven miles on my “long run” day, and I actually did it. Yesterday I went out on a five mile run, as if it were the most normal thing in the world for me to do on a Tuesday afternoon. I can already feel myself getting stronger and faster.

There is something that feels damn good about doing something you never thought possible. With running, my success is even sweeter, because it literally was something I could not do. Meanwhile, I had all but given up on myself before embarking on my most recent and final weight loss journey. I never thought I would be able to beat the obesity that has plagued me since childhood, and experience life as an averaged-sized person.

I’d be lying if I said the excitement I feel when I see my byline in a magazine isn’t, in part, caused by the fact that I was told over and over again that I could never be a writer: “it’s too competitive,” “you’ll never make any money,” “you need to get a real job,” etc. This has been my dream since I was eight years old, and I relish the fact that I am doing what I love every single day and proving all the naysayers wrong.

Don’t get me wrong: going into business for myself was scary. Joining Weight Watchers for the umpteenth time was scary. And the idea of running a half marathon is downright terrifying. But I’m starting to realize how important it is to embrace that fear.

I know now there is nothing more gratifying than doing something you thought you couldn’t do. That’s why I will keep lacing up my sneakers and training for that half marathon!

Is there something you do now that you never thought possible?

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Stop Making Excuses…and Cheating Yourself Out of Success

If you want to ensure that you never reach your goals, do exactly what I’ve been doing: let your life be taken over by excuses.

On July 4, I ran the local Firecracker 4-Miler race in my hometown for the second year. Despite the fact that last year’s event was my very first race ever, and that it was the exact same course and we were experiencing very similar weather (hot and humid!), I showed absolutely no improvement from last year. In fact, I came in at almost exactly the same time, to the second. I struggled from start to finish, and couldn’t keep myself from stopping to catch my breath or surreptitiously take a break to “tie my sneakers” during the race.

As I was beating myself up afterwards, and trying to come up with excuses for not achieving what I thought would be an easy goal for me — beating last year’s time — I couldn’t help the niggling feeling that I was simply trying to not take responsibility for not working hard enough. All this time, I’ve been going out on 2 or 3 mile runs here and there. I wasn’t being consistent — sometimes weeks would pass without running at all — and I wasn’t exactly adhering to any of the advice I was skimming in my monthly issue of Runner’s World or any of my countless running-related Google searches about how to improve my speed or perform better on race day.

In short, I started to think about how I’ve been making excuses and only doing things “halfway” for quite some time…and how running is only one example.

It sometimes takes months for me to send out a fresh batch of article pitches to my dream magazines. I’m constantly telling myself I’ll e-mail that editor “tomorrow,” or finish that story query “after I do more research.” But then I end up convincing myself that it’s a stupid idea, or the editor is “just going to ignore me, anyway,” so it never actually gets done. Meanwhile, I always make promises to myself about blogging more often, since it’s something I love to do…but take one look at my past posting history and you’ll see that I can’t seem to manage more than one post a month.

When it comes to Weight Watchers, my attempts to reach my goal of 100 pounds lost are quite laughable. I’m only casually counting POINTS, and I’m doing way more guesstimating than ever. I still measure out everyday staples like 3/4 cup of cereal, but then when it comes time to enjoy some frozen yogurt after dinner, I somehow seem to forget where the measuring cups are located, because “I worked out today, so I deserve a treat.” I’ve also been allowing myself a few-too-many binges on weekends, from extra glasses of wine to munching handfuls of Angie’s Kettle Corn on the beach. That excuse is an easy one: “It’s the weekend!”

For months, I have been putting in shorter and shorter workouts (when I’m not in kickboxing class, that is), justifying their brevity with classic excuses like “I don’t have time.”

But then I wonder why I’m never landing those writing assignments, why the scale won’t budge, and why my fitness level (or ability to run a 4-miler without wanting to die!) has completely plateaued.

So, I decided to do something to take down the Excuses Monster once and for all. I decided to start by choosing one goal — in this case, being a better runner — and not allowing any more excuses.

I’m proud to report that I have chosen quite a lofty goal, and for the past three weeks, have been diligently working towards making it a reality. With no excuses!

It started with stumbling upon some race recaps on running blogs about the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Feb. 2013, and knowing that it was something I absolutely, positively had to do. I have harbored a deep-seated Disney obsession since I was in diapers, and running through the Magic Kingdom would be a dream come true. I just have to do it.

That’s right. I am going to run a half marathon.

Before I convinced myself that “I’m not good enough, fast enough, experienced enough, etc. to run a half marathon,” I set out in search of a training plan and for the past three weeks have been running 5 times a week, with mileage ranging from 2 miles to 6 miles. I invested in a Dry-Erase board to chart my monthly training runs, and I became a member of the Daily Mile to track my progress on-line. I created a little inspiration corner in my office with photos, brochures of races I want to run, medals, and even a painting my sister made of me crossing the finish line, and I use them as a daily reminder of how much I want to reach this goal.

And it’s already paying off. I competed once again in the Downtown Westfield 5k and Pizza Extravaganza, and the race that took me 33:03 last year only took 29:15. It wasn’t easy, and the course was incredibly hilly, but I didn’t once feel the need to stop. I felt comfortable and confident, because I knew, deep down, that I had put in the work…and wasn’t letting anything stand in my way.

There are no end to the excuses I could make to talk myself out of training for a 13 mile run — especially when the longest race I’ve ever participated in was a measly three miles. Aside from the physical agony and very real possibility of me not making it to the finish line, it’s out of state and extremely expensive…and basically another excuse for me to take a vacation.

But if I’m ever going to move forward, whether it’s in my writing career, weight loss, or fledgling attempts at running, I have got to stop talking myself out of everything…and cheating myself out of my own happiness.

Have you ever made up excuses or talked yourself out of doing something you really wanted to do?

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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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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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The Beginning of the End

First, I want to wish everyone a happy new year, and apologize for the brief hiatus I’ve taken from my blog.

I’d like to brush off my absence with a simple “oops, I’ve been busy,” which is certainly true, but the good news is that I have been preoccupied making some much-needed overhauls to my life. With just a few major victories tossed in!

First and foremost, I finally summoned the courage to walk away from a part-time job that had become physically and mentally draining. Yes, I know this technically makes me a quitter, but the whole reason I accepted a 5:30am shift working the desk at a local gym is, quite frankly, I doubted my ability to financially succeed as a writer so much that I was willing to sacrifice my social life, my sleep, and my sanity for the sake of having a few extra bucks in my bank account each month.

The truth is that a few months ago I became tired of just peering over the edge of my dreams — I needed to take a leap of faith. And committing myself to my writing career wholly and completely seemed to be the solution. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

In fact, several weeks ago I found the courage to pitch a story idea to one of my dream magazines — a national health/fitness publication — and after lots of follow-up e-mails, I actually landed the assignment! I intend to let this victory become a turning point in my career — it’s time to have faith in my abilities as a writer.

The same goes for finding the courage to participate in the handful of 5Ks and four-miler races I competed in last year. The most meaningful one took place in November, when I ran a 5K and raised over $500 to support the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

My grandpa succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2004, and losing him remains the most painful experience of my life. Over the past several years, I’ve promised myself that I was going to do something — namely, a 5K — to take action against this disease and honor his memory, but I kept telling myself I’d never be able to actually complete a race or solicit enough donations to make a difference.

In 2011, I finally ran that race. It felt incredible to be surrounded by so many people who had been touched by pancreatic cancer and were coming together to fight back. Best of all, I know for a fact that Pop was with me that day; I will never, ever forget the moment when I crossed the finish line and suddenly his absolute favorite musician, Johnny Cash, started blaring over the loudspeaker. I had just finished listening to my race day playlist of Johnny Cash songs on my iPod, and when I pulled out my earbuds and realized that “I Walk the Line” had come on just in time for me to finish my 5K, it was the first time in the seven years since his death that I knew undeniably that he was with me. And that I had made him proud.

In another significant running achievement, I was also awarded my very first medal for placing third in my age group after competing in a four-mile race sponsored by the Central Jersey Road Runners Club — I’m now officially a member!

Granted, I know I probably placed because there weren’t a whole lot of people racing that day — and there definitely weren’t many runners my age — but I did improve my time significantly (35:29) from my very first four-mile race on the 4th of July (40:31), and it’s an indescribable feeling when I can genuinely experience pride in an accomplishment I’ve made.

I’ve gone through life feeling unworthy of praise from others, and I’ve never fully been able to give myself credit. But I’ve worked hard to be a better runner in the last six months, and I’d say I earned that medal!

This month also marks a full year that I’ve been studying Muay Thai kickboxing. I remember being so terrified of breaking a measly little wooden board to earn my first belt (in fact, I blogged about it), and today I’m a red belt, which officially makes me an advanced martial arts student. I do very much want to be a black belt someday, and even I can admit improvement in my techniques — and my overall confidence — since January 2011. I absolutely love my kickboxing classes, and they have transformed me both physically and mentally in more ways than I thought possible. I’m so glad I’ve stuck with it.

In fact, I hope to make 2012 the year of following through on all of my goals — and above all, finishing what I’ve started. An anniversary weekend with my boyfriend, another Disney World vacation, and lots of holiday hooplah have led me to slip a bit (okay, a lot) in my healthy eating and workout routine, but I’m back on track and ready to continue making progress this year!

November marked my four-year anniversary as a Weight Watchers member, and while I am thrilled and proud to still be living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining my weight loss, I want nothing more than to become a Lifetime member — which means reaching my goal weight. Whatever that is!

In the last year or two I’ve become so focused on my fitness-related goals and, honestly, enjoying my new size 8/10 body so much, that I think I may have lost sight of the prize. I know that I will weigh never 125 pounds, and I also know that my loose skin and stretch marks will always serve as battle scars from years of yo-yo dieting. But this year I vow to reach a healthy weight and finally begin the process of becoming a Lifetime member…and, maybe, even starting to work towards becoming a Weight Watchers leader.

For possibly the first time ever, I’m not afraid to set a goal…and believe that I will see it through to the end.

What are some of your goals for 2012? Please share!

*Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter @jenniferlnelson, or e-mail me at jennifer@jenniferlnelson.com. Thank you, as always, for reading!

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The Right to Bare Arms (and Stomach, and Thighs…)

As the summer months officially come to an end, I decided it was finally time to step back on the scale.

And, unsurprisingly, I was greeted by an additional five pounds.

It’s what I was expecting, given my week-long jaunts in Vegas, Atlantic City, and Orlando, the endless string of barbecues and late-night fro-yo runs, my less-than-rigid workout routine. Now that I’m back into the swing of things — my long-awaited return to Weight Watchers, first and foremost — I’m fully confident that I’ll ditch those extra pounds (and then some) in no time.

That’s what still continues to amaze me. For the first time in my life, if I see the number on the scale nudge up a bit, I don’t panic. I don’t say “the hell with it” and start eating everything in sight, as I’ve done so many times in the past. I simply chalk it up to a few (okay, maybe more than a few) poor eating choices and lackluster workouts, and I pledge to get back on track ASAP.

I can finally acknowledge that I’m strong enough to lose (and re-lose) weight. I believe in myself. Who knew?

The truth is, this summer marked a whole new leg of my weight loss journey…even if I didn’t actually lose any weight. Whether the scale is moving or not, it seems nearly every day I’m slapped with a new realization about my body and just how much has changed.

Yesterday, for example, on a somewhat chilly afternoon that didn’t exactly warrant capri pants, I was amazed to pick up a pair of jeans from last year and easily slip them on. No lying on the bathroom floor trying fruitlessly to yank the zipper up, no jamming my rolls of flesh into the too-tight waistband, or rubbing raw indentations in my stomach after I removed them. I stepped right in, zipped them up, and was on my way.

And all this after so many years of having to buy a larger size for school every September, or sheepishly “losing” last season’s jeans, or — I’m ashamed to admit — destroying more pairs of pants than I can count when my denial about needing a larger size led to popped buttons or seams that blew open.

For the third September in a row, I’ve been able to re-wear clothes from the previous year, and that, to me, is an ultimate victory.

But this summer, perhaps my greatest achievement is that — for the first time in my 26 years of existence — I was confident enough to sport a bikini top at the beach.

Now, before you get too excited, let me preface this by stating that I had to search far and wide for a top with the extra coverage I still craved (athletic-style suits did the trick!), and I still felt the need to camouflage my generous thighs and loose, stretch-marked paunch with a high-rise skirted bottom. But who cares? I’ve worked hard for the body I have at this very moment — even if it isn’t “perfect” — and I don’t care who sees it.

Then there’s the fact that it’s almost surreal to me to do a load of laundry and fold my size small — SIZE SMALL! — tank tops from Old Navy. My summer uniform once consisted of baggy t-shirts or short-sleeved polos hidden beneath cardigan sweaters, for fear that anyone should catch so much as a glimpse of one of my behemoth, saggy arms. I sometimes can’t believe that I’ll slip into a strapless dress or racerback running tank and walk out the door without a second thought. My Muy Thai uniform is sleeveless, and where I would once be mortified to be waving my bare arms around for all the world to see, now I can look in the mirror — even at my loose tricep skin — and accept the way my arms look. Sometimes, at just the right angle, I think they even look pretty strong and muscular.

Oh, and then there’s the small detail that I ran not one, but two races this summer. And I already have a few other 5Ks lined up for the fall. At my very first race, a four-miler on the Fourth of July, I met my goal of jogging the entire course. Granted, I wasn’t the fastest runner, but it didn’t matter — I gathered up my courage and was able to squash my self-doubt long enough to cross that finish line, and I’ll be damned if I let 10-minute miles spoil that.

Did I mention that I even had the audacity to wear shorts to that race? Me, good old “Thunder Thighs,” wearing shorts. In public! Oh, the humanity.

Bikinis, shorts, tank tops — and, certainly, running races — were things I never thought possible. I was, after all, a 22-year-old shopping in the Women’s Plus section for swimsuits, and constantly pretending I was cold to justify wearing long sleeves or ankle-length capris in August. There was a time not too long ago that I couldn’t run a single mile without gasping for air, and now I’m breezing through 5Ks as if it’s completely normal for me to be running alongside other athletes.

Believe it or not, I am slowly but surely beginning to accept my body. I know I’m by no means thin, and I never will be. Maybe I have no business baring so much of my body at the beach or flapping my batwings in kickboxing classes, but for the first time in my life, I’m not constantly obsessing over how every little inch of my body looks at every moment of the day.

My tummy flap and jiggly thighs are clearly here to stay, and I’m finally making peace with the fact that I will never have the “perfect” body, no matter how much more weight I lose.

But guess what? I think I might just be perfectly fine with that.

The important thing is that my weight is no longer holding me back from anything I want to do or achieve in my life, and I’m excited to see just what else I can accomplish on my journey.

With or without the cooperation of a scale.

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