This is the time of year where many people are binging out on their favorite foods without a care in the world until the new year comes, and then they try to purge themselves of all the guilty food pleasures they have indulged themselves in through the “I am going to eat better and exercise more” new year’s resolution. I will be honest and admit that I am struggling with my fitness/health journey. I have put on more pounds than I would like to admit due to stress and my slight addiction to food. I’m working on eating healthier and exercising more but at times it seems that the task is too daunting. I was inspired by my sister Pauline McCollough’s fitness journey. She is real about the benefits and struggles of living a healthy and fit life. One day she will share her experience of kicking butt in a Zumba class and the next she shares her struggle with eating too many calories. I was shocked to learn recently that she threw away some of her Thanksgiving leftovers so it wouldn’t derail the progress she has made. I will admit I’m not at the point of throwing away Thanksgiving leftovers but I did eat less this year, which is huge for me. Pauline’s journey to healthier living lets me know being fit ain’t about being perfect. If Pauline’s story inspires you, make sure to leave a comment in the comment section.
What inspired your fitness journey?
I’ve technically been on my fitness journey almost 10 years ago when I first joined the YMCA near the end of my undergraduate year at Winthrop. I had kind of been off and on with my exercising throughout all that time and wasn’t really focused on my nutrition. Fast forward to the beginning of 2014. At that time, I was in a high stressed job and dealing with high stress in my personal life. I went to a doctor for what I thought would be a basic appointment to deal with carpal tunnel in my hands, and he diagnosed me with high blood pressure (it was 160 over something!). We talked about getting my blood pressure under control by putting me on medicine and by focusing on weight loss. It was at that time that I got serious about all aspects of health, not just exercising. I was young, only 28 at the time, and I was determined NOT to live my life on medicine or stress myself into an early grave.
How did you feel about yourself before your fitness journey?
Looking back on it, I feel like I was settling. The crazy thing, I have such supportive family and friends who are all about positive body image and self-confidence, no matter what society’s ideal body image is. While that is awesome, there’s also another part to having self-confidence in that you can love yourself no matter your size or weight while also caring enough about yourself to care for your body to best of your ability. By not focusing on nutrition and overall health, I was neglecting the body God gave me.
How did you feel about yourself after your fitness journey?
I’m still undergoing my fitness journey, so it’s definitely not over. However, I can say that I’ve come a long way from where I’ve started, and I feel so much more confident in myself and my abilities, both related and unrelated to fitness. One thing I’ve found is that I’ve gained benefits that I never realized I would gain throughout all of this. With health and fitness, of course, you’ll gain the obvious benefits like weight loss, more strength, healthier eating habits, etc. But for me, I’ve also found that the results I’ve gained internally from the gym ran parallel to my everyday life. For instance, the confidence I have in stepping outside of my comfort zone in the gym has made it easier to do the same in real life. In the beginning, I used to be so self-conscious about being a bigger girl attempting some of the exercises and workouts that I do. Now, I have the mindset that even the most elite athletic person had to start out somewhere, and I’ll never reach my fitness goals if I don’t try and give it my all. And I’ll have to be consistent and persistent if I want to see improvement. Well, I’ve found myself having that same confidence in my job and work for instance. I’m a social worker, and I used to be so frustrated that there’s so much I need to learn, and there are so many awesome social workers and mentors I know who could do such a better job than me. Now, I have the mindset that I’m just as good as the next worker, and what I don’t know, I still have room to learn and grow. It’s hard to explain, but there are so many parallels between the fitness life and personal, everyday life.
What has been the hardest thing about your fitness journey?
Losing motivation. As I mentioned before, I’ve been on this fitness journey for over 10 years now, and while I’ve come a LONG way, I still have some ways to go until my ultimate goal. Contrary to what some medical professionals and some people want to have you believe, losing weight and being fit isn’t a simple step by step process. A lot of people will have people believe losing weight is as simple as eating fewer calories than you burn. Or my favorite: having enough WILLPOWER. Well, there’s real life you have to deal with, there are stressors and temptation. It’s hard to be positive and motivated in your fitness journey 100% of the time. There have been months where I was just like, “forget about it,” because of what was going on in my everyday life, and I took a break.
The other biggest challenge is nutrition. For me, exercise is easier because I actually enjoy it (especially cardio type exercises). But without proper nutrition, exercising is pretty much a waste. I’m still learning how to get bad habits under control while developing new healthier habits at the same time. It’s rough, especially when there’s temptation EVERYWHERE!
What lessons have you learned on this journey?
I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to find like-minded people to surround myself with. Everyone in your life (friends, family, and coworkers) may not be on the same fitness journey as you (or may not be worried about their fitness at all). While they may be well-meaning, their habits can sabotage your ultimate goals if you’re not strong-minded around them. I’ve made a lot of friends, almost like a tribe, through the YMCA and the boot camp program I’m doing now. With them, I know I can turn to them for fitness advice, encouragement, and tough love when needed.
Another lesson I’ve learned is to not punish yourself if you “mess up” in your eating habits or exercise habits you’re trying to develop. It really is a lifestyle change, and change is not going to happen overnight. There are old habits I’m still trying to break while trying to develop new ones at the same time. I have to keep reminding myself that if I do “mess” up, each day is a new opportunity to start over.
What is your daily fitness regimen?
Over the past 2 months or so, I’ve started a new boot camp training gym in Rock Hill, Burn Boot Camp, to work on body strength and athleticism. I try to go to a boot camp class every morning at 5:30 or 6:30 to start my day. If I can’t go in the morning, I’ll try to make it up at night. Some days, especially after a stressful day at work or in my personal life, I’ll go to a second class that’s more fun for me that’s dance-based, like Zumba or cardio funk.
As far as nutrition, since that’s also a big part of daily fitness, I try to plan out my daily meals and snacks when I wake up. That way, I can try to stay within my calorie range. Nutrition is my biggest challenge, so I’m still working on this!
What advice would you give to people desiring a healthier lifestyle?
- Decide what your goals are, and realize they may change as you continue on your journey (and it’s ok if they do change). At first, my goal was to lose weight so I could get off high blood pressure medicine and get my blood pressure under control, and I’ve been off of the medicine since February 2016 and have lost almost 60 pounds. Now, even though I still have more weight I want to lose, I am now even more focused on proper nutrition and building my strength and athleticism, not just mere weight loss.
- Find something that is sustainable and that you’re able and willing to continue. There is a lot of information out there about what constitutes a “healthy” lifestyle: low-fat, low-carb, vegetarian/vegan, “clean” eating, etc., etc. The best thing you can do while you’re encountering all of this information (from the web and from well-meaning people) is to remember that the best thing you can do is make healthy habits a long-term lifestyle. What works for one person may not be what’s for you. Find something that works for you. And remember that healthy living doesn’t have to be miserable. It may be hard work in the beginning, but it can also be enjoyable if you allow it to be.
- Find a fitness tribe and likeminded people you can turn to when needed. Just like with everyday life, it’s hard to go about certain things in your fitness journey along. Maybe you need someone to help you be accountable. Maybe there’s a friend who’s further along in their fitness journey that could be a “mentor” to you. Whatever issue you’re facing along your journey, remember you’re not alone.