by Kate Richlin-Zack
Recently, a friend asked me, “How and when did you make the choice to be healthy, and how do you stick with it?”
It got me thinking because how I look and feel now is very different from ten years ago or even three years ago. With New Year’s Resolution running rampant these days, I think it’s the perfect time to answer her question.
Here’s the thing: deciding you want to be healthy and fit isn’t difficult. It’s easy to decide, “I want to look smokin’ hot in a bikini and I want to feel confident running around in hot pants.” Umm… join the club. We’ve got jackets. That’s not the hard part. Doing the work to get there – working out, eating healthy – also isn’t that hard. I’m not going to piss on your foot and tell you it’s raining, it’s work, but we’ve all put forth some effort at some point in our lives so doing what needs to be done isn’t all that hard either. So if making the decision is so easy and doing what needs to be done isn’t difficult, why are so many people still so unhappy with their bodies and so unsuccessful with their fitness goals?
Lack of information.
It’s impossible to get from Point A to Point B if you don’t know HOW. When was the last time, you got in the car and drove to a place you’ve never been before without using a GPS or consulting Google Maps? Exactly.
Losing weight is no different. The only thing you need to achieve a killer bod is information. And depending on where you’re looking, that information can be hard to find. You may think you have all the right information, but unless you have exactly the body you want at this very moment, you still have some learnin’ to do.
I struggled for a long time figuring out how to get in shape. Truthfully, that was the hardest part.
At my heaviest, I was a size 16 and over 200 lbs. Granted, I’m 5’11” so there’s a lot more room for all the extra weight but I wasn’t happy. I couldn’t shop at stores I liked because I didn’t fit into anything and there was always dressing room trauma. Just a few seconds in front of a three-way mirror could sabotage my entire day. Part of me rationalized that it was easier to ignore the problem and keep eating. Eating was fun. Bathing suit shopping was not. But there was an even bigger part of me that wasn’t happy so I tried just about everything from diets to exercise programs to pills.
I tried being vegetarian because I didn’t know any fat vegetarians. You can’t be a fat vegetarian. Oh, yes, you can. FYI – Doritos, twizzlers, and Skippy peanut butter are all vegetarian. Doesn’t make them healthy. I tried following the latest diet crazes like the grapefruit diet or cabbage soup diet. They’re as ridiculous and gross as they sound. You can only have so many explosive trips to the bathroom before you start reevaluating your life choices. I tried yoga, pilates, kickboxing. There were times I spent 60 minutes sweating on the elliptical or treadmill but I hated it. Running hurt my back and I was sluggish. The girl on the treadmill next to me would be bounding along at a steady 7 mph and all I could think was “that’s not physically possible without a jetpack” as I trudged along at 4 mph. That was discouraging. Then I’d get home from the gym and inhale anything that wasn’t nailed down because I was starving. I resorted to diet pills to suppress my appetite and hoped they would keep their promise to “shred the fat” from my body. The before-and-after photos in the ads were so compelling and those skinny bikini clad people look so happy. Instead, I ended up with a racing heartbeat and uncontrollable mood swings followed by a serious concern I might die because some of the products were recalled. And in my twisted desperation, there was a part of me that thought, “well at least I’ll be a thin corpse.” Seriously? WTF?!
I got depressed every time I saw a svelte celebrity on a magazine cover. I wanted an enviable body, but after years of trying and failing, I figured being thin was impossible for me. I rationalized that it wasn’t so bad. I can hide behind baggy clothes and stuffed crust pizza is delicious. But there was always a reason to be fit: beach vacations, a friend’s wedding, new year’s resolutions, shopping with my skinny friends and not being able to find anything in my size, my disgust whenever I’d see pictures of myself, the assumption that I would never find a guy that found my chubby knees attractive so I’d die alone, an irrational fear of the scale in my doctor’s office to the point that I snapped at one of the nurses and yelled, “there’s no way in hell I’m getting on the scale because I already know I’m fat,” the list goes on an on. Oh and did I mention I’m somewhat of a perfectionist? I didn’t want to just resign myself to being overweight but I also had no idea how to be fit and healthy.
It wasn’t until I started weight training that I felt like I was getting anywhere. I read The Cardio Free Diet by Jim Karas and despite how cliche it sounds, the book changed my life. My perception of weight training, like most women, was that it would make me bulky and I’d look like a linebacker. I was hesitant to even try lifting weights, but I felt like I’d already tried everything else and none of it had worked. I had nothing to lose. I read the book cover to cover – a great way to justify delaying the whole exercise portion of the process – and learned a ton of information about why weight training will give you the body you want and why cardio will leave you hungry and frustrated. I was so happy that my post gym cookie binges were backed by science!
I will admit, the most challenging part of the first workout was walking into the gym. It was so intimidating! I felt like all the skinny women and grunting meatheads were looking at me like, “what does fatty mcbutter pants think she’s doing HERE?” I grabbed the dumbbells that I needed for the workout and hid in a minimal visibility corner. The first workout didn’t feel all that difficult. I followed the instructions exactly and after about 30 minutes, I was done. I thought to myself, “this is never going to work… I didn’t even sweat that much.” But I sure as hell felt it the next day.
As for my diet, I was following the South Beach Diet. Of all the diets I tried, it was the one I could stick with regardless of the situation and I’d already lost a few pounds. I also didn’t want to deal with the shock of too much change.
Within a couple weeks, I was noticing changes in my body and people were complimenting me on my physique. I was so excited because FINALLY I found something that seemed to work and it fit with my lifestyle. I wasn’t starving all the time. My body was changing and I was getting closer and closer to that enviable body I’d always wanted. Once I knew what I needed to do to get the body I wanted, it was just a question of doing it and the progress kept me motivated. I figured out how to get in shape.
That was in 2007. Since then, I’ve lost over 50 pounds. I’ve hit a few plateaus along the way and that’s when I changed something. That’s when you NEED to change something. I started following the Paleo diet in 2010 and lost about 10% body fat. I hired a trainer to push me physically to do exercises I can’t or won’t do alone.
The only thing that kept me from having the body I wanted, the body I have now, was information. When I was a size 16, I didn’t have the information I needed. I had misconceptions about weight training. I didn’t know how or why weight training worked. I didn’t understand what a healthy diet looked like. I had no idea how to read a nutrition label or that allegedly “healthy” products that were actually making me fat. Without that information, getting the body I wanted didn’t just feel impossible, it was impossible. It’s equivalent to driving around without a GPS and refusing to ask for directions or consult a map. You’re lost. You might get there eventually, or you might just say “fuck it” and turn around and go back home to your Twinkies and buffalo wings.
The only reason I’ve stuck with it along the way is because I got results. Seeing my progress over the years has kept me motivated. I keep track of my weight and body fat. I write down all of my workouts so that I can see how much stronger I am today than I was last year or even last month. Sure, I’ve had slip ups here and there but I realize that when I eat healthy and work out, I look better and most importantly I FEEL better.
It’s not enough to make the decision to be healthy. That’s just the first step and that’s the easiest part of the whole process. The hard part and the key to success comes with finding the right workout program and diet for YOU. Here are a few tips to get you started:
1) Believe that it’s possible - If you think you can’t do it, you’re right. Your reality is in your head. Make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself before you even get started.
2) Get help!! - Yes, you’re smart. But there is no way on God’s green earth that you know everything. Unless you have exactly the body you want, go browse through the health and fitness section of your local bookstore or check out what’s available on Amazon. There’s a ton of information available. If you can afford it, hire a personal trainer to tell you what to do. This way you don’t have to go through the mental strain of figuring it out for yourself. If you have questions, you can always ask me… that’s what I’m here for.
3) Don’t be intimidated - The most fit people were novices at one point. With a little dedication, there will come a time when you can teach them a thing or two.
4) Keep track - Take pictures. Weigh yourself. Get your body fat measured. Keep a log of your workouts. You didn’t get fat overnight, you’re not going to get fit overnight either. Tracking your progress will help you stay motivated.
5) Be prepared for plateaus and relapses- At some point, you’re going to get frustrated that you still don’t have an ass you can bounce a quarter off of or you’ll get on the scale and break down in tears in your trainer’s office because, after weeks of strict dieting and exercise, you only lost 3 pounds and 2% body fat and in your opinion that’s “just not good enough!” At some point, you will lose control and eat an entire box of Girl Scout Cookies because a serving size isn’t two cookies, it’s one row of cookies. Shit happens and tomorrow’s another day and insert any other motivational phrase you can think of here. Once in a while it’s ok to eat like a fat kid. Just don’t make it into a habit.
“The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Health and Fitness” is written by the irrepressible Kate Richlin-Zack and runs every other Tues at 10:30AM on Kate-book.com. She is a former plus-sized model turned fitness enthusiast who lost about 50lbs in the process. She loves food and views exercise as a necessary evil in her quest for looking good and feeling confident in hot pants. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.