Beauty & Strength Apparent: A Look at My Fitness Journey Over 10 Years

I wanted to write an op-ed about my fitness journey because I am in fact a brand ambassador for a fitness company, but fitness was an important part of my life prior to representing this company; it is luck that I came to be affiliated with them to be honest.

I have been practicing yoga now for 2 years and 4 months. I was introduced to yoga through Fabletics as a brand ambassador. Due to internet culture the only yoga photos I was exposed to was the "look at me I am doing yoga, but really it's like look how sexy I am". Yoga not only angered me, it made me uncomfortable as someone who had already been on a long fitness journey.

So let's rewind. All my life I have been lean, not really muscular, just lean with a little bit of muscle tone. I never had to work out per se. I could get my daily exercise walking at my job because I worked at a theme park. Even then, I had gotten to be about a size 9 after working there for a while because food was so cheap and I used to have the most unhealthy diet of ramen noodles, pizza, chicken strips, and salads that were loaded with cheese, meat, and salad dressings (I was in college so kill me). But even with the physically demanding job of being a train engineer at a theme park I still went from a size 4 to a size 9 (still slim) in my late teens early 20's.

I eventually transitioned to different jobs and I did not work out as much. I still remained about the same for a while. It wasn't until in my mid 20's the Celiacs and other autoimmune diseases started to manifest and from what I have read that is pretty common. Obviously, stress plays a huge deal in how we metabolize food and in the food choices we make. I can't deny that in my late 20's I indulged in food to make me feel better when I was down because food never changed and it would never betray me- until it did. My favorite thing to eat was ranch dressing on everything and when my brother introduced me to green goddess dressing and then that was on everything. I had a hard day at work and I would eat a salad with grilled chicken, but add the ranch dressing. In my mind I thought I was making healthy choices but I wasn't.

Around the time I knew I was going to get laid off I was already gaining weight again from a 4 to a 7 now and I was eating in the dark. My go to food comfort: ramen noodles, Cuban sandwiches, chicken nuggets, french fries, Chinese food, fish sticks, or a BIG salad. Oh, or pizza. None of this was good and on top of that came body shaming from my family, from church members; harassment from men at work and church saying I was getting "thick" or "lady parts".

I want to take you all back to the start. I had surgery on my tailbone because I had a pilonidal cyst at 19. After that surgery at 19 my right leg was never the same. I couldn't bend it, I could barely walk, stretch, or move it without pain. I had asked my doctor what exercises I could do to stay fit and not further irritate the area and his response was "How the hell should I know". I left the doctors office feeling disgusted and it was later that a friend introduced me to pilates. I did pilates for 10 years, but it never actually helped with my right leg because what I needed was therapy to stretch those muscles.

At my highest 186 pounds (now a size 12) and counting I still looked fit, for example my stomach was still flat and I still had abs because I was using an elliptical, doing pilates, and walking. I worked out everyday, but I was still gaining 10 pounds every 6 months to a year. I then took things into my own hands and just started walking (and eliminated gluten by coincidence)- which at that time was very hard because my leg was pretty much not usable at that point. And I am not lying, I had lost jobs, good jobs, because I needed to sit most of the day and not stand or walk due to my leg. l will never forget the first morning I stepped outside my house and went for my first walk at 186 pounds. I lived in the suburbs where people just sat in their garages all day long. Even at 7 am they were there with their eyes glued to what I felt was "my fat body".

I felt the pain in my leg, the stiffness, I was walking so funny, and I was overweight and felt like people were watching me, but I kept walking. As days passed it did not get easier, but I thought about all the mean things my family had said to me, calling me fatty and saying "you will never be a size four again fatty" and I just kept walking until I could walk and run 13 miles in one day. I made a playlist to motivate me- my favorite song was OMG by Usher. That song hyped me up so much I would walk a clear 4 miles and just feel like OMG!

After 10 months I lost all the weight and as I have talked about before I lost an additional 13 pounds once I tried to return to eating a diet with gluten because I did not know that I had Celiac Disease so I got sick a lot after I reached my goal weight of 125.  The thing that remained though was still body shaming from people telling me now "well you looked better at 186" "were you 186? I never saw that!" "You look sick now" "you need a sandwich" "you're anorexic" "you have an eating disorder" and lastly "did you have plastic surgery".

I say all of this not to get sympathy, but to build to why yoga actually changed who I am today. I lived with all of this pain, with the words, with the memories of looking in the mirror and seeing myself gain and gain and gain and not know why and then waste away to 112 pounds and not know why -all while never feeling amazing at my fitness journey as I should have. I did not take any weight-loss pills, I did not get surgery, all I did was walk every morning and do a little pilates at night and I counted calories and ate extremely clean which eliminated gluten almost completely from my diet. And to be quite honest I still drank vodka and wine. But it was like like once I lost 72 pounds everyone was set to take my accomplishment and turn it into something bad so I never felt the joy of accomplishing anything.

My first time even trying yoga this was as far as I could reach

YOGA: Like many things into my life I stumble into them. I never wanted to do yoga and I fought it tremendously. I believed all the common misconceptions about people who did yoga and I abhorred it. As a brand ambassador I was charged with the one month mission of doing yoga for September 2 years ago. I did not want to do it, but I did and honestly after the month was over I felt better. My body wasn't hurting as much anymore and I was willing to continue. Over my 2 year journey it was hard because of course on social media women will take the sexiest photos, they will get all bendy and be like posting a quote, but really they are like "look at my hot body". It was strange. I could not bend at all, my whole body was stiff, and I felt short and stumpy. I was faced with a whole knew awkwardness that I wasn't ready for.

It took me months to really read and study yoga and understand that it's not about instant gratification. It's not about taking a sexy Instagram photo. It's not about conquering a yoga sequence. Asanas are about mindfulness and meditation. Yoga is about mindfulness and meditation. I started noticing more and more that I was feeling more inward peace and feeling more mindful. I started meditating every day. My family is probably my own worst enemy next to myself and the goals I set for myself and I realized when they would nag at me I would just mediate or do a yoga flow. Yoga completely changed my way of thinking and feeling and I feel like it introduced a spirituality that even my husband can't quite understand (because he still hates yoga lol). But I feel like instead of food, instead of shopping, instead of just being mad- I am my own best friend and I can count on me.

I don't need to be in a gym and I don't need anything special to meditate or do yoga. The thing though that struck me the most was that I did not give up when my body wanted to. 1 year ago I vowed to try and rehab my leg using a yoga strap. I was not sure it would amount to anything, but I did it the whole year. When I first started yoga I could not reach past the lower part of my knee cap and now I can touch my toes- hell I can put my hands under my feet. I never in a million years would have thought I could ever achieve that.

It sucks when your body is giving out on you and you feel like your body is betraying you and you can't do anything to change it, but I can say with practicing yoga I felt that change within first. I feel stronger, I feel more confident, and at peace. I am doing things that I never thought I would be able to do and it makes me feel empowered. So while I guess some may feel like I am that cliche yoga girl on IG that I once hated, I feel like I evolved just a little bit as a person and it gives me pause and a goal to set for tomorrow and that makes me happy.

My husband takes my yoga photos and over the last two years I have seen my weight go up and then down once I started building muscle through strength training. I have always been a lean runner/treadmill girl other than pilates and switching to yoga took a lot of commitment because I did not understand the transformation my body would undergo after stopping cardio and only strength training. It took me a while again to just look at myself and say "I am beautiful" (I know on the outside looking in that may seem odd to read). I am someone who always ran and did pilates and then starting yoga  was completely the opposite of my workout routine. I have more muscle tone now and more definition and it's beautiful, but it took me a while to see that.

What is ironic is that all the while everyone I knew who shamed me was so pressed at me being around a size 4 normally before any of this started and after all this has gone down over the last 10 years I have been a size 0 since I started actively working out. It wasn't until I started gaining weight that I started actively working out in my mid 20's; so I never knew that even I had the potential to be this small, but I am. I don't actively watch my weight, or diet anymore; I just do what feels right to my body. Now, I calorie counted for years so I know how much is too much on my plate. I can tell if I am bloated and know that weighing myself will do no good. If my clothes start getting tight I know if its not bloating then I need to work out. And mostly, over the last 2 years there have been so many times I wanted to break down and just go for a run, but I was determined to do yoga and pilates only.

LEFT: Cardio only
RIGHT: Yoga/pilates/strength training

Now, in this new year, I see a change and it's not because I lost ten pounds in December, it's because over the last 5 months I have been actively practicing asanas and I am doing things I never thought I could physically do with that leg and my weak arms. When I look at the progress and my body I feel radiant, beautiful, strong, and peaceful. I am so happy and I want to share yoga with everyone, but I know yoga isn't everyone's thing. 



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