It’s weird to think sometimes of how much I have physically and mentally changed in the past 17 months. There are many people who have met me this year who probably have no idea how much, and there’s others who have known me for years who have witnessed the entire transformation. Either way, it’s been a MASSIVE part of my life and I’ve had many people ask me what my tips are, what I’ve learned, and what worked for me… so I wanted to make a blog post to talk about it a bit! This isn’t strictly photography-related, of course, but I think anything that has to do with me and my wellbeing — especially when it benefits my life and my career so much — belongs on this blog. 🙂
The photos above show my comprehensive body changes. The first photos were technically from late 2014 but I didn’t start my “get healthy” process until June 2015. I wouldn’t necessarily call these “before and after” photos as much as I’d simply call them “then and now” photos. I believe, as cheesy as it might sound, that being healthy and fit is a lifelong commitment, and one I’m happy to make. I don’t consider myself “done” — I am simply “changed”, and I continue to change in different ways every day. My body and mind have evolved, but I am far from finished!
But this photo only shows you the tangible changes. I have gained — and lost — things I never thought possible. I am stronger, faster, and more agile. I can go up flights of stairs without needing to stop to catch my breath like I used to. I can lift more weight more comfortably, which not only helps in my weight training sessions but with things like carrying bags of groceries or lugging my suitcase into an overhead bin on the plane. I can run around chasing toddlers at photo sessions without feeling like I’m going to keel over. I can be on my feet all day at an 8+ hour wedding and drive 2 hours home and only be mildly tired in the morning (and up and at ’em ready for a run!). I can DO A PULL-UP, GUYS! This was literally a goal of mine for MONTHS before I accomplished it, and now I do them every day (and can do MORE THAN ONE in a row which still blows my mind). My chronic physical ailments — foot and leg pain, back pain, headaches, and daily heartburn — are gone. My anxiety and depression have gone from 3-4 times weekly panic attacks and at times crushing depression to just mild symptoms now and then. I had no idea what I’d be changing when I started on this path!
It’s been the most amazing year and a half so far, and I have learned more things than I could possibly contain in one post, but I’ve done my best of summing up what have been the most crucial for me!
LOVE YOUR BODY. I can’t say this enough, really. Before I lost weight, I loved myself. I loved my personality, I loved my zest for life, I loved my enthusiasm, my smile, my warmth, my intelligence, and hell yes, my body. If you’ve been friends with me on Facebook or Instagram for a while you can probably attest to the fact that I have ALWAYS been a selfie queen. I have ALWAYS been psyched about my physical appearance. I chalk this up to being lucky enough to have supportive and encouraging people in my life growing up. I was thankfully never bullied for my weight/looks, I was never given unhealthy body image ideas (aside from the normal amount we’re all subject to with TV, movies, etc), I was never told that physical beauty was equal to worth. I didn’t lose weight because I hated my body — I lost weight because I LOVE MY BODY. I want it to be as awesome and strong and powerful as it can be. I want it to take me places, to carry me through my travels, to support me through my work. I want it to be healthy, and, simply put, it wasn’t healthy before, not for me. This translates into the process as well because I don’t want to starve myself — I want to nourish myself. I don’t want to push myself through injury, fatigue, or illness — I want to listen to what my body needs and treat it with respect. I want it to be as strong and healthy as it can be for as long as possible, so I want to treat it with LOVE.
SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO GO IT ALONE. I had to realize from the get-go that this journey needed to be about ME and no one else. If I relied on someone else — even if it was someone I loved, or someone I felt shared my goals — I would be dependent and they could slow me down or stop my progress entirely. This may sound selfish, and it is in a way (I personally don’t think all forms of selfishness are inherently bad, but that’s a post for another day), but it’s what I needed to do to be successful and achieve what I wanted. Some people do really well with a workout buddy, whether it be a friend or their partner, and that is awesome — I think everyone should do this their own way — but for me it just doesn’t make sense. I have such an odd, flexible, fluid schedule and I needed to operate solo to make sure that I took advantage of my motivation and my free time when I had it. The added weight of coordinating with someone else, working around their schedule, feeling guilty for skipping a workout or being late, or getting used to being with a friend and then having to go it alone was too much for me. Now my workouts are a treasured source of solitude and recharging time for me, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
YOU DON’T NEED TO SPEND MONEY. I’ve been doing this for almost a year and a half now and I just joined a gym LESS THAN A WEEK AGO. Every single workout I’ve done up until that point was at home or outside. It was really important to me to see if I could do this on my own. I don’t respond well to the pressure of needing to go to the gym because a trainer is waiting for me, or because I don’t want to waste the money I spent on the membership. Guilt is just not a healthy motivator for me. I wanted to do as much as I could with as little as possible. I had a couple sets of cheap dumbbells I had gotten at Target and… that was it, really. When I first started out I was just speedwalking around my neighborhood and then I slowly worked up to jogging. I incorporated some bodyweight workouts in for strength (meaning NO equipment necessary, just my own body) and then started in with the dumbbells (I had just a 5-pound and 10-pound set initially). Over the months I added in a couple other sets of dumbbells (15-pounds and 20-pounds) and an exercise ball, but that’s been it. At least 85% of my workouts took place outdoors, just running around the neighborhoods and around Baxter Boulevard. I know lots of people who have lost weight by simply being more mindful of the quality/quantity of their food and not exercising at all, or doing at-home bodyweight workouts or brisk walks around the block. There are COUNTLESS free workout videos on sites like YouTube or, my favorite, Fitness Blender. You can find videos for literally anything you want to do — pilates, yoga, weight lifting, Zumba, kickboxing, basic stretching, anything — and turn your livingroom/office/guest room/whatever into your gym. You can work out outside in your yard. Go for walks around the block with your kiddos or dog. Leave a set of 10-pound dumbbells at the top of the stairs and do curls when you go downstairs to check the laundry. Put a pull-up bar in the doorway to your bathroom and attempt one pull-up every time you go to pee. Work some lunges in when you walk to the car. Fitness can be incorporated into your life in as big or small of a way as you want, and it doesn’t need to cost a single dime.
FOOD IS NOT THE ENEMY, AND NEITHER ARE NUMBERS. I know some people don’t do well with being weighed or measuring themselves, but for me, knowing those numbers and being okay with them have helped me strip some of the power they have. THEY ARE JUST NUMBERS. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before: Weight fluctuates, sometimes HOURLY. Muscle weighs more than fat. What’s important is how you feel. Go by how your clothes fit and not the number on the scale. But ya know what? They are ALL TRUE. It’s impossible to know what your perfect weight is and everyone’s is different. What’s healthy for you may be unhealthy for someone else and vice versa. I think it’s good if we can recognize these things for what they are and use them as tools to improve, but ultimately, they are just numbers. Everyone wears their weight and muscle differently, everyone has different goals, and everyone feels differently — so go by what makes YOU happy.
And as far as food goes? There’s not a damn thing I “can’t” eat. I won’t let it have that much power over me. I think that entire concept is a myth, and an unhealthy one at that. Same goes for “cheat meals”. The concept implies that I am doing something bad by eating food I enjoy, even if that food may be decadent. It implies that I am breaking some kind of arbitrary rule. It implies that I must starve myself or limit the foods I enjoy (or eat food I DON’T enjoy) simply for the sake of “healthy” and then indulge in some kind of effort to remember what it was like to enjoy my food. Hell no. I eat food that I love all the time. I won’t lie and say it was easy at first to find foods that made me feel good, that nourished my body properly, and that provided me with nutrients I needed. It was an initially frustrating game of trial and error, of coming up with my own go-to meals and snacks, of finding what I liked and what I didn’t, of trying things that didn’t work out. That’s just how it’s done. But now I feel like I have a better grasp on food and nutrition and portions than I have in my entire life. It was a process to learn and understand it, but now it feels like second nature. Food is not something scary to me. I couldn’t let it be something that I felt I was avoiding or running from. Again, I am grateful that I have never suffered from any eating disorders like many others have, so this concept may not translate equally to everyone. But for me, I needed to have a positive relationship with food for this whole thing to work — food is a source of energy and power and sustenance, not something to be simply burned off with exercise.
DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU, AND HAVE FUN DOING IT. I had tried to get healthy many times before this and every time I gave up. I always had this overwhelming pressure to do what everyone else was doing. I wanted to jump on whatever the current popular workout system was. I wanted to join the gym everyone else was going to. I wanted to do what I was “supposed” to do, even if I didn’t like it. I had this warped idea that getting healthy and exercising wasn’t supposed to be FUN, it was just supposed to be something you suffer through for the greater good. THAT is why I quit. Once I realized I could do this on my own terms, I found so many things I loved and now I truly look forward to working out. It’s okay if the current fad — whether it’s pilates or spin class or anything else — isn’t something that gets your proverbial blood pumping. It’s okay if you hate running. It’s okay if the idea of attending a group class makes you too shy to speak. Try out some different things and see what YOU enjoy. Maybe it’ll be swimming, or dancing, or yoga. Maybe you’ll want to be out in nature and do something like hiking or snowboarding. Maybe you love team sports like basketball or softball. Anything that gets you sweating and works your body is awesome. Find what you enjoy, what challenges you, what makes you want to be better, and go for it with all you’ve got! It’s going to be different for everyone, and there’s no “right” way. For me, that has primarily been running outdoors — I can’t get enough of the wind in my face, the amazing views, the feeling as my feet pound the pavement. It’s transcendent. But I’ve come to love many different forms of exercise, and even love going to the gym now (my husband said “it’s a building literally created for what you enjoy doing, of course you love it!”.
IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE AN EXPERT. Guess what? Almost none of us are. I am sure as hell not. This process is trial and error, and no one is going to get it right 100% from the get-go. It’s a matter of finding what works for you and your body. Finding what works well with your schedule. It’s necessary to be uncomfortable for a while. To feel around in the dark. To try and say “nope, that didn’t work” and then try again, knowing better this time. It’s absolutely normal to search around online, to observe what others are doing, and to ask questions. I get them all the time and I freaking love it. But just remember how NORMAL it is for you to be overwhelmed and confused if this isn’t something you’re experienced with yet. Remember how much EVERYONE is learning as they go, even people who have been doing it longer than you. We ALL have more to learn and that’s part of the growing process.
“HEALTHY” AND “UNHEALTHY” DO NOT HAVE SET DEFINITIONS. I’ve said it before, but what is healthy for one person may not be for another. Don’t be tricked into believing that a kale salad is always healthy and a pizza and beer is always unhealthy. Life, thankfully, is not that black and white. Going out for a couple drinks and some wings with your friends can be very healthy — for your mental state, for your sense of balance, for a million different reasons — while obsessively working out for 3 hours a day can be very unhealthy. We all need to have balance and flexibility in our lives.
HEALTH IS SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST PHYSICAL. It may start that way, but soon you’ll see your mental health changing, too. I believe that putting forth effort to change and improve your body and your self does wonders for your perspective on many things. It’s the ultimate form of self-care. You are telling yourself that YOU are a priority. Your body, your mind, your energy… these are all priorities. It’s true when they say that working out in the morning sets the mood for the whole day. Not only do you have endorphins pumping through you, but you’ve started your day off with an intense act of self-care, which is amazing. You’ll slowly start to gain other things, too, like motivation, self-discipline, deeper relaxation, a way to channel some anxiety… it’s awesome.
BALANCE IS KEY. The concept of “all or nothing” doesn’t work for me. It took me a while to fully realize it, but one moment of veering off-track is just that: one moment. Whether that moment is a meal or a day or a month, it doesn’t matter. It’s no reason to scrap the whole plan. It’s no reason to belittle yourself or your self-worth. It’s no reason to give up what you’re working towards, whatever that may be. It’s just a blip on the radar. If you’re trying to run a faster 5k and you miss a few weeks’ worth of running, who cares? Jump right back on that saddle. If you are trying to eat healthier and you go out for pizza and drinks and finish off the night with half a cake, who cares? Did you enjoy the shit out of it? I hope so, because that sounds amazing. But take it for what it is — an awesome night of great food you deeply enjoyed — and eat something that makes you feel healthier the next day. This works on the opposite end, too. If I had a day where I really pushed myself to run my longest distance or my fastest speed, or maybe I spent a while in the gym and came out drenched in sweat, maybe I’ll spend the next day doing something a little more relaxed, or resting entirely. No one is happy living in a state of constant go-go-go and striving to be their version of “perfect”. Life is meant to be all shades of color, not just black and white.
IT’S JUST AS EASY — AND AS HARD — AS “DIET AND EXERCISE”. I have had countless people ask me what my “secret” is. Often times even when I say “I ate less and ate better and exercised more” you can see them waiting and thinking “and…?”. But really, there’s nothing more to it than that. Weight loss really is as simple as calories in vs. calories out. But simple does not equal easy. If you go into this process thinking it will be a walk in the park, you’re going to be disappointed. Appreciate it for the challenge it is, and know it’s OKAY to feel challenged by it.
There are SO MANY of us who were not raised learning about nutrition or portions. I, personally, had no concept of family meals, how to cook, how to feed myself, anything like that growing up. For a long time I didn’t glance at the nutrition on ANYTHING. A portion was however much I felt like eating in one sitting. It wasn’t uncommon for an entire bag of chips to disappear over the course of a single movie. For me to make a pot of rice — easily 4 servings’ worth — and eat it BY MYSELF with other ingredients added in for lunch. For a bag of Oreos to be gone inside 48 hours. To feel like I needed a side of chips and a sugary drink and a dessert with every single meal I ate out anywhere. I had NO idea how or what to eat, and I felt like I was doing pretty good at it until I started this process and started looking critically at what — and how much — I was putting into my body. I felt like since I didn’t drink soda and didn’t eat fast food that I couldn’t possibly be doing anything that could be considered unhealthy. I ate vegetables! I didn’t eat ice cream EVERY night! Things are awesome!
But that willing ignorance on my part — to know the food I was eating was making me feel uncomfortably full, to know that eating tons of cookies or ice cream made me feel sick, to know that wanting to curl up and take a nap after lunch wasn’t normal — is what helped me gain the weight in the first place. I had to shift everything I felt I knew about food and re-learn — or, really, learn for the first time — MANY things. It was hard as hell, but how I feel now is BEYOND worth it.
THE WEIGHT LOSS INDUSTRY IS, LARGELY, VERY TOXIC. There’s no shortage of commercials touting a “solution for weight loss”, ads claiming you can lose 30 pounds in 30 days, “100% safe”, “miracle pill”, “lose weight fast”, “fit into your bikini”, “get a beach body” blahblah… 95% of it is bullshit. Just like there’s an entire industry based around making women feel less beautiful, there’s an industry based around preying off of people who want a “quick fix” or to “slim down for the holidays”. There are companies who claim you can “tone up” by essentially covering yourself with saran wrap. There are so many supplements and shakes and “cleanses” it will make your head spin. And I truly think a majority of it is for-profit nonsense. There IS no quick fix (not to mention the toxicity of the concept that you have something to “fix” to begin with). There IS no magic pill. Of course there are some awesome weight loss tools out there that really do work and that are created by people who truly care, but it’s hard to sift through and find it. Try to remember that a bulk of these promises are meant to make you feel inferior so you buy their product. Period.
IT GETS EASIER. The phrase “a year from now I’ll wish I had started today” has never rang more true for me. There’s always a million reasons to not do something that will be difficult. It’s far easier to talk yourself out of something than into something — trust me, I know. But even if the step you take now is tiny — even if it’s not even noticeable to anyone but yourself — it is worth it. You take that tiny step and you pat your own damn self on the back and you keep going. Whatever your reasoning for getting healthier is — whether it’s to lower your blood pressure or to run a marathon or to kick someone’s ass in the boxing ring — you remind yourself of that in whatever way you need to every single day. It will be hard as hell at first. You are CHANGING HABITS, of course it’s hard. Some of us had those habits for months, years, or our entire lives. Rome wasn’t built in a day. But trust me, it will get easier. It will get funner. It will make you feel better.
TAKE PHOTOS. I’m serious. As often as possible. There will be times you can’t tell if or how your body is changing. Progress is slow but sure, and it can’t always be immediately recognized. Even if it’s just for yourself, take photos! Keep ’em in a folder on your phone or on your desktop. Take photos when you feel awesome and strong. Take photos from different angles. Take photos in workout clothes, in jeans, in nothing at all. You’ll be glad you did.
BE REALISTIC. This doesn’t mean being pessimistic. But aiming for a slow, healthy, gradual process is going to serve you better than trying to overhaul every single thing in your life at once. You don’t want to completely shock your body or your mind. You don’t need to come out of the process with the most dramatic, drastic change on the planet — this isn’t a contest. Making small, realistic changes towards your goal will help you build upon those small changes until you suddenly look around and realize just how much you’ve accomplished. Getting healthier is a HUGE task. If changing both your diet and your fitness level are too overwhelming, work on just one at a time. Add in small bits of exercise here and there. Prep a few days’ worth of food to see how it feels. Eliminate soda from weekdays first. Whatever you need to do to make it happen is better than feeling like you failed because you couldn’t do everything all at once.
COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY. Focus on YOUR OWN SELF and do not compare yourself to others. They aren’t you. They will never be you. I’m guilty of this myself — looking at someone’s running time and feeling bad about my own, looking at someone’s Pinterest-worthy smoothie bowl and feeling bad about my sad scrambled eggs, looking at someone’s body and wishing mine measured up. It’s absurd. We are all our own unique beings. For every person I look at and sigh wistfully, there might be someone else envying what I have. THE GRASS IS GREENER WHERE YOU WATER IT.
WE RISE BY LIFTING OTHERS. One of my greatest joys in this process has been how much I have inspired others. Whether it be for them to try a food I loved or to go out for their first run in years, it’s amazing to think that my words or actions have that much impact on someone else. I have always been a sharer by nature — I am an open book in almost every aspect of my life — and I take great pleasure in knowing that I can help others along their own similar process. If you’re on a journey like this, don’t be afraid to be open about it. Tell others what you’re doing. Post photos of your successes, or your struggles. Be openly proud of yourself. You never know who it might inspire.
BODY SHAMING KNOWS NO SIZE LIMITS. I am, of course, not talking about someone saying “you look awesome!” when I post a selfie, or being happy for me if I put up a progress photo. But it has been mind-blowing to me how many people have invited themselves to critique my process, to ask extremely personal questions, to question my methods, and to generally feel like my weight loss is an open door for them to be intrusive and insensitive. I’ve heard things like “if there’s a strong wind you’re going to blow away!”. I’ve been straight up told “you should really stop losing weight now” by acquaintances. I’ve been told I’m too skinny by total strangers, or that I need to “eat a sandwich”. I’ve had men inform me that I’m “not their type anymore”, or that “real women have curves”. I’ve had family members ask me if I eat, and others make comments like “I guess you won’t be having any of those cupcakes, huh?” (you bet your ass I am). I’ve had people who barely knew me assume I must be starving myself. Considering I never got comments like this before I started losing weight, it has struck me as so odd that people take someone changing their body as a free pass to comment however they please. But I know what I’m all about and I know what my motivation is, so I try to not let it bother me. My body is MY BODY and your criticisms are not welcome. 😉
ABOVE ALL, IT IS 10000% WORTH IT. I’ve said it before, but my life has changed in innumerable ways since I started this process. I’ve never felt so much pride in myself, and I’ve never been so surprised and humbled by what I can accomplish. I am strong and powerful and badass and it’s amazing. And if this post detailing the lessons I’ve learned helps even one person, even better. 🙂