It's no secret that fitness is a pretty important part of my life, but it hasn't always been that way. I stumbled onto it during a difficult time when I was transitioning out of a long-term relationship and into single life. I had little confidence or self-esteem and was using drinking and partying as a way to cope. In the midst of my unhappiness, I stumbled onto strength training and fitness, and while I didn't know it at the time, it would soon become the catalyst I needed to change my life and finally find happiness (and strength, and confidence, and peace within myself, but we'll get to that).
The College Years
During college, I took full advantage of my newfound freedom and spent my time partying and living off pizza and fast food. The drinking and unhealthy eating started to catch up with me during my sophomore year. It wasn't a huge increase, but my self-esteem was already low and insecurity about my body began to creep in.
To combat it, I cycled back and forth between barely eating and doing hours of cardio every day in an attempt to cancel out the food I ate. I was developing a seriously unhealthy relationship with food and exercise, but all I cared about was being skinny and partying.
That lifestyle continued in the years after college, although to a lesser degree. To accommodate the 9-to-5 lifestyle of a working adult, I limited my heavy drinking to the weekends and drank wine a few nights a week to unwind from work.
I was religious about getting in my five to six hours on the treadmill or elliptical every week to try and keep the weight off, but despite regular exercise and restricting my food intake, I struggled to make any progress. I was getting so frustrated — I was sure that calorie restriction and cardio were what I needed to "get skinny" and I couldn't understand why it wasn't working.
I resigned myself to the fact that as I neared my mid-20s, my metabolism was slowing down and there wasn't much I could do about it.
The Turning Point
At 26, after a particularly wild weekend of partying, I spent a full day on the couch nursing a hangover and unhappily recalling my drunken antics from the previous night. That's when it hit me: I didn't want to do this anymore. I hated the fact that I was using alcohol as an outlet for my unhappiness, and more significantly I didn't like who I was becoming. I didn't want to continue being this party girl, but I felt lost. I wanted to change, but I didn't know how.
A few weeks later, the gym I belonged to was offering two free personal training sessions to members. Although I had no desire to work with a personal trainer (I just wanted to go to the gym, get my cardio in, and leave), they were giving $100 gift cards to anyone who completed the two free sessions, so I decided to go through the motions and get my gift card — I had big plans to use that free $100 for a massage.
I didn't want to continue being this party girl, but I felt lost.
I considered myself to be in shape from all the cardio I was doing, so I went into my first training session with little enthusiasm. However, after one 30-minute session, I was quickly humbled. I was sore for an entire week; everything hurt! Even walking and laughing were difficult from my sore legs and abs.
We had done a lot of very basic moves like push-ups, lunges, and squats and I couldn't believe how sore they had made me. I meekly began to consider that maybe I wasn't in as good of shape as I thought and that incorporating some strength training into my cardio-only routine might be a good idea.
I had no clue how to work out with weights, so I purchased a few more sessions with my trainer to learn the ropes. She had sparked my interest with her style of strength training. It wasn't the slow, low-intensity workout I had always pictured it to be — she pushed me hard and I was always sweaty and exhausted after that 30 minutes.
While the workouts were tough, they left me feeling accomplished and with a desire to get stronger and improve (and not simply a desire to burn calories). I don't take for granted that I ended up with a trainer who had a profound ability to motivate and inspire me. Life has a funny way of gently pushing you in the right direction, and this was my push.
Finding Myself Through Fitness
As I learned to incorporate strength training and circuit training into my routine, my confidence grew. My relationship with food and exercise also began to transform: the workouts I was doing were tough, but they left me feeling empowered and strong. In the past I had always looked at exercise as something I had to do in order to burn off the food I ate, but with my new workout program I was starting to get stronger. My motivation for working out slowly shifted: I cared less about how many calories I was burning and more about getting strong.
I also started noticing how much better my workouts felt when I ate good food and enough of it. Eating 1,000 calories a day meant I couldn't get through these kinds of workouts, so I stopped restricting calories so severely and began to focus on eating healthy, nutritious food instead. My viewpoint was beginning to shift: I started to see food as fuel.
I cared less about how many calories I was burning and more about getting strong.
Four or five months into working with my trainer, I was regularly strength training and circuit training and I loved how good my workout program was making me feel. Still, I continued to spend my weekends partying, which meant that Saturdays and Sundays were spent hungover on the couch. I started to resent the fact that I was nursing hangovers every weekend when I could have gotten a workout in and felt energized. Though it happened slowly, I was coming to an important realization: fitness made me feel better than partying.
Over the next year, I slowly cut back on drinking and started finding other things to do in my free time. I started dating someone who fully supported my decision to spend less time partying, and we found other things to do on the weekends: hiking, movies, local festivals, etc. I didn't give up alcohol completely, but was learning to enjoy it in moderation.
Looking back, strength training became the foundation on which I rebuilt my life. It was the catalyst I needed to stop burying my unhappiness with drinking and partying and find the strength to live life fearlessly. It became a stepping stone for building self-esteem and confidence and has transformed me into the fit, strong, confident girl I am today.