It’s April. I’ve stuck to my New Year’s resolution, and I’m still going to the gym. Thanks for checking in! While you’re here, could you compliment my biceps? Don’t they look toned? Am I crazy, or does my hair look stronger to you? It seems stronger.
These past few months, I’ve crawled (bear crawled) my way up from someone who could count on my hands how many times I’d lifted a weight, to someone who hated workouts but kept showing up, to someone who enjoys going to the gym.
I’d like to preface this by saying that I get it. I get that it’s a luxury to go to the gym. I get that with everything else you’re juggling, taking time out of your day to put yourself through some physical torture is at the bottom of your list. I get that you have kids to watch, and it’s hard to take them with you.
For so long, I’ve felt that with my lack of knowledge, my budget, and busy schedule, being in shape just wasn’t meant for me. The stars aligned for me in January. I met a mom in San Antonio who is a personal trainer. She has a gym in her garage and invited me to bring my daughter along to my workouts. Now instead of paying for a gym, childcare, and a trainer, it was just one—and a much smaller—fee. My friend is passionate about helping moms, and boy, did I need her more than I even realized in the beginning.
Up until now, my workouts consisted of charging through my home with two arms loaded from shoulder to fingertip with grocery bags or running after my dog when she escaped the back yard. Occasionally I would get halfway through a yoga tutorial on YouTube. In fact, since I was homeschooled and never had gym class, I realized on my first day walking up to the gym, that I had never had any formal training at all. I knew just about as much about properly using exercise equipment as I would about looking at the buttons and nobs of a NASA control center. Throw in a C-section and the unhealthy habit of stuffing my face after the kiddo has gone to bed (because who has time to eat while they’re awake?!), and it’s safe to say I was starting at the very, very bottom of the fitness ladder.
So the day came for my first workout, and oh my goodness, it was absolutely horrible! I awoke every sleeping muscle in my body, and like bears that had been hibernating for 26 years, they were MAD. After one hour of torture, I hobbled to my car and plopped down in my seat, but it wasn’t enough. I needed to lie down. I considered sprawling out on the pavement like an Anna pancake. Then I thought about cake—decadent, moist cake with a not-too-rich creamy icing—and it made me want to hurl. There was no cake with cake calories delicious enough to tempt me, once I realized what I would have to go through to work it off. I suddenly understood why fit people are always raving about salads. They don’t want to have to work off the cake! It was already starting: the fitness infection was taking over my brain.
The following day, I had to put a lot of mental effort into remembering what a normal walk was supposed to look like. Am I bending correctly? Who cares—I’m in pain! And then, too soon, it was time for my second workout. My self preservation technique of avoiding pain had kept me alive for this long. Was it really healthy to embrace the pain? I tried telling myself, Pain is all mental. You just have to imagine it away! But I failed, and with every weight I lifted, I thought:
Why am I doing this?
This is terrible.
Please make it stop.
Don’t do this.
It’s not worth it.
But I kept going.
And then I thought about canceling my third workout. I could easily say I was sick—it was flu season after all—but I showed up anyway. And then I showed up for the one after that. And then I showed up again. And again. And after a couple of weeks, I still dreaded the workouts, but I started reaping some unexpected benefits of working out and eating clean, and it made me feel really good. For starters:
- I had done the hard thing. A challenging workout in the morning left me with a freeing feeling that everything else I did that day was comparatively “easy.” Even if I had a busy workday ahead, or a day of dealing with meltdowns, I had confidence in myself that I could get through the hard things.
- Working hard in the gym made it easier to eat well. After all, if I was going to sweat, cry, and possibly get sick during a workout session, I wanted to get the maximum benefits from it. I scoured the grocery store for healthy alternatives to my processed favorites. Larabars, rice cakes, and vanilla protein powder became my best friends. Don’t worry—I would never be insane enough to get rid of my morning coffee. I did, however, start using coconut sugar instead of cane sugar in my morning cup-of-joe.
- I started hydrating properly, which is something I’ve somehow avoided for almost 30 years. Panting through my workouts leaves me so parched that before I realize it, I’ve chugged more water in an hour than I used to in an entire day. Everybody is always raving about the benefits of H2O, so I am waiting for my skin to glow and my organs to start thanking me.
- I got a piece of me back. For the first time in years, I had time that wasn’t devoted to anyone or anything except me. Sure, I’m making myself miserable, but I’m doing so to feel really good about myself, and that’s worth it. And to be fair, I have been known to hide in a corner and catch up on a few work e-mails before I pick my kid up from the gym daycare.
I don’t look much different yet, but I feel like a different person than I did three month ago. I feel in control of my body, and I feel more confident. In the past, I’ve had a pretty passive relationship with my body. I didn’t hate the way I looked, but I took an “ignorance is bliss” approach and avoided mirrors or photos of myself. Do you know that feeling when you think you look sexy as all get out, but then you see a photo of yourself and it destroys your whole day? I’ve had a lot of those moments before, but this is the first time I’ve worked hard at changing the way I feel about myself. Not only am I proud of myself for sticking with something that’s challenging, I’m also proud of the results that I feel. There isn’t some dramatic overhaul where I suddenly have more energy than I know what to do with and all my hormonal breakouts have vanished for all eternity. Nope, I’m thinking that won’t ever happen. But I can tell you that for the first time in my entire life, I’m not dreading swimsuit season. If I notice something in a photo or in the mirror that does bother me, I just think, I’ll work on that. Working out and eating healthier have kept me in a good mental place. In my teen years, I approached controlling the way I looked by severely limiting what I ate, and you can imagine how unhealthy that was.
And yes, I have finally started enjoying the workouts. Especially when my mini me is right next to me, challenging me to do as many frogger hops as she is because my pain is all fun and games to her.
Heck, I can even give you a long list of places that have the best salads in San Antonio, because—get this—I genuinely enjoy salads now. I always assumed that people who eat really healthy just have a lot more self control than I do, but the truth is your taste buds change soon after your eating habits do. Nowadays, you can catch me saying things like “grapefruits are nature’s candy!” and I genuinely believe it. Ugh. In case you are wondering, Chick-fil-A’s spicy southwestern salad is so good, you don’t even miss the nuggets. Whiskey Cake’s bacon and blue cheese salad is amazing—I crave it all the time, and I recommend trying it with the salmon. You can whip up the salad of your dreams with all the fixin’s at Mod Pizza, but don’t worry—you can still eat the crust off of your kids’ pizza, because you know they will leave some laying around for you. The spicy thai salad at Panera never leaves me wishing I had ordered carbs instead. Ladies, I hate, hate, hate to admit this, but a good workout and a salad really does chase the PMS blues and cramps away—yes, even better than a fudge brownie.
Quite frankly, I think I would suffer through the workouts for the outfits alone. I am not a fashion guru; I am a “comfort is king” type of gal. The fact that I used to find jeans the pinnacle of relaxation pants is laughable! Yoga pants are undeniably the best thing that’s ever been wrapped around my body. I know that there isn’t technically a law that says you have to work out when wearing gym clothes, but I feel going to the gym justifies my wearing stretchy pants to bed and through every day of my life just a bit more.
A few people have asked me what my goals are. I set out to lose some weight and tone up, but now I think I just want to see how far I’ll go. (Darn it, Moana! You’re in my head again.) I am a very curious person, the type who shouldn’t be allowed to be on my own in a touristy town because I’d walk to the ends of the earth just to find out what’s in that shop window right across the way. And now? I am curious to see what I can achieve. Can these soft layers be removed to reveal the unicorn of muscles: abs?! Is a dimple-free booty achievable?! I have my doubts about that one, but if you’re dying to know, check back with me in another year or two. No matter what noticeable results I get, I can tell you that it feels amazing to know I am getting a bit stronger every day.