Travel as a Fitness Motivator & The Long Road Home

I’ve been debating writing this post for awhile now. In the last two and a half months, I’ve lost 30 pounds. Each time someone notices, they ask me, “What’s your secret?”

It feels like every time I turn around, the Internet is abounding with fitness posts. Spend any length of time on Pinterest, and you’ll see an explosion of information about the “right” way and the “wrong” way to lose weight or get strong. This food is safe to eat, this exercise is the best, and those exercises and foods we said were great last week aren’t good enough anymore.

Honestly, it all seems like great advice. The human body is dynamic and science advances constantly, so why shouldn’t the workouts we do and the foods we eat change just as dynamically?

The truth of it is (like all things in your life): you do you.

If something works for you and it’s something you can stick to, then do that, even if it’s proven to not be as effective as something else. You hate doing that other thing that’s more effective, so you’re probably not going to stick with it – and then you’ll be right back where you started.

Some people I know swear by yoga, others say pilates, still more say Zumba is the way to go. I’m a good old fashioned weight mover. I love my weight circuit. It makes me happy to feel my muscles strain and flex, to see the amount of weight I can move increase from week to week. I love muscle definition. I think it’s gorrrrgeous and I want that in my life.

I’m someone who has struggled with body image issues my whole life. I was the chubby girl when I was little – something that never escaped the notice of my schoolmates. I looked at thin girls with a sense of envy and inferiority, two feelings that were incredibly unworthy of who I was as a person. It’s hard to conceptualize things like that when you’re a child. Had I been thin (but not too thin, because those bullies made fun of the naturally skinny girls just as badly as they did my chunky frame), they would have found something else they thought was wrong with me and would have picked on me for that.

The scars these kids left on me were there for years. At 17, I was the fittest I have ever been in life. I was strong, full of muscle, and could run and row like the wind. It was awesome – but I didn’t appreciate it. I was the lightest I could be at that age. And yet, when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone who was fat.

It was impossible to have been fat then. The scale, the measurements, and the fitness tests I endured daily all said I was athletic and lean. My self-image, the picture I held of what I looked like inside my head, was flawed. It was wrong.

The last two years have finally seen that negative self-image fade more and more. Maybe it has something to do with coming to the end of my 20’s, but more likely, it’s because I’ve worked just as hard to change my brain. Day after day, I’ve thought about it and worked on it. When I reached new highs on the scale earlier this year, I looked in the mirror and forced myself to see something positive. There were tears, like when I had a fancy dinner to go to and none of my nice dresses would do up, but there was the appreciation for my eyes, my hands, my wrists, and my butt. I love my butt. It’s a good butt!

Weight loss wasn’t the end goal when I started my fitness journey. I don’t have the frame to be model thin, but that’s not what I want for myself anyway. I want to be strong. I want to to look in the mirror and be like, “Yup. I see you muscles. You and me? Let’s go take on the day!”

But the truth of the matter is that I had gained a lot of weight in the past two years. And almost all of it was pure fat. Any muscle I gained in that time was purely there to support the extra weight I was carrying around.

I’ve tried various things to fix the weight gain and general weakness, but all of it resulted in failure and I just stayed exactly where I was. It didn’t do much for my confidence. The trying, failing, trying, failing routine was getting really old. The biggest part that bothered me, was the idea of travelling. There are so many places left for me to discover and I don’t want to be huffing and puffing and uncomfortable through all of it. Sometimes I think back to experiences I’ve already had and I’ve wondered, how much better would it have been had I been stronger?

Take the Inca Trail, for example. Mind you, I was sick with a bug for my journey on the trail – but that wasn’t the whole reason why I found it so difficult. I found it hard because I wasn’t physically up to snuff. I hadn’t been doing anything athletic since my rowing days and here I was undertaking something very physically challenging. It was brutal and I always look back on it with the mindset of, “I’m so proud of myself for having achieved this, but I will never do that to myself again.”

And what does that mean?

I used to believe it meant I wouldn’t hike the Inca Trail again. Proud I did it, scratched it off my list, but if I had to the opportunity to do it a second time, I’d bow out and go find something else to do.

That was never the person I wanted to be. I want to be the person who says. “Yeah! Let’s see if I can do it better the second time around.” I want my “I will never do that to myself again” thought to mean I will never make it so hard for myself again.

This brings me to thinking about future trips, future adventures, and who I am at the core of my being. All these things have a bearing on who I am physically. My body ought to be my temple, my vehicle, my home. It is what will take me through my future hikes, my future travels. I should treat my body better and by extension open doors to my future.

All these thoughts made me want to change so badly. To get closer to where I was when I was in peak physical condition, but with the brain and experience the years have brought me. The confidence and true sense of self that has come about with 12 years of navigating being an adult, and the understanding I still have so much to learn and experience.

It turned out small changes led to big changes for me. Thought has a profound impact on my actions. Thinking through each change logically and rationally made it all easier. Nothing I’ve done is groundbreaking, but it’s made a world of difference in my life. For me, the following things have worked out:

1. Joining a gym.

I can’t say I get to go as often as I like, but I do make time to go at least twice a week. When I’m there, I do my weight circuits. I could be doing so much more to get my muscle results faster, but right now, this is something I can stick to and something I enjoy.

I love the feeling of soreness the day after visiting the gym. It feels like progress to me. My muscles can’t get stronger unless they’re bullied a little and they certainly feel bullied the day after.

2. Walking. Yes. Walking.

In mid-June, part of what got me started was my Fitbit. I’m a scientist at heart, so having data on what I’m doing with my body on a daily basis is a huge motivator. The numbers don’t lie. You can’t cheat. You either moved around all day or you sat on your butt like a lump.

Every day, my Fitbit tells me to walk at least 10,000 steps / 8.05km. I love seeing the progress bar change from red (no where near my goals), to yellow (I’m getting closer), to green (I nailed it).

Before I even started doing anything about what I was eating, before I really made a commitment to the gym, walking was causing me to see huge results. Cellulite was disappearing, my legs were getting toned, and I was losing body fat.

This has redefined “walking distance” for me. If I can get somewhere in an hour by walking, I’m going to walk. I never would have thought to walk to and from work before, but now? Yup, no problem. Besides, the extra time gives me a break to think and listen to music – two things that greatly increase my happiness.

3. Putting down the fork, but eating what I want.

Each day, I give myself a set amount of calories to eat. And then I eat what I want with those calories. I know I’d probably see better results if I made sure that every one of those calories came from really great sources, but I don’t particularly eat a lot of junk food as it is. Most of the food I eat is pretty great, but I can’t give up my salty snacks and sometimes, I just want a little chocolate. If I told myself I can’t have these foods at all, I would eventually fail because I would give up. And I would eat a whole bag of chips in one sitting. You think I’m kidding, but I know my personal history pretty well.

But if I let myself have a taste of something I’m craving, it satisfies the craving without breaking my calorie budget. It’s easy to get through my day to day, birthday parties, and evenings out without feeling like I’m deprived or having to explain to absolutely everyone around me why I’m not eating or drinking this, that, and the other. It’s comfortable and familiar, but is leading to huge results.

And that’s it. Those are the things I’ve been doing that have really been making the difference. Everyone I know who has had success in bringing their body to what they want it to be, has had a completely different approach. That’s because everyone is different – that is something to be celebrated, but it also means we each have a different road to travel. Find what makes to feel good. Find what you like to eat. Find what you like your own body to look like. The only people who say you have to look or be a certain way aren’t the kind of people you want in your life, anyway.

Be you.

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