Over the years, I have transformed…a lot.
My story is somewhat long, but this about sums up my entire fitness journey thus far. I’ll take you through my highs and lows, and where I’m at in my life right now.
I have no doubt that my story can relate to many other young women (and men) going through a similar phase of confusion, loneliness, defeat, and shame, but the biggest point I want to make is this:
You are more than capable of getting through it. Continue researching, continue experimenting, continue striving to be better than who you were yesterday. Stop comparing yourself to others, focus on your own goals, and take it at your own pace — it’s not a race. I know it’s easier said than done, but you can do it. You are so strong, and have so much potential to make your goals and dreams happen. Keep going and don’t stop!
The very beginning of my fitness journey started off with my Mom’s goal. She told herself that she wanted to be in the best shape of her life when she turned 40. With less than a year, she signed up for a gym membership and asked if I wanted to be part of the ride so of course I said yes! And that’s where both of our fitness journeys ventured off into the wild…
She hired a personal trainer who introduced her to some weight lifting, but I stayed on the other side of the spectrum – in the comfort of Cardio Heaven (you know, that big as* section of the gym that everyone secretly hates). I still remember the very first day I stepped foot into Charter Fitness. I was so motivated to be skinny that I ran an entire mile without stopping and was extremely proud of myself for starting off on such a strong foot. The next day I chastised myself in defeat because my legs wouldn’t allow me to go that far. So little I knew about our musculature system works…
That’s when I decided to say hello to Treadmill’s good cousin, Elliptical. Pretty soon I was ditching them for their friend, the Bike. And even sooner, I was giving them all each equal one-on-one time. I had to keep things “entertaining,” you know? Not to mention I always always always did abs. Just like the gym-rats never skip chest day, I never skipped abs. That’s how my routine was established.
But like that wasn’t enough tax on my muscles and joints, I was also a part of my high school soccer team. I remembered staying after school to run some laps around our indoor track, and from there I would go to soccer practice. In the evenings I would join my Mom at the gym to meet with Treadmill, Elliptical, and Bike. The only thing that mattered to me was being skinny, and I thought I was on my merry way…
The leanest I’ve ever been – the lowest I’ve ever seen the number on the scale – was 128 pounds. But I didn’t weigh myself too often because I was always nervous about what number I’d read next…
To maintain my activity level that summer I joined a dance team, and made a point to go outside every single day to run. I managed to lose about 30 pounds in a matter of 3-4 months. And let me tell you, when I returned to high school to start my sophomore year, I was the center of attention; the new fitness guru; the new and improved “healthy” girl with all the answers.
I reveled in this new reputation I gained. The cute guy I had a crush on since middle school finally took interest in me. I received compliments from teachers, my friends, and even strangers, daily. People asked what I did to lose all the weight. My friends asked me to be their trainer, and what exactly they needed to eat so they could look just like me. I was flattered. Yet would you believe that I was struggling to feel confident in myself?
The compliments and admiration only fueled my esteem for so long until I would come home and critique myself for not being as “tight and toned” as the girls I followed on Instagram. I constantly questioned whether I really lost weight or not. I would complain to my Mom that all my hard work wasn’t going anywhere because I still had love-handles; I still had rolls when I sat down; I still had a “pooch,” or that kangaroo-looking pouch at the bottom of woman’s torso. I cried because I was exhausted, I was constantly hungry (and fighting myself not to eat), and my body just would not respond to my efforts.
Feeling weak? Sabrina, stop being a baby and suck it up…
Feeling tired? Maybe you shouldn’t have stayed up so late last night.
Hair is falling out? Well, it must be the shampoo or products you’re using; stop blow drying your hair so much.
Lost your period? Well, that’s just part of the irregular reputation of puberty.
I convinced myself with these all-too-simple answers because I was living a healthier lifestyle. Exercising, eating less, and losing weight meant that I was being a health individual (or so I thought). And all my friends looked up to me for this! Fitness had become my top priority, and I held the responsibility of being a healthy role-model for all my friends. I fell so hard for this new position; I so deeply believed that my reputation depended on my physique, my ability to answer my friend’s questions, and becoming this epitome of what it means to live a “healthy” lifestyle. In the mind of a 16 year old, I basically had found my purpose in life.
But little did I know, my body was responding: I was fragile, my hair was thinning, and eventually I lost my period. This was just its way of pleading for me to stop continuously pushing it so far past its limit; it was retaliating because I was depleting it of proper fuel and nourishment, and then forcing it to perform at an unrealistic level. I was selfish, though. I just wanted to be skinny and it wasn’t giving me what I wanted.
Gaining & Losing Everything
With my Mom’s personal trainer guiding her, she slowly started to pick up on the importance of resistance training and eating for fuel. Eventually, after doing enough research I gathered that according to the real-fitness world (thanks Bodybuilding.com), the most important component to achieving “your perfect body,” is to build more muscles. More muscles = more calories burned. And let me tell you, when I read this I was ignited with a whole new fire. I got so excited when I read about the importance of eating enough calories to build muscle. So from that point on I decided to stop doing so much cardio, I began lifting weights, and I read about a bunch of different diets (carb-cycling, Paleo, and flexible dieting).
I picked up on the Paleo diet (because I was definitely eating way too many processed foods), and in effort to lose weight I figured the answer was to eat whole foods. The problem though was that my body was more than ready to soak up some calories, and my new obsession with sweet potatoes and almond butter.
From as little as 1,200-1,400 calories a day to a whopping 2,200, I blew up like a balloon. Not only did I gain back the 27+ pounds I had lost, I was at the heaviest weight I’d ever been. And so what did I do? I associated my ridiculous weight gain with the Paleo diet I had taken on. How could I gain weight when I was eating healthy? I was eating whole foods and lifting weights for goodness sake. Why couldn’t my body just work with me?!?!
This was my lowest point mentally, physically, and emotionally. There is nothing wrong with what I looked like on the right; I realize now that this is an average size for many women; however, this was uncomfortable weight for me.
I stopped weighing myself a long time ago because of the emotional damage it caused me, but the heaviest number I ever saw on that scale was: 168 pounds – a total slap in the face. I was absolutely ashamed of myself. I hated looking in the mirror, and I was embarrassed to stand without a shirt on front of my own Mom. I started wearing baggier clothes in attempt to hide myself. I cried at night more than I’d like to admit, and after each binge-session my punishment was a 2-hour workout the morning after. I refused to be any type of fitness advocate to my friends; any questions they had I didn’t answer with too much confidence. I mean what kind of fitness guru was I? How could I give advice if I couldn’t even take it myself?
The only thing that I did was chastize myself for being such an imposter. I wasn’t healthy. I used to be healthy; I used to be at a perfect weight; I used to get complimented all the time, and I probably could’ve gotten the cute guy I liked had I not been so weak – how could I have missed it? How could I be so stupid to give up everything I had going for me? What was I doing wrong?
I still believed in the research and continued to lift weights, but I was torn between increasing my cardio or keeping up with my routine, continue eating or revert to old habits and restrict myself again. I cut my calories again, I tried carb-cycling, I tried intermittent fasting, and I tried flexible dieting. I kept my cardio around 30 minutes daily (but I hated it), I ate clean all week long, and binged on the weekends. I was a mess, but I still had some hope I would find some kind of balance.
The Beginning of My Self Love Project
During the mandatory seminar I had through my early college program, we had a paper due on one of several books. Luckily, we were allowed to choose which book we wanted to read so I decided The Gifts of Imperfection by Brenne Brown. She speaks about shame, courage, compassion, confidence, and self-love and I almost thought she was speaking directly to me (I tell you, God works in mysterious ways, and I think this was one of his blessings). I realized enough was enough and I refused to continue this battle through all the highs and lows I was experiencing on a regular basis. I had to be worth more than some number on the scale, I had to be worth more than the amount of body fat I held, I had to be worth something greater than I gave myself credit for. And I knew I had to find it if I ever wanted to be successful.
I started to seek out ways to build my confidence. I did a lot of reading on self-love, how to build a better relationship with food, and how to be myself fully and unapologetically. I watched TedTalks, read a bunch from Elizabeth Gilbert, Jessica Kneeland, Molly Galbraith, and other authors who I randomly stumbled upon so their name escapes me (but I appreciate them all the same!). I also continued to experiment with various workout routines and played around with my nutrition, but prioritizing my mental health was , above all, number one.
I can’t begin to tell you how extremely uncomfortable I was in these two pictures. I’m surprised I even kept the picture on the left because I cried after that shopping trip.
But I still smiled anyway, and continuously told myself it would be okay.
Joining Team Heugly
Aforementioned, that was an extremely low, vulnerable, and sensitive point in my life that I am so happy I never have to go back to; however, I’m still thankful it happened anyway. My practice, as any other, consisted of a trial-and-error cycle, but I was still unhappy with my progress at the gym and frustrated with my results so I worked up the courage to join Team Heugly in hopes of achieving a healthier physique (while I worked on achieving a healthier mind). That’s where my transformation to a fit and healthier me really began.
I slowly progressed mentally, which complemented my progress on Team Heugly. I felt in control again; I finally started to believe I was worth something again, which made the ride that much more worthwhile. Where just a couple months prior I thought I wouldn’t be ready to fly to Europe for the Summer, I knew that I was more than ready now.
My first transformation picture ever…hahaha!
Growing through Travel
I started my trip terrified to gain the weight back. But as often as I was on edge, Poland blessed me with the opportunity to do true some soul searching. It encouraged me to relax a little bit, and enjoy all the delicious food within reasonable portions. I stayed active with my friend, Maja, as she took me to the city often, we’d go for walks and bike rides, and she even helped me get a gym membership. While eating all of my favorites, from pierogi z mięsem to pączki, lody, and naleśniki, I was only staying minimally active (minimally compared to what I am used to back at home) and my body seemed to be coping just fine. I checked my progress every morning (as if I’d noticed the 5 pound difference over night), but as nervous as I was I held a positive attitude for [somewhat] maintaining my physique.
Yes, I bathroom selfies…as much as I hate them…always end up happening.
Then, after 4 weeks in Poland, I was surprised with a 2 week trip to Crete, Greece. And the memories I made there are still to this day, the most remarkable, tremendous, and spectacular memories of my life. I did some even deeper soul searching. Not only did I meet some truly amazing people who solidified the fact that my body weight doesn’t determine my worth, but I also experienced my first kiss…*cough cough* and my first Greek kiss….so really, it was just a win-win, and win some more situation!
The journey didn’t end there, though — I wasn’t cured forever! After my return to the states, I was in my third year – the final stretch – to finishing The Early College Program I was enrolled in. With post vacation-depression, and a heavy set of classes, to say I was stressed is an understatement. But I was ready to go in strong and come out a winner. I switched my goals and focused strictly on working to better myself, whether that meant through my education, my relationships, or my work. The gym still stayed a priority, but my new focus was: balance. I didn’t want it taking over my life anymore.
Game Changer: Embarking on the Whole 30
I finished my semester successfully, but my relationship with food was still suffering. I picked up on stress-eating habits again. As soon as school finished, my Mom, my brother, and I decided to take on the Whole 30 Challenge. And it wasn’t until I completed the program that I finally got a taste of what true control, progress, and balance felt like; I got a true taste of what it felt like to be my best self.
I’m not entirely sure if words can describe the amount of lessons I learned in terms of my body’s uniqueness or about the real effect our food has on our thoughts/ emotions/ moods/ energy levels/ performance/ etc. This was it, my life was changed forever! I thought I had found my ‘cure;’ I was finally on the road to everlasting, balanced happiness. (You can read about my experience in more detail here and here. )
Then, Summer came around again…and I planned to fly to Mexico and Spain.
More Traveling Success
I finally had the key to success in my pocket, so I used it to my advantage to unlock sooo many more doors while I traveled. First, I had gone to Mexico where I met another group of magnificent people who will forever hold the most prominent pedestal in my heart. The way I felt when I was with them was one in a million. I thought Greece treated so well I’d never again feel like that again, but I was completely wrong. I felt beautiful, smart, different, unique, confident, adventurous, and fearless all over again, but x10. My confidence level was through the roof and I shook my hips like a real Latina. I got to experience an entire side of myself that I didn’t know existed back at home.
Then two days after my return, I flew off to Spain – another huge turning point in my fitness journey.. I was still focused on bettering myself, but I realized that I was still stuck in the mindset of “bad carbs vs. good carbs” and it was inhibiting my ability to enjoy the true Spaniard lifestyle (AKA: eat ALL the bread, pasta, and jamón!!!)
Again, my confidence grew even more (didn’t think it could be possible at this point, but that’s progress for you my friends!). I was out exploring the city of Madrid by myself, meeting random people and making friends with them, trying foods I didn’t know the translation of, meeting people through CouchSurfing, all while I stayed in a Spanish home-stay teaching English to the cutest little twin boys, learning Spanish, and living like a real local.
From there, I traveled on a solo trip to Barcelona. Again, I met more people, adventured on my own, opened up to strangers, tried foods I couldn’t pronounce, and worked out in a sports bra WITH NO SHAME IN MY GAME.
I had always told myself one day I’d be fit enough to wear a sports bra as I worked out in public, but gosh darnit I never thought I’d be in Barcelona, Spain when it happened…of all places! They’re not known for their nude beaches for no reason…
It could have been my ability to let go, to cut any strings attached to fear, stress, doubt, and shame; it could have been my increase in activity levels (because for just one of the days I spent exploring Barcelona, my Fitbit detected I had walked 20 miles); or, it could have been that I wasn’t eating as much because Spain’s food-culture is significantly different from America’s (not just in quality, but in meal-timing and portion sizes, too!) but I had definitely leaned out by the end of my trip.
I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that Winter is when I gain weight…and I’m okay with it.
Well duh Sabrina…Winter is for bulking. *Says the guy eating pre-workout out of the scoop and drinking 4 protein shakes a day.*
I don’t intentionally try to bulk, though. I’ve finally learned to accept that it naturally occurs because:
Winter => school => less movement => stress => emotional imbalance => natural desire for more comfort food => weight gain
It happens. every. single. year. Then Summer hits and I can relax, unwind, and go outside; I’m happier, I move more, and I have less desire to fill my empty feelings with comfort foods — even if those comfort foods are labeled “healthy.” (Nothing is healthy in unhealthy portions). But that’s not the only reason why I gain weight in the Winter.
Sometimes, people forget to realize that we are meant to have maintenance stages in our fitness journeys.
There’s a stigma that persuades us to believe that you’re not progressing – you’re not being healthy – unless you’re changing/losing body fat. This is simply not true. Our bodies are not meant to constantly change, and change, and change without time to adapt. And that’s the thing: our bodies must have a period in which it can adapt to its environment and living conditions in order to continue prospering.
I’ve realized that even though I see Summer as a time to relax, so is Winter. I’m increasingly sedentary because priorities revolve around using my brain rather than my body; I’m studying more, sitting more, and eating more. Quite frankly, I think we’re related to bears for this reason. But really, we have DNA that traces back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors because before we had heated homes, cars, and grocery stores, our bodies needed a mechanism to stay insulated. Our bodies needed a way to retain fat and stay warm during cold periods to keep from losing the energy we needed to find food. (I’ve read it somewhere before, but I don’t have citations – forgive me).
Additionally, it doesn’t get enough attention: Our bodies are supposed to fluctuate.
Magazines, News and social media, pop culture, etc., never ever mention anything about the real factors in ab-visibility vs. flab-visibility, for example: carb/sodium intake, fluid intake, digestive abilities, menstrual cycles and, the biggest kicker, stress! Culturally engrained into our psyches is this notion that we can only look one way ALL the time, otherwise we’re not amounting to our best selves, but that’s just not the case. We all get bloated, we all fart and poop, burp and hick-up, and eat foods that make our stomachs stick out – it’s no new feat. Accepting this simple fact makes it much easier to love yourself in a world filled with so much self-loathing and guilt.
All in All…
I’m no where near done. The coolest thing about self-love, transformation, development, and growth is this: it never ends. There is no final destination because we’re constantly evolving, learning, getting better, failing, getting back up, and repeat. Stress levels go up and down like a roller-coaster, life gets the best of us when we least expect it, but no matter how much we go through, the journey is not over until you give up. And the day you give up — the day you decide to quit learning, failing, getting back up, and evolving — is the day you stop living.
We all have our own beginnings, we all have our own pace, we all have our own goals and dreams and passions…there is no right or wrong way to go about these things.
You control the steering wheel…so my question is this: Where are you off to next?
As of now…I’m lifting, eating, and waiting for Finals so I can enjoy my Summer…♥