Up until college, I’d never been the type to exercise. As a child, I absolutely detested P.E. I dreaded the runs around the school parking lot (my school didn’t have a track field) and couldn’t do one push up even if my gym teacher forced me to. When my mom wanted me to do workout videos with her (on VHS – remember those?) I would give up the first quarter into it and, instead, flop onto the couch. It’s unfortunate, but my favorite activities (reading, writing and drawing) all required an activity that certainly doesn’t burn calories: sitting. Hence, I’ve never built any real physical stamina or interest in being in shape.
By the time I was in college, I still detested jogging, jumping jacks – basically, anything associated with the word ‘exercise.’ I’d much rather write, read or draw on my bed or in a quiet, local coffee shop somewhere. But that attitude soon flipped inside out when I realized that the 24/7 availability of pizza, fried chicken and ice cream (courtesy of the dorm cafeteria) had resulted in a widened muffin top and heavier legs. I had gained seven pounds.
Now, I wasn’t considered overweight. I was 127 lbs at 5’4” (that’s considered the maximum average weight for someone my height), but one thing was for sure: I was out of shape. Plus, my weight-gain was making me less confident. My lack of physical stamina was affecting me emotionally, and I was desperate to have control of my body (and, subsequently, life) again. I finally signed up for a gym membership and decided to commit to a new diet plan: octo-lacto-vegetarianism (a type of vegetarianism where eggs and dairy products are permitted).
If there’s any solid advice I have for anyone who wants to lose weight, it’s to start small (even really small, if that’s what you can handle). I started exercising three times a week for thirty minutes and eventually increased that to four times a week and an hour each session. According to the websites I was reading, I knew I needed to do cardio to lose weight, so I started on the elliptical machine with level-one resistance. Weeks later, I increased my resistance level to three and then six (some people are much more intense than I am with this, but these numbers worked for me). After each cardio session I would spend 10 to 15 minutes doing basic Mat Pilates movements to tone my stomach, legs and arms.
For a girl who hated exercise in the beginning, that’s not bad, huh?
For my diet, I decided to try a plant-based diet with eggs, beans and tofu as my sources of protein. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that difficult for me to give up meat. In the mornings, I would cook protein-heavy foods like two eggs with generous amounts of boiled spinach, broccoli, carrots and sometimes a slab of whole wheat rice the size of my palm. Lunch and dinner would follow the same formula: protein as the main course and an abundance of fruits and veggies on the side.
It was difficult to lose any weight in the beginning but, after a couple of weeks, I started dropping one pound a week. I invested in a cheap notebook I christened my fitness journal and became more diligent with tracking my exercise and dieting efforts, which actually kept me more disciplined.
Like any goal in life, losing weight is really about sticking to your goal and tracking your progress with consistency (‘consistency’ is the most important word of this last sentence). From this experience I learned that exercise is actually fun and can make you feel strong and mentally healthy, too. The feeling of being able to run an extra lap, committing to a diet plan, and achieving and surpassing goals showed me what both my body and my mind are truly capable of.