When I was living at home, I skied with my parents, walked and biked to school, and was generally a reasonably fit and healthy kid. My parents cooked from scratch every day, and we sat down for a family dinner every night. I ate lunch in school, but we were served dishes like almond-encrusted fish with boiled potatoes. Bread meant dense, dark rye bread.
When I moved out to go to college, I started gaining weight. The college cafeteria had a completely different kind of food: pizza, hamburgers, cheese everywhere, and soda every day. At first, I loved it. Senior year, I hated the smell of frying oil. I was sick of the food but thought I wasn’t particularly fat. I had also started smoking.
In graduate school, I smoked to deal with stress and ate out a lot because I was very busy and worked irregular hours. I continued to gain weight. I had considered working on getting in better shape because it embarrassed me to get winded after walking up a flight of stairs.
I knew I should quit smoking and that I should exercise. I didn’t do it because I was still so busy and I knew graduate school wouldn’t last forever, so I could just do it when it would be more convenient. And I wasn’t that fat, anyway. Right?
The day the scale tipped 175 lb, I knew I had to do something now, not later. Even though I preferred home-cooked food by now, I had been eating out more and more because I felt like I didn’t have time to go grocery shopping and cook while also meeting my deadlines. I was out of shape, a smoker, and my eating habits kept the scale creeping upward.
I could see that if I didn’t make a change, I’d just have all the more work to do later and would continue to be uncomfortable in my own skin. I also faced up to that I was never going to magically have lots of time for cooking and exercising. Would I really be much less busy once I got a job? Probably not. So I quit smoking (a couple of times), started running, and started cooking at home like my parents did.
I ran every day. Not fast and not far, only a few miles, and with a lot of walking breaks at first. But then I ran my whole three-mile loop without walking. And then I ran it faster. And then I ran further. I ran a 5K race on my 27th birthday faster than I could have in high school. When I defended my PhD in September 2009, I had lost 26 pounds and was a non-smoker.
I had also started doing yoga to help me relax. I had learned the Beijing form of taijiquan in college and took another class in Urbana to refresh my memory, but didn’t like the teacher. I knew yoga was more popular (so there would be more resources around), and I had attended a yoga class or two, but couldn’t afford going regularly. I bought Gaiam’s beginner DVD because it had a pose guide as well as practice sequences. Then I discovered that free Ananda yoga and meditation classes were offered at the Ananda Liina Yoga Center in Urbana. The meditation focus of the classes was immensely helpful in juggling a part-time job as a project manager in consulting and my research.
However, to make my defense deadline for graduating, I had to stop running. Since students don’t usually keep track of how long it takes to write a thesis, I had to make educated guesses about how long the different steps would take.
Two months before my defense, the guesses had been wrong enough times that I needed every half hour of every day (and sometimes nights) to finish on time. I hadn’t taken a full weekend off for nearly six months at that point already. It was the running (and cleaning and many other things) or the defense.
Then, the month after my defense, I moved and got married. And then there were the holidays. The complete upheaval of my routines meant that I didn’t always have access to my running gear and a shower (and time!), and so I only got back to running regularly in January 2010.
When I started back up, I had gone from running 3 miles every day in about 25 minutes, roughly a 8:20 minutes/mile pace, to running 2.2 miles at a 16 minutes/mile pace! My husband had heard about P90X through word of mouth, and had bought the program and the resistance bands. I was only mildly interested, since I was already a runner. However, he persisted, and I took a look at the P90X Fitness Guide.
I was impressed by the moderate, yet rigorous approach, and the guide conformed to everything I knew to be tried-and-true about fitness. I could see that the program gave you the tools to measure if it was working. And I thought about that I knew that I had to do more than just run to be a better runner. I knew I should be cross-training. I was still looking for a job after graduation, and figured I could keep running and do P90X. After all, I had time on my hands.
I could not keep up with P90X when I started, to the point where it was obvious that P90X is a program that can continue to challenge you for a long time – years, even. Earlier, a friend had given me a pilates DVD, which challenged me a little and I used from time to time. But P90X was a completely different kind of ballgame than the pilates. P90X was about performance and taking a step up. My pilates DVD suddenly seemed unanchored in comparison.
In my first 30 days of doing P90X, I lost 5.6 lbs of body fat (for a decrease of 3.1 percentage points), gained 1.6 lbs of muscle, lost an inch off my torso, and cut several minutes a mile from my running pace.
I also connected with some fantastic people in the Fit Club Network, who were also doing Beachbody programs (and more – triathlons, running, and Army physical training, for example!) and were looking to reach out. I found a Fit Club in my new neighborhood in NC and made new friends in town, including my coach Shannon and my friend Todd. With their support, I realized I had something to offer as a Beachbody coach – particularly on nutrition, because of my cooking habits and experience. It’s hard to eat healthy if you don’t control what goes into the food, which means cooking from scratch. Jamie Oliver (The Naked Chef) is trying to publicize this idea as well.
Around the time I finished my first round of P90X (and had shrunk two dress sizes in three months), I got a job in Fort Collins, Colorado, and moved there with my husband. I did another round of P90X, this time substituting the cardio DVDs for trail running, and shrunk another two dress sizes in another three months. I have always loved being in the great outdoors, and Colorado is a wonderful place to experience nature! I trained for and ran my first half marathon – the 2010 Blue Sky Half-Marathon. (Mostly on single-track trail.) I did a round of Insanity. I did some more P90X. And some more. I’ve got my pre-order for P90X2 in and expect round 5 of P90X to be my last round before I try P90X2. I’m running my second trail half marathon in a week today. I’m now sometimes a size 2, sometimes a size 4; sometimes an XS, sometimes an S.
At my heaviest, I was 176 lbs and a size 14. Today, I’m 140 lbs and a size 2/4. I fulfill the criteria for being on the National Weight Control Registry and have applied to be on it. The only “programs” I’ve done are (primarily) P90X and Insanity. No Weight Watchers, no Jenny Craig. I counted calories for about two months and then I stopped and continued losing weight. I love what I eat. I never go hungry. I feel fit, I feel good, and I feel alive. I have never been this fit, nor have I ever felt this good!