I was an athlete in high school and through the beginning of adulthood. A young body is easy to manage and responds well to consistent exercise and activity. In addition, we tend to let stress fall away much faster when we are young.
It wasn't until I was in my late 20s that I discovered two very real things: 1. It's very easy to manage and focus on everyone else in your family (kids, husband, etc.) and forget about yourself and your own needs, and 2. Stress and unhappiness can do a number on your body!
After my first two children, I actually bounced back fairly quickly and could still rock a bikini confidently. However, it was much harder to lose the weight after my third child. Of course, this was during some of the most stressful times of our marriage and we were struggling financially so we weren't exactly meal prepping or monitoring our healthy eating habits. We were lucky to eat at all back in those days. During this time I was working 4 jobs just to make ends meet and help my husband while he focused primarily on medical school. Three of those jobs were from home, so I found myself living a very sedentary lifestyle as I sat at my desk for hours on end and tried to keep our family afloat financially.
The weight apparently just kept sneaking up on me because I honestly don't ever remember being fully aware of my size. Looking at photos of me back then is very weird to me because I honestly don't know how or when I became that much overweight. Then my marriage started slowly falling apart and I came to the stark realization that I was about to be single in my 40s (I was newly 39 at the time), had spent the last 20 years helping my husband fulfill his career dreams while neglecting my own, and I was the biggest I had ever been (even during all three pregnancies) at 200 lbs.
I began to look at pictures of me on my social media and saw what everyone else saw. Who was this unhappy, unhealthy, and overweight person? No wonder my energy was always low and my knees were starting to give me trouble. Going down into the basement to do my laundry and then back up again to fold it usually had me gasping for air for a few minutes. When was the last time I had actually ran? Played a sport? Went hiking? It became all too real way too fast.
Luckily, I have been blessed with an ability to take charge of my life when I actually set my mind to it. When I'm determined there is little that can stop me. So I immediately flipped the switch in my head and decided that I was not going into my 40s unhealthy and overweight, no matter if I was single or married.
The first thing I did was changed the way I ate. Let me just set the record straight right now! I am a brat. When you tell me I cannot have something, I am going to crave it and I am going to get it. I am not blessed in this manner. So I didn't change what I ate at first, I merely changed how I ate. Portion control! I was a stress eater and my life was super stressful. So when I went to a restaurant I would ask for a to-go box right when they brought my meal. I would then place half the meal in the box and set it aside for my next meal. Most restaurant portions are ridiculously oversized, so this is a good habit for anyone to begin. I began to feed my cravings with bites and nibbles rather than eating an entire portion. I found that a bit of chocolate or a couple of chips actually satisfied my craving and then I busied myself to prevent wanting more. My desire to eat huge portions and to eat constantly actually reduced and I noticed that I began to eat out of necessity and with conscious effort rather than boredom or habit. Eventually, our little family started making overall healthier choices with food which helped to have less of those damn Little Debbie's around, calling my name!
The next thing I changed was my activity. This was a biggie! I began to walk daily and eventually I worked my way up to a jog/walk regimen. I'll never be a runner, I hate running, and that is OK! (Don't let your marathon, triathlon, run freaks tell you differently!) Then I noticed that I was breathing easier after a staircase or two and my energy levels were increasing quickly and noticeably. That is when I took my weight loss to a whole new level and added weight lifting to my cardio. I actually watched as my body shape changed and slimmed down. I still remember the day I developed a thigh gap and noticed it. I am still embarrassed by the sheer number of people I excitedly texted my thigh gap announcement to along with picture proof.
During this time I actually developed a need for working out. Four days a week fit my schedule perfectly and seemed to fit the needs of my body as well. Between eating more responsibly and making healthier food choices, and exercising regularly and increasing my activity levels so much, I entered my 40s twenty pounds lighter, healthier, and happier.
Funny thing, even though the problems in my marriage were still there and very real to both of us, as I became a healthier person I found that stress was easier to handle and I made decisions quicker and with more resolve. My confidence in myself had increased and I started looking out for my own best interests as well. When my 40th birthday rolled around I was SIXTY POUNDS lighter! And the healthier I got, the happier I got.
I wish this had a different kind of happy ending. I wish I could tell you that all that weight loss and newfound happiness changed the outcome of my marriage, but it didn't. By 41 I was going through a divorce and starting my life all over again. I was still in the same situation with my own career dreams. I had spent two decades helping his dreams come true with the belief that I would work on me later and later never came. But, I honestly believe that had I still been overweight with a low self esteem and low energy levels when I did go through my divorce there would have been a very different outcome for me. I'm not saying my divorce was easy or that it was easier because I lost weight and became healthier. I am saying that I managed the stresses and sadness of divorce and that monumental change in my life better because it wasn't compounded with my own self esteem issues as I finally had the confidence and self motivation in place to see me through such a difficult time.
Nowadays my kids and I lovingly refer to the old me as "Chubby Vina." It isn't to make fun. She is a reminder of how easily we forget about ourselves and before we even realize it we are someone completely different. This is true on so many levels, not just with weight gain and unhealthy living. I love that she is there as a constant reminder to me to love myself, take care of my body both inside and out, and to see just how far I have come in this journey. And the journey is far from over!