In 9 weeks, I lost all of the weight I “couldn’t” lose in 2 years . . . and MORE! I went from a size 8 to a size 4 and lost 13 pounds! To put this in perspective, I am in better shape than I was when I got married 25 years ago; I am in better shape than before I had my 3 kids; and I am in better shape than when I was half my age. So maybe 50 is the new 25! Most of all, I have regained the energy and confidence that had been sapped from my life after years of yo-yo dieting – that never-ending cycle of deprivation and binging and the accompanying feelings of worthlessness and depression.
Two years ago, I participated in a challenge and I did amazing. I felt better than I had in years, and a chronic, debilitating neck problem seemed under control for the first time in 20 years. I believed I had reached my “peak” fitness level, but wanted to try to lose those elusive “last 5 pounds.” I spent the next 2 years meandering up and down the scale. Several factors kept me from my goal. I made the mistake of believing that I already had reached my peak and that those last 5 pounds were just an unrealistic dream. After all, I’m pushing 50, I’ve had 3 kids, and I have a demanding full-time job. Keeping up with meal preparation as I had during the challenge was difficult and boring. I ended up trying to cook meals for me as well as separate meals that my kids and husband would like. Given how unrealistic it is to keep a full time job, run around with the kids to sports and other activities, and try to cook double meals, I ended up eating bland, boring food (think plain baked chicken & steamed broccoli for lunch and dinner and plain egg whites and wheat toast for breakfast). Of course, since I meanwhile was cooking “yummy” food for my family, that made cheating way too easy. I had fallen into the fallacy of believing that eating “clean” meant eating boring. And since I couldn’t keep it up, I’d cheat, feel bad, and start the cycle of deprivation and “reward” over and over again. As uncomfortable as it is to admit, I was depressed and humiliated. After all, I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent, “together” person, yet I couldn’t get a handle on this aspect of my life. My clothes were tight (again), and despite all of the wonderful things I had in my life (an amazing husband, wonderful kids, good friends, a great job), all I could see was my failure to gain control of myself and my eating. While all this was going on, my chronic neck pain got much worse. I’m talking about pain so bad that I was in tears at the end of the work day, with barely any energy or patience for my family. Certainly, I wasn’t the mother, wife, or friend I wanted to be. I felt like a failure. I ended up taking a 4-month hiatus from the gym, thinking that maybe it was the exercise that was the cause.
I started working out with Michelle in November 2011. I was terrified (yes, terrified) to eat a carb, and any small slip-up on my so-called “clean” eating plan sent me spinning out of control. Michelle helped me changed all that. The first thing Michelle did was to make me eat – carbs too! She made me plan meals in advance and pre-cook everything so that I could have healthy food available everyday, for every meal. Michelle also taught me to plan for times to eat off-plan – that it’s ok to “plan” to “cheat”. Life includes celebrations, and those celebrations include great food and wine. Instead of feeling like a failure for enjoying those times, Michelle helped me plan for them. So over the holidays, I truly enjoyed myself, but I didn’t feel like I was cheating, and I didn’t feel like I was an out-of-control failure (because it was planned). For the first time (perhaps ever), I didn’t gain weight over the holidays and I didn’t start the new year disgusted with myself. Workouts with Michelle are always challenging. She is always upbeat, even at 5 a.m., and she completely understands what it means to be a working mother. She is tough when she needs to be and never lets me feel sorry for myself. After all, she is doing the same thing I am – getting up at 4 a.m., getting to the gym at 5, working, cooking, and taking care of her family. She understands when to push and when to adjust for my neck issues. She is, quite simply, brilliant.
Michelle also made me change the “script” in my head – you know, that nagging voice that fills your head with doubt and fear, the one that tells you that a slip-up is a failure, that your life is too hectic and stressful to cook and workout in addition to everything else, or that your pain prevents you from achieving anything, much less great things. No matter what anyone else saw from the outside, that horrible little voice told me I wasn’t good enough – I didn’t look good enough, I couldn’t do it, I was destined to fail. The script in my head told me that anything less than perfection was failure. Michelle has helped me to rewrite that nasty little script. I’m not going to say that it’s been easy or that I have completely mastered those negative thoughts. But over time, it’s become easier to recognize them and to readjust my thinking to find the positive side of things rather than focusing on the negative. Michelle understood that success in the gym involves the mind as well as the body.
But perhaps the most life-altering part training with Michelle was how she helped me to manage my chronic pain and the fear of that pain. Chronic pain is an insidious thing – it eats away at every aspect of life, making every day a chore to get through rather than the true gift that it is. The pain had stolen the joy from my life, and I spent each day just going through the motions – doing what was expected of me, but without any happiness. Believe it or not, we started out working on breathing and muscle activation techniques. I was reluctant to believe this would help, and in fact, I was upset that we weren’t working harder. I was shocked and amazed at how quickly my pain subsided once I learned to breath properly (without lifting my shoulders to my ears). And that muscle activation hocus pocus worked too. Michelle explained that part of my pain was because certain muscles had shut down, making other ones work overtime. At the beginning, we had to reactivate my neck and trap muscles several times a session, now we rarely have to, and I am doing more than I ever thought possible. When Michelle and I started, I couldn’t do 10 pushups. Now I’m doing them with my feet up on a bench! Freedom from pain chronic pain changes everything. Instead of dreading sitting in the bleachers at my daughter’s lacrosse games because of pain, I look forward to seeing my baby girl in action. Instead of dreading a night out with my husband on a Friday after a long work week, I look forward to enjoying time spent with the man I love. It wasn’t an easy journey, but the reward is too great to describe.
One of the best parts of the plan for me was Michelle’s recipes. Michelle truly understands the plight of the working mother. Her recipes are healthy, lightning quick to make, and, unbelievably, YUMMY! The highlight was when I made chicken fingers for my kids and Michelle’s walnut chicken for me, and the kids chose to eat the walnut chicken instead of the chicken fingers! From that moment on, I stopped cooking separate meals for my family and started serving them the same meals I was eating. They LOVE the food. Michelle’s blackberry salmon tastes like something I would order at a restaurant, and it looks beautiful too. I have never met a trainer who loves food as much as Michelle and yet who looks so incredibly amazing. She is always coming up with new recipes, and I have a stack of recipes that I can’t wait to make. Eating “clean” is no longer boring – it’s fun and easy.
This year, I celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary, and I turn 50. Through this challenge, I have realized that the limitations I faced over the past two years were only those that I had put on myself. Instead of walking into a room feeling inadequate, I have a confidence that I haven’t had in years. I feel like an inspiration to my children, and I feel like that sexy 24-year-old my husband fell in love with. Actually, I feel and look even better than that 24-year-old! The pounds are gone. But that destructive script in my head – the one that made me feel sorry for myself instead of proud, positive, and energized – that is gone too. I believe in myself and what I can accomplish in my life. Despite how my life may have looked to others, I could not have said that just a few months ago. The stress on working mothers should not be underestimated. But instead of seeing success as something out of reach, what Michelle has taught me is to tap into the strength that I have within me (and that all working moms who juggle a million things everyday have within themselves). With the right tools and the right mind set, the mind/body transformation is actually pretty easy. And the result is a feeling of lightness and freedom based on all of the things I have lost during this challenge (pounds, pain, self-doubt). What I have gained in return is joy, and no feeling is better.