One of my favorite childhood memories was when my siblings and I would hop on our bikes and accompany my dad on his run. Exercise has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up playing sports and always remember my parents being active. To me, exercise was a part of life.
When I got to college, I no longer had sports as part of my daily routine. Like many college freshman, my eating habits and exercise behaviors changed, and though I was still working out, I steadily put on 15, 20, then 25 pounds.
I freaked out. Started spending hours a day in the gym. Tried fad diets. Missed out on fun times with friends to workout. I became extremely anxious about eating out with others, knowing I would either be restrictive or overeat.
Despite 2-3 hours a day of exercise and obsessing about my diet, the scale didn't budge. Even on my "bad" food days, I would track every calorie to ensure I made up for it in exercise. The weight stayed on.
I was miserable and unhealthy. I was doing what so many of us do: exercising and eating because I hated my body, not because I loved myself and I wanted to take care of it.
While home one summer during college, a new gym opened in my hometown and I was asked to teach a cardio dance class. I worried I wasn't the typical fitness instructor but was excited to do it. Slowly I found the joy in exercise again. I remembered what I loved about working out: the adrenaline, the sense of accomplishment, being with others, and doing something fun that is also good for us. Being home that summer also reminded me of the joy in food. I was eating real foods, instead of processed packaged diet foods. I realized that eating cake on my birthday or a burger at a BBQ could actually be enjoyable and didn't demand an extra hour on penance on the treadmill.
The class was the beginning of my fitness career, but more importantly, it began my life long pursuit to inspire others to love their bodies.
It didn't happen overnight but gradually changing my brain led to changing my body. Over the next year, I was exercising less and eating healthy. I didn't obsess, and the weight slowly came off. Everyone kept asking how I lost the weight. The truth? I stopped worrying so much and learned to love my body.
Trust me, it's not easy, and as a trainer, I know the process is different for everyone. We hear weight loss catch phrases about our attitudes all time, but the real question is: How do we actually do that? Here are a few tips that helped me:
Words are powerful. If you wouldn't say it to a friend, don't say it to yourself. When I feel negative thoughts coming into my head, I ask myself, "What I would say to a friend?" Even if you think something negative, don't speak it aloud. If you don't believe something positive, say it anyway! It takes practice, but you'll be surprised at how words change us.
Food is good! It's fuel for our bodies. Don't get me wrong, nutrition is SO important -- and I'm certainly not saying eat carelessly -- but if we shift our focus from cutting calories to fueling our bodies, from avoiding bad food to enjoying good food, it changes everything. It's not easy, but for me, and for many of my clients, developing a healthy relationship with food is what really works for getting and maintaining a healthy body weight. This means sometimes indulging, and not stressing about what we eat. On Mondays, my clients often confess their weekend diet sins, the "Monday Morning Confessions." My main question to them is, "Did you enjoy it?" If our indulgences are exactly that -- good food that we eat on occasion -- there's no need to feel bad or beat ourselves up about it.
Find exercises you enjoy, or at least don't hate. The majority of the population doesn't enjoy working out. Find ways to make exercise not about exercise. Go running with a friend, hike to enjoy nature or turn on your favorite music and dance! There's always another way to get your heart rate up.
That same summer, I was also working at a local pool -- watching kids play all day, not worrying about calories and certainly not caring what they looked like in that swimsuit. What if this joy in being active and loving what our bodies, could carry us through our adult years? I dug out an old childhood picture and still use it today as a reminder. Here is mine (don't laugh). Find yours.
Vote for Amy Kiser for Women's Health magazine's Next Fitness Star competition at www.thenextfitnessstar.com.