I think it is about time that you all hear my story. I have shared a few insights into my health journey in some of my posts but I haven’t given you the full spiel. It was brought to my attention that readers might not relate to me because I seem to have it all together health-wise (trust me I’m still learning and growing on that front) and I want you to realize I have been in some of the same situations that you might find yourselves. My story probably starts a lot like yours….
I was a pretty normal kid (I use normal very loosely here, I am a bit quirky!). I didn’t have any major health problems and I was the same as most kids in my class. I had no issues with my appearance and I had no reason to have any issues. I was your average American kid.
Then I entered fifth grade and puberty hit, which is totally normal, but I started puberty before all of my friends. That is when a lot of my issues started. I couldn’t understand why suddenly I was developing hips and boobs and my thighs were getting bigger and hair was sprouting places, yet my friends were still skinny and flat-chested and seemingly hair-less. I’m a naturally shy person and all these changes made me feel awkward and ugly and made me retreat even more from public situations. I didn’t want anyone seeing me or focusing any type of attention on me. This is also when I started to hate my body and when I started to go on diets to try and look like what I thought was normal. The diets would work for a little while, I would lose weight, feel good about myself, go off the diet and, you guessed it, gain the weight back.
High school wasn’t much different than junior high. I came from a small parochial school, so public school was a bit of a shock for me. I had never been around so many kids at once. My graduating 8th grade class was 21 kids and suddenly I was in a class of over 500. This made shy Katie nervous and panicky. Luckily, I got involved in the marching band and made amazing friends and had amazing experiences. I excelled in band and was a squad leader by my sophomore year and a section leader my junior and senior year. As cheesy and nerdy as it may sound, I really believe that marching band saved me during my high school years.
But, high school was also a really hard time for my body, especially my self-image. Now that I was in high school I had more freedom over my food choices, and not knowing anything helpful about nutrition, I made HORRIBLE food choices. Our cafeteria was full of fat and calorie laden food, and I was drawn to those choices. I would eat bread bowls full of cream of broccoli soup, drink tons of soda (diet is fine right?), get candy as a snack from the vending machine, munch on bacon potato skin chips dipped in cream cheese (yes, it is as gross as it sounds). Of course I would also make sure I got “healthy” food like bottled smoothies (fruit is good for you, even when it is in liquid sugar form, right?), and baked potato chips.
Needless to say I gained weight. While I might never have been considered obese, I was definitely overweight. The added weight did nothing to help my self-image, which I already struggled with, and I started to crash diet, in the most unhealthy way possible. I would skip meals and at one point even tried weight loss pills, anything to try and make myself skinny and pretty. Of course, none of these things worked and I was miserable. I hated my body and felt that I was so ugly that no one else could ever love me. It was a very difficult time for me. But things did look up my junior year when I got my first boyfriend. I was elated that someone of the opposite sex actually thought I was worthy enough to date Trust me, I know how sad and pathetic that sounds, but when you have such a low opinion of yourself, you look for anything to validate your worth, even a boy.
By the time that I got to college, I had had a few boyfriends. Sadly, having a boyfriend made me feel like I was worth something. I felt that if someone else other than my friends and family thought I was good enough, then I really was good enough. I entered college feeling both petrified and excited. Petrified because I was leaving home and my comfort zone and stepping into a world that I knew nothing about. Excited because I was finally going to become a little more independent and adult like. I decided one of my new major goals in college was to become healthier and finally lose weight for good and be happy with the way I looked. Great goals, but I still went about them in the wrong way. For the first year or so of college I was a vegetarian, partly because my boyfriend at the time was and partly because I thought it would help me lose weight. But you can still eat junk food while being a vegetarian (hello mac n’ cheese!) and having a prepaid meal plan where you can get all the food you want can be dangerous. But I was determined not to gain the freshmen 15, and in fact I actually lost weight. This was because I started to work out on a regular basis. I had free access to the Rec center at my college and made working out a part of my routine. While I had never been totally sedentary before and had worked out in spurts in junior high and high school, I had never had an established routine. Being able to go to the Rec center for free was great because it got me started on a great habit.
But I still ate some not-so-great foods and I still had self-esteem problems. I had hoped that once I lost weight I would magically be transformed into this happy, self assured person. At the time I didn’t realize that I needed to work on more than just my body, I needed to work on my mind and my relationship with myself. I never gave myself the chance to do that though because I was always relying on other people to make me feel better about myself, mainly my boyfriends.
And then something happened that really changed everything for me. The summer before my last year of college, I worked as a trainer with my dad. My dad is a kinesiotherapist (specialized area of medicine in which exercise and movement are used as the primary form of rehabilitation), and we would work with all different kinds of people, from athletes to the elderly, to make them stronger or faster or better in whatever they did. I got to create exercise programs for people and then work with them one on one to help them improve. That summer my dad also had another intern working with him, also my age and a friend I had known for awhile. It was a great summer, I got to step outside of my box and do something I didn’t think I was good at and I actually did fairly well. I also got to interact with my dad and become better friends with his other intern. It was that friendship that really turned things around for me. And the one thing that he did that pretty much changed everything for me? Encouraged me to sign up for a 5k race through our church. Yup, that was my big epiphany moment. At the time, I hated running. I thought it was pointless and stupid and I dreaded the thought of running. But my friend convinced me to give it a shot and we even trained a little together at work. I’ll admit, it wasn’t very fun and I was just doing this to make him happy. I figured I would get through this one race and never have to run again. Boy, was I wrong. The day of the race arrived, and I was a nervous wreck. There was no way I was going to be able to run 3.1 miles and I was about to make a huge fool of myself. But I didn’t, I ran really well. I never stopped or gave up and I didn’t die. I crossed that finish line and I felt amazing. Finishing that race made me realize I could do things that I never thought I could do. I was a stronger person than I thought possible.
Running became my therapy. Each time I laced up and went for my run, I proved to myself how strong and amazing my body was no matter what it looked like. I could do things that I was always too shy or scared to try. I started to love myself on my runs and started the long process of healing years of self-hatred. Yes, this all sounds spiritual and hippie-dippie, but running really changed my life and opened so many doors for me. Before running, I would never go up and talk to a person I barely knew. After running, I finally got the nerve to actually talk to a boy without him approaching me first. Good thing too or else I would have never met my husband. Before running, I would never have picked up nutrition books or health books or researched about eating right. After running, I completely overhauled the way I ate and learned as much as possible about being the healthiest me I could be. And you know what? I finally found that happy person I longed for ever since fifth grade. Yes, I lost weight along the way (about 45 lbs over a course of 7 years), but for the first time in a long time I didn’t care about the weight. I cared about how I felt on the inside. I cared about treating my body with exercise and good, wholesome food. I finally believed myself that I was worthy enough.
I’ve been in dark places in my past health-wise. Please believe me when I say I know how you feel. While I might not have the EXACT same story as you, I know what it’s like to go through rough times. Do I have my whole life together now and never struggle? Heck no. I still have my moments. I still struggle with self-image and self-esteem and have to work on it daily. I will probably have to work on it daily for the rest of my life, but I am in a MUCH better place than before. Life is so much more than how much you weigh or what you look like and sadly we (me included) get so wrapped up in trying to meet other people’s standards. But we can change that. Let’s work on setting our own standards and move towards a healthy life. Realize that getting to your happy place may look very different than how I reach my happy place. Not everyone is going to run a race and change their life. You do have to go out there and WORK at what will change your life for the better.
I hope that my story gave some of you inspiration. It is hard to share some of these personal moments with the whole world as well as make sure that I am sending a message of hope and encouragement as well. Remember, I’m here to help you find your way to a healthier life. Because I know how hard it can be along the way and how amazing it is once you see the light at the end of the tunnel! Have a fabulous week everyone!