Growing up—all the way from preschool to my teen years—I played organized sports. I’d become pretty fit over the years, and I thought I knew everything about fitness. I never stopped to consider nutrition or overall wellness because I figured if my body was constantly in motion, that was enough to keep me looking and feeling healthy. But college has a funny way of messing with your motion.
I continued playing in college, but quit after freshmen year because I transferred to another school, where I decided to shift my focus to writing. Nixing sports meant that I put on some extra weight, and that wasn’t easy for me: I felt out of shape and my confidence was pretty much shot.
I found it difficult to keep up with fitness outside of athletics. For one thing, I did not like going to the gym. Without the rush of sports competition as personal motivation, I started to think of working out as a chore. On top of that, I spent a lot of time worrying about what people thought of the way I looked and the fitness or health choices I made (or didn’t make).
I figured if my body was constantly in motion, that was enough to keep me looking and feeling healthy.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started paying close attention to all of the factors that went into my health and well-being. Tough times have a way of putting things in perspective.
My daughter was six weeks old when I got divorced and moved back home with my parents. I felt like a failure. I was a single mom and unemployed, and life looked pretty grim.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I ultimately realized I could wallow in my sorrows or I could take action. For me, that meant being a single mom (turns out, I was made to be a single mom) and a divorcée and still being successful in every way, including my physical and emotional health.
I decided that I needed to take care of myself—not in some pursuit of vanity, but for me. For my sanity. I was sick of feeling self-conscious and I was done neglecting my health.
Finally, fitness went beyond simply moving my body. It became about exercising my mind and my spirit, as well.
I trained myself to stop negative thoughts in their tracks by staying mindful of what I was thinking and feeling. When I started questioning something about myself or if I started focusing on something negative, I’d interrupt my thought pattern and replace it with a more productive one.
I decided that I needed to take care of myself—not in some pursuit of vanity, but for me. For my sanity.
I retrained my brain to see the good in every situation (at least, almost every situation), which helped me be kinder to myself. But I will tell you, it wasn’t a quick process (let’s just say my nightstand is covered in personal development books).
I am currently in my second pregnancy and I try to stay active by swimming at the local pool. I definitely don’t do it with the goal of losing weight; instead, I do it to take care of me.
I don’t care about my slow pace or how fit everyone is around me. I stopped thinking, “Are they watching me switch to a sidestroke after only two laps?”
Moving my body, I’ve learned, is not a competition. And neither is my physical appearance. After all, how can I teach my own children to love themselves if I don’t actively practice that myself?
As far as nutrition is concerned, I’ve spent a lot of time researching where my food comes from. I’ve switched to a diet that is mostly whole foods, fruits, and vegetables and if I don’t know an ingredient, I Google it.
I do this because I want to live as long as possible with my family, not to fit into a certain style of clothing.
The best part of this transformation is that I’ve begun to simply have fun playing with my kids, which turns out to be its own method of staying fit. By watching my daughter play, I feel so adventurous and alive. When she and I walk along new hiking trails, I am so grateful that our bodies can do that for us.
How can I teach my own children to love themselves if I don’t actively practice that myself?
Watching my children also reminds me of the fact that our bodies need care and calm. It’s why I began yoga and meditation (I also nixed my little habit of burning the midnight oil). I didn’t want to just “function” anymore. I wanted to live fully. And to do so, I needed to let myself rest up.
I’ve realized that being truly fit is a lot more than sports and dumbbells and trendy gym gear (though I do love a good yoga mat). It means being well-rounded in my approach to health, realizing that true nourishment is about fueling our brains, our hearts, and our bodies. I‘ve got my kids to thank for teaching me that.