What’s more discouraging than looking in the mirror and realizing you’re a mere shell of what you once were? What happens when the flat stomach you used to have is conveniently hidden behind a thick layer of flab? What do you do when your favorite pair of jeans suddenly doesn’t close, or even worse, only goes halfway up your thighs?
Well, if you’re like me, you immediately attempt to jump back into the rigorous exercise and diet regimen you used to follow. You know, the eating and exercise plan you were on when you were at your fittest. Working out 5-6 days a week, sometimes twice a day, and prepping all your meals for the week on Sunday evening. Yeah, that plan. Only this time around, you find yourself hitting a wall. What used to be, “Woohoo, that workout was great,” now feels like “Holy shit this is fucking HARD!” And that ½ cup of unsweetened oatmeal and 4 boiled egg whites you used to eat with a smile on your face because “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” now tastes like puke and broken dreams.’
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve been there before. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve been there more than once.
Over 12 years ago, weighing a little more than 1/10th of a ton, I decided I didn’t want to be obese anymore. Over the course of 2 years I dropped nearly half my weight in body fat. THE END! Oh wait, no, that wasn’t the end. What I thought should have been a happy ending to a beautiful story was only the beginning of what I now know is a lifelong journey filled with many ups and downs.
For the most part, I have kept the weight off. My body has gone through numerous transitions and transformations as my workouts have progressed alongside my fitness level. I’ve gotten stronger and faster over the years. But there were 2 periods of time where I began to regain weight after the initial weight loss, and both of those incidences happened alongside major depressive episodes.
After having been hospitalized 4 times in one year, I was diagnosed with a mood disorder when I was 17. I had suffered from depression ever since I can remember due to a tumultuous childhood. My obesity was directly linked to this. Part of treating my obesity has been treating my mental disorder. I had to deal with what was happening on the inside before I could change what was happening on the outside. Obesity was not the problem, but a side effect of the real issue.
I’ve done very well managing my depressive episodes as an adult. I have not been hospitalized since my teenage years. But there were 2 periods in my life where extenuating circumstances led to very deep depressions. If you know anything about depression, you know it is physical as well as psychological. When you are depressed, you are actually sick. Depression manifests in me physically as severe fatigue. There are days, and there have been weeks, where I could not bring myself to get out of bed. Even the most basic tasks seem excruciatingly difficult. Counting calories and weighing food goes out of the window when you can barely manage to tie your shoes.
The first time I was hit with a major depressive episode as an adult, I quickly gained 40 lbs. I re-started therapy and began taking a natural anti-depressant. As I got better, my energy returned and I was back to my normal, fit self in no time. It took a couple months to lose those 40 lbs and I was good for another several years.
The second time around, I was able to identify the symptoms of depression sooner and begin treatment earlier. As a result of being more diligent about taking care of my mental health, I only gained about 20 lbs. I did a lot better this time around. The depression lasted about a year. In that time, I had moments when I felt I could workout, and I did. But my heart was heavy—too heavy to lift weights (which was my primary form of exercise for years). During this time, I turned to running and yoga. I was gracious with myself. Some weeks I could run 4 days. Other weeks I could only manage 1 run or 1 yoga workout. I honored my efforts either way. My 100% looked different each week, and I high-fived myself for whatever I managed to accomplish.
I was also mindful about my food choices. I abandoned the previously rigorous eating regimen I had adhered to, and ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full. Of course I was eating more and working out less, and with that came a lowered metabolism and a 20 lbs weight increase. Some people would impale themselves if they gained 20 lbs. But I know how to give myself grace for being sick. I’m actually very proud of myself and how I handled it this time around.
So now that I’m doing so much better and I have the physical energy to execise again, I am increasing my workouts and adding some rigor to my eating habits. But it hasn’t been easy. I wanted to jump right back into where I left off when I was my fittest, but I’m just not as strong as I used to be, and that’s okay!
Finally! Here are the 6 steps I am taking to getting back in shape:
- Drop the ego.
This is tough for those of us whose identities are founded on how fit and athletic we are. I get it. But let it go. Let go of what you used to be able to do. Don’t compare your current body to the former body. Acknowledge and honor who you are IN THIS MOMENT.Instead of looking at it from the angle of needing to get back to where you used to be, see it as an opportunity to build upon a blank slate, establishing a new and stronger foundation. Strengthen those fundamentals we sometimes get in the habit of overlooking when we are super active. Focus on those warm ups and those stretches. Master your form, which often gets sloppy when we think we know what we’re doing already. What will happen is you will create a stronger foundation for surpassing your former personal bests.
- Ease into it.
One of the biggest mistakes we make when starting over is thinking we can make up for lost time by doing too much, too soon. We cram too many expectations and goals in a short amount of time thinking we can magically get back to where we were when we got derailed. As I mentioned before, your 100% probably looks a lot different now versus what it used to be, and that’s okay. Honor it. Thinking you can jump back into what you were doing before can backfire. Injuries and feelings of discouragement & disappointment are some of the consequences of trying to pick up where you left off. Ease into it and give your 100% based on your CURRENT capabilities.
- Be patient.
Often we want to see results ASAP. Sometimes our minds are way ahead of our bodies. We may want to run 10 miles because it used to be a piece of cake, but as of right now, you can barely run 3 before wanting to pass out. Suspend judgement! Be patient with your body. Allow it to adjust and acclimate to your regimen.Remember that it probably won’t take too long to get to where you want to be due to muscle memory. Your body wants to do what it used to do, just give it the appropriate time it needs to get there. Patience, grasshopper!
- Seek support.
If you’re like me, you’re a lone wolf who prefers doing things alone. You’re independent and don’t like to be micro-managed. AND you’re a know-it-all who hates unsolicited advice. 🙂 You’ve done this before so you know what you’re doing and you don’t think you need support. But the reality is, we all need support, no matter how subtle.I used to have a very high level of self-accountability, but if I’m honest with myself, I’m not quite there yet, so I ask my friends to support me by holding me accountable to what I say I’m going to do. I also take classes to support me in pushing harder than I would if I were working out on my own. I didn’t used to need a push, but right now I do, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with requesting the support you need. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a person, it means you’re human.
- Be gracious.
The desire to curse yourself out for only being able to do 5 pushups when you used to do 40+ consecutively is quite high. Well, for me it is. We have a tendency to beat ourselves up when we realize we are weaker or slower than we used to be. But how is that productive? Well, it’s not. If anything, it’s counterintuitive and it is going to KILL your motivation.Be your biggest cheerleader. Life throws so many obstacles at us, why create another one with your harsh criticisms and self-inflicted beatings?
Lastly, forgiveness is the final, yet most important step of all. Forgive yourself for whatever caused you to get off track. Forgiveness by definition means you are completely giving up your “desire or power to punish,” and in this instance, we are giving up our desire to punish ourselves.