Healthy Living: Alysa's Story

>> Monday, August 23, 2010

Alysa writes:

Hi Ashley!!! It's alysamarsiella over from Twitter, plus I have a blog over at I think this is so cool what you're doing with the Healthy Living Stories. I love reading about other people's transformations and switches to healthier lifestyles!

Here's my story: I was always a bigger kid. Not chubby or fat, just bigger. I have a small skeleton, but at the same time, I'm broad and flat. So, in my childhood years, I always looked "solid." My diet as a child was the SAD (Standard American Diet): white bread, meatloaf, hamburgers, french fries, and an abundance of pasta from my fiercely devoted Italian family. You try turning down my grandmother's homemade baked ziti with vodka sauce! You're made of stronger stuff than I am if you can!!!

Because I was an active kid, I never got "fat," although because I was always a little bigger than the other kids in my classes, I would definitely get teased for my figure. I first thought I was fat in third grade, when a classmate told me my mom was probably scared to let me sit on her lap because I'd "smash" her. Kids are so nice, eh?

I had great exercise stamina from my years as a dancer and a three-sport athlete, but once I started college and quit sports, I just ate to eat. I was bored and constantly felt like I had my back against a wall. Nothing I did, it seemed, was good enough. My mom tried to get me in shape, but it wasn't until December of 2004 when I started thinking "Maybe I have a problem with overeating." At the time, I was 5'4" and weighed in at approximately 196 pounds, and a very, VERY tight size 16. I had stretch marks that scared me with their violent red color, my back was constantly hurting (my weight was all gained in my stomach area), and I felt lonely and listless. I even dyed my hair black in a goth phase because I didn't want to be seen. In the spring of 2005 I stepped onto the scale and what I saw shocked me. I had pushed over the dreaded 200 pound mark. I weighed in at 202 pounds. I was devastated.

Over the course of a year (from August 2005 to August 2006) I lost close to 50 pounds. I plateaued out at 155 for about two years, but that was because I kept sabotaging myself with unhealthy binge eating and falling victim to enabling "friends" who wanted to wreck my progress. Once I began to get rid of those impulses to overeat, the rest of the weight melted off. I now weigh around 135 pounds (I don't really know for sure because I don't weigh myself regularly anymore.)

However, in my fear to keep the rest of the weight off and maintain my 70 pound weight loss, I thought I needed to work even harder. I ended up starving myself and overexercising. Then I counted every single calorie, which just drove me crazy (I was measuring out my ketchup, for goodness sake!). Then, I developed lactose intolerance and IBS, so now there are times where I'll be starving, but I honestly can't eat a thing because I'll be sick.

As you can see, I didn't exactly lose my weight the healthy way. I did a lot of kickboxing, didn't really eat properly, and punished my body for its so-called "failings." But now, I can honestly say that I am living to be healthy, not skinny. I credit, oddly, my IBS for this. When you're swollen and in pain, vanity goes out the window. You have to take care of yourself. You only get one body.

Which brings me to my favorite two forms of working out/staying healthy now: Running, and yoga.

I was never a runner. Ever. I'd run for five minutes and get winded. I can go on the elliptical for two hours -- trust me, I have proof -- and not even be bothered. But if you told me a year ago I'd be running 5 miles, three times a week, I would have told you you were out of your mind! But with the encouragement of my father's personal trainer (who told me anyone can run if they really, really want to run), I started off slow. Actually, that's a bald-faced lie. I started with 3 miles, a couple times a week. My cardio background helped TREMENDOUSLY. I upgraded to 4 miles a little while after that, and now I can go for 5 miles outside without feeling like I'm exhausted at the end. It's been a little hard because this summer has been so hot, but I actually think that's going to help me in the long run.

Running keeps me sane. When I feel stressed, or overworked, or feeling like I want to engage in unhealthy habits, I run. Back in the day when I used to work out I did it for one reason only: to burn calories. It didn't matter how tired I was, I worked out to burn calories and that was it. When I run outside, I don't time my splits, or check calories burned. I run because it keeps my digestive system in check, and it feels like I'm flying. When I run, I feel like I can take on the entire world, and like I'm a superwoman.

And yoga? I had done yoga for almost a year with my best friend (who is a big-time yogini), but had to quit due to it becoming too expensive. In April, I started working at the yoga studio which pays me in free yoga. Yoga calms me in a way nothing else does. When I started doing it again, it was like reuniting with a longlost friend. My panic attacks vanished. My back problems diminished. My posture improved. My arms and legs have never been stronger. And my mind is so much clearer and my self-esteem skyrocketed. In yoga, everyone can feel like they are powerful. I rarely get addicted to one mode of exercise, but if I had to do only two forms of working out for the rest of my life, it'd be running and yoga.

As for food, I stick to a mostly vegetarian, almost-vegan diet. I say "almost" because I do not say no to steak every once and a while, and I love grilled chicken, Greek yogurt, and ice cream far too much to completely give them up. However, my diet is mostly comprised of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nut butters(!!!), beans/legumes, and meat substitutes such as tempeh, tofu, and seitan. I eat what I want, when I want, how I want it. And sometimes I splurge, but I know it's smart. Over the last few months I've been diagnosed with a myriad of stomach problems which are leading me to consider a mostly raw diet. I can't wait to see what changes it will make in my energy levels and my digestion! I also love taking unhealthy recipes and putting my own spin on them to make them healthy, such as baked rutabaga fries, one-serving veggie dairy-free pizzas, and organic tofu stir-fries. I really love the process of cooking for myself.

The best feeling, though, is knowing I'm not a project anymore that needs to be continually improved. I am perfect, just the way I am. And for the first time in my near 25 years on this planet, I believe that I am beautiful.

Thanks for reading!

Alysa (from Girl vs. Food)

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