Healthy Living: Ariel's Story

>> Friday, October 1, 2010

Ariel writes:

I have been reading, and loving your blog for quite some time now (thanks, Ariel!), and I am inspired every day by the adventures that you go on in and out of the kitchen. This is more of my recount of how my perspective of exercise has transformed, and how I finally stumbled upon something I love.

I've always kind of had the healthy eating thing down, thanks in large part to my parents. Growing up, my mom (who is a phenomenal cook) always encouraged my sister and me to get creative when it came to cooking. Fresh produce was a staple in our house, and we sat down to a home cooked meal together every night. By the time I was in high school, I was one of the only kids that hadn't been out to a fast food restaurant, which was just fine in my book!

My family is also very active, especially my father. When he and my mom lived in New York City, he ran from Brooklyn to Central Park regularly, and ran in the '77 and '79 marathons. My parents moved upstate to start a family; my mom took to hiking and my dad became an avid biker, and then kayaker. They introduced these activities into my life at a young age, so I've always had a love of the outdoors. When I was 16, my dad had a heart attack and was shortly thereafter diagnosed with bladder cancer -- he is doing fantastically now, and still kayaks every single day.

When this all happened, though, I was in complete shock, because he was by far the most active member of our family, and because dads are invincible! From that point on, I cut out red meat and poultry of my diet, and vowed that I would exercise more. In addition to the weekly hikes I went on, I started walking home from school everyday, and did yoga a few times a week. I never really thought about weight, since we didn’t have a scale in my house, but my clothes became looser by the week. I felt good about these changes and continued them throughout high school.

Oh look, I'm in college now! I had never really been to a gym before, and seeing as I could go to the one on campus for free, I began going more and more frequently. For the first few months, I really enjoyed using the treadmill and the elliptical. My body was getting used to the exercise and it wasn't uncommon for me to spend anywhere from 60-90 minutes on a cardio machine. Toward the end of my freshman year, the excitement I had for working out started to dwindle, and I viewed it more like a chore than anything.

Still, I woke up every morning at 7:15 to go to the gym because I was terrified that if I didn’t exercise, I would gain the Freshman 15. I was underweight, overworked, irritable, and just plain drained. On top of the pressures that I was placing on myself, as well as those from my classes, I was in a long-distance, and unhealthy, relationship. It was all too much, and something had to give.

More than one thing gave. My relationship ended, by obsession with exercise slowed, and I focused my energy on schoolwork. While this may sound ideal, I was now heading toward the other end of the spectrum! I had gained the Junior 25, was still vegetarian but was eating too many carbs, wasn’t getting enough exercise, and felt lethargic all the time. The sad part is, is that I was in that state for about 11 months because staying in a self-destructive routine is easier than putting yourself out there and making a change.

As a senior and psychology major, I knew that I wanted to go on to graduate school to become a therapist. I also knew that there was no way I could help others feel better about themselves if I didn't feel good about myself. I wanted to be happy with who I was, so I decided to do those things that made me feel good. I started going to the gym on a regular basis, but only went on the elliptical, because it was within my comfort zone. I went back to my diet of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, with some tofu or beans and whole grains mixed in for good measure. I started to feel better about myself, but I still didn't have the confidence that I wanted.

Enter: Grad School. Most people use going away to college for the first time as a way of reinventing themselves. I, however, am not like most people. I was staying at the same school for my graduate program, but I knew that this was my time for growth. I began by upping my protein intake, which immediately helped to get rid of some of the excessive baggage I was carrying around my middle. Hello, whey powder! I was also on the go a lot, what with a job, classes, and an internship, so when I had time, I would walk around outside, or go for a bike ride (thanks to my fabulous friend Marissa who taught me how to ride a bike at age 22). I found that the less that I obsessed over food and exercise, the happier I was. The less I obsessed, the more results I also saw.

When the summer heat started, I decided to go back to the gym because it was much more comfortable than being outside. My sister recommended the book The New Rules of Lifting for Women, so for the first few weeks, I focused on weight training. I loved the book, and started to see changes from the training I was doing, but I still missed doing cardio.

You should know that I'm secretly a competitive person. I like to see what exercises people are doing and try to do them too. I also used to like to see if I could stay on the cardio machines longer than the person next to me. I know this sounds nutty, but sometimes it was the push I needed. One particular day, I saw a girl hop on the treadmill and run for 40 minutes like it was nothing. And get this: she was smiling the whole time. Why would anyone smile while they ran? Most of the people I see running outside look like they hate their lives. I needed to try this for myself.

The first mile was a struggle, and that's an understatement. I didn't think too much of it, and went about the rest of my weight training. I went to the gym the next day and instead of climbing on the elliptical, I stepped onto the treadmill. What was I doing? I wasn't a runner. Runners love to run. I only ran yesterday because Top Chef was on the TV above the treadmill. But I ran. Not too far, a little longer than I had the day before, but that's when it clicked. The type of change I wanted to see in myself wasn't one that was going to happen overnight. I was going to have to work for it, but as long as I could push myself a little bit farther each day, I would eventually get there.

Slowly but surely, I made progress. I ran a little bit longer each day, and on days that I wanted a shorter workout, I tried to increase my speed. By July, I was running 5 miles, 5-6 days a week. When I was at school, for my job and classes, I went to the gym. When I went upstate to visit my parents, I would run a 5-mile loop around the local reservoir. My energy levels had increased drastically, I was significantly more confident, I had muscle definition that I had never had before, and I was happy. I didn't think it could get any better. But oh yes, it did.

I was visiting my parents one weekend in early September and the weather was beautiful. For the first time in months, there was no humidity and the temperature was in the 60s. It was time for my 5-mile loop! I finished it in record time (41 minutes!) but the weather was too perfect for me to leave just yet. "I'll just jog half of the way around and walk the rest," I told myself. With each stride, I felt energized and enthused, and believe it or not, I ran the whole loop with a smile on my face.

Thanks to the love and support of my family, friends, and (new and improved) boyfriend, I didn't throw in the towel when things got rough. It took me a while to figure out, but I realized that my journey was ultimately about happiness. If you ask me, that's something worth fighting for. Keep your chin up and always remember to smile -- you never know who you could inspire.

Thanks for reading my story!

Ariel (from Positive Regard)

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