Navigating the Fitness World

Fitness is somewhat of a taboo subject among women. There are so many “surefire” ways to get in shape that it can be very intimidating and overwhelming when starting out. Paired with the pressure to attain society’s image of perfection it can lead to an unhealthy view of body image and distort the reason behind working out and eating good. Over the years I have tried out quite a few of the “fitness trends” and am going to share my experiences with them as well as eating habits and my personal growth.
I grew up on a farm so I had an active childhood but was not involved in any sports. Because of this, I did not have any foundation of exercise science and many of the weightlifting movements. As an adolescent, I gained weight and was what I would call pudgy. I viewed myself as larger than I actually was but I was comparing myself to classmates who had drastically different body types than me. Puberty caused my metabolism to speed up, my activity levels matched my eating habits, and I quickly lost weight and grew into my body. I struggled with body image throughout high school, especially my junior and senior years, and placed my self worth on what the scale said and how much of my hip bones and ribs I could see. During school days I would eat very little all day, often nothing, until dinnertime. I did not exercise in excess but due to my extreme calorie deficit I continued losing weight and appeared thin.
After graduating, I continued working on our farm but that level of activity was not enough to counteract my level of inactivity and eating habits. I was eating full meals instead of occasional snacks or nothing at all and my metabolism slowed down because I was not moving around the entire day but rather only parts of it. It quickly became apparent that I had to integrate exercise into my routine in order to stay thin. I placed emphasis on what my body looked like and that drove my desire to exercise not my health.
I signed up for a gym membership and had absolutely no clue where to begin! I was too intimidated to try any of the machines out and I stuck with what I knew: cardio. I used the treadmill and elliptical and that was about it. It worked for the time being but I quickly lost motivation and came to hate working out. I also did not change my eating habits and my relationship with food was reward/punishment based and extremely unhealthy. Sick of cardio, I decided to try Zumba on a whim. I enjoyed it but it did not challenge me and I soon lost interest. I still did not have a healthy relationship with food and continued struggling with body image.
I tried my hand at Crossfit next and, while I enjoyed it and began to see favorable results, my working hours made it extremely difficult to attend regularly and I soon found myself falling behind. I became discouraged when the RX movements kept getting more extravagant but I was nowhere near that skill level and lost enthusiasm to continue. Plus it’s hard to justify paying hundreds of dollars a year on a gym that I was unable go to! During this time, I was exposed to the paleo movement (a given) and tried my hand at Whole 30. Whole 30 actually brought to light a lot of my unhealthy eating habits and how much of a psychological effect food had on me! Although it taught me a lot of valuable information, Whole 30 was not perfect for me either. I was having to consume so much food in order to stay satiated and my bad eating habits would resurface as soon as the 30 days were complete.
Then I met my now husband, Brooks. We both appreciated some of the movements and workouts of Crossfit but did not necessarily want to only limit ourselves to that alone. We have been incredibly blessed to have our own garage gym and have arranged it together to best suit our needs. Brooks introduced me to the 5×5 Stronglifts and Wendler 5/3/1 lifting programs and the accessory movements I was too intimidated to try when I first joined a gym. He encouraged me to believe in my strength and lift heavier than I ever had before (safely under his careful instruction). I suddenly found myself gaining muscle and was loving it! I finally was able to leave the obsession of getting skinnier and seeing rib bones behind and began looking forward to watching my muscles grow and pushing myself to do better.
As far as conditioning/cardio goes, Brooks and I both quickly found ourselves unmotivated and making excuses when we tried to go back to typical “Crossfit WODs.” Knowing that we needed to integrate more conditioning into our workouts (for aesthetic and performance reasons) we decided to put together our own conditioning circuits using movements gleaned from several sources. You can check them out either on YouTube or Instagram. The beauty of these circuits is they aren’t redundant and something you can constantly push yourself harder on. We started with 9 exercises and have worked our way up to 12 and can increase reps/intensity. We also can pick and choose our exercises each time so that way it can put emphasis on working certain areas of the body more heavily.
Our relationship with food has gotten much better as well. Neither of us do well on an extremely restrictive diet (Whole 30 was tough for this reason) and it usually ended with us binging or becoming extremely miserable. We mainly follow IIFYM and listen to what our bodies have to say. We adjust our calorie intake depending on how we are feeling and how our workout performance is. We also still allow ourselves to have “treats” and do not restrict certain foods or food groups. That being said we try to eat whole foods, stay within our calorie goals, and focus on reaching our protein goals as much as possible.
The bottom line is that being fit takes hard work and commitment. It takes a personal motivation and reason why. My reasons why are that I want to be healthy and the best version of me for my family: my husband and children, I want to be strong and come home safe to my loved ones if there every comes a time when I am challenged, and I want to be a role model and motivator to others who need someone to look to for encouragement. Being fit takes sacrifices and give and take. Brooks and I no longer spend as much time sitting on the couch but rather use that time to workout and we no longer can have “cheat weeks” but we reap the reward of increased performance and quality time cooking together. It also takes the guts to be honest with yourself and identify where you struggle and perhaps some insecurities that still hold you back. You will not succeed or find self worth in anything you do if you continue to carry a burden on your back or never address the root of the problem/bad habit. There are many roads to lead to health and strength; pick one that suits you best but also don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Amanda Laughlin
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