There was a time in my life, not that long ago, when the thought of finding happiness in my health and fitness would have sounded absurd. I was overweight and lazy, at least when it came to being physically active. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also incredibly unhappy. When my sister proposed that we join Weight Watchers together, I hesitantly agreed. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into or if I could even do it. But slowly and surely, the weight came off.
Improving my health and fitness has been one of the hardest, yet most rewarding, things I ever could have done for myself. It is astounding to me how much I have revolutionized my life in the past few years. I have changed my life for the better and, in the process, found myself. Things that bring a smile to my face today are the same things I never would have thought I could do before this journey began. Yes, it brings me joy to have lost 75 pounds, but what brings me true happiness is how drastically my life has changed since I began that journey.
Surpassing My Own Accomplishments
Since I started running in 2007, I’ve crossed approximately thirty finish lines. This may sound like a pretty minor accomplishment for some, but for this girl — who spent much of her early life with the attitude that “I’ll run if I’m being chased” — it’s huge. My first 5K was a pretty rough experience. My run wasn’t exactly fast, and I took a lot of walking breaks. To say I went into it undertrained is an understatement. Since then, I’ve watched my pace gradually improve, and it brings me such joy to see how far I’ve come. In April, I ran my third half marathon and absolutely crushed my goal for the day by shaving more than thirteen minutes off my best time. I cried so many happy tears as I crossed that finish line.
It’s the Little Things
As fun as it is to cross a finish line and make a new personal record, I’ve learned that finding happiness doesn’t rely on having record-breaking experiences. This summer, I’m finding I can run up hills that I always had to walk up in the past. I was absolutely ecstatic the first time I ran a mile in under nine minutes. When I can finally hold a pose in my yoga class that had always felt elusive, I want to stop the class and shout to the world, “Hey everyone, look! I can do crow pose!” When I discover I can lift weights that are a little heavier than what I could handle before, I get genuinely excited. These small victories contribute to my happiness just as much as the big ones.
You’re Telling Me I Eat What Now?
Throughout this journey, I have found that fueling my body with fresh, unprocessed foods has a tremendous impact on my attitude. I feel so much happier and healthier, and even more productive, when I’m eating real foods. Yet there was a time in my life when I had absolutely atrocious eating habits. In college, I could easily dominate a pint of ice cream and be ready for more. I survived on a diet comprised mostly of processed junk food. To be fair, most college kids are not a shining example of dietary perfection — but I’m pretty sure I took it to a whole new level. “Fruits and vegetables, what are those?” “Whole grains? Heck no; bring on the macaroni and cheese in the blue box.”
Even though I’ve worked over the last couple of years to clean up my diet, there are still days I can’t help but smile at the fact that I willingly put spinach in my morning smoothie, and, even more, that I find it delicious! These days, I’m eating foods I’d never heard of before this journey started, let alone would have ever eaten. Don’t get me wrong, though: Put a red velvet cupcake or a slice of pumpkin pie in front of me, and I will own it. Nobody’s perfect, right?
As I’ve cleaned up my diet and increased my fitness, I have discovered a self-confidence that I never knew I had. This is not to say that I don’t still have my insecurities, because (whether we admit it or not) we all do. But as I’ve cultivated my own health, something in me has grown more self-assured. Yes, the weight loss is part of that newfound confidence — but it’s so much more than that. It comes from knowing that I have changed my life for the better.
For so many years, I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I hid behind layers and clothes that covered up the parts of my body I was ashamed of — the belly, the chubby thighs, the flabby arms. These days, I no longer feel the need to wear jeans in the heat of summer because I don’t want people to see my legs. I see my larger calves not as something to be ashamed of, but as strong and muscular and the power by which I am able to run mile after mile.
This Is Just the Beginning
When I think about how much my life has changed in the past several years, I can’t help but be proud of how far I’ve come. For Pete’s sake, I’m in the midst of training for my first marathon this summer! But what really gets me pumped is knowing that where I am now is just the tip of the iceberg. This girl has some big, big dreams for the years to come. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Photo: Mindy Nienhouse
Has health and fitness made you happier? Share your story in the comments below!