Stop negotiating with myself.
"I have learned that I prefer to run in the morning, but that I run faster at night. I have learned that my smallest pants, the one I saved for years hoping I would be thin enough to wear again, are now too big. I have learned that my kids think I am the strongest woman on earth and that they believe I run faster than the wind (I really don’t). My 18 months journey to mental and physical health has taught me more than I expected and I will now start daring to do all the things I have always wanted to do but never dreamed of doing. It starts with posting this personal story on LinkedIn."
I am writing to you because I wanted to tell you a story about self-negotiation, showing up and consistency.
18 months ago I decided to get into shape. It was summer and my daughter and I were in Canada to visit my family. I had decided to allow myself to eat anything I wanted during the trip, but that upon our return, I would get in shape. Those were the conditions I had set in place at the beginning of the trip to alleviate the guilt of eating all my favorite North-American snacks such as Chicago style popcorn, all-dressed Crispers, gigantic american style portions at the restaurant and, of course, a couple of poutines (if you have never tried a poutine, you are missing out). I was not sure how I would get in shape or even if I would actually do it, but I convinced myself that I would and therefore binged eat through my vacation in Quebec.
Before the trip to Quebec, I had started to bike on an off 15 km to 20 km, but getting into shape and losing weight had been a struggle of mine for 30 years. Consistency and physical exercise were not concepts that worked in tandem with me. I would bike one day, not bike for 3, find the motivation to do it again, then stop. 30 years of failed attempts hanging over my head were making me lose motivation before I had even started. I saw myself as a quitter, as an inconsistent performer and as an absolute underachiever when it came to physical exercise.
I returned from Canada with a bloated stomach full of junk food and a nauseated feeling that I had probably gained more than a couple of kilos in a 10 day period. I was not proud and I was not ready to get in shape. I was flying home wondering why others were succeeding when I consistently failed. 30 years is a long time to try to lose weight and never succeed. It leaves a mark and tempers with one's ability to believe in self-success.
I landed back in Denmark, 37 years old and weighing 80kg. My daughter was 2.5 years old and my pre-pregnancy weight was 77kg. 2.5 years later and I was still struggling to lose the weight and get back to a pre-motherhood weight I was not even proud of. It was time to make a change so I decided to follow-up on my promise and get in shape. That being said, this time around I would do things differently and there would be no room for negotiation! I decided on a clear rule, which I would not be able to change or bend: for the next 365 days I would have to get my pulse above 120 bpm for at least 30 min everyday. Rain or shine, sick or healthy, I would have to do it everyday. It would no longer be a question of IF I would do it today, but WHEN I should do it today.
I started day 1, highly motivated and persevered. To help me stay accountable, I did what I had never dared and stepped on my ego to tell everyone around me that I had set this goal for myself. Don’t believe this was easy, my ego did not enjoy the advertisement as it meant admitting to everyone that I wanted to lose weight and that I was not in shape. It was embarrassing and I felt ashamed, but I did it anyway. People met me with encouragement and a high dose of admiration for daring to do physical exercise for 365 days straight. It sounded crazy and it was, but I had decided that I would no longer allow myself to negotiate with my inner me as 30 years of failure had proven that my lazy side always won.
As time went by, as I imposed on myself the consistency of doing it everyday without a choice, it became easier and training became a simple daily habit like brushing my teeth or showering. I did it every morning before work as it was over and done with and I didn’t have to spend the day dreading the training session in the evening. It allowed me to go to work, fresh, energized and already proud of my daily accomplishment. It helped me find self-confidence and discover I had more willpower than I believed when I combined it with consistency.
Fall came, then winter, then spring (and a pandemic) and then summer. 365 days went by. I ran, biked or rowed for 30 min everyday for a whole year successfully. During this process, I learned that I was actually capable of pushing through and without giving myself the possibility to negotiate the rules of engagement, I was actually capable of consistency. I had the will power and energy to do so if I didn’t give myself the choice to do otherwise. During those 365 days, I felt better about myself, more in control and happier with the person I was. I learned that physical exercise and mental health were partners in crime and that one needs the other. That being said, at no point in time during that year, did I look at my food intake and therefore, I lost very little weight… a mere 3.5kg. In other words, I ate plenty enough.
As the 365 days ended, I decided that I had learned enough from this journey. It was time to take on the next challenge, the one I had wanted to take on all along, but that scared me more than anything as I feared to fail once more: lose the weight.
“Losing weight” and I have a tumultuous relationship that has lasted 30 years. For as long as I can remember, I have felt that my weight was not in my control and, as the year went by, I yo-yoed up and down consistently, always finding myself heavier than I was before and never happy with how I looked. 30 years of avoiding mirrors in public is a long time to try not to look at yourself. 30 years of self body shaming leaves scars and fears that are hard to overcome. As the 365 days ended, I decided I had proven to myself that I was strong enough to lose weight. It was August 2020 and I weighed 76.5kg. I came back from a mini-holiday on the other side of Denmark and signed up to the gym 30 minutes after we got home. If not now then when! On the same day, I committed to a paid app subscription that would help me calculate my macros and all that I would eat. I decided to reduce my carbs and increase my protein intake to create a calorie intake target per day. I decided I would continue to train daily as this method worked for me and that I would go to the gym everyday for weightlifting and some cardio. My second journey towards being in shape started. To keep me accountable, I created a public Instagram account (Tonedby40) where I would publish my progress.
As I continued to train daily with the same consistency as I had done for over a year, the actual weightlifting training turned out to be easy. Calculating everything I ate quickly became a habit. Surprisingly enough, COVID also brought in some blessings. The canteen at work, due to new pandemic constraints, lost all of its appeal so I started to bring my own weighted and macro calculated lunch to work. To avoid any bad surprises, I decided I would weigh myself every morning upon waking up and keep a daily log of my body weight. The new routine came into place in a matter of a couple of weeks. Get up, weigh in, gym, be with the kids, eat breakfast, work, eat lunch, work, be with the kids, eat dinner, sleep. I also forced myself into a new routine of a minimum 7h of sleep per night. No more staying up late wasting time online, in bed by 21.30, up by 5. I wasn’t sure this routine would last so I decided to do it for 3 months (until November) and revisit afterwards based on the results.
3 months went by and November came. I was happier and more energized that I had been in years. In addition to the health benefits, I was stronger than I had ever been and the new regimen was working, I was down to 70 kg. 3 months, 6.5 kg lost. Why stop now? I decided to continue until Christmas holidays.
December came and the gyms closed…
COVID’s second wave was knocking at our door and I remember the day they announced the gyms were closing. I panicked completely! I lost faith in my abilities and worried greatly all my muscle gains would disappear while my fat percentage would increase back up. Like many others in Denmark, I rushed online and tried to buy any gym equipment available. Stocks were out so I ended up buying some resistance bands and I made a home workout plan. I was completely discouraged and worried, but I continued to train everyday, rowed in my basement and ran outside. The holidays came, I ate all the christmas food and I continued to train daily. January arrived, gyms did not reopen as I had hoped for so I started rowing and running more frequently.
By early February, 2 months after the gyms had closed, I realized that I missed the gym because I love working out, but I don’t need the gym. All I need is to show up and be consistent. I have made a decision to be healthy, to lose weight and there is no negotiation allowed. I do treat myself with take out or a good dinner with my wife every friday, but that’s it. Everyday I train and every day I weigh what I eat.
Through this journey, I have learned how my body works, what foods drain me, what energizes me. I have learned that I prefer to run in the morning, but that I run faster at night. I have learned that eating bread or pasta tastes great but keeps me bloated for up to 48 hours. I have learned that I gain 1 to 2 kg every month before my period and that I lose the weight immediately after. I have learned that my smallest pants, the one I saved for years hoping I would be thin enough to wear them, are now too big. I have learned that my kids think I am the strongest woman on earth, that they believe I run faster than the wind (I really don’t) and that they now aspire to train when they grow up to be cool, just like me.
March is almost over, the gyms are still closed and I weigh 63.5 kg. I lost 13 kg in 7 months. This didn’t happen magically and it was not easy everyday, but it was not as hard as I thought it would be. It was exactly like training 365 days, it was about setting rules, following them and just being consistent.
After more than 30 years of struggles, failed attempts, shame, denial and more guilt than I should have ever inflicted on myself, I have spent the last 18 months learning what works for me. I have learned that we all struggle and that we are all trying to figure out what we are doing. I have learned that I can do anything I set my mind to as long as I don’t allow myself to negotiate on the rules. If I want something bad enough, I just need to put in the work consistently and the results will show. This will sound extremely cheesy, but I have learned that it isn’t the end result that actually matters, but the journey and the learnings one gains along the way. It took me 30 years to discover I was strong enough to do what I want! Of course I wish I had realized this years ago, but I also realize that I wasn’t ready. I had to prove myself a few things, I had to fail repeatedly to realize the way I was trying was not working and I had to train 365 days in a row to realize I was actually able of consistency.
I will continue to train and watch what I eat. Not because I want to lose more weight, but because I feel great. I feel great mentally and physically in a way I have never felt in my adult life. I can look at myself in public mirrors and now that I have learned that I am able to defy my demons and 30 years of shame, I realize I can do so much more. I will now start daring to do all the other things I have always wanted to do but never dreamed of doing. It starts with posting this personal text on LinkedIn.