The Mojave Desert sun beat down on my back while sweat made its way between my shoulder blades and saturated my t-shirt; my dark jeans clung to my skin uncomfortably making me even more encumbered.
Hiking in Red Rock Canyon right outside of Las Vegas, I was preoccupied with my sluggishness more so than the beauty of the red rock formations around me. I was hot and slow and feeling much older than my 25 years. Having married a year and a half prior, my family and friends always considered me a firecracker, moving nonstop.
But, in 2003 I was carrying around an extra 50 lbs. or so and this feeling of discomfort and slowness was very new to me.
That’s the first time I can remember not loving my body, and it was after seeing the above picture of myself on that trip to Vegas that I decided I needed to make a body positive change.
Soon after the trip, I joined Weight Watchers (WW) and attended weekly meetings. My initial weigh in was 202.4. I couldn’t believe that number and knew I would do whatever it took to get myself healthy again.
From early childhood, I have embodied an “I don’t give a shit what you think about me” attitude.
I attribute my head strong attitude to my family. My mom never talked badly about her body, and my dad, the coach, always parented with a bit of a coaching mentality. And so, I grew up never willing to give up and knowing I could do anything as long as I put my mind to it.
I love a good challenge. And so, in 2003, when I joined Weight Watchers, it was just that…another challenge.
In elementary school, I played volleyball, basketball, and softball for the local recreation center and I also took tap, ballet and jazz at a dance studio. In middle school, I did swim team, the basketball team, the cheerleading squad. I continued taking tap, jazz, ballet and pointe. By high school, I quit dance, but was a cheerleader, a softball player and a runner on the track and field team. In my childhood through adolescence, if there was a team sport to join, I was there!
But in college, like many freshmen, I wasn’t as active as I was in middle and high school and I gained weight. The expression “the freshmen fifteen” exists for a reason.
My weight gain in early college was due in part to not being as active, but it had more to do with adjusting to college life and campus culture, which included lots of late night drinking and Taco Bell eating!
When one gets to college, it seems there is nothing better than that 4th meal after a long night of drinking. I also had a love affair with Dr. Pepper, and it’s one of a kind taste. The hiss of a can popping open is music to my ears. But, once I finally decided on a major, Kinesiology with an emphasis in Sports Management, I was more active due to my course curriculum. I had to take lots of Kinesiology classes like aerobics, tennis, badminton, etc. I shed my freshman fifteen like an extra layer of skin.
Despite my slight weight fluctuations in early college, my always being so active enabled me an athletic, yet curvy build. I’ve always loved and embraced my curves. Self-esteem is not an issue for me and not once have I let anything anyone said to me get me down. Kids in high school called me popcorn butt. My don’t give a shit attitude kicked in, and I didn’t care. I considered the nickname clever; it motivated me to embrace my curves and love how I was different from some of my female peers.
After that fateful trip to Vegas and joining WW, I saw some success. And soon enough, my head strong, can-do attitude reared its head; I needed more and wanted to advance my personal goals. I joined Curves for Women. After a few months of Curves, I craved even more of a challenge, so my husband and I joined a gym, and we would work out together every morning before work.
In 2004, I reached my goal and became a WW Lifetime Member at 140 lbs. More than the number on the scale, I had my athletic build back, and my curves were in all the right places again. I flaunted my new body in a bikini every day on a trip to Grand Cayman. I was proud of my hard work and vivacity.
Shortly after that trip, I got pregnant with my oldest daughter, Kendall. By the end of the pregnancy, I was once again over 200 pounds. This time, it was 212.
I’m not sure how I gained so much weight with that pregnancy. I was always sick and spent the entire pregnancy with what I called “all day sickness”!
I am a very determined woman, and I see so much of life as a challenge. I decided to have a completely natural birth. I had a birth plan; I had a doula, but I also had a very stubborn…er, head strong daughter on her way into the world. After nearly 12 hours of labor and multiple nurses asking me if I wanted an epidural, I was at 8 cm and then the labor just stalled.
Picture this: A troop of nurses run into the room; they do an internal exam; one of them massages the baby to get her to drop, but she just didn’t want to. Despite all of my planning, they give me an epidural, and I have an emergency C-section.
I was deflated. Not only was I worried about Kendall and her being born healthy, but I was also mad at my body. Having a vaginal delivery was something I could not will my body to do. It wasn’t my call. It was Kendall’s, and I remind her all of the time that she has been head strong forever, even in my belly.
After my C-section, I felt the worst I have ever felt about my body.
Not only was I over 200 pounds again, but my body couldn’t do the thing it was designed for. Being a woman who through sheer will power has been able to do so much, I was floored by my bodies’ inability to do what it was made to do. Additionally, I had this belly; a loose, crinkly apron of skin that I called the scrotum belly.
The feeling of inadequacy, the scar, the scrotum belly: I HATED my body.
But always the optimist looking for a challenge, my determination eventually engaged, and I ate right and exercised when I could find time. I lost around 35 pounds.
As I was making this life change yet again, my work was doing a biggest loser challenge. I signed up, motivated by the challenge and my competitive nature. I started exercising again and remembered that boost I get from being active. I did the elliptical; I went for runs.
At the end of the challenge, I was back down to 140 lbs. and had won the female award, and came in second overall. Again, I had my curves, but the scrotum belly didn’t go away. However, instead of getting down on myself, I bought a swimsuit bottom that went high enough to cover it all; I loved my body again.
Additionally, redemption from my C-section was in sight.
In 2009, I went into my second pregnancy and labor differently. My doctor approved a VBAC, and I was elated when Olivia was born through a successful vaginal delivery. It is so ironic to me that the first time I planned, I fretted, and I ended up with a C-section. But, my second delivery, I focused more on having a healthy baby than the logistics, and I was able to achieve the vaginal delivery I so wanted. I felt vindicated; my body had done what it was supposed to.
However, motherhood often wreaks havoc on a woman’s body.
For me this havoc came in the form of a wacky thyroid after Olivia was born. I was losing weight like crazy; I got down to 125: about 15 lbs. smaller than a healthy weight for my height and frame.
I looked sickly. I didn’t like my sunken eyes or wispy hands, so I ate like a teenaged boy to put weight on. I reacquainted myself with my love, Dr. Pepper, just to add more calories.
I never thought in a million years I would be eating to gain weight.
Finally, everything was regulated, and I gained the weight back. I started holding steady at 150, which was easy to maintain just by watching what I ate. With two active kids and an hour plus commute for work, I didn’t have the energy to exercise. So, once my thyroid did regulate and I gained some weight back, I also started getting flabby. I didn’t hate my body, but I wasn’t in love with it either. I went with that for a few years, focusing on my daughters.
In early 2013, I heard about a place near my house that offered Zumba classes. Zumba is everywhere these days. My interest peaked, I signed up for my first class.
I was in love. Move aside Dr. Pepper…I got Zumba now!!
I loved the music; I loved the dancing; I loved how fun it was. I was drenched and out of breath when that class was over. In addition to the music, the dancing, the fun of it all, I really enjoyed the support from the other women in the class. When I went for my first class, everyone was chatting before class, and they noticed that I was new, so they chatted me up and made me feel right at home.
I went home and told my husband that I was now putting my health first and would make time for Zumba. I went to class nearly every day and just absolutely loved it.
The exercise high was in my life again, and I loved it!
Ever looking for a challenge, when I noticed that my exercise studio offered boot camp classes, I was in!
Again, I did some research and heard the boot camp classes were really hard from some people and that I should stay away! But, my unwavering, can-do attitude kicked in once again, and I was intrigued by the website description, saying that boot camp was “intense floor/mat work, cardio, plyometrics to tone-tone-tone those abs and glutes, throw in some strength/weight training and you will see results FAST!”
I wanted in!
In July 2013, I signed up for that class as well. I didn’t change anything about my diet and went to boot camp twice a week and Zumba twice a week. I was hooked!
Then in November, my studio was having a 60 day flab to fab challenge. Well, you know me and challenges!!
I couldn’t help myself. Anyone could join, and it was only $10 to enter. Contestants would get initial measurements done and then weigh in weekly. If anyone gained weight any week, they had to add that amount in dollars to the pot. At the end of the challenge, new measurements would be taken and whoever lost the most weight and/or inches would win the bounty.
At the same time, a new instructor came on for boot camp. We did some of the same things, but the structure was more of a HIIT program. An additional day was added where we focused on nothing but booty and abs. I started to eat to fuel my body and quit counting calories. I attended both Zumba and boot camp three days a week.
After 60 days, I lost 16 inches and 12.6 pounds and won the challenge!
However, most importantly during this challenge, I made changes to the way I feed my family and myself. We made the switch to brown rice, include a vegetable with every meal and have moved to a cleaner diet overall. Now, I teach my girls about eating a healthy and a balanced diet, where we include less healthy options in moderation.
My daughters often come with me to Zumba, and they love it as well. I want them to see that exercise is fun and good for us. Both participate in soccer and softball. Kendall also plays basketball. It makes me so happy that they both enjoy playing sports like I did at their age!
This year I roped my entire family into doing the Color Run with me. Kendall hated every moment! But, she went and she did it. What a sense of accomplishment for her!
Not long after the Color Run, I somehow stumbled across the Girls on the Run (GOTR) 5k and entered it. This time, I didn’t drag the family with me. I just wanted to run another 5k before the Louisiana humidity reared its ugly head.
I love everything about the GOTR organization. They are all about promoting positive body image for young girls grades 3rd through 8th. The race itself was so uplifting and inspirational. It was amazing to see all of the young girls running in their tutus with painted faces and glittered hair.
I want to sign my girls up for this program. I want to be able to send all young girls to this program.
I want to show them that we, women, are strong, we can do anything we put our minds to.
Exercise is my outlet. I love the camaraderie of my boot camp class and enjoy every minute of butt whooping I take in that hour three times a week! I love the fun calorie burner in Zumba. I like the thought clearing runs I get in occasionally; and I like trying to go further and get a faster time, challenging myself to do more each time.
I’m registered to get Zumba certified in July, and I’m currently studying for the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s personal training certification. I want to show my daughters how to take care of their bodies and love themselves; I want my daughters to have good self-esteem. I want to give them all of the tools they need to eat healthy and stay healthy. I want them to see that women can have muscles and be beautiful.
I don’t ever want them to struggle with their own body image. I want them to find a spouse that never criticizes their weight, like I have in their daddy. Throughout my weight fluctuations, my husband has never said one negative thing about my weight. I want for my girls all that I have and more. They are my motivation.
I am not a slave to the scale. I honestly do not know how much I weigh right now. I don’t get on the scale unless I’m at a doctor’s appointment. But, I could tell you all of my measurements!
Now, I use my clothes as a guide, and I focus on my measurements and pictures of my body in a bikini to measure my progress. I want everyone to lose the scale and just focus on a better them, regardless of what the stupid number says. Just eat healthy, exercise and enjoy life!