My Fitness Journey
Before we jump into this post, I’d like to preface this with two items. The first is that I’ve always been an active gal. I started playing softball at age six, and didn’t stop until I was eighteen. I started playing basketball a year after that, and dropped basketball after the eighth grade. I don’t know what it’s like for someone who’s never been athletic and has never played any sports, such as someone like my mother, to try to get in the gym and get fit. All I know is that it must be twenty times harder for those people than getting fit was for me. If you’re in this category, just know that it takes time. It even took time for me, and like I said, I’ve been quite athletic my whole life.
That doesn’t negate my second preface, though: that I’ve always been “overweight.” There were even times that my pediatric doctor (who couldn’t have weighed much more than 100 pounds) claimed I was at risk of being obese. I honestly have never been considered “normal weight” a day in my life. Kaylah and I were born large for twins, especially considering we were born anywhere between two weeks to a month early. Our birthday is early November; we weren’t expected to make an appearance until late November/early December. I was seven pounds and six ounces; Kaylah was six pounds and five ounces. My mom carried two full-sized babies. No wonder she popped early.
No matter how much activity I had growing up, my diet was always an issue. I know my parents just wanted the best for my sisters and me, but our pantry wasn't always filled with the healthiest of foods. Sure, we had and were encouraged to eat our fruits and vegetables, but let's be honest - they don't taste as good as cookies and ice cream. We were taught not to waste (which isn’t a bad thing by any means), but that and my own thoughts of "someone is worse off and would love to be eating this" pressured me to finish everything on my plate, regardless of how full I felt. Although I know that it was just my dad’s way of showing love, he would buy my sister and I each a large fry from McDonalds every afternoon before he picked us up from school, and that would be the afternoon “snack.” But then I’d go and eat ice cream, or cookies, or potato chips right afterwards…you get the picture.
Anyway, my weight was something I’d always been made fun of for. And being black doesn’t exactly help the situation, because we are never and have never been the standard of beauty. I was ugly for being black, and fat for being…well, larger than a size three. At my largest, I was a size 17 in junior’s pants. I wore a size large in tops or even an extra-large in some instances. I weighed 187 pounds. The weight impacted how serious people took me in all aspects of life, how people treated me, my “love” and social life. Everything.
Fast forward to the summer before my freshman year of college. I was tired of being subconscious, of not being deemed “pretty,” and of not attracting any love interests in my life because at some point society decided chubby equals ugly. After graduation, I resolved to start becoming more conscious of being active. Yes, I was still playing softball at this time, but the season was dwindling and I practiced and played softball less and less, so my hours of activity were cut drastically. At first, I wanted to do cardio outside, but anyone who lives in Middle to South Georgia can attest to the brutal above-100 degree summers we have. Our treadmill was broken due to Kaylah’s heavy running feet, so the only other option I had was to use my mom’s Shawn T video tapes. I worked out to them almost every weekday; it would be the first thing I did when I woke up, regardless of whether I awoke at eight in the morning or three in the afternoon. My eating habits still were not optimal but the workouts alone helped me lose anywhere from five to seven pounds over the two months of summer. Even just that little change could be seen (to me) in the slimming down of my face, and that helped keep me motivated to continue my journey.
When I first moved into college, I attempted to keep up with my Shawn T workout regimen, but because of my constant consideration for others, I felt as though I was being too loud at seven-thirty in the morning, especially factoring in the paper-thin walls and that my dorm was on the fourth floor of my building. I knew that going to the gym on campus was my next and only option, but I was extremely insecure, not only in my physical appearance, but also in that the only gym equipment I’d ever used were dumbbells and the treadmill.
For another week or so, I tip-toed in my cramped dorm room to Shawn T’s “Hip Hop Abs,” but then I met Emily. She was in my freshman seminar course, and she was so nice. To this day, she’s one of the nicest people I’ve met since being in college. We started going to dinner every night, and one evening she expressed wanting to try out the group cycling class at the gym. She was a former cheerleader and was in much better shape than I was so it was slightly intimidating that she wanted me as a gym buddy. I obliged, though, and the next morning we went to our first cycling class at eight A.M. sharp.
The studio was actually quite small. And it seemed even smaller since the only attendees to the class were Emily, me, one other blond girl, and the instructor. It was a catch twenty-two situation: there weren’t a lot of people in the room to judge me, but having a lot of other people in the room might distract the instructor from seeing how disgustingly out of shape I was.
I tried to grab a bike near the back of the room, but the instructor, Patricia, said, “Why don’t you grab one up front?” Since I had a hard time saying “no” to people, I switched to sitting up front, in between the blond girl and Emily. The instructor had a bike facing the rest of the class at the front of the room on top of a podium so that she could…well, instruct.
The focus of cycling is often high intensity interval training, better known as HIIT. It’s classified as quick, short bursts of high activity followed by brief periods of rest. While any form of cardio and even strength training can burn calories and help someone drop their weight, most fitness gurus and trainers believe HITT is the best way to do so.
I can attest to this one hundred percent.
The instructor turned off all the lights except for some cool LED ones adorning her podium. She started the music, which ended up being some of my favorites across all genres: she gave us punk-rock through Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco, old school rap with some Jay-Z, and pop hits like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” We started with a leisurely cycle, and then did thirty seconds of fast pedaling on high resistance followed by thirty seconds of moderate pedaling on low resistance. This pattern continued for forty-five minutes, until we ended with a five-minute cool down and then stretched for the remainder of the time.
That workout was one of the hardest of my entire life. When I got off the bike and on to solid ground, my legs felt like spaghetti noodles. The next day, I was so sore that I took the elevator to my dorm instead of the stairs. But I kept going back to class every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at eight a.m. sharp. After a few weeks, I incorporated my own exercise by doing intervals on the treadmill. I’d alternate running for five minutes with walking for five minutes, and I’d do the same with four, three, two, and one minute(s). Add a five-minute cooldown after that, and I hit my goal of thirty minutes a day.
I continued to eat dinner with Emily, and her eating habits rubbed off on me. At the beginning of our friendship, I would always go for the greasy burger and fries and oily pizza; after I while I started eating salads with all of the colors along with her. She was definitely a positive influence as far as my diet. My adoption of salad as a customizable food option instead of thinking of it as a side or “rabbit food” is probably why my transition into vegetarianism went quite smoothly.
Second semester came, and Emily moved home to help take care of her sisters. Although I no longer had a physical gym buddy, my twin sister became a virtual one. Every morning at seven-thirty a.m., Kaylah would call me on her way to the gym and that would be my cue to get ready for the gym myself. I stopped going to the cycling classes, but only because the gym no longer offered a class in between my real classes. I continued my own intervals though, and even made up my own cycling “classes” by myself. My diet stayed clean as well; if I wasn’t eating a salad every night as my meal, it would at least be a side dish.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I decided to go vegetarian. I plan on doing a whole separate post for my vegetarian story, so stay tuned! Cutting out meat was more of a moral decision than a fitness decision, but it has had health and weight-loss related benefits. My carbohydrate intake was obviously higher, but since I wasn’t eating fatty foods, specifically pork and cow meat, the carbohydrates were being used up as energy instead of being stored. Plus, carbs seem far more filling for me, so my portion control was better. Along with my diet change, I also began exclusively drinking water. Sometimes beverages can attribute to half of someone’s daily caloric intake, so cutting them out can be quite impactful.
Since Kaylah transferred to the college I originally picked out (haha) I had a physical gym buddy again. We’d go to the decently-equipped gym at our apartment complex, and she introduced me to the world of weightlifting. Although I’d lost about twenty pounds by this point, I still had flab in a lot of places and wanted to tone up. The only thing cardio can really tone is the calves, so I started off by mainly incorporating leg exercises into my routine. I started with squats with only fifteen pounds, and worked my way up to my current day personal best, one-hundred ten pounds. Just a reminder, though. It’s taken me over a year to get to that point. It was definitely a gradual process. Anyway, I started training arms a little bit as well. I mostly trained biceps and shoulders with curls and lateral arm raises. The actual weight I was losing (according to the scale) began to slow down, but I noticed major changes in my body composition. My arms were becoming more toned, my butt more rounded, and my love handles less prominent.
My progress sped back up again after I met my current boyfriend. He really kicked my weight training up a notch. During our Spring semester, he and I would go to the gym together at least three times a week; once summer began, we started going six days a week. We dedicated two days for legs, two days for arms, one day for back, one day for chest, and threw in ab work outs during ever session. That summer I lost another five or six pounds, but I honestly stopped really stepping on the scale and caring about the number on it.
From then to now, my workout routine has stayed more or less the same. I still go to the gym six times a week, and sometimes I throw in a day of active rest on Sundays. On Mondays, my sister and I train arms; Tuesdays are for abdominals; Wednesdays are for chest; Thursdays are for glute isolation (leg exercises focused on the booty); Fridays are my full leg days; Saturdays are for back. We throw in a little cardio every day, which is either HITT on the treadmill or using the stair climber. If I do throw in an active rest day, I do a yoga practice (I find them on YouTube).
The biggest takeaways I want to stress are:
1. Start! Don’t be afraid to jump right in. You won’t see results immediately; changes will take time and effort. If you start today though, you’ll be one day closer to that goal you have, whether it’s to lose weight or to just be healthier overall.
2. Find a workout buddy. It makes starting much easier, and it helps with motivation. When other people are relying on you, you’re much more likely to keep up with your goals.
3. Find what’s best for you. If you don’t like running on a treadmill, then don’t. If you hate group exercise classes, you don’t have to do them! Adjusting your workouts and discovering the activities you like are vital for long term success. So many people give up on their fitness journey because they’re participating in activities they don’t enjoy, and that’s unfortunate because working out can be really fun. It’s a major stress reliever for me, and now that I’ve found the types of activities I enjoy, I don’t mind waking up at five in the morning to hit the gym (and I’m not a morning person at all).
4. Diet is important. Yes, I made pretty great strides even before I started to adjust my diet, but diet is important not only because the wrong foods could be keeping you heavy, but energy levels and motivation can be impacted by food as well. Like I said, I’ll speak more on this in my vegetarian story, but I would recommend MyFitnessPal (it’s an app for both iOS and Android) for food tracking. I originally started using it to track calories, but now I more so use it to make sure I’m getting the proper nutrition from my foods. My current intake is set to be fifty percent carbohydrates, thirty percent fats, and twenty percent protein. I can also track the essential vitamins and nutrients I'm receiving from the foods I’m eating, such as Vitamin A, fiber, and iron.
5. Do it for you. My journey started because I was tired of hating the way I looked, but to be completely honest, I’m still not where I want to be. Once you improve on some things, you’ll find new flaws. Don’t let that get you down or be a deterrent. Remind yourself often that working out isn’t just about what you see on the outside; it’s also how it makes you feel on the inside. And trust me, your insides will thank you for it.
Good luck on your fitness journey! Definitely tag my Instagram with your progress photos. I would love to see them.
Write you little lovelies later,
XO Ky M.