What I'd Say To My Newbie-Runner-Self

Four Years Later: What I’d Say to my Newbie-Runner-Self

Five years ago, I was morbidly obese, sedentary and ignoring the health crisis sitting in my lap. Maybe I ignored it because it was my lap, but either way, I washed away whatever feelings I had with Mountain Dew and made excuses for another round of chips and salsa, all the while telling myself I wasn’t that fat or I didn’t need exercise to be a fit person or I was just another Monday away from cleaning it all up.

Heifers, you know my story.

I started eating better and then joined Jenny Craig, which gave me the consistency, structure and accountability I needed at that time to keep me going with healthier choices.

And yanno, they liked me a little so they put me in their commercials!

And yanno, they liked me a little so they put me in their commercials!

A year later, I laced up a pair of sneakers (they weren’t even legit running shoes) and went for a run.

You can imagine how that went over. It wasn’t a glorious triumph of grace and dignity. It wasn’t smooth soles rolling over the pavement, one gliding step at a time. I didn’t lift my chin to the sun, close my eyes and feel empowered.

Ummmm, NO.

Ummmm, NO.

Heifers, I struggled.  I’m pretty sure my kids could have walked beside me and still beat my pace that day. My feet thudded against the pavement, one resounding blow at a time. I hung my head, my cheeks flaming red and aware that anyone watching me could see what was going on: a former fat girl was trying to get in shape and didn’t know what the hell she was doing….blessherheart.  

I won’t lie to you and say I found some spiritual self who didn’t care about any of these struggles, who wasn’t embarrassed by my own body or who didn’t feel defeated that day. I wish I could. The fact is, I got home from that run and felt pathetic. Who did I think I was? Did I really think I could just go outside, with a pair of shoes, and run?

People train for this. People start this when they were teenagers not when they were middle-aged mothers of four. People had bodies built for this, and mine clearly wasn’t one of them. Mine was built for bonbons on the couch.  

The next day, though, like Britney Spears, I did it again. I got up, put on my shoes and went outside. It wasn’t easier. I wasn’t any better. That first run didn’t set off some special fireworks inside of me that magically turned me into an athlete after 40 years of surfing nothing but the couch or the web. Nope. I was still at square one but I was at least on Day 2, and that was further than I’d gotten before.

After a while, I worked my way up to running longer than the length of a few houses. It took some time. It wasn’t easy. Then it was a whole row of houses. Then it was a few streets. Then I got new shoes, and my feet and knees thanked me. Then I felt confident enough to buy running pants.  A few weeks later, I actually wore those running pants. In public.

Along the road (literally), I learned a few things, and with four years of running behind me, I have some perspective on the whole process. I think back sometimes to that first run, the day I became a runner, the moment I chose to move my body instead of plop it down in front of the computer or back on the sofa. I think about the woman I was then, and there is a lot I’d say to her. Forty-eight months later, I’d like to run up alongside the woman I was that day and give her some advice.

What would I say?  I'm glad you asked.

I’d start with this: every step is an achievement.  Every. Single. Step. You may not feel like a badass runner out here today, with your old tennis shoes, ratty sweatpants and stretched out tank top. You may feel, every time you have to slow down or walk, like a failure, but I am here to tell you: you are killing it! The hardest part of life, of any achievement, adventure, struggle or goal, is showing up. The hardest part is right before you start. And look at you…you started!

Every time you take a step, whether it’s a slow step or a fast step or a walking step or a jogging step, you’re achieving something greater than you did a yesterday or an hour ago or even a minute ago. Every single step matters, and you should celebrate them, even if they add up to a tiny amount, even if you only have to use one hand. Tomorrow will be two hands and then fingers and toes and then you’ll stop counting at all. But every step matters, so string them all together, add them up and celebrate this moment, one step at a time.

I’d also point out that nobody is judging you, and if they are, they’re assholes. But mostly, people are just driving past you and thinking: man…I should have enough energy to get my butt out there and workout, too! Or, I wish I could run. Or, look at her…she’s out there doing it. Or, and here is the #NoBull truth, people aren’t thinking about you at all.

I’m not trying to be mean, but most people driving by are thinking about their appointment or boyfriend or kids or vacation or a million other things people think about as they cruise through the neighborherd.  It’s not that they don’t care that you’re out there gutting it out in a Phoenix summer. It’s that they care a little more about their own stuff, as they should.

So don’t worry about what people are thinking when they see you huffing down the street or stopping mid-way down a block. Most likely, they’re either admiring your effort or, probably, not even thinking about you at all.  Either way, it has nothing to do with you because you’re not running to impress anyone and their opinion isn’t what drives you.

You don’t set goals for anyone but yourself. So put on your headphones, press play on your favorite song and get in the zone. Nobody is judging you, and even if they do, it doesn’t affect your run.  

I’d also tell new-runner-me that it gets easier AND better. In fact, after about six months, it gets fun. After your chest stops burning and you learn how to breathe, it’s not such an effort. Once you learn proper form, your knees don’t take such a beating. Once you get the right shoes, your ankles and shins don’t ache. Once you lose another twenty pounds, the whole process is easier and suddenly you’re out looking for new, cool outfits to wear to a race and signing up for a 10k.

You never imagine you can jog a few blocks, but over time, you will. Then, a few blocks will be your warm up. You’ll hit a point when it’s hard work but it’s not miserable hard work. You’ll hit your stride. The key here is to know when you’ve hit your stride and not try to compare it to someone else, whether that’s your running partner, the twenty-year-old  kid who just lapped you (again) or a fitness model in a magazine. You’ll learn, with time and a lot of miles under your belt, what your own personal zone is, and when you get there, you will feel it.  It gets easier. It gets better. And it’s totally worth it.

I’d also say that every time you log a run, you show yourself and the people around you love. Not a love of being thin or a love of being perfect. It’s not a love for the sport of running or triathlons. What you do when you take care of yourself and work hard to develop a better you is show the people around you that you love yourself.

You aren’t sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to validate you into taking action. Every time you do something hard, that’s a struggle, that challenges you, you change. It doesn’t even matter if you succeed by someone else’s terms or definition: just the fact that you’re out there doing it means you’ve already succeeded. There is no measure of success greater than loving yourself and taking care of you. You set the tone and example for your kids. You let people know, every time you workout, how you feel about yourself and expect to be treated. You don’t even have to say a thing; the message is loud and clear.

Finally, I’d tell the newbie in me: you’re brave. You. Are. Brave. Losing weight and changing your life isn’t easy. Our society seems to swing between airbrushed models on one hand and 40-year-old housewives who can polish off an entire pizza on the other. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that healthy is somewhere in the middle. It’s easy to hide behind the idea that before you can get outside and run in front of God and the world, you have to be a particular weight or have achieved a certain fitness level. It’s easy to talk yourself out of even trying, and it’s even easier to come home from that first run and vow to never do it again, the shame of your sweating, panting body overshadowing your desire to be fit. The coward in you whispers all sorts of negativity about the size of your thighs or boobs or stomach.

But every day, every run, every stride is you being brave. It’s you turning down the volume on everyone who ever expected less, even you – especially you. Don’t discount what you’re doing as some everyday exercise that millions of other people do. Appreciate how much courage it takes to get out there, extra weight and years of body shame behind you, and hold your head high and get it done. You. Are. Brave.    

In the end, the mechanics of running can be taught; the details don’t matter nearly as much as the motivation behind them and the heart it takes to not just start a running program but to stick with it.  

I want to tell every single new runner out there, especially the ones who have tried in the past and failed and are ready to try again: YOU CAN DO THIS!! What you’re doing is truly amazing. What you’re committing to is the best thing in the world: your own health and happiness.  The pacing will come. You’ll get the right shoes. You’ll find your race crew and celebrate victory laps. But most importantly, you will challenge yourself and change yourself. Running is just your vehicle to get there.

So send us your running pics, tell us your stories and join The Herd of runners who may not fit into XXS LuLuLemon pants but who are out there doing it anyway!

Exercise Myth: Why We Don't Lose Weight From Exercise Alone

Hey Heifers! Have you ever killed it at the gym or committed to a serious running program and, in a cruel twist of fate, not actually lost any weight?  We have been discussing this very thing in our Run, Heifer, Run Facebook Group Page recently.

Weeks pass, you’re gutting out an hour of cardio, and the scale reads the same number it read when you started. Or, worse, you’re putting in the time and energy for legit workouts and you actually weigh more?

You stand there, looking at the scale, and wonder: WTF?

You’re doing the stuff you’ve been told to do by your doctor, your friends and my most important friend: The Google. 

Move more to burn fat and torch calories.

People say it’s a basic math equation and a simple recipe for lowering our weight, our cholesterol and a whole bunch of other factors that our doctors hound us about: hypertension, diabetes, joint pain and more.  

So, we do what we’re told. We hit the gym, the pavement, or the cycling room and endure a long sweaty workout so that we can whittle our waists and keep our bodies in fighting shape.

The problem? Well, it turns out that some fitness experts are claiming that exercise may actually be hurting our weight loss goals instead of helping them!

Say what?

I know, Heifers, I know.  Put the protein bar down and listen.

It turns out that cardio makes us….well…hungry. (WHO KNEW?)

According to a 2009 Time magazine article, exercise can stimulate hunger and cause us to actually eat MORE than the calories we just burned. In fact, not only is exercise not helping us lose weight: it may in fact be hindering our efforts and making it actually harder to drop pounds.

I’ve seen it myself. There is a mental switch that flips when I finish a half-marathon or even just a seven-mile run through the mean streets of my Phoenix suburb. I feel pretty badass. I killed it. I logged the time and the miles, and I have all sorts of measurements to prove it. I ran SEVEN MILES, and when I get home, I feel pretty good about myself and my commitment to my health, fitness and keeping off the weight I lost way back when.

Then, at dinner later that night, still high from all those exercise endorphins, I decide the chips and salsa are totally justified because I ran SEVEN MILES. What could a few chips mean in the grand scheme of things? And I have to keep my body nourished and satisfied. Anyway, I’m famished and can’t wait for the entrée, which may in fact be a super healthy salad, dressing on the side. 

So, I dig in. I have a chip and then another. My hunger cues and hormones and all the rest of that fancy circuitry inside my body starts lighting up: bells and whistles. This is reward-central, and my body wants more. My brain says it’s just fine because of those SEVEN MILES.

You can all see where this is going. After a night of "calculated indulging," I wake up to a pound or two jump on the scale, which I tell myself is water weight and will drop off in no time.

But….if I keep it up, this kind of eating and the mentality behind it will ruin my weight loss goals and likely turn toward a downward spiral of shame.  That is NOT the same as a downward spiral of zucchini noodles, but I digress.  Those things  are gross. But whatevs. I'm not here to discuss zucchini spiral noodles today. Maybe that'll be my next blog post.  Anyway....

I beat myself up for not sticking to my diet, and I promise myself that I’ll run an extra few miles each day that week to compensate for the splurge.

And there, my heifer friends, is where the real problem comes in. Exercise is so often used as compensation for eating, when in reality, it takes a ton of sweat equity to equal a fairly small portion size of food. 

<Repeat after me: EXERCISE SHOULD NOT BE USED AS COMPENSATION OR PUNISHMENT FOR EATING EXTRA CALORIES.  Exercise should be fun! It's a way to keep your body healthy and your mind, too!>

In multiple studies by famous exercise researchers (people actually get paid to do this!), exercise has not been shown to significantly increase weight loss because it so often leads people to over-compensate with food.

In fact, in that Time article, the authors note, “Whether because exercise made them hungry or because they wanted to reward themselves (or both), most of the women who exercised ate more than they did before they started the experiment. Or they compensated in another way, by moving around a lot less than usual after they got home.”

Turns out the mental math we’re doing is kind of sketchy. In our minds, that run took a lot of time and covered a lot of dirt road, so we think it must have used up a ton of calories. Yeah. We’re wrong. Running seven miles does burn significant calories. On an average woman, we’ll burn about 105 calories per miles, which adds up to 735 calories over seven miles. Sounds pretty good, right?

Have you checked out how many calories are in a basket of chips and salsa from a Mexican restaurant? 

The basket of chips alone is 570 calories! I repeat:  570 calories, and that's a conservative estimate. If you add a side of guac (and who doesn’t), we’re now at about 770 calories.

We just ate more than we burned on a SEVEN MILE run.

That, my trusty HeiferHood, is how we don’t lose weight even though we’re exercising more and more.

Add to that the fact that we may move less during the day to compensate for all those miles we ran and the fact that our bodies are actually hungrier from all that exercise, and we’re in trouble.

So, that’s the bad news.  And like all good parents, I prefer to give the bad news first.

Ready for the good news?

Exercise, like running seven miles in the Arizona sunshine, makes our hearts and lungs stronger, increases bone density, reduces stress, reduces the risk of some types of cancer, decreases the risk of heart disease, may provide relief from anxiety and depression and helps us sleep better. On top of all of this, exercise has been shown to improve mental functioning. 

As a 40-something mom with four kids, I need all the cognitive hustle I can get.

All of these are some pretty awesome reasons to exercise, some seriously legit reasons to exercise. But weight loss, dropping pounds on the scale, torching calories….those may not be the best reasons to put in the time and energy required to commit to an exercise program.

Instead of finding this information depressing, I like to think of myself as just better informed. We now know that exercise has a ton of perks and benefits but that dropping weight likely won’t be one of them.

The key to dropping the weight is good sleep, a healthy diet and consistency in both, with a huge focus on that healthy diet part..... Losing weight is 80% what we're eating. 

Once we understand what exercise does (and doesn’t) do for us, we can plan accordingly and get the most out of our workouts without being disappointed when we don’t see results that may in fact be impossible to see.

Exercise alone isn’t going to whittle the waistline. After I understood what exercise did for me and the fact that it wasn’t a magic pill that would turn me into a Barbie doll, I took it for what it was: a way to help my body be overall healthier, stronger and fitter.

I don’t figure exercise into my eating choices anymore. I eat when I’m hungry, and I eat healthy food overall. I splurge sometimes but not because I ran an extra mile or am training for another half-marathon. I know those numbers don’t add up.

I keep my exercise at a level I can maintain reasonably comfortably and that doesn’t leave me famished and reaching for a Little Caesar's Large Pepperoni and Crazy Bread after a run. Because now I know…those 532,987,234 calories would make my five-mile run a total wash.

The Enemy....A Guest Blog Post

Once again, another amazing blog contribution by one of our fellow Heifers.  

Eating disorders are very personal.  Very private. And very unique.  You can't put a face to an eating disorder.  The girl next door might have one.  The soccer coach may have one, too.  Your own sister might have fallen victim.  Men have them. Women have them. Children have them.  Several of our very own Heifers suffer from different types of eating disorders.

My dear friend wanted to share a little bit of insight into the mind of someone with an eating disorder.  He's not only courageous, but he's kind, funny, and an all around great guy.  Please take a minute to read a day in the life of a boy with an eating disorder.  I'll share more from him soon.

THE ENEMY

It's about 07.45 in the morning when I open my eyes and see the sun shining through the curtains, it fills me with complete fear. Another day of battling with my enemy, it's a battle that I know I would loose again. I have been fighting this battle for so long, I'm exhausted mentally and so tired physically. 

Can you imagine doing that for at least 24 years of your adult life. I know I couldn't, but I did. 

My enemy for all that time and still is in a lesser degree, is food and the consumption of it. 

There are more good days now than bad days which is a blessing.

It's now about 08.10am I'm down stairs in the kitchen trying to find something that I might eat but will also look like I have eaten sufficient to placate my mother. That was not easy, she was consistently trying to ram food down me. In those moments I remember as a very young child having lovely food memories, favourite family meals and treats that would be so exciting. To be now in this different world of choosing food purely to sustain me for survival with no pleasure attached at all. In my worse times I probably was only consuming about 400 - 750 calories a day. 

I have managed to survive breakfast without too much hassle and eaten the minimum, the next hurdle will be in about 3 -4 hours which is lunch time and the terrifying process starts all over again !!

When I think about all the time I spent over analysing everything I consumed or didn't consume it is frightening.  All it achieved was severe anxiety, depression, lack of confidence, body repulsion, constant thoughts of suicide, and extreme weight loss. 

Lunch time is fast approaching my anxiety is rising off the scale, need to find out what we got so I can work out a consumption plan. This day is just getting worse we going out for lunch, that basically means no control at all. 

Spending ages looking at a menu that only fills me with utter dread. 

The only way I can really deal with this situation too stop me freaking is out is by thinking tomorrow I can eat less...

This is the sad reality of food disorders.  It took a lot of courage for my fellow Heifer to share his story.  Show him some love if you like, by leaving a comment, and be aware that some around you may be silently suffering.

If someone you love may have an eating disorder, here are a few resources you may find helpful:

10 Symptoms of Anorexia

Bulimia Symptoms

Eating Disorders Anonymous

How to Talk To Someone If You Suspect An Eating Disorder