When I was a kid I loved to eat. I don’t mean that I enjoyed the occasional slice of cake or that I got a thrill at the sound of the ice cream truck. I mean I literally ate all the time. It was always more about quantity than quality. My mother said I ate like an “obrero” – the Spanish word for a male laborer. My plate was always filled to the rim and highest at the table. Fortunately, I was athletic so the food I ate never seemed to land on me. That is, until I reached 30.
In my thirties, I began to pick up weight faster than I could keep it off. One day, I pointed across the room at my dad and I saw the bottom of my arm jiggling. I had seen first-hand what a poor diet and obesity could lead to and I knew I’d better act fast. Many of my family members had diabetes and were either blind or amputees by the time they died. That was scary, but an even more immediate problem for me was the fact that as a single mother on a fixed income I couldn’t afford to buy new clothes.
My limited income also meant that I couldn’t afford expensive equipment, trainers or gym memberships. So I decided to take it to the street -- literately. One morning at 4:30, while it was still dark outside, I began to run. I made sure the girls were asleep and safe inside and I began to go up and down the street where I lived. Back and forth, always in view of the house, until I was drenched in sweat and too winded to talk.
Here’s how I began my journey with exercise, where I got the motivation and how I stopped a problem in its tracks that too many other women my age seemed to have succumbed to:
Build on a little at a time. To say I ran that first morning is a bit of an exaggeration. The truth is, I walked. Eventually I worked up to alternating between jogging and walking -- lengthening the time I was running and shortening the time I walked as time went on. Until one day, I was running. For all you ladies who say, “I’m not a runner,” here’s the secret: make short goals and increase them a little every day. For me, it began with saying “I won’t stop until I reach that pole.” Then maybe the next day, I’d stretch it to the next mailbox and then the one after that -- each day adding on to what I did the day before, making the goal just a little bit harder.
Find a way to drown out the “little people.” The little people are those nagging voices inside my head that tell me I can’t do something. They undermine my goals, mess with my mojo and try to get me to buy into negative thoughts. When you exercise, they are always the loudest the first five minutes. Music is what I use to motivate me, help me find my groove and drown out the voices that say “this is too hard. Just give up now.” I tell them “Shh…quiet now” , and after a few minutes, I find I’m in the zone and it’s not so hard to keep going.
Find the workout that motivates you. At first running was my passion. Since then, I’ve tried swimming, spin classes, pilates/yoga and a whole list of other workouts. The key is to find what you love at the moment, don’t let yourself get into a rut and mix it up so your body is always being challenged. Remember, just because you loved it last year, doesn’t mean it will be what motivates you now.
Be accountable. I need accountability. Sometimes it’s that friend who is waiting for me to show up at her house. Other times, it’s knowing I’ve paid for that membership or class. Find whatever it is that will hold you accountable to your goals.
Remember the benefits. When I first started running, I was a single mom with two kids and an 80-hour work week. There were plenty of reasons for me not to exercise. What kept me going was knowing the incredible amount of energy I’d have when it was over. I used that energy to get me up in the early morning, to get me through my work day and to help me find all the time I could to spend with my kids.