#MotivationMonday: Michelle’s Story

Happy #MotivationMonday! I hope everyone is inside today, enjoying yet another snow storm from their warm safe house. While I am really annoyed that we are getting even more snow, I am really enjoying the snow memes! Here are some of my favorites:

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Anyway, when I started this blog I knew one of the things I wanted to do was feature some of my friends who I find incredibly inspirational. My friend Michelle is definitely one of those people.

I met Michelle through playing hockey, and what always drew me to her was her positive attitude. When things weren’t going well for me she always had something good to say to lift me up. She is someone who gets my weirdness (must be a goalie thing) but I found out we also had another thing in common, which was a big weight loss. Check out her story! Thank you Michelle for sharing it!

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1. How much did you weigh at your heaviest and what factors do you think contributed to getting you there?

At my heaviest, I weighed a total of 240 pounds. I was 19 years old and a sophomore in college when I was at my heaviest weight. There are many factors that I believe contributed to my excessive weight gain. At age 18, and through most of high school, I weighed an average of 190 pounds. I had been struggling with my weight since I was about 11 years old. At that age, I had a severe struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. I was seeing a child psychiatrist and was put on a medication that had a side effect of weight gain. The combination of the medication and the anxiety is something that I believe was the start of my weight issues. At age 11, going through what I was going through, I had a difficult time with social situations and that lasted through college. I played high school hockey and lacrosse, but sports alone were not enough and I continued to put on weight. Looking back, I think it may have been those late night frozen food snacks and overall poor eating habits that contributed mostly to my weight gain.

It only got worse as I entered college. Some say that college is supposed to be the best 4 years of your life, but for me, they were the absolute worst 4 years of my life. Freshman year of college I moved into my room with 3 other roommates and was very excited for a fresh start and new chapter in my life. I truly needed it and was hoping being away from home would be it. I was excited to make new friends and maybe even find a boyfriend. I entered college as a sports medicine major and quickly found that college wouldn’t be anything that I hoped it would be. The stress alone was too much and the only way I found any relief was Tuesdays. At my college, Tuesdays meant it was mac and cheese/chicken nugget day in the café. Oh, and did I mention that they had a soft serve ice cream machine with cookie dough ice cream in it?! I’m pretty sure I ate that ice cream for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert all the time. The food choices on the college campus were very tempting and difficult to resist.

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All my goals of college just were not panning out the way I wanted them to. I entered into a deep depression after that year. I did not feel any form of self-confidence or self-worth. I didn’t think I deserved any better so I indulged in all the foods that were horrible for me. I ate large quantities and did not do any form of exercise. Entering into my sophomore year of college things were a bit better, but most of the damage was already done. I had great roommates that year and actually became an RA halfway through that year. I have to say though, leaving those roommates was probably one of my biggest mistakes. I was surrounded by girls who accepted me for who I was and that did not judge me for my weight. After I became an RA, I saw those roommates less and began hanging out with my sorority sisters more. I had joined a sorority at the end of my freshman year. I often went to parties to try to be more accepted and meet more friends, but I never had any fun. I could hear what people said about me “behind my back”. They all pointed and laughed. If I went up to a guy to start dancing and introduce myself their friend would come pull them aside and say “dude, no fat chicks”. Often, I was called “the fat chick” to my face and taunted with food.

It was brutal how much I was made fun of for my weight and needless to say, it hurt. I would learn later that none of this would matter, but at the time, it hurt. My junior year of college I was an RA again and started to completely separate myself from the campus as things yet again, only got worse. I locked myself in my room and ordered take-out food until I eventually started going home more often. I only lived 20 minutes away from my college campus and it was very nice to have the option to get away. I just continued to work on finishing my psychology degree and didn’t allow any other distractions.

2. Did you have an “aha” moment when you decided to get healthier? If so what was it?

I did have an “aha” moment. The summer going into my senior of college I realized that I had no desire to go back to live on that campus. My grandmother had passed away during winter break of my sophomore year and during my junior year of college I learned some more upsetting news. I found out that my dad had stage 3 lung cancer. Losing a loved one and then having another be diagnosed with cancer is a huge eye opener. My exact “aha” moment was the moment I stopped caring what other people thought of me. I had pondered as to why I let people get to me so much, but then I realized it was because I was unhappy with myself. I was vulnerable and people feel better about their insecurities when they can point out others. I finally stopped trying to get the approval of others and instead learned to be happy by myself first.

md5I decided to commute my senior year of college. It made the most sense. I only had class 2 days a week and I could work my part-time job close to home. Also, I wanted to be home with my family and take my dad to cancer treatments when needed or just be there with him through it all. Being home also gave me no excuses not to use the gym membership that I have had since my senior year of high school. Safe to say, I paid for a dusty membership card for 3 years. Something that year just hit me and I was filled with sudden determination to live a healthier life. I had seen how quickly life can go and I knew my life was not headed in any direction that I wanted it to go. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought of me, I knew who I was. I knew that part of the reason I was picked on was because I was vulnerable. I was vulnerable because I was not happy with who I was. I wanted to know what it was like to be happy and after years of giving up I was finally ready and determined to do anything it took to get to where I wanted to be, for me.

3. What small steps did you take after that “aha” moment or realization to get you started on your journey? 

Little steps are a great way to put it because that’s exactly what they are. No one can see quick results. Everyone is also different and what works for one person may not have the same results for another. Here’s my story on what I found worked for me.

After my “aha” moment, I became overwhelmed with so many options. I thought about personal trainers, many different diet plans, etc. I went through a great deal of trial and error before I finally found something that worked. The first thing I did was stopped drinking soda, but I did not do that completely cold turkey. Losing weight is like smoking and no one expects you to just stop because you want to. Habits are hard to break and if you completely take something away then you will crave it more. I allowed myself to have one soda when I went out to dinner. If I didn’t go out to dinner often then it became my Friday night treat. Giving up the stuff you love isn’t so hard when you can look forward to enjoying it as a treat. Eventually I completely lost my desire for soda.

md4I did not exercise as much at first, but I could see significant improvement by just cutting back on the sugary drinks. I then tried the whole counting calories thing, which was a complete fail for me. I found writing down and being worried about everything I ate was way too stressful and I actually gained weight. This is when I decided that I don’t believe in “dieting”. I knew what my problem was and I felt that I could fix it myself. Like I said, everyone is different and I feel I found the method that would work best for me.

A huge step I took was learning how to read labels. It seems that everyone is so concerned about calorie intake that they ignore things such as sodium and sugar levels. For example, a can of soup may only have about 70 calories (per serving), but it has 790 mg of sodium (also per serving). Then one would assume that a serving means one can, right? Wrong. One can of soup can contains 2.5 servings. ½ a cup of soup contains all that sodium and who just eats ½ a cup of soup?!? (These are actual numbers from a chicken noodle soup can) I learned not to be deceived by labels and to really pay attention to what I’m putting in my body. I began to learn that if it comes in a can, I probably shouldn’t eat it. Fresh really is best. I also jumped on the organic, non-processed, non-gmo train. Learning what is really in most foods truly disgusted me and turned me off to them completely. People tend to believe what they see on TV and companies can “disguise” their product to make them appealing to the consumer. I learned not to fall into that trap.

I love to eat, but I knew that going up for 2nd and 3rd dinner was not acceptable. I did not stop eating the foods I loved, but I ate half of what I would normally eat. I knew my portion sizes were too big and I decided to cut it down. Part of living a healthier lifestyle is mind over matter. There are other factors that contribute to weight gain and the ability to overcome those factors will help to overcome weight gain. I trained my brain to recognize when I was full and to stop eating when that feeling hit. Let’s face it, food is awesome and tastes great. It is enjoyable to eat, but eating is something that can also be abused when not used correctly. Food should help you feel energetic and live a healthy life, not hinder it. I learned to recognize that too much of a good thing can truly become a bad thing.

The portion sizes alone were not enough to help me lose weight and live a healthier, happier life. I also knew that I was going to have to find a way to incorporate healthier foods into my life. I was not consuming enough fruits and vegetables each day. My doctor had recommended a green smoothie to me. My family was a huge support through this process and we motivated each other to change our ways and live a healthier life. We invested in a Vitamix and it truly has made me enjoy smoothies more than I ever did before. I could also make my own salad dressings in it! The machine helped make the process easier and I was addicted to making smoothies. The blender came with a book of recipes, not just smoothies, but other healthy recipes you could make using the machine. I tried almost all of them and loved them. My favorite smoothie is called “It’s Easy Being Green Smoothie”. This smoothie consists of grapes, pineapple chunks, carrots, kale (or spinach), bananas and apples. I never thought this combination would taste good, but I can tell you it’s one of my absolute favorite meals now. I add chia seeds and flax oil into this mix for an extra boost.

Another thing that was great about this book is that it introduced me to super-foods, such as chia seeds. I didn’t even know kale or swiss chard was a thing before. I grew up in a world where big macs took over the media and I don’t remember ever seeing advertisement for healthy options. I do not feel that these healthier options are made available or even made known in society. I believe that is a serious concern, but I’m not even going to get into that at this moment. Making smoothies for breakfast everyday became exciting for me. I woke up in the morning and looked forward to having that refreshing smoothie. For lunches I would have half a sandwich and some carrot chips and celery sticks with hummus. I cut chips out as well and reserved them for a treat like I did with the soda. I know this may sound strange to some, but the more I changed my eating habits, the more I enjoyed the healthier options. By not completely cutting out all the foods I enjoyed and by adding healthier options, I believe I had found the right formula to help me lose weight. I enjoyed the “non-healthier” options in moderation and taught myself about healthier options and how to make them fun and exciting. I also thought ahead a little. If I knew I was going to have a sandwich for lunch and dinner then I would not have toast with my breakfast. My favorite breakfast (aside from the smoothie) is 2 scrambled eggs with spinach, onions and feta. I have this with cut up fruit instead of a piece of toast.

I lost about 25 pounds when I began my new eating habits and that was without much exercise. At 240 pounds, I found it extremely difficult to exercise. I was out of breath, my chest hurt and I had severe cramps. Instead of feeling hopeless, I took it one little step at a time, literally. I went to the gym for little increments at a time. At first, I could only tolerate 20 minutes on an elliptical at a slow pace. I never gave up though. I knew I was capable of more. My energy levels began to rise the more I stuck with the healthier eating options. I was happier. I felt more motivated and felt like I was not being dragged down by sugar or a food coma. My body and mind began to feel refreshed and cleansed, but I still had a long way to go. After time, the small steps started becoming bigger and I could see a clear path ahead of me. I also had a gym buddy that summer after my senior year of college and she helped me stick with my program. We both motivated each other. I found that if you set up a planned time to go and switched off driving each other that there was no excuse to bail. I began to lift weights and gain muscle. Conquering the gym became easier the more I went and stuck with it.

It took about 2 years to see the full results, but I felt better every step of the way. I started the journey at age 20 and was happy with myself, and bought my first bikini, at age 22. It is difficult to think you’re making any progress when the results are slow, but honestly, slow and steady does win the race. Progress is different for everyone, but you won’t make any progress if you don’t try!

 4. How did you stay motivated when times got tough for you? We all hit rough patches, plateaus, times when we just want to be “normal people” and eat things that probably aren’t the most healthy. How do you rebound from that?

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So Boston it hurts.

I won’t lie. Staying motivated was not easy. As I mentioned earlier, I could barely workout without feeling like I was going to die. My heart was racing so fast and I became greatly discouraged. I wanted immediate results. I was so unhappy with where I was at. I felt like I was a lost cause and that I was just never meant to be skinny or healthy. Even though I was trying, my doctor still used the word “obese” to describe me. I hate that word. I knew I was overweight, but describing it as “obese” made it even more difficult to cope with. I stayed motivated because that word scared me. I was told about all the diseases I could get if I didn’t change. I hadn’t had a chance to live my life happy yet and I was so determined to change. When times become tough, I asked myself questions. Mainly, do I have anything to lose? I knew the path I was heading in would lead me to some scary places. I knew that I had to turn things around to live a better life. It would be too easy to just give up and pick up the chips again, but I knew deep inside that I did not want that path for myself.

I also would go to a clothes store and see a cute outfit that I wanted. I could never find anything that fit me. I used that as motivation. I imagined the exciting feeling of walking into a store and being able to leave with a new outfit no problem. Being overweight complicated so many aspects of my life that I knew that the pain of the exercise and everything would be worth it. You get out of life what you put into it and what you put in your body is what you get out of it. I know I needed to work hard to see results and I knew that eating healthier would provide me with the right fuel I needed.

Everyone has cravings and temptations. Society shoves cupcakes and cheeseburgers in your face on the daily, but that doesn’t mean you have to open your mouth and eat them. I know that companies are looking to gain money and don’t care about my health. I make my own cookies and my own treats so I can still enjoy them, but at least I know what’s in them. I rebound knowing that I CAN have these delicious treats once in a while, but I have them in small portions and very seldom. I do enjoy them even more that I don’t have them all the time. We all have cheat days and we can’t let that be discouraging, we just cannot let it become habit again. Eventually, for me, I craved healthier options more and would choose them because I loved them, not simply just because I knew it was the better option.

5. Do you have any “trigger foods” and how do you avoid them or eat them in moderation?

I’m a complete sucker for anything fried. Put a plate of fried clams with French fries and onion rings in front of me and I’m done. The plate will be gone in two minutes. I love fried chicken and chicken fingers. Something about the crunchy outside and the greasy, juicy inside that just hits the spot for me. I avoid them by looking at all the progress I made and know how hard I had to work for it. I allow myself to have fried clams as a treat once or twice a year during the summer. For chicken fingers, I found recipes for healthy, baked chicken fingers. I find them to be almost as satisfying as the deep fried goodness. I know that frying foods is probably the absolute unhealthiest way to prepare food and as much as I love it, I am able to stop myself. My heart thanks me for my decision.

6. What was your biggest challenge throughout your weight loss journey?

My biggest challenge through my journey, other than the entire journey, was not looking at the end results. I had big goals for myself, but knew to set smaller goals in order to reach the big goal. Patience was a huge part of my journey. I couldn’t get down on myself if I wasn’t seeing progress. I knew that if I kept working then I would see the results. Don’t stop working because you don’t see results, keep working until you see them!!

I also suffered a set-back my senior year of college. I was getting into the exercise habits, but noticed a severe pain in my back. This pain radiated down my entire left leg and often became numb. I couldn’t sit for prolonged periods of time without screaming in pain either. I went to my doctor and had an MRI done. They found I had two herniated discs in my lower back. I could not pinpoint the injury to one certain time, but I believe it may have been heavy lifting and moving furniture by myself. I had to go to physical therapy twice a week for 16 weeks. I was very limited on the exercise I could do and that was disappointing, but both my physical therapists helped so much! They helped me strengthen my core muscles which relieved the pain in my back drastically. By the time I completed my sessions I felt invincible. I was ready and determined to work out on a consistent basis with also keeping up with my PT exercises.

7. After you lost weight, was there any kind of mental realization you went through when it came to your mind/body connection? Anything that you felt that you didn’t expect to feel after you lost weight?

To be honest, I thought that I was going to have a major confidence boost, but did not. Everyone told me how good I looked and how they couldn’t believe it was me, but I still felt some emptiness. Losing all the weight made me healthier physically, but the mental damage I went through with it is tougher to rid. I felt just as, if not more, depressed than I was before I lost the weight. I have a lot of outside factors contributing to that (the loss of my father, my mom being diagnosed with ms, etc), but I still expected to feel better. I still found I was spending most of my weekends inside by myself locked in my room. I began feeling exhausted again and lost a bit of my motivation. I was told by many that I looked pretty, but I didn’t feel pretty. I’m still working on the confidence issue to this day, but such a major change can’t be expected over night. I guess a part of it is that I always felt like I was “me” even when I was heavier. Sometimes I wonder that if people made fun of me then, then what is different now? I’m no different than I was when I was heavier, there’s just 100 pounds less of me! I think the way I was treated when I was overweight affected me in the social aspect of my life. I always wanted things that I saw my friends have, such as having a date to a school dance. I always dreamed of being asked to one of those shindigs and as much as I wanted to be happy for my friends, it was difficult because deep down it hurt me that I never got to have what they did.

I can’t completely blame weight though. I never had confidence in myself and how can others like you when you don’t like yourself? I’ve been so used to being by myself for so long and have been happy with myself that I have a problem letting people in now. I’m hesitant because I do not want to fall back to my old ways, but I have to keep telling myself that no one can ever tell me who I am. They can have their own opinions all they want. The only person that matters is me and I am incredibly proud of all the progress I made. The confidence will break through because I know it is inside of me and I am happier with myself then I’ve ever been before.

8. What are some of your accomplishments (can be fitness related or otherwise) you are most proud of?

md7Definitely losing 100 pounds is my biggest accomplishments, but you’ve heard enough about that, so time for some cool ones!! Even though I lack confidence, I make up for it in determination. My junior year of college I wrote to the producers of the Jimmy Kimmel show after I saw that they were looking for “parties” to feature on the show during National Unfriend Day. They picked me to host a party in my door room and my friends and me skyped with him on national TV. It was fun and I’m still shocked I got picked!

I’m also proud of how far I’ve come in my hockey “career”. I volunteered my junior year of high school to play goalie for the varsity girls’ hockey team. I was back-up for two years, but after college (after my weight loss) I put on the pads again and feel better than ever. I have won a couple tournaments with different teams and never want to stop playing.

The triathlon in summer of 2014 is definitely a top accomplishment of mine. I was asked to ride the bicycle portion of a relay triathlon and accepted. I should mention I had actually never been on a racing bicycle before. The idea of riding just sounded fun and I thought I would figure it out. Come morning of race day I couldn’t even figure out how to mount the bicycle I was using. It was pretty hilarious, but I was freaking out! It was 6:30am and the race started at 8am. I looked like a fool, but I finally got it. Come race time I didn’t think I was going to make it even 1 mile. I not only finished all 14 miles, but I didn’t stop once and I finished in just under an hour. I was in total shock that day and it made me really think about what else I could accomplish if I put my mind to it.

I also play the drums and have drummed in a couple bands! I felt accomplished when people would actually show up to our shows, wear our tshirts and buy our demos!! Yay, Moving Target!! I also did a drum cover of “Liv it Up” by Alexander Ludwig (aka Cato from Hunger Games) and he tweeted it out to his fans and said he loved it. Note, I did not ever tweet it to him so pretty cool that he found it, liked it and shared with everyone.

Those are just a few things that stick out that I’m proud of!

9. One of the many things I love about you is that you always offer a helping hand to lift others up with motivation and positivity when they need it. Is there anyone in particular in your life who does this for you?

This is totally going to sound cliché, but I couldn’t have done it without my mom. She always believed in me, not just because I am her daughter, but she saw in me what I couldn’t see in myself. I could always make her laugh and she would help bring out any little bit of confidence in me. She always told me that I was one of the funniest people she ever met. The fact that I could make her happy made me happy. She taught me a lot of valuable life lessons. The reason I offer a helping hand and lift others up is because that’s how she raised me. I always went out shopping with her and she could find someone that looked unhappy and put a smile right on their face. The effect she had on complete strangers was incredible. I never met anyone that cared so much for others than my mom does. The spark she can add to the darkest situations is truly inspiring. I was alone during most of the time I spent trying to better myself, but I always had my family. My mom and my sister are a huge part of who I have become and I can’t thank my family enough. We have been through some extremely tough situations, but we always found a way to lift each other.

10.What advice would you give to someone who is still working on becoming the best version of themselves (and hey aren’t we all…)?

First of all, do NOT let anyone else tell you what or who you are. Only you know who you are and what makes you happy. No one is perfect. There is always something we could be working on so don’t ever get discouraged. Do not model yourself after someone else. Do what you love and do what makes you happy. The less stress you have in your life the better. Do not let little things get you down. Absolutely anything is possible. Do not set yourself impossible goals, set yourself smaller achievable goals. You have to start somewhere and little changes can come a long way. Only change if you want to, do not let anyone else tell you that you need to change. Ask questions if you are not sure how to go about change. There are many professionals that can help lead you in the right path for you. Most importantly, you ARE worth it. Don’t ever quit. Stay positive and focused. Don’t panic if you cave sometimes. We all do. Just know that what you put into your body is what you get out of it. It seems impossible at first, but it gets easier and you feel happier. You got this!!

  • What is your personal favorite workout? I may be crazy, but I love working the lower body! Squats, lunges etc. as well as the family of planks! There are so many variations of these workouts that keep it fresh and fun. I love to just do free form workouts for about 45 minutes like that and do 30 minutes on an elliptical or bike after! I have back/knee issues so I try to take it easy with the running and tend to go towards lesser impact exercises to avoid injuring those soft spots again!
  • What is your favorite guilty pleasure food? Cheeseburgers. I tend to have more turkey burgers, but my goodness do I love to indulge in a bbq bacon cheeseburger loaded with fried onion strings and provolone cheese.
  • What are your top three songs on your workout playlist?

The Great Die-Off by Rise Against

Watch It Crash by Streetlight Manifesto

Bright Spring Morning by Suburban Legends

  • What’s the most embarrassing song on your iPod?

Fruit Salad from The Wiggles! Hahahaha.

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One Response to #MotivationMonday: Michelle’s Story

  1. Morgan says:

    Michelle- I loved reading about your story! Also I really appreciate that you talked about still not having confidence in yourself after losing weight. It takes a long, long, loooooong time for that to build up- I still don’t have much, either. And a lot of people don’t really understand what it’s like. But thank you so much for sharing your story!

    Like

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