I’ve been going to the gym for a long time. I love to exercise and move my body while tuning out the world to the sound of Kanye West on my iPod.
But I wasn’t bred and conditioned by Herculean, health-nut parents who cycled on Saturdays or ran 5Ks for fun with their Spin class buddies. I learned to love exercise on my own.
I grew up in the suburbs of central Florida in a polished small town, where both popularity and athletic prowess escaped me. I was chubbier than most of my classmates and started wearing plus-size clothes at 16.
I hated P.E. class and exercise because I was insecure about being too big or not good enough. The summer before I turned 20, I decided, would be the summer that I would lose weight. I had moved away from that small town, and I was ready to flaunt the independence I had discovered in college.
It took a lot of courage, but I joined a local gym and was strategic about my choice.
I wasn't looking for the best deal or the biggest facility: I deliberately chose a gym that wasn’t popular or hip. I didn’t want to be spotted by the cool kids as I waddled on the treadmill in my size XL T- shirt or heaved through a set of lunges.
I chose a gym dominated by retirees who read newspapers or listened to books on tape on the stationary bike. It had TVs and an easy exit, too, in case someone I knew spotted me. I was sold.
Those first months and pounds were excruciating. But once I dropped my first 30 pounds, it became easier. After 40 pounds, it started to feel good.
Today, I'm 90 pounds lighter, I still go to the gym several times a week and I run outside on the weekends. It’s not always easy to stay motivated--even now. I get burned out and need breaks and lose motivation… like when it's 95 degrees or I've had a bad day and want to devour a plate of cookies. Still, even if I slip up, I don't give up.
Here's why--and how.
1. I've come a long way, baby
When I think back over the past four years, I realize how much my life has changed because of exercise. I have confidence. I’m less stressed. I feel strong and healthy. I wouldn’t trade any of these things to be 19 again.
I never regret going to the gym (unless I ate a bean burrito two hours before). I always feel better after a workout. Have you ever met someone who, after a 5-mile run or yoga class says “That was a bad decision. I feel lousy”? I haven’t.
3. I treat myself.
I love magazines. If I’m having a bad day I treat myself to a magazine to bring to the gym as both a reward and reinforcement. I love pumping my legs along the elliptical machine with the latest issue of Real Simple or People. It makes my workout go by faster, and I feel more relaxed.
4. I make a new playlist.
For me, it’s all about the workout playlist. When I’m sweating all over the Stairmaster, I need hip hop or rock n’ roll to keep me going. I choose music that makes me happy and want to dance. I make a new playlist every other week--and I'm not afraid to ask for friends' suggestions. I download new music and explore different music, too.
5. I work and play.
Sometimes I plan something fun or relaxing after my workout. If I work out at night, it might be a good meal, a glass of wine or vegging in my pjs--or meeting my friends for dinner. I keep my eyes on the prize and envision it while I work out.
6. I'm not alone.
When I lace up my shoes for a run, I like to think about all of the other women across America who are doing the same thing at their gyms or in their neighborhoods. There are so many people just like me who are passionate about exercise. Sometimes I think about the sophisticated magazine editors and Carrie Bradshaw-esque writers in New York City, and that they too, will probably go to the gym today. Remind yourself that we’re all in this together.
7. Sometimes, it's OK to not work out.
Sometimes you just need a break. Exercise requires a certain amount of mental strength. It’s natural to feel mental and physical burnout. Working out is an incredible discipline. We have to go easy on ourselves when our bodies tell us to.
If a formerly overweight, unpopular, and unathletic Italian girl from the South can do it…well, I think you can too.
What is your best advice to motivate others? Do you reward yourself when you work out?
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