This is the first of many stories we will be sharing about perseverance, resilience, and determination. For this one, we wanted to start off with an incredible story so we asked our friend and personal trainer Nina Dosdall to share hers:
The Toughest Challenges
When I first started out my fitness journey, I was 16, very insecure and definitely not the sporty type. I knew nothing about fitness, nothing about health except that I had to finish my salad with dinner (thanks Dad).
I went to the gym, initially, because I wanted to be skinnier. Period. And a huge challenge for me was giving up when I didn't see results as quickly as I wanted them. I'd sweat and groan and kick my own ass. Then, I'd come home without anything to show for it other than, well, sweat. My body barely changed and eventually I wanted to quit. Many times. It's easy to stay motivated for the first few days, hell maybe even the first two or three weeks, but when you still don't see any changes, it's so tempting to just give up. And I won't even get into how demotivating it was looking at others in the gym who looked like they walked out of a Fitness Magazine on any given day, in their flashy Lululemon outfits.
We're often told that we have to embrace fitness as a lifestyle yet Western culture has conditioned us to expect fast results with less effort (think about it: we demand fast downloads, overnight fame on Instagram, or get caught up in some "get rich quick" scheme). So, it was extremely difficult for me to continue working out when there was little to no pay off.
This brings me to my second, and biggest, challenge in fitness (and life): I never got clear on the reason why I was working out. Without a really strong and empowering "why", consistency and perseverance felt impossible.
There were several things I learned, over the last ten years, that have helped me be consistent in my journey towards better health.
I had started to work out more regularly (5 times a week at 8:00AM! 8-fricken-AM!). How the hell did that happen? I'll tell you: I was working out with two friends. I wasn't the active type but I definitely was social - and that made workouts fun for me. Knowing that I was about to spend time with people I liked being around really helped on days I didn't feel like going.
And when that finally fell apart after a year or so, I discovered that I no longer needed any bonus incentive to work out - it had become a habit. No matter how dark it was outside, or what was happening in my life, working out became as mundane and necessary as brushing my teeth.
Now, eating was an entirely different story. I love food. Growing up, I had a sweet tooth for candy and pop that developed into pastries and sugary lattes in my early twenties. I had absolutely no idea how I would give these up. But when I hired a fitness coach (by this time, I was working out regularly for five years), that changed everything. He made it really easy by taking easy-to-achieve steps, and I was accountable to him each week. He never scolded or shamed me, he would just offer suggestions and eventually over time, it built up to a much cleaner diet***.
Fast forward another five years to today. I work out regularly 3 - 5 times a week for about 30 - 60 minutes each time, at a moderate intensity. I rarely crave sweets or processed foods, because after the habits are formed, it's not as much work to keep up a healthy diet. And by healthy, I mean, what works for me (ie. my body can tolerate dairy, others can't, etc.)
But my greatest lesson has been this: having a strong reason why.
Why do I work out and live a healthy lifestyle? It used to be because I felt my body wasn't good enough. Now, sure, this reason worked initially: I went to the gym, worked out hard, restricted my diet. But not only was this unhealthy, I couldn't sustain it. When an action comes from a negative thought, it's like kicking a horse to keep it moving. Eventually, the horse's ribs will crack and it's legs will give out.
My mental health suffered every time I worked out with the intention of "I need to fix myself". When that inner self talk changed to "I'm doing this to de-stress" or "I'm choosing to forgo alcohol because I don't want the headache tomorrow", it was SO MUCH EASIER TO FOLLOW THROUGH. Seriously. I can't stress this enough: changing my motivation was everything. I found out that I was able to do anything I wanted but if it came from a place of self-deprecation, well, I didn't want it for long.
I still have days where I don't feel motivated to exercise or to resist certain foods that disagree with me. Motivation is a finite resource. But when I started to develop a positive inner coach, I don't need motivation. I can just do it. That's it. And I believe that's true for everyone.
***Full disclosure: While I definitely encourage a healthier diet full of veggies and complex carbs, etc, this experience I had with a coach led to an unhealthy relationship with food, disordered eating and anxiety around weight gain. I've since learned a lot about the Body Positivity Movement, Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size (HAES), and am continuing to heal from this experience. If you feel stressed out about food a lot of the time, I encourage you to look into these materials.
If you are looking to make changes in your life to become healthier, first of all: a big fricken kudos to you.
It takes grit to stand up for your own health, especially when so much of our society isn't as amenable to living healthy (desk jobs, expensive organics, etc.) So, please, give yourself some credit.
Here are the take-aways from my experience, and the experience I've had with the 500+ clients I've worked with over the last ten years. My hope is that not only will these tips make your own journey easier but long-lasting and positive. Enjoy!
- Ask yourself why you want to "be healthier."
Really dig into this. Write all your thoughts down if you have to. And then notice if you're coming from a place of "I'm not good enough" or "I want this because I'm awesome."
- Define what "healthy" is for yourself.
There are a LOT of opinions on there about what we "should" be doing but nothing sticks unless we decide for ourselves what's worthwhile to us. Healthy looks different for everyone and once you know very clearly what YOUR healthy looks like, it's way more attainable.
- Find the joy.
Goddamnit if life isn't too short to be doing burpees. I've said this to so many clients (that's probably why many stick around). If you hate doing a particular activity, swap it out. If you're new to the "healthy lifestyle" thing, I really encourage trying a whole bunch of things. Walking, cycling, dance, indoor rock climbing, yoga videos, aquafit, stretching at your desk, wrestling your friends, ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. Keep the stuff that feel fun, or if not totally fun, manageable for you.
- Take small steps.
There are a few rare birds out there that can do a total 180 with their life and just start "being healthy." Good for them. But for the majority, choosing a small actionable step each week has proven to have great results. Make it so easy, it's almost laughable (because you can always "do more" on top of it, but without any of the added pressure). A good example is: drink one glass of water in the morning.
- Buckle up.
If you know that you're in this for the long haul, then there's no need to rush yourself into extreme, unsustainable diet plans or fitness regimes. Your body doesn't like that style anyway (remember homeostasis from grade 10 science?). Feeling impatient is fine, feeling de-motivated is fine, it's all a part of the journey.
With love and encouragement,