Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why Should Anyone Work Out?

It's a valid question, right? There's only so many hours in a day. We're busy people. Gyms cost money. Fitness DVD programs cost money. It's hard. You get sweaty.

I didn't grow up loving being active. I was the fat kid (from age 7ish on) and I wasn't allowed to play sports so I felt incompetent compared to my sports playing friends and relatives. I never had Nikes or actual athletic shoes and I got made fun of often for my Keds. Any kind of running made me feel awful....like a "I can't breathe and I'm dying!" type of awful. We didn't know back then that I have asthma. We didn't know back then that I have severe PCOS and playing on a sports team would've helped me a lot. We didn't know back then that every carb laden meal was making things worse for me. All I knew was I felt out of place doing sports and active stuff. I felt inadequate and silly and I couldn't breathe. Pretty good reasons to avoid it, right? And so I did, for most of my life. Singing and acting came naturally to me. I excelled in school, earning A's with minimal effort. My gifts seemed to be musical and I excelled in reading and writing and all the things that kept me indoors and chubby ;)

In my early twenties I was finally diagnosed with PolyCysticOvarianSyndrome. It's a weird and long name for an endocrine (hormonal) disorder that afflicts each person a bit differently but primarily wreaks havoc on the metabolic system, the body's ability to manage insulin response, and also numerous other issues like anxiety, hair growth in places you don't want it, progesterone and testosterone inbalance, infertility, acne, and I could go on. Super fun, right? I finally knew why I had only ever been thin when I starved myself. It required 800 calories a day or less for me to be what everyone else would consider normal. It was supremely unfair. I'm also 5'11", so I have spent most of my life already feeling BIG. I always took up more space than I wished I did.

Even after the diagnosis, I still didn't really have a clue what it meant for me in terms of what it would take to be healthy. I knew I'd always struggle to lose weight and getting pregnant would likely always be hard, if even possible. I cut down on carbs a ton and lost 17lbs over several months of serious restriction. I ended up needing a series of meds to conceive our first child, Eliana. When Eliana was nearing a year old, I got awfully sick of being fat. I hated how unhealthy I was and I wanted something different for myself. I started walking 6 miles 5x a week. I pushed her in the stroller and she napped. I fast walked her entire nap. It was hilly and it was a good workout. I started eating on salad plates and actually following the serving size guidelines on everything we ate. Months went by, I lost not even 10lbs. It was discouraging and I felt hopeless about losing weight. It seemed unfair that so many could be thin while never working out and still eating regular foods.

I again needed a series of meds to conceive our 2nd daughter, Evie. I reached my heaviest weight ever with Evie. I gained about 40lbs in 41 1/2 weeks, not exactly horrid, but I was already overweight to begin with. I never worked out. All the miles I put in previously seemed useless so I felt no motivation to work out again. A couple years passed and we wanted another baby. I started the series of meds yet again. I conceived but miscarried around 5 weeks along. I went to the dr and the ultrasound showed my left ovary had an 11cm+ tumor, and my right ovary was filled with multiple 8cm+ cysts. A normal ovary is 3-4 cm TOTAL. The cysts were because of my disorder. The miscarriage and tumor were "just because" and I was deeply hurt that my body had done that. I felt betrayed. As if PCOS wasn't bad enough....now also a miscarriage and massive tumor. I was scared I'd never be able to get pregnant again. I got home from the Dr heartbroken but also ready and extremely motivated to make big changes. I started a protocol of vitamins, cut out all bread, pasta, rice, and sugar. I ate meat, dairy, veggies, and fruit. I lost weight pretty quickly. A month into it I had almost lost 20lbs and had the tumor surgically removed. I kept on the new diet and lost another 10+lbs. Then BAM, I got pregnant with our 3rd child with zero medication. My Dr had warned me that I'd be fertile for a short time after the surgery, but I didn't believe her! At this point I still never worked out. I was very strict about what I ate and never allowed cheat days. I stayed fairly strict in pregnancy, afraid to gain weight. In 41 1/2 weeks I gained not even 30lbs despite starting this pregnancy at my lowest adult weight. Then Solomon came. After not even a week he became a baby that spent most of his daytime and nighttime crying. It went on month after month. He only slept if physically touching me and even then was up most of the night. He ended up with delays in speech and motor development. He ended up having asthma. He ended up needing an ear surgery at 14 months old. It was always something and it was exhausting. I was surviving. I didn't work out and I could barely function so I ate like everyone else. Which meant pasta, hamburger buns, tortillas, etc. My weight climbed back up a bit. I ended up needing another surgery because of PCOS, this time losing my right ovary which is the ovary my babies had all come from (or their eggs, rather). My body was feeling pretty miserable. I didn't mentally or physically feel great after that surgery. A few months later, in Jan 2015, I was ready for change again. I went Paleo hoping to see big changes like before. Almost nothing happened. It took me a month and lots of reading to realize that Paleo was still too many carbs for my body. So I lowered my carbs more trying to keep it to less than 100grams a day. For a frame of reference, a banana has 27g. An apple has 25g. 100g of carbs goes quickly. This is a typical zero carb meal:

I ordered a PiYo DVD on eBay and started the 60 day program. This was new territory for me. It was very hard at first. I was so sore and not sure how many days I'd actually do it for. But every week that I stuck with it, I felt stronger. The weight started to slowly come off. My confidence grew. I learned I could do all sorts of things I didn't know I could- Pushups, Burpees, Hop Lunges, etc. Every day that I got up and got sweaty, I left behind a little of the me that felt incapable and unathletic. I woke up and squeezed workouts in before I even got my daughter to school.

I finished the 60 day program and added in walking with the double stroller. I ran when I could but it still felt SO hard to breathe. I lost 35lbs doing PiYo and eating low carb. I'd already lost 35lbs from my highest pregnant weight, so man I was making some headway!
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I saw a Dr, figured out I have asthma, and got meds. That made a big difference. I kept working out, I kept running. I ended up running 3-5x a week, usually with the 125lb double stroller. I ran my heart out. I ran despite aching muscles, unfriendly weather, and everything inside me telling me to stop. When I finished a run and discovered I could in fact do it, it reaffirmed in my brain that I am strong, I am capable, I am a runner! I AM actually athletic! Overcoming each mental setback grew my self esteem. It rewrote all the mental mess from a lifetime of feeling like I was never the fit person.....that it could never be me. Now it WAS me. Working out gave me measurable results. I knew the first time I did a real pushup it was crazy hard. Eventually I was doing 25+ in a workout and it was just peachy. I knew when I first tried running, I could barely make it 1/4 mile without needing to stop and catch my breath. Then, out of nowhere came this beast mom who could run 8 miles of hills with a stroller. Who was she? Where did she come from? Here's the crazy part, she was in me all along.  All those years of struggling. I thought I was ready for change. I tried here and there. But I gave up. Something that worked for other people wouldn't work for me with PCOS and I'd get frustrated and give up. This time, for month after month, I didn't give up. At first it was about weight loss. Giving up carbs, working out everyday, I simply wanted to lose weight. Over many months it became about being strong, about being the version of me I was when I worked out. It made me happier. It helped me handle life better. It encouraged me to eat healthier when I had worked out that morning. It gave me more energy throughout the day. It helped balance my crazy PCOS hormones. It gave me countless victories that simply starving myself and losing weight could never do. Over the months I tweaked my diet, adjusting my macros (carbs/protein/fat) to see what worked. I was eating a ketogenic diet starting January 2016. Ketogenic is usually less than 20g carbs a day, or 5% of your calories from carbs, 20%ish from protein, and the rest healthy fat sources. Keto is recommended for several health issues, including PCOS.

Being a mom to little kids is often thankless. Some days I literally felt like Cinderella. All the cleaning and cooking and repeating myself over and over....it can make you question your worth in the "real world". It's not glamorous work. No one gives you a bonus for laundering the sick day sheets. No one puts you in Top Seller category with a prize luncheon for being up all night with kids. The glory goes unseen and untouted. Working out gave me that. I felt the prize on the inside. I could watch my run distance and/or pace improve. I could watch my calorie burn increase (simply a measure of effort and energy expenditure). I could literally watch myself getting stronger!  I could feel a major difference in my mood between days I worked out and days I didn't. It was a big deal. I craved working out because it helped me handle life.

In July 2016, I joined a mom's fitness group in Poulsbo called Stroller Strides. It was SO hot that running with the kids was hard and it gave me something else to do. I loved having someone else tell me what to do for a change. I was along for the ride and pushed myself as hard as I always do. I'm usually an all or nothing kind of gal and when it comes to fitness, this works in my favor (as long as it's All and not Nothing).

Now I am 31 weeks pregnant with baby 4, who was also conceived completely naturally and quite surprisingly since I only have my left ovary- the ovary that was a dud for the last 15 years. I am still working out with Stroller Strides, 3-5x a week. I quit running at 14 weeks for various reasons, but am so looking forward to getting back to it eventually. This will be my first labor and birth after being so physically fit during pregnancy. My hope is that if labor is hard at all, I'll use this newfound strength about how tough I am to push me through. I have learned a lot about how capable I am. I never felt like I measured up to my friends or family members as a kid. They were athletic. Their parents coached their teams. Then there was me, chubby, trying to fit in, afraid to try anything physical for fear I'd look stupid. I had no idea how strong I actually was because I never had opportunities to figure it out. Now I know. Or I at least sort of know. I think there's more in there that I have yet to discover, but I'll keep digging for it. I'd love to run a marathon someday.

To me, this is definitely one of the biggest reasons to push yourself physically in new and uncomfortable ways- the self discovery it allows. You'll probably lose weight, improve your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc, but the mental change and how you see yourself, THAT is priceless. That's why you should work out.


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