I have been a fitness instructor for almost twenty years now. It’s a little shocking to me that it’s been that long. Teaching is as much a part of my everyday life as brushing my teeth. I teach six days a week and I consider myself immensely lucky to be able to do so.
When I started teaching, I was running sponsored runs regularly and I was training for my first marathon. A few years later, in addition to continuing running, I added triathlons to my repertoire. Training for all of those activities, along with teaching, kept me fit well into my 50’s. Then, about six years ago, I was in a car wreck and injured my neck.
It’s normal for an athlete to push through discomfort to attain a higher level of performance. This is something athletes endure almost every day of their active life. It’s a great way to achieve goals and win medals. It’s not a great way to teach you how to listen to your body.
As a result of this “push through the pain” mentality, I didn’t realize until after the accident that I had been training with pain for a number of years. My hamstrings ached after every run, and it seemed like there was always something that was sore or uncomfortable. A certain level of pain was simply my normal. I remember having a discussion with a training buddy about working through discomfort and I made the comment: “Do you realize there are people who wake up in the morning and nothing hurts?” Needless to say, that’s a pretty unhealthy attitude towards pain.
However, the pain from my neck injury was a whole different level. I couldn’t just ignore it and work through it. No matter what I was doing, I needed to be able to move my neck. With a lot of stretching, long soaks in a jetted tub, and careful ingesting of whiskey instead of pain pills, my neck healed.
After that, I tried many, many times to get back in the water. After three or four sessions of swimming laps,the searing pain in my neck would return with a vengeance. It was the same with running; I could run a mile or so without pain, but if I tried to run with any regularity, my neck would once again remind me that my running days were over.
So, my training days were behind me, which took a few years to accept. I had to focus my energy on teaching with some walking and bike riding thrown in. My neck loved the relief, but the rest of my body was used to working a whole lot harder. My weight started to climb and I had to keep buying my clothes in ever increasing sizes. It didn’t feel good and I didn’t like it, but without being able to train at the level I was used to, I didn’t know what to do.
Ironically, it was last winter when I was teaching sixteen fitness classes a week that I gained so much weight I finally had to address it. Because I was spending all my time rushing from one class to the next I found myself grabbing fast-food that I could eat in the car. I found that I was not capable of eating a salad while driving unless I was okay with wearing most of it. So, despite all the time I was spending working out, I was putting on pounds.
One day while I was in a healthy living meeting at work, the managers started talking about utilizing fitness apps in personal training. All of the healthy living instructors, of which I am one, were asked to check out the NOOM app and learn how it worked. So, I downloaded the free app and started tracking my eating and my working out.
I was shocked how many calories were in the foods I loved. Even “healthy” foods have much higher calorie counts than I knew. I loved the fact that when I logged my workouts, the app adjusted my calorie goal to take in the calories I had burned. What I didn’t love was the calorie goal they set for me. I decided to ignore what the app suggested for my calorie goals and set one that I knew I could live with and still lose some weight.
A few months into this change of focus, I decided I wanted my tracking to be more accurate, so I got a Garmin Vivosmart 3. The NOOM app had been great, but it didn’t synch with my Vivosmart., so I downloaded the Under Armour My Fitness Pal app, also a free download. Now my tracking was more accurate and I could see how my workouts and healthier food intake were working together.
In the six months since I started my tracking I have lost between 25 and 30 pounds, depending on what foods I’ve indulged in or where I’ve focused my energy. It’s been a slow, measured loss of 3-5 pounds a month. I only weigh myself once a week because I don’t believe in getting obsessed with the scale, but by keeping track of my weight every week, I know when I’ve strayed too far and need to adjust.
I have been working out and teaching for so long, that I really never thought about the impact my physical appearance might have on the people in my classes. I bop in and out of my classes, performing moves and activities that push my body, without any conscious awareness of how I am perceived by all of these relative strangers.
Losing this weight has been a real reminder of my impact. A few people started noticing my weight loss a few months ago, but in the last month, I have started getting a lot of comments. Women especially are starting to ask my advice on losing weight. I had one woman say that maybe now she’d start listening to me when I talked about fitness. Never mind that my message has not changed in all the years I’ve been teaching.
After all of these years in fitness I still needed to be reminded of this simple plan for maintaining a healthy body: move your body regularly, eat food that’s as close to its natural source as possible, drink lots of water and get adequate sleep. Nothing miraculous or mysterious here, which disappoints a lot of people, but it’s what works and it’s what our bodies crave. No magic pill, just mindful living.