I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but was quite unsure how well it would be received. Talking about fitness, diet, and even weight loss is always such a touchy subject, and even I’m feeling nervous posting my progress photos for the world to see! I truly believe, though, that our struggles are often more similar than they are different, and if even one person can benefit from seeing my struggles laid out, then I think I can feel pretty good about that. SO. Here goes nothing.
My goal has always been to get stronger. I’ve always been a terrible dieter – I can never keep to any kind of short term regimen! And my spine history meant I always lived a sedentary lifestyle, never truly being an active person.
Until recently. After college, I decided I wanted to get fit. I wanted to aggressively rehab my spine, and superficially, I was always insecure about my “back fat” – which probably isn’t so much back fat as it’s just so much excess skin built up from being hunched over all my life.
Gosh, this is hard to talk about. *Deep breath!*
I’m 5 foot nothing and quite curvy. I’ve never been massively overweight, but no one could ever call me thin either. I’ve always been…squishy. My arms and legs are narrow, but my torso, hips, and bum always carry the majority of my weight much like the rest of my family. I’ve been about 103-5 pounds since I was 12, which I’ve come to realize is my comfort weight; I return to this weight naturally, no matter how active I am or how my food choices vary throughout the year. 103-105 is what I call my equilibrium weight.
So, I decided I wanted to get stronger, more flexible. I wanted more energy and I wanted to tone up enough to tighten the skin around my torso. I enlisted the help of a private physical trainer. I went to Fitness Together (now Infinity Personal Training) and worked 1-on-1 with a trainer for a year before I got married. I didn’t gain or lose any weight at this time, though my body fat percentage went from over 26% to about 23%, and I felt SO MUCH stronger.
Until I got married.
At my wedding I was still the usual 103. One year later I was 111!
Now, some people say you should not to look at the scale, to measure your health and weight in other ways like from the way clothes feel, or how much body fat percentage you have, or by measuring to the inch the circumference of your arms, legs, belly, etc. Some people are right!
On its own, the number on a scale gives you nothing, no relevant information, unless you pair it with other information: your height, for instance, or other bodily measurements, your energy levels, your digestion, your ability or inability to do certain exercises, your flexibility, and a lot more.
So considering the way clothes fit me, the circumference of my belly (and other places), my height, and my weight overtime, I knew I had gained weight that was over my equilibrium state. According to the Body Mass Index chart, I was still considered within a healthy weight range for my height, but boy did I feel the difference! My joints felt the added pressure and my spine health began deteriorating again. I knew for my medical history, my self-knowledge about my body, that this weight was going to be detrimental to my health in terms of increased back pain and low energy – unless, of course, this added weight were pure muscle, which it wasn’t.
A year later, about 10 months into actively trying to return to my equilibrium weight, I am now 104 lbs and just under 23% BF, and I feel incredibly better. My energy is back, I feel I can stand or sit or be active for hours before feeling any joint fatigue. And finally, finally, I can see a small difference in the skin of my back.
But what caused this weight gain, and shift in lifestyle? For one, hormones. Aly and I were now married, and our relationship *ahem* had changed, so my hormones were now behaving differently, thus regulating the way I processed nutrients differently. I was also taking the chef course at Rouxbe at this time; I was making lots of food and trying not to waste it by eating more leftovers than maybe I could have handled. And then I got a desk job; I was sitting all day, completely killing my metabolism.
So after feeling more and more miserable inside and out, from looking at recent photos and thinking ‘when did my face get so round?’ to feeling fatigued and achy all the time, I decided I needed to change something.
At the start of this year I started eating better. I reduced my fried foods and sweets. I took lunch to work, made sure I parked my car far, went for evening walks with Aly (my chiropractor had said no running or jumping) and increased my water intake. I began recording my weight and body fat percentage using our FitBit Aria Scale. By February I lost 2 lbs. Great! But I didn’t feel much better and I hit a plateau going into spring.
In May, I decided to do Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide (BBG). It’s a 12-week training program that uses predominantly your own body weight as part of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). I highly, highly recommend it. I’ve never been active in this way: really devoting 30-45 minutes every day 5x a week. My spine improved dramatically. I felt stronger and leaner everyday. The community built around the BBG is incredible, with women all over the world supporting each other and cheering each other on. Unfortunately, I also managed to injure myself after completing only 8 weeks. I landed wrong on a split lunge and completely threw out my right hip. This was exactly what my chiropractor had told me not to do (jumping). I was just too eager and excited to continue the guide after seeing results in just a few short weeks. I’ve now resolved to listen to her when she tells me to take it slow!
A week after I hurt my hip, I was going to leave for international travel for a whole month. So while I did not continue to workout aggressively through July and August, I did walk a lot and stretch, trying to keep my muscles healthy with magnesium supplements and electronic pulse massage therapy. This helped immensely.
When I returned, around mid-August, I wasn’t allowed to return to Kayla’s guide. I took up mild yoga instead, stretching about 2-3x a day, and just walked whenever I had the opportunity, never pushing too hard. This seemed to set me up in a good rhythm, and that’s where I’m at now.
(I have never been able to do a backbend in my life. I finally managed to do Wheel Pose this summer!)
DIET AND NUTRITION
As far as diet goes, I’ve eaten the same since the New Year:
- I eat plant-based whole foods, as in no processed foods, except the occasional vegan cheese or tofu-based proteins. Once or twice a month I may eat something like oreos or cookies or chips.
- I eat three large meals, with minimal snacking in between, and I never skip breakfast.
- I don’t drink sodas (never been a fan) and I don’t eat fast food. I will eat out occasionally (once every week and a half to two weeks).
- My only caffeine consists of one cup of coffee every morning, black with a little agave. No caffeine after 2PM.
- Most days, I eat dinner between 5-7PM, and sleep by 11PM. Before bed, I have a glass of hot water with turmeric and honey mixed in. If I’m hungry by bedtime, I’ve taken to mixing the turmeric and honey in hot almond milk instead of water. This usually satisfies me enough to fall asleep.
- I generally have a large serving (or three!) of a dark leafy green or colorful vegetable with every meal.
- I usually don’t have fruit after noon, I don’t drink alcohol regularly, and if I crave sweets I typically satisfy myself with a couple squares of dark chocolate.
- I never eat salad with a dressing; I use only salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
A typical day’s worth of food looks something like this:
Water + Black Coffee + Vitamins
Homemade Banana Nut Muffin + Green Smoothie
Soy or Coconut Yogurt, Banana & Granola/Muesli
Mashed Avocado on Toast with Sauteed Mushrooms
Grain + Green + Bean
(i.e. Daal, Roti, Pickled Carrots or Kidney Beans, Rice, Spinach)
Soup + Salad
Tofurky Sandwich with Arugula
Sweet Potato, Kale Salad, Beans
Grain + Green + Bean
(i.e. Pasta with Arugula and Chickpeas or Bean Tacos + Spring Mix)
Veggie Curry with Rice/Roti
Turmeric and Honey in Hot Milk or Water
This system seems to be working for me. The probiotics in the vitamins and occasional yogurt have helped stabilize my stomach and reduce bloating. The turmeric honey mixture has been helping with my allergies and daily aches and pains resulting from my spine. The grain+green+bean idea ensures I get nutritionally dense foods, am balanced in my carb-protein-veggie intake, and avoid fried foods or high-fat sauces/dips. And of course the green smoothies – usually coconut water, banana, kale or spinach, and whatever fruit I’m craving, plus this protein powder – help to ensure I’m getting important vitamins and minerals.
To see more examples of what I eat daily, you can follow me on Snapchat: ndjuma.
I mentioned earlier that I kept a record of my weight, body fat, measurements, etc as the year went on. I weighed myself once every month or so on our Aria scale which sends electrical pulses through your feet to determine your body fat percentage. I wrote all this down in a note on my iPhone that I could access easily.
(**Keep in mind, I am 5′ tall. so 100-110 lbs is within normal Body Mass Index for me. I could be completely ripped at 120 lbs and 15% body fat. Or I could be 25% body fat at 105 lbs. Dipping below 100 lbs is not an option for me, as either way you slice it, I’d be underweight. Be sure to look up your BMI (here) to ensure you’re at a healthy weight for your height. I do NOT recommend someone who is 5’6 for example attempting to get to 100-105 lbs. There is no way, no matter what BF percentage, that that is a healthy option!**)
You can see my recordings below:
Date – Pounds – %BodyFat – Clothing Size || Activity or Diet Changes
Dec 31 – 111.1 – 26.0% – S/4 || New Year
Feb 04 – 109.5 – 25.4% – S/4 || Walking, reduced fat and sweets, eating early dinner.
May 01 – 108.7 – 24.4% – S/4 || Start of Kayla Itsine’s BBG.
May 25 – 108.1 – 24.1% – S/2 || BBG Week 4
Jun 08 – 107.4 – 23.7% – S/2 || BBG Week 6
Jun 25 – 105.9 – 23.4% – XS/0 || BBG Week 8
Jul 20 – 105.8 – 23.6% – XS/0 || Traveling; walking, stretching.
Aug 20 – 105.0 – 23.7% – XS/0 || Mild yoga, stretching.
Sep 15 – 105.7 – 23.2% – XS/00 || Mild yoga, walking, stretching, no desk job. Increased greens.
Oct 10 – 104.3 – 22.9% – XS/00 || Mild yoga, smoothie challenge in October.
And now for my progress shots.
Please understand that showing these images takes a lot of courage. I am very proud of my progress, but it’s also highly nerve-racking to show it!
Be kind, haha.
Details on these images:
- I took these pictures in the mornings, after a glass of water, a glass of coffee (a natural diuretic), and a bathroom break. (Always go #2 in the morning to get the least bloated image of yourself when taking progress photos!)
- There are variations in the images based on phone and lighting quality and the height of my hand taking the picture. I have not photoshopped my stomach; you can see my terrible photoshop skills on where I’ve tried to erase the overlapping pictures to make space for my bum, haha.
- You’ll also notice that my lack of physical exertion (no squats or lunges) recently has reduced my glutes mass from July to October, and my back is not as straight now as it was the May and July shots (less cardio).
The biggest change I see is not in my figure. It’s in my confidence. My lack of fear if someone says, “Let’s go for a hike!” or “Meet me at the gym!” is something I’ve never experienced before. My daily excruciating back pain has reduced significantly. You don’t know how significantly your demeanor changes when you’re no longer in pain. I am happier than I’ve ever been.
MY FUTURE GOALS
So, how do I feel having made it to this point?
Well, to be honest I felt better in July, before my hip injury. I miss working out; the energy it brings is just so addictive. Being on a regular workout schedule, I felt unstoppable. It was something I never knew I could do before. While I have to take it slower and easier now, I’m not deterred in the slightest. I want to challenge myself to maintain my progress and get even more toned as we get into the holiday season, when I know eating healthy will be more of a challenge, and I’ll just want to hibernate, haha. I am hoping to return to the BBG workouts, and do more advanced yoga in the coming months.
I am so very proud of everything I’ve learned so far about my body and how remarkable it truly is – how quickly it can heal, how much it can really do!
I’ve learned that there isn’t anything that I can’t do if I set my mind to it, that hard work and discipline will get me anywhere I want to go. This is such a massive life lesson.
There is so much more I want to accomplish and the journey doesn’t stop here!
I realize this post didn’t have much ‘educational value’ in terms of cooking, nutrition, or fitness, but I hope this serves as an example that eating clean and exercising regularly can change your life, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And that, well, that’s priceless.
Please leave comments and questions below, I’d love to know your thoughts and how you’re doing on your journey to a happier, healthier you!