How I Lost Weight By Being Gentle With Myself

weight loss, exercise, yoga, pilates, walking, stress, running, vegan, vegetarian, diet, real food, injury, plantar fasciitis,

Work hard, play hard. Eat less, exercise more. No pain, no gain. Our society is constantly telling us to do more and be more. We fear that if we stop working out, we’ll gain weight and become lazy. We fear that if we eat that piece of cake, our cravings will take over, and we’ll never get back on track.

But what if we were gentle with ourselves? What if we gave up the rat race and ceased putting up a fight? What if we stopped counting calories and running marathons? What if we just relaxed a little and listened to our bodies?

I did just that and saw some amazing results, both in my body and in my mind.

How It All Began

I had just turned 30 and was dreading the decade change. It seemed like such a mature age, an age in which most are married or in long-term relationships. An age in which many of my friends were settling down, buying houses, and having babies.

I, on the other hand, was single with no “Mr. Right” in sight. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment. And while I loved living alone and adored my cozy living space, I felt like a failure to an extent. How could I be this old with no sign of a handsome husband, beautiful children, or a house I could afford to own? Would I ever get there?

I’d always been a fitness enthusiast. I was a runner in high school, and while in college, I would run several times a week to clear my mind and to gain insights for my term papers. I loved to run … those endorphins, the way it made me feel. After college, I continued to run, but I also joined a gym. I worked out at least 6 days a week for years. I would lift weights for 30 minutes, followed by an hour of cardio which always included treadmill runs and sweaty elliptical training.

But, as my twenties faded away and I got busier and more exhausted teaching second grade, I didn’t feel like hitting the gym after work. My solution was to work out in the morning. I had friends who did this and swore by the energy it gave them.

I first bought a bunch of DVDs, but I wanted to make sure I was getting a good workout. These included step cardio, plyo (jumping), and “heavy” weight training. I liked them. My poor neighbors who lived below me probably hated them! I also began waking up around 5:00 AM to go for runs in my community. It felt good to be in the fresh air. It made me feel invigorated and alive. But it was also my downfall.

I remember praying during my run on the morning of my 30th birthday. I prayed that I would find peace in this new decade, that I would be blessed with a happy future, and that I would become what God intended me to be.

As I turned the corner to circle back to my apartment, I felt a dull ache in my heel. I figured I’d just stepped on my foot the wrong way. But by the next morning, I couldn’t go for a run. It felt like an ice pick was jabbing my foot with each step. And it kept getting worse. After dealing with the pain for a couple weeks, I went to a podiatrist who diagnosed me with plantar fasciitis. He recommended I stay off my foot as much as possible, that I get orthotics and stick to wearing sneakers, and that I wear a boot to bed.

Although this diagnosis was not one I’d hoped for, it was a blessing in disguise. This was a major turning point in my life.

New Exercise Patterns

I couldn’t walk for long distances let alone run, but I was itching to do something. You don’t just go from a hardcore exerciser to nothing at all. I decided to try something different, and I purchased some new DVDs. These included yoga, Pilates, and light weight-bearing exercises using a stability ball. At first, I felt foolish doing these. I’m not coordinated or flexible. I wasn’t sweating much at all, and my heart rate didn’t seem to be rising either. I figured I was going to gain weight rapidly.

However, this wasn’t the case. I began to actually crave this slower, less intense way of exercising. I found myself feeling longer and taller. I felt lighter on my feet and much less stressed. I stopped waking up extraordinarily early in the morning to exercise, and I slept better and longer. Since these didn’t require as much energy, I could do the DVDs after work. I actually found that I looked forward to them every afternoon and couldn’t wait to move my body. And best of all, because I wasn’t stressing about exercise, I stopped focusing on “getting it done” and started just enjoying the movements. This lack of stress would be a major contributing factor to my healing, not only physically but emotionally as well.

New Diet Patterns

Around the same time that I injured my foot, I was introduced to someone who was vegan. He was the leanest, most fit looking person I’d ever met and a ball of enthusiastic energy. He gave me a book titled Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. This book was revolutionary for me because it threw away many of the notions of healthy eating I’d been following. The book advocated for vegan living, at least for a period of time, which involved eliminating dairy and animal products. But it also spoke about the importance of avoiding most processed foods high in carbohydrates.

I began to eat differently. I tried to be vegan for a short while, and then vegetarian, but rather than officially giving a title to the way I was eating, I primarily just focused on eating way more plants and “real” foods. Fruits and vegetables became a mainstay. I bought fewer processed foods and focused on adding fiber to my diet.

It’s also important to note that since I wasn’t exercising as intensely, my hunger became much less intense as well.

A combination of gentler exercise, less stress, and healthy eating allowed me to drop about 15 pounds. I truly wasn’t looking to lose a lot of weight, but I realized that I was holding onto some extra pounds because my body felt under attack by over-exercise, stressful thinking, and an under-nourishing diet.

Lessons Learned

Sometimes God blesses us in ways we never would’ve dreamed. Likewise, He hears our prayers but often answers them in mysterious ways — ways that might be best for us even though they may not resemble the perfectly scripted solutions we were searching for.

Getting injured and taking time off from my typical exercise routines was NOT what I wanted, but God heard my prayers for peace.

I learned that being gentler with my physical body and with my mind was what I really needed.

Scientifically speaking, when we just relax a bit, our cortisol levels normalize. We stop craving sugary, carby foods and treats. Our hunger levels normalize. Chronic inflammation in our bodies goes away.

So, the take-aways I now share with you are to take it easy. Worry less, and do less intensive exercise. Now, that is NOT an excuse to NOT exercise. In fact, we need to exercise daily or at least 5 times a week. But that exercise can look like walking, yoga, weight-training, or shorter burst-style (HIIT) training. We need to only spend a half an hour or so to see remarkable results and to remain healthy.

And as far as eating goes, stick with real and unprocessed foods. I’m not a vegan or vegetarian anymore. In fact, I believe healthy meats like grass-fed beef and wild-caught salmon are supremely nourishing. But don’t worry about following a specific diet, and you don’t need to label or explain your eating style. Instead, eat foods that are as close to nature and as unadulterated as possible. Concentrate on getting in lots of produce, especially leafy greens. Include healthy fats like olive oil or avocado oil. Get enough protein to support your muscles and bones. And drink lots of water. You’ll be getting all of the nutrients you need without feeling ravenous and/or feeling like you constantly need to diet.

Give up the “rules” and hard-core recommendations you’ve heard about in the past, and just do what feels good for your body. Be gentle with yourself, and embrace the peace that follows. Life throws us enough curveballs, so by being more at ease, we’ll be better equipped to handle the stressors of our days.


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