If we truly want to be optimally healthy human beings, we need to include exercise along with our nutrient-dense diets. This is something that was hard for me to accept in the beginning of my real food/health journey. For me, for most of my life, exercise has been a negative. However, for the past 3 years now, I’ve been exercising consistently and actually enjoying it!
As you may know, growing up I ate a diet full of junk food and pretty much didn’t care about health – at all. On top of that, I hated sports and was the furthest from athletic. I joined a gym in middle school with a couple of my friends (LA Fitness), and even though we did work out while we were there, it was more of a social event for us. I used to smoke cigarettes back then, and in between each workout (typically 30 minutes on the treadmill, 30 minutes on the elliptical, and some time on the machines doing abs, arms, and legs), we’d go outside for a cigarette – what were we thinking?!
Back then I didn’t enjoy exercise. I did it because I thought it would help me lose weight (it didn’t). I had that gym membership for 2 years, but I don’t think I even used it for 2 years. I continued with my terrible eating habits (like McDonalds and Taco Bell) and actually gained weight. I left the gym in 2007 and gave up on exercise for a while. (I ended up losing weight after that through Weight Watchers, but still not eating quality food)
I graduated high school in 2009 and went away to school my freshman year of college. There was a gym on campus, so I would do cardio sometimes, but always end it with junky nachos from the campus cafeteria. Again, I was just exercising hoping it would help to lose weight and still hating every minute of it. Despite my half-assed efforts in the gym, I did gain the freshman 15 (along with a shit ton of acne).
The next year I transferred to a college closer to home. I decided to join a cheap gym with a couple of my friends (Planet Fitness), again hating every minute of it (typically just 30 minutes on the treadmill and some time on the few machines they had) and only hoping to lose weight. I only stayed at this gym for a couple of months. In case you’re thinking of ever joining Planet Fitness – don’t. You get what you pay for and this was the worst gym I’ve ever been to. At this point, I decided to give up on exercise again since I did not enjoy it all.
Discovering Paleo, Quitting Smoking, & Caring About Health
As 2011 was coming to an end, I wasn’t feeling my best. I decided to make my New Years resolution the same one it had been (and failed) the past 4 years: to quit smoking cigarettes. Even though I hadn’t been feeling great, I honestly didn’t really believe I was actually going to quit smoking when I made that resolution. I figured it’d be the same as every other year – I’d try it and give up on the first day.
On the second day of quitting smoking cold turkey (the same way I had previously tried to quit and failed with), I found out my dad was also quitting smoking, but he was doing a 6 week program called Smoke Enders, which involved gradually cutting down and working on the psychological addiction to smoking as well.
Against the advice of some, I decided to start smoking again in order to join my dad with the Smoke Enders program. With the help of the program, I was finally able to actually quit (it’s now been 4 years and counting). The end of the program even included dietary changes to help you live a healthy lifestyle and not gain weight after quitting smoking (which was a big fear of mine at the time).
It turns out, right as the program was ending, I was assigned to read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, watched Food Inc, and learned about the paleo diet for the Culture and Society class I was taking at Adelphi University. These 3 things completely changed the way I thought about food and health and weight loss. I immediately decided to implement a paleo diet in my life.
The fat just started melting off my body. I lost about 25 pounds and felt the best I ever had in my life. I did not exercise at all during this time. At this time, my biggest concern honestly was weight loss. Since I had lost weight so effortlessly with the paleo diet and I hated exercising, I would stubbornly refuse to exercise since I didn’t think I needed to. I looked and felt great, why do something I hate?
Getting Back to the Gym
About a year and a half into my paleo/health journey, I stumbled across an article that mentioned exercise being the number one prevention for Alzheimer’s disease – a disease my grandma was suffering from and has since passed away from. I finally started to accept that there’s more to health than just proper nutrition. I needed to exercise too.
It just so happens that at the same time I received a notice in the mail stating that I was part of a class action lawsuit against LA Fitness for cancelling my membership during a time when LA Fitness had kept charging people after their accounts had been cancelled. It turns out that LA Fitness had lost the case and I was entitled to a 3-month free gym membership. (Ironically, I now work for LA Fitness)
Since I knew I needed accountability from others to motivate me to work out (and truly despised the treadmill), I decided to try the group fitness classes. To my own surprise, I actually loved taking the group fitness classes and decided to sign up for a membership after the 3 months was up. The classes I would take were: Body Works plus Abs, Boot Camp Conditioning, and Yoga. I fell in love with the endorphin high I would get after my workouts and how much more awake I would feel.
After about 2 years at LA Fitness, I started working out with a personal trainer at another gym (Shredcore), while still keeping my LA Fitness membership active and attending both gyms. With my trainer, I started doing much more intense work outs that include a lot of powerlifting and Olympic lifting. I love the feeling of lifting weights. Strength training, yoga, walking, and swimming are my favorite ways to exercise. Years ago I would never have imagined myself loving exercise, now I can’t imagine living a sedentary life.
It’s so important to find an exercise you love. If you love your workout, you’ll stay consistent and actually look forward to it. No exercise is “better” than another – just find what works for YOU!
If you’ve been going to the gym and just running on the treadmill and finding yourself hating exercise, try something else! I’ll be the first one to say running on a treadmill is boring and is borderline torturous, to me personally. What’s kept me consistent in my exercise is figuring out what I love. Swimming is my #1 favorite exercise – especially during the summer when it can be in an outdoor pool. I absolutely love the water and swimming is like a meditation for me, plus there’s the added bonus of no sweat since you’re in the water! I fell in love with yoga as well. It’s a relaxing, yet challenging exercise that leaves you feeling amazing and renewed when you’re done. I’ve always enjoyed walking as long as the weather is nice. Weight training has become my new love. I love the burn when lifting, and it’s such a great feeling becoming stronger, being able to lift heavy, and do things in day to day life that I couldn’t before when I wasn’t as strong.
There’s so many different exercises to try out. All you need to do is get your body moving. You can try cycling, barre, pilates, boxing, Zumba, and many other workouts to figure out what works for you.
What’s your favorite exercise? Leave it in the comments!