I always thought achieving my ideal figure would require the self-discipline of a monk; I would have to eat perfectly all the time, exercise for hours a day and say goodbye to sugar, alcohol and junk food for the rest of my life.
As a 24-year-old girl whose social life revolves around food and drink, such a lifestyle was simply out of the question. In the past, I’ve tried eliminating unhealthy foods and alcohol from my diet but it never lasted long; inevitably, someone would invite me out for dinner or drinks, and I would give in. Figuring that life was too short to subsist on chicken and boiled vegetables, I would quickly revert to old habits; being skinny just wasn’t worth sacrificing my social life.
I also tried exercising from time to time; usually this would involve getting on the treadmill or elliptical trainer for thirty minutes a few times a week. I’d eventually tire of this tedious routine and stop going to the gym altogether. Throughout my early twenties, my sedentary lifestyle and love of all things savoury culminated in a pretty epic muffin top. I had gained the dreaded freshman fifteen in University and was not looking great.
Last year, tired of having to squeeze myself into my low rise jeans, I finally decided to get serious about losing weight, but this time I took a different approach. Rather than banish “bad” foods and alcohol completely, I simply started counting calories. I figured out how many calories I’d need to eat per day to lose weight and ate and drank whatever I wanted within those limits.
Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t use this as an excuse to stuff my face with junk food or get plastered every weekend. On the contrary, I made a concerted effort to eat healthier. I even learned to cook (a past time that has since become a bit of an obsession) and started eating more fruits and vegetables. But counting calories allowed me to indulge occasionally in my favourite foods – foods that previously would have been forbidden while on a diet – without derailing my progress or feeling guilty after. It was refreshing to discover that cake and lasagna and the occasional glass of wine could all be part of an overall healthy lifestyle, as long as I ate healthy most of the time and kept track of how much and how often I was consuming them.
In addition to counting calories, I also started working out five to six times a week, incorporating both cardio and strength training into my routine. The trick was finding something I loved doing at the gym, in my case, group exercise classes. I love the variety they offer, the energy you get from the other participants, the encouragement you get from the instructors. It’s much more enjoyable to me than working out alone. Because I no longer dreaded my gym sessions, it became much easier to stick to a routine. It also allowed me to consume a lot more calories and still lose weight, which is always a bonus for someone who loves to eat.
A year later and I’ve reached my goal weight of 115 pounds. I finally feel confident in my body and while there’s always room for improvement (my current goal is to add some lean muscle to my frame), I can honestly say I’m happy with how I look, which hasn’t been the case for a very long time.
Now, as I try to maintain my figure, I want to share my experiences with others. For anyone else in their early twenties struggling to find a balance between enjoying life and being healthy, it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Just indulge in moderation and balance it out by burning it off — hence the title of this blog.