Throughout my childhood and teen-age years, I never had a weight problem. My mom cooked hearty meals at home and I ate fast food with my friends. Since I swam competitively and played soccer, I didn't have to worry about gaining weight.
Then, in college, I gained the "Freshman 15" and never made an effort to lose it. Instead, I became immersed in college life and put my health on the back burner. During my senior year, I spent a semester studying in Europe. I stayed in six countries and ate all my meals on the run, which meant unhealthy fast food. I gained another 20 pounds and also started smoking, which didn't improve my health. I thought I was destined to stay at 160 pounds. A year after I finished college, I became tired of feeling miserable about my body and uncomfortable in my size-12 clothing. I wanted to be fit and healthy again, like I was in high school.
After a five-year break from exercise, I started walking, stair climbing or cycling for 30 minutes three times a week. I gradually increased my workout time and intensity. I set small, attainable goals, so I wouldn't become discouraged and quit. In my diet, I ate more fruits and vegetables and monitored my fat and calorie content. With these changes, I lost 1-2 pounds a week.
A few months later, I started weight training to tone my muscles. In just six weeks, my muscles became more defined and toned. Although I didn't lose pounds on the scale, I lost inches, since muscle takes up less space than fat. I also signed up for a 5k race to shake up my workout routine. I finished the race in under 25 minutes, which was my goal. It was such a thrill that I signed up for another 5k and running became my hobby. As a result of my racing, I lost another 10 pounds and reached my goal weight of 130 pounds.
Unfortunately, I soon became obsessive about my training, which led to many injuries. I increased the intensity of my runs and worked out every day, but I still ate as if I were trying to lose weight: on average, 1,500 calories a day. After my third stress fracture in less than two years, my doctor did a bone-density test to see why my bones were breaking so easily. He told me that at the level I'd been training, I wasn't giving my body the nutrients it needed, nor was I giving it time to rest from my intense workouts. Unless I made some changes, my bones would be those of an old woman way before their time.
This was the wake-up call I needed. Instead of training on my own, I joined a racing group. The group had experts and coaches who helped me balance my training so I could race, yet not let my body suffer from needless injuries. I learned how to eat to fuel my body for my workouts. Now, more than two years later, I've been injury free and performing at my best. I've learned that fitness isn't necessarily measured by what the scale says. Instead, it's based on what my body can do. When you treat your body right, the possibilities are limitless.