WARRIOR SPOTLIGHT: The End of "Before and AFTER" Photos
Special Guest Post: TFW-South Metro Warrior, Business Owner, Wife, and Mother of 3, Val Amsden
Since November of 2016, some variation of my “BEFORE and AFTER” picture has been floating around, largely throughout the Training For Warriors network and social media pages. It still boggles my mind that it’s ME in those pictures – especially the stressed, bloated, heavier and barely smiling (notice the eyes?) woman on the left. Not only do I not recognize her, I barely remember being her. From April of 2016 through last November, I lost 35 pounds at a slow and steady one-pound-per-week pace. I have been able to maintain since then, plus or minus 3 pounds. It’s been just about a year now; twelve full months since I reached my AFTER.
Just last week, I overheard a statistic regarding weight loss that surprised and honestly scared me. Most people who lose over 25 pounds will gain it back, and then some, within a few years. What?! I cannot let that happen! I looked it up to make sure I had heard it correctly. Though the numbers and specifics vary, studies referenced from the New York Times to WebMD claim that this percentage is somewhere between 80-95% of people that will gain every pound back, and then some.
In the spirit of TFW founder and Head Coach Martin Rooney’s love of lists of 5 – and as an homage to the largely underrated movie High Fidelity* starring a more brooding than usual John Cusack, circa 2000 – here are my unofficial and non-expert Top 5 guidelines that have worked for me over the last year since arriving at my AFTER. I had mentally created this list after seeing that stat to remind myself of how to stay on track, but I hope sharing it will help you too, regardless of where you find yourself on your fitness journey!
1. PLANNING IS KEY!
My new normal includes training at least 4 times per week. With long and varying work hours, a husband who also works full-time, and three small kids who all have their own timetables (and love-hate relationships with sleeping!), I have to be intentional to fit hour-long classes into our crazy schedule. Each Sunday, I look at my calendar and plan for 4 times that week, but typically also have some back-up classes in mind, if – as is often the case – plans change.
BUT… what started as a goal of “just showing up” when I first started my fitness journey has become an addiction. I cannot imagine my life without moving, training and lifting. It’s easy to prioritize something that I enjoy! If you struggle to find time to be physically active, take a step back. Maybe it’s not so much about making the time, but instead finding a different activity that is easy to make a priority.
2. FOOD IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS MOVING
What I choose to eat makes a huge difference too! When I refocused on my health, I started slow and chose one new thing every few weeks to change. Once I felt like I had developed a positive habit (or lost a bad one!), I added something else. Choosing only one thing at a time helped from becoming overwhelmed, but more importantly, the changes were not earth-shattering and therefore sustainable.
My very first nutrition improvement was trading my daily breakfast of two chocolate doughnuts and a bagel with cream cheese for eggs with vegetables. This is still my favorite, go-to breakfast, and I eat it almost every day! Another sustainable change was meal planning and lunch prepping on the weekends. As a family, we plan out our dinner menu and shop accordingly on the weekends, so there is no temptation to grab fast food on the way home after a busy workday. I have also found two easy and delicious recipes that make 4-5 meals each so I can prep all my lunches in under two hours at any point during the weekend. Add to that a favorite sugar-free, natural “cookie” recipe that I whip up 1-2 times per week, and I’m armed with healthy, yummy food at work to curb my temptation to grab junk food – believe me, it hits each day around 2:30. It’s much easier to say no when I have something better at my fingertips!
3. DON’T FOCUS ON THE SCALE
35 pounds took me eight months to lose; that equates to about a pound per week. What would have happened if I had watched the scale every day? I would not have seen any difference, which would have been extremely discouraging. Instead, I weighed in every 4-6 weeks, and would see a drop of 5-6 pounds each time, which was the absolute opposite: incredibly motivating! I have kept that mentality now, only doing a weight check every month or so to make sure I am still on track.
During the time between, I know how I feel, how my clothes fit, and when I am drifting off course. Whether it is because of a work trip, illness or a really long, stressful week, my body just knows. Life is still life, and no amount of planning can prevent every obstacle from popping up. It’s during those times that I choose to focus on those things which I CAN control, and give myself grace for everything else.
4. IT DOESN’T GET EASIER… BUT THAT’S OKAY.
Someone asked me a few months ago, “So, when does it get easier?” The truth is that it doesn’t. I still get smoked during workouts and the weights still feel heavy. The reason it’s still hard is that I have gotten faster and stronger, so I can push myself more than I could when I started. In that vein, surround yourself with others that make you better. I love the saying, ‘Never be the smartest person in a room!’ If you’re not the smartest, there is someone else to push you to be better. Similarly, challenge yourself and push outside of your comfort zone by working out with someone you think you can’t keep up with. I promise that you will be surprised by what you are indeed capable of!
Outside of the gym, be mindful of those who make things harder than needed. Relationships are work and take time and effort to nurture, but they shouldn’t pull you down. These steps are simple, but they are NOT easy. If they were, nearly 2/3 of the American adult population would not be overweight or obese**. Not everyone in your immediate circle of influence will be willing to make these changes with you, but they should support you and your efforts, because it is still a choice every single day that does not get easier. I have coaches, friends, family and a spouse that are all incredibly supportive. They encouraged me and kept me accountable during the weight loss, and continue to support my efforts to stay healthy now.
5. SLOW AND STEADY WON THE RACE – SO STAY THE COURSE.
Looking back, it seems like I had a very intentional plan: change one thing every few weeks, and add them up over time. But honestly, I just did what I could so I wouldn’t quit. One thing at a time was all I could manage! Little by little added up over the course of months to a literal but unintentional life transformation, and seeing my progress over time kept me motivated. It’s easy to see how letting things go little by little could have a similar but reverse effect. It’s so tempting to just buy doughnuts again, or to excuse eating junk food because I got my workout in earlier in the day. Do I do these things occasionally? Yes, I do. I’m human, and let’s be honest; I love doughnuts. But I also know that if I go back to my old habits of doing this daily, I will end up back where I started.
52 weeks, and roughly 200 training sessions later, I am still here. In thinking about these tips that are now integral to my life, it’s a reminder to ME to stay the course. The bottom line is that every person is on his or her own journey when it comes to fitness. So let’s change the wording a bit. Instead of calling it BEFORE and AFTER, let’s call it BEFORE and NOW.
No matter where you are on that journey, honor and celebrate how far you have come, but acknowledge how much farther you have to go. Reaching a goal does not mean to stop – there is always another horizon.
* There is also a pony-tail-wearing Tim Robbins. You really should check it out!
** Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation, www.healthdata.org
Valerie took that first step and applied for our Warrior Challenge program, which ultimately gave her that start so many people need to make an incredible mind, body, and spirit transformation. Don't miss out on our next Warrior Challenge which begins in January 2018!