By Kristina Dewig

Growing up I was always “the chubby girl.” The funny thing is, it’s not until a certain age do you know that you are “the chubby girl.” In elementary school, I was aware my build and stature were different than the other girls, and I had a difficult time shopping for the same types of clothes that my friends were wearing. It wasn’t until around middle school that I became very acutely aware (thanks gym class!) that I was overweight. The origin of my weight issue was likely a combination of many factors including genetics, unrestricted access to snacks, and my affinity towards sugar cereals, pasta, and potatoes. Let’s be honest, my love/hate relationship with all things starchy and carbohydrate-loaded is still a struggle.

I was moderately active as a child, participating in soccer and dance classes during most of my youth. However, I will be the first to admit that athleticism was never my strong suit, so I did not feel the least bit competent ever walking into a gym and pretending to know what I was doing. It wasn’t until I lived on my own during my early 20’s that I decided to join a gym for the first time. I put on my big-girl yoga pants and started taking classes in Zumba, spinning, yoga, and eventually some strength training classes. These were accessible and relatively non-threatening, being that most of the participants were women and the instructors were encouraging. I discovered that the group fitness dynamic was a great motivator for me.

Progressively I became more confident, took on new challenges, and would definitely say I jumped on the “fitness bandwagon.” I started doing some local 5k’s and became involved with a group of friends who had an affinity towards all things fitness and outdoors. What I discovered (and still holds true for me) is that if I surround myself with people who enjoy being active and make positive lifestyle choices, it makes it way easier for me to stay on track as well. 

This led to my next unlikely extra-curricular activity of choice: obstacle course racing. Yes, I mean those races where you trek through 5-20 miles of mud, traverse slippery obstacles, then battle poison ivy and questionable bacterial infections for weeks… all for the glory of that finisher’s medal, a cheap beer, and a t-shirt upon completion. Although I haven’t done a race in several years now, that activity challenged me in so many ways, boosted my self-esteem, and brought so many new friendships into my life (plus I still get to wear some of those pretty cool t-shirts).

I’m privileged to now call one of those muddy hunks that I met my husband, and throughout the course of our relationship, I’ve learned he is a man of many hobbies and interests. There is literally a closet in our house filled with softball equipment, rock climbing gear, and unfortunately, now our OCR and other fitness accessories piled high and collecting dust. What we’ve discovered is that those hobbies require significant commitments of both time and money, both of which are in short supply when trying to raise a second grader and one spouse decides to go to nursing school. Luckily for our family, my husband also dabbles in a variety of culinary undertakings to keep his need for a hobby fulfilled.  From different methods of coffee brewing, to craft beer and whiskey, to fermentation and kombucha brewing, he is not afraid of a challenge and definitely does his research.

I’m always amazed at what he can create and how much he learns about food and the science behind it along the way. This is mostly what led us to our most recent lifestyle change: eating a plant-based diet. I gave up my days indulging in filet mignon, wine and cheese plates, and ice cream, and honestly, I’ve never felt better. Eating a plant-based diet isn’t a guaranteed way to eat a healthy diet since there are so many “vegan junk food” options readily available now. However, it has encouraged our family to eat significantly more fresh fruits and vegetables, buy less processed foods, try new recipes, experiment with ingredients, and cook more in our home instead of going out to restaurants. We have more control and awareness of the food and nutrients going in our bodies, and we have even saved money in the process!

There have been many seasons of dieting in my life, including low carb diet plans, meticulously counting macronutrients, and even restricting my caloric intake to an unhealthy amount. However, with each season of being really “spot on” in my dieting, a rebound period of binging and regaining weight would follow. In a similar fashion, my level of physical activity and interest in fitness would fluctuate to great extremes too. Some periods I would accomplish two-a-day workouts on a regular basis, and other times it would be hard to even get myself up off the couch. Now, although life is crazier than ever with balancing being back in school and being a stepmother to a smart, spirited seven-year-old, I feel that my mindset is healthier than ever.

I realized that I used the terms healthy, fit, and skinny interchangeably in my head when in reality those are vastly different concepts. In my lifestyle now, I just try to make the best choices with the time and resources I’m given. For instance, being a student and experiencing “mom life” doesn’t really allow the freedom to go accomplish intense, hour-long workouts at the gym.  However, I can spend a little time with my husband and our friends going for a bike ride, walk in the university’s fitness center while reviewing notes, or practice soccer with my stepdaughter. Also, I still try to incorporate yoga in my routine because it is a great way to stretch and relax, and it gives me what I consider a total mental/physical/spiritual workout. When I can multitask in any way, shape, or form it’s a win!

Do I know for sure that we’ll keep our current lifestyle up indefinitely? No, because our resources, interests, and knowledge of health and wellness can always change. However, for us, this lifestyle is more sustainable than any crash diets or extreme fitness trends we’ve pursued in the past. I do what I do now because it makes my body feel good. When I’m physically inactive or eating processed food I can tell a difference in the way I feel physically, which I’ve learned affects me mentally as well. 

I hope I can pass these basic principles along to my stepdaughter so that she does not have the same troubled relationship with diet, exercise, weight, and body image that I had growing up. I want her to grow up happy, healthy, and thriving in whatever circumstance she’s in, especially given that we are in a co-parenting situation and don’t have control over her environment and what she eats half the time. In a sense, we all have aspects in our life that we can’t control that affect our physical activity and dietary intake- temptations, social gatherings, expectations of people around us, stress. What we can control is our response to these factors, making the best decisions for you each day and keeping a healthy attitude about food and physical activity.