Helping Myself (with a little Help)

People assume so much about who we are in the moment they meet us. But more often than not there’s a much longer story. Everyone everywhere has had obstacles to overcome. Some more than others, but today I just wanted to share a little bit about my health journey.

We drove all the way from St. Louis to Alabama. I hadn’t seen my dad’s family in years and I couldn’t wait to reunite with my grandma. After unpacking the car and getting hugged by way too many cousins, my sister and I were shuffled in front of our father’s mother. 

She looked older than I remembered, wrinklier. Her mouth frowned over drooping pale skin and she scowled from her chair.

She looked my sister up and down, then eyed me from head to toe. “My, you girls got fat.”

My mom was always trying some new diet. She struggled with her weight and went on Slim fast, then weight watchers. Once she took a free one-month trial gym membership, and every time she was on a new kick my sister and I joined her. I was the only eight year old at the weight watcher’s meetings. Buns of Steel was my favorite video. I got up at 5 a.m. every weekday to work out. My sister and I walked around Lady Fitness unsure of the equipment.

We weren’t in control of what we ate, but I always loved working out. I carried my weight better because of that. Even so I was a pudgy little girl. And I got teased for it.

My active nature was unavoidable no matter how much macaroni and cheese or Little Debby’s Snacks my parents fed me. I didn’t look like the other kids. I knew that, but hearing it so blatantly put by a woman who was supposed to love me hurt pretty bad.

My maternal grandmother did her best to gently help. She offered to buy my sister or I a new wardrobe if we lost weight and sometimes rewarded us with money if we were able to shed a few pounds.

The contrast felt unreal. 

I longed to go home right away. I spent the rest of the trip working to make excuses for my dad’s mother, but nothing made sense to me. She called us fat, then got mad when we didn’t want to eat her very unhealthy sticky bun pastries. She didn’t approve of my mother letting me run around, but then how did she expect me to lose the weight that offended her so?

We went home and I got teased at school, but I could handle that. I usually made the bullies laugh and then we became friends. I continued working out every morning and that ritual reminded me that no matter how I looked to some people, like my grandma (a woman who was obese, herself), I liked who I was. I was more motivated than some of the skinny girls in class. I could hit a ball as far as all the boys when I played baseball.

The more I worked out and played sports, the more my friends shared their foods with me. My best friend always ate carrots and an apple at lunch. Instead of swapping veggies for sweets like some kids did, I was the one asking for them.

When the steamed veggie craze hit in the 90s my mom jumped aboard and I was ecstatic. I found a love of carrots and celery. Even when my mom’s interest waned, she kept buying them for me and went back and forth with the trend. 

The older I got the more control I gained.

As soon as I could get a worker’s permit I got a job as a salad girl working for a local pizza place. One of the main perks: the manager let us have free food. I found a taste for salads and the more vegetables I ate, the more I enjoyed them.

What I ate determined how my workouts went in the mornings. Eating more healthy natural foods gave me more energy.

My morning ritual continued into adulthood. I grew proud to be an early riser. It didn’t matter if I was just walking my dog, or doing strength-training exercises, accomplishing something first thing in the morning proved more to myself than anything praised by others.

Best of all, my body rewarded me.

Fruits, vegetables, and a morning workouts eased me into motherhood. They allowed me time to myself before the baby got up, and over time-as I had more kids, my children began exercising with me in mornings. 

It became our special ritual where we had fun together while taking care of our bodies. Passing on a better health routine wasn’t just about the shape of my body anymore; it was about the health and well-being of the entire family.

I didn’t set out to be a fitness guru or some health expert. I just wanted to feel good and be happy. Sharing that with my kids and my husband has become a ritual that we can all enjoy.

No amount of teasing or rudeness got me where I am. It was the love and kindness from others who were willing to help me help myself that gifted me with what I needed to create a truly healthy lifestyle and share it without worry.

I still love getting up early for hiking, yoga, swimming, sports, or other movements to find my peace of mind, but how I fuel my body and spend those moments with others is just as important now. 

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