When I went from being a skinny teenager to a curvy, solid-shaped young woman, I became convinced that I was fat and ugly. So I put myself on a diet, kicking off a decades-long obsession with weight. I would fixate on cutting calories, but the second I stopped, I'd eat my way back to my starting weight and then some. Eventually, I developed an even weirder issue: During the day, I willed myself to consume next to nothing, but in the middle of the night I would wake up and eat anything I could find. I was unhealthy and unhappy.
I'd always sworn that I wasn't a fitness person — truthfully, I was too embarrassed by how out of shape I was to step foot in a gym. But one day, when I was just shy of 30 and desperate to lead a more healthful life, I threw on some sweats and ran for half an hour. I tried to keep it up a few times a week, though it was tough. I couldn't even do a mile, and when I tried to push myself to go faster, I'd get tension headaches and feel nauseated. Fortunately a girlfriend offered a suggestion that changed my life: She told me to slow down and "run my run," meaning to move at a pace that was best for my body (pretty slow, for me). I took her advice and found I could jog for long stretches.
My husband helped too. He's a physical therapist, and he taught me to pay attention to my posture and breathing. Gradually, I began to check in with my body during workouts. For example, I would make sure that my shoulders were spread open while I ran, rather than hunched forward. With my new, more mindful approach to fitness, I dropped 60 pounds. My courage grew, too; I became a regular at the gym and even did triathlons.
Best of all, I changed my relationship with food. I haven't been on a diet in more than 20 years; I realized that obsessing over what I ate triggered my binges. Now there are no forbidden foods on my list, and I indulge sanely, without hating myself.
I desperately wanted to share what I'd learned with others, so in 2010 I got certified to teach indoor cycling and offer nutritional counseling. But for years I'd had an even bigger dream: to open a studio where I could show people how to be kind to their bodies. I started taking steps to do that, and in 2013 I gave up a longtime career as a hairstylist to launch my own gym in New York. It wasn't easy; I had to teach myself how to build a website, design floor plans, and set up prices and contracts. My gym was just 500 square feet when I started, but we've gained such a following that this spring we're scheduled to move to a spot three times as big.
People look at me and assume the woman they see today is who I've always been, but that's far from true. For so long, I thought I was the weakest person in the world, when all I really needed to do was find my inner strength. You can find yours, too.
This story originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.
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