My Health & Fitness Journey

This post is such a long time coming. I’ve been trying to think about why it took me so long to share my weight-loss “journey” story with you; (not my favorite term, but I’m not sure what else to call it). I’m very open and honest with all of you on Instagram, but this story has some personal details which made me nervous to talk about, and things I haven’t dug into in a long time. So, here’s my very raw and real journey.

Let’s start with my childhood for some context. My family was always very active and healthy. My parents exercised, played sports, and ate healthy. Actually, my dad was drafted to the Pittsburgh Pirates but pursued medicine instead. Growing up, we rode our bikes, swam, and played sports in the backyard together. I remember my mom waking up extra early to go workout before making my brother and I breakfast, packing lunches, dropping us off at school and then going to work. If you can’t tell, I admire her so much. The food in our house was nutritious and balanced. My mom made healthy dinners at home for the family. Of course, we had our treats, and would occasionally go out to eat, but for the most part, we had nutritious meals and foods in the house.

My brother and I played a lot of sports growing up. My brother played basketball and baseball. I competed in dance, cheerleading and figure skating. In elementary school, I went to dance practice multiple times a week. I also woke up at 5am for figure skating practice with my coach. In middle school, I went to five hours of cheerleading practice after school. Because I was so physically active, I basically ate whatever I wanted and never really thought about it.

For high school, my parents had just gone through a divorce, and we all decided it would be a good idea for me to attend a boarding school in New York. It was a religious Jewish school which didn’t offer the same sports and physical activity I had earlier in my elementary years. I was only fourteen when I left to go to New York to live away from my parents for the first time. This autonomy over myself also gave me more decision-making about what kind of foods to buy and to eat. Let’s just say my diet drastically  changed… I had Dr. Pepper all the time, fried foods almost daily, and pastries for breakfast. Also, because it was in a religious Jewish environment, I would frequently go to meals for Shabbat or Jewish holidays which had tons of good, but pretty unhealthy foods. (Side note, if you’ve never had Challah bread, I suggest you stop reading and go get some!)  When my eating habits and activity level changed dramatically, I quickly put on a significant amount of weight. During this time, I remember being very happy generally. I had lots of friends and we had fun together. I wasn’t really concerned about my significant weight gain and enjoyed all the good food.

Once I graduated, I was about 50 pounds heavier than my current weight. Yes, it was a lot, but I didn’t really think anything of it until the end of high school. My first recollection of really noticing the weight gain and being unhappy with my appearance was when I had professional photos done for my high school graduation. I was pretty upset, but knew I was going to Israel for a semester after college to study abroad and didn’t have the energy or willpower to do anything about it. When I got back home after Israel, I felt even more incredibly self-conscious about my appearance and really wanted to make a change. I had a semester + summer before going to college and resolved to get into shape then.

My mom always told me how beautiful I was at any weight, but she was very supportive of me and wanted to help me make some healthy changes. Together, we did a little research and found a dietician. The dietitian told me I needed to lose at least 25-30 pounds to be in a healthy weight range. We developed a meal plan and swapped healthier alternatives for some foods I was regularly eating. The meal plan was simple and straightforward to follow. Concepts like portion sizes and using healthier ingredients in recipes were something new to me. During this time, I also joined LA Fitness near my mom’s house.

Initially, I was SO embarrassed going to the gym. I didn’t like how I looked in my workout clothes and I had no clue what to do with all of the gym equipment. I felt uncomfortable and thought people were staring at me because of my weight. I would even use the Stair-master because it was placed in the far corner where nobody could see me. Sometimes my brother would come with me which helped give me some instruction and confidence.

I started looking for more of a routine. I began taking a few Zumba classes, which was a perfect start since I had a dance background. I still stood at the back but got more comfortable the more I took the classes. I later came across Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide (BBG). At that time, her program was just on PDF, which I would print out and put in a three-ring binder and bring with me to the gym. Sooo old school compared to what her app and platform are now! BBG gave me some direction and a consistent routine. It spelled out exactly what to do each day. M/W/F were strength training; the other days were low intensity cardio or HIIT.

Through changing my diet, following a meal plan and a consistent fitness routine – I lost the initial weight that was recommended by my dietitian.

At the end of the summer, I went to college in NYC. Part of the standard college curriculum is apparently pizza, late night munchies, and drinking. Quite early on, I started to gain some weight back. I wanted to continue my progress that was made prior to college, so I joined Crunch gym in Midtown near my dorm.

A few months into school, I met Aaron! We began dating and had a lot of fun together. I wasn’t particularly concerned with my weight or appearance during that time because I was so focused on our relationship and my studies. We cooked a lot together, went out drinking and had dinner dates with friends. A waaay fast forward to my last year of college, and Aaron proposed! I was absolutely over the moon and filled with joy and excitement. The love of my life wanted to spend the rest of his life with me! But… that meant I was getting married and that means a wedding… and being in a wedding dress.

I was determined to look my absolute best for my wedding day, so I decided to get more serious about my fitness routine and also focused on eating healthier. Aaron and I went to the gym together multiple times a week and tried to cook healthier together. Being focused on the wedding date helped me stay disciplined with my diet and fitness routine. When the big day arrived I was about 15 pounds lighter than my freshman year of college. I got so many compliments at how good and “skinny” I looked, and I felt really confident in my own body for the first time in a long time. I remember wearing a bikini at the pool during the wedding weekend and actually feeling really good about it and proud of my progress.

When our newlywed life started together in NYC, working and living in Midtown and then Upper East Side, I started getting very into the NYC fitness scene. There are so many studios and classes it’s almost overwhelming. I first went to Soulcycle on my 22nd birthday and immediately was hooked and started going multiple times a week. Aaron and I ran together on the east river and we even joined Equinox rather than Crunch so we could start taking their classes, too. I also started experimenting with healthier recipes for dinners and baking.

I shared what I was doing and my healthy lifestyle for my friends and family on my snapchat (RIP lol) and my own personal Instagram. Friends and family constantly asked me questions about my fitness routine, my diet, etc. Many of them encouraged me to blog about my weight-loss, my fitness journey and transformation. At first, I was hesitant and didn’t know how to start and was uncomfortable sharing so much publicly.

After some more encouragement, I decided to make my Instagram account public, and started sharing more and more. I posted about fitness classes, my favorite instructors, healthy foods and restaurants in the city, and my own healthy cooking at home. Over time, my Instagram grew into more than I ever imagined. Through it I’ve made many friends, met incredible people and experienced some very cool things. From my account, I got invites to fitness classes and events. This platform has truly opened the door to so many opportunities to work with some amazing brands and athleisure companies. I feel so lucky to have my supportive community.

But, as my account grew, so did the pressure I felt like to keep up my level of fitness and my appearance. I was constantly taking photos for content and became very critical of how I looked in each photo. Over time, my relationship with health and fitness soured. My initial pursuit to lose weight and gain confidence digressed into an unhealthy obsession with my weight and appearance. The pressure to “look the part” of being a fitness “influencer” made me constantly anxious about whether my diet and workouts were ever good enough. My weight loss ‘journey’ never leveled off into maintenance mode as it should have, instead it led me to an unhealthy mindset and more weight loss.

This is why I have been so hesitant to share my journey despite constant requests. On the one hand, I lost a significant amount of weight in a healthy and sustainable way. It was hard work and I am proud of myself. But, on the other hand, it then led to further, unhealthy weight loss and mindset.

When we left New York in early March due to the coronavirus, I was so nervous how I was going to maintain my fit lifestyle and eat healthy food in Arizona. The term “quarantine fifteen” that was made as a joke actually made me incredibly nervous! I didn’t know what to do without my go-to food spots and fitness classes in the city.

Now, nearly five months spent with my family in quarantine has given me perspective and realization of the degree to which fitness and food have controlled my life. I have a much better understanding of what it means to be healthy, both of my body and mind. I was living in this all or nothing world, hyper-critical of myself, with an unrealistic and unsustainable concept of what I needed to be.

This time helped me repair my relationship with health and fitness. My workouts are no longer to lose weight or to look a specific, unrealistic way. I now look forward to my workouts to feel good, to be strong and confident, to challenge myself, to create endorphins. I will not allow my diet and fitness to be about looking thin, because that’s definitely not the same thing as being healthy.

That’s my journey. My goal now on my platform is to continue sharing my active lifestyle. My healthy recipes. My love of fitness. My super cute activewear (not gonna lie, you know I have the best collection of sets!). These things will NEVER ever change about me. What I have changed and continue to work on is my mental relationship with it all. I now focus on health and fitness in a healthy mindset and want to portray that to others. I want you to know that health is not an all or nothing proposition. We can have good days and bad days and be okay with that!

I will never, ever, shame anyone for wanting to lose weight. For wanting to tone up. For wanting to LOOK GOOD and feel confident. There is a lot of shaming of people trying to lose weight in the name of ‘body positivity.’ That is not my vibe. But, we have to pursue our goals from a healthy place and a good mindset. I am studying personal training and nutrition to learn more about how our bodies work, how to fuel them properly and how to use that knowledge to help others.

So wherever you are in your fitness journey, whatever stage you are at, I am always here for you. I am happy to chat through it, give you advice or answer questions from my personal experience. Fitness transformations do not happen overnight. The before and after pictures you see on IG are very misleading – you do not know what happened in between the pictures. So never compare yourself to someone else. Be easy and patient with yourself, but determined and consistent. Don’t give up!

Love you all and thank you for coming to my Ted talk!

xo Calyn Brooke

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