"46, 47, 48..."
I hear my mother grunting and counting as she works her way through her morning exercise routine. I peak in and watch her small frame bending up and down doing push-ups. Backing away, I head downstairs to eat a giant bowl of Cocoa Puffs.
That was back in the 80's when I needed to lose a few pounds and my mother wore short shorts and bikinis.
She exercised diligently; always walking, moving, dancing or playing tennis and paddleball. I resented her trim shape and healthy exercise and eating habits. I was growing in all the wrong directions and felt insecure about my larger pubescent body. I turned to food to comfort myself and possibly to annoy my mother, who would tell teenaged me what I didn't need to be eating while chewing on a carrot. My dark expression told her what she could do with her carrot.
But when I hit my 20's and had some distance between us, something in my brain switched. I was in the city surrounded by so many girls rocking skinny jeans who seemed to sustain themselves on Happy Hour and the yogurt store. I wanted to look cute and thin too. All of a sudden, my mom's active lifestyle and healthy eating didn't seem like such a bad idea. It seemed smart (not that I would ever admit that to her). I stopped eating all fat and started hitting the gym.
I took step classes in the mornings before work. I went to the gym in the afternoons after work. I worked out six days a week, making a point of not working out on the seventh because I didn't want to seem crazy. I only sometimes succeeded. There was no Happy Hour for me because I went to the gym instead, and I pretty much lived on Tasti D-Lite, my favorite yogurt store treat where the workers knew me by name. I rarely saw any friends because I no longer wanted to go out. The potential calorie bombs made me nervous and if I drank I would never get up for my morning class.
The weight came off. Pound by pound I became smaller and smaller. And I loved it. All of a sudden I was wearing size 25 jeans. I looked petite and delicate. I almost liked myself in a bathing suit.
But even seeing the lightest number I had ever been on the scale was only a momentary elation almost immediately deflated by the pressure I felt to maintain that weight. I knew I was thin but I figured if I just lost another few pounds, I'd not only look just a tiny bit better but have a cushion.
I tried to amp up my exercise but unfortunately I was also more fragile. I turned my ankle three times. I was constantly tired and fighting a virus or cold. I stopped menstruating. My grandmother was horrified by my appearance and even my 'never too thin' mother suggested that just maybe I looked a little too thin. I'd love to say that I agreed with them. I didn't.
I thought I looked awesome. It was only when I realized that I needed a menstrual cycle to actually get pregnant that slowly – and grudgingly – I came to my senses. I dialed my exercise routine down and started eating less yogurt and fat free cookies and more substance and healthy fats. I put on weight, hating every minute of it. Unfortunately my cycle stubbornly refused to cooperate. My doctor at the time said that some people's hormones are fragile, and once disrupted, might never return to normal. Apparently, I was one of those lucky ones.
It took me two years along with fertility treatments to conceive my first child. By the time I finally got pregnant, I almost believed it never would happen.
I still exercised throughout my pregnancy four days a week, and was even at the gym the day I went into labor. At four weeks post partem I started exercising again; slowly and then with more vigor. But there was a difference. I was different. It had taken me years to get pregnant and now I had a baby. My priorities shifted. I went to the gym when I could, but always for under an hour at only moderate intensity. Walking the city streets with my baby became my prime source of cardio; his sweet 6 pound body (which quickly doubled) the weight I now constantly carried on my chest. How my body looked was still important, just not as all-consuming as it once was. Someone else's needs came first.
Over 15 years, and two more kids — yes with fertility treatments — later I haven't stopped exercising and for the record neither has my mother. (She can still do more pushups than me!) These days, I try to fit in some exercise every day, but I know the difference between healthy and unhealthy.
Eating right and exercise are good things. But like my grandma used to say, "Everything in moderation." No surprise that she's right. You can have too much of a good thing.