I grew up in a wonderful, large, loud, loving family. My mom is Mexican. This explains the loud. And it explains the large: our love of food.
Every family event had delicious food and lots of it! Mexican food isn’t exactly known for being low-fat.
Add to this the fact that I never exercised or played sports, and you end up with a very overweight teenager. I was obese.
I met Scott when I was 16 years old. We were married by the time we were 19. It really speaks to the character of my husband that he fell in love with ME, not with my body. He told me over and over (and in fact he still tells me every day) that I was beautiful.
But I had a very hard time believing him.
On our one year anniversary, at the ripe old age of twenty, Scott snapped a picture of me.
For some reason, it was this picture that was the tipping point for me. I looked at the photo and realized something: I was not healthy. It was not healthy to have to hold my breath to tie my shoes. It was not healthy to get winded walking up the stars to our apartment. It was not healthy to think about starting a family when my extra weight would create a difficult pregnancy for me. I wanted to be healthy. And I wanted to be able to believe my husband when he told me I was beautiful.
I joined Weight Watchers and I fell in love with Richard Simmons. (Don’t judge. He is cute in those little sparkly shorts!)
At my first weigh-in I was 210 pounds. I am only 5′ 3″.
I had no clue how to count calories or lose weight! Absolutely no clue! I remember researching low-calorie food options. This was before such widespread information was available on the internet. For two months I believed that spaghetti was low-calorie and so I ate it several times a week. Why, you ask? Because someone had made a typo on the bulk food bins stating that one serving of spaghetti noodles was 20 calories. Two months later, when they rectified their mistake, I was shocked to realize that they had forgotten a zero and, in fact, one serving of spaghetti noodles was 200 calories!
I bought VHS tapes of Richard Simmons and started exercising in my living room. Richard Simmons made dance fitness cool before anyone had ever heard of Zumba. I remember vividly, the first time I danced along with Richard, I had to stop the video after only twenty minutes. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t finish.
But despite the spaghetti noodles and the aborted attempt at exercise, I started losing weight. Slowly, sure. But also steadily. Every week I would weigh myself and see a slight loss. Every week I could complete a little bit more of the workout in my living room.
When I had dropped to 175 pounds, I rewarded myself by joining a gym. You see, before then, I was too embarrassed to exercise in public. I was sure everyone would be looking at me and thinking, “What is that fat girl doing here? She obviously doesn’t belong.”
But, the truth was, I did belong! Everyone belongs. We should all be doing something good for our bodies, something to be healthy.
When I hit 150 pounds, I decided to try to run. Before this, I had never run an entire mile in my life. I was sure I was born with a genetic disease, or extra-small, shrunken lungs, or some really good medical reason why I should not run. I wanted an excuse for my running deficiency.
I started by running for five minutes. I added one minute at a time. And then, one day, I ran an entire mile in twelve minutes. Finishing that single mile, on the corner treadmill, in the back of the gym….it felt like I had just won the race.
When I hit 135 pounds, I took my first group exercise class. Oh. My. Word. What had I been missing all these years? I started attending every single class I could fit into my schedule. And then, one day, my instructor asked me to stay after class. She mentioned that they were hosting a training workshop. And she asked me if I might be interested.
At the ripe old age of twenty-one, I became AFAA certified and taught my very first fitness class.
And this is where my journey really began.
Here I was…young, healthy, fit, teaching group exercise classes…and I still saw myself as the “fat” girl. I was sure when I showed up to teach my step class, the members were thinking, “What is that fat girl doing here? She obviously doesn’t belong.”
And I still did not believe my husband when he told me I was beautiful.
And the truth is, this has remained a struggle for me.
Oh sure, my weight has fluctuated over the years. There was a car accident, two pregnancies, and most recently, the adoption of four children – all events that caused some weight gain.
Each time I gained weight, I worked hard to lose it again. The problem is, it is not the weight gain and loss that is a struggle for me…it is my own feeling, deep inside, that I am the “fat” girl. It is the fact that I sometimes catch myself thinking, “Look at that other instructor. She looks so great! Probably all the members here are thinking that I am the fat one.”
Friends, WHO CARES?
Why do we care so much what other people think?
My value does not lie in the number on the scale. My value is not determined by the size of my jeans.
I am a daughter of the King. I am His beloved child. He is pleased with me.
I am a wife to a loving husband. I am his prize. He thinks I am beautiful.
Yes, I believe that our health is important. Yes, I believe in the benefits that exercise provides for your body. Yes, I want to be fit and strong and able.
But, no, I do not want to be a slave to body image. No, I do not want to base my worth on something as superficial as the size of my butt!
So what is the truth?
I do not weigh 135 pounds. I do not weigh 210 pounds. I am somewhere in between.
I have great cardio endurance. I have run a half-marathon.
I have stretch marks. I have extra fat on my rear end.
I have really strong legs. I can lift a lot of weight.
I have selfishness in my heart. I am easily angered.
I am full of joy. I love big.
I am healthy. I am loved.
May we all find our value in the size of hearts, not the size of our bodies.