How I Got Healthy, Happy, and Fell in Love With My Body

Health Fitness

I’m standing in a Target dressing room. The weather is warming up, and I’m on my annual pilgrimage to find and purchase a cute swimsuit. I despise dressing rooms in general; the cramped space, the dull light, the self-loathing I feel when I try on something too small and have to decide if I should get all the way re-dressed to track down a bigger size or just give up entirely. Gearing up for similar existential dread, I put on a crocheted blue bikini top, a deviation from my usual 1-piece, and stare at myself in the mirror.


That’s when it hits me: I like how I look. I feel confident. After years of self-hatred, I am no longer at war with my body.


Let’s be clear here: I didn’t undergo some shocking weight-loss transformation. I am a perfectly average-sized woman, usually wearing a size 10. I don’t resemble the size-four girl I was seven years ago — that girl overtrained daily on the treadmill and ate less than a thousand calories per day, all while hating her stomach and thighs and mentally berating herself into disordered habits. That girl was thin, and yet totally unsatisfied with her body. That girl was willing to sacrifice health and happiness to reach a standard that isn’t even quantifiable, let alone attainable, and with every pound she gained she liked herself less and less.

That’s not me anymore. I love food and fitness equally. I’m no longer tiny, but I’m active, healthy, and capable. I eat dessert. I jiggle, but I’m also strong as f*ck, and I have more energy and motivation than ever.


I guess I’m supposed to feel bad about my thighs touching, but right now the only thing I’m feeling is myself.

This is the story of how I got there.

Today I did did deadlifts and squats with 135 pounds. I’m doing 6 or 7 small workouts a week. I’m drinking more water than I ever have in my life. I feel wide awake at 6 a.m. I tried on bikinis this week and even though I’ve been significantly thinner than I am now at several points in my life, it was the first time I didn’t tear myself apart in the dressing room mirror over the way my thighs or stomach looked. Not because I’m toned (I’m not), but because I know my body is getting what it needs and I’m just not stressed about looks anymore! I never would have imagined this would be possible but I’m not going to question it because I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this happy. Happy weekend, friends! ❤❤❤❤❤ #BBG #Kayla #Fitness #health #bodylove

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About two years ago, I was wading through a deep and messy depression. A combination of stress, personal loss, and lack of sleep left me feeling hopeless and helpless. All efforts to put healthy food in my body screeched to a halt, I stopped exercising, and essentially just gave up. It was a pendulum swing from one disordered lifestyle to another, swapping out overtraining and undereating to just eating, and eating a lot.

I’m not gonna linger on the sad stuff because it’s a downer, so I’ll fast-forward to the end of 2016, when something finally clicked and I realized I had to stop being a jerk to my body. That meant I had to fuel it, move it, and — most difficult of all — fall in love with it, because how is anything going to thrive if it’s unloved?

But body-positive fitness is tricky, because just about every fitness resource out there beats it into us that the numbers on the scale matter, the inches on our waists matter, the calories in our morning lattes or handfuls of almonds matter. After googling around for fitness tips, my Pinterest feed was suddenly flooded with photos of ultra-flat tummies and infographics on how to firm up my inner thighs or Lose Five Pounds in a Week!


The language we use when talking about fitness really strikes me: Lose weight. Get smaller. Shrink. Decrease.


It makes it sound like wellness is a destination, and all we have to do is drop those pounds to find fulfillment and feel amazing. We continue to think this way even when personal experience tells us otherwise: I’ve been a size four, and I managed to hate myself regardless. Health and happiness don’t arrive when you reach a certain size — they show up when you start treating your body like it’s worth a damn.

Fitness Health

So I shifted my health and fitness goals away from what I wanted to lose and focused instead on what I could gain: skills, experiences, confidence. I stopped measuring my success by the number on the scale or the size of my pants, and started asking myself questions like “Wouldn’t it be great if I could run a mile or five without stopping? Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could do pushups without kneeling? Wouldn’t it be cool to try out yoga, or jiu jitsu, or to climb a mountain?”


And, well, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it be something if we as women were healthy and active because we want to live fuller, more colorful lives, and not to shrink the amount of space we take up in the world?”


Nowadays, I exercise five to six days a week; three days lifting weights in the gym, and two or three doing something I enjoy, like yoga, soccer, running, or kickboxing. I don’t count calories, because I don’t want to obsess over what I put in my mouth, but if I were to estimate, it’s somewhere in the 1600 to 1800 range on an average day. Weekly meal-prepping helps me stay generally consistent about putting healthy, fueling foods in my body. I drink a lot of water and try to get eight hours of sleep a night. Doing this transformed the way I feel, made my anxiety and depression manageable, and sent my self-confidence soaring. My body is stronger and more toned than ever, and it’s my not-so-humble opinion that I look damn good.

Left: December 2016 / Right: March 2017

This might make it sound like I’m some kind of health guru, but I know enough about myself to understand that eating all-clean-all-the-time isn’t sustainable for me. If I want a cookie, I’m going to eat a cookie. Just last night, while cramming to finish a majorly-important assignment, I chomped my way through half a bag of Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles and four Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It happens. My health goals are not derailed. It’s not the end of the world.


I’m here to tell you that it is possible to get to a place where you prioritize your health but don’t obsess over your body.


For me, that means I take a little time to meal prep on weekends, get in about 40 minutes of physical activity before my morning shower, then move on and don’t stress about it for the rest of the day. I got stuff to do.

I don’t know what I should name this lifestyle of mine (The Everygirl co-founder Danielle joked we should call it #absandtreats, because I get to have both) but I do know it’s changed my life and transformed my perception of myself.


Here are some actionable steps you can take if you want to join me:


1. Prep your meals (or meal elements)

Having prepped meals not only saves time, but it ensures you’re eating a good variation of fueling foods without having to count calories.


I thrive off of simplicity. When I realized prepping three meals a day for seven days wouldn’t work for me, I decided to prep all of my meal elements and store them separately in the fridge, so I can assemble them in various combinations each morning. Meal prep day looks something like this:

  • I grill chicken on my George Foreman grill
  • I cook salmon or tilapia in the oven
  • I hard boil half a dozen eggs
  • I cook brown rice, quinoa, and/or whole-grain pasta
  • I steam broccoli (in the microwave, because I am lazy)
  • I do a tray of roasted veggies: asparagus, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, carrots etc.

With all of these things stored in my fridge, I assemble whatever combination I feel like for lunch and dinner, sometimes adding fresh ingredients if I feel like cooking. It’s all about flexibility. For breakfast, I’ll typically alternate between eggs and toast with my prepped veggies, a protein shake, or fruit and oats with yogurt I mix with protein powder.


2. Don’t deprive yourself of carbs and fats. Just don’t.



Every time I see a no-carb meal plan on Pinterest (usually alongside those flat-stomach photos I mentioned earlier) I want to scream. Your body needs carbs! It needs (healthy) fat! It needs calories! IT’S HUNGRY, FEED IT. It might seem like your progress is going slower, but at least it’s sustainable progress. This is not about dropping pounds fast, it’s about feeling great.


3. Have treats!



If you’re eating real, unprocessed food on the reg, you are not going to get in trouble if you have a cookie before bed or a glass of wine while you watch The Bachelor. You’re not on a diet, because diets end. This is real life. Wine exists in real life. These are just facts.


4. Get active

This Harvard study concludes that being active for just 15 minutes a day (15 minutes!) can add three whole years onto your life. What are you waiting for? Everyone is different, but I found my groove lifting weights three times a week and supplementing with cardio. Make it a priority to move that body.


5. Self-care, self-care, self-care


Even if you never intend to step foot inside of a gym or prep a single meal, hear me now: Getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water, and being kind to yourself are all crucial. They are the most crucial. You wouldn’t deprive your best friend of water, sleep, and affection, so why would you do it to yourself? You only get one body. GIVE IT WHAT IT NEEDS.

There will be times when working out and eating healthy aren’t exactly feasible, like while you’re studying for an important test, or sick, or dealing with a loss in the family. This is just a part of life, and you should never feel like you’ve failed just because you’ve fallen out of your routine. You don’t have to “start over from scratch.” Just get up and do a workout the next time you feel like you can manage, and it’ll be even easier the time after that. You got this.

What workouts and lifestyle changes have you feeling your best? Start a conversation (and share tips!) in the comments!