Monday, July 6, 2015

My Journey to Fitness #Autism #Parent #Autistic

"I bought a little red bikini today. Let's see if I have the courage to wear it."

That's what my status on Facebook read from 5 years ago. That is where I was in terms of confidence, and physical health. It is a far cry from where I am today. It was around this time that I embarked on my fitness journey. That is what this entry is going to be about. Where I was, where I've been, and what I have learned on the way. I have been thinking about doing this post for a few months now. I am not good at mapping out, and summarizing my thoughts before I write. That just isn't my writing style. So, I am going to do what I usually do, and just let the words flow out as I tell my story.

About five years ago is where my passion for fitness began. It started out as a little spark that was unfortunately ignited by self hatred. I've never been overweight, but had gained quite a bit of weight six years ago when I quit smoking, and my thyroid went out of whack. I didn't like my body. I had never liked my body, actually. If you follow my blog, or know me then you know how self image is a enormous battle I have struggled with for my whole life beginning in grade school when I was teased mercilessly. I began my fitness journey from a dark place that was misguided. I wanted to change how I looked, so I wanted to exercise due to hating my body. I found my motivation in shame, instead of self love. I dieted, and felt deprived. I felt that exercise, and restricting my diet was a punishment for not doing better, and not being better. Maybe I didn't think of it in those words at the time, but that is what is was. It would be awhile before I gained motivation from a better place, and stopped wallowing in self-loathing.

When I first started exercising I didn't know much about fitness. I knew basics. I did a lot of cardio, because I assumed it would help me lose weight. I cut my calories back too much, and I ate all the wrong foods. I did lose weight. Cutting calories will typically result in weight loss, but there is so much more to physical health than just the number we see when we step on the scale. More on that later, though.

I started looking up information. There was so much out there! One expert said this, and another article said that. I didn't know where to turn, or who to listen to. In the meantime I found lots of youtube videos with free exercise routines. I started out with a few exercises here, and there. I didn't really know how often, or how to do a good routine to get the most out of my workouts. None of the videos, or channels I found were very educational in this way.

That all changed a couple of years ago when I found Fitness Blender. Combined with the knowledge I had gleaned on my own through tons of research, and their very easy to use site I was able to begin getting into shape the healthy way.

This entry is not just about sharing another info dump to add to everyone's growing collection of how to lose weight, or a new trendy exercise routine, but about how I personally went from where I was to where I am now. I no longer stand on the edge of anorexic thinking, fearing other's judgments about who I am as I try to make peace with my physical body. Treating the mind, and the body as if I can get one super healthy while the other is severely lacking is all that was wrong with my mindset, and I suspect so many of others, as well. The shame, and guilt of extra weight, eating, and not knowing how to do better, but sure as hell feeling low for not being able to be better  was a terrible place to start at, and was never going to produce the happiness that I longed for. It seemed that most of the places I looked for info, and support fostered that sense of food shame, and unhealthy physical routines.

You're not going to find pictures of me, or anyone else posing in a bikini for before, and after pics in this post.
That is one small beef that I have with the Fitness Blender Facebook page. I do understand that people deserve some kudos for their results, and Fitness Blender wins at showing how their programs work, but I feel like the spontaneous pics posted in member's FB feeds can feel a little too intimidating for some. I think there should be a space on their site for those photos, and then people can look if they choose. Reading through the comments posted on the Fitness Blender Facebook page under almost every before, and after photo posted always leaves me uneasy. I see so many feeling defeated, because they haven't been able to achieve the same level of results, even with their hard work, and dedication to fitness. Sometimes it even leaves me feeling insecure, and I wear a very small size. The thing is, we have no idea how some of these people achieved the results they did. Did they over exercise, and under eat? One can produce spectacular results doing that, even if it not healthy, nor sustainable. I think there are a lot of reasons one shouldn't feel compelled to compare their fitness results with others, but that one probably is at the top of my list. I'm not saying that they all took shortcuts to produce their results. I suspect some did, but even with that said it is important to focus on our own progress, and not compare ourselves to others. Each of us are at a different place mentally, and physically, and it's important to respect our own unique journey.

So how do you start losing weight, getting into shape, and feeling better? Each person will have to find their starting point, and go from there. I can offer a few tips that I have learned, but everyone is unique.

First, let's start with constructing an exercise routine.

When I first started exercising after not doing much in the way of fitness I did at least 15 minutes a day 3 times a week. I tried so many different kinds, but ultimately stuck with Fitness Blender workouts, because they are accessible to me anytime via the internet. I don't have to have a bunch of special equipment, or leave the house to go to a gym. Honestly, I have some serious OCD issues with touching stuff other people have been touching. There is no way I'd use equipment at the gym. Plus, as a stay at home, homeschooling mother of autistic kids. I don't have the resources to make it to the gym even if I wanted to.

I know there are a lot of people that would (or will) criticize me for recommending to anyone that 15 minutes 3 times a week is enough to get in shape, but that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that if one has never really done a workout program, or has not in quite awhile you need to start slow. I cannot emphasis that enough. Not only start slow, but make full use of the ratings on the Fitness Blender site. When you go to their site you will see that the videos are numbered 1-5. Those are designed to be indications as to what fitness level that video belongs within. The biggest mistake I made was not knowing that, and trying to do level 4 videos when I should have been doing no more than level 2. Nothing discourages a person from working out more than feeling incompetent, and unable to complete the routine. Well, maybe hurting oneself trying! I suppose that would be more frustrating, and I am pretty certain both of those things will occur if you keep trying to do a routine that is to advanced for you at the moment.No one is keeping tabs, so your ego can take a break. It's not a competition. If you need to start, and stay at level 1 for 3 months, then you do that. Listen to your body. Truly listen. You will know when you need to push, and when you need to stay where you are in terms of routines.

Another part of fitness that I didn't know about previously was that the warm up, and cool down part of the routine is very, very important. I'd often skip these, because I was too busy only to find my progress being slowed, and my body aching, Do not skip these.Yes, they add sometimes an extra 10 minutes to your routine, but they are just as important as the exercises themselves.

I think that one of the biggest myths out there is that in order to lose weight, and stay thin one must put in tons of time doing low level cardio. I have found that to be opposite of the truth in terms of maintaining a fitness routine that produces positive results for myself. I have never even used an elliptical machine, or a treadmill. I don't spend a lot of time walking, though I am not in any way discouraging anyone from being active. What I am saying is that in order to reach your fitness goals doing a lot of cardio is not only the most inefficient way of going about it, it is also potentially backfiring. When you overdose your body on too much cardio, especially if it is in the form of hard HIIT routines what often happens is that your body will see that added stress as a threat, and up your cortisol levels. When that happens it slows metabolism, and causes other issues making all of your hard work for naught. You shouldn't be doing heavy cardio everyday, or even light cardio every day. Not only does your body need at least one rest day from any, and all exercise a week, but you can't neglect strength training for healthy balance.

Which brings me to my next point. I do love to strength train. I think we all find certain exercises that we are more partial to. Some like running, others like cycling, but me, I am always up for a good strength training session. All in all lifting weights has changed my physique faster, and more than any other type of exercise. It is such a myth that women will get too bulky from lifting weights. Strength training burns a good amount of calories, and builds lots of lean muscle, which also burns more calories at rest than fat. Start light, and lift with good form, and I promise that you will not regret it.

I would also recommend not doing the same routines week after week. There are different ways to mix, and match your workouts. Some people would rather do longer workouts less days a week that incorporate different parts of the body. While others like doing one at a time. One thing you should never do is work the same part of your body 2 days in a row. In other words, don't do an upper body workout Monday, and then do another one Tuesday just because that is what you perceive the be your problems area. It won't get you quicker results. I also like to be sure to mix up different types of exercises depending on how I am feeling, and what I've been doing. If I have been doing strength training, and HIIT training for several weeks then maybe I could try to do a week of pilates, or some other type. I find that switching up types of routines often really keeps my body moving forward in progress, and not stuck in a rut.

When I was a child I was so uncoordinated that I actually was unable to skip until I was at least 10 years old. The concept of alternating both legs while jumping was something that I could not grasp. I also had very, very poor muscle tone in my trunk. and upper body. Needless to say, I resigned myself to be not a sporty person at a very young age. What I have been able to discover as I have explored doing at home fitness videos at my own pace is that I was wrong. My PE teachers were wrong. Everyone that overlooked me as someone who was physically capable of fitness was wrong. I have improved all those things 100 times over, and am still doing so to this day as my balance, coordination, and strength improves. There are a lot of us who have some form of autism that were overlooked due to not having the skills to play team sports that could succeed in doing the same as I have. The confidence in physical feats is a wonderful, and new feeling for me. It has not been easy, but it has been worth it.

The dieting portion of this blog entry is going to be substantially shorter than the exercise portion in the beginning. I almost don't want to go into it for fear of all the comments I might get, but it's never stopped me before, so why now.

My philosophy with food is simple really. I eat as much real food as I want, and stop when I am full. I don't eat diet foods. I don't take supplements, or shakes. I don't do diets, fasts, or ridiculous fads. I don't count calories. I try to eat unprocessed foods most of the time, and not worry about when I don't. I don't call anything cheat meals/foods/days. It's all food. Use common sense. You can't go out to eat every other day, eat/drink a bunch of corn syrup, and frozen/boxed foods and expect to lose weight. I hesitate to lay out my whole diet, and worried that this entry is long enough as is, so in short I eat fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains (look at the label! If it says enriched wheat it is NOT whole grain)  and the leanest meats I can afford. I don't restrict to calorie intake to small amount, or deprive myself of my favorite foods. Long term doing so  only builds up a feeling of deprivation, and resentment. Eat better, and enjoy your food. It's not your enemy. I am happy to elaborate on that if you'd like, but for now I think I will leave off here. I hope this post has helped simplify the world of fitness, and diet for some of you. Thank you for reading, and feel free to contact me with any questions, or concerns you may have.


  1. Have been having some serious health issues asnd trying to get on a good track. For me it's less about weight than about strength, health and less stress, but this was helpful anyway. Good luck and thanks,

    1. I think all of those are better reasons to want to be active, anyway. I hope this entry was able to help some. If you have any specific questions please feel free to contact me. Good luck!


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