That time I became a fitness fanatic (And then I got over myself.)

*I know that this article will probably bother a bunch of people who are really into the hard-core fitness lifestyle. That's OK, because this article is for the purpose of explaining my experience with it. You may agree or disagree with my opinions, but at the very least you can trust that they are 100% honest and my own.*

Four years ago I did not work out at all. In fact, I was dead-set against it. I maintained my weight by watching my caloric intake. By dieting alone (sometimes to an extreme), I was able to fit into the clothing size that I wanted, and I was happy with the number I saw on the scale. When I turned 25, I came to a terrible realization: I was skinny fat. For those of you reading who may not know, "skinny-fat" means that your total body mass is low, giving you a slender look with clothes on, but your fat to lean mass proportion is high.  In other words, you are mushy, soft, and dimply even though you are technically skinny. You can wear a small dress size, but in a bathing suit you are a baggy, saggy mess.

Me "skinny-fat" 2010-130 lbs
The root of my problem, psychologically speaking, had to do with my past exercise experiences. The only time I had ever done organized exercise in the past was in high school sports practices. If you've ever played high school or college sports, you know that those practices can be brutal. And mine were. I dreaded them every single day. Working out in practice felt like a punishment, and it definitely prevented me from seeking out any type of structured physical fitness routine as soon as I graduated. In retrospect, I think this probably happens to a lot of people, and might explain why for some of us, just the thought of going to the gym can invoke PTSD. 

 Me at Beaufort 5K - July 2011 125lbs

Inspired by my coworkers, I finally decided to give the whole "working-out" thing a try in March of 2011. I decided that I would give myself a 6 week trial period, working out 3 times per week for 30 minutes on the elliptical machine in my apartment complex gym. The first time I went, I surprised myself by going for 45 minutes. After just one workout, I already noticed positive changes. I felt good about completing the workout, I slept like a baby that night, and although I was a little sore the next day, I actually had more energy than usual. After three workouts, I was hooked. I even started trying out some free weights. I continued to exercise moderately for close to a year after that, going on to compete in my first 5K that summer. Life was good. I felt great.

And then I became an absolute fitness fanatic...

Me: Summer 2012 - 117 pounds

Ladies and gentleman, I became one of those people. We all know who they are. The ones who post on Facebook every time they go to the gym, their posts including photographs of themselves while actually working out. The ones who take "progress pics" in the bathroom mirror every week. The ones who post pictures of all the "clean" meals they eat. The ones who use phrases like "maximum pumps." The ones who harshly judge everyone else who isn't doing exactly what they're doing. I became the free-weight queen. Screw running and any other cardio for that matter, because that sh*t was catabolic. I look back on all of that now, and I feel so embarrassed about the way I was that I almost want to take down all of those pictures from Facebook. I only leave them up because, well, that was a part of my life and I don't think I should try to pretend like it didn't happen. That's who I was then.  (Plus they are cool pictures.)

Sparkly "I love myself" tops were necessary for every workout.
As I mentioned before, part of the reason I got interested in working out in the first place was because my friends from work were really into it. When I first started, I didn't know anything, and they were really encouraging and supportive, patiently showing me how to use all of the machines in the gym and offering spots. However, pretty soon, I left them in the dust. The fact that they had been working out for 20 years didn't mean anything to me, because I, Dana, who had been working out for all of 10 months, knew it all.

I decided to portray myself as a Mixed Martial Artist

While the pictures may look impressive, I was absolutely miserable. I was so hyped up on supplements all the time, that when I wasn't jittery or aggressive, I was running to the bathroom. I am convinced that all of the diuretics permanently damaged my digestive system and my bladder. If I took my thermogenic too late in the day, I wouldn't be able to fall asleep that night. But skipping it altogether was not an option. I frequently experienced tunnel vision whenever I stood up. On many occasions, I was offered illegal steroids to promote my muscle growth. (I did not accept.)  I lost a ton of breast tissue and started developing pectoral muscles instead. 

When you have some muscle definition from doing Mixed Martial Arts, an Asian-style dragon string bikini becomes mandatory.
Trying to figure out what to eat was a nightmare. I started dreading meals, because almost everything that tastes good was forbidden. My diet was bland and boring. Chicken, broccoli, protein shake, repeat. By nature, I am one who loves to eat. But eating became a chore. Just like making the bed and washing the dishes. That was how much enjoyment I got out of it. Going out to eat with friends and family became uncomfortable, because most of the time, I couldn't eat whatever was being served. I felt socially isolated. 


These pictures represent about 80% of what my diet was during that time. 

Ab pictures became an everyday Facebook occurrence.
Lots of people complimented me on my body, and asked me for diet and exercise tips. I just smiled and pretended that the sacrifice it took to look like that was really worth it. I pretended to love working out. I think I was trying to convince myself, too. 

Ironically, I felt "fat" the day I took this picture. 
The gym became my identity. It was all I ever talked about. I weighed myself 4-5 times per day. I worked out 6-7 days/week. Every day I took pictures, just to make sure I wasn't getting fat. I did this for about 8 months... and that's when law school started and turned my life upside down.

Law School Mug Shot August 2012 

I talk about law school a lot on the blog, but I try to write about the humorous and interesting aspects of it, rather than complain about how hard it is all the time like most people do. Today, however, I'm going to break my rule. Are you ready for it? Ok, here goes: Law school is really hard. Working full time and going to law school at night is really, REALLY hard. Since I had to focus so much attention on law school, I wasn't able to devote as much time to fitness and meal planning. I started slipping. I didn't notice it for a little while, but you know how it is when you go to put on a pair of pants and then they won't zip? Well, that happened. And do you want to know what I did? I went out and bought bigger pants. And I got the hell over myself. 

This is me now.
Me now - 132 lbs
Fast-forward to 2015. I am still at a healthy weight. I work out 5 days per week. I do, however, often consume carbohydrates, including white sugar and white flour. Furthermore, I frequently enjoy alcoholic beverages. My body is not the same. You can't see it in the picture, but I'm kind of mushy in the middle and I also sport a solid layer of dimpled insulation on my thighs and rear end. Instead of a size 0, I wear a size 6-8. I still go through phases where I will work out hard and eat healthy for a month or two, but then I usually burn out and follow that up with a solid two months of gorging myself on tacos and beer while barely breaking a sweat in the gym. But here's the thing: Despite enjoying the special flavor of hell that is attending law school while working full-time, I'm genuinely happier than I was as a fitness fanatic. I'm no longer obsessive about workouts and carbs. I have healthier relationships with my friends and family. I actually enjoy my life. Even though physically speaking, I'm far from where I was when I "peaked," I'm still convinced that I look better than I did when I wasn't working out at all. I sleep better. I feel better. I look better. I have more energy. I rarely get sick.

Baby got back.

I guess, the point of all this is to let you know the truth about my experience with this type of extreme "fitness." In my opinion, what you see in most of those fitness model and figure competition pictures people are always posting as inspiration on Pinterest and Facebook is not really an example of health. What I mean by that is, I don't think "being healthy" should make you feel bad all the time. If you've ever known someone who actually participates in figure competitions, they will tell you that the 12 weeks or so leading up to the competition is horrible. The dieting they have to do is unnatural and borders on starvation. The diuretics they take deplete the water in the body to dangerously low levels. Bodybuilders have been known to drop dead from dehydration. Although it looks cool in the pictures, your body isn't really supposed to look like this. Your body holds water for a reason: because you need it to stay ALIVE. Working out is good. Eating healthy is good. Starving yourself of water and carbohydrates for muscle definition is not good.

She looks like a Valkyrie, but she's probably about to pass out while trying to smile for this photo. 
Image Source

I understand that some people really do love working out. I am not one of those people. But since I still want to stay in shape, I had to find a compromise. In addition to allowing myself to indulge in good food fairly frequently, nowadays in the gym, you can find me doing moderately difficult treadmill workouts while I enjoy a paranormal romance novel on my iPad. If you want to get in shape, but don't want to feel like working out is a punishment, here are some beginner running workouts I copy-pasted for you from PopSugar that you can try. I also included a 500 calorie workout in case you love to suffer. I tried it once and I almost died, so don't say that you haven't been warned. I am currently using these workouts to try and shave some of the cellulite off of my ass before I have to squeeze my pasty, floppy corpus into a spandex bathing suit this summer and go out in public. 

So what is the take-home message? I may not look like a fitness model, but you know what? I had a great fall and winter. I enjoyed lots of good food over the holidays with my friends and family, and had a lot of fun drinking stout beer at the Flying Saucer. I also relaxed a lot and enjoyed my break from law school. Working out is great for you, but don't let it consume you, because your misery will turn you into a total douchebag as you try to convince everyone else how much you love being a fitness freak. Also, it's important not to lose sight of true fitness by taking unhealthy and extreme measures to achieve a certain look. What is Dana's recipe for happiness? Find something you actually enjoy doing to stay active, and do it in moderation. Mix with plenty of good food, good company, and good fun. :-)

I may or may not have bought every bottle of this beer that Total Wine had in stock this past December.
Good food makes you merry.


  1. This was a great article. I am at this precipice where I could slip to one side or the other. I have been working out for about 4 weeks, 4 days a week. I love it! But, I also love food. I love to eat. And I love to NOT be in the gym. I like getting into shape. But that is all I want: to be healthy.

    But I can feel the pull. It really wants to drag me into the "lifestyle." I've managed to fight it pretty well, though. This article was perfectly timed. If only I didn't love food and alcohol so much.

    1. Geraud! I'm so happy you're reading! You hit the nail on the head. When you get into fitness, the results you see are amazing, and it's easy to want to keep doing more and more and more. I have had to start seeing fitness as a lifestyle, instead of a single goal. If you have to be unhappy with your lifestyle in order to be happy with your body, then the whole purpose of working out to be healthy is lost. Fitness should accentuate your life, not dominate it. Life is too short not to indulge in delicious food and drink. Cheers to you!

  2. I really enjoyed this one. I tend to be obsessive so it's a challenge to embark into such endeavors. I've been lifting moderately since July. I gave myself a hernia (partly because there was an incision in my abdomen 12 years ago).

    Sometimes it is hard to wait between workouts because of my personality. I am getting a hernia operation next week and will have to stop for 8+ weeks. Also because of my personality, stopping for so long and then just going back might also be a challenge because my all or nothing nature makes alternating difficult.

    It was nice to read about the pitfalls of obsession from another person's perspective. Thanks.