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For years, I lived my life with one solid focus: to travel the world as much as possible and build my career as a travel blogger. And it was good. Lord, was it good.
But over time, I learned that being singularly focused means that everything else in your life suffers to a degree. Relationships. Other interests. And most importantly, health. Case in point: almost every travel blogger who has given up full-time travel has cited health as a reason.
When I finally felt the travel desire waning, it was a blessing. For the first time, I felt the freedom to create a fixed life in New York. Now that I’ve been managing that for a year, it’s time to turn my efforts toward improving my health.
I grew up very thin, put on weight throughout my twenties, then lost 20+ pounds in 2010, just in time for me to start my travels in Southeast Asia. How? I basically starved myself. It wasn’t healthy.
You can see in the pics from back then that I was super thin but had no muscle tone. I was the epitome of skinny fat.
After Southeast Asia, the weight packed back on. And while I would lose a few pounds here and there, I was never able to commit to anything. Yoga? BORED. YouTube workouts? MAYBE FOR A FEW WEEKS. Paid video workouts? DIDN’T LAST. Running? HURT MYSELF AND STOPPED. Walking a ton? NOT ENOUGH CARDIO.
And so I found nothing that worked. As a result, my weight stayed the same. And I am so fucking sick and tired.
I’m tired of contorting myself into the skinniest position possible while posing for photos.
I’m tired of traveling with gorgeous friends with hot bodies and feeling like the resident lump.
I’m tired of hiding on beaches behind sarongs and caftans.
I’m tired of traveling with brilliant photographer friends and ending up photos of a fat girl I don’t recognize.
For five and a half years I’ve been looking at photos of myself and thinking, “That’s not me.”
So I’m finally taking action. In a big way. Here is how I am going to change my life with fitness.
Yes, I drank the #committosomething Kool-Aid. There was a promotion in December where there was no initiation fee for joining Equinox (usually $300-500), so that was the incentive that brought me in.
(Note: this January you can still join Equinox with no initiation fee if you work out 12 times in your first 30 days! Tell them Kate McCulley recommended you.)
I held off because I wanted to join a gym like Healthworks Back Bay, where I went in Boston. Healthworks is a luxurious all-female gym and I went all the time because I loved the atmosphere. And there actually isn’t an equivalent in New York. I went back and forth — did I really want to work out with boys who used all the heavy weights and made me feel inadequate?
Turns out a coed gym wasn’t the problem. My core issue was that I didn’t want to feel intimidated. And I lucked out — I go to the Equinox on West 92nd St., which is in a residential zone and thus reflects the locals: there are a lot of older people. Classes tend to be young and nearly all female, but usually at least two thirds of the floor is filled with people in their fifties and older. The kind of people who say, “Why, thank you, young lady!” when I hold a door for them (so sweet). And because of that, I don’t feel intimidated at all!
For what it’s worth, not every Equinox is like that. I’ve heard the downtown locations have a hotter crowd and the SoHo location in particular is popular with models.
And to acknowledge the elephant in the room — yes, it’s an expensive gym. I wish it weren’t. But for someone like me who has tried and failed so many different fitness plans over the years and has only succeeded staying in shape when she has a fancy gym to go to? GIVE ME THE FANCY PLACE WITH THE COOL CLASSES. All day. I need that as motivation. And their app. God, Equinox has an awesome app.
Honestly, if I joined Planet Fitness or even NYSC, I wouldn’t be motivated to go. Equinox is super nice and fancy and I love going there. Spending that money is worth it because it’s keeping me in shape.
Get a personal trainer.
I didn’t see this on the horizon, but surprise — I have a trainer now! Equinox matched me with Gayle, a trainer who met the criteria I asked for (female, not a drill sergeant type, wouldn’t mind my sporadic travel schedule) and I see her twice a week for strength training.
I went into the gym as a fitness newbie — I have no clue how to work out on the machines or what my form should be or how hard to push myself or how to design a circuit. Even when I went to Healthworks in Boston, I avoided the machines because I didn’t know how to use them. This way, Gayle is helping me go from an unshaped ball of clay to a very fit human being with a routine customized to all my personal strengths and weaknesses.
Try 20 classes at Equinox before the end of the year.
I am a class junkie — I love group fitness, especially fast-moving dance-y classes, and it’s one of the best ways to motivate me to go to the gym. Equinox is known for its excellent classes and instructors. I’m already impressed at what the difference can be between an average Zumba instructor and a great Zumba instructor.
I *could* take 20 different classes at my gym on 92nd St., but that would mean taking virtually every class they offer, so I may look into expanding into a global membership, letting me check out other clubs and classes.
Get up the nerve to take a spin class.
The idea of spinning, or indoor cycling, has always terrified me, especially after hearing accounts of intimidating instructors from friends. It seems like everyone yells at you, and I don’t feel strong enough to join in yet!
I will get up the nerve, and I will do it. Maybe in a month or so.
Figure out how to keep up exercise while traveling.
This is the one that stumps me the most. Everything I’ve tried while traveling has not worked long-term. I think my best solution may be trying to find Zumba classes when traveling in the US or major cities.
Lose 25 pounds by Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is the last weekend in May and the unofficial kickoff to the summer, non-American readers. And I think losing 25 pounds a week, which works out to just a little over a pound per week, is a very reasonable goal.
My body assessment calculated that my optimal goal should be to lose 33 pounds of fat and add 11 pounds of muscle. So losing 25 pounds will get me to a good, bikini-worthy weight, but I think I can lose another 5-10 pounds beyond that.
Get sexy, defined clavicles again.
I want my clavicles to be sharper than a serpent’s tooth.
Aim to eat paleo 80% of the time.
I’ve always thought the paleo diet made the most sense — lots of vegetables with meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds, while avoiding processed foods, sugar, dairy, and grains. It sounded so healthy — I just didn’t want to commit to it.
Then I promised my trainer I would give up sugar and carbs (not all carbs, just bread and pasta and rice). And then I dropped dairy as well and didn’t miss it. I guess this is what I’m doing now.
Doing it 80% is a smart choice because it keeps me from being miserable and it makes socializing easier. I went out for Vietnamese food at Anchoi on the Lower East Side and enjoyed pho and summer rolls with rice noodles and rice paper, and didn’t care. I had a little shaved parmesan on a kale caesar salad at Sweetgreen and loved it, too.
I’m not going to splurge aimlessly — I’m going to save them up for really good reasons. Like a Salty Pimp at Big Gay Ice Cream in the Village or the fettuccine al’amatriciana at Emilio’s Ballato in SoHo.
Commit to cooking paleo at home.
I love to cook. And there are so many great paleo recipes on the internet! I’ve been experimenting and having a great time. I made a grass-fed beef chili so good that I nearly cried. And my new favorite things are date-almond-coconut bars made with nothing but those three ingredients.
In the process, I’ve also started shopping at the Trader Joe’s on 72nd St. more often, rather than relying on the subpar markets in my neighborhood. Not only is Trader Joe’s shockingly cheap (like, cheaper than Amazon cheap), they also have a nice selection of organic options and cool store products. (The only thing? The checkout line stretches for AGES, even on a random Tuesday afternoon.)
Make smarter choices about alcohol.
I’m still doing a sober month once a year (though I didn’t write about it in 2016), which I recommend to everyone. It’s good to give your body a break and remind yourself how to socialize without booze. It made my skin clear up so much, too.
I’m not giving up alcohol entirely, but I’m making smarter choices about what I drink. I don’t drink at home to begin with, and when I go out, I choose wine (usually red or champagne) or spirits, ideally low-cal vodka sodas with (a lot of) lime.
And if I get a cocktail, I try to get a relatively clean cocktail. At Attaboy on the Lower East Side (amazing speakeasy and one of the best cocktail bars I’ve ever been to), the bartender made me a Bee Sting: gin, lemon, honey, ginger. At Red Rooster, the restaurant that literally made me want to move to Harlem, I got an Earl of Harlem: bourbon with Earl Grey tea and lemon.
Off the menu are beer, sugary cocktails, and anything involving soda or high-cal mixers like tonic.
Make smarter choices about caffeine.
I’ve become a latte-a-day girl, and as much as I love them, they’re not the smartest choice. They add a lot of calories and the dairy isn’t great for you. Plus, I don’t mind drinking (good) coffee black!
When I go out to cafes now, whether to work or for a pick-me-up, I restrict myself to either black coffee or herbal tea. No sugar, ever, but I didn’t use sugar anyway.
I’ve also been experimenting with bulletproof coffee: a cup of coffee with a tablespoon of organic unsalted grass-fed butter and a tablespoon of organic coconut oil. I only do it pre-workout, but it makes me feel like I have rocket fuel in my veins.
Make smarter choices about animal products.
This year I’m going to make a bigger commitment to cooking only with organic, free-range, antibiotic-free eggs and poultry, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish. These kinds of animal products are so much healthier for you than the conventional options.
Unfortunately, meat this good comes at a price — it’s very expensive. I’ll try to get what I can for cheap at Trader Joe’s, but they don’t have everything. I plan on making lots of visits to Harlem Shambles, one of the best butcher shops in the city.
Mental Health Goals:
Meditate more often.
I pay for the Headspace app but don’t use it nearly enough. It’s funny how I can while away ten minutes on Facebook without noticing but ten minutes of meditation makes me think, “Do I really have time for that?” Hell yes, Kate, you have time for that!
The truth? Meditation always helps me relax, focus, and feel more in control. Sometimes it even cures my headaches! There’s really no reason not to do it. I’d like to do it a few times a week.
Let go of the body baggage.
I grew up in a thin family. I graduated from high school at 5’4″ and 109 pounds and didn’t start putting on weight until later in college, then kept adding more and more in my twenties and thirties.
My family members are wonderful, smart, funny people. But nobody’s perfect, and looking back, I realize that when I was growing up, we were not as kind and accepting of overweight people as we should have been. It never lapsed into mocking or cruelty, but there were constant negative comments when talking about people heavier than we were.
Two examples of that? I remember when I was in a play and one 15-year-old girl had to do a move where she flung her arms outward. I noticed nothing unusual about it, but I remember my mom saying, “If I had a daughter whose arms jiggled like that, I’d have her on a workout plan so fast.” (And because I know a lot of people from home read this blog — she wasn’t talking about someone from Reading. This was at summer camp.)
And I remember once at church when a family of three came in. Both of the parents were obese and each used two canes to walk. Their son, probably around 12 at the time, was overweight. “That kid is doomed,” I remember my dad saying as soon as we were home.
It was during college when I realized that making negative comments about overweight people was neither kind nor common. I spent a few years rewiring my brain and trying to become a better person.
So, what’s it like to grow up thin in a family where thinness is prized but you end up heavy? It’s been rough. I’ve felt like an embarrassment to my family for many years now, especially after being a heavy bridesmaid in two weddings. My weight is frequently a topic whenever I’m home, but it’s more along the lines of, “So what are you doing to work out now?” They’re not mean about it, but it’s tough to know that they would hold a better opinion of me if I lost it.
I need to keep working through that.
Use the SELF Journal for fitness goals.
I supported the SELF Journal on Kickstarter and got one of my own but haven’t even started using it yet! Talk about the height of laziness.
It’s part day planner, part bullet journal. It helps you set your daily and weekly goals and lay out the steps you’ll take to get there.
I particularly like that it has sections for daily gratitudes, both in the morning and the night.
Make peace with the fact that I’m going to lose my boobs.
Because, really, they’re exceptional. And I don’t say that lightly.
Get up early — perhaps a monthly challenge of getting up early.
I got this idea from Lauren of Neverending Footsteps — she wants to spend a month waking up early, like at 4:00 or 5:00 AM.
I love getting up early, but I rarely do it — I feel like I’m wired to do my best work at night, especially when it comes to writing, and it’s not unusual for me to be putting the finishing touches on a blog post at 2:00 or 3:00 AM. Even though I don’t want to.
So perhaps I should make a concentrated effort to get up at 5:00 AM for a month and see how it goes. That would be easy to take on the road, too!
Put phone on airplane mode long before bed until long after you’re up.
C’est Christine recently posted about doing this and I’m a big fan — it’s nice to know there are no distractions when you’re trying to get to bed. And this way, my eyelids start fluttering while I’m still reading and I fall asleep immediately.
It also helps me get up in the morning and get things done before getting sucked into social media.
So, how’s it going so far?
Well, we’re 17 days into the New Year, so I’m well aware that I’m in the “This is awesome!” stage of things and keeping it up will get more challenging.
So far, though, I feel amazing. I don’t know whether it’s the workouts or the diet, but I feel so focused and aware and light and I have an easier time getting work done. My skin is soft, too.
And the big one: I’ve lost five pounds in two weeks and my jeans are loose in the butt region. Five pounds is a lot of weight to lose that fast, but it’s common to lose fast at first, and I’m certain the weight loss will soon taper down to a more-reasonable one pound per week.
I plan on doing little fitness updates in my monthly recaps and a bigger post around Memorial Day or once I hit a major milestone.
But what I really, truly hope is that this is the beginning of a major lifestyle change for me. I’ve waited long enough.