I have been overweight since I was about eight years old. In third grade, I was beaten up twice for my size, which was used to fuel the unnecessary attacks on me. I was a kind, gentle soul as a child, and if you know me know, I still am under my rough exterior. Food was always something I could depend on to feel happy. I loved how it tasted; those endorphins kicked in whenever I got my favorites! However, this type of relationship with food led to a downward spiral into overeating, inactivity, embarrassment, and shame. I had no control over my appetite, and now in my 40s, I have finally figured out that all those years of mismatched association with happiness through food destroyed my ability to understand what real hunger and satisfaction meant.

Weight loss also brought emotionally charged discussions in my home growing up. It was often relayed to me that being overweight would not allow me to be successful as I grew up. I needed to look a certain way, or I may never find a husband. As a young woman, I was supposed to fit a mold to attract a man. Even though I successfully lost some weight through exercise in high school, I was never thin. I would always be the “bigger” girl in the group and the child who needed to wear larger sizes. I couldn’t shop at certain stores, and it was often a source of conflict and used against me as a teen because my clothes were harder to find. I began to rebel from the “norm,” opted for clothes from thrift stores and concert t-shirts, and became whom I wanted. I was happy and proud of myself for being different from other girls. Luckily, my mind was strong, even as a younger person. The world isn’t so forgiving or accepting, but I didn’t care. I finally changed my eating habits in my early 20s by adopting a low-carb life, which was all the rage. I cut sugar from my diet and omitted this addictive substance for a while. This produced a 75-pound weight loss in a relatively short time because I was also starting to walk for exercise. I then began Tae-Bo at home and was on an infomercial filmed in Los Angeles, California! At 173 pounds, I was still above an ideal weight. But I looked and felt better than I ever had in my entire life. I eventually got back into a more balanced diet and started doing step-aerobics, free-weight training, and spin. My appetite was and remained BIG, so I would do mostly cardio to keep the weight off. At 30, I needed to be stronger. I thought I was, but I lacked muscle tone or shape. I decided to try P90x and noticed some ab definition, but doing cardio still doesn’t help build strength. It helps burn calories, but muscle isn’t built unless you lift heavier loads. It was also shortly after 30 that I went through a whole life change – a divorce, a move, and a whole bunch of fun that deterred me from the healthy life I had built. At 35, my love of food and alcohol was too much for my metabolism. I decided to walk into Nika, to be a part of something to refocus on my health.

I realized quickly how I had done so many things wrong but was lucky to have made that phone call to one of the owners, Ashley. I had heard about CrossFit but never thought I could keep up. I saw barbells, rigs, tires, kettlebells, and rowers, thinking, “What did I get myself into?” Women were doing weightlifting movements I never knew existed. But I didn’t pick up a barbell that day. Ashley had me do the same workout as everyone else, but I used things I had used before. I had good body awareness and listened during my on-ramp with one of the coaches, Jeannie. By the end of my introduction to CrossFit, Jeannie told me, “You are going to get strong.” I didn’t believe her or any of the other coaches. I just thought everyone else was better than me, and I couldn’t do what they did. But I kept showing up. I watched, listened, failed, made mistakes, and was sometimes the last to finish a workout. I just never quit. I realized I was capable of much more than I thought. I just had to be willing to work to do it.

Fitness and athleticism never came easy to me. I do not have natural ability or come from a long line of genetically superior human beings. But my mind was open. Still, good eating habits did not mirror my time in the gym. I falsely assumed that my workouts undid what and how much I ate and drank at home. Although I put on a substantial amount of muscle mass as a CrossFitter, I was not supporting it correctly. My appetite control didn’t exist. I still hadn’t mastered what hunger felt like.

At 44 years old, I decided to use Semaglitude to work on this daily with support from my nutrition coach and medical provider. If your goal is to lose weight, it is imperative to have a coach to ensure your nutrition is solid; otherwise, you risk losing muscle and not fat.

Sleep, nutrition, muscle, and movement make me thrive as a middle-aged female athlete. My goals revolve around aging with strength and endurance. One of the biggest misconceptions by many women is that lifting weights leads to masculinity. I am here to tell you that if you are a woman, you cannot afford NOT to lift weights. It will keep you healthier and more robust than everyone else who is not lifting. Muscle will keep you upright as you age. It will protect you from bone loss and a life of frailty. It will allow you to get up off the floor if you fall. Weightlifting is hard. But so is depending on other people to help you live.

While I firmly believe that most humans never truly tap into what they are physically capable of, women can do much more than they think. I believed the lie that muscle would make me less attractive, and what was the point if I just wanted to be smaller? The benefits of being strong carry over to all aspects of life, even as you age. By working hard in the gym, you develop a mental toughness that will lead you to pursue your dreams. You will be a better parent, a better partner, a better leader, and a better professional. You will find that you will inspire others, and people around you will gravitate toward you. Most importantly, you will take responsibility for yourself. I have no regrets about walking in Nika, except that I wished I had done it sooner.

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