It was 2005.

I was a sophomore in college at Florida A&M University. I tipped the scales at around 230 pounds. It was the most I had weighed in my life (at that point).

I was off the heels of a breakdown about my battle with the bulge that ended with a family-sized meal of Popeye’s and an entire key lime pie.

I was disgusted with myself and finally ready to lose the weight, but my resolve had nothing to do with better health. I was ready to look cute like all my sorority sisters in those tiny dresses at the frat parties.

So, for the one-millionth time in my life, I committed to a diet and set my sights on my goal: J. Lo.

I didn’t have a number of pounds to lose. I certainly didn’t have any health goals. My plan was to diet and workout until I looked like Jennifer Lopez.

Why her?

In my fantasy world, J. Lo’s lean and curvaceous body is what was really hiding under the pounds I had packed on my 5’2″ frame by numbing my feelings with fried chicken, fast food and Krispy Kreme.

This was me circa 2004 when I started "chasing" J. Lo.

Circa 2005 when I started “chasing” J. Lo.

I have never desired to be skinny, but I did desire a tiny waste, toned abs, and a booty that garnered applause.

I cut out a picture of J. Lo in some curve hugging black dress, and taped it to a treadmill. I literally stared at it while I worked out, praying each step would get me closer to looking exactly like the picture in front of me.

Then, I’d go home and prepare what I “understood” to be an Atkins Diet approved dinner: two really large pieces of ground beef patties covered in pepper jack cheese, a side of veggies coated in butter, a shower of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, and more cheese for good measure. Low card, right?

I was convinced I was well on my way to being J. Lo’s body double.

A long and brutal four days latter, my “Jenny from the Block” body was nowhere in sight. Like all the times before, I got frustrated and gave up.

I would repeat that vicious cycle of chasing after some picture in my mind until 2012. My high blood pressure scare made me see what this journey is really about: how healthy we are on the inside.

We can spend our entire lives chasing J. Lo, or Beyoncé, or that Instagram model. What happens when difficulty and frustration set in? What will keep you going when you realize your best and healthiest body doesn’t come with a J. Lo booty? Does that mean you failed?

No.

It means we have to cling to a universal constant to keep us going along this journey, and that’s our overall health. Working out so you can be here when your daughter gets married. Eating well so you can chase your grandkids.

It wasn’t until I made my actual health (and not a vision in my head) a priority that the changes actually stuck. It’s five years and counting on this journey for me. That beats my four-day sprint chasing J. Lo on the treadmill.

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Left: 2010 Right: 2015

I am NOT saying there is anything wrong with admiring another person’s fitness achievements. I am just as inspired by the six-pack, zero belly fat, ripped biceps and backs I see on TV or social media. It is truly motivating to see someone, especially if they’ve struggled with weight, food addiction or body image, reach their body goals.

However, if we’re not careful, we end up holding ourselves to someone else’s standard of what health and fitness look like. It can be a trap of chasing the impossible, killing ourselves in the gym or with negative self talk for not looking like someone else’s picture of healthy and happy.

Here’s the thing. Some people can naturally put on muscle easier or burn fat faster than others. You could both be following the same workout and eating plan and display the physical changes at a different pace. Some say it isn’t fair (raises hand) but it’s the truth. Logically, we know this. However, instead of recognizing that all of our bodies respond differently, we feel defeated when those abs don’t show, or when that little jiggle under our arms doesn’t go away by some arbitrary date we set in our minds. When we don’t measure up to someone else’s finish line photo, we’re in danger of straying away from our own journey and ignoring our own victories. We can wind up circling back to bad decisions that put us on the wrong track in the first place.

The moment we truly understand that the best measure of true health and fitness is more about our insides than our outsides, we can make real and lasting progress. Is your blood pressure coming down to a healthy 120/80? How are you cholesterol levels measuring up? What about your blood sugar levels?

Trust me, I get distracted all the time, beating myself up for not having abs, or lean legs. I’ve been working out five years. Jeez! I have to find solace in the changes I can’t see. My blood pressure is healthy now. I’m not pre-diabetic. My cholesterol levels are great. That means I’m setting myself and my family up for longer lives. These numbers should be celebrated just as much as the abs on that celebrity or Instagram model you keep comparing yourself to.

Let’s celebrate all of our victories, seen and unseen. Let go of comparison and embrace the one and only body God gave you. When that happens, health and happiness aren’t far behind.

Memories of my jaunt after J. Lo came flooding back thanks to my friend in this journey, Ehi Lindsey Adams.

jess and ehi

She lost 140 pounds by working out and eating healthier, but the weight loss left her with 20 pounds in excess skin. She went on a reality TV show to remove it, and let’s just say, she didn’t get her to that J. Lo moment either. Click here to take a listen to her testimony on July 11. Her video is POWERFUL and had me all up in my feelings!

Ask yourself. Who are you chasing?  Again, nothing wrong with getting some motivation, but don’t forget about the whole picture of health.  That one will always keep you on track.