This week marks a huge milestone on my health and fitness journey. It has officially been five years of getting my life together!

Seriously, the last five years have been filled with joy, pain, love, laughter, growth, vulnerability, fear, courage, setbacks and success. As beautiful and frightening as this journey has been, I would not trade it for anything.

This journey saved my life.

On July 31, 2012, I came to a fork in the road that made me face reality. After a week of blistering headaches, I found myself in a doctor’s office.  My blood pressure was out of control.  The doctor diagnosed me with hypertension.  He prescribed medication and sent me on my way.

I was 27 years old. I was ashamed that my decisions led to my dilemma.

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On the drive home, it hit me. I could no longer run from this journey.  I had to make a decision: continue living a life that would set me up for an early grave, or take the leap and live a healthier way.

I decided to live.

Tears of joy and fear danced down my face after I made the decision I had been dodging most of my life. I had seen the scale go as high as 267 pounds.  I ate family-sized meals alone in my room or in my car.  I would throw away food to keep myself from eating it, only to dig it out of the trash and devour it in shame.  I witnessed many people in my family get diagnosed with diabetes or high blood pressure.  I saw my father, who had his own struggle with morbid obesity, pass away with so much left to do on this earth.  This time, I wasn’t trying to lose weight for some superficial reason.  I wanted to lose the weight and gain a longer life.  I wanted to show God I was grateful for the body he had given me.

I made God two promises that day: I would eat better and exercise. I did not promise perfection, but I did promise passion.

Living out those promises led to losing 100 pounds. I have consistently kept 85 pounds off.  While I go toe-to-toe with those 15 pounds in this season of the journey (those little suckers) I remind myself that I am still a champion because I choose to stay in the game.

The biggest joy of this journey is connected to the biggest fear I had of sharing it so openly: being vulnerable.  I share the good, bad and embarrassing.  But the beauty of being so naked in front of the world is the power it has to liberate others struggling with the same problems.  There is no better feeling than meeting someone who says revealing my struggles helped them take the first in their own journey.

God fulfilled his promise to me by using my pain for a purpose. I will commit my life to keeping those promises I made to Him five years ago.

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If you’re reading this for motivation to start or inspiration to keep going, here are three key elements that help me stay in the ring over the last five years.

Forgiveness

For so many years I beat myself up for not taking good care of my body.  How did I let myself get to 267 pounds?  Why did I eat this or that?  Why didn’t I go to the gym? I would get so caught up in my own disappointment that I would self-medicate with overeating, the very thing I was beating myself up for! It was a vicious cycle that kept repeating itself.

Here’s the thing about the past.  We cannot go back and change it.  It’s impossible.  Reliving those moments in our minds can sometimes lead to repeating them in the here and now.  We can only learn from the past, and use our failures and mistakes as tools to help us grow. Grow from the past, don’t live there.  You’ll miss out on so much of the joy that God has for you!  Learn, let go and move on.

Focus on what matters

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.

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. 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 your cholesterol levels measuring up? What about your blood sugar levels? Find victories that have nothing to do with a scale or how many abs you can see on your tummy.

Find the blessing in the burden

We all have a “thing” that seems to be in the way, or a constant force of opposition in our lives.

For some, it can be a debilitating disability that no matter how hard you fight or how hard you smile, it will always be there. For others, it can be a disease that slowly eats away at you. The only decision people have in situations like these is to either be happy in spite of it, or drown in misery because of it.

So, I realized that with losing weight, I actually have the power to confront and overcome this obstacle. Each day, you can make choices that will chip away at it, bit by bit. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it certainly means you have the power to push through it.  I became grateful that God blessed me with an obstacle I have complete control over.

I can choose to exercise. I am blessed with legs, arms and feet so I could walk and jog and run. I can choose to eat better.  I. Can.

Look in the mirror and thank God for a burden you have the power to change.

You lost weight, so now what?

I am truly looking forward to the next five years of this journey. I don’t necessarily have a specific goal in mind, although I would like to ditch those darn 15 pounds and have a hint of a four-pack…

Seriously, I have come to realize you can get stuck in a rut of doing things the way you’ve always done them, and that can stunt your growth or worse, cause you to slip backward. So, I am open to learning, growing and exploring new ways of staying on the path and inspiring others to come along for the ride.  I am learning that opening my mind to different ways of moving forward doesn’t mean I don’t add value.  It just means I can grow and evolve.

Isn’t that what a journey is all about, anyway?

“…Let us run with endurance the race that is marked out for us, looking to Christ Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith.”  Hebrews 12:1