How Gaining 30 Pounds Helped Me Become the Best Version of Myself

I have been so focused this year on re-integrating fitness into my life, tracking my eating habits, and losing weight, and I’ve also done a lot of reflecting on the journey that led me here. I feel like we are so quick to celebrate our weight loss success, while hiding or trying to forget those points in our life when we weighed more than we wanted to or let our workout routine fall by the wayside.

When we’re dissatisfied with ourselves, we stop fully living and enjoying our lives for a period of time. We put things off because we don’t look the way we would like to, our clothes don’t fit right or don’t fit at all, and we’re ashamed of our weight. I can only speak to this from the perspective of a women but I think men go through this too. My husband, for example, used to really hate his chest hair. I told him one day to stop shaving it because it was sharp and spiky and not comfortable for cuddling (priorities) and he was worried about going to the pool without a shirt because he didn’t want people to see it. Once I told him that I liked it and thought it looked fine, he told me he felt way more relaxed about it.

I think one of the dangers of having goals and being a goal-oriented person is that it’s hard to live in the moment and appreciate where you are right now, today. I struggle with this, especially when it comes to long-term goals. A year ago I decided I really wanted to go on a camping trip around the U.S in either a van, motorhome, or just tent camping, and it was really hard to have this dream and know that it might not be something that I can do for another couple of years. But we can’t just stop enjoying our lives because we’re waiting for the next great thing, and the same should be true for self-improvement.

If you’re familiar with my blog and my story, you know that I graduated from college in 2016 and made a lot of big life choices all at once. I moved out of the house I grew up in — and as if that wasn’t enough, I moved to another state entirely! This was a huge leap for me because I struggled with separation anxiety and homesickness throughout my childhood and young adult life. It was the main reason I decided to live at home until I graduated college, because I wasn’t ready to leave my family yet.

For someone who found it difficult being away from family and a familiar environment for even a few days, moving to a completely new state far away from my family and anything familiar was absolutely terrifying. I don’t like to half-ass anything, so if I was going to jump out of my comfort zone I was going to go all the way. This also made it difficult to fail, chicken out, and run home crying without a significant amount of effort.

This was the beginning of the complete unraveling and rebuilding of my identity. I was entering a new phase of my life. For the first time ever really, I wasn’t in school, I wasn’t playing sports, I didn’t have a calendar full of events and activities and deadlines and due dates. I had a clean slate, an open road, and it was overwhelming.

Of course, it was nice at first. I didn’t get a job right away when I got to Utah, and I spent a couple of months being lazy and not doing much of anything besides hanging out, reading, hiking, and watching tv. When I had spent most of my money, I got a babysitting gig but even that was only a few hours a day during the week. With my driven personality, I couldn’t “do nothing” for too long before I went out and got a real, 40-hour a week job.

Now this is interesting, because I feel like most people who work full-time say that they are busy and they have no free time — but this has not been my experience. For as long as I can remember, I have been in school full time and also had obligations and activities before or after school. Whether that was piano lessons in elementary school, swimming and soccer in middle school, swimming for two teams in high school, a part time job (or two or three) and hockey practice while in college, my schedule has always been jam-packed.

So having one full-time job, working 8 hours a day five days a week, is quite possibly the lightest schedule I have ever had in my entire life. I didn’t have to wake up at 5am, and I got home by 6pm and still had five hours left in my day. Not to mention the weekends!

And what did I do with all of this free time? Absolutely nothing. This is where I started storing some extra weight. You might think of it as my version of the Freshman 15, since I didn’t go away to college and had the luxury of eating home-cooked meals most nights. I wasn’t in great shape (fitness-wise) when I moved because my workout routine had gone out the window during my last (and most stressful) year of college, but I felt thin and had probably lost some muscle because I’d spent the past year working at a restaurant being on my feet for 12-hour shifts and living on a diet of coffee and bread and butter.

So I got into a routine and it went like this:

Wake up, go to work, eat breakfast at work (free bagels/smoothies twice a week and plenty of snacks for the other days), either eat lunch at work (free lunch twice a week — never chose the healthy options, never cared about portion sizes), get home and either eat a home-cooked meal, fast food, or (my favorite) an entire box of Annie’s Mac N Cheese (white cheddar shells, of course), and then watch Netflix from 6pm-11pm.

And of course, I had a desk job now, so I was no longer standing and walking all day long. I started working out again but I basically just did it because it makes me feel good — mentally — and used it to justify eating extra dessert.

I felt like I was doing enough with my life because isn’t this what adulting is supposed to look like? You go to work, get your 40 hours in each week, and come home and binge-watch your Netflix shows? Sure, some people hang out with their friends more but I didn’t really know anyone and I am not the kind of person that hangs out with friends all the time anyway. I hang out with people one evening and I need like a week to recover.

So I didn’t think anything of this lifestyle change, in part because I was still recovering from burning myself out the past 8 years in high school and college and never letting myself take a break or catch my breath. It had always been one thing after another, juggling several things at one time, and I was actually enjoying spending a lot of my time laying in bed watching Netflix for fun instead of using it as a procrastination tool.

I don’t know how it is for everyone else but my weight gain was so gradual that I really didn’t notice it until one day I woke up and my jeans didn’t fit anymore. And even then, I didn’t think anything of it because some of my clothes were really old, from high school, and I was sure I just needed new clothes anyway. I’ve never been a modest person so when Kevin moved in with me, I wasn’t shy about being naked in front of him and it was also a real relationship. I wasn’t trying to get him to like me or get him to climb in bed with me, so it didn’t seem to matter that I wasn’t in the best shape at the moment.

And to his credit, Kevin has never made me feel self-conscious about my body. He has known me all my life so he has quite literally seen me grow up, my little kid phase, my ugly middle school phase, my I have boobs now and I’m the shit phase, my I’m no longer a size 0 because my body finished developing phase, and my this is what happens when you stop exercising and eat whatever you want phase. He’s seen me naked at the heaviest I have ever weighed, and I truly believe he really does love me no matter what and doesn’t give a shit about my weight.

Case in point: I have lost 18 pounds since January and do you know what Kevin has to say about that? “Yes babe, you look amazing but now your boobs are so small!”

By the time we got engaged, I think I had reached my heaviest weight and it plateaued from there. In a way, it made me happy to know that once I reached 175 pounds I basically maintained that weight no matter what my diet and exercise looked like (but let’s not test that again). What makes me the happiest is that I never “felt” like I weighed 175. In my mind, weighing that much looked a whole lot worse than it did in reality. Of course, I was unhappy about it and I was irritated with myself for “letting it get this bad” without intervening.

But the best decision I made was to keep on living my life despite not having my shit together and weighing more than I wanted to. I wanted to get married in September and if there was one thing I definitely wasn’t going to put myself through, it was dieting. We were dealing with a lot of uncertainty and stress in our life. Kevin didn’t have a job, then he had one but then he got laid off. We were starting to put things on our credit card that we wouldn’t be able to pay off right away. We had to travel to Oregon several times that summer before the wedding. So I decided that I would find a wedding dress that I loved and felt amazing in with the body I had right then.

And looking back on my wedding photos, I don’t see those extra pounds. I see a really happy, smiley person who is so thrilled to be getting married to the love of her life (and equally thrilled that her wedding will be over and she’ll never have to do that again). I am so grateful that, in that moment, I was able to decide what was really important to me and focus on that. If it had been important to me, I would have found the motivation to lose 20 pounds before my wedding. It just wasn’t the most important thing to me at the time and I’m glad it wasn’t. I had no idea what my dress size was so I didn’t obsess over “having to fit into” a certain size. I think my dress ended up being a size 12, but some of the dresses I tried on went up to size 16 and you know what, it didn’t kill my self-esteem!

It completely broke my unhealthy relationship with the scale that I’d had from the moment my weight went from 113 to 120. For some reason, this was a tipping point for me and I became obsessed with my weight. I went through old photos on my computer last year and found tons of pictures of the scale with varying weights like 123.2, 125.7, 132.1. I would sometimes weigh myself in the morning and in the evening just so I could feel bad about “gaining” 3 pounds in one day. When I realized I was basically plateauing at 175, I stopped weighing myself. Until I made the decision to commit to losing weight, there wasn’t any reason to step on the scale in order to make myself feel bad about the choices I had made that week.

I could have “not let it get that bad” or started trying to lose weight sooner, but I think I had to make an important discovery first. I realized that not only had I never really cared about nutrition, I had never “tried to lose weight” for the right reasons. It was never about me. In high school, girls were pretty obsessed with their weight. A big thing was staying as close to 100 pounds as possible (who made this rule, I have no clue). I was quite a bit taller than some of my close friends, so at 120 pounds I thought I was “fat”.

The kicker is that I’ve actually never had a flat stomach. Looking back at old photos, I always had a little extra on my belly because a) I have always had a weak core and b) I love eating ice cream and never wanted to care about nutrition. Which was fine in high school when I was swimming 7 days a week and still growing, but doesn’t work so well in your early 20s when you stop growing and exercising simultaneously.

I also got a lot of really unhealthy advice from just about everyone. I’m sure you’ve heard it before too. “Enjoy eating those donuts now because when you get older, you’ll gain five pounds just by looking at a donut!” This is horrible advice because really, we should always be able to eat what we want to eat. Moderation is the key. Weight loss and weight maintenance are very simple: calories in, calories out. If you want to lose weight, be in a caloric deficit. If you want to maintain you weight, eat about the same amount of calories as you burn. It’s not nutritionally advisable, but you could figure out a way to eat a donut every morning and stay within those parameters.

But basically, I never ever ever ate healthy because soon I would be old and the donuts and ice cream would immediately make me fat. So to try and lose weight, I would exercise a ton. Swimming kept me incredibly lean because it’s a great form of exercise, burns a lot of calories, and I was doing it like 20 hours a week! When I retired from swimming, I started going to the gym. Sometimes I would go to the gym twice in one day! And sometimes I would lose a few pounds but mostly I just kept slowly gaining weight until I plateaued at around 145.

I never thought about how I wanted to look or how I wanted to feel. I thought about how my friends looked, what size clothes they wore, how their bodies looked. I thought about guys I dated or wanted to date, and how they would want me to look.

So you can imagine how liberating it was to be “freed” from all of that. I now weighed an unacceptable weight, so there was no point in trying to attain these impossible standards. Plus, Kevin loved me no matter what so it’s not like I had to get in shape and lose weight for him. So I bought some “fat clothes” and spent a summer by the pool not giving a fuck about my stomach rolls and stretch marks.

Disclaimer: I absolutely had low-esteem moments during this journey. I cried when clothes didn’t fit me anymore. I got angry with myself. I put myself down. I called myself fat. I tried to be in denial and pretend I wasn’t 175 pounds.

But I also found out that I was worth more than my weight. My husband still loved me. Guys still hit on me. People still liked and respected me. I still had friends and coworkers. I could still physically do all of the things I liked to do.

And from there, I built myself back up into the person that I wanted to be. I started going back to the gym, not for weight loss or physical health, but for my mental health. Working out has always been something that I loved and it makes me feel amazing. I didn’t care what I was doing at the gym or how long I was there, as long as I worked out every day. I wanted to learn more about nutrition so Kevin and I did a Whole30. I learned so much about myself and how different foods affect me. I might have lost weight but I don’t even know because I didn’t weigh myself, I just focused on how I felt and how my body looked!

I decided I wanted to be strong again. Although I could still do basically any physical activity, I knew I was losing muscle and would have to build it back up at the gym. I have never had a lot of core strength so I really wanted to improve that as well. I started focusing on my workouts more and trying new exercises. Meanwhile, Kevin and I were still figuring out our food freedom. Moderation was a struggle for us and we alternated between a strict Whole30 regimen and eating anything we wanted.

In December of last year, I was pretty frustrated because we had eaten healthy for over a month and my clothes still weren’t fitting right so I decided to weigh myself. I was still at 175. I felt like a total failure. I had done so much work at the gym and on my nutrition the entire year and I still weighed the same. I figured I must be doing something wrong to not be seeing results (which wasn’t entirely true — I hadn’t lost weight but I had started gaining back some of the muscle I had lost, and I was eating way more nutritionally dense foods).

In January, I decided to do what I had always hated doing: count my calories. This never worked for me in the past because I would obsess over it and do things like hoard all my calories until the evening so that I could be sure I would “have enough”. I also thought it was too restrictive and not sustainable, but I was eating all the right foods and exercising so I thought I would give it a try.

I used MyFitnessPal to track my calories, which has improved greatly since the time I first used it like six years ago. You can basically use the barcodes on all of your food to get the nutrition information, and there’s even nutrition information for popular restaurants! This was a game-changer, since the first time I used this app I had to put almost all my foods in manually and it was really tedious.

My goal was to set a weight loss goal of 1 pound per week, which is considered “moderate” weight loss and seemed like a fairly healthy progression, especially since I was going to be gaining muscle at the same time. I bought one of those scales that also shows you things like body fat percentage. I decided I would only weigh myself once a month, and that I would “loosely” track my calories, meaning that I don’t include all twelve spices that I put in my meal and I don’t have a scale to weigh my food. I try to over-estimate my portion sizes because I think I usually eat a little bit more than I think. I also decided that it was okay to go over my allotted calories for the day, because the goal of this was to be more aware of how much I was actually eating.

I also started intermittent fasting, which works great for me and I highly recommend trying it. I eat between the hours of 1pm-9pm. This works well because I don’t usually get hungry until about 11 or 12 and I don’t like working out in the morning. I usually eat a small lunch because I love eating a big dinner. I don’t stick to this 100% of the time. Usually I do it consistently on the weekdays and then eat an early breakfast/lunch on the weekends.

I started working out at home and loved it. I think it’s a seasonal thing for me. If it’s really cold outside, I absolutely want to stay at home and have no desire to go to the gym. If it’s sunny and warm, I love going to the gym! I made it a goal to workout every day since my workout videos were so short. I even did them while I was in Phoenix and during a weekend trip to Moab! After 3 months, I got bored of the workout videos and went back to the gym. I have been following a workout plan created by my brother since then, and also doing some different weight-lifting videos at home.

I have improved immensely at doing things in moderation. I listen to my body and do the workout that best suits me everyday. I still don’t like taking a complete rest day, but I usually do something lighter like yoga on Sundays as a recovery. I love the intermittent fasting but I don’t worry if I want to have a snack after 9pm, or if I want to eat my lunch a little earlier. I count my calories daily but if I go out to eat and don’t have the nutrition information, I just guess and don’t stress about it. We plan our meals weekly and try to eat a balance of delicious and healthy food. Some weeks are more nutritious than others, but at the end of the day I focus on total calories. I’m not doing macros at this point in time, but I have thought about that and may try it.

And I think one of my biggest wins is that I’m writing this blog post in the middle of my journey to being in the best shape of my life. I had a moment where I was like, “Shouldn’t I wait until I’m done and I’ve accomplished my goal so I will be qualified to write this post about my journey?” But then I thought, at what point will I be done? Sure, I am hoping to be in “the best shape of my life” by June, but I won’t just stop there. I will create new health and fitness goals and I will go after those!

So this is my story, so far, of how gaining 30 pounds helped me rebuild my life into something that I’m doing for me and something that I am proud of and, ultimately, has put me on a path to be healthier and stronger than I have ever been before! I am excited to continue this journey and see where I end up, and I hope that this perspective was valuable. I hope it makes you celebrate those times when you definitely did not have your shit together, because life still happened and you still evolved and changed from those experiences!

It would be unfair of me to say that the year I gained 30 pounds was the worst year of my life, or that it was a crappy year, or that I’m ashamed of it — because the truth is that it was one of the best years of my life! I moved away from home and found my own path and rediscovered my independence. I married the love of my life. I rediscovered myself and decided to be who I wanted to be and stopped conforming to society’s standards or other people’s opinions of who I should be. It was an incredible year of growth for me and I am so proud of what I accomplished. Not only did I experience a tremendous amount of positive growth and change in my life, I created the foundation that has made this year such an amazing year — and it’s only halfway over!

I’ll leave you with this: Appreciate each phase of life you go through — the highs and the lows, the stressful and the calm, the good and the bad. It’s all shaping you into the person you were always meant to be.

Published by Sami Hertel

Oregon native, current Utah resident, blogging about my adventures on lifeafteroregon.com!

One thought on “How Gaining 30 Pounds Helped Me Become the Best Version of Myself

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