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6 Rules for a Healthy Lifestyle

It has occurred to me… or really, it slowly crept on me, that by logging my food every day and striving for the perfect calorie goal, I am simply trading one obsession for another. I either compulsively over-eat or I obsessively diet, accepting nothing but black and white. Logging works great for most people. Logging worked well for me initially.. I just wonder if maybe logging my food has caused a mental rift in my mind between “good” and “bad” foods and “good” or “bad” days.

It’s like I believe that my nature is inherently always gravitating to the “bad.” My knee jerk reaction is to make the days I don’t log the ones where I frantically, excitedly, guiltily scramble to fit in every “bad” food I have been missing over the past few weeks of meticulous calculating and logging everything I ingest.

I made the decision to learn to eat better without logging during this past week. I was having a conversation with my roommates at the dinner table about my habits, my likes, my dislikes, and my overeating issues. One of my roommates, who has always been able to think of just about anything objectively, suggested that I attempt to wean off of logging and look at food as just food. The suggestion was appalling at first; “Logging works,” I thought, “There’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken.”

His suggestion planted itself like a seed in my mind and grew until I realized that my goal was never to be so obsessed with losing weight. My goal was to learn healthy habits, to get to my goal weight, and to look the way I wanted. It occurred to me that my logging obsession is just as mentally unhealthy for me as overeating is for my body. An unhealthy mind cannot make a healthy body. My solution was to utilize something I learned from a class for adoptive and foster parents that I had to take for my job. In order to run an orderly household, parents need to make clear, concise, simple rules that govern the household, such as “be kind,” “be respectful,” and “be honest.” I needed to make rules like these for my lifestyle so that I could simplify it rather than over-complicating it with numbers and figures.

1.) Only eat when hungry. This is a habit that logging completely broke me of doing. I got into a groove with logging that led me to believe that I should eat every 2-3 hours on the dot and that I should eat only what fit into my macros. While this is effective for some, I lost some of my ability to recognize hunger signals and deal with hankerings for random food items by replacing them with healthier options. The result is that on days when I didn’t log, I ate whatever I damn well pleased because that’s what I felt like having. This does not lend to a healthy lifestyle throughout. I can’t only be healthy when I log; I need to be making healthier choices all the time. I’m trying to create a lifestyle, not a cage.

2.) Try to keep each meal under 500 calories (estimated). Eating smaller meals as a guideline helps with portion control and allows me to spread my calories out over a long day at work. Since I’ve been logging for so long, I know what most of the foods I have been eating lately contain as far as protein and calories. This also keeps me from trying to meet a calorie goal for each day and gives me some flexibility. I may only feel like eating 1,000 calories one day but feel like eating 2,300 the next day and have all the energy for a workout.

3.) Eliminate as much sugar as possible. I know that sugar is the enemy, you know that sugar is the enemy, but we still eat a lot of sugar in our coffee, in snacks, and in sauces because it’s freaking delicious. It also causes cravings and helps our bodies to retain fat, so it has to go. As I let go of the logging process, I want to try to replace sweet food items that I normally would have eaten, especially at the end of the day, with something just a bit less sweet but still satisfying. I’ve also been trying to steadily drink my coffee just a little bit darker each day so that I can eliminate the daily use of sugar in my coffee as well. Sugar is a trigger for me, and I have avoided eliminating its evil from my life for too long.

4.) Get a fruit or vegetable on every plate. This rule follows my sugar rule because fruits and veggies have fiber that help break down sugar more slowly and help with digestion. Not only that, but a fruit or veggie with each meal can help me feel full longer, give me essential nutrients, and gives me a reason to try new things. Whether I slap spinach on a turkey burger, avocado on my scrambled eggs, or replace pretzels with carrots, getting something colorful on each plate encourages healthier habits and a healthier body.

5.) Drink a lot of water. I carry a 32oz bottle of water with me all day long, drink about two of those, and then have another couple of glasses of water at dinner. Some days I drink more than others, especially if I’ve been sweating a lot in the gym. Water is the magical elixir of life. Just drink it.

6.) Forgive yourself and move on. If I had a particularly rough day with food choices, no one is going to know it but me, regardless of how fat, sluggish, and gross I feel. No one can tell that you just ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in 5 seconds flat just by looking at you. Put it behind you, make your next meal a healthy one, drink lots of water, and just get over it. Move on.

Maybe it’s just my recent interest in yoga talking, my nervous anticipation about being ridiculously busy with graduate school beginning this summer, or maybe I’m just having a moment of clarity, but this is what I have always wanted. I have always wanted to forget that food is the enemy and realize that food is power. Food is fuel, but food is not an emotional dam for my anxiety or disappointment. For the next couple of months, I expect to be more aware of my body and its signals. I don’t expect to lose a lot of weight. If I do, that’s great, but I think that the most important makeover that needs to happen for me is in my mind.

I am hoping that by forming a more friendly relationship with food and with my body that the rest will fall into line later. Here’s to hoping.

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The Secret is That There is No Secret

I posted an updated progress photo to my Facebook as my profile picture recently, and along with the tsunami of likes and comments came a message from an acquaintance who attended my high school. She’s a really super sweet young girl who just had a baby and is trying to lose some weight. I understand that it can be difficult to lose weight after a baby, and I can read through the lines of text the desperation of her predicament. She’s unhappy with her weight, but now she has a little human to take care of and less time to take care of herself than ever before. She’s looking for an easy or quick way to get thin or healthy.

I get this question ALL the time. “What is your secret to weight loss?” It comes to me via message or comment nearly every other time I post a progress photo.

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I know what they’re hoping to hear. These fitspiring hopefuls want me to tell them that I ate only dark chocolate for a year or that I took a magic pill or made a wish to my fairy godmother and woke up skinny. We’re an instant gratification age; I get it. Really, I do. I want what I want when I want it. Now.

My response to questions like these get shorter every time, and not because I’m trying to be mean or spiteful but because it’s so hard to explain the changes I made and things I learned in 5 long years of changing my lifestyle. I used to write a novel and get excited that I’d inspired someone to be healthy, but now I realize that no one can convince any other person to make lasting changes. Just like an alcoholic can only change if they really want it for themselves, a person who is overweight and living an unhealthy lifestyle can only learn and change by doing it themselves and creating their own motivation. There is simply no way that I can convey to them all of the things I’ve changed and when I changed them over a 5 year span.

I began by logging, then walking, then running, then lifting, then eating clean and using bodybuilding workout programs on Bodyspace. It was such a gradual transition from pop, chips, and candy to water, greens, and lean protein. It has to be done gradually because it’s not a healthy transition any other way. It’s so difficult to see this question because I know I can’t do it justice. All I can do is give them a starting point and tell them to take off from there.

I wish her, and every other person who asks me for advice, the best of luck. I really hope that they learn to fuel their bodies and get healthy. It’s a wonderful thing! I just hope that they know that no one can do it for them, it’s hard, and that I spent hours in the gym and in the kitchen learning how to be a healthier person. I just never want to give anyone false hope that losing weight should be easy, but I do want them to know that it’s worth it.

10 Things You Probably Never Realize About the Formerly Fat Female in Your Life

I don’t mean to stroke my own ego, or maybe I do, but women who have made the choice to lose weight and be healthy are pretty special. We’re different than a lot of other women because we’ve fought a battle with ourselves that makes us stronger, healthier, and more confident; however, it’s important to remember that just because we met our goals we aren’t invincible or even half as confident as we put on. The truth about women who’ve lost a lot of weight is that we are fragile, sensitive, and hard on ourselves. It’s still a mental struggle for us every day to keep weight off or continue to lose it. Here’s what you might not realize is going on in your victoriously fit friend or other half’s brain:

1.) We wear colossal fat goggles. No matter how skinny or fit we feel, we still see a part of our old selves in the mirror. We can’t shake the idea that we should wear black all the time because it’s slimming or that we should wear baggy clothing to camouflage our now smaller or non-existent belly rolls. We’re always a memory away from reliving how we felt as bigger women.

2.) We have an inherent fear of “bad” foods or large amounts of foods. Holiday potlucks give us horrific lucid nightmares. Superbowl parties make us hyperventilate. Sometimes we’re convinced that one big party will make us fat forever.  We fear that eating one cupcake at a birthday party will set us off into a binge that will last for weeks, causing an insatiable lust for all things covered in chocolate or caramel sauce.

3.) We are perfectionists, and we’re our own worst critics. We check in the mirror to make sure that thinner, more svelte figure is still there. We can’t believe it. And even if we do, we’re checking for other imperfections. We look at our behinds to check for dimples, our outer thighs to check for saddle bags, and our waistbands to check for the slightest hint of a muffin top. I’ve even gone home to change in the middle of the workday before because I felt like my pants made me look a little too big.

4.) We need a lot of encouragement even if we put on a facade. We need meaningful validation that our hard work was worth it and that we truly are better than we were before. We don’t just want to hear, “Honey, you’re beautiful.” We want to hear, “I really love what _____ has done for you in  ______ area.” That is a lot easier to believe than a generic blanket statement about our overall appearance. Even then, we have a hard time accepting compliments and may brush it off as a joke.

5.) We can be overbearing and overzealous about our lifestyle. Sometimes we’re so passionate about the changes we’ve made and how much better we feel that we can’t help but blab about it. Sometimes that can be condescending or overwhelming for our friends and family because sometimes they just want to complain about how they’re feeling sluggish rather than have you fix it. We don’t mean to do it either. We’re sorry!

6.) We get really mad when people are lazy. We also hate when they complain about it. This happens to me all the time when someone asks me, “How did you do it?! What’s your secret?” Everyone knows that a secret doesn’t exist, but they’re hoping you’ll tell them that all you did was remove one ingredient from your diet or that you took a pill in order to see results. We know that it’s not that easy, so we get upset with people want to try and make it seem that easy. We know that there is no reward for laziness.

7.) We are not your personal nutrition and exercise encyclopedias. Yes, the occasional question about the healthiest way to cook or the recommended amount of exercise is okay. That makes us feel useful, and we love that you thought of us when you needed someone to ask! However, we don’t love when you think we’re going to customize a nutrition and exercise plan for you and you alone as a favor. That takes a lot of work, and we spent a long time enduring trial and error to find a sweet spot!

8.) We don’t want to watch reality TV shows about losing weight. We don’t want to listen to TV shows that use extreme measures to achieve unsustainable results. We also don’t want to hear about Dr. Oz and his miraculous Acai berries and green tea antioxidants. Anyone who lost weight the old fashioned way doesn’t have time for that kind of asinine crap. Likewise, if you ask us to give you our opinions on The Biggest Loser, get ready for a monologue that never ends.

9.) We still unintentionally bash naturally skinny people in our heads. We’re always going to be a little peeved that we couldn’t be part of that group of people who won the genetic lottery and inherited a super metabolism. Sorry, but we’re not sorry. It’s awesome for you, and you look great, but we secretly want to throttle you. Just know that it’s not personal.

10.) We struggle to love ourselves at any weight, any age, and in any setting. We are constantly striving for the perfection that doesn’t exist. We know that our battle with weight and unhealthy habits is a lifelong struggle, so we must be vigilant. We are always going to have something to work on, but women who have lost a lot of weight still have a hard time doing the most important thing to be healthy: to love themselves.

Food and Exercise Diary Flubbs: Deceptive Logging

You remember in school how the teacher would tell you that cheating gets you nowhere because it doesn’t help you learn? You cheat on your homework and when it is time for the test, you fail miserably because you failed to actually gain any knowledge while copying answers? I was the kid in school who always got copied.

Using a food and diary log is pretty much the same way. If you omit items from your diary in order to look better to your peers on My Fitness Pal or elsewhere, you’re only hurting yourself. You’re not accurately logging, and that will hurt you because you’re not going to see the results you want. You have to be honest. Likewise, overestimating calorie burns just because the automated form in My Fitness Pal estimates that you burned 1,200 calories cleaning your house for an hour and a half is going to hinder you in your goals.

I know that food is enticing, but we can’t enter false information and expect for these things to physically become a reality. If you enter that you burned 1,200 calories shoveling snow for an hour and you actually only burned about 400, you really only burned 400. That snow wasn’t tiny, extremely dense lead shavings. Sorry, folks, but putting it in your log doesn’t make it magically true.

The logging is your homework, the weigh in is the test, and you’re going to fail if you falsify that information. If what other people think about your diary bothers you, make it private. It’s not mandatory to have a public diary on My Fitness Pal. This is something that BLOWS my mind.

I don’t know where My Fitness Pal gets some of their information for estimating calorie burn, but you can pretty much be sure that you didn’t burn more than 10 calories a minute while exercising. Trust me, if you were burning more than 10 calories a minute, you’d be drenched in perspiration and your heart would be coming out of your chest.

I know it’s hard to put in real effort because you’ve been used to being lazy or maybe you’re uninspired, but you’re only going to be disappointed when the scale doesn’t reflect the “awesome dedication” that you allegedly put in over the week. There is no way around the fact that this is a numbers game. If you want to see results, you have to do the work and be honest with yourself about it.

There are no shortcuts in losing weight. None.

Burgers, Regret, and Weight Loss

This post isn’t the kind of post you think you’re going to read. It’s not about over-eating or binging and feeling guilty. This post is about a relationship between a father and daughter and how it has impacted my weight loss journey.

There is some back-story to this post in a previous blog I wrote. Long story short, my dad killed a mother of twin girls and himself while drinking and driving. A lot of complicated events led up to this relapse of his and most of it isn’t my business to tell, but the main idea I want to convey is that he was so very troubled. He struggled.

Today, I read an interesting post from Humans of New York. (If you haven’t liked them on Facebook, then you are missing out on the most beautiful and sincere pieces of humanity in the world. It’s a lovely project. Check them out here: HONY) A man who was photographed for this project said to the photographer, “No matter how much we tried to help my brother, he wouldn’t quit. We tried being there for him. Then we tried to throw money at the problem. We tried to set him up with rehab, doctors, psychologists, even a job. Then eventually we just sort of threw up our hands and stopped associating with him, thinking that the alienation might shock him into changing. I hadn’t spoken to him for two years when he killed himself.” Many of the comments on this post were supportive. Anyone who hasn’t known an addict or been in a personal relationship with an addict can’t understand the helplessness one feels when they are no longer of use. They have expended all of their time and energy into helping and have only been met by rejection and disappointment. I thought to myself, “If I were photographed in New York and he asked me what my biggest regret was, what is it that I would say?”

When I got the news that my dad had died in a tragic and violent collision, the one thing I wished I had done was ask him out for a burger. Just one meal. Maybe if my dad had known that one person in this world cherished him above all else and truly valued him as the person he is rather than judging him for the person he was becoming… maybe he wouldn’t have wanted to drink that night.

If I could have stopped my busy life for one moment to give him the affection and connection he deserved, then maybe he would have thought twice. I had always been his reason to stop drinking before, so why not now?

I felt guilt after he died for that one thing. I had the opportunity to make him feel important, and I missed it. It was the one thing I kept telling myself over and over, and it was a big reason that I gained so much weight after he died.

I’m not an outwardly emotional person. I don’t like to be seen crying, and I don’t like to bicker in public. I hate confrontation. I’m an extreme introvert. Everyone thought I was being so strong, but really I was just saving it for later. It took quite a long time before I went a day without crying. I’d cry in my cubicle. I’d cry in my bed. I’d cry in the shower. And I ate. I ate to fill a hole that nothing could fill, and I still haven’t filled it. It just scarred over.

This brings my to my next point: Weight loss is just as much mental as it is physical. I can, at any given time, make the decision to eat junk. I can logically choose to eat well or destroy my progress; however, it’s never as easy as all that. The way we treat our bodies is a direct reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Some express that violently or sexually, but I eat. Overeating is just another form of self-harm for emotional eaters. We loathe ourselves, we see ourselves as hideous, so we literally feed that.

I hated myself for giving up on my dad. I felt badly about whining when he asked for money or when he vented to me, but I was missing out on a beautiful relationship that only required my time and nurturing. I was his person. My dad confided in me and trusted me to help him, to listen when no one else would. What a treasure I ignored and rejected.

For a long time I thought I was ashamed that he had killed someone else, a young woman with children who needed her. Yes, I am ashamed of that, but it wasn’t my doing and it’s not my fault. I know that. I was ashamed because I wasn’t being half of the woman he taught me to be. I wasn’t doing the next right thing, and I wasn’t being kind or generous.

For that, I ate.

I’m not here to whine and broadcast the message that I need sympathy. I just feel like admitting my regrets is an action that will bring me one step closer to achieving my goal of losing 100 lbs, which has been 4 years of hard work.

I lost 5 lbs this weigh-in, and I’ve been working out in frigid temperatures in my garage. Damn, I feel good about that.

There’s not much else to say except that facing my demons is helping me to become a more compassionate and empathetic person. It also helps me to be more objective about events that have happened since then. Little things like a bad day or a ruined party are so much easier to handle now that I’ve been through something that legitimately broke me from the inside. There have been blessings in this curse.

I guess if I could hope for one thing, it’s that someone would read this and find some little nugget of wisdom in it that would help them make it through the day, make it to their goals, or simply to help them live more fully and passionately.

My dad’s death awakened something in me that feels, truly feels everything. It has inspired me to tackle life and my dreams with a renewed fierceness that I haven’t known before.

I can do this.

Sharing Weight Loss “Secrets” — 5 Ways to Keep Your Healthy New Year’s Resolutions

I recently asked the newsletter committee at work about adding a section on health and well-being in our monthly newsletter; not only did they agree that it would be a good idea, but they asked me to head it up! This is exciting for me because I love to write, teach, and share my experiences. The newsletter article is being featured in our December/January edition, so I decided to pick something relevant and relateable to my coworkers who probably aren’t as obsessed with being healthy as I am but want to pick up some healthy habits. I’d like to share it here with you!

5 Ways to Keep Your Healthy New Year’s Resolutions

Over the past 4 years, I’ve made health and fitness a huge part of my life. I’ve lost 87 pounds, and I’ve formed some realistic healthy habits along the way. Soon, I hope to get my master’s in health promotion. Since this is such a passion of mine, I want to share what I’ve learned with everyone.

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The New Year is upon us, and surely we’re all making our lists of resolutions. Here are some tips to help you keep your resolutions and fulfill your health or fitness goals:

      1. Start Realistically. Most new resolution makers want to hit it hard first thing, but the best way to make lasting healthy habits is to work in one thing at a time. When we change too many unhealthy habits at once, we are more likely to fail. Start by making small changes and scaffolding healthy habits over time to create a solid foundation for lifelong habits.
      2. Be Aware. People who log calorie intake are much more likely to consume less junk because they can easily see how much they have consumed throughout the day. Online communities like MyFitnessPal can double as a food and exercise log, as well as a buddy system.
      3. Water, Water, Water! Water helps the digestive system, makes skin look better, and helps regulate body temperature. Those who are well hydrated tend to have fewer health problems and are less likely to feel hungry throughout the day. Drink up!
      4. Get an Accountability Buddy. Find a friend who has the same goals as you and keep one another accountable. Have your buddy walk with you during lunch, watch out for you when you reach for unhealthy snacks, and be a support system for you when cravings come.
      5. Reward Yourself. Set goals with rewards for encouragement. Warning: Don’t reward yourself with foods, especially unhealthy foods! This is counter-productive. Instead, buy new tennis shoes, buy tickets to a concert, or buy new clothes. You’ll enjoy treating yourself and receiving positive reinforcement for your efforts.

For me, all five of the tips above were and are what kept me in the weight loss game for so long. I hope these tips are helpful for those reading this as well!

Transformation Tuesday!

I’m kind of jumping on the Transformation Tuesday band wagon, but mostly because I’ve got a mega NSV (non-scale victory) today. A pair of pants I’ve been kind of sagging in but have been reluctant to get rid of are finally just too far gone. 

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This is always a major victory for me. 1.) I like shopping, and this gives me an excuse to do that. 2.) It encourages me to work even harder toward my goals! I went through my facebook photos and gathered every progress photo I’ve taken since I started losing weight. Check out the very first one of me at 21 lbs down! 

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I was pretty proud of that little gem! This was during the summer when I didn’t have any equipment or gym to work out in, so I was beaming at this progress. It did take me from March to June to lose 21 lbs, so you can tell I was doing little other than watching my food and walking. This is when I finally got serious about losing weight. Check me out just a few months later: 

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This is from December of 2011. That pair of pants is a size 22, I believe, and I’m usually sporting an 18 around this point at 56 lbs down. The fun doesn’t stop there! 

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Here I am about 65lbs down. I got REALLY confident and sported some Lelu Fifth Element hair. It was super fun but way hard to take care of. Plus, I lit up the gym all on my own. It afforded me a lot of attention. Thank goodness it’s gone! 

Then there’s me today, holding my size 17 pants way out from my body and proud to finally be shopping in the “normal” side of the store at a size 13/14. Sizes don’t mean ALL that much to me, but I know that I have an idea of how I’d like to look and what I’d like to fit into. I’m pretty convinced that I might not be able to get much smaller than a 9 because I have hips for DAYS, dude. Seriously, I wear a size medium pretty much anywhere up top, but my bottom half is just now crossing into juniors’ size territory. 

Today, I’m just proud of my progress and happy to be where I am. I forget where I’ve been and how proud I should be to have come from there. 

In other news, I’m debating going back to school to be a nutrition major.More news on that later as I research my options. 

Happy Tuesday! 

Avoiding or Lessening Emotional Eating in the Face of Death

Folks, this weekend has been rough.. Really rough. My cousin, Jason, has been in and out of the hospital recently with pancreatitis, and it finally took his life on Sunday night around 7 p.m. The pancreas, inflamed and filled with cysts, began releasing enzymes into Jason’s body that broke down all of his internal organs. He lived only and hour and a half after they pulled the plug. Jason was 36, the oldest son of my most cheerful and happy-go-lucky uncle. He was just as much of a jokester as my uncle. The point I’m getting to is that Jason was too young, and my family is completely distraught. I arrived at the hospital with my dad, sister, and step mother only a few minutes after Jason passed, and I was able to visit the room as he laid there. I kept watching his chest, sure that he was just playing, waiting for it to rise and fall. It never did. 

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Jason leaves behind several siblings, a father, a mother, step parents… His father, my uncle, was the most upset. He didn’t cry, but he wanted to. He didn’t act sorry for himself, but he wanted to. You could see in his eyes the hopelessness that comes with the realization that yet another life is extinguished from the face of the planet. He was angry. Who could blame him? He said, “I’m a little mad at the man upstairs right now. It’s kinda one of them things that I want to know why or what the plan is.” Something to that extent. He said he’d like to hurt someone, not anyone he knows, but he’d walk into a bar and pick a fight with the baddest dude in there. My poor, sweet uncle. He does not deserve this. No person should ever have to bury a child whether he’s 6 or 36. This should not have happened. 

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This event has been heavy on my mind lately, and I’ve admitted before that I’m an emotional eater. I eat my stress and my sadness. Sugar is the comfort of choice. The day I found out they’d be taking Jason off of the ventilator, I was on a walk with my dogs on the river. I opened that text message, processed its information, and ran. I ran for Jason; I ran long and hard until my lungs burned and my breath caught. I turned my emotions into the energy I needed to fuel my body for my run. I focused, and I really saw. I looked with clarity at the river, the sun shining off of the tiny waves caused by the stark wind, and I saw. I saw life being short, I saw love as a state of being, and I saw that stupid, trivial things in life are just not what they seem. 

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I wanted to eat, but I ran. When I did eat, I burned it off. Yesterday, I went to a gas station and bought a maple frosted cinnamon roll. It was 520 calories of sugar and fat that definitely didn’t need to be in my body. I ate it, and I immediately felt remorse. I know better than that. I ended up going to the gym later to burn it off, and I did; I burned nearly 700 calories. During the past couple of days, anytime I hear a song that reminds me of Jason or if I think about it, which is way too often, I push harder. I put extra energy into everything that I do because I still have life, love, and my health; I treasure that. 

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Love your body, keep it healthy, live with purpose. Keep yourself healthy so that no one ever has to worry about burying you too early. Fitness and health isn’t just so you can look good or feel good… This is about your life. This is about keeping your heart in shape and your body in good enough condition to LIVE. 

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This is your LIFE. Please, treasure it.