Kwest student Leah Wiens has recently embarked on a mission to improve her lifestyle and lose weight over the next year, and we are excited that she has agreed to share her journey with you over the next 12 months. Leah has some pretty big goals and an equally big determination to see results – but I’ll let her tell you the rest.

I never thought that I, the bookworm, the computer nerd, the up until about five months ago inherently lazy couch potato and self-admitted boredom snacker would be posting online about fitness. Obviously, there have been some big changes in my life.

My weight, or more specifically my unwanted fat, has been something I’ve struggled with my whole life. I’m a German/Ukrainian girl with a big build already, so tack on some extra flab and as you can imagine, I was always trying to lose weight. But I never carried through with a good diet, and I would set myself totally unachievable goals – thinking I could phenomenally slim down in just a few months, thinking it’d be like a weight loss montage in some Hollywood film, thinking I wouldn’t really have to put in the work. These unrealistic expectations were always my defeat. I’d work out absolutely furiously for 3 weeks straight, and then fall off the wagon because, well… because it was hard and sometimes inconvenient and I didn’t lose like 100 pounds right off the hop.

So what’s different this time? Why have I kept it up and why will I continue to succeed?

–  Several years ago I watched my grandmother slowly die of congestive heart failure – it was a direct complication of Type 2 Diabetes that she didn’t manage with diet or exercise. I watched her slow decline, and realized that I did not want to go down the Diabetes path.

–  I watched my boyfriend with a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure and heart issues start to feel very unwell at just 26 years old. I know his genes have it in for him, but I also know that he can make a huge impact and negate a significant amount of that with lifestyle changes. I told him that together, if we motivated each other, we could do this. It’s easier to make positive changes when you and your family are doing it together.

– This time, I’ve decided that I want to get fit so that I can be healthy. Rather than having a goal of fitting into a certain outfit or slimming down for a vacation on [x] date, my goal has evolved beyond that. I’ve been trying to live a healthier lifestyle in general every day. Of course I want to be slimmer (what girl doesn’t?!), but there’s no time crunch where I have to develop some unmaintainable schedule to achieve my results… I can be patient and keep a schedule that is going to be compatible with a lifelong change.

So what am I doing? Since late April, I’ve been kickboxing with Kwest. I started small at first as my body got used to the rigorous classes, and I made sure to give myself adequate time to rest up in between. Knowing my own tendency to start skipping out on exercise after a while, I chose kickboxing for the following reasons:

– It’s close to home, but it’s not home. At home, I have every good intention to get in a workout but I don’t. A cat is being cute or I’ll just quickly run to the computer to make that new workout playlist… annndddd nope. Four hours later, I have done nothing active. I also don’t want to drive really far to a gym because I don’t want this exercise thing to swallow a huge amount of my time going back and forth, because then I’ll quit after a few weeks.

–  Kickboxing is an engaging activity (if I use an elliptical or other machine for cardio, even with an iPod or a TV program I’m a huge clock-watcher… if I’m actively participating in a class, the time flies and I’m not so concerned about it).

– It’s an activity that combines cardio and strength training… I enjoy the dynamic quality of the class, rather than just shuffling from one weight station to another – that’s boring.

– There’s someone pushing me and motivating me, whether it is my padholder or the class instructor. When left to my own devices, I honestly don’t put in 100%. I don’t feel ashamed to admit that I really, really need someone to push me… I think many of us do.

–  Let’s face it… I’m not a fitness expert. I don’t have the years of experience to plan good workouts. The people at Kwest are very knowledgeable.

When I heard about the boot camp program, I thought it might be a nice way to help speed up my progress and keep changing it up so my body won’t get used to any one motion and plateau. And as someone with a crummy metabolism I figured maybe I’d give myself a kick in the butt in the morning to get everything going. Boot camp is three mornings a week, so between kickboxing and boot camp I’ve been doing around 5 to 6 workouts per week.

The biggest hurdle that I need to overcome, though, is food. I love food. I love snacking on cheese, I love the crunch of chips, I looovvveee ice cream (and we all know that switching to frozen yogurt doesn’t make it magically okay for you to eat a whole container). I like cooking, I like making nice homemade meals for my boyfriend, and I love the social aspect too – going out to eat with friends is a very enjoyable activity, even though I know full well that restaurant food is not usually a healthy choice. And to top it all off, I am a huge boredom snacker. But when I started doing the boot camp I made a commitment to really eating well, and I am finally starting to follow through.

I know from personal experience that it doesn’t matter how much I exercise if I don’t eat well… it’s only half the battle, so even if I do 6 classes a week I won’t see the kind of progress I want. Many bad foods I can give up without too much remorse, but it’s just so hard to cut the delicious, carb-y, gluten-y foods. I struggle with this on a daily basis, and when I see someone snacking on a fried item I have serious trouble resisting. Some studies suggest that your brain actually gets addicted to gluten – I’d certainly believe that’s not too far off. I’ve tried to combat this by keeping grains in my diet, but slowly changing them to healthier, gluten-free alternatives. For example, I subbed bread with white rice. Once I was okay with that, I changed the white rice to brown rice. I switched to brown rice flour instead of regular flour. I switched pasta with brown rice pasta – as an added bonus, brown rice pasta doesn’t give you the “pasta coma” experience. Right now, I’m going the extra mile and trying to avoid anything processed – we went to Costco and bought a bunch of meat, which I’m lightly seasoning myself.

What I found really, really helped me with hunger and cravings was doing what I’ve always been told to do time and again, but had never actually done – break up my meals throughout the day. It was a bit hard on the first day, especially when I split my dinner in half. I ate the first half and then stared longingly at the second… I probably only made it about 20 minutes before I devoured the remaining portion. But after that, starting on day two I was incredibly surprised to discover that I felt full for the majority of the day. For one of the first times in my life, I was FULL. I was okay; I could wait until the next scheduled small meal. After I started breaking up my meals, I was able to start thinking about food less as an enjoyment/comfort and more of a necessity to ensure I was ready for my workouts and free of those familiar hunger pangs… now when I look at food I try to evaluate it and think, “Is it nutritious and filling?”, “How much protein does it have?”, “Does it have good fats?”, “What is the salt content?”, etc. And the other thing I noticed is that the better I eat, the easier it becomes. The more salad I eat, the more I crave vegetables and the weaker my junk food cravings get. In a fairly short span of time my willpower has increased tenfold. Now, when we have a lunch meeting at work it is still hard to say no, but I will politely decline and go upstairs to eat my own lunch. Two days in a row this week I turned down free lunches at work, and I am feeling very proud.

The last challenge is managing to make all of these changes while keeping my household from becoming a pigsty. It’s just my boyfriend and I so we have chores, shopping, cleaning, laundry, and three cats who love attention (and they’re so distractingly cute). It never stops. What we’ve found is that trying to do 30 minutes of cleaning each day seems to work better than finding the time to do a big clean. But the most important thing I’ve learned about the work/life/exercise balance is that in the end, if you really need to get things done, it might be better to skip that one workout, get it all done and then get back on the workout wagon the next day. Last night I had absolutely no meat and we were low on other foods, I also had a few errands to run, and I really needed to just skip kickboxing and take an evening to get my life in order. In the end, that meant only doing only 5 workouts instead of 6 this week, but that’s not going to be the end of the world or a huge stall in progress, and I removed the stress of tasks piling up and re-stocked healthy food so that I wouldn’t have to turn to that frozen pizza in the freezer.

At this point, I’m not really motivated by measurements or weight or the fact that I appear to be down a shirt size – I’m motivated by how fantastic I feel. My immune function is up. I have literally doubled or tripled my energy levels. I’m up and ready to go in the morning (sometimes even before my alarm goes off!), which in turn motivates me to do more active things like go for a walk or take the family dog to the park in non-workout time. Instead of the downward spiral I used to create, I would say that I am now instead in an upward spiral. And most importantly I’ve established a routine, so even though the workouts are hard… it doesn’t really cross my mind to skip class without a legitimate reason anymore.

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