Have you ever had one of those days where you ate too much and moved too little? You could feel your stomach expand with every bite of food as you sit on the couch, sipping Pepsi, watching talk shows while contemplating another slice of cheese pizza. Afterward, you swear off frozen pizzas forever and promise yourself you’ll “start over” in the morning as you plan your fitness transformation.
At the age of 16, I weighed 210 pounds. The above scenario describes a typical day after coming home from high school. I was very shy, kept to myself and did not have many friends. I spent a lot of time at home, eating Hostess pies and pasta, while moving very little. Heading into my junior year, the tennis coach ordered me a XXL t-shirt.
That same year, for my 16th birthday, my mom gave me a membership to Women’s Workout World. I’ve always been rather impulsive. When I want something, I want it right away and all of my energy goes into it. As I gained confidence and lost the extra weight by working out, I felt more focused. When I began to see my body change during this fitness transformation, I became impulsive about learning. I wanted to know how to become more fit and why my body was responding so positively. About a year later, I applied to teach group fitness classes and was turned down.
I went on to achieve a double major at Illinois State University, in Commercial Recreation and Program Management, later adding Exercise Science as a minor. Throughout my time at ISU, I worked at the campus rec center. Working at the rec center was probably the highlight of my college life. It taught me how to be social. Everywhere I went, I knew someone. My workouts and laps around the indoor track were fueled by guys playing basketball on the nearby court. All of my energy was directed toward going out, working out and doing well in classes while creating my future.
Life After College
Then the “future” arrived. Upon graduation, my identity was left behind, along with the dust bunnies in the closet of my 2nd floor apartment. I spent years trying to find a source of excitement and happiness, similar to what I experienced in college where there always something to do, somewhere to go and someone to impress. I moved from Chicago to Dallas and back again, from job to job.
The emptiness I felt soon became filled with material items. A trip to Target meant tabletop decor, new bedding, and kitchen appliances for my studio apartment. I had no concept of what a budget was and how to manage one. I continued to live impulsively, making needless trips to Whole Foods every day, spending additional money and consuming calories I couldn’t afford.
My spending was like my eating, excessive and difficult to control. Yet, I prided myself on my workouts. Despite what was going on around me, how much I ate or how little I ate, one thing I could count on was getting to the gym. Whether I was in spin class, logging miles while jogging through the neighborhood or lifting weights, the energy I put into my workouts always left me feeling accomplished. The red flags of excessive exercise were drowned out by the pop remixes streaming through my earbuds, along with my own ignorance.
The Turning Point
In February of 2012 I had back surgery to repair a herniated disc. It was the result of too much exercise and not enough rest. In the months leading up to surgery, I was unable to get out of bed without excruciating pain shooting through my body as I pulled myself up using the corner of the mattress. I couldn’t stand for longer than a few minutes at a time and working out was out of the question. My days were spent overseeing programs and classes at a corporate fitness center. I equated this experience to being a recovering alcoholic, serving drinks at a bar. While exercise was the one thing I could control, at one time, it was now out of the question.
I couldn’t compensate for overeating, so I ate very little. Searching for an outlet to redirect my energy, my debt continued to accumulate and my priorities shifted. I found myself coming home at 4am after a weeknight pub crawl, just a couple of weeks post surgery. I was on short term disability at this time and continued to go out. A few weeks later, I was in a new relationship that I couldn’t clearly define. That summer, we went back and forth between dating and not dating, while I, unbeknownst to him, had filed for bankruptcy. The secrecy weighed on me heavily. The medical bills from my surgery were a needle in the haystack of debt and stress that had accumulated in the past several years. I was literally broke and broken.
When I returned to work post surgery, my typical week consisted of teaching 4-5 classes, training 4-5 clients, working 2-3 liquor demos, doing the occasional photo shoot and working 40 hours a week at the corporate fitness center. I continued to work excessively, trying to climb out of the deep hole I dug myself into. My bankruptcy attorney let me know there was a chance I was making “too much” money and would be put on a payment plan. Knowing either of these options may affect my ability to rent an apartment in the future, I took this opportunity to move into a small loft. In late August of 2012, my boyfriend officially left me, I moved myself into the new loft and my debt was cleared. I experienced an eery mix of anxiety and relief as I stepped into a brand new chapter of my life.
The next spring, I began training with a strength coach at Hard Pressed in Chicago. I was finally able to put my surplus of energy into something and decided to compete in two NPC bikini shows that year. Every workout, every meal was so much more meaningful, knowing it affected my mood levels, my strength, my endurance and my physique during this fitness transformation. It’s important to remember (and accept) that a competition body is not sustainable. A lean, fit body is the result of hard work and commitment, but it can be difficult to achieve without extensive discipline and sacrifice.
These days, I workout for a good hour or slightly more, 5-6 days a week. It’s still a lot of hard work, but not nearly as much as it used to be. I rest. Almost every day I go for walks outside. There’s no more pressure to “do more” from workout to workout. And every routine is different, consisting of peaks and valleys. There’s nothing good about going all out, all the time.
The overflow of energy I once struggled to direct has found a home in Auburn, AL where I live with my husband (whom I met while working at the campus rec center!) and stepson. My worth does not rest solely on my physique or stats at the gym. As an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, I have developed a foundation of knowledge that gives me the confidence I need to be a successful wife, stepmom and trainer. Your life will evolve as you get married, have children, change jobs and move across the country. Most people can work hard to stay fit when life is easy. Only when you’ve overcome life’s challenges and set backs will you realize everything you are capable of achieving. Through these experiences and because of ISSA, I have a career and lifestyle that blend seamlessly, allowing me to pursue my passions and make a positive impact on the lives of others.
With clients and in my business, Megan Meisner Fitness, I emphasize activity, nutrition and restoration. A lot of people think “oh I need to workout and eat better.” If you’re doing these things, but are running on 4 hours of sleep every day, sending emails with your phone in one hand, balancing a coffee in another while running after the bus…it’s time to restore. Restoration is a crucial component of fitness success, emphasizing progression, not perfection.
Remember, your best weight is the one you can maintain and are the happiest. “Happy” is a lifestyle and everyone has their own definition of it. Mine has evolved these past couple of years to include dinner dates with my husband, wine while watching Mad Men and traveling to gym-free locations while visiting family and enjoying the holidays. It’s better to be consistently good than occasionally perfect.
Last year, while shopping for an anniversary card for my husband, I found one that read “I would find you sooner so I could love you longer.” It’s true in marriage. It’s true in your relationship with your body and your self. I spent years consuming. Food. Feelings. I hid my emotions under baggy clothes and couldn’t speak up because my thoughts were filled with guilt and shame. It’s okay to feel vulnerable. If you’re not taking chances, are you really doing anything worthwhile? The discomfort you feel? Those are growing pains. Opportunities do not always present themselves in a box with a neatly tied bow on the top. It takes effort, experience and determination to move forward and become the best version of yourself. Are you ready to take the next steps?