When I was 20, I moved from Toronto to Montreal for a year. It was the first time I had ever lived completely on my own, which was exhilarating—but it also meant zero accountability.
My typical weeknights consisted of marathon hours of Netflix in bed while ordering cheap Chinese takeout or pizza delivery (and yes, that whole pizza was just for me). Weekdays often meant one too many drinks while out with friends that would leave me feeling sick and exhausted the next morning. I struggled to build healthy eating habits, let alone follow any form of consistent exercise.
When I came back to Toronto at the end of that year, I realised I had gained 10kg in less than a year. I was shocked at the sudden change in my body and disappointed as I reflected over the choices I’d made. Most of all, I was tired of feeling both mentally and physically sluggish.
When I first started with fitness, I didn’t have a gym membership and wasn’t ready to put the money down for something I didn’t know would even stick. So I started really simple: I found at-home cardio routines on YouTube—Insanity, Blogilates, and other completely random videos—and would try and sweat almost every day.
Being at home and turning to YouTube personalities that were so welcoming, like Cassey Ho, took that “gymtimidation” and threw it out the window. It made me actually enjoy working out.
After a month or two of consistently working out every day, I had built up enough belief in my own self-discipline to feel confident in forking over the money for a gym membership. Truth be told, I really wanted to get into lifting, but I had no idea where to start.
My early days of the gym revolved around the treadmill, and occasionally creeping into the weights area to experiment on some of the machines. But I also started watching videos at home, reading information, and watching other people lift in the gym.
And then I started a challenge: Each week, I’d force myself to get out of my comfort zone and try a new machine or target a different muscle group. I had my older brother teach me proper form with the free weights in moves like squats and deadlifts. As I gained more knowledge, I also gained more confidence in my body and my ability to succeed. And as I got more comfortable, I became completely hooked.
Within just two months of starting to lift weights, I achieved my goal of losing 10kg. But I quickly ran into a battle between aiming for that 55kg on the scale and having a body that was actually capable of lifting.
As I started lifting heavier and heavier, I would become lightheaded and dizzy. I realized that in my desperate attempt to maintain that goal weight, I was under-eating and failing to fuel my body properly for intense exercise and heavy lifting. I was trying to force my body to run on empty.
I had to make a decision: Do I tie myself down to maintaining this “goal weight” or do I truly want to continue improving my cardiovascular and strength levels, regardless of whatever number may appear on the scale?
I chose the latter. It was really, really hard to let go of this idea of a goal weight. But I shifted my focus toward performance targets—do 20 pushups, squat 70kg, run a mile without stopping. Achieving these goals made me feel proud—and they were actually fun to chase after, unlike a number on the scale. Plus, because I was eating more, I had more energy to build muscle, and I felt stronger, too.
Now, I train four to five times a week. My goal has always been to build a proportionate physique, so I train using an upper and lower body split, and still do cardio—which is definitely not as fun for me as lifting weights, but hey, our heart is one of the most important muscles, after all! With summer approaching, I’m upping my cardio, so my summer routine will look like four to five lift days with four 30-minute cardio sessions.
1. THE FOOD
In all honesty, my typical diet is not that strict. My general rule is to try and eat healthy when I’m on my own so I can allow for a more relaxed approach when in a social setting. No one really wants to eat a chicken salad or protein shake when all your friends are having pizza! So when I’m eating with friends or family, there are no rules.
But I do try to meal prep for the week when I’m on my own, so I have healthy options readily available. This is important because I know myself: If I come home hungry, I will want to just order delivery or pick up fast food instead of cook.
2. THE PAYOFF
Now, I actually weigh the same amount as I did when I decided to pick up fitness in the first place. But the number doesn’t bother me—in fact, I’m proud of it. It shows how strong I am.
Lifting makes me feel so badass. When you have lived your whole life seeing yourself as unathletic, uncoordinated and weak, it's a very exciting feeling to grow more confident week to week as you hit PRs, run a little longer, stretch a little further, jump a little higher.
Recently, I hit a deadlift PR of 95kg! Breaking into the 90s was a goal I'd been working toward for a long time, so it felt amazing when I finally achieved it. Especially as a woman, it feels pretty badass and boosts your self-confidence when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror successfully lifting that kind of weight. Next goal: two plates 100kg)!
3. CHRISTINA’S NUMBER-ONE TIP
Take pictures! It sounds so cliche, but it’s nearly impossible to look in the mirror and notice the small changes happening week to week. I keep a folder in my phone dedicated to my personal progress photos, and having that concrete photographic evidence to look back on always offers major motivation for me. And consider posting them on social media—sometimes one kind comment from a stranger can be enough to kick me out of my funk on a bad day, and push me to go train when I don’t really feel like it.
Follow Christina’s fitness journey @fitchristina. As told to Rachael Schultz.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.