28 Days of Growth: Changing my Life through a Fitness Program
By all outward appearances, 2018 was a fantastic year for me. My husband and I finally overcame all the obstacles and were married in the eyes of God and the law (and the Elvis-impersonating reverend at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas). I finished a degree. I established new hobbies. My children were healthy. Our business was growing. I was meeting all of society’s typical markers for success.
Appearances can be deceiving. Internally, I was a hot mess by late October. My mental clutter was growing bigger every day. Change and growth are not energizing for me. I thrive on routine, organization, and stability. Despite all the positive things coming my way, all the uncertainty shook me. I was unfaithful to my daily to-do lists, which help me maintain my sanity. I wasn’t following my meal plans. I waited to exercise until my children’s bedtime, which meant I seldom completed a workout. The further I fell off my routine wagon, the harder it was to get back on track. Unsurprisingly, I was feeling very negative about myself because I wasn’t doing the things that make me feel like myself.
So when Nicole Mejia (of Get Fit and Thick fame) announced that her team was doing a 28 day fitness challenge called JUMP in January, my only question was, “How high?”
I first found Nicole Mejia’s Instagram in 2013, when a friend suggested I follow more “personally realistic” fitness role models like Nicole. I have drawn inspiration from Nicole’s message of empowerment and self-love (and her later passion for a plant-based lifestyle) ever since. If anyone could help me get it together, it would be Nicole’s team.
I knew the challenge consisted of plant-based meals, journaling exercises, and 30 minutes of daily movement. I knew there would be a Facebook group for all the ladies doing JUMP. I went into the program hoping to establish the routines I needed to find mental clarity and resilience, as well as commit to plant-based eating and sustainable exercise habits. I had been a vegetarian for a year, eyeing a switch to veganism, so this also seemed like the perfect opportunity to end my cheese addiction. I assumed I’d lose a little bit of weight, and hoped I would recommit to sustainable healthy habits. I did not expect the total level of change in my life by the end of 28 days.
By the end of the 28 days, I succeeded in losing 6 pounds and 2.5 inches from my hips. While the quantifiable results were encouraging, I am more excited about my internal transformation. I am in a completely different place mentally than I was in December. JUMP’s daily journaling exercises were paired with an article, podcast, or video. Each day, the material provided encouraged us to be open with ourselves, exploring barriers, resentments, and habits. All the mental work I did during this challenge is what ultimately changed my life, although my new diet and exercise habits have certainly contributed to an improved sense of well-being.
Here are the six biggest ways my life has changed after 28 days of daily movement, journaling, and a plant-based diet.
- I Seek Out Self-Improvement
The first week began with lots of hard-hitting resources about overcoming mental resistance (the voice in the back of your head that justifies not doing that workout, cleaning the house, or completing a chore) and establishing sustainable habits. I was really honest with myself about allowing my anxiety to justify avoiding everything that stressed me out. As I worked through the journaling exercises, I realized I enjoy self-help resources. I love myself enough to want to continue transforming into my best self, rather than settling.
I’m now actively reducing my social media time, swapping all the mindless scrolling for the consumption of inspirational media. I’ve started replacing background music with motivational podcasts so that every day I am encouraged to continue to grow. Although I have always been a voracious reader, I’ve read 18 books for leisure so far this year. It feels so good to work on improving my internal dialogue.
2. I’m More Mentally Resilient
I’ve always known that a solid foundation of proper diet and exercise make me more resilient, but putting in the day to day work to maintain that resilience can become overwhelming once you fall off the wagon. Things that used to stress me out for an entire day now feel manageable. I handle the problem and then move on. I don’t need to let stress fester because I’m consistently releasing endorphins and putting my worries on paper.
3. My Cravings are Mostly Gone
When I became a vegetarian one year ago, I developed an insatiable desire for cheese. Homemade nachos, mozzarella sticks, cheese slices on apples, brie with baguettes, feta on my salad… You name it, I was eating it. I had never been much of a carnivore, but the complete absence of meat in my diet turned me into a cheese fanatic.
JUMP meal plans consisted of an apple cider vinegar drink in the morning, overnight oats, protein shake, large lunch entree, and big dinner salad each day. We were encouraged, if still hungry, to snack on things like fruits, vegetables, and hummus. Because all my food was prepared ahead of time, I stayed full and had no desire to reach for junk. I have kept this up, following the same formula for meal planning that was outlined each week of the program.
I found an amazing recipe for vegan queso, and my local coffee shop sells amazing chocolate bars, so I am not depriving myself of indulgences once or twice a week. I’m satisfied enough with my meal plan that I don’t feel a need to foray into eating processed, unhealthy food. Meal prepping has been a game changer.
4. I’m more organized
Prior to the challenge, a typical day for me went something like: wake up when my kids wake up, feed and dress them, play with them for a little while, frantically do some chores, go run errands and do work for my business, put my kids down for nap, do more chores and more business stuff and hope they sleep for a while, frantically throw together dinner, cram in activity time afterward, and then feel exhausted and stressed after they’re in bed, pushing myself to get as much work done as possible before passing out. The first week of the challenge I made journaling, exercise, and following the meal plan my top priorities for each day. While I didn’t reduce the amount of my workload, I structured my day around eating solid meals, exercising, and journaling. I planned everything else around those wellness activities, which I made virtually non-negotiable. Once I found a rhythm for how to seamlessly incorporate all three activities into my days, I found a better flow for the entirety of my day. I started writing out my daily to-do list the night before, and instead of making one long list, I organize my day into “morning,” “afternoon,” and “evening” sections.
The more organized I become, the more efficient I become. I have found that I am more productive now that I have routines and plans for every time of day. If something comes up, it’s easier to accommodate a new obligation in my schedule, thanks to newfound chunks of free time in the late morning, late afternoon, and late evening.
5. I have found strength in vulnerability
On the JUMP Facebook group, Nicole did weekly live videos. From the very beginning, she encouraged us to “lean in”… And post our before pictures to the group for accountability. The entire thing was a brutal exercise in being honest with myself and vulnerable with a group of women online. I cringed as I took the pictures, and cringed as I posted them. But then, it felt like no big deal. We were a group of women being vulnerable together, inspiring and uplifting one another. Throughout the challenge, the other women and I shared our struggles and our victories. I was so encouraged to see other women’s experiences alongside my own, albeit virtually.
Although it feels safer and more rewarding to present a curated image to the world, specifically on social media, I have found strength in being vulnerable. As a writer, I believe our narratives are our power. The more authentic the narrative, the more powerful it becomes. During the challenge, I was determined to be more authentic with my Instagram posts. Rather than just sharing a highlight reel of my triumphs and the cute things my children did, I made posts about my struggle with accepting my big thighs and toxic social media culture. My Instagram following is not large by any means, but I was surprised by all the positive feedback and other women relating to what I shared. If we want to have meaningful social media experiences, we must be more vulnerable and authentic with one another. Now that I have started to open up, I don’t intend to quit.