Despite my disdain for gym class and any other activity that highlighted how unathletic I was, I welcomed the idea of moving my body more. Whether it was performing dance concerts in my bedroom or roller skating in my basement, I’d always loved movement. So I decided to give aerobics a try.

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I’d still love to meet Gilad and Ada Janklowicz in person. Their videos were such a monumental stepping stone for me. I did them in my living room, leotard and all, after school. To my amazement, I started to feel a difference in my body in just a few short weeks. I was consistent, and it paid off! I started feeling more toned and I loooooved that feeling! That darn baby fat roll was stubborn, but I didn’t let its slow response keep me down.

In addition to my new workout routine, I decided it was time for food and me to become reacquainted. But this time, I was going to do things a little differently. I was going to listen to my body and honor myself by eating when I was hungry. And not just any food, but food that nourished me physically and emotionally. I wanted to rekindle that joyful feeling that food had once brought me, but without the guilt hangover. My metabolism was thrilled! It revved itself up and worked better for me than it had in years … or probably ever.

The process of seeing and feeling positive changes didn’t happen overnight. But I’d spent 16 years feeling unhappy with my body. And eating healthier and exercising felt profoundly better than the methods I’d previously tried, so I was willing to be patient and enjoy the smallest victories.

Two years or so into my renewed way of living, I started college. That threw me back a few steps. OK my freshman year actually knocked me back several long strides. I tried to deny the extra layer of cushion developing around my waistline and thighs by avoiding the mirror from the neck down. Considering the size of my dorm mirror, this was easy. But my shrinking clothes and growing bra (at least one positive) made it difficult. My big wake up call happened in the beginning of my sophomore year when I saw a photo of myself wearing a little red dress for a formal dance. My heart sank. But not just because I hadn’t been that chubby since I was an adolescent. Insecurity had been slowly working it’s way back into my life and seeing that photo of my insincere smile made my regression even more real. I worked so hard to finally feel comfortable and confident in my own skin, and I’d completely lost all I’d gained.

I headed home that next weekend so I could have a come to Jesus meeting with myself. When I got there, I walked upstairs to my mom’s bedroom and stood in front of her full-length mirror. I looked at my whole self: my feet, then my legs, my rounder thighs, my softer belly, my fuller breasts, my chubbier cheeks, and then my gaze rested on my sad eyes. How did I let myself get to the point where I felt so bad? To my defense, the food options schools provide students, at least back then, didn’t support a healthy lifestyle.

But I was the one who held the power to choose what I fed myself, both literally and figuratively.

And for over a year, I fed both my body and my mind in a way that undermined my confidence, my energy, and once again, my Spirit.

I didn’t want to feel the way I felt anymore. I looked deeply into my eyes until I finally caught a glimpse of the girl who had gotten all fired up not long ago and committed herself to claiming the confidence and joy she longed to feel. I wanted her back. I wanted to feel how she felt. Luckily, she was standing right in front of me.

In that moment, I renewed that commitment. Only this time I was in it for the long haul. There was no comparison between what I saw as two very basic choices: 1. Make good choices and feel good, or 2. Make poor choices and feel bad. My natural tendency is to overanalyze every decision I make. But in this case, it was just that simple. I knew because I’d experienced both. I’d faced emotional and logistical obstacles. It wasn’t always easy. But it was simple. And I was the one in control of that choice.

I realized at that point in my life that I held the keys to my well-being.

When I got back to school, I held onto the vision and feeling I wanted to experience. I said goodbye to my unhealthy eating habits, dusted off my aerobic shoes, and headed to my first official group exercise class ever. That little taste of the amazing energy that happens when a group of women come together to better themselves hooked me and has never let go.

And then, I took the plunge.

I breathed in my recently discovered feeling of confidence and attended my college’s Concert Dance Company auditions. I still get chills thinking about it, because I still can’t believe I did it.

I actually started taking dance lessons (twice!) not too long after I chose to practice a healthy lifestyle in high school, but I got intimidated because I couldn’t pick up the moves as quickly as the other (younger) people in my class. And I quit — even though both of my teachers pulled me aside to tell me they believed in me. But quitting was not an option for me now. Not only did I get accepted into the dance company and dance the entire season on their stage, I was one of only two dancers who were automatically excelled to the next level without needing to audition. That will forever be one of my most precious memories.

It was the first time I’d faced my fears, embraced my vulnerability, allowed my light to shine through.

By the time I graduated college, healthy living habits had become part of my life. Even if I had short bouts where I got off track because of life’s curveballs, I’d find my way back. I loved eating food and not feeling guilty afterward. It was a kick seeing my arm muscles develop considering how unathletic I’d always been. I loved that I could try on clothes at the mall and feel at peace with reflection. And I loved the endorphin high I’d feel after I exercised. It was so much better than the sugar high I once enjoyed.

I was cleaning my bedroom while I watching Oprah one day when she recommended turning your passion into your career. I was in my mid-twenties by this point and was still hoping to one day find my dream job. I’d majored in psychology and had worked for a year after college as a counselor for children and teenagers. I loved working with kids, but decided to venture out into the world and experience life away from home. So I moved South and took a marketing position that presented itself to me. Ok, that’s how they sugar-coated it to make it sound more professional. But for real? I booked timeshare tours. AH!!! Yes, I admit it! But hey, it got me a job in the reservations department of Disney! Yep, I got to be a part of Mickey’s magical team for awhile. But I digress. Back to Oprah’s message about turning your passion into your career.

I pondered Oprah’s suggestion for a minute when the words “Personal Trainer” flashed across my mental screen. I actually laughed out loud! Me? A Personal Trainer? Now THAT would be ironic!

By the next week, I’d signed up to get my Personal Training certification. BOOM!

But … I had to conquer one thing before I could actually apply for a job as a Personal Trainer. I had to learn how to do that which I hated more than anything. I had to learn to run.

Yes, I say I had to learn to run because running did NOT come naturally to me. Not only did I find it jarring and often painful, I felt like an uncoordinated eyesore.

Fortunately, there was a walking trail not far from where I lived. There were lots of trees and shade and it was off the beaten path. So other than some random people on the trail, I could run in private. The other big benefit of this particular trail was that it had a mile marker every .10 of a mile. I started by alternating between running a tenth of a mile and then walking until I could run .2 miles and then .3. Eventually, I worked my way up to a whole mile, and then to two. Talk about a personal sense of accomplishment! Today, I’m the proud owner of two half-marathon medals. I even won a second place medal for being the fastest runner in my age group in a 5K.

I worked as a Personal Trainer for a few years and then moved home to pursue love and a Master’s Degree in Health & Wellness Promotion. After I finished my degree, I took a position at Children’s Hospital where I worked as a Lifestyle Interventionist with adolescents diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I had the opportunity to work with both the children and their parents at the hospital and in the community. It opened my eyes to the myriad of struggles these children faced. That’s when my idea to write a book to inspire children to value their health and well-being was born.

I wanted to help children connect the dots between their choices and behaviors and their ability to live their happiest, highest quality of life. I wanted to help them learn what I know now that I wished I’d known then.

My pursuit of love led to marriage, and then to children. When I got pregnant, I decided to leave my position at Children’s Hospital. I wanted to be home with my babies and to follow my childhood dream of being a mission-driven writer. Becoming a mother amplified my desire to write a book that would empower children to feel happy, healthy and beautiful from the inside out.

I viewed writing as my dance — a way to finally express myself honestly and fully — the little girl who never got her chance to shine, and the grownup who had a story to share and a mission to fulfill.

But my dream of being a successful mom and writer didn’t happen the way I’d envisioned.

Stay tuned next week for “Part 3” where I share how I learned the hard way that I’d overlooked the central piece to my wellness puzzle for all this time — my discovery that’s changed everything!