I’ve made all the mistakes in the book. I’ve starved myself, I’ve followed fad diets, I’ve done the all-or-nothing thing, I’ve had unrealistic expectations for myself and my body. I had no clue how to change myself in a sustainable way. It was either nothing or obsession.
So what changed? When did I go from obsessed to healthy?
Well, one thing is for sure. It did NOT happen overnight.
Let’s start at the beginning.
I was a graduating high school senior in 2012. I was athletic growing up, but during my senior year, I quit all of my physical activities to focus on my schoolwork and college admissions. I remember I was enrolled in two math classes as well as two science classes. Because of the little bit of body fat that I put on due to decreased activity, in my mind, I was fat. I remember weighing myself one day, surprised by the number on the scale. I’m omitting my weight because I don’t want anyone to compare their weight to mine at any point and think theirs should be a certain number.
I want to make this clear… in my mind, I was fat. I’m currently flipping through photos, and I’m the farthest thing from “fat,” whatever that means to you. From that point on, instead of changing how I viewed my body due to a change in my lifestyle, I fixated on changing my body to fit how I thought it needed to look.
This is what it’s like to have a bad body image, low self-esteem, poor self-confidence, you name it. I didn’t like what I saw when I looked in the mirror. Why was my body not an hourglass like the girls in the ads? Why did I not have a flat stomach like the ones on my social media feed?
I thought something was wrong with me.
I did everything to try and “fix” my body.
I began my freshman year of college in the Fall of 2012. I only knew 1-2 people who were attending the same school, and I was highly focused on not gaining the dreaded “freshman 15” that everyone warned you about. Since I ran track in high school, and my boyfriend at the time was an avid long-distance runner, I took up long-distance running as well.
I was focused on shrinking my body, and my goal was to get a 6-pack like the women in the magazines. I ran 3-4 times per week, upwards of 7 miles at a time, and my main courses were salads and ramen noodles. I remember my friends and family commenting on how thin I was getting, and I thrived on comments like that.
I posted pictures of women on my refrigerator who had “fit” bodies with labels on them that said something like, “Do you want to look like this? Then don’t open the refrigerator.”
I loved running at the time, and I enjoyed physical activity, but I still wasn’t satisfied when I looked in the mirror. Something was still off.
That’s when I fell in love with the weight room.
My father was a powerlifting champion in the past, and he took me to the gym on several occasions during my childhood to show me how to properly do a squat and other lifts. He always had a weight set in his garage. Some time in the year of 2014, he helped me reveal my true strength through deadlifts, and I just remember how empowered I felt by lifting all that weight of the ground (220 pounds to be exact!). This is when I knew that I needed to be in the gym.
Fast forward through my undergraduate college years, and I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Chemistry in 2016. I maintained an on-and-off relationship with the gym, and my motivation was still to change how my body looked. Beginner gains are the best ones! It really doesn’t matter how serious you are about the gym in the beginning. If you lift enough to start out, you will put on muscle! That’s exactly what happened! The fit people on Instagram also told me I should drink protein shakes, so I did that too, not really sure of why, but that was the gym-bro culture.
I loved how muscles looked on my body, and I chased that. I would spend 6-7 days per week in the gym and then go a month without working out. What kind of routine is that? Clearly, my gym schedule wasn’t sustainable, but I was too naive at the time to realize that. I had no balance. It was all-or-nothing.
My motivation behind lifting weights was still to change my body. When my body didn’t change in the way that I wanted it to, I gave up. Finally, after no working out for a long enough period of time, I would get sick of myself and start hitting the gym relentlessly again. No one ever told me my behaviors were unhealthy. No one ever told me that my body image was the problem. Oftentimes, I was praised for my dedication to the gym while going to school full time.
I began graduate school immediately after my undergrad, and the workload was so heavy during my first semester that I had no time to focus on my fitness goals. I was feeling drained and unhealthy.
I finally decided to join a gym in the new city where I attended grad school, Gainesville, FL. This time, it would be different. This time, I would stick with it.
The gym became my mental escape from the stresses of graduate school.
My husband, just a boyfriend at that time, joined the gym with me. We worked out based on a strength-building program, called the “5 x 5.” We got strong, and we were hungrier than ever. We could eat!!! To give you an idea of how strong we were, I’ll list some of the squat and deadlift ranges I was working with. I was squatting 250 pounds for 5 reps, and I was deadlifting 275 pounds for 5 reps.
I miss being that strong, and it was great to have a partner to push me in the gym. We were unstoppable! I still had absolutely no idea how many calories I needed to eat or how important rest, hydration, or protein was! I was just tearing up the weights!
This is the time when my self-confidence really started to change for the better. I started focusing on what my body was capable of instead of what it looked like.
I will admit, I enjoyed my progress in the gym more than I enjoyed my progress in the research lab. Looking back, I don’t think I handled stress with graduate school well, but despite that, I became a Ph.D. candidate in the Fall of 2018. My thought processes were slowly beginning to look more like a scientist’s. If you want to read more about my journey toward becoming a scientist, I wrote a blog on that too!
I slowly realized over time that, of course, there is a science to growing muscle… duh! For lack of a better term, I was indeed addicted to growing muscle. My husband stopped going to the gym as avidly as I did, so I lost my workout partner. Since there was no one there to spot me during heavy lifts, I stopped focusing so heavily (pun intended) on strength and started focusing more on muscle growth. Around this time is when I began my social media page, @TDubLiftingClub. You know it today as @taylorwhisman.
I educated myself on the thermodynamics of weight loss and muscle growth, the science behind macronutrients, and how sleep plays a vital role in recovery. My first few thoughts were, “Wow, I’ve been doing a lot wrong for a long time! I need to share with others the proper way to do this thing! There is a lot of misinformation out there that I was led to believe throughout my journey.”
Of course, with Instagram, there comes a lot of pressure to “look the part.” I figured that if I had a super fit body, then everyone would trust what I said automatically.
Here starts the unhealthy behaviors again…
I started prioritizing my looks again. While I still was focused on what my body was capable of, I was more fixated on how big I could make my muscles… as a way of showing off to my audience, “hey, look what I can do, and you can do it too.” I maintained a steady gym schedule of 5 days per week while working on my Ph.D. for 50 hours per week… there was no balance.
I would arrive at my lab at 8:30 am, gym bag and coffee in hand (which often got spilled), and rush to the gym at 7:00 pm. This went on most days for months.
I fixated on when my next meal was going to be, and when I didn’t get enough calories that day, it felt like the world was going to end. I looked great on the outside, but on the inside, I was struggling to balance everything going on with my life.
In the meantime, I decided to earn my Nutrition Coach certification from NASM so that I could help others with their fitness goals.
Through the certification, I learned what it actually means to be healthy…
I learned that health is more than just about being physically fit, and I felt convicted for only focusing on my outward appearance at the expense of my mental health.
I had to objectively evaluate my health with a critical eye, kind of like a scientist! Where did I need more balance in my life? First of all, I needed to divert more attention to my Ph.D. If I really wanted to graduate, I needed to be more productive, not just busy. To do this, I needed to scale back my time in the gym. I went from 5 workouts per week to 3-4, and this made a huge difference. I started prioritizing my mental health and resting. I said “no” to things that didn’t positively contribute to this.
I started focusing on the nutrient quality of my meals instead of how many macros were in my meals. I started eating more fiber, vegetables, getting more sleep, and being kinder to myself if I needed to miss a workout. I also started coaching people. Helping others with their own health is such a rewarding experience. It really helps put things into perspective.
I shifted my social media content to include more of who I am as a person. I am a scientist at heart, so I started communicating about how important science was. I am passionate about helping people who don’t have access to healthy food, so I started a fundraiser to help those in need. When the pandemic hit, I knew that I could maintain my health without the gym.
When I look in the mirror now, I see a well-rounded person, not just a body. Realizing that I am so much more than a body has taken any pressure off of myself from trying to look like anything, in particular.
I still love lifting weights, but now, instead of only physique goals, I have athletic goals pertaining to yoga and handstands. I also took up a new hobby that requires physical fitness – hula hooping!
Now that I see health for what it truly is and not what some people try to tell you what it should look like, it has made all the difference in my life. As you can see, this is a process that I am still working on. There really isn’t an end goal. It’s just getting better, each and every day.
Health, just like our bodies, looks different and might mean something different to everyone. We are all individuals who have different life experiences and needs for our well-being.
I am forever grateful for the experiences that I’ve had that taught me this. I would not change it! It’s now my life goal to help others discover what works for them so that they can be their best self, as well! Everyone deserves this.
All other photos are mine.