During Fittest Loser boot camp on a recent Saturday morning, I did a whole bunch of sit-ups. I didn't keep count, but I'm pretty sure it was probably about 76 kajillion.
Somewhere around the 50 kajillion mark, Push Fitness trainer Wade Merrill, who was leading the boot camp, asked me if I was having fun.
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"Yes," I told him. And I was being honest.
Don't get me wrong -- doing kajillions of sit-ups isn't necessarily my idea of fun (I do go to movies and stuff, you know). What was fun, though, was realizing I could do them at all. When I started this Fittest Loser journey back at the end of January, I couldn't do a single sit-up. Not even one, not even with my feet anchored.
There have been a lot of cool things about this quest for fitness and weight loss, but the best thing, by far, has been that constant realization of "I can't believe I can do this now!" It's something my trainer, Push Fitness owner Josh Steckler, has impressed upon me from the very beginning: My only limits are the self-imposed ones.
While that has certainly been my most important lesson, it's not the only one. Some were obvious, some were practical and some were a complete surprise to me.
Now I'm no fitness or nutrition expert, but here are three of the more surprising and helpful things I've learned over the past several weeks.
• Support is essential. Fitness is not a solitary pursuit. Sure, you have to do the hard work yourself (Nobody is going to do your workouts for you. Trust me, I've tried to arrange this.) But you still need other people. You need to be accountable, share recipes, have people who won't eat pizza in front of you, get encouragement and realize you're not the only one struggling.
Sometimes, you also just need someone to tell you that buying a lifetime supply of frosting is a bad idea. Reach out, tell people what you're doing and share your successes and frustrations. You'll be pleasantly surprised by how many people will cheer you on.
• All calories are not equal. The quality of the food you consume definitely matters. You can eat your daily allotment of calories in pizza and french fries, or you can eat it in vegetables and lean meat. In my experience, at least, I got better results sticking to the healthier options. I've never been someone who ate huge quantities of food.
In fact, at times in the past that I tracked my food intake, I'd consistently eat a pretty reasonable number of calories. But I ate a pretty reasonable number of calories of junk most of the time, and that did not help me lose weight or feel good.
• There is no such thing as failure in the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle, unless you completely give up. During this whole journey, I've eaten things I shouldn't have (I'm looking at you, Oreos). I've eaten too much (and it was never too much broccoli). I've skipped cardio workouts. But you know what I didn't do? Quit.
That's the great thing about fitness: It's not just a trip from point A to point B -- it's a constant pursuit. Eat something you shouldn't have, skip a workout or have a bad workout? Hey, guess what? Tomorrow's another day. Do better. It's as simple as that.
My own journey toward fitness has been far from perfect. Depending on the day, it's been fun, terrible, frustrating, awesome and amazing. But no matter what, it's always been educational, and it's knowledge that's going to benefit me long after the Fittest Loser is over.
• Melynda Findlay is a member of the night copy desk at the Daily Herald, where she's worked for 14 years. She lives in Arlington Heights and hasn't actually thought about grilled cheese in quite a while.