I've had a virtual Post-it note on my home computer desktop for the past five years.
It's something my trainer, Push Fitness owner Joshua Steckler, said to me the first time we met back in 2013 for baseline fitness testing and to go over food guidelines.
Melynda Findlay, 49, Arlington HeightsStarting weight: 226
Current weight: 218
Weight lost this week: 0 pounds
Total weight lost: 8 pounds
Total percentage lost: 3.5 percent
At that time, I weighed nearly 250 pounds, and I'd actually seen that number in print, along with my body fat percentage, at least three times in a week. As if that weren't enough, I couldn't do a single push-up or situp, my knees hurt, I was super-slow on the treadmill and, to be honest, I was sorta mad that I wasn't going to be eating pasta or grilled cheese for the next three months.
As I mentally beat myself up for getting to this point health-wise, the tears started welling up. But instead of lecturing me or just letting me wallow in self-pity, Josh gave me great advice: "You're going to walk out of here feeling defeated and torn down," he said. "Don't let yourself get discouraged. You have to use that as fuel and work harder."
It resonated so strongly in that moment, I had to write it down and put it somewhere I'd see it regularly.
Five years later, those words are just as meaningful.
While I started off this year in somewhat better shape than I did five years ago, I have a few issues that make workouts more challenging: I still have not-great knees, I'm probably even less graceful than I used to be, plus I have pretty serious anemia.
Anemia is something I've dealt with since my teens -- like most women do -- but it got especially bad about four years ago. When my iron and hemoglobin levels in particular get low, I have zero endurance, all I want to do is sleep, and it's sometimes hard to breathe (hemoglobin carries oxygen in your blood).
When I was approached about doing Fittest Loser again, I wasn't concerned because I thought I felt pretty OK. But sure enough, when my initial labwork came back, there it was: a much lower blood count than I'd expected.
I got in touch with Josh right away -- could he work around this while I was being treated? Of course, he said. (He also asked if I would consider eating liver to improve my levels. I'm still chuckling about that.)
Even though I tire quickly and have a little trouble breathing with exercise, he finds things I can do. He also keeps close track of how I'm feeling, both through observation and just asking. He's also been quick to cheer me on when he sees progress, which is great, because sometimes it's hard to see it myself.
Like this week: When I stepped on the scale after our most recent Saturday morning boot camp, I had lost zero pounds. That also happened just about this same time five years ago, and while I feigned surprise at the time, in my head I was thinking "D'OH. BUSTED." I'd eaten Oreos! And goldfish crackers! And probably other stuff! (there was a toddler birthday party involved, OK?) But this time I was baffled because, among other things, there has been a stunning lack of Oreos and goldfish crackers in my eating plan.
As soon as I stepped off the scale, I once again started beating myself up: Surely I hadn't worked hard enough or eaten clean enough. Why am I even doing this, when I'm probably just going to fail anyway? I'm middle-aged and rickety, right?
But when I got back home that morning, there was that virtual Post-it, at exactly the moment I needed to see it.
So I got right to work on a grocery list, as well as a meal and exercise plan for the week. I also got on the treadmill, where I pushed myself just a little harder than usual.
Because, as Josh pointed out to me all those years ago, you can either let a setback defeat you or push you to work harder -- the choice is yours.
I certainly know what I'm going to do.
• Melynda Findlay is a multiplatform editor at the Daily Herald, where she's worked for 19 years. She's miraculously surviving the lack of Oreos in her diet.