Dance practice dictated my life 4–6 days a week, all year long, for over a decade. The practices mentally and physically challenged me, but made up some of the best parts of my life. They also kept me in great shape. I had built in workout sessions that rarely felt like a burden or an annoyance. I never thought about what I ate and I didn’t really gain any weight.
Irish Dance made up a huge part of my life for 11 years, but once I went to college I stopped—it was too difficult to maintain my competitive level while taking classes. Although I knew it was coming, the transition left my once quick feet feeling sluggish.
When I left for college and stopped dancing, I didn’t know how to stay healthy independent from dance.
The first few weeks of school I continued eating just like I had while I was dancing 24/7. I never went to the gym because I couldn’t mentally connect the energy I spent on dance to a session lifting weights or running on a treadmill. I didn’t realize that skipping the gym, just as I had done my entire life, I would actually notice the effects of the food I was eating. Feeling sluggish and constantly exhausted, it really sunk in when I realized my clothes were suddenly a little too tight for comfort. People joked about the freshman 15, but I actually saw it in the mirror.
I realized I needed to change my habits. I didn’t feel comfortable with the changes happening to my body, and I couldn’t keep taking naps every afternoon just to get through the day. But gyms felt like foreign lands to me. I hated running and didn’t know how to use any machines or weights.
To make going to the gym less intimidating, I recruited some friends and we watched YouTube videos to learn a few basic exercises. I started by running a slow mile on the treadmill. From there I was able to run longer and longer distances. It got easier the more I ran, and I now consistently run three miles when I work out.
I still don’t use the machines: They confuse and scare me. Instead I watch different YouTube workout videos that use weights and body exercises. They work just as effectively as all the fancy machines.
Working out made up only half the battle, though. The food I had eaten regularly was by no means good for me. Each day, I ate a bagel or cereal for breakfast, a sandwich or some sort of carb-heavy meal for lunch, chips as a snack and a dinner of either pasta, chicken or some sort of Asian food. After all of this, I would still snack in my room late at night on any type of junk food I could find.
I consciously made the effort to eat healthier where I could. I didn’t hold myself to a strict diet or meal plan because that would be too hard for me to keep up. And I switched out my morning bagel for yogurt and fruit. Instead of snacking on chips I had granola bars. For dinner I made healthier dining hall decisions and started eating salads and fruit along with some sort of protein. These slight changes in my eating habits made a huge difference. I felt healthier and more energized and stopped gaining weight.
I’ve become a more productive person and feel healthier both mentally and physically. Of course, I still have room for improvement. I’m not perfect with my workout schedule, for one. On my best weeks I usually work out three or four times a week. But on my worst weeks I don’t work out at all. When school gets busy or life gets in the way, I don’t always go to the gym or eat as healthy as I should. But I know the work I need to put in for a healthier lifestyle.