The Gift of Health

By Kate Riley September 14, 2015

I used to think fit people were strange and kind of freaky. Then again, I used to think and do a lot of things differently but in the past year I’ve changed. Two years ago I had tweaked my knee and used it as an excuse not to exercise. I was working too much and eating purely for pleasure. All three led to weight gain, unhappiness, and feeling exhausted all the time.

Late last summer I decided I was done feeling that way and decided to make regular exercise and clean eating my lifestyle, and not just with willpower but by forming new healthy habits. I’m proud to say I’ve stuck with it consistently, today I am strong, fast, flexible, and confident in my body.

park stretch kate

It all began in July of 2014 in this public park down the road from my house. It’s there I began meeting with a personal trainer I had hired to teach me how to get fit for life. I met with a trainer for two months, we would meet twice a week and rotate between outdoor workouts and the gym. In this spot he’d make me do pushups and lunges and jumps and squats and V ups, on and on. Just yesterday I went back to that park to stretch before one of my regular strength training sessions (I lift weights on my own now) and I thought about how far I’ve come.

I’ve learned a few things along the way and wanted to share them today. I know we all struggle with finding the time and energy to lead a healthy lifestyle. I hope today’s post doesn’t come across preachy and instead inspiring.

Small Steps = Big Results. When you’re overweight or out of shape it’s overwhelming to think of fitness and weight loss and healthy eating in the big picture at first, it’s enough to make most people quit. Concentrating on “all the weight I have to lose” or “I’ll never be as fit as (blank) is” is a recipe for failure. I’ve read it takes three weeks to break a habit and two months to form a new one. What’s true is changing bad habits and forming new healthy ones works when you focus only on getting through that particular day or that week, not a year down the road. Do that and guess what? A year down the road those small steps really do lead to big changes.

a year from now

Small steps in fitness over time lead to major results. When I first started exercising regularly I could only do 1 real pushup and an 8 pound bicep curl felt heavy. Today I can bust out 20 pushups and do several sets of 20 pound dumbbell bicep curls, no problem, such progress! It took many months to build up to that but I learned never to compare myself to others, only with my own performance the week before. This week could I do a little bit better? That’s my goal, it still is. If you fail to perform or miss your workout, don’t stress, just get back up and start over again.

Small steps worked for me with nutrition as well. In the beginning of my transformation, I stopped eating just three things: fast food, processed food, and fried food. I ate only natural food for about six months to get my mind and body used to it. Once I’d broken that habit of eating crappy food I took my nutritional goal a step further. I limited starchy carbs like bread and pasta. Then a few months later I cut out most sugar and a lot of dairy. What I was left with after a year of small changes was a new habit of clean eating.

Nutrition Matters. For breakfast I make superfood smoothies, for lunch I eat a lot of chopped salads. I’m not on any diet with a name, I eat three regular and two small meals a day (yes five meals!) and I’m never ever hungry. I eat mostly plant based food and a lot of lean protein, but I’ll indulge in wine, chocolate, and savory sauces in moderation. I drink a glass of water before every meal and a glass in between meals too, I bought myself a cute water bottle and carry it with me everywhere.

One thing I’ve learned is I can curb cravings for junk food if I’ve prepared in advance which comes down to being proactive instead of reactive. Stocking my fridge with healthy choices just works. If I’m on the road, I bring a protein bar or small snack with me, and if really hungry I’ll stop at a supermarket and take 10 minutes to grab something natural to avoid the drive thru temptation. Another tidbit: someone once told me “remember the first bite tastes the same as the 20th so don’t have 20, have 3 or 4.” That has always stuck in my head and helped me stop eating too much of indulgent foods like sweets. I credit better nutrition and eating habits as 75% of the journey toward a healthy body.

healthy inside

Start Moving. The couch to 5K program is really great for those that are just getting started, the idea is just to get started somewhere, even if it’s simply walking an extra mile with a friend or with your dog. You can exercise anywhere, at the park, around your house, you don’t always have to go to a gym. Yoga, swimming, dancing, anything that gets you moving that you enjoy, find that and keep doing it!

STRONG, Not Skinny. I suffered from the common misconception among women that “weight lifting makes you bulky” but guess what, lifting weights does not make you bulky and it never will. You’ll never look like a body builder you’ll become toned which is what you want!

Building muscle melts the fat faster by increasing your metabolism so what happened over the course of a year was my arms got stronger and more sculpted and my legs did too and only strength training will do that. Not dieting and not cardio (although good nutrition and cardio matter!) Toned arms and legs come from weights and resistance bands, so ladies, learn to use those machines and free weights at the gym, or buy a resistance bands and do strength training at home. Watch videos on You Tube and work out with a few dumbbells. You don’t need heavy weights but you do need to do the reps that tone the muscles. As you age, you need strong muscles to prevent injury too so I’ll continue to lift weights for life!

Making Time. I think this is the biggest struggle for everyone in our fast paced society. Jobs, families, obligations, it all takes us away from time spent exercising. But what I learned is what we’ve all heard before, you’ve got to MAKE time and you only do that by saying no to unimportant things or making certain sacrifices. I had to give up time watching shows and hanging out online in exchange for finding an extra hour to exercise. I had to seriously examine what I was willing to give up to make gains health wise. Now looking back I can’t even remember thinking about what I missed on television or online! A healthy body takes both time and effort, what will you give up in order to make the time?

make the time

Make Exercise Social. I lift weights on my own during the week while I’m jamming to my tunes with headphones, but I also take fitness kickboxing classes three to four times a week and I really look forward to them because I love the camaraderie there. Taking the first class is always the hardest! But that little step of bravery has brought me some genuine friendships. Having a tribe of people around you who share a common goal (or even just 1 workout buddy) helps you stay accountable. Others on the same journey will encourage you, share in your challenges, celebrate your victories. Human connection is so helpful on any fitness journey!

There is No Finish Line. I’ve mentioned before whenever I’m asked what are you training for, my answer is always “For life!”  I finally came to terms with the fact it wasn’t about getting to a certain weight or being able to run a certain speed, it was about feeling good all the time, appreciating my body’s ability to move, and loving my body enough to feed it properly and pushing it to stay strong.

regret workout

The Carry Over. Being stronger and losing weight are not the only good things that have happened to me. Having a healthy body carried over into so many other aspects of life with residual benefits I didn’t expect. I sleep better, have a clearer mind, and much more energy. I feel so much better in clothes, and don’t get winded chasing my children around the house or on the soccer field. Endorphins from exercise fight off any depressing feelings, a good sweat session puts me in an amazing mood. Eating natural foods also carried over into better skin, hair, eyesight, all of it improved by feeding my body the good stuff instead of junk.

I’m not skinny gal, and I really don’t ever want to be. But I’m strong, I can jump and bend over and run and punch and lift in a way I couldn’t a year ago and that is a gift. Sometimes I’ll catch myself smiling as I drive around town and I realize it’s just because I feel so good. It took a lot of hard work to get where I am but now I feel as if I’m on cruise control. It’s a place I never imagined I’d get to, but I have.

If you’re struggling I hope you’ll take the right steps for you to give yourself the gift of health too.


  1. I like to say, if you can’t do it at 40, you sure won’t be able to do it at 70! (Meaning lunges, balance on one leg, etc. etc.)

  2. Great info! I can relate to the awesome feeling from being more fit. I do a quick 10-15 minute workout at home 3-4 times a week before I get ready for work. Some days weights, some cardio and I take a yoga class once a week. I lost 50 lbs, have toned muscles, and feel great. Anyone can do it, you just have to start. There’s no time like the present! :o)

  3. Thanks for sharing! It’s so important to take care of ourselves – but so hard to make the time. Your quotes are great!

  4. Congrats Kate!

    This message really is timely for me. I, too, have started taking stock of my diet and exercise but I don’t continue. It’s always start and stop. I’m going to take more small, consistent steps. And I really need to work on reducing my bread/pasta intake!

    Thanks for the post. Keep well.

  5. Thanks for this, Kate. I agree that you look amazing. I’ve been talking about getting back into shape since I had my son 26 years ago. I’ve been on and off the exercise wagon for years, but I’ve finally found something I love to do (Zumba). The food bit is harder, as bread and potatoes are my favorites. Mostly, I want to feel just as you described — good, healthy, strong, able.
    Thanks again.

  6. Well done! Consistency is key (and the thing I fall down on most).

    I have to disagree with your last image though. The first time I worked out with a trainer I could barely hobble for days after and I SERIOUSLY regretted that workout! :-)

  7. you look AMAZING! And great job on a year’s worth of hard work! And thanks for this post! I recently made that huge change to make time for exercise (5:30am!) because I couldn’t fit it anywhere else in the day. I felt guilty working out after a full work day, over spending time with my son, so i chose not to work out more often than i chose to do it, and I was feeling down, depressed, upset with myself, unhappy in clothes, etc. It’s been 3 weeks since i started my new morning routine and I feel GREAT.

    • Good for you Brittany, having a baby makes finding time that much harder, kudos to you for making it happen!

  8. Kate, I love your post! At 55 I found the 21 Day Fix and Reagan Theurer, coach. My advice, find something that works for you and get moving! Reagan Theurer mixes nutrition, simple exercise and social support, I love it! You look great and you found what works for you. I am sure it will keep the creative energy flowing.

  9. I AM a skinny girl, but that does NOT equal health. I just had my second child and have been inspired by my husband (who recently started powerlifting) to get stronger. Yay for this post! Even with a newborn I’m hoping to add some bodyweight strengthening exercises and tips from him. Great post!

  10. You look great, Kate! Congrats on your accomplishments! And BTW, being “skinny” is highly overrated — I’d much rather look like you!

  11. Don’t forget lifting weights and strength training are good for your bones. I didn’t enjoy strength training as much as cardio, but my doctor advised me to do it for healthy bones later in life. As I feel stronger, I like it better.

  12. Thanks so much for posting this now – I’m going to be starting a lifestyle makeover in the coming week or so and this is definitely what I need to stay motivated!

  13. What an inspiring post, you have accomplished so much! I have recently changed my eating habits, but now it’s time to start moving…this was what I needed to read. :) You look amazing, and so happy to hear that you feel amazing, too!

  14. Thanks for the encouragement Kate! I agree with the rest, you look great! I had my kids and it’s now time to get myself back in shape. I think I will try starting with your idea of cutting out fast food and processed food. I remember when you used to post recipes here, some were more decadent. Maybe you can post some healthy ones? :)

  15. Congratulations! This post was so timely. I’ve been trying to motivate myself to get moving and eat better. Thanks for all the great info. BTW, you mentioned a water bottle you love, any chance you could post a pic and tell us where you found it?

  16. Kate – welcome to the club! You should be so proud of your accomplishments! I started working out 15 years ago and can never imaging stopping. The benefits of exercise and eating clean are obvious and eventually become a way of life. One awesome benefit is being a positive role model for your children. We all want the best for our kids and setting a good example and providing an active lifestyle is an amazing gift for your children.

    Good work!

  17. Congratulations! You look amazing and your body will thank you for years to come. Your simple, realistic approach to living a healthy lifestyle is a great example for all. No gimmicks or quick fixes – just good clean living.

  18. Great post, Kate! I love what you said about small steps and also “fit for life.” I think so many times we get discouraged when we’re so out of shape, or so over our natural weight. The focus does really need to be on making your body feel better-not a goal of trying to fit into a certain size or the skinny jeans that have been hanging in your closet for 4 years. One thing I find incredibly helpful is keeping a journal. I really try and take regular stock of the benefits I get from eating healthy and working out regularly: my joints aren’t achey, my skin is clearer, I’m not as crabby during that time of the month. If I do overindulge I keep track of my results from that also-i.e. I had 3 cookies before bed last night, and then I had a really tough time falling asleep (hello, excess sugar). The idea is not to beat myself up, but to realize that what you put in, equals what you get out. Thanks for the great encouragement!

    • Heidi that’s a great tip to keep a journal, I know many fitness instructors and trainers recommending that too so you can track progress!

  19. Thank you for this post. After taking care of others for so long, I am officially way overweight and completely out of shape. I get scared of the process because it seems so overwhelming, and the stress causes me to eat. Talk about a irony! Tonight I am starting a Lifestyle Class that teaches about making small healthy changes and your message couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you so very much!

  20. I think your speaking to me, and I’m finally ready to listen. Thanks for your post – I needed it.

  21. Thanks for sharing and congrats on your healthy lifestyle! We went through similar changes to better ourselves and our bodies. Keep up the great choices every day!

  22. Beautiful photo, and a sensible, smart article. It’s hard work, sometimes you dread going to work out, but you just have to keep showing up and trying, the change happens and it is so worth it.

    Thank you for refraining from linking fitness with any “miracle” pills/potions/cures/Multilevel Marketing schemes–there are so many snake oil sales out there in this area. Good health practices are exactly as you have described them.


    • Ha yes the “snake oil salesmen” are out there! There is no magic pill, it’s really just about eating healthy food and regular exercise, they go hand in hand you need both, simple but true.

  23. Excellent words of advice and much needed in this season of my life as I try to develop a lifestyle rather than count calories myself. Thanks for sharing!

  24. This is timely for me! I had a baby 4 1/2 months ago and have been struggling to get back to “health”. This post helped me to pack a healthful lunch and eat a balanced breakfast. It’s time for me to “just press play” on the 21 day fix videos again too. I can commit to 30 minutes a few days a week for ME!!! Happy mommy, happy family. :)

  25. Great post!

    When you stopped fast food what did you do about restaurants? Did you choose a healthier option? Did you have any cheat meals in those first few months?

    • Hi Denae, I stopped pulling into a fast food restaurant as an option for a quick bite. I prefer to plan ahead now, anticipating when I’ll need to eat that day and preparing with healthier options. It sounds difficult to a lot of people but it’s just my habit now.

      At restaurants, I order fish with vegetables or chicken with vegetables (and wine!) or for lunch a great salad, dressing on the side so I can control the amount that goes on top. I skip dessert for the most part. On road trips I bring my own meals with me but when the kids beg for a burger we will go to the drive thru but skip the fries as a side, a burger is not so bad if it’s not dripping with sauce. And I don’t mind if my kids have chicken tenders or a hamburger now and then :) When I crave a great burger I’ll order one in a restaurant but with a salad instead of fries. I’ll usually eat half of the burger and save the rest for later.

      I like Subway’s chopped salads or I’ll grab a small deli sandwich on the road or pull into a supermarket like I said and walk in to grab something. I hate getting caught hungry that’s when willpower is weak right? So I just try my best to plan ahead.

      I don’t like to think of food in terms of “cheat” meals, I believe if you make most of your diet clean and natural and keep the focus there most of the time, when it’s time to enjoy a piece of birthday cake or a slice of pizza you should do it and not feel guilty about it. And don’t ask me to give up chocolate, ever. I go through one bar each week, picking off small pieces every night from a bar I keep in my fridge :)

  26. I love the strong, not skinny message. Thanks for sharing your experiences. You look so healthy!

  27. Great advice & story and I am so happy you’ve found your healthy happiness :) I was on that road about 21/2, 3 years ago and I still love it and haven’t stopped. It’s apart of me, apart of my daily routine and without it, it feels like something’s missing!

    Keep it up :) I love the message you try to get across too “I’m strong, not skinny”

    Lauren Baxter | Lovely Decor

  28. That is so awesome! I used to be so big on fitness then I hurt my shoulder really badly and have not been able to do as much. Like my chiropractor told me “at your age you should slow down a little” yikes. But I’m trying to pick up again. Oh and I so can’t wait to meet you in person this week. See you in NYC. :)

  29. Thank you so much for all your inspiration. I am 60, 10 lbs heavier than when my oldest daughter got married 4 years ago and now planning my next daughter’s wedding this coming August. I just started to research clean eating and you have now given me the inspiration I need to do this. I am unhappy with how I currently look, how my clothes fit and how I feel in general. But after reading your post I am ready to begin my journey to better health. I have always enjoyed reading your blog and can’t thank you enough for this post. I will remember your words as I make my journey. Thanks so much.

  30. It’s true you probably can’t do at 70 what you could have done at 40 (and I say “could have” because if we had done it at 40, it wouldn’t be an issue now). But there’s plenty we can do and it can be effective even if it takes longer. You just have to START! (And I’m talking to myself as well).

    Your nutrition plan is super simple, and, as a retired registered dietitian, I give you an A+++. Great job! Great post!

  31. I rarely comment on your blog but this post was awesome! I am so so proud of you Kate. I am going to print this out and take the time to be deliberate and proactive. I want to see more pictures of you looking so great!

  32. It is an amazing thing to finally realize that diet isn’t a fad but a healthy way of eating. I am so happy to see others finding the same joy in the realization.
    My mother is 71 years old and still attends strength training, chair yoga, and swimming classes. I thank he every day for choosing to take care of her health and keeping strong so I get to spend more time with her. You are an inspiration to those women who are having a hard time trying to find a place to start — it can be as easy as a 10 minute walk to start with every day. You are so right that small changes make a huge impact.

  33. Congrats on your accomplishments! I also hope to start the year off with some new healthy habits that I can stick with as well.

  34. Health is a gift. A healthy lifestyle is a way to give thanks for that fleeting gift. Even the most athletic and diet-conscious among us are not immune to some illnesses, though, so do everything in moderation, maintain a balance and be mindful that not everyone around you can partake in an active lifestyle (some should not). Whatever you do, never tell another person what he or she should do in terms of his or her own health. Especially if it involves kale. ;]

  35. Thank you for the inspiring post! You are right that we just have to compare ourselves to last week and not to others!

  36. Thanks for this encouragement — you look fabulous (and strong!). I’m trying to finally figure out how to re-incorporate exercise into my life almost four years after my twins were born, and thanks to this post I managed to get myself to a interval training class at the Y last night. Could you give us any more details on your fitness routine – like, how many cardio/strength training sessions per week?

  37. I am really struggling with my health. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1990 and have a pretty bad case of it. I also have destroyed my knees playing sports, and they will require replacement, and my shoulders are absolutely shot to the point that almost don’t have a joint on the left anymore. PAIN!! But I started back to the pool last week and am starting slowly. And I am working hard at cleaning up my eating. I don’t have weight issues, but I have never eaten properly. I now have a fridge full of veggies and fresh fruit available all the time, and I am eating various salads all the time. I don’t cook very often, so the salads are good and are working for me. I am 66 years old now, but God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, I still have lots of years ahead if me and plan to get as healthy as possible as soon as possible.

  38. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I have been thinking how much I really need to commit to a daily routine but can feel overwhelmed by the amount of work it would require. It is so helpful to hear just to take it one step at a time and I can get it done! Thanks!

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