Fitness: What is it?
By Jill Langham


As a noun, fitness is described as “the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” Ok, you might think that sounds doable but in this day and age, what does it really mean and more importantly how is it accomplished.


I feel blessed to be seen by others as a role model and an inspiration for leading a “fit” lifestyle. Therefore, I’d like to share my journey with fitness and the lifestyle that I’ve adopted that allows me to be “physically fit and healthy!” So, here goes.


Fitness started for me very young. I was on skis by the time I was 4 years old, skipped rope, rode bikes, played boys baseball, hit tennis balls in the summers, rode mini-bikes and competed for my father’s attention by doing 500 sit-ups a day and as many push-ups as I could by the time I was 12. I began to jog when I was 15 but it wasn’t until I was in my 2nd year of college that I saw the inside of a gym and began my life long relationship with lifting weights. My parents were avid skiers and golfers, my mother, a tomboy who also played baseball, tennis and jogged and my Dad, who did calisthenics every morning of his life, clearly set this example and lifestyle for me.


But, we know that exercise alone will not make us fit and that our dietary habits determine the level of success that we’ll have to be considered fit. I was raised in a family that believed in gardening and never knew that people bought vegetables from a super market. I was raised eating 3 meals a day with a snack here and there. My Mom loved a “little something sweet” after dinner so there were always cookies in the pantry and ice cream in the freezer. Our big treats back in the 70’s were going to Burger King for a “Whopper”, going out on Sundays for a “Frozen Custard” (ice cream with a pasteurized egg yolk added into it) or ordering in a Pizza. We ate meat from a slaughterhouse, chicken from the poultry store, cow’s tongue, fried liver, lamb chops, ham, bacon, polenta, pasta, potatoes, rice, homemade soups, lentils, lots of corn especially on the cob, tons of butter, Italian and French bread, Matzo, pancakes, freshly made Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies, Fig Newton’s, Pecan Sandies, oh, gosh, now I’m drooling, fresh donuts every Sunday after church and everything that Sarah Lee made! Being Italian we had a fresh salad with every meal, fresh green beans from the garden, home grown grapes, apples, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, peaches, tomatoes, onions, and fresh herbs. In other words I had a very full diet of what we believed were healthy foods.


Cleary, I had a lot of role modeling in my home to help focus me on a fit lifestyle, but ironically, I was the only one of four kids that followed that lead from a very young age. Unfortunately, I also suffered from both anorexia and bulimia, so for all the good I was doing, I sabotaged myself with these two all encompassing eating disorders. Not surprising is the fact that I became a person who engaged in excessive exercise as a way to combat the eating disorders. I would eat a box of “Little Debbie cream pies” and then run 10 miles. Or eat 6-10 cups of popped corn with one stick of melted butter on it and go for a 25-mile bike ride! I had no balance in my life but yet was raised by a Dad whose famous words were, “Everything in Moderation!”


It wasn’t until 2000 that I began to adopt a true fit lifestyle. My ex-husband introduced me to this way of living when we met and I have been following his lead for the last 17 years. He taught me how to have a healthy relationship to food, which, is saying a lot for someone with an eating disorder. He also taught me how to respect my body’s needs and showed me how to use both cardiovascular exercise and weight training to shape my body in a totally new way. I had been doing way too much cardiovascular work by running and was actually burning off my muscle! So all the work I did in the gym was never seen and I therefore thought I had “bad genes!” It wasn’t until I stopped running and began using a stationary bike did the muscle begin to build.


I’d been a nurse for 20 years and knew how to treat sick people, but what I didn’t know was how to take care of well people. Back in the day, nutrition was used to help heal people’s wounds or to help obese people lose weight which would ultimately help rid them of high blood pressure or manage their diabetes. No one taught us how to use food to be fit. So, it was quite novel and challenging for me to consider eating in order to become healthy. Food was my enemy and the thought of eating every 3 hours in order to lose weight was beyond my comprehension.


Like most people, I thought the less I ate, the less I would weigh and starved myself with 2 meals a day with a binge of food before bed. But, I wasn’t skinny, a term that most women are dying to hear. Instead I was bloated and suffered from inflammation, but didn’t know it! I was a bit dumbfounded when my ex asked me if what I had been doing was working for me! Wow, no one had ever posed that question to me. I had to admit to him and myself that “no” what I was doing was not working. He explained that I’d been starving myself, slowing down my metabolism and was losing muscle while putting on more fat as my body was storing any food that I ate, no matter how healthy it appeared. Even more surprising was him telling me that the foods that I was eating that I thought were low calorie, like yogurt and bagels, were actually junk food loaded with empty calories and tons of sugar! I did not know nor understand that if you divided the number of sugar carbohydrates by 4 you could see how many packets of sugar were in a food. For example, the 2 8-oz cups of vanilla yogurt that I was eating a day had 10 packs or sugar in each container! “Are you kidding me!” I thought no wonder I’m not losing weight! That really blew my mind!


So, I did something that was unique for me, I listened to someone else and began to feed myself every 3 hours, 6 times a day. These meals consisted of about 300-350 calories with about 35 grams of protein, 30 grams of carbohydrates and about 5 grams of fat from a healthy source, like nuts or peanut butter. I initially lost about 3 pounds the first few weeks, but then my system hit a wall. With the help of a nutritionist, we adjusted the number of carbohydrates that I ate and took them out of the 6th meal completely, but that still wasn’t enough. So, we removed them from my 5th meal as well and the fat began to melt off of my body.


People from the gym who had known me for years were flabbergasted by my results. I was actually asked if I had had a body transplant. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. My starting weight of 117 pounds and 21% body fat dropped to 108 pounds at 6% body fat! I was elated. I competed 5 months to the day that I started the eating plan and won the entire show and got my picture in Flex magazine! It was the very best day of my life! And this all happened the week before my 44 birthday!


But, it wasn’t just the proper Eating Plan that got me to the winner’s circle; it was a balance between weight training, cardiovascular exercise and the food. But, it did not stop there. It took the proper knowledge and the discipline to achieve this goal and to me, this might be the most critical component of all. What I mean is this. There is a huge pool of information floating around related to Fitness. I think it is imperative to choose one plan and to stick with it for a minimum of 90 days, writing down not only your goals but your food intake as well. It has been proven that people who keep a dietary log or journal have as much as a 30-45% success rate as opposed to those who do not keep a journal.


You must own the program of your choice and not waver from its requirements. We are human and we can stray from our goals but eating one bad meal does not mean that we have blown the entire program. If you have a flat tire while on the road, do you flatted the other 3 tires or do you fix the one and get back on the road? It is no different once you’ve chosen a plan. Your friends and family will be very excited that you have made a choice to get fit, but trust me when I tell you that as you begin to have success, these same people may be your biggest saboteurs, so be prepared and be forewarned! They don’t mean to be your enemy, but your success oftentimes causes them to be jealous of the fact that you are doing something that they do not have the strength or willpower to do. So, without intending to, they begin to sabotage you and it can really hurt. Do not lose hope and do not waiver from your goal.


The last part of fitness for me involved my self-esteem or the lack thereof. I did not know what it looked like or felt like to love myself. By saying no to myself when it came to binging and purging and substituting it with shopping for the right foods, preparing those foods and eating those foods, resulted in sending a message to myself and my body that I loved it enough to feed it the right foods at the right times and out of that came self-esteem! Attaining fitness is one thing, the trick however is maintaining it and that my friends, is my personal lifetime goal.


To you and your health!