When I was in high school, I was terrified of the weight room and thought that dancing between 5 and six days a week for 2 hours a night would be enough to make me strong.

Oh boy was I wrong. I was afraid of bulking up, of getting too big – I just wanted to tone and look like the supermodels on the magazines. So I avoided the weight room and the gym.

Even during the summer before my first year of college, when I decided to make fitness a top priority, I stuck to the mile long runs through my neighborhood, Zumba dance, and body weight pilates workouts on YouTube.

I worked my abs religiously with crunches, looked up squat challenges on the internet, and could barely perform one full push up.

It wasn’t until my junior year of college – when I decided to try my luck with the leg abductor machines – that I discovered the joy that is weight lifting and strength training.

That year, my focus was mostly on cardio as I believed that that was the only way that I could keep up with my weight loss goals, but I used the leg press machine pretty religiously to sculpt my legs, butt, and thighs to my liking.

During my senior year, I picked up the free weights and found myself training more seriously, working my upper and lower body every other day.

I’ve delved into full body break downs and total body workouts since then, discovered HIIT cardio and even developed my workout routines in the process.

Through my journey into strength training, I’ve learned about my body and gained confidence… But one of the most significant changes that strength training has made is my relationship with food.

My relationship with food has always been tricky. I’ve been picky since pretty much forever. My diet consists of pizza, chicken (preferably of the finger variety), potatoes (preferably fried and cut into finger shapes), Caesar salads, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, mozzarella sticks, and pasta (with butter exclusively).

I rarely try anything new, I don’t eat red meat, and I often skip meals as a result of a poor diet in college.

In college, my diet consisted of salads and French fries for lunch and dinner partially due to limited options for picky eaters and partially due to a preoccupation with weight gain and fear of the Freshman 15.

But with such a rigorous exercise routine, it’s pretty much impossible for me to eat the way that I used to.

I have to try new things to progress and gain the muscle that I want and to fuel my body. I have to feed my body better than I did before and experiment with different recipes.

I have to eat healthy to see my progress, but I also have to recognize that eating healthy also means eating the proper amounts of proteins, fats, and carbs.

That said, I also understand that it’s okay to cheat every once in a while and if I’m craving some chocolate, I deserve to eat it.

I have to eat more – I can’t skip breakfast just for the sake of feeling “skinny” and then go through the rest of my day, workout included.

It’s just not sustainable, and it’s just not healthy. Working out so frequently has made me hungrier and more willing to try new things and new dishes – I eat fruits that I used to claim to hate, I eat veggies that I wouldn’t have dared to try.

Food is no longer something that makes me feel anxious, though at times I still feel guilty about eating too many cookies or a panic coming on when I go to a restaurant that doesn’t have a simple chicken dish on the menu.

This is a work in progress. I am in no way finished with my journey. There are still things that I am working on: for instance, I’m trying to work trying new foods into my daily life.

Every week, I’m going to try something new, whether it be a new meal to cook or a new dish at one of my favorite restaurants.

I’m still growing and changing, and that’s okay – but working out and trying to be healthier has made me more cognizant of my food and eating choices.

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