From Thin to Toned: How Working Out Saved My Silently Collapsing Body

Jane Grates - May 17, 2017

When we think of life-changing experiences, we often think of journeys like that in Eat, Pray, Love, or some grand voyage to the edge of the Earth. Little did I know that ever step outside my comfort zone was a life-changing experience of its own - and mine took me no further than the new gym down the block.

Growing up as a millennial, it's not so uncommon to end up equating 'thin' with 'ultimate body goals' no matter how dysfunctional that thin body is. When I was 23, my thin body and flat stomach tricked me into thinking I was healthy and energetic despite heavily smoking and greatly relying on junk food.

It wasn't until one unexpected day when I realized the stark difference between healthy and thin - for behind that thin facade lurked a very alarming health condition.

Why Worry When You're Thin!

Ever since I was a child, people always commented on my slender physique saying things like, "a gust of wind can easily blow you away," or referring to me as a 'sack of bones.' As I grew older, my friends would joke about how I would disappear if I worked out. For that reason and a few others, I abstained from exercising. I ate all that I desired, walked and cycled everywhere, and I still maintained a flat stomach. Besides, going to the gym was something I've already tried before and disliked. I practically had no reason to bother, so why should have I?

Amidst this lifestyle where I maintained neither balance nor routine, working all night and sleeping all day, I often felt surges of energy which I later understood to be debilitating anxiety rather than energy.

Hoping to discharge or otherwise manage my anxiety, I decided to join a gym which had just opened a couple of streets away despite my great lack of fondness of gyms. At 16.5 BMI, I was often glared at for even being at the gym where most people go to lose weight. However, what most onlookers wouldn't know was that my extreme thinness often caused me discomfort and fatigue and that's because unconsciously, my physique often forced itself into some very unhealthy postures. 

Before I got down to the workout routine, my personal trainer asked me to handle some bars which would calculate the percentage of body fat. With this body, it can't be more than three or four per cent, I thought. The device stopped beeping and no sooner had it stopped than I learned that my extremely thin body was comprised of 35 per cent fat. To put the numbers in perspective, obesity starts at 32 per cent for women.

I naively imagined that if I lost those 35 per cent fat I would disappear. I was already looking so thin. How is it possible?

Concerned by the results, my personal trainer advised me to consult a doctor and to get some blood tests. But little did I know that another surprise awaited me right around the corner. As soon as I got the results, I read through them to find out that my cholesterol level measured 320 mg/dL - needless to say, that was beyond alarming seeing that the healthy cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dL whereas 240 mg/dL is considered high.

I looked at the baseline values and it him me in a psychosomatic way. I started to feel shortness of breath and imagining all those hefty meals I was able to consume without getting fat. It turns out I was burning everything out due to malfunction of my thyroid but the pure fat stored in my blood and body was astonishingly high.

Before ever talking to my personal trainer, I contacted my doctor to know whether the results were as bad as I had imagined them to be, and the doctor confirmed that they truly were. He told me things that up until this very day still echo in my head as a reminder of how a person can look and feel healthy while in fact be very unhealthy on the inside. Whatever I had put my body through took a great toll on my organs as well as my posture. I had to change my entire lifestyle. I had to transform my body fat into pure muscle.

I went back to the personal trainer a changed person with a transformed outlook on life. When I first decided to go to the gym, I was indifferent about the whole matter, but now it felt to me like a savior.

Only then did I start to understand how the body works, how the mind works and how everything is connected.

Transforming My Life One Kick at a Time

Putting any reluctance about workout behind me, it was now time to find something a bit more enjoyable than the tasteless and boring gym workout sessions. That's when I turned to kickboxing which was both an enjoyable workout and a great way to handle my anger and anxiety issues; and honestly, I needed to fight a bit.

I was the only girl in the class with tall, bulky, tattooed guys. Most of the time I was punching upwards because they pushed me until I dropped. I had no idea my resistance was so low. During the first days, I couldn’t exercise for more than five minutes without shortness of breath. It didn’t help that I was still smoking right before getting in either – a habit I have stopped now.

However, it’s fair to say that the guys in kickboxing saved me - I built up muscle and core strength, I was more determined, flexible, fast and precise.

Although the machine workouts were still the hardest and most boring for me, I am proud to say I did it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, friendships grew and my love for kickboxing was something I discovered with great pleasure. I started doing the regular workouts with something to distract me and it got easier with time. I stopped using the elevator at my apartment. I couldn’t smoke because I’d feel bad doing it before or after training and then it started to feel horrible at all times. I wasn’t hungry for fast food anymore. Granola, quark cheese and eggs made my day instead.

Feeling healthy and switching a flat tummy into a wall of muscles definitely told me I was okay. It’s hard for me to imagine myself eating fried food because my stomach is very unaccustomed to those kinds of food now. I have grown quite in unison with my body to an extent where I can really sense it in a way that I never thought was possible before.

As I was eating away chips and cakes which were all yummy, I didn’t realize how much my choice of foods was messing with my capability to really savor it. Realizing that prompted me to cleanse my taste buds – no salt, no sugar and no spices.

I wanted to reset my taste buds so I wouldn’t feel tempted to go for the same foods. The first week was hell as I couldn’t savor anything, but that was because I was used to very strong flavors. After the second week, I found out I actually loved broccoli, as well as smoothies of orange, apple and broccoli – something I’ve always hated eating.

Although I’m still thin, I am more aware of my body and the fact that a thin body can hide the most horrendous facts behind numbers in your blood. Journeying from thin to toned taught me a lot especially how the energy you get from constantly relying on high dosages of caffeine can be quite false, and how one can be both thin and fat at the same time. It taught me that a flat stomach isn’t the answer and that what really counts is developing your muscles, eating right and creating a healthy routine that at least begins with getting a proper night sleep of at least six straight hours.

About the Author

Friendly writer. Explorer. Wannabe coffee expert. Entrepreneur. Infuriatingly humble alcohol advocate. Pop culture nerd. During her spare time, Jane manages Nicershoes as well as several other sites like Monica’s Health Mag.