The Moving Crew

Fitness Epiphanies -- and Things That Hold Us Back

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It's two weeks into 2007, and chances are you've already broken your new year's resolutions. We know how it goes.

Now that Redskins football is over, we recall with regret the number of pigs-in-a-blanket that we ate in a futile but spirited effort to cheer on the team. So we make the same promise to ourselves that we do every year: to start working out.

Right. Just as soon as Joe Gibbs leads us to the playoffs.

The problem is that a new year's resolution -- essentially a glorified to-do list -- frequently isn't enough to inspire dramatic life change. Lasting change has to come from a deeper place.

Ed Ingebretsen, director of training for Results, The Gym, believes motivation stems from two emotions: fear and desire. We are afraid life will get worse if we do nothing, although some research suggests that's not enough to get many of us moving. We fervently hope we can reverse that course.

There are some lucky people who seem as though they're born with such drive. Like, say, Yankees player Derek Jeter or boxer Laila Ali. But for many of us, inspiration is more elusive. It comes in a flash, like an epiphany -- a moment when we have run out of excuses and are forced to make a decision.

"You have to get to a certain point in your head, and then it's for real," said 36-year-old Jennifer Brandel of Arlington, who has long struggled with her weight. "You'll actually do it."

For Brandel, that point came about a month ago, when she realized that she had only one pair of pants left that fit.

"It's so disturbing when I walk by a store window or any reflective surface, and I think, 'Who is that chubby girl? Oh, my God, it's me,' " Brandel said.

She signed up with a personal trainer. Already, she has noticed a change in her posture and mental state.

"You have your worst moment, and that's it," she said. "You're done with the wavering."

Ingebretsen said he can spot many clients seeking that moment of inspiration when they walk through the health club's doors for their first consultation. Some get it; some don't. But those who do see results, such as one guy who walked in unable to do a push-up and six months later had lost 75 pounds, Ingebretsen said.

"That moment of desire, unencumbered by other things, may not happen again soon," he said.

A co-worker of mine has started taking prenatal yoga classes even though her baby bump is only now becoming visible. She had been a little suspicious of the classes before -- would it be too touchy-feely? -- but then she had her epiphany. A friend had exercised heavily all through her pregnancy, including intensive Brazilian butt-lifting classes. When she finally went into labor, her doctor watched her push in amazement.

"What have you been doing?" he marveled. My co-worker was sold. She signed up for her first prenatal yoga session shortly after that.

My epiphany came in 1999, in Paris, where I was partying as hard as only a college sophomore unleashed in the City of Light with her girlfriends could: We piled on the booze, cheese, street crepes oozing butter and Nutella. We teetered on ridiculously high heels. We partied so hard once that two of us almost missed the bus back to our guest house.

She -- a former gymnast and a formidable swimmer -- sprinted to the stop, arriving just before the bus began to pull away. I huffed and puffed behind her, my lungs unused to powering anything more strenuous than a brisk walk from a parked car to the mall.

That's when it hit me: I needed to get in shape. I was 19.

My self-assessment shouldn't have come as a surprise. Growing up, I was always picked last for kickball, and my high school math team didn't require any physical exertion. Sure, I had occasionally pumped soup cans to the TV show "Body Electric" and even bought a Jane Fonda workout video. But I rarely broke a sweat -- and it never bothered me until that moment when I realized the bus, not to mention my life, was passing me by.

So I decided to start working out. It began with a weekly aerobics class at my college gym, where at first I thought I would pass out mid-grapevine from the shock. Eventually, I added ballet and hip-hop dance classes and jogs around the park.

Seven years later and 15 pounds lighter, it has snowballed into an AIDS marathon and twice-weekly sessions with a personal trainer. Finally, I can cross "start exercising" from my new year's resolutions.

Now, if only I could stop eating Popeye's. ยท

Tell us what inspired you to change your life and get in shape. Entries should be 200 words or less. Send them No fitness chat this week. We'll be back online Jan. 23.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company