Finding Fitness with Alyson Flynn

Happy New Year, y'all! I wanted my first post of the year to be inspiring, motivating, and real. I didn't want to make it about me, or a workout program, or me telling you to try X, Y and Z, I wanted to share with you a story that I think thousands of people could relate to. This is the inspiring story of one of our Fit Austin members, Alyson. When Alyson approached me one day and told me she used to be almost 200lbs, I was shocked. Alyson comes into class 3 times a week, very early in the morning. She has perfect form on TRX, she flows beautifully through animal flow, she runs on the S-Drive, she holds a solid plank and she finishes class with a smile. I just couldn't imagine Alyson being overweight! I asked her about her story and instantly knew I needed to share it. She is real when it comes to weight loss- it's not easy, it doesn't happen over night, what works for someone else may not work for you. I hope this story is as inspiring to you as it was to me! So, with all that said, meet Alyson.


My father led the fitness crusade in our family when I was a kid. My siblings and I are all built like him—lean and healthy until puberty. Around age 10, we start packing on pounds and it becomes a challenge to take the weight off all the way through adulthood.

In the evenings, we walked along a wetland bog in the local nature preserve. As teens, a hike up Ragged Mountain (a hill in central Connecticut), raised the heart rate. My dad set a good example. He ran daily, did sit ups on the kitchen floor afterwards, and encouraged healthy eating. In the early 1980’s, he read this popular book by Robert Haas and jumped on the “Eat to Win” craze. We grudgingly followed along during mealtime. It was hell.

As a kid, I remember feeling hungry all the time. While other people could drink soda and eat ‘junk food,’ my body couldn’t burn those foods. And while my peers grew taller and their bodies stretched into something beautiful, my body remained a round lump of clay waiting for a miracle.

 Alyson, age 9.

Alyson, age 9.

The Weight Loss Battle

For me, life didn’t bring miracles. It’s been about searching for answers, hard work, and very slow progress. At age 10, I surpassed my mother in height (5’1”) and weighed 100 pounds. This is when I began getting on the scale and, for the first time, self conscience about the fat building up around my lower belly. I didn’t understand how weight gain occurred or how to lose it.

High metabolism people have simple advice — stop drinking soda and lose 20 pounds, just walk everyday after work, count your calories, take the stairs, get motivated! Yet, for my body type, the answers aren’t simple. I’ve always been a healthy eater and love being active, however, after age ten, I gained a little bit of weight every year.

The biggest bump in weight gain occurred during my pregnancies — I was 24 when my first child was born. During the first pregnancy, I gained almost 60 pounds. I still don’t know how it happened. The morning sickness was so bad, I could only tolerate white foods for three months—plain rice, milk and cereal, and potatoes. My babies were large (both, almost 10 lbs) and after they were born, I focused on caring for their needs full time. Just having energy to get up, feed and care for them, and take a walk outside the house was a major feat. I was horrified at the weight gain but believed the people who said breastfeeding would eventually burn off the fat.

By 2001, my kids were in school and I worked full time as a university instructor. One afternoon, there was a knock at my office door and an attractive blond woman with no children and no need to exercise introduced herself as the woman having an affair with my husband. I couldn’t help compare myself to her; how unfair it was that I did all the work, carried the load, and gained the weight. She put no work into my marriage, home responsibilities, children’s care, and had a heart-shaped ass.

Breaking Point

I must have weighed close to 200 pounds. But, I don’t know for sure because I was too afraid to get on the scale. I didn’t want to see the number because every year it went up and I felt powerless. Inside, I’d tell myself, “Everyone else loses weight, but not me. There’s something wrong with my body. It’s broken.” It’s true that my thyroid didn’t produce enough hormones, however, eight years on Synthroid had not made a difference to my energy level or body fat.

Around the time of 9-11, after learning of my husband’s affair, we moved from one midwestern state to another. The opportunity for a fresh start to our marriage presented itself. Not ready to give up after ten years, I began the process of forgiveness and fitness. On the corner of our new street was the town YMCA. Incorporating fitness into my daily life was suddenly easy and I grabbed the chance to change my body and reclaim a self-confidence lost since I was a girl.

Personality

One issue to address in my weight gain came from my personality type. I’m a giver and I care for others before I take care of myself. So, as a mother of young kids, their needs came first. At the end of the day, there was no time for me or my needs. Making time for self-care was a new idea for me and for the first time in a decade, I had the opportunity.

For a long time, I crossed the street to the Y and jumped onto the stair climber for 30 minutes. I didn’t lose much weight but increasing my heart rate was good for my psyche. I had a lot to think about. I had a lot to forgive. I needed to reevaluate what my life was all about. After a while, I made friends at the Y and joined spinning, cardio kickboxing, yoga, and Zumba. My sons played community sports through the organization. Fitness became a social and healing activity integrated with my whole life.

During the first six years, my weight fluctuated between 170-183 pounds. I was frustrated because my workouts were difficult and I was proud of my commitment to a weekly fitness routine. On a piece of green paper, I wrote a promise—“I am committed to weighing 150 lbs.” I poured my heart onto that little note and earnestly hoped it would manifest. But in the back of my head I didn’t really believe it was possible. To me, this was wishful thinking like winning the lottery.

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A good friend suggested Weight Watchers but I’d tried that as a teenager without visible results. I wouldn’t listen. The stress in my marriage returned and I was too discouraged to try again. When my husband and I finally separated in 2008, I was constantly nauseous, waking every morning to dry heave in the bathroom. And because of this trauma, I lost weight—the first significant weight loss of my life.

So, I was wrong. My body wasn’t broken. I could lose weight. And being in the ‘stupid’ phase of divorce, I had additional motivation to look good—the dating market. I finally joined Weight Watchers and learned that I really am a healthy eater. I just needed to understand portions and how much of each food I could consume daily. Tracking food works for me. Slowly, from one weigh-in day to the next, I lost weight.

Those first months on Weight Watchers were a revelation as I realized my body weight could be controlled. One morning, I found the nerve to look at myself naked in the bathroom mirror (this still isn’t easy). I noticed a dimple on each side of my torso which had not been there a few weeks before. It was my waist. Eventually, over several years, I lost 40 pounds on the program.

The Journey

It took thirty years to lose my first few pounds. Like many Americans, I wanted a quick fix. Or a solution that took time to achieve but would let me skate through to the finish line. From the first days sweating it out at the YMCA until today, 17 years have passed. This long road taught me that managing my body is a journey. There will never be a day when I fully ‘arrive’ and finish caring for my health and fitness. This sucks. It sucks big time because a part of me still wants to believe in a simple solution.

Caring for elderly people helped me accept the journey. Working with folks in their 80’s and 90’s showed me the importance of fitness throughout life. Mobility, in my opinion, is the most important influence on quality of life as we age. This means continuing the journey toward core strength, flexibility, and cardio fitness. When I watch someone lying in bed, rolled back and forth as their diaper and clothes are changed, it becomes clear that I should do everything in my power to live an active and mobile lifestyle as I grow older.

The road isn’t straight or smooth. There are a lot of bumps and roadblocks. Events like surgery, moving, and new relationships have thrown me off course. Everyday, I remind myself that I’m on a journey and redirect toward the goal. When I moved from Ohio to Austin in 2016, I researched TRX fitness centers, Zumba instructors, and the YMCA before loading the truck. I signed up for classes online so my routine wouldn’t be interrupted when I arrived in Texas.

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The Shape of Me

For some reason, the fat around my torso and lower belly wouldn’t go away until late in 2014 when I discovered TRX (Total Resistance eXercise) classes at my YMCA. It’s a training method which uses gravity and your bodyweight to build core strength. Although I didn’t realize it, my core was weak and unengaged. TRX training toned my torso, trimming inches off my waist and belly, steadily moving me toward my fitness goals.

In Austin, I found FIT Austin, whose classes combine HIIT (High Interval Intensity Training) with TRX and other fitness tools. The small studio classes allow individual attention for people, like me, who don’t have a athletic background.

I should be embarrassed to admit, but HIIT lets me exercise fewer times during the week giving me time for other self-care behaviors like sleep, yoga, dog walking, two-stepping, and forgiveness. I also saw the shape of my core slimming down at faster rate.

Nutritionally, I’ve had many challenges. For as long as I can remember, my energy has lagged. At first, it was my thyroid but medicating didn’t improve my energy or metabolism. Bloating in my lower GI diminished after eliminating Oligosaccharides using the FODMAP diet. I get B12 shots twice a month and drink a liquid probiotic after meals. I can even get a bit wacky and start my morning with a shot of Bragg apple cider vinegar.

In one year, I will turn 50. I have a feeling, accepting the journey will always be a challenge. Some things are easy because of our passion. Other things are more difficult and these are our ‘lessons.’ Although, I’ve made a lot of progress, getting ‘in shape,’ the shape I want to be, is still a future goal. However, recently and for the first time ever in my life, I got a compliment on my butt, so maybe there’s still hope for transformation on the journey.

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You can follow Alyson's journey on Instagram @AlyForbes.

"You're always one decision away from a totally different life."