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How Weight Lifting Changed My Body Image Forever

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From the day I started my health kick at 14 (and 180 pounds) to when I bottomed out at 94 pounds two years later, cardio and I went together like PB and J. Like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. The elliptical, stair climber, treadmill, and Spin bike became my BFFs. Even after I rebounded to a healthy weight over the course of the next 10 years, I was still a pavement-pounder, tackling six half marathons and countless 5Ks on a quest for that runner's high. While my body revolted—painful stress fractures and tendonitis in what felt like every lower-body joint—my brain still craved the endorphins. Plus, you can't beat the satisfying feeling of ticking off all those calories in a short amount of time.

That all changed, though, the moment I walked into my first CrossFit box. Full disclosure (and an embarrassing one, at that): I signed up for a boy. I mean, who wouldn't sign up for a daily chance to hang out with her crush? At the same time, I was on my decade-old quest to finally complete just one pull-up, so it seemed like multitasking at its best.

From day one, the push-to-the-limit mentality spoke to my heart. Although I was the girl lifting the Q-tip weights as the more buff girls tossed around the 45-pound plates like toys, it was so refreshing to find new challenges for my muscles. Power cleans and snatches replaced sprints and stairs, and with them came a stronger self-image. Research proves the more strength training you make time for, the more confident you feel. And the more confident you feel, the better you take care of your body, which is why my mindset shifted from shrinking fat to building muscle.

Related: 15 Things Every CrossFit Newbie Experiences

Along with the deadlifts and squats came bootylicious curves. All that running did my flat butt zero favors, but I noticed a difference in a matter of months thanks to all those dip-it-low moves. I began to actually fill out a pair of jeans, and I started to fill my plate with protein to keep up the progress. (In the past, I was more of a "carboholic.")

Since I vowed to never let my ego get in the way of my safety at CrossFit, the only injury I encountered (well, besides some jump rope welts from double-under attempts and blisters from performing "toes to bars"—Google it), was a nice gash on the front of my leg from a failed box-jump attempt. Even #CrossFitFails make you feel like a badass.

That boy came and went, as did my desire to pay $125 a month for my membership. So I took my newfound love for heavy metal back to my no-cost gym at the office. I found my respite over lunch and after work, lifting in a similar fashion but without a crew. I took all the lessons I learned about the virtues of true strength and melded them with the solitary cardio habits of my fitness past. Going solo really gives me time to reflect on my progress and my goals—both inside and outside of the gym.

I'll never be one of the girls flipping tires during those competitions on ESPN. I still haven't done even one pull-up. (I KNOW.) But the first time I lifted my own body weight on a back squat without any witnesses, I had a revelation. Now I wasn't doing it for a guy. I wasn't doing it to get thinner. Hell, I wasn't doing it for the bucket list gold star. I was doing it for me.