Katie Toomey transformed herself with hard work and a few lifestyle changes.
Sixty hour work weeks. Revisions that come in at 5PM and have to be finished by morning. Demanding clients. Getting to work and leaving for the day without seeing the sun. Sound familiar?
As an editor in the advertising world, most of Katie Toomey's work days are just like this. Putting in an average of 50 hours a week on commercial projects with quick turn-arounds, her post production lifestyle is familiar to just about everyone in the industry, and it's often cited as the main challenge for anyone trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle in post. But in the face of a relentless and unpredictable schedule that was sending her into depression, Katie set a goal to become a healthier, stronger person. And she's lost 40 inches and 80 pounds in the process.
50 hours a week on commercial projects with quick turn-arounds were no help to staying fit.
Getting up early to prepare meals, and strength training after work every day no matter what: sound less
Growing up, Katie was an active, healthy kid that participated in endless sports and gym classes. But like it tends to, college hit her like a ton of bricks. Once she declared her major as post production, it was all over – her diet and activity level shifted dramatically as her lifestyle became wrapped around long, late nights spent on editing projects for school. Sitting for long hours in the computer labs, stressing out, sleeping little and eating junk became the new normal. "I was existing on caffeine, cigarettes, and vending machine fare. My metabolism hated me."
Growing up, Katie was an active, healthy kid.
This lifestyle carried over into starting life as a freelance editor and deeply affected her work and mental well-being. Once she decided enough was enough – about five years ago – she looked to her fitness guru sister for advice and guidance, and began to set new habits.
She started small: no soda, no cigarettes. She incorporated a high intensity interval training routine she found on the internet to her day. She began to track and adjust her eating habits. She started standing at her edit desk.
Now almost 5 years later – years that involved three jobs, a move across state lines and major surgery on top of that crazy post schedule – she feels healthier and happier than she has in years. "I promised myself not to let schedules and stress make me skip meals or stop caring about myself. Too much stress with no outlet, little sleep, and not eating enough of the right things were my triple threats."
Everyone's wellness story is different, and Katie is quick to point out that what worked for her may not work the same for others. But the basic ideas of how Katie went about changing her life – learning balance, eating better, moving more and finding a support system – are universal, and especially relevant as we continue to highlight the importance of fitness in post.
Why did you decide you needed to get healthier? Was it a single moment, something you'd been thinking about, or did it just kind of start to happen?
Why did you decide you needed to get healthier?
Katie Toomey: I was tired of feeling and looking like crap. When you feel terrible from waking up until going to sleep, it affects everything else in your life. Nothing fit right. I got out of breath faster. "How did these pants suddenly shrink!?" Going upstairs wasn't a subconscious action, it took effort. I thought, "Who the heck is this person in the mirror" and I would look away. I was just so tired. And I dreaded seeing pictures of myself.
I kept pushing unpleasant thoughts out of my head. I had a lot going on in my personal life that was pushing me towards full tilt depression. I was on guard all the time, and I didn't like feeling that way. I needed some way to get out all those nerves and worries. Life goes on, overweight or not, so I tried not to let it stop me from doing things I wanted. Life is already stressful enough without beating yourself up about things you can't change right this second, I thought. It was easier to think that than to face it.
I decided it had to stop. I couldn't go on like this. I genuinely felt like if things got worse that I might lose hope of ever feeling good again. I was already at my lowest, fed up and annoyed with myself. How could I let this go for so long?
How did you get started? Was it difficult to get everything you needed?
When I got started, it was nearing the holidays and I'd gone to visit family. My twin sister is someone that I can practically tell everything about anything to without worries. So I 'fessed up how truly bad I'd been feeling. The initial thing about change is first you only have to admit needing it. No one is going to sit you down and make you say it. Lucky for me, she turned out to be my biggest supporter and an intensely vast source of knowledge for me about food intake and workouts in the coming years. That girl has researched so much about different macros and methods to nutrition and many forms of fitness, and while she's not a certified expert, she's just as passionate a person who wanted to get healthier and has successfully done so! That's all it takes. Team up with someone on a similar path as you with a buddy system. It helps. A lot.
What was unexpected about this as you were just learning how to be healthier?
It's more about what you're eating than merely working out. They say abs are made in the kitchen? Where is that recipe!? GIVE ME IT. I can work out plenty and not get anywhere near ideal results unless I also changed my eating habits.
Alternately, someone could change how they eat and never work out really, but still lose a lot of weight. It works different for everyone, but the key idea I wanted was to change how I took care of myself. I wanted to drop fat but in its place gain muscle tone too. I didn't want to end up just "thin" and I'm sure that added more time to my results, but it was worth it for my goals. I see new areas of tone showing through. I can feel myself stronger. I'm not a bodybuilder by any means. You don't have to be to want this and do it.
What were some of the challenges?
Some things were really hard. Eating breakfast, for one thing! By far, that was the toughest thing for someone who didn't want to even think about food for at least a coffee mug or two worth's time. For that matter, eating different foods and eating better in general. It's so much easier to grab a pack of chips or go out to eat and hurry up and get back to work. Lots of opportunities to be tempted by things you didn't even really want. And drinking way more water than I'd been drinking before. I got myself a little gallon water jug I carried around everywhere to get used to enough water every day.
There was a time where I felt every bite had to be accounted for when I was trying to delve into macros or figuring out various combinations of protein/fat/carbs. I started using the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, a challenge to use daily at first. Thankfully, a lot of things can be scanned now via barcode and come right up. Soon, it turns into second nature after you save meals and usual breakfasts and such for easier input.
And of course, working out shouldn't feel easy. Every time I wanted to stop, I swore to myself that any of this happening now was less pain than when I used to wake up feeling slow, sad, or tired on a daily basis. I'd be so sore that the thought of sitting down or the sight of stairs had me feeling defeated! You can find ways to cope with it. Lots of epsom salt baths, massaging techniques, Tiger Balm, anything to relieve your muscles will help. You have to be careful and be smart about your limits.
Lots of epsom salt baths, massaging techniques, Tiger Balm, anything to relieve your muscles will help.
Feeling sore is at least a good sign you worked things out, but DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is no joke. And keeping all of this up when I changed jobs and moved from Indiana to North Carolina a couple of years ago was hard.
Another odd challenge was that I had a collapsed lung requiring surgery last year. My biggest fear was actually that I would gain a bunch of weight during recovery. I thought all my hard work was going down a tube. I was in the hospital for weeks and recovery for over two months. And in hindsight, do you know how ridiculous that worry was? I actually lost weight. That fear was so strong and worrisome to me, it was intense.
How did your fitness and health routine change over time? Why did you alter it?
My food intake and workouts and how I documented things changed a lot. They're always evolving little by little throughout the year. For exercise, I began doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) because a lot of the routines require just you and a mat. And even if they are using some kind of equipment, you can modify using a book filled backpack for a sandbag or jugs of water for weights until you get some. I liked the idea of working out intensely for a shorter amount of time and getting it over with. The idea of hour plus long cardio sessions made me want to hide.
My sister suggested I look into doing "Zuzka Light's ZWow HIIT" routines. I would use a timer keep track of rounds. Then I picked up doing "Blogilates" on the side to mix things up. Eventually, I got a recumbent bike and started biking for about 20 to 30 minutes of moderate state cardio. Sometimes I even went over that, not paying attention while working.
After doing that awhile, weight training came up in conversation. I decided I wanted to give it a shot. I began using "Strong Lifts" as a general guide how to teach myself to lift the right amount for the right number of reps.
It's great if you can get past the bro-talk, that is. I liked that it cut you off by 12 reps and moved onto more weight. For anyone a little apprehensive about lifting weights, I saw to try not to feel intimidated and always make sure to practice the technique with no weight added first. To any ladies, have no fear – lifting is not going to suddenly make you bulk out all crazy-like.
To any ladies, have no fear – lifting is not going to suddenly make you bulk out all crazy-like.
For my food intake, my goal was to start eating every 2 to 3 hours with smaller meals. I aimed for 5 meals every 3 hours: 1 portion of protein + 2 portions vegetables OR 1 portion protein + 1 vegetable/fruit. For protein I ate things like salmon, tuna, eggs, cottage cheese, chicken, soy, or low-fat yogurt. With healthy fats and carbs that aren't fruit or veggies, I needed to "earn" them. Your body probably isn't as stubborn as mine, and I'm not about to go off-the-wall insane with no carbs ever type diets. I didn't want to "diet" anyway.
I did mess this up once early on. I was doing HIIT like a madwoman and not eating any carbs. It was terrible, the worst thing I ever did. I felt absolutely wiped and was so frustrated and cranky. And I didn't get the results I wanted. I was working out hardcore and not feeding myself right and it was a vicious circle that made me want to give up. I was forcing myself to work out when I felt super low energy, and I was using workouts to like punish myself into working even harder. All it did was make me feel bad and later worse about my progress.
I also stopped using MyFitnessPal to record down every last carrot or grape or bit of mustard I ate. I got a bit fanatical at one point trying hard to eat more but control calories down to the last fat, protein or carb. I learned sometimes I do need to go through a tracking period when I feel things have gotten off course a bit, but that I can actually mostly rely on myself now to 'play with fire' in how I eat and experiment that way.
These days, I'm not so restricted and eat a much bigger range. Carbs aren't my enemy. Neither are fats. I can have a few cookies, I just have to know when to turn down pasta for lunch. I don't feel obligated any longer to go out to lunch a lot or eat for somebody's sake, but if someone comes around with a special treat, I understand 'it's cool man, you can have that cupcake, just be smart the rest of the day.'
Telling yourself something is forbidden I found to be a mentally unhealthy way to go about things. I naturally don't want to eat some of the same things I used to, but I'll be damned if Doritos don't still taste as good as they ever did to me.
How did you incorporate all this into a lifestyle as an editor? Preparing meals and incorporating fitness into your actual editing life?
Taking into account the hectic and unpredictable schedules we tend to be on, it's not easy. Some days feel like a breeze while other days trip you up. I get up earlier every day before work for food prep. I have changed how I handle working out. If you can get up and go straight into running or lifting, good for you. But for me, it wasn't something I could keep up. I was half asleep and drooling, I'm no morning person. I choose to do mine after work, towards the earlier evening because this is something I can consistently do.
I rotate between standing up and using a stability ball as for my time spent in the work edit cave. Standing gives me more freedom to move about, balance on legs, twist my limbs around. I can notice a bit sooner when I've been in one spot too long. I turn around and lean on the stand-up desk to loosen up my shoulders and back. My shoulders turn into mountainous rocks from stress so I need to stretch them out a lot. I have even done little intervals of pushups or quick exercises while waiting on renders.
I realized I had more time throughout the week than I thought. What is 15 to 30 minutes, really? I used to feel a bit short of time after I'd get home from work. I'd rush to change and workout, shower, make dinner and it would suddenly be 10PM. But had I sat there gaming or watching a show and repeatedly did this every night, I wouldn't feel as good as I often do by having worked out instead.
Usually when I have my day off to heal up from weight training, I may lightly bike or I may enjoy the night off. It feels more relaxing and renewing when it's not guilt-laden, because I know I earned it.
You have to make the time to feed yourself decent, work out, and take breaks. You have the power to do it even if you force it to be part of your day. It's annoying at first to have to work to do so, but you get used to it and soon it becomes part of your day like everything else. The world and others will find any reason you're too busy to do it. Maybe even yourself.
How did you measure your progress?
My sister got me to realize that the scale is just that: a measure of your weight. It didn't mean the end of the world if I didn't lose this week. Sometimes you lose water weight, sometimes you gain it. It doesn't really take into account converting fat into muscle. I had to be patient and trust how my clothes felt and how I felt each week.
She also suggested using measurements with a tape measure of my arms, bust, waist, thighs, and calves. I did this every month for a long time to have what felt like viable results of how things were rearranging. It was encouraging, for the most part. So you take your first measurements, get it over with – yes it sucks – and then you can move on.
You see yourself every day, so you may not notice the changes! I was pretty hard on myself, so I feel like I was less keen to notice.
But gradually, weeks pass into months, and soon enough I noticed things getting looser and fitting better. Things like looking at your face and seeing more definition in places that were round. I still have squishy cheeks, but goodbye double chin! It's not like you wake up exactly 30 days from now and suddenly you went from size 16 to size 2! It's more like, oh hey, that smaller shirt is going to be put on every week or two to see how it feels. Can I Hercules my entire grocery trip up 3 flights of stairs to the apartment, including the 30 pound tub of kitty litter? Let's find out!
That sort of test of fitness is far more important than a silly number on the scale. I can fill a bag or box up with clothes that no longer fit because they're too big! The downside is I need to buy new pants that actually fit.
My progress rate could be totally different from anyone else's. That's the easiest thing to mistake and hardest to grasp. Everyone's body is different. What works for this person may not be the best route for another.
Do you think your mental wellness has improved over time as well? Is it all connected to fitness for you?
My mental wellness has improved loads! I needed a way to get out my stress and nerves, and this does it. You'll be too tired or sore to sit there nitpicking a situation or worrying about how you will get something done. It won't stop it entirely, but you can't look at it the same way you do with working out. Does it mean I never worry or get stressed? No way. I just deal with it better on the whole.
You can still be unsatisfied with parts of your life, but it tends to help me knowing that hey, I did my best today by eating this and doing my workout. The fitness has by far been the biggest improvement for my mental well-being. They say you can get a positive boost of endorphins or whatever, "runner's high" they call it. Exercise like weight training makes me feel like I accomplished something good for myself, even if nothing else went right that day. How you feel is all that matters.
You told me you've struggled with being positive about your body for a long time, and I think a lot of people in this industry feel similarly, especially because they're so sedentary and feel locked into a schedule that doesn't allow them the time they need. What have you done for yourself to try to make yourself feel better about your body? Has it worked?
My main struggle throughout has been accepting myself for who I am at any given time, not pining over wishing what I was or wanted to be. I can tell you long before I was overweight, I was pretty underweight – both are equally troublesome. I have seen two sides of the spectrum, and at the least, I can say I understand what it's like. Your weight doesn't have to define your worth as a person. It's just a thing, something you're going through. It doesn't mean you should be unworthy of friends, love, and good times. It doesn't mean it's okay for strangers to tell you to eat a hamburger, or to stop eating them.
I actually started working out at home in a sports bra and gym shorts, and I made myself get used to how my body looked as of that day, not how I dreamt it would. I had to get comfortable with also not wearing giant baggy clothes or hoodies when I went out. It's important to wear clothes that fit. You will quickly notice yourself out of line this way. It keeps you accountable.
Am I cured of my problems with body positivity? Not yet. That's really the truth. It's really hard to ignore all the various ways society tries to make you feel like you should look, for both men and women! We really are all very different, and I understand that about myself better. I just have to keep working at it.
What kind of advice would you give someone who really wants to be healthier and in shape, but feels like they can't deal with the hours or lifestyle of editing while also pursuing any exercise or good eating habits?
My sister told me on day one, "just keep moving." Doesn't matter if you have to modify it to what feels like the silliest version of the actual exercise. It's okay, so don't find yourself quitting for this excuse. There are many many excuses, "I'm too hot" or "it's getting late" or "ow, my butt is on fire when I do squats" That's muscle building, that's moving, and it's a good thing! Learning not to fib to yourself to 'take it easy' when really you're just uncomfortable or a bit tired from the effort is important. Learning the difference between what is over-doing it and what are probably excuses you say internally that are trying to sabotage yourself is essential. Knowing when the perfect storm of disruptive bad things happened one day to put off the workout vs. injuring yourself because you're sick or overtired is required. You can still eat decently for yourself that day. You don't have to throw it all away because of one little thing.
Friends and family can help
You can either stay the way you are or change. You're going to have to fight hard, and there's going to be some bad days where you think all of it's for nothing and not working. Our jobs in this industry can keep us there 16 hours or eat up an entire weekend before you know it. There may not be the healthiest food around. Vending machines suddenly come to life with sparkles and everything inside there says "EAT MEEE, EAT ME NOW" when you're stuck unexpectedly at work when 7PM rolls around.
Sometimes I can't get to my workout that evening, and I'd be freaking out internally. Instead of considering myself screwed for the week, I'd just pick it back up the next day. I stay flexible best I can, but it doesn't mean I like it! In an ideal situation, I would have a more balanced life where I can count on a certain time slot for working out and preparing food for myself.
These days I actually want to work out. I still have days I would rather be doing something else. Those are the days I push myself a little more because I need to. I can't give in to that inner voice telling me to put it off until tomorrow. This lifestyle change has done more for me than I gave it credit for, and it's become my stable routine in an otherwise hard to predict lifestyle.
I have succeeded where I thought I couldn't, and the victory isn't just me. It's friends, family, and other people who unexpectedly rally for you on your worst days. My twin sister was the person I could call up bawling my eyes out, exhausted, frustrated about how I would never get where I wanted. I had wonderful friends I could I go to, and that's something.
What was the most important thing you did that made this a success for you?
Considered it an on-going edit of myself.
The story doesn't end. You don't need to fast forward as much as you wish. If you keep at it, you're going to get there. Straight up persistence and determination will see you through. I know that my way isn't the only way, and I love hearing from others what they're doing to change things up. Doesn't matter if you're counting points for food or your steps or whatever method works for you. The fact that you're attempting to eat healthy and move is inspiring.
I'm still getting there. I knew it was going have its struggles. I had no idea how much some days would be a fight with myself. I still struggle to this day managing time, prepping food, and finding the will to choose to make time for workouts. It's an on-going work in progress. No deadlines here.
Katie, a self-edited woman!