Growing up, I was extremely fit and active. I was a competitive swimmer, and received an athletic scholarship to Penn State University. Upon graduation, I worked as a TV news anchor and reporter in Florida. I was overworked, exhausted and hot all the time. I let my fitness routine go because I couldn’t bear going to the gym and sweating after working long hours in the heat and humidity.

After nearly a decade working in the TV news business, I moved to New York City, and reinvented myself as a plus-size model. Gaining weight (in a healthy manner) was actually encouraged by my agency because I was on the smaller end of the plus model range at a size 8/10. I didn’t have to try that hard to pack on the pounds. I spent way more time dining out than working out.

When I reached a size 14, I was working constantly and making more money than ever before, but I felt uncomfortable in my body and wasn’t happy. I would look in the mirror and think, “whose body is this?” I had high cholesterol and was overweight for my body frame. I knew I needed to make a change.

Committing to a fitness routine when you are out of shape and overweight is challenging, but what is the alternative? Not being comfortable in my own skin proved to be way more difficult than any workout. Being healthy is about choosing to honor yourself and make fitness a priority.

Here are a few things I can share about approaching a fitness journey when you’re uncomfortable in your own skin:

1. Shopping for new workout clothes was challenging.
I felt discrimination when shopping for some new pieces of active apparel. LuluLemon, for example, only goes up to a size 12, and I’ve always found that offensive. It sends a message that women larger than size 12 don’t need workout clothes because they don’t workout. Yet, I know so many women who are size 14 and up who run and exercise regularly. I also have a friend who is a size double zero, and has never worked out in her life. Fitness isn’t about what size clothing you wear.

2. Joining a gym was actually the easiest part of my fitness journey.
It’s committing to going to the gym consistently and putting in the work that is challenging. The key is finding a facility that is a good fit for you. It’s important to join a gym that makes you feel welcomed right away when you walk in — that way you’ll want to keep going. When you’re committing to being fit, you need support.

My phenomenal personal trainer at Equinox Sports Club, Shaka, aka

My phenomenal personal trainer at Equinox Sports Club, Shaka, aka “The Fat Burner”

An encouraging, skilled personal trainer is also a great investment. He or she will provide not just motivation but also knowledge. It’s helpful to have an accountability partner to keep you on track and make workouts more enjoyable. Many trainers will also give you a deep stretch post-workout to help you recover faster and enable you to keep working out consistently.

3. I felt uncomfortable working out.
I felt the impact of my size when I was doing body weight exercises like burpees and mountain climbers, because I could really feel the extra weight on my body. It was like doing an entire workout with a 30-40 pound belt around my waist — and that’s hard!

I felt like I was letting myself down, especially the girl who worked so hard to get a swimming scholarship to Penn State. I was a former state and national swimming champion, and I couldn’t do ten straight push-ups. That was devastating, but it also motivated me to re-commit to my health and fitness goals so I could be the healthiest (and happiest) version of me.

Our bodies have great muscle memory, and even just a few gym sessions or physical activities can get you feeling fit and toned fast. Commit to moving your body, and it will thank you with increased energy and endurance.

4. I had to learn not to compare myself to others.
One of my favorite sayings is, “comparison is the thief of joy.” I learned that it’s okay to compete with yourself, but not with others. I don’t compare myself to the size two girls at the gym because that has never been my body type.

You can’t worry about being the fittest person at the gym with the most enviable physique. There are different levels of fitness and everyone has a unique body type and journey. You need to focus on being your fittest self, and forget about everyone else.

I don’t care what the person next to me is doing. I care that today I can do 20 more reps than last week. I find that when you stop comparing yourself to others, and start focusing on yourself, you can achieve results quickly.

5. Committing to be fit and healthy is a choice I choose to make every single day.

Training at Equinox Sports Club in New York City.

Training at Equinox Sports Club in New York City.

Some days it is easy, other days it is not at all. I don’t go to the gym every day, but I choose to stay active and make healthy food choices. Excuses are easy — putting in the work is the challenge.

On days I don’t really feel like working out, I remind myself of the commitment I made to practicing acts of self love and care. For me, that means a healthy weight, strength, endurance and overall fitness. It isn’t about looking hot in a bikini, it’s about wanting to feel great, have energy, self respect and live a long life free of disease.

I haven’t lost a ton of weight, but I’ve replaced harmful, unhealthy body fat with lean muscle. I feel strong and my body is toned. Currently, I’m a size 10/12, and in a really good place with my fitness routine. It gives me confidence, and I feel more clear and centered in all areas of my life. I’m not the skinniest girl at the gym, but I am definitely one of the strongest.

Story originally published on mindbodygreen.com