As we gain more daylight and the new year begins, many people are reflecting on where their lives have been and what they desire the future to bring. I’ve been reminiscing on what a great year it has been for me and what key factors from years past have brought me to the point I am at now. I am of the belief that we are where we are exactly supposed to be right at this moment. Until 8 years ago, I struggled with my weight. I had been average weight as a teenager, but 11 years of yo-yo dieting and fad diets had brought to 189 lbs. with over 36% body fat at 26 years old. I had a terrible diet, with large portions – never really understanding when I felt full. I hated exercising – especially in a gym. I tried exercise and diets and would lose some weight, only to gain it back with more – the typical story. I wasn’t recognizing myself.

I’m not really sure what finally clicked in the fall of 2004. I think it was just the right moment – deciding to take control of my life in a new city with new habits. Truly, I created an entirely new life for myself. I decided that I was going to take better care of myself and eat the right way. I wasn’t going to skip meals, I wasn’t going to beat myself up if I cheated on a diet. I began treating my body with respect and using food as fuel, not as some kind of emotional crutch. I still wasn’t sold on regular exercise but slowly began to build exercise into my life – walking to the store, carrying groceries and eventually having a breakthrough a-ha moment at the gym. A promise to myself of never doing more than I could consistently maintain finally helped me to build momentum. My body began to heal and change, losing over 50 pounds and trimming my body fat to a healthy percentage. With that healthy lifestyle, my metabolism changed and food no longer clung to my body. I felt great.

When I first became pregnant, I was concerned that I might “slip up” and gain the weight back. I freely succumbed to my share of cravings (burritos, anyone?), but never thought of pregnancy as a mandate to eat every unhealthy food that I could. Then came the birth of my first daughter. My labor experience gave me an immediate sense that my body was powerful. Looking at my body, I could see what it could create with love and care. Years of negative body images were peeled away. I am still trying to undo that toll that years of neglecting my health took. Consistency in fitness and healthy eating has now impacted my children’s habits -giving them a foundation which hopefully will set them on a path of a healthy lifestyle.

Finding time to exercise as a mother, while trying to maintain a work and family balance, is a constant mission. Walking, hauling and stroller pushing only go so far. And of course there is the challenge that all people face in keeping with a fitness routine – boredom. I was never a fan of traditional gyms. Then I discovered that group exercise classes offer the two-fold benefit of (i) providing an opportunity to socialize with like-minded adults outside of the normal parent circle and (ii) allowing a more varied and personalized (yet still affordable) workout. In the New York Times Best-Seller The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg cites exercise as a “keystone habit that triggers widespread change.” I now schedule my workouts instead of even thinking whether or not I feel like exercising. The simple decision to adopt an exercise routine literally can change anyone’s life.

Over the last five years, I have scoured the city searching for the best classes. During the next month I will be writing a series of postings to share the best prenatal group fitness classes and most “mom friendly” group classes. What makes fitness classes “mom friendly”? If you’re a mom, you know it’s a long list. Of course you expect solid instruction, great customer service, cleanliness and affordability. But moms need more than that. They need to know that the class they commit to and book a babysitter for will definitely run. The worst thing is to show up at a class that you might have rearranged your week for only to hear that it is cancelled. Trying to remember to sign up online three weeks ahead of time for a class that has a long waiting list isn’t realistic either. Instructors must understand how women’s bodies are different after birth. Moms also may be less comfortable at facilities that knowingly or unknowingly foster an overly competitive culture that detracts from a more positive approach to developing overall health.

I have taken classes in over 25 different locations in the Philly area ranging from gyms, cardio workouts, barre based workouts, pilates, yoga, bootcamp style and fusion and I am excited to share what has become something of a passion for me. I will be featuring studios, inspiring instructors and unique concepts in fitness that can motivate and train any us to look and feel great. Join me each week as I highlight 1-2 businesses that are sharing the gift of health and fitness.

*I haven’t received gratis from any of these studios, instructors or programs.