Couch Potato To Wonder Woman: What I Learned In My Year As A Fitness Noob

Couch Potato To Wonder Woman: What I Learned In My Year As A Fitness Noob
Image: What A Big Camera

After far too long indulging in being a certified couch potato, last year I decided to get myself moving. I’ve had highs, and lows, moments of truimph, hit the dreaded plateau and became a legitimate warrior – of the weekend kind.

2017 was the year I committed to evolve from Couch Potato to Wonder Woman – did my plan work?

This was my plan. Level up my real-life skill tree in:

  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Endurance
  • Killing a man with my bare hands AKA badassery
  • Eating food that fuels me

So how did I do?

I’d like to revisit the points I made this time last year, before I began.

1. I’m learning – and that means you can too

I knew I was no expert in the world of fitness. A year later, I’m still not. But I learned to consult with the pros on the things I didn’t know all about, and learn from my own experiences as to what did and didn’t work for me.

I think that’s the most important thing, really – we are all different. Hitting the gym might be someone else’s ides of a good time, but for me it just wasn’t cutting it. My macros might be perfect for me, but they definitely won’t work for you.

Don’t ever stop learning, and learn from those around you, too.

One of my biggest lessons? It’s okay to fail.

I went into this thinking I had to smash everything. I was wrong.

When plans go wrong: I was all set to go for a hike today, and even spent two hours on public transport to get there – only to have the track rained out. Bucketing down. I came back home, disappointed, feeling like somehow I'd failed. And it took me ages to get my motivation back. I cooked lunch, played some Mass Effect, and had a nap. Then I got up and did 20 minutes of yoga (I started the 31 days of Yoga series on @adrienelouise's channel!) then did the 7 minute workout app. Because even if I couldn't do the three hour hike planned, something is always better than nothing. It's not all or nothing. Perfection isn't the goal, doing is. And now my energy levels are back up there, I might head down to the pool for some laps ????????#couchpotatotowonderwoman

A post shared by Rae Johnston (@raejohnston) on

Behold! The face of a woman who had a really great plan, and didn't stick to it, but is forgiving herself. STORYTIME: on Sunday night I went to Kmart and got a clothes rack for the office. Then on Monday, I took a week's worth of clothes to work, hung them up, left everything I'd need to shower, get ready etc at the office, and made a commitment to run the 6km to work every morning. It would require me to leave home at 5am. This morning I got up, felt a little queasy, but still got my shoes on, and headed out the door. 2.6km later I'm at the closest train station to ride the rest of the way to work. What happened? A few things. I forgot my bottle of water. I didn't eat anything beforehand (I'd normally have a banana or an egg, just something small). It was 8 degrees Celsius outside and I'm a wimp in the cold. There were a lot of stairs and I was getting disheartened how it was affecting my time. It was dark, and I was scared. A lot of excuses happened. But you know what? I can always try again. Be better prepared. So that's what I'll do tomorrow – maybe even this afternoon. Because you don't have to be perfect every day, or any day. You just have to give it a go. And I still ran 2.6km further than I would have if I'd not even tried. #couchpotatotowonderwoman

A post shared by Rae Johnston (@raejohnston) on

2. Comparing yourself to a bikini model is a bad idea (even when that bikini model is you)

This is what I said back in January 2017:

This is me, aged 28. Six short years ago.

Couch Potato To Wonder Woman: What I Learned In My Year As A Fitness NoobImage: Crossland Photography

A literal bikini model. Do you know how I looked like that? No, really, do you know? I was eating rubbish, never exercising, never giving a second thought to my weight. I was also pretty miserable at the time. As I got happier, my metabolism went trekking in Peru or something, I can only assume. I hope it’s having a great time.

This is me now. Today. This photo was taken minutes ago. This is my official “before” photo.

Couch Potato To Wonder Woman: What I Learned In My Year As A Fitness NoobImage: Lifehacker

This me is so much happier – with great friends, family, career, even a pet turtle. I wouldn’t trade my life now for the one I had in the bikini model picture for anything in the world. Even if I was in body fat percentage bracket not called “obese” which I absolutely am now and oh wow doesn’t that throw my self esteem around a little.

Comparing yourself to a bikini model is a bad idea. Comparing yourself to anyone is a bad idea, even an earlier version of yourself. This about you, your body, right now, with the life you have today. We are all different, unique and a bunch of other words you’d find on an Instagram #inspo post about loving yourself. Because the reality is, I do love my body right now, just the way it is.

Yes, my body looks a lot different to my official “before” photo now, and I’m not in the “obese” bracket anymore, but every word of this is still absolutely true. Even comparing myself month to month was stressful. I still don’t know why I decided to do it.

I think maybe it is an “expected” thing to post progress pics when you’re undergoing a physical transformation. It can be motivating. It can also be really de-motivating when you can’t see much difference month to month.

Which brings me back to this point the oh-so-wise-yet-terribly-unfit Rae of 2017 made:

3. The most important thing about your body isn’t what it looks like

A lifetime of being told, in every single way a message can be relayed to someone, that the most important thing about your body is how attractive it is to someone else is ridiculously damaging.

Allow me to let you in on a secret. Your body is a machine. A badass, totally magical machine that does some incredible things. Being able bodied is a gift. If your body is physically capable of running – no matter if you are good at it or not – that’s a straight up miracle. And it deserves to be rewarded for what it can do, not chastised for not meeting some kind of visual ideal. Your body is no one’s but your own. Treasure it.

I’m not saying this from a place of enlightenment. I’m saying this from the place of someone who needs to remind themselves of this on pretty much a daily basis. I’ve never really done “mantras”, but this may be the one I start with.

I have not been treasuring my body. I’ve been outright neglecting it. And it deserves better

I stopped neglecting my body. And it thanked me. Not just in how it looked – although it is nice not to cringe at photos of myself anymore, as superficial as that is.

It can do more stuff. It can climb mountains. I can touch my toes. I can run. I’m incredible lucky to be able bodied. I’m so glad I’m not taking that for granted anymore. And I’m so excited to see how far I can go with this gift of mine.

4. It’s not about you (them, not you)

This one was a tough one to deal with on occasion, but it didn’t quite turn out the way I thought it would – for a great reason. A quick recap of where I’m coming from here:

As someone with an “Internet presence” (I’m so sorry, I’m not a douche, I promise, but there are 120k people on my Facebook page so I feel like this is a fair statement to make) there is an element of “ownership” complete strangers claim to have over how you look.

As though every image posted is for their personal approval. You are a product they are consuming, and it must meet their specific, personal requirements. And they will tell you straight up when they think you’re too big/small/weak/strong/short/tall/pale/dark/brunette/much of an actual human being as opposed to an ideal they have created in their minds of what you should be at all times.

Of course this happens in the “real world” too.

Apparently well meaning friends and relatives pinching your upper arm and smirking, commenting casually about your size (I used to get “you’re too skinny!” now it’s “look at how fat you’ve gotten”) and the never ending unsolicited advice on how to “get fit” from people who have been sporty their entire lives.

There’s no “winning”. There’s only reclaiming.

Yes, it may sound a little dramatic, but I’m “reclaiming” my own body. It’s about to undergo physical changes. And these criticisms are going to come in thick and fast. I’ve seen it happen with others, and I’m not silly enough to think I’ll be immune to the “but I liked your body better before” and “you’re fine the way you are” comments.

So a reminder to all those out there who feel an element of ownership over my body, and what I do with it, in any way: it’s not about you. It never was, and it never will be. My shield is up.

As predicted, at least once a day someone would tell me “I liked your body better before.” It’s hard not to get really, really angry about that. But it was always going to happen. A wonderful thing also occurred, though.

Every day, at least one hundred times a day, there would be a message of support, encouragement, a tag in someone else’s workout pic, I’d meet someone in real life that would tell me I inspired them to get healthy, and I realised those people complaining don’t even matter one tiny bit.

The people who matter are the ones that care about your health, see you’re making positive change, ask to join in on hikes, take an interest in your activities and support you on the shitty days when you feel like you’ve failed – of which there were many.

5. Finding something you love to do is the key (apparently)

If a change is to be made, it has to start with my attitude. So it’s clean slate time. Throw my pre-conceived notions of what I do and don’t enjoy out the window, and try a bunch of stuff.

I had some serious fun with this. And I learned a lot.

I learned I love hiking – it ticks all the boxes for me in terms of social interaction, low impact activity, getting out on country, getting off the internet for just one minute geez Rae nothing exciting will happen while you’re gone, and basically creating wonderful memories.

I’m literally climbing mountains, and I never want to stop.

Here’s some quick reasons why I think hiking works:

  1. It can be social. I plan to go with friends and family, so I can’t “drop out”
  2. It is inexpensive. All you need to get started is a decent pair of shoes, some sunscreen, a hat and a bottle of water. Once you get into it more, you can pick up a waterproof jacket, lighter warm layers for winter, a pair of great pants, a backpack with a water bladder. It’s not a fashion show, either – you’re out bush. I’ve worn the same outfit on every hike this year.
  3. You feel like you’ve taken a mini holiday. You’ve gotten away from your usual surroundings. It’s brilliant for your mental health. There’s fresh air, there’s swimming spots, there’s wombats and birds and wallabies and echidnas – and views that are so incredible you can’t help but appreciate this beautiful country.
  4. It is accessible. You can get there on a train, bus, ferry – you don’t need a car. I use the WildWalks app to find new places to hike. You can do it wherever you are, or while you’re travelling. It’s the sport that comes with you!
  5. You can set your own difficulty level. It doesn’t have to be a three-day adventure. Your hike can be an hour strolling on flat ground. But it makes you realise what you can achieve, so it’s easier to “level up” as you go.

I learned swimming in the ocean or a river or a waterhole with friends is something I love more than counting laps in a pool. And that’s okay.

I learned yoga can change your life – and I’m not being an idiot hippy here.

Before I started yoga I had pretty shocking back pain. I had one of those big blow up balls to sit on at work, and would bend my back over it to crack it. I’d see a physio, go get massages once a week (the $20 for 20 minute thai ones – sooo good), even take painkillers.

After a solid month of yoga, every day, my back pain was gone. I held myself differently. My flexibility returned. Feeling invincible, I cut back on yoga.

Huge mistake.

My back pain came back, my posture suffered, my sleep was worse. That was a big lesson learned. Yoga isn’t some new age wankery. It’s legit. Do it.

I learned that my legs still flick out to the sides when I run.

I learned that by this being a thing that happened.

There it is, right there in a national advertising campaign. FML.

But guess what? Flicky legs don’t stop you from finishing the City2Surf, fourteeen kilometers of running, when you couldn’t even make it 50 metres on the past. I also learned although it is possible for me, I still have a bit of difficult relationship with running. I can say with 100% certainty the only reason I finished City2Surf is that I had friends with me to keep me accountable. It is something I want to get better at. It is something I’m glad I can do now, that’s for sure.

I learned roller derby is fun, but my early Saturday mornings are better spent recovering from a big week at work. I tried to cram too many things in.

I learned axe throwing is fun, and made me feel like a total badass.

But on Wednesday nights I’m a bit wrecked from work, and it’s okay to just do something at home instead.

I learned I’m not good at tennis, yet.

I got better at it, yes – but that relied on the patience of a good friend who was teaching me. And while his patience seemed endless, so did my guilt at putting him through session after session of me being completely unco. If I were to take up tennis again, I’d get some proper lessons from someone who was being paid to endure my lack of skill.

The biggest lesson from all this trial and error physical activity? I learned the difference between something was tough, and something that wasn’t for me. And I learned that when something isn’t for me, that that just means it may not be right for me right now.

The Plan

So here we are. My thought process going into this was this: I’m going to engage in a complete transformation be a real life wonder woman, I’d need to focus on the “pillars of fitness”.


As a Couch Potato, I needed help lifting a bag of groceries. As a Wonder Woman in training, I can carry six bags at once, lug a 10kg backpack up a mountin, and open every jar in my home. I’m not deadlifting my own weight as yet, but I’ll get there. Oh, you thought I’d be stopping now the year is up? Not a chance.


As a Couch Potato, I couldn’t touch my toes. As a Wonder Woman in training, I can lay my head on my knees, and I’m working on doing the splits. I can do basic yoga poses. I can balance on one foot for minutes at a time. My future goal? To be able to kick myself in the head, because why not.


As a Couch Potato, I was out of breath walking up a single flight of stairs. As a Wonder Woman in training, I can climb mountains, and run 14 kilometres. I’m going to keep climbing mountians, and maybe even run a marathon one day. I feel capable.

Killing a man with my bare hands AKA badassery

As a Couch Potato, I would have given up in a zombie apocalypse. Just straight up thrown myself into the horde. As a Wonder Woman in training, I have a ways to go in regards to formal techniques, but I’m confident enough in my fitness and strength that I could hold my own against that jerk that sometimes follows me home from the train station should it come to it.

I might not have been able to commit the time to learning a martial art, or continue axe throwing, but that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It just means I have something to look forward to doing in the future.

Eating food that fuels me

I got so good at this – and I realised how important it was.

This was thanks to my fitness consultant, Thor. I’m not kidding – this is him:

Instead of reducing calories, he got me eating more – almost 1000 calories more, every single day.

But what I had was good food, with the right balance of protein, carbs and fats – “macros” I have to fulfill on a daily basis. Your macros and calorie intake will be different to mine, so definitely get a pro to work them out. I use MyFitnessPal to count them.

This is a list with examples of “good foods” I eat to fill these macros:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Coconut oil
  • Cheese (yes!)
  • Flaxseed Oil
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Lean red meat
  • Lean poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Milk & Cheese
  • Rice
  • Bread
  • Potatoes
  • Veggies
  • Fruit
  • Oats

This meant meals like this: This: And this:

And saying no to junk like this:

Instead, having “high quality treats” like this, which helped me not slip into bad habits:

I’m actually pretty proud of how I went with the diet portion (Ha! Get it? Portion? Never mind..) of this challenge.

So…what progress did I make in a whole year?

I lost 10kg. I lost 16cm off my waist. I lost 10cm off my hips. I lost 8cm off my bust. I dropped three clothing sizes.

I also hit some pretty big plateaus and lost a whole lot of motivation. I learned how to combat this. It wasn’t pleasant.

The biggest thing I did was make myself accountable. And I know it’s not a reasonable thing to expect anyone else to do but oh wow does knowing your bare belly is going to be all over the internet become a motivator to not eat another bowlful of brandy custard.

No matter how much progress you’ve made – that you can feel – pictures will never tell the full story. Sometimes they make you feel great about how you’ve been going. Sometimes, well, it just doesn’t seem to be good enough. And that’s something I’ve definitely got to work on in my own head.

So this is it, the end. The last one for #CouchPotatoToWonderWoman

What’s next?

Those progress pics – it was the hardest part.

This is the part I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to, but, well, I don’t know if I should. You see, I’m not quite a Wonder Woman – yet. Metaphorically, sure. Mentally, emotionally, you betcha. But physically? I’m not exactly lifting cars over my head just yet. Maybe what I need, is to just keep going.

#couchpotatotowonderwoman became quite the little community on Instagram – full of people motivating me to move, by being motivated by me moving. I’m not ready to say goodbye to that. So maybe this challenge isn’t just one for 2017 – maybe this is my new life now. Maybe I’m not a Couch Potato anymore. Maybe I’m a Weekend Warrior, with aspirations to be a full-time warrior.

I think I’m okay with that.

Couch Potato To Wonder Woman: Months Seven, Eight And Nine

After far too long indulging in being a certified couch potato, this year I decided to get myself moving. I've had highs, and lows, moments of truimph and hit the dreaded plateau.</p><p>Now I'm a legitimate warrior, but not the kind you may be thinking.

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  • Really solid work! One year down it just gets easier now, becomes a routine. Just make sure to keep trying new things though, that way it is always fun and you’re strive to learn more. I love spending time on the water but have taken up weightlifting (Olympic) as something new. 2 years later I’ve done some comps!

  • So glad to see this update, I got a new job, and after some real success in getting my weight to right where it should be (shed 14kg) it has snuck back up 4kg, and my fitness fallen off again badly.
    I feel like I have no time between running the house with 4 kids and now working again, but remembered your journey and it has gotten me motivated again. I can’t do my morning walks anymore, but I can do the exercise bike while I watch a Rick and Morty episode each morning before the kids get up, and I have dumped the crap food that made its way back into the house again.
    Thanks for the inspiration, I don’t really have anyone to take the journey with, so your writing has been incredibly helpful.

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