Real Fit for Real Life
Featuring everything & anything to help you & your family live a fit, full, delicious, joyful life
So it's been awhile since I last blogged to my Fit Philosophies, but today I'm mulling over an interesting dialogue that occurred, and I want to defend myself.
I got tagged. Tag, you're it. I got tagged in a friend's status update in which she ponders whether or not she should compete in a bodybuilding competition. She didn't tag me; another friend, a person very close to her who loves her very much, did, knowing I have some experience in this arena and that I could possess helpful insight and wisdom. I appreciate when I'm considered someone who could be of help. I'm a helpful person. Obviously. I give all my workouts away for FREE on social media. I post recipes here on my website. I don't consider myself the owner of fitness ideas or exercises-- why shouldn't I share? (Clearly this is why I am also not rolling in the dough, as are the creators of certain fitness trademarks. I'm an idiot. I taught barre exercises over a decade before Booty Barre came to be and actually met my husband at a Latin-dance club and never thought to invent Zumba?! But I digress.) The point is, I do like to be helpful when possible. And so I piped in with an unpopular opinion.
Several people had already commented positively, yes, do it! One of those things, like having a baby, that you're so eager for someone else to do. I wasn't sure if any of these commenters had actually competed or knew everything it entails. So I guess I was in the mindset of, "Whoa, Nelly-- slow down there!" I suppose I came off as the Negative Nelly. (wow, Nelly sure is a popular name in idiomatic speech!) But I felt it my duty to warn, yes warn, that stepping into the bodybuilding arena could damage not only your metabolism but also your head-space, your mental-emotional well-being, for weeks, months, even years beyond the competition date. I really wish someone had told me this, instead of just repeating, "You can do it!"
I have watched fellow competitors suffer similarly to myself. These women gain weight easily post-competition, then panic. We don't know how to eat intuitively anymore-- we need meal plans. Forever. If we can't afford a trainer to give us meal plans, we create our own. We flounder when faced with food choices. We return to what we know-- old meal plans, or tracking macros. We convince ourselves we are okay-- this is our new lifestyle, and it's healthy. But we are also continually weighing in, tape measuring, and taking progress pics, whether or not we have an impending competition. We weep at the sight of ourselves in the mirror-- what happened to that girl on the stage? Some women end up with adrenal fatigue, one friend I knew began losing her hair. Most of these competitors are also fitness trainers or instructors or have social media accounts. So it's important to appear strong, well, happy, and healthy. They continue to post selfies, often with the preface, "Well, I'm still in progress . . ." or "I'm not as lean as before, but it's okay . . ." trying to demonstrate that they are mentally okay while clearly showing me at least that they are not, otherwise they wouldn't be trying to convince themselves so hard. I know this, because I've been one of them.
So when I shared my warning, I was also sharing my story. My experience. My struggle. I made myself vulnerable. I fully acknowledge that perhaps it was just my experience, but because of so many observations, conversations, and heart-to-heart confessions, I know I am not alone. This is NOT just my story. I have Instagram heroes who share my story, like @blogilates and @madelynmoon. I am not merely a bitter loser, as was implied in the commentary reply. I was told that this person's friends who compete had wonderful experiences, maintained successful personal and professional lives, and were so positive. Basically, he implied that my experience wasn't valid, that my experience was unique because I am obviously a negative person who didn't go about the process in a healthy, proper way.
I played nice. I simply stated that this is a major life decision, one that my friend was right to research and gather varying insights on, weighing both pros and cons. Because alas, knowledge is power. I never meant to be a dream-crusher. But sometimes you need to know every possible outcome, the truth, as pretty or ugly as it may be. I've heard of women going in to have a baby, never having been told about the afterbirth, or the ice-pack undies. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, but I prefer to be mentally braced for such things.
"Warning people, though well meant, before they've even entered the arena gives credence to them failing." Hmmm. I actually have spent some time pondering this statement, because it is well-delivered. But after some thought, I don't think warning is anywhere close to saying, you are destined to fail. I'm reminded of the London subway announcement, constantly repeating, "Please mind the gap. Mind the gap." And yet, I don't think she is saying, "You WILL fall in the gap." And yet, it's a valuable warning. Because I dare say, if one were to fall in the gap, it could end ugly. Warnings are warnings. They are made from a place of love and concern and often wisdom and experience. So I do not retract my warning. I think every man or woman (but especially woman) who contemplates competing in bikini or figure or another category of bodybuilding should be given this warning. It should be right at the beginning of the How To manual!
I ended with this: It is best to know both pros and cons before jumping into any huge decision, and this is definitely a huge, life-altering decision. Plus, it's helpful to know if she does do it and struggles, that she's not alone, not a failure, not worse than everyone else who does it, but that she's in good company, that she IS normal. I think it's wonderful that she has a great support system-- I had that, too, for the most part, and it was very helpful, but it doesn't eradicate the voices in your head that tell you you're not enough, not lean enough, not muscular enough, not symmetrical enough. Again, everyone is different, but it is the nature of this sport to compare your body to others'-- that's the sport period. You can say it's all about the journey, but once you're standing, nearly naked, in front of a table of judges, and they scrutinize you from head to toe, you want to place. You want your hard work and sacrifice to be acknowledged, and if it isn't, which is a likely outcome, the devastation can be difficult to overcome. Even the most positive people, and all who know me know I am one of those overly positive people, can be crushed. Everyone can say, at least you tried, at least you got up there. But that doesn't ease the disappointment. Obviously, with any sport, losing is never fun, but this hurts on a unique level. This isn't to be negative but to be fully transparent. It's also a very *expensive sport, so you're very financially invested as well as emotionally.
Honestly, we all must live our own lives and make our own decisions. Some people are more metabolically and genetically suited to compete. It is always hard, but it is less hard for the right bodies. Not to take anything away from those who compete, but it is true-- it all goes back to the whole mesomorphs, endomorphs, ectomorphs. Some bodies struggle to lose fat, others struggle to put on muscle, some bodies can shift readily. The girl who placed first at one of my comps was actually pregnant! We chatted about our prep-- mine was a full 12-weeks (more if you count the work I did just to get to that start point). Hers was 3 weeks. I exclaimed, "Wow, three weeks?" And she replied, "Well, I eat healthy and exercise all the time." I actually was too taken aback at that insult to give a reply. My point is, for those genetically-blessed who can prep in 3 weeks, honestly, bodybuilding is your sport. You'd be dumb not to. But for those of us prepping for 3 months, 6 months, the likelihood of negative consequences, metabolically and emotionally, is a real thing!
Warnings are warranted! Body image disorder is real! How can you compete and try to return to normalcy without some level of body image disorder?? I dare say, it's impossible. One can never achieve a state of contentment while participating in this sport or still entrapped in the mindset of this sport. It is simply against the rules of the sport. To imply that I was too weak, too negative?? I've birthed three babies, run 7 marathons, 9 Ragnar relays, and overcome the body image disorder created by my four bikini (one figure attempt) bodybuilding competitions. And you want to tell me I simply was not positive enough to take on the bodybuilding arena? Well. I will chalk that up to us being strangers. And I will forgive the audacity.
Whether or not my friend chooses to compete, I am here as a resource and support. If she chooses to do it and succeeds, I will cheer her on. If she chooses to do it and fails and struggles, I will be here to help her recover. If she chooses not to do it and continue to work out merely for the joy of it, I will definitely encourage her. Above all, I will continue my quest to help women (and men) learn to overcome body image disorder, live joyfully, eat intuitively, and love themselves, all versions and sizes of themselves.
*I mentioned that this sport requires a financial commitment. Bodybuilding competing can be very expensive. Protein sources are expensive, as is organic produce, which you are eating in bulk. Each contest and category has a fee, membership to the particular organization has a fee, the suits have become increasingly more elaborate and cost hundreds, if not up to $1,000s, professional tanning, hair, nails and make-up. And let's be honest, plastic surgery is almost necessary for women, especially mothers (stretch marks, saggy, fat-depleted boobs), to be competitive in the line-up, more specifically for bikini.
I say new blog, because I've blogged before. Like pretty much every bikini/figure competitor out there, I blogged about the experience. The weeks leading up. How I felt on my meal plans. What the competition was like. Why I did it. What I never blogged about was WHY I gave it up, the bodybuilding competition scene. I only did 4 bikini competitions, never placing, then attempted to train for a figure competition before life got so crazy & stressed that I had a breakdown and made the difficult decision to quit an endeavor that I had already begun and invested in.
I struggled with severe lower back issues for months, later to learn from X-rays that I had degenerative discs in my L4-L5. A severe episode would land me on the floor for a week! I'd have to get subs for my classes, pop some muscle relaxers, and wallow in self-pity. As a trainer who prides myself in body awareness and functional fitness, it was an embarrassment to be laid up like that. Besides the fact that not much is as frightening as that lightning zap of pain that suddenly and severely stabs you in the back quite literally! Only people who have experienced this understand the unique and terrifying sensation-- when I meet someone who completely gets it, I want to hug that person! Obviously, these episodes put a kink into my figure training schedule-- the last thing I could do was lift!
On top of that, we made some huge life changes. My husband accepted a job promotion that would move us to CT, thousands of miles away from what we now considered home. Utah. I said I'd never raise kids in Utah (it's a bit of a bubble), but once most of our extended family ended up there, and we ended up there, and we both had jobs going well there, I thought we were settled for good, that our moving days were far behind us. We'd been in Utah 11 years, the longest either of us had lived anywhere in our entire lives, me growing up a Navy brat & my hubby also moving often as a kid. Let's just say, the move was difficult. It was a tearful good-bye, and arriving to live in a hotel for 66 days with 3 kids and a dog in a hide-a-bed didn't make the transition any easier.
Basically, I had been working so hard to build muscle, then life got stressful (cortisol levels up!), and I needed a bit more wine than usual! So I gained weight. The weight I had said I would never ever gain again. We all know how difficult it is to lose weight after having babies! To be honest, mathematically speaking, I shouldn't have gained weight as rapidly as I did. I still worked out extremely hard when my back was in decent shape, & I ate well the majority of the time. But genetically, I'm a gainer, so it didn't take much.
I was a bit embarrassed applying for a fitness job in our new home state. I wanted to say, "I'm usually leaner! Picture me 5-10 lbs lighter-- that's the real me!" Luckily I had a great resume and landed a teaching job right away. It was my best stress relief, teaching classes. I was living in a hotel, schlepping 3 kids to 3 different schools every weekday, then lying in bed watching HGTV because there wasn't much else to do "at home"-- no chores, minimal cooking, no where to sit. I worked out. I went for a run or a hike. I did laundry with quarters. I drove.
When we finally got into our house, it was a massive project! My HGTV-watching served me well, because I was ready. I knew paint colors, walls I wanted to knock down, carpet I wanted to rip up. I got busy. So busy I hardly ate. You would think the weight just melted off. But it was slow progress. I began to get frustrated. I considered getting back on a meal plan, measuring every week, returning to that rigid lifestyle. My negative self-talk was at a peak. Of course, it had peaked before, every time I put weight back on after a competition. Even during the process of leaning out, because I wasn't leaning out fast enough. I began to realize, I'd been worrying about my physique for far too long. And I had been berating myself for years. And that instead of TRYING to lose weight, I should instead try to LOVE MYSELF where I was at. I had never attempted that before. I had always had a goal to reach, and while I believe having a goal is great, I was never fully present or content in my own skin because I was more in love with who I would be minus 5-10 lbs later. It was an incredibly sad epiphany.
So I changed my goal. Instead of going on yet another diet, I opted to go 30-days without standing on the scale and without saying (and trying not to even think the words), "I'm fat." "I wish my thighs were smaller." "I wish I was leaner." etc. And a miracle happened. In this 30 days of no eating rules, no weighing, no tape measuring, I leaned out some. The scale stayed roughly the same. Lo and behold, I did not gain 20 lbs by not plugging everything into myfitnesspal! I began to eat more intuitively. I had fewer cravings. I still chose to eat clean most days with plenty of veggies, fruit, & protein, but I didn't feel bad at all if I had a Prime Burger or some pizza (lots of good pizza places in town!) or a glass of wine or Ross's (bakery-cafe) chocolate chip bread pudding (which played a large role in our choice to move to Ridgefield, not gonna lie!) I didn't go crazy. I didn't binge. I didn't treat my weekends like the end of yummy eating for eternity (I did this often previously!) I just LIVED. It was shocking to me that there are probably a lot of people out there who live this way-- just LIVE. I wondered what had held me back from this wisdom for so long! But I'll save those ponderings for another post . . .
Basically, we worry way too much about things, that in the end, mean very little. For years, I worried constantly about leaning out, leaning out, leaning out (this means skinny but with muscle-- a rather difficult feat for most humans!) Which meant I worried about every bite I put in my mouth-- was it high enough grams of protein, low enough fat, best fiber, weigh exactly 3 ounces, and so on. I believed so passionately in properly fueling my body-- which is a good thing for health, energy, disease prevention-- but still, it was detracting from the act of living. It's a delicate line that separates living your passion and not really living. It comes down to this, and the answer depends on the individual:
If today was your last day, would you be happy with the priorities you made? Would you regret more that you ate that cookie or didn't eat that cookie? That you spent an extra hour at the gym, or in bed, or talking to a friend?
There isn't a right or wrong answer here-- there's just a right or less right for YOU-- what do YOU value most? I'd guess if you're dying of obesity-related disease, you'd regret eating the cookie, as well as a lot of other foods you probably shouldn't have shoveled in! But if you're super lean and have been depriving yourself for months, you may very well regret that you didn't enjoy one final cookie! We are each on our own journey and at different places in life. Figure out what your priorities are right now and stop worrying so much about everything else. This was tough for me, but as soon as I figured out that for me, attaining & maintaining a bikini body wasn't top priority, I began to finally love myself, live my life more fully, and be less frustrated with things beyond my control. This isn't giving up or giving in-- this is breaking through.
My goal as a personal trainer is to first, help clients establish healthy habits, but then, help them to LOVE THEMSELVES and get off the diet roller coaster! At some point, you have to learn how to LIVE. And constantly seeing yourself as a "work in progress" means you never appreciate and love where you are right NOW, in this moment. As soon as you learn to love yourself, you will let go of emotional eating, guilt-driven eating, and over-eating. And that is just truth.
So welcome to my blog about LIVING a real life. Being real fit, whatever that looks like in your own life. Seeking real joy. Creating real meals. And making your real fit life a family affair. I plan to post: Hike of the Week (kid-friendly), Menu Ideas, Fit-Philosophizing, and whatever else strikes my fancy or readers request ;)
As always, feel free to share.
Mother of 3. Fit-philosopher. Showing my kids how to be fit via living life to the max. Newbie photographer. Simplistic cook who shares easy, healthy meals. Lover of kid-friendly hikes & getting outdoors & unplugged.