Confessions of a Bikini Competitor

I have neglected this blog for way too long. So first let me apologize. I plan to be more consistent. Now let me explain why I “fell off the bandwagon”.

For the last 5 or 6 years I have been a “fitness nut”. Since I began I would say I have consistently averaged 5-6 days a week in the gym and have had a healthy diet. It started out as a means to save money from eating out. Quickly working out became my sanity and it saved me from the stress and emotional upset of my full time therapy job. About 3 years ago working out became my part-time job when I started teaching group fitness classes. It was during this time that working out became not just a hobby but a passion of mine. Working out and eating well was fun for me. Over the course of time I found I wanted to challenge myself in the sport of bodybuilding.

I was always happy with the way I looked and felt very comfortable and confident with my body but I wanted to see how my body could change with discipline and focus. So in March 2014 I started prepping for my first bikini bodybuilding competition. With my excellent coach and my motivation to be successful I walked on stage July 5th, 2014 and placed 6th. I felt very proud of what I accomplished. The road to the stage was fun. It is exciting to watch your body become lean and vascular. My body really became a fat burning, muscle building machine. I am a competitor at heart and can honestly say I feel accomplished with my performance in my first competition. I believe that others found inspiration in my progress and dedication, and my accomplishment really does show that with hard-work and discipline anything is possible.

However over time I stopped enjoying eating well and working out because these things were now a chore. Most days I dreaded going to the gym but went because “I had too”. When I wasn’t in the gym I was obsessing about working out. I literally laid in bed at night and visioned myself doing the next days workout and cardio. Images of food and meal prepping consumed my every thought. The food I ate no longer tasted enjoyable because it was solely fuel. When I wasn’t eating, I was starving and literally counting down until I could eat again. I was exhausted mentally and emotionally.

As my contest drew closer I hired and worked with a posing coach (one of the best in my opinion). So every Saturday after my workout, rather than spend time with family and friends I drove close to 2 hours (one way) to practice my posing. I spent money I could have been saving for a retirement or starting a new business for me and my husband on supplements. I thought my food bill would decrease as I just ate the same thing daily, but our grocery bill doubled and I was spending over $200 a month on supplements. The food is not only expensive but it is also costly to compete. There is a fee to join the Federation, there is a fee for each contest, tanning costs about $300 dollars, there is the cost of hair and makeup, plus the cost of a hotel stay and travel. Alas, the bikinis the girls in the bikini division wear are gorgeous. They are also very expensive. Yet I choose to once again spend HUNDREDS of dollars on a bikini instead of saving, investing, or bettering my families future.

Sure my waist and my body fat decreased but so did my wallet and my self-esteem. Suddenly it became about being a certain standard and fitting into a mold. I prefer to stand out, be different, and quite enjoy not always fitting in. Yet consuming myself with working out and competing I found I wanted to be like other competitors and fitness professionals. On contest day I saw myself with my tan, my hair and make up done, my beautiful bikini, and did not recognize myself. I was no longer Stephanie, but rather some obsessed meat head.

I spent the weeks following my show thinking about my next show. I was now obsessed with not “getting fat” (whatever that means). So I continued to obsess about going to the gym and counting calories and macros. Still working out and eating well was not fun. As I began to gain normal fat back I felt self-conscious and disgusting. This is about the time I stopped writing and stopped trying to help, motivate, and encourage others. I was so over working out that I stopped teaching at my gym, and this was something I love to do. Was I depressed? Not clinically but I think I was in a dark place. I had become something and someone I did not want to be.

You see, I had found balance in my life. Working out and eating well was fun because it did not control my life. I made it fit my lifestyle. I took it to the extreme of restricting calories, food, and WINE! I was working out to an extreme. When all you can talk about, think about, and dream about is working out and eating vegetables and lean protein you can be sure you are off balance. I remember a few meals following my show I literally had anxiety about eating. I ruined a surprise my husband had planned for me because I was so anxious and worried about what the meal would entail. Because I had become so obsessed with working out, eating, gaining fat, and staying lean, I was no longer able to enjoy friends and time with family. I felt embarrassed and insure to be at the gym. The gym was once a place where I felt confident and in control. But after my show it was as if I was a beginner again just walking into a gym for the first time. I was lost. I even kept my coach and had a plan but found I was not able to follow through. I withdrew from family and friends and wanted to spend my free time doing nothing and resting rather than being active and outgoing. I became lazy! I stopped feeling motivated to work on my career. I gained weight and body fat back but my confidence was destroyed. I felt I did not deserve to teach others. I felt I was not good enough to inspire and motivate.

I had to find balance again. I wanted so badly to enjoy working out and eating well and not worry about my body if I did not do things 100%. I am not sure when things started to come back together for me. I can say it did take about 6 months to feel like myself again. I am enjoying working out again. I can eat well but I can also not eat well and not freak out. I can eat out with friends and family and not binge. (A cheat meal used to contain well over 3600 calories). I am teaching again and I love it! And I am finally feeling motivated and passionate about writing again and finding ways to help others live well lives.

So many fitness professionals preach balance. But I caution you and warn you, they are professionals. Their living is spent in the gym working out. It is their job to stay lean and we only see their professional self. We do not see the other parts of their life that involves family, friends, and fun. Your job is not to be a workout professional. (I don’t think this is a bad profession, it is a needed and valuable profession, but not one that everyone should seek). Your job is to live a healthy, fit, and happy lifestyle. Life should never include obsessing about what to eat, when to eat it, and when to get to the gym. I do think life is about making healthy eating and working out a priority. When we make time for what is important we find health, fitness, and happiness.
I saw this quote and thought it perfectly expressed what happens when we compete or take diet and exercise to the extreme.

“You begin to change your food, your friendships, your sleep habits… you change what you talk about, the stuff you buy, and what you think about… and it all happens without effort – like it was meant to happen. You just find yourself consumed. Then, after awhile, you grow perspective. Regular life comes back and you enter the maturity stage, where all the fitness and training stuff still interests you, but just doesn’t engulf your mind”.

Let fitness and health fit into your life rather than trying to fit into a life of fitness. Fitness is something you do, not who you are. I eventually noticed that many competitors are so consumed with competing and looking and staying lean it becomes what defines them. Seeking to obtain a certain physique is an accomplishment and should be a source of pride. However it should not be something that is sought forever. Yes I obtained about 10% body fat, yes I had abs, I was vascular in my legs and arms, but those things did not make me happier or more fulfilled.

When we all die and face Judgement we will not be judged on our weight, body fat, abs, hamstrings, or glutes. We will be judged by what we do and how we positively benefit the lives of others. Fitness can do that. Fitness truly does save lives. Eating well and working out gives us the energy to do good deeds and live meaningful lives. Many fitness professionals help so many people find health and even balance, but so many also comply with the stereotypes and cause insecurities and doubt. Don’t let a picture of legs, butts, or abs on social media be your motivation. That is a false world and the consequences of that world can be worse than what is described above. Let us be fulfilled by spending time with family and friends, traveling, and trying new things. Find what makes you happy, find what makes you fulfilled. That is what determines your worth. Not how you look in a mirror or how you look to others.

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You Don’t Have to Always Hustle to Be Successful

I read a blog this morning about the behaviors of emotionally strong individuals.  Initially I asked, “what is emotional strength?”  Emotional strength is the ability to experience positive feelings.  There are some studies to suggest that certain personality traits are linked to greater emotional stability, an indicator for emotional strength (Guswell & Ruch, 2012). A particular study by Guswell and Ruch (2012) suggested there are innate characteristics that can either support or hinder a person’s ability to manage emotions.  In other words some personalities have an easier time managing emotions and remaining positive.  Although research claims it may be easier for some more than others it is not likely that only certain individuals with certain personality traits are allowed happiness.  All people are allowed happiness and all individuals can have a happy disposition despite character, experience, or previous thought patterns.

Individuals can learn emotional strength.  If you struggle with something in life you can learn to improve; you can learn to emotionally improve, as well. Your emotions do not control you.  Your thinking does not control you.  (It seems that way most of the time because turning “off” thinking and emotions is challenging).  The source behind the thinking and the emotions is YOU and the one in control of you is YOU!  I understand my posts talk a lot about choosing to be happy positive and I understand this can be very frustrating to most.  But, that truly is the issue; choice.  How you think and how you feel is up to you!  It is that simple.  The hard part is applying the skills, tools, and techniques to make that choice stick.

There are lots of tools and behaviors one can apply to increase emotional strength.  One behavior that stood out to me as a read the blog on emotional strength was ,”They (emotionally strong people) are not afraid of slowing down”.  This really stuck with me and caused me to ponder.

Emotional strength equals success.  Early research clearly demonstrated that people with an ability to evaluate their emotions, identify their emotions, and rationally handle their emotions are better able to reach and achieve goals (Allport & Allport, 1921).  To consider that emotionally strong people can slow down and relax challenged the belief that successful people are “go-getters” and “busy-bees”. Success coincides with work.  So many of us are chasing dreams, aspirations, and goals.  Motivation is inspired and we are challenged to keep going, keep pushing, and work daily to achieve success.  Then why is slowing down a sign of success and emotional strength?  How does rest and slowing down accomplish goals?

When we slow down we can LIVE.  It is so easy to be caught up in pursuing goals and achieving success and to lose sight of daily life and the little miracles that occur.  I am no exception.  My goals and aspirations in life require me to have daily goals and a daily plan.  The drive to be successful causes me to become acutely aware of my daily goals and I can spend minutes of my day, hours of my day planning, working, building, doing, and analyzing.  What happens if I just stop?  What happens if I just slow down and approach the day as it comes?

When we can slow down we are left with seconds, minutes, hours, even days for freedom and to live.

  • Slowing down means we can be content with our present moment and our present blessings.
  • Slowing down means we can be thankful for what we have.
  •  Slowing down allows us to experience love and support of family and friends.
  • Slowing down means taking a break.
  • Slow down means we have time to do something else (perhaps read a book, talk with a friend, or sit in silence).

Today I challenge you to stop!  Stop planning and stop working.  Take time away from your “to-do” list and do something else.  You do not need to always be working on something and you do not need to always be focusing on your goals.  I challenge you to take a step back, slow down, and enjoy the moment and the people you are with.  When you slow down to live you will restore your heart, your brain, and your soul.  This renewal of mind, body, and spirit will help you achieve goals, accomplish tasks, and lead you to success.

 

 

References:

Allport, F. H., & Allport, G. W.  (1921). Personality traits: Their classification and measurement. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 16(1), 6-40.

Guswell, A. & Ruch, W. (2012).  Are only emotional strengths emotional?  Character strength and disposition to positive emotions.  Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 4(2), 218-239.

Burn Calories All Day with This Leg Workout

Happy Friday y’all! I hope it has been a great one.  What muscle group did you train today?  This morning I trained legs.  It was intense!  I was drenched in sweat because it kept my heart rate up, my breathing rate was increased, and it challenged me. As a result of my workout this morning I have been STARVING all day.  I am generally always hungry (life of being a bikini fitness competitor) but it is more so today.

My metabolism was increased today because this leg workout not only worked out a large muscle group but the high intensity kept my body working hard.  Try this workout below to keep burning calories all day long.

The key is to keep moving.  You want no rest between exercises and little rest between sets. I just rested long enough to catch my breath, motivate myself, and set up for the exercise.

Try a challenging and heavy weight, however do not sacrifice form.  You want the weight challenging enough to make the set difficult but light enough to complete the set safely.  For example I could have squatted heavier but because I wanted to go for higher reps I kept my weight a bit lower.  No need to be a super hero – you will feel like a warrior when you are done, though! My advice – start out lighter, you can always add weight as you go.

Set 1

Lying Leg Extension

Leg Extension

Split Squat (12 reps each leg)

5 sets with 15 reps

Set 2

Barbell Squats (first 2 sets I completed 15 reps) – (I increased weight on barbell every couple of sets – the last set was heaviest and I could get in 10 reps)

Single Leg Hack Squat

Glute Push-Down

5 sets with 12 reps each

Set 3

Stiff Leg Deadlift (I increased weight after 2 sets)

Lying Leg Press – feet high and wide

Lying Leg Press – feet high and narrow

Seated Calf Raises

5 sets with 15 reps each

By the end of this workout you will be hungry and you can be sure your metabolism will have a burst to burn extra calories throughout the day.  Don’t use that as an excuse to overindulge, so be careful with hunger cravings.  Be sure to eat a small meal every couple of hours that includes a protein, a fat, and a carb.  I expect some Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) the next couple of days because this workout gave a great burn!

 

Not your typical “fluffy” fitspo post!

I have written posts on here about working to better myself.  I have read blogs and posters that remind me “I am my own competition”, and all fitness motivation sites urge me to be better today than I was yesterday.  The quest to be a better person is exciting.  The belief that I can work to improve myself, my situation, and my body each day is motivating and inspiring.  But let’s be honest here for a moment – this “fluff” is at the same time, FRUSTRATING!

In order to believe I am capable of being a better person today I have to believe that I am a good person.  The desire to self-motivate implies I have enough esteem and self love to convince myself I am good enough to be better.  Not everyone has self love.  Many of us are filled with self-doubt, shame, regret, and disrespect ourselves.

Decreased self-esteem keeps us small.  It keeps us from pursuing our true potential.  The problem with self-motivating tips and encouragement that uses lines like, “I am my own competition” is these do not work if I do not like who I am and I do not see much to strive for.  We are very self-critical and it is likely you judge yourself, your behaviors, your thoughts, and your body.  You see what is wrong.  You see what needs to improve.  Sure you see others improving their bodies and their lives but because you are unsure of what you can do, you do not see your potential.

People that self-evaluate and seek to improve self have a tendency to also focus on weaknesses.  I am going to get a bit personal here.  I am 9 weeks into my prep for a bodybuilding (bikini) competition.  The season has commenced and many have already competed.  I follow several accounts on social media as a means to motivate myself, and I witness my inspirations compete and succeed.  I see their physique and compare my body to their body.  When I do this I think, “I am not prepared” because I see they look better than me.  (Please don’t see this as a means to obtain sympathy or encouragement – I am being really honest here – we all think these things – many just won’t admit it).  I see their legs and then I see my legs, my greatest weakness.  My legs is where I hold my body fat.  My upper body is lean and vascular however rather than focus on my best area, I focus on my worst.  For so long I used this weakness as my motivation to work hard in the gym and lift harder in order to train and shape my legs.  Sadly I started to dread leg day and I started to feel weaker in my legs, rather than stronger.  This only caused further frustration.  As I continued to use self-talk and encourage myself that “I can improve myself”, “I am the barrier”, and “I am my own competition” my legs slowly started to look better.

The problem starts when I compare myself to others.  In the fitness world there are fit and beautiful people everywhere, it is hard to NOT compare myself to them.  I tell you this to let you know that, first of all, you are normal.  Secondly even fit people, people that compete, see weakness and compare their weaknesses to others.  Lastly do not be discouraged if you struggle with self-motivation and pushing yourself to the next level.  I understand.  We compare ourselves to others but many fitness motivators discourage us from this.  They ask us to see our own strengths and improve our weaknesses.  Yes this is true, and yes it works, but why not use others to motivate us as well?

As I pour over fitness pages for encouragement and motivation I see girls with well-defined quads.  They boast of their ability to lift heavy and their ability to break personal records (lift heavier than they have been able to lift previously).  I want to be like them, at least have their quads, so why not lift like them?  If I want to achieve a goal that another person has successfully achieved I am going to do what they do.  I am not ashamed to say I am a copy cat.  If they can increase how much they dead lift, then so can I.  Once I started to think this way I walked into my next leg training session with encouragement and motivation.  I was able to lift heavier and even set personal records.

I became comfortable with myself, at least comfortable enough in the work I was putting into my training, and stopped pushing myself.  I needed to see my weaknesses compared to others and I needed to use that motivate myself to work harder.  We need a challenge, at times, otherwise we become complacent. But if we are going to change and improve we need a challenge, and we need things to be hard.  Losing weight, maintaining weight, living a healthy lifestyle is NOT easy. If it were easy obesity would not be considered an epidemic.  Just like any thing in life we reach a period where our motivation will decrease.  No one has 100% motivation 100% of the time.  I encourage you to work to be a better you.  I encourage you to focus on how you can improve.  You are your own competition.  But I also encourage you to work to be better than your motivation.  Seek people who motivate and encourage you and then work to be better than them.  Compete with yourself but know that it is OK to compete with others too.  They say there is only 1 winner.  If that is true I want that to be me! Therefore I will work harder to be better than myself and better than my competition.  If you want to win and be successful I encourage you to work harder to be your best self but also work harder to beat me!