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.

Eat for Health – the Weight Loss and New Body Will Just Be An Added Benefit

There is so much emphasis on fad diets nowadays and people are frequently talking about the newest workout trend.  These things can be exciting and are fun to try.  The trick for maintaining wellness and health, for life, is to find what works best for you.  This requires patience because it takes time to have your body adjust to a new diet and workout routine and then it takes time for your body to show the progress of these changes.  I encourage you to try different things.  Try different workouts.  Try different ways of being physically active.  Try different diets.  This will help you find what is best for you.

However, as far as diet is concerned, adjusting your meal plan too much can cause serious health problems.  You see what you eat impacts your body, every single square inch of your body, all the way down to your cells.  Let’s discuss a little biology 101.  (Don’t worry I am not a biologist, so I will keep this simple).  As a living organism we are made up of cells.  These tiny little life sources contain many parts, including DNA.  DNA, without getting too complicated, is the roadmap that provides the directions to live, to be you, and to be human.  DNA, although tiny, is what contains your uniqueness, your ability to breathe, your ability to think, and your ability to live your life.  DNA is always replicating and reproducing in our cells to make more cells.  As long as we keep making cells then we can continue to live a healthy life.   What you eat will contain chemicals, nutrients, and products that will be metabolized down to your DNA.  Your DNA needs food and will use these chemicals, nutrients, and products (healthy or not) to continue replicating and reproducing.  It has been said before, you are what you eat!

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Some foods contain nutrients and products to help DNA continue to grow in healthy manner.  However there are also foods that can destroy and damage DNA.  Literally there are foods that will change your DNA, and this will increase risk for heart disease, cancer, blood disorders, and speed up the aging process.   Cells will be damaged, although cell death and cell damage is a natural process, you do not want to speed up this process.  What causes danger is when cells become mutated and rather than die they work to replicate the mutated cells.  This may be a slow process in the body, however, in the form of some illnesses and disease the health implications become more evident.

What you eat can slow down the aging process.  Food can actually heal the body from illness.  What you eat may not cure your illness, but it could improve your health.  What you eat can reduce the risk of disease and illness in the future.  Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring nor does it have to taste bad.  Eating healthy is as simple as adding some foods and spices to your diet.  Consider adding these things to your diet to help fight aging and improve your health.

  • Fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that can slow down cells destruction. They are also associated with reduced heart disease, cancer risk, and disease.  Strive for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.  Try adding 1/2 of blueberries to cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, a banana mid morning will keep energy levels up, add a cup of broccoli to your lunch, an apple mid afternoon will help avoid that 3:00pm crash, and eat asparagus with your dinner.  Sadly french fries are the most consumed “vegetable” by American children.  Not knocking potatoes or French fries, but other fruits and vegetables offer better health benefits.
  • Fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that only they can provide.  They provide the type of nutrition that cannot be obtained from a supplement or vitamin.  Try eating orange fruits and vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, cantaloupe, and apricots) to improve the health of your eyes.  That is not just a myth, carrots contain nutrients that contain the same properties needed for your eyes! Eating green and yellow fruits and vegetables like melon, avocado, kiwi, green beans, and spinach are associated with decreased cancer risks.  Onions, mushrooms, potatoes and turnips lowers bad cholesterol.  Blueberries, blackberries, and eggplant improve memory and reduce the effects of cell aging.  Peppers and apples reduce risk of cancer and improve heart health.  Eat a rainbow for wellness and health!
  • Rather than cooking with butter try adding olive oil.  Do not be dismayed that oil is a fat.  We need fat in our diet.  Cooking with oil will help protect cells from damage, and oil is associated with decreased heart disease risk.
  • Nuts and flaxseed are another great fat source with added health benefits.  Walnuts, soy, flaxseeds, and beans contain nutrients to lower heart disease risks.

Perhaps eating vegetables, nuts, and beans is not your favorite thing – never fear there are things you can do to spice up your food that will help decrease adverse health complications.

  • Not only will many herbs and spices add a nice flavor to your foods but they offer health benefits as well.
  • For example garlic has chemical properties associated with decreased cancer risk.  Evidence suggested that properties of garlic fought against tumor growth and lowered risk of heart disease.  Garlic is easy to add to most foods.  Simply buy a bulb, crush, and add to meats or vegetables for a flavorful and healthy dish.
  • If garlic is too overwhelming add onion, chives, or leeks to meats and vegetables.  Research has demonstrated these additions can reduce risk of heart disease.
  • Another simple spice to add to your diet to improve the health benefits of your food is cinnamon.  Cinnamon can be added daily and adding cinnamon has been associated with decreased inflammation and decreased blood clotting.  In other words cinnamon will improve your immune system and can help keep the heart healthy by keeping blood clots from developing.  Another perk of cinnamon is that it helps with metabolism and research demonstrated it helped the body process carbohydrates.  This is important for the risk and management of diabetes because it will help blood sugar levels remain stable.  Cinnamon can be added to toast, cereal, oatmeal, coffee, and tea.  All that is needed for health benefits is 1/2 tsp.
  • Rosemary is an easily found herb that can be quickly added to foods.  Rosemary will improve food flavor and is associated with decreased cancer risk.  Try seasoning meats with rosemary.

Do not fall for the belief that dairy is bad.  Dairy is a fat, but again, fat is needed in the diet.  Here are some dairy options to consider adding to your diet for improved health.

  • Yogurt contains probiotics and probiotics (a bacteria needed for digestion) helps keep the colon and digestive system healthy and working properly.  Many yogurts contain high sugar amounts in order to improve taste.  However it is easy to keep a healthier version and still the enjoy the taste.  Add peanut butter – peanut butter makes everything better.  Or add microwaved frozen cherries, strawberries, or blueberries to a plain non-fat yogurt.  Adding granola or nuts will give the yogurt a nice taste and a crunch.
  • Drink milk because it contains calcium to keep bones strong.

And if you are still not sure you will enjoy the healthier food options discussed, try eating chocolate.

  • Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is associated with decreased risk of heart disease.  Chocolate contains chemicals and nutrients that helps arteries to improve blood flow and heart strength.
  • Chocolate, however, should be eaten with caution.  This does not give you permission to binge on chocolate.  Eating chocolate in moderation provides a health benefit.  It is easy to binge on chocolate due the association of chocolate and the pleasure receptors in the brain.  In order to avoid overeating chocolate use mindfulness while eating.  Have a seat in a relaxed area with limited distractions.    Enjoy the taste of the chocolate as you eat it.  Remaining mindful while eating chocolate will decrease the likelihood of overindulging in chocolate.  Calories may need to be replaced elsewhere when chocolate is consumed and strive to eat 3-4 oz of chocolate a week.

Carbohydrates are not bad either.  Carbohydrates are necessary for metabolizing food and for maintaining and growing muscles.  Carbohydrates are helpful for health in the following forms:

  • Carbohydrates contain fiber.  Look for foods that contain about 2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber.  Fiber helps reduce risk of heart disease, reduces inflammation, and helps with digestion.
  • The problem with fiber and carbohydrates is that Americans may be consuming types that are more difficult for the body to process and metabolize and increase blood sugar levels rather than stabilize.
  • Oats and beans are high in fiber, have improved health benefits, and will also help you feel fuller longer.
  • Quinoa is a grain not only high in fiber but tons of healthy nutrients.  Quinoa is easy to eat instead of rice.
  • Eat whole grains to reduce the risk of heart disease.  There are many foods that claim to contain whole grain.  However Americans are still not consuming enough.  Look for food products that list “whole wheat flour”, “whole oats”, or “whole grain corn” first.  Wheat bread or brown bread may not contain sufficient whole grains so choose breads carefully by reading the ingredients.

You do not have to eat chicken and broccoli at every meal to find health and weight loss.  Health and weight loss can happen by simply adding fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, fats, and whole grains to your daily meals.  To be healthy does not mean you need to cut out foods you enjoy, to be healthy means to eat various foods, eat more colorful foods, and eat all foods in moderation.