Finding The Road Back To Fitness

It seems so long ago. But really, it was just within the past 14 weeks that I’ve discovered a lot about myself. I had an epiphany.

One might say that, I’ve come so far. But really it was just an awakening. Euphoric and I feel like I’m in a much better place. Finally.

Finally I can focus on me. The real me. No more denying who I am. Like I said in my previous post, I will not allow myself to be defined.

And it all started like this…

Before I just did a figure competition because I thought that would make me seem raw and a lot stronger. It would make me seem like I have this anxiety down to a science, that I was the one in control. But that was all just a lie. I thought if I competed, I would be perceived as courageous and demonstrating exemplary strength, unfortunately, behind the scenes, I was breaking. I was crumbling. I was allowing it to define me. Define my self worth. I was becoming obsessed and felt as if I didn’t do it; if I ate one thing that wasn’t on the diet I was a failure. If the scale didn’t read a certain number, I was a failure; that it would just prove that I was weak; that I was what I had felt all along…nothing. I was a failure. At that point, I would allow guilt to binge at my conscience, which by now had somehow turned into my own worst enemy. In turn, I would then sabotage myself by binging and sleeping long hours. Depressed. Anxious. Guilty. Defined. Lost and confused. I couldn’t sort out which one I felt the most and which one I hated the least. I would “check out”. I would lie in bed and imagine myself not here; somewhere else. Somewhere where it would all make sense; where it would all just seem “much easier than this” but that’s just it, I didn’t even have any idea of what “this” actually was. Everyone around me seemed to be doing a fitness competition, and I couldn’t help but feel hatred and resentment. Why couldn’t that be me? Stupid anxiety I would utter all the time. I would shut down and give up. The self- hatred grew so much that I could barely see my own achievements because they never seemed enough. I never seemed good enough.

And over and over again, I set out to put myself in the most uncomfortable place again; in contest prep. It was, at that moment, what I felt I had to do to feel a sense of purpose. But deep down I wasn’t looking at it is an experience, it was becoming my ENTIRE life.

Prepping for a fitness competition only made old wounds reappear, and new ones hastily emerge….

I would go through the prep, struggling, sacrificing, sinking lower and lower, telling myself that if I didn’t do it, I was basically nothing special. But for some reason, as I went through it, the deeper involved I’d get, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I couldn’t possibly imagine going back to not counting macros on a scale; weighing my food, myself and skipping the gym, even for just one workout…the mere thought of any of that scared the shit out of me. I couldn’t be a failure again. I couldn’t just quit. For some reason, the pain and struggle made me feel alive. Not normal, not really living, just alive. And all too real. I was starting to realize that I was trading one disorder for another; I was using all of these obsessive tendencies, these unhealthy behaviors I was adapting to and clinging to, to replace the anxiety that had me feel so out of control at times. Unfortunately, it wasn’t helping, it was only nurturing those toxic weeds to grow more furious and wild inside of me until I couldn’t control it anymore, in fact, I didn’t have control at all. Ever.

I forgot how to enjoy and love fitness and health and instead trapped myself in a web of self-hatred, lack of self-worth and didn’t even know where I belonged anymore.

Comparing my life to others; my worth to others, only made the anger and bitterness deepen. I spent so much time trying to conjure up an image of who I thought I could be, and instead of being proud of who I’ve become; how far I’ve come, I lost focus, and I was throwing myself into hot burning coals before the fire even had a chance to ignite.

If someone gave me a compliment, I’d thank them for the compliment, but in my mind I’d rehearse all of the things that they don’t see. Like maybe the cellulite on the back of thighs. Or that tiny little bit of fat that makes you feel self conscious in a pair of short shorts. The list may go on; it’s different for everybody. I know I’m not alone. I even found myself considering breast implants because I didn’t think I was good enough just being me.

I kept trying to walk away, but once it gets a hold of you, it’s extremely difficult to walk away; it latches on and doesn’t let go…

It wasn’t until I realized that it’s no different that any other addictive behavior; you need time to heal and recover. You need time to get your shit together; your mind right, and that requires just as much strength, if not more, to fight the urge to be honest with yourself. To not let anyone or anything get inside your head and weigh you down.

Each time I was beginning competition prep, I was only unleashing a whole new beast; I felt as though if I didn’t compete, I just wasn’t strong enough; or put in the words of a fellow gym-goer, “it was too tough for me to handle.”

But they didn’t know me. Nobody really knows the true me. And how could anyone if I even lost sight of who I was? It wasn’t that it was too tough; it was the fact that my cortisol levels are already chronically elevated most of the time, and all of the dieting and cardio was exacerbating the issue. It went from being obsessive and getting anxiety at the mere thought of having to eat something that was processed to having anxiety about sodium levels, fiber, carbohydrates etc., anxiety about cardio, or just being able to get to the gym. It was all I could think about from the moment I opened my eyes to the moment I closed my eyes. The program I was on was designed so that I would have to weigh myself everyday, and depending on the number, my macros would decrease or increase. To avoid that, I wouldn’t drink or eat anything until it read what if felt it needed to say before sending anything to my coach. I didn’t want him to lower my calories, I could have easily just lied, but I wouldn’t feel good about myself doing that.

I still can’t help but weigh my food still or fixate on the scale.

Like I said, I felt like a failure. And yes, all of the time. Even though I was hitting my macros right in point and doing all the cardio prescribed to me if the scale even fluctuated by an ounce I’d still feel like a failure.  I still felt fat. I felt that I was never going to be good enough. That’s what I thought…constantly.

 I felt so much anxiety going to my mother in laws home five hours away because I didn’t know how I was going to make it to the gym since after all she was having a heart procedure. I had no energy, no life, no memory, anxiety, sleepless nights, I loved food but I also hated food. I hated the thought of not being able to see my abs. I’d pick everything wrong with my body; I even contemplated getting breast implants. I wanted to fit in so badly. But I was not even fitting in with my own family anymore. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I needed to make a decision. I struggled with it. The inner voice told me I was a failure, I wasn’t worth anything… who the hell am I without this? I felt depressed and even suicidal. I thought maybe that was my only way out of this mess.

For the past 4 years, I have severed relationships, missed a lot of awesome moments, and restricted not just my diet but also my life. I have 3 kids, 11, 13, and 17, and if they weren’t my kids they’d probably choose to walk away from me. I was angry, moody and obsessed all the time. I just became so intolerable of everything; and isolated myself as well as neglected anything that might have been important. If it didn’t fit around a way for me to think, talk, or breathe fitness, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t enjoy functions because I didn’t want to be around other people laughing and enjoying themselves without eyeing a plate of food trying to calculate the macros or calories it had before actually eating it. Each time I saw that, I would either feel envious or just felt the need to inform them of the physical change they could undergo if they were just to make “better choices”.

I longed for the days where I could just have control. I missed the passion; the spark I had found in fitness and nutrition. I missed the way it helped me find my way out of the darkness and thrusted me into this new dimension of life…this whole other territory that made me feel alive, more normal than anything I’ve ever encountered. I wanted that back….

This process that I’ve been on has really been quite the experience. Each and every single time. Even the two times I actually managed to make it to the stage. But this time, this time it has been way more than just a physical change. It has forced me to ask questions that I pushed away before. It has forced me to seek answers to those questions and many other questions that I had allowed myself to drown in and play dead. I was forced to seek answers that maybe I wasn’t even really ready for or had even expected to discover. And this time, well, this time I know what I really want. I want to be happy. In my own skin, my own body; I want to be happy. I think back to a time when I was the happiest and the most confident, and it wasn’t how others saw me. It wasn’t about finding myself where I didn’t really want to be. It wasn’t about living someone else’s story line to make me feel important or give me a sense of purpose. I don’t need to compete in fitness competitions to validate me; it’s just not the direction where I want to go. It may seem crazy to some how something that is so capable of strengthening the body can have the exact opposite effect on the mind. It may seem like I’m not “tough enough” because I choose not to compete, but I really don’t need a competition or validation from anyone or anything to undergo a testament of my true self. I’m not just a wanderer, I’m becoming free; free from the walls in which my mind has placed the key.

To some people, competing gives them validation for all the hard work that they put themselves through. And the number of people, whether or not they belong on stage or not, is growing immensely. I only wish more people could realize that it doesn’t take a competition, or even contest prep, to solidify the accomplishment of getting into shape. I wish more people would recognize that fitness can be a lifestyle without all of the sacrifice; without driving yourself into the ground, sacrificing relationships, missing out on events or memories that can never be relived.

Bottom line is this: there’s nothing wrong with competing, but if you’re going to do it, do it for you. Do it because you want to. Not because you want to spend hours on the elliptical dreaming of the day you can, “go back to being normal”. The process is a real mind fuck, and it has somewhat of a permanent residual effect, which requires time to heal and recover, especially to get back to a good place mentally; to unravel all of the obsessive tendencies and unhealthy habits that develop, which are pretty much inevitable. And when you’re not even competing, you’re still competing. You’re still thinking about food; thinking about what that number on the scale really means. Still studying yourself in the mirror, still taking selfies, still pointing out flaws, still getting plastic surgery, still trying to “feel better” or “waiting for normal to happen again”. It can be an unhealthy transition from contest shape to coming to terms that you can’t walk around depleted, on a low calorie deficit, doing massive amounts of cardio. You just can’t. And that’s a real head twister too. Even the slightest amount of water weight can make you feel all twisted inside; make you feel “fat”.

I want to be in control for once, so instead of giving in, or exerting all of my energy to combat the anxiety, I’m going to say that I’m no longer going to even waste my energy on it. It’s not helping towards my goals so why mess with it. I want to enjoy being fit and healthy. I don’t want to place myself in a box where I’m cornered in and have no say. Simply put, I don’t want to be controlled by fitness, I want to control it. For me, that just works best for my anxious mind. That makes me happy. And what’s better than to do it on my own terms?

When I feel anxious, I want to get annoyed and get pissed off. Like what the fuck are you even doing here? When I’m on the treadmill running my heart out, beads of sweat dripping, my heart pounding, and my adrenaline surging and a panic attack happens, I want to take control and ask it, “what the hell, can’t you see I’m running here?” And I want to run harder to keep pushing it away, burning it so that it drips like sweat from my pores. And if I feel like I’m drifting, like I’m losing the fight, I want to be able to say, “ okay fine you win” without feeling defeated. Yes, I want to be able to have those painful thoughts just so I can remember that I’m being tested; each and every time, I’m being tried and tested. And I’m growing. And I want to feel that pain; feel that growth burning in my lungs, burning throughout my veins. Right there on that treadmill, right there with the weights right above my head; I want to feel like I’m growing and fighting back. And for that, I will be thankful.

 Thankful for my arrival to a place where everything around me will feel different; still scary, yet, new and inviting…

True value and worth have both come to mean something entirely different now. As I stated in my last post, I will not allow anything or anyone to define me. And a fitness competition defines me. It controls me and steers me away from what truly matters, family, faith and overall fitness, health and my wellbeing. Those are what is most important to me.

I’ve said it in previous posts, but I’ll say it again, I’m never going to be fully healed; it’s a battle every single day. Every single time something arises; a new situation, a new journey, I’m always going to be presented with change and uncertainty. I’m always going to have to face this anxiety head on. Yes, even when I’m not looking. This massacre of feelings that keeps me constantly on edge, teaches me something every day. Something new I’ve realized is that I feel anxiety because I long for purpose, or anything really that will allow me to experience fulfillment and value. I need to stop fighting and just ride the wave. The more I resist, the more I doubt myself, the larger the wave becomes. I’m not sinking, but I am almost always close to obscurity from even my own eyes. I need to just take action and quiet that frail and fragile, broken voice from within; to restore and redefine not so much myself, but the importance and purpose of my own life.

And I’m going to do it for me.

 “You are my armor and my sword, my faith and my treasure; everything I’m fighting for.”

-Alice Hoffman

I Am an Addict

I’m an addict. I sweat. I suffer from withdrawals. I feel pain. And I feel weak without it.

I’m an addict.

It feeds me adrenaline. It wakes me up inside. It makes me feel strong… And powerful.

I can do anything, I am unstoppable. I am an addict.

I become miserable without it. I have mood swings. I need it; it’s my only drug.

Weight lifting.

Feeling the weight of another rep; overcoming it… defeating it. Pushing hard. Through the sweat. The pain.  I do it over and over. Again and again.  I love it; the noise; the sound of the weight against the machine, the grunts of power and pride of lifting another rep; doing another set. Control. Failure is not an option. Progressing is; seeing change. I need it. Feel it. Breathe it. I am an addict.

We are all addicts. Addicts of something.

Or maybe you’re not.

 But, we all want something to make us happy; something to make us forget our pain, hurt, and anger. Just for a little while. Rather than succumb to feelings of helplessness, we may want to become numb, and just keep moving instead of dwelling on it.

But sometimes, the fear is so deep within us, that we ultimately lose consciousness of our surroundings. We may take steps and use words, when, in reality, we’re not really concentrating on what we’re actually saying or doing. But no one can tell. No one can tell, because we hide it so well. We’re used to it. At least that’s what we tell ourselves.

We all need an outlet to be ourselves; to let loose all of things that are casting shadows around us. Without judgment. Without fear.

I go to the gym. That’s my place. My time to feel peaceful and hopeful.  Feel powerful rather than helpless. I feel that if I can just overcome one more rep, force it up, defeat what is trying so hard to bring me down; to fall or stumble; to know that if I let it go, drop it, it could leave me severely injured, but if I could lift it against the force of gravity, then I could fight back and overcome a lot more. Sometimes it’s difficult when it hits so close to home. It becomes more than just a metaphorical dumbbell or barbell that you’re trying to overcome and resist against. And sometimes, you don’t have a single clue as to what to do to fix things and make it better, and all you have are these videos flashing through your mind on fast forward; giving you tiny glimpses of what you’re so damned afraid of. No stopping, no pausing, just heart beating, skin crawling, loud clamoring adrenaline pumping, hard-core-drop-and-give-me-100 frightening situations that’s either going to control you or be controlled.

Because you just have to keep going and try to keep up. There is no other choice; it’s not going to stop just because you do.

You’re just going to have to overcome defeat, get back up and get ready to tackle the world from every angle.

Make Goals; Not Excuses

Dedicated to my father, who passed away eight years ago (8-14-2005) as of today…

Lately, I often hear the question, “So when’s your next show” and then I have to go into a long story as to whether or not I am, and if so, when, and if not, the reasons and so on. Small talk? Maybe. But, I can’t help but feel like every time I get asked that question, a piece of me gets shaved off; a piece that gets thicker and thicker each time threatening to unveil the most vulnerable part of me; my core.

 You see, I am not defined by one thing. There are many components of me. I am complex, neurotic, and definitely a nonconformist; I don’t choose to be this way, it’s just who I am. When someone asks that question, to some it may seem like they are expressing interest, but to me, I feel like they are shoving me in a box and stifling my potential for growth. I am not done growing. I don’t have everything all figured out. My entire life, I have tried to run the other direction from being defined as any one particular thing. I believe a lot of the anxiety I feel stems from the fear that I have to be “something” in order to well, just BE.

I strive to be healthy, fit, and perhaps, compete in a show when the time is right—for me. Not just because I need to be defined. Living healthy doesn’t mean, you have to focus on doing a fitness competition; it doesn’t mean that you’re weak if you don’t choose that path. The important thing is to know and remember that you just have to find the purpose in what you’re doing if you want to be successful at it. And if you don’t have a goal, then the outcome will be far more difficult to reach. Not impossible, just more difficult.

When you set a goal, you have to break it down into smaller components. You may have an idea in your mind as to how you’re going to reach that goal, and you may even envision in your mind the sweet reward at the end. Unfortunately, if you don’t break it down into smaller feats and follow the steps that are aligned with your goal, the sweet reward can quickly become sour, or just simply farther to reach.

 How many of you just want to be healthy, active individuals, capable of living a fulfilling life without a lot of limitations? What you don’t realize is the limitations that you place on yourself by not taking the action necessary to complete the goals that can open up new doors. You know, those limitations that are disguised as little excuses that manage to catch you every time you fall???

Excuses tend to keep you right in your comfort zone.

You see, a goal doesn’t have to be as dramatic as a fitness competition; maybe you just want to be able to walk more than a few feet or jog; or maybe you just want to run around and play with your kids a little bit more…

 I get mad at myself when I stray from my usual ‘healthy way of living’.  For example, if I take a break from exercise or the lifestyle/diet, I worry and allow the anxiety to creep in to pollute my mind with the idea that if I take time off from exercise or my ‘diet’, I have somehow lost my passion. Crazy. I know. But sometimes, something that you can be so passionate about can also consume you.

That’s when it’s time for a rest; mentally, physically and emotionally.

There have been times where I have felt like even rest is a sign of weakness, but then, I get upset for being so hard on myself. Sooner or later though, I realize that what’s most important is that you always get back up. After all,  weakness is lying down for good and never reaching for the courage to get back up.

 My father’s health issues gave him a reason to just sit and do nothing. His health issues were a great excuse to let go, but he never did. Never. And he never allowed them to slow him down. When my father was holed up in a hospital room or even a hospital bed in our living room, as soon as he would get better, rather than let it deter him from living his life, he just kept going; just kept living.

 And each time he had a set back, he’d recover and go back at it more determined, powerful, and stronger.

My dad never made me think that a setback means that you’ve surrendered; he never made me feel that it was okay to whip out the party hats and toot the horns once you are able to find a ‘valid’ excuse to throw in the towel. No. He made me realize that each day is a day to propel towards your goal;  that you shouldn’t waste time trying to seek out reasons to justify why you should just give up. It’s important that you always get back up; and if you’re still breathing, then there are no valid excuses.  

He made me realize that no one should have to take their last breath, until they have realized the value of all of their breaths that came before.

His goal was to take each day, treasure it, live it, and love the best to his ability, and he did just that. With every health issue that had arisen, it became a tool rather than a crutch; a tool in his quest to live an extremely fulfilling life. To move forward and yell, well, “Check Mate”

 Decide on a goal. Remember, if you fall during the journey, get up, and plow through, stronger than before. Plow through and yell, “Check Mate” each and every single time.

Anything is possible. Anything.

And to answer the question: I do not know when my next show is, but I do plan on competing in the near future, I just haven’t decided on a show yet.

“A setback is a setup for a comeback” -T.D. Jakes

Don’t let a setback become an excuse, and don’t let an excuse become a setback.

 

Beast Mode. Power:On

My last couple workouts have been officially labeled as “panic attack” workouts. They go a little something like this:

 I workout, moving from exercise to exercise with very little rest in between, my heart starts to pound, and I feel as though I’m about to throw up. I’m working hard, and I’m not going to back off. I continue. My muscles are being trained to failure, I say to myself,

“one more rep” fighting with the bully inside of me trying to get me to back down. My blood is pumping, I feel it through my veins, I’m sucking in oxygen, maximizing all of my energy into pushing out one last rep. I keep pushing, waiting for the climax; the rush of simple euphoria. I feel every bit of oxygen crash and erupt with every rep; my body pushes harder and harder. I let go. I am finished. Sweat thickens and beads; it starts to brush past my eyebrows, misses my eye and continues on down my cheek and rolls off my chin. I continue. Next set. I don’t stop. Heat emerges within my muscles, fire erupts, my body pushes; my mind pushes back. It tells me to stop; it wants me to stop. But I can’t. I have to get to the point where my mind lets go; I have to keep pushing. I have to let my mind know my body can do all the work; I have to let my body take over. With every rep, I feel the muscle contract. It feels good. It feels powerful and controlled. Yet, somehow I begin to panic.

 My heart beat has become louder;  like it’s going to burst. “I’m fine.” I try to reassure myself, but I can’t take my mind off of the cold, clammy feeling that has suddenly numbed my skin.  Again.  “I’m fine,”  I pick up the weight and lift. My mind shifts as I start to turn my focus on the lift of the exercise.  I complete the set and put the weight down. I look at the clock and wait for the next set to begin. Again. It happens. The blood in my veins start to feel like slivers of ice; frozen.

 “Oh my God, Oh my God, something is wrong with me” I dread what comes next.

“Everything is blurry. Why is everything blurry. Is it my contacts? Would if it’s that medication. I remember reading the side effects. Shit. My head hurts, I feel dizzy, my throat feels like it’s locked …I can’t swallow…I can’t breathe…Shit. Would if something is seriously wrong with me?!!

  Panic mode.

 I pull back. No. Beast mode.

 I have one last set to do. One more set. I can handle it. Focus. Breathe. I can do this, I’m not losing it. Not this time.

 I wrap my hands around the cold iron dumbbell and I feel a sudden surge; like an electric shock. Confident; fearless; I let the weight dig into my muscles and just like that. I am standing there, weight in my hands; barely over my head; controlled, calculated. I am ready. I see a person that resembles me in the mirror. I look away. That can’t be me, quickly, my mind relapses. I power the weight above my head. Damn it. That is me.

That is me.

Running for Power and Purpose

 I’m not a runner. The only time I enjoy running is when I don’t really think about it. For example, I like to run with my kids when we’re playing, “who can make it to the car first”, which actually happens quite often. But I’m not really thinking about it. I mean, my heart starts pounding, my breathing becomes deeper, the gust of air felt from my body thrusting itself forward is felt, but it’s more about trying to see who can get to the car first. I usually win. Simply, because I have the car keys and the rule is, that to be declared the winner, you have to be in the car first.  

 FYI, I have a car that does not have automatic locks. I guess that is just one of the perks of owning a car with manual locks.  

To run is to have to make a commitment and to make it happen. It requires distance and miles. It requires moving farther and farther away from the starting point, and I really don’t have a lot of time for that. I know people who actually like to run for miles, endurance, speed, and some people just like it to clear their mind. But I actually have discovered that my mind usually turns off around mile numero uno. It turns into me sounding like the annoying little voice in the backseat on a long car ride wondering, “are we there yet?”

There are people who create running playlists and listen to it while they run. I’ve tried that. I end up getting tangled in the cord somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes into the run. Alright, I’m stretching the truth, maybe more like 5 or 10 foot strikes against the pavement. Or even worse; the ear buds don’t stay in, and then the Ipod gets turned off and just ends up in my pocket anyway.    

 Still, it has to be done. I like to keep it short though. No long distances. Tonight I went to the high school track to run. I swear whenever my mind starts to think about running, my body just melts. I was just lying on the couch, relaxing with the phone in my hand, checking my Instagram account, and my mind was literally screaming at me to get up and just go for a run. My body, on the other hand, literally, feels like it is pleading with me; protesting by going limp with just the thought of running. I was just going to do a cardio workout at home, but my mind, apparently, had other plans for me. Apparently, it felt this relentless desire to go outside and run. Odd.  I do have to admit, however, I was feeling pretty pathetic just lying on the couch thinking about doing cardio. Not just that though, it is those damn evil hormones that are getting to me again. My husband is lucky he is visiting his family in St. Martin so he doesn’t have to deal with the wrath of these devious little sidekicks. Ha.

All day long, in the back of my mind, I kept having glimpses of me running down my street or around the highschool track. But before I engaged into some sweat, fat burning work, I decided I should satisfy my cravings by buying my daughter a slice of chocolate cheesecake and my son a double chocolate cookie.

Look, I teach them about balance. I don’t want them to be afraid of food for cripes sake. Anyway, I couldn’t choose which one I’d rather have, so I bought both, and they ate them. They were really good too. I’m just guessing. It was a treat. They enjoyed it, and so did I.  As least I’m assuming that based on the chocolate covered stains that hid my son’s lips and teeth. Mmmm….Chocolate…

 And then reality caught up and hit me in the head…

Once at the high school track; the wind and cool air spent the first few minutes reminding me of how freezing it was outside. It had the feeling of a cool winter day; as though I was going to look up at the sky and catch a snow flake in my eye. I started cursing at myself for forgetting to bring a hat. But, it really wouldn’t have made any sense to drive all the way back home for my hat, since I had already driven to the track, which made me feel silly in the first place. I mean, I just drove right down the street to run around in a giant circle; kind of like a dog chasing its tail.

 I stepped onto the track; made sure my shoes were tied, gave in to the cool air and started with a light walk. I couldn’t help but watch two teenage boys on the field, kicking a soccer ball back and forth to each other, laughing, and enjoying the cool night breeze. I continued my walk once around the track and turned it into a light jog. As I ran, still aware of the teenagers kicking the ball back and forth to each other, my body and mind started to connect. At that point, I couldn’t stop running. I started to run extremely fast until my legs burned, and then I would jog, then run again. This type of cardio, I could handle. Sprinting.

 I lost track of time. There was no music. No cords or ear buds; and as usual, my mind went numb. I focused on my running technique, my force, and speed; time. The lights flickered on as it got a bit darker, and I had suddenly realized that the teenagers were no longer there, I quickly wondered how long they had been gone. Still, I kept moving; feeling every bit of tension in my body dissipating. I finished up with eighty side squats and fifty high knees followed by fifty knee kicks. I could have kept going, but it was extremely dark at that point, the street lamps provided the only light at that point, and the only thing I saw was my shadow. Besides, there was a trail of kid’s voices running alongside the school building and underneath the bleachers, so I figured that it was best to go home.

Tomorrow is another cardio day, and I know that my body will still plead with me not to go, but my body and mind will thank me once I am done. I just have to focus and stay in tune with each muscle in my body as it contracts. There’s no other feeling like being able to feel the energy from my muscles as they work to thrust my body forward; in competition with no one else but myself. Doing cardio doesn’t always have to be about long distance or length of time. If you don’t have time, you could still give it all you got in 15-20 minutes. Just be willing to push yourself as hard and don’t be afraid to let every muscle contract in your body, and let the tension fade.

Music or none at all; it’s your choice. Always.

Strike a pose at Red Rock Canyon

Once I plugged in the words, photo shoot, photographer, Las Vegas, in Google, it was the beginning of the something that I knew I wanted to do so badly.  Besides, for the longest time, I had wanted to meet Fitness Model/Writer, Jamie Eason as well as a few other influential people that have guided me on this journey of getting in shape and providing me the opportunity to grasp onto a newly found confidence. My husband and I have been saying for years, that instead of going to Las Vegas in July/August like we normally do,  we should attend the Olympia Fitness Expo that is usually in late September. However, things happen that take precedence over going to Las Vegas to a fitness expo, and we just kept putting it off. Not only did I enjoy going to Vegas in July/August, the kids had off from school, and well, it just worked better that way. But this was 2012!  It was the year to get shit done, so we made the decision to just go for it. Besides, I had just competed in my first ever figure competition, and I thought why not? Why not now? It was on my “anxiety” bucket list, so I felt that I had to definitely check that off my list.

I do not really know what made me start looking for photographers in Las Vegas, but I did, and came across Natalie Minh, a well-known photographer, who was from California, but was going to be in Vegas for the Olympia and had set up a location for photo shoots. I don’t remember sending her the email; I think my body and mind went numb in a “what are you thinking” kind of way, and even when I received the response to let me know that there was one day open for a shoot left and that I could take it, I was ready to bite not just my nails, but my fingers off too! But I was also super psyched! I submitted my photos as requested, and followed my competition diet with a few tweaks here and there; I didn’t want to get as low in body fat as I did for the figure competition I did 2 ½ months earlier.  I had 2 months to prep for it, and during that time, I tracked my calories, weighed and measured my food using measuring cups and a food scale, and worked hard in the gym. For some reason, prepping for the photo shoot was much less stressful than prepping for a competition.  Maybe, it was because I was just so excited about finally being able to attend the Olympia fitness expo, and being in Vegas always makes me happy! I guess stepping in front of a photographer whom I have never met before, wasn’t quite resonating with me at that time! Also, I was so excited about the trip and being in a place where everyone carries food around in little plastic baggies and Tupperware containers, that I kind of let the nerves fall by the wayside.

September 26, 2012….Vegas time!!!! We had arranged for my mother in law to come up from NYC to stay with the kids so that we wouldn’t have to take them out of school. It literally took my husband and me 2 whole days to prep all of my food and supplements; he did the cooking and I did the packing. I didn’t want to have to add another carry on bag to our load because I knew that if I did, the airline would charge me more moolah, so I did away with the Tupperware, and found another way to pack my food! I came across Eco-Zip bags while at the grocery store one day, and turns out that they were actually quite convenient and practical! I was able to separate my meals, attach labels to indicate which meal they were for and what day, and they didn’t take a lot of space!

Eco-Zip bags

Eco-Zip bags

24 meals packed and placed into my small blue cooler, which I was able to carry onto the plane with no problems.

My awesome cooler!

My awesome cooler!

Once I arrived at the hotel, I placed all of my food into the refrigerator I had requested weeks earlier.  Carrying my food around in a bag was a lot easier than carrying around a few Tupperware coolers or even the entire cooler. I could just take how many meals I would need and on the go I went!

We have arrived!

We have arrived!

The first two days were the Expo, I stood in line for 3 hours to meet Jamie Eason and I was so happy! She really is the most genuine, sincere person I have ever met! She took the time to chat with me and take a photo

Jamie Eason

Jamie Eason

We also got to meet some other fitness models, high-level pro competitors that have been featured on many of my countless fitness magazines.

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Nicole Wilkins

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My husband with MMA fighter, Forrest Griffin

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Adela Garcia

Adela Garcia

Amanda Latona

Amanda Latona

We also collected free supplements and samples “trick or treat” style. It was awesome! I also got a chance to attend a seminar, which was basically a Q&A with another awesome knowledgeable person in the fitness industry, Jim Stoppani.  As you can see, apparently I have a clothing mishap everywhere I go, my boobs must have a mind of there own. It’s just that the first day I went to the expo, I kind of felt overdressed. A Lot of the people there were walking around in sports bras, tight booty shorts, muscles showing, so the next day, I wanted to fit in just a tad. First of all, I was so anxious to get back to the expo, that I left wearing sandals not sneakers like I originally had planned. I felt like an idiot among all those fitness pros! Plus, I’m not even going to go there with how my crotch looks with the waist of my pants rolled down! hehe whaddya gonna do now?

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My husband striking a pose with all our goodies and my little lunch tote! He’s such a good husband!

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I still shamelessly struck a pose in front of the Muscle&Fitness Hers sign!

It’s actually quite funny that I was so worried about what I should wear! If you ever get a chance to go, you will find the most down to earth, dedicated, nonjudgmental people I’ve had the pleasure of being around!

Unfortunately, we had to cut the second day of the Expo short because I had to hurry back for my spray tanning appointment. Yep, another one of those! (If you haven’t yet, to find out how my previous spray tanning experience went, read the my previous blog post about my journey to my first figure competition) This time, however, I didn’t have to stand naked to dry off for any length of time, only when the tan was applied! Not to mention, I didn’t have to get as dark for the photo shoot as I did for the competition.  After that was over, we had to head over to Walgreens on the strip because my husband developed a severe sinus infection and my right ear was beginning to hurt really badly.

Beast Mode and pink piggy neck rest

Beast Mode and pink piggy neck rest

In hindsight, I think it was from all the gum chewing I was doing to curb cravings! hehe.. “Hi, my name is Megan, and I’m a hypochondriac!”  Unfortunately, no one was there to help and we were advised to come back the next day.  We were both exhausted and ready for bed at that point, so we headed back to the hotel to call it an early night.  Besides, I was meeting the photographer at 9 am, and  I needed to make sure that I gave myself enough time to get to the eat and get to the location on time. I had already tried on a couple of things to wear for the photo shoot so I was ready to go!

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One of the choices that I was taking to the photo shoot! (And wore)

Awwww shit! We were late. It turns out that not all cab drivers in Las Vegas know where to go. Thankfully, we were only late by a couple minutes, but I still felt horrible. But my nerves and regrets of being late were soon squashed when I met Natalie Minh, she was just so nice and made me feel extremely comfortable. And even though I did drink a bottle of red wine to calm my nerves and loosen up, it really did help that I chose an amazing photographer who put me at ease and was really professional.

Four hours, white backdrop, beautiful scenery I’ve never had the chance to see before, hot desert, and hearing someone who was just there to climb Red Rock Canyon, that I must be a fitness model was an amazing feeling and compliment to say the least. I was on an incredible high, well that plus a slight buzz from the bottle of red wine and rockstar energy drink I had a few sips from! And somewhere in the mixture of wine, Rockstar, desert heat, beautiful Red Rock Canyon, and Natalie Minh, I’m pretty sure there was a girl who had a ton of insecurities and little confidence, but that day pure happiness was driving me, and it was one of the greatest days of my life!

Down time! Just for a few minutes though! too much to see and do!

Down time! Just for a few minutes though! too much to see and do!

The rest of the day and time spent in Vegas was just walking around, and enjoying the rest of my time there. I never went to the gym because just walking around the hotels and Vegas strip is enough to wear you out and get a good calorie burn; there are literally stairs everywhere! However, I didn’t do a lot of walking prior to the photo shoot because overuse of your legs could cause water retention, and I certainly didn’t want that to happen. It’s actually quite challenging trying to avoid the unavoidable; walking. Not to mention, I had only a limited amount of water that I could intake; so just being out in the hot blazing sun for any length of time was also a risk. I was however, happy that my husband was finally able to get a prescription for the sinus infection he had. Sinus infection+ cigarette smoke+ desert heat= Not the best time! He did make the most out of it though! I also found out that my ear was just fine. Of course it was…

Sadly, as with any vacation, the day to leave came….

Sadly, it was time to leave

Sadly, it was time to leave

walking up stairs, down stairs, one side of the hotel to another, at the airport,  it was quite the workout! You can seriously find a place to get some exercise in wherever you go! Besides, it doesn’t hurt just to add a tiny challenge along the way. You’ll feel better for it. Trust me.

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stairs in our hotel!

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stairs at the airport! Bye Vegas! I’ll be back someday!