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

How to Find Balance and Still be a Bad Ass. Sweat Included.

Being a bad ass is someone who doesn’t necessarily have their shit together, but can find a balance that works for them. What works for me may not work for you. I like a little sweat in my morning coffee, or I should probably say afternoon coffee. I love to go to the gym and “throw some weights around” just because I can. Also, because I’m a girl and I like it when I can walk over to a squat rack and squat the same weight as a man. Shhhh…I probably shouldn’t admit that it’s a teenager in most cases, but hey nonetheless, I’m getting it done. Cardio? I hate it. But I do it because without it; I lack balance.

Sometimes, I even feel invincible in the gym. I feel, well, simply put, like a bad ass. And I’m dripping in sweat. Oh, and I don’t care what in the hell I look like either.

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When you set out to lose weight, it’s either for aesthetic reasons, or you do it because you want to feel better; feel healthier. Most conversations about losing weight have to do with “skinny”. People know they just want to get skinny. I often was told, “I was lucky to be so skinny” there are even websites, hashtags that cater to “skinny” people. In a person’s mind, it’s simple, to be skinny is to be healthy and to carry a bit more weight is to be unhealthy.  That’s not coming from me. That’s coming from what I have read, overheard, and learned over time.

Come on, healthy doesn’t always mean having to be skinny. Being healthy should be more about moderation than appearance. It should mean finding a balance; never overindulging or depriving yourself of what life has to offer.

Once you find a balance, it won’t matter what size you are; you will find comfort that you are giving all of your effort and living life to its fullest.

You are extremely capable of pushing your body to its maximum and even beyond; you just need to gain control of your mind. However, it’s important for you to find what your balance is, and set out to achieve that.

No other person can define your balance.

You will find people out there who are extremely motivated, or you may be sitting here reading this and finding the compulsion to raise your hand slightly and shout eagerly, “That’s me! that’s me!” but it can be unhealthy for anyone to push as far as their mind would allow them to go. That is, if you are not ready.  Be honest with yourself here;  I am. Have you ever seen someone with your height and body frame, and found yourself trying to pinch yourself in an effort to wake up from that horrible “suit” that you feel that you are “wearing”? You tell yourself that you want to look like that? And you will. You can. Just know that it takes time, patience, and besides, I’m a firm believer in the whole “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” and yes,  even if it is tanned, looks good with the lights on, and sets your heart racing. You just really don’t know the fight they had to go through, to get to that point, simply because we don’t always get to see the battle wounds.

It’s pretty unrealistic to push yourself too far, too fast,  just to squeeze yourself into someone else’s ideal “picture frame.” You’re unique. After all, you’re you. Hey, I was told that 2 days ago by a very special friend of mine. She said, “Megan, you’re unique, you are one of a kind, and you have to know that there’s a special place for you in this world.” And I believed her. But if you’re not ready, if you don’t allow yourself to warm up, too fast, too soon, turns a burning flame into well, smoke. As the body needs to warm up before you engage in exercise, the mind also has to go through a warm up. It’s not a life or death situation to “be skinny” it is, however, a life or death situation to “be healthy”.

Don’t throw yourself onto a bed of hot coals just because the fire went out.  Start out with the goal to engage in something that encourages healthy behavior and build from that. Don’t go from eating 2500 per day calories to eating 1000 calories per day. That is just going from one extreme to another. That is just your mind challenging you, mocking you, and antagonizing you. Don’t let it. Find a balance to gain control over your own mind.

I strive to find balance every single day. Literally…

Because I suffer from panic and anxiety, in order to control that aspect of my life, I have latched onto the desire to achieve a particular level of being fit and lean. Ripped. Shredded. I strive to be that. I go through periods where I eat a lot to gain muscle and then I burn the fat. It’s a process and it takes time. I also have a lot of control when it comes to my diet simply because it provides me with a balance. As I feel out of control because of the anxiety and panic, I make up for it by sticking to a healthy diet and exercise. It makes me happy. It makes me feel bad ass. But more importantly, above all, it provides me with a sense of balance. Me. No one else. Just me.

I don’t care if my chicken is cold. I don’t have a breakfast, lunch or dinner. I have meals. When someone asks me, what are you eating for dinner. I look at them with a blank stare. Dinner? That seems so long ago. Ancient. Like the term dinner has lost it’s meaning. Yes. Among all of the frozen prepackaged foods in every grocery store across the world.

No I eat. I eat ALL DAY LONG. It’s not ideal for everyone. It works for me. Right now anyway. Does that mean if Suzy doesn’t follow the same schedule, that if she is the one who is asking me about dinner, that she won’t see results? Not at all. Not at all.

I eat cold chicken for breakfast, and I find it amusing when I break out my little sandwich bag of chicken at a wedding, a birthday party, or over dinner with a friend. I find it weird that I crave cottage cheese and oatmeal with a touch of almond butter. I often feel like a drug addict who is trying to hide their addiction, but need a fix and they will make it happen. Yeah. So for me though.  If it’s time to eat; I’m going to make it happen.

Besides, we were born this way anyway. We ate every 2-3 hours when we were babies. Even if you have kids, you know. You know that when a baby is hungry, you better feed that baby. I don’t care if it’s less than 2-3 hours, if the baby is hungry, baby eats; they need that food to grow. So don’t piss the baby off. So yes, I’m like a baby in a way, and I may even cry a little too.
Just being honest.

I do have to check myself every once in awhile and remind myself, that it’s not that serious; I’m not going to break if I eat out with my family. I’m going to be okay if I don’t go to the gym one day. If I skip a workout, my muscles that I’ve worked hard to build aren’t going to disappear over night, or if I log onto Facebook and there’s a set of steel abs across my newsfeed, I didn’t just lose the ultimate opportunity to get a set of those abs because I skipped a workout. I don’t and won’t look like that in one day, regardless if I go to the gym or not. It’s still going to take time. I often get joked with about how many photos I take, oh it’s so funny, but let me tell you, despite what you heard in the past about how the camera makes you look ten pounds heavier, the camera lens is like a trained and skilled eye; it can see a whole hell of a lot more than the naked eye can or is willing to see. So I measure my progress through the photo lens of my Iphone. Nothing special. No top notch photo lens. Lighting makes a difference too. It gives new meaning to “shed some light on the situation” Seriously.

So take it day by day, step by step. Don’t rush into it. Accept the challenge, embrace the journey. It takes time and patience.

Oh and a whole lot of fight with willpower when it comes down to it. You can read about my post as regards to the fight with willpower here: http://wp.me/p3cYS3-1nA  But, before you go, realize  that if you want it; go get it. But only if it’s healthy and done with balance.

And take lots of pictures along the way to document your BAD ASS.

Ouch! My joints hurt!

When it comes to medication or supplements, I’m extremely careful in what I decide to take. I try to rely on the standard symptoms of stress, but add anxiety, hormones or (for men) testosterone to the mix and it becomes extremely difficult to decipher whether it’s all in your head or if it really is physical.  I know I’m not the only one.

Not everyone who is beginning an exercise regime embrace the idea of taking supplements.  With merit, of course, after all, most supplements are not approved by the FDA and have very little information about side effects, interactions with any medications that your doctor may have prescribed, or any real science behind its claims.  For a long time, I was apprehensive about supplements as well. In fact, I’ve always been a bit reluctant to take any medication for a cold or something that could be cured with just time and some rest. I never liked the drowsy induced state or other potential side effects that accompanied most medications.

When I started exercising, like any ‘newbie’,  I just knew I wanted to lose some weight and that was that.  I did some cardio, lifted weights and thought I was making progress.   Fortunately, losing weight and exercising wasn’t the hard part for me; growing up, I was always a replica of a stick figure carelessly drawn on scratch paper.  Unfortunately, however, at the same time, there I was, I had put my time in at the gym, sweated every calorie, every morsel of food that went into my mouth, was doing every exercise I knew, until people were starting to mention how thin I was getting; was I doing it on purpose? Was I sick?  It was then that I knew I had to take a step back and evaluate my nutrition and my time spent in vain at the gym.  I thought I would just eat more and train harder/differently.  However, as my strength increased and my endurance improved, and I started to achieve my goal in adding muscle, my joints from head to toe started to ache.  Frustrated and discouraged; knowing that I had the potential to go further, I knew that I had to give certain supplements a closer look so that I could continue to support the active lifestyle I was quickly immersing myself into. If I just ignored the signs from the stress that I was placing my body under,  I would eventually end up with an injury or the inability to achieve any of my fitness goals.  After some researching, I came across Fish oil and Glucosamine/Chondroitin, and have been taking it for about 3 years now.  It has helped with my training, and I can honestly say that my joints are in a much happier state right now!

I’m not saying supplements are for everyone, I’m just telling you to slowly place your body under the stress you (and your doctor) know that it can handle physically.  Eventually, as you continue to challenge yourself physically, you will eventually find yourself engulfed in a mental warfare. However, you will eventually grow stronger-more mentally than physically- and your mind will try to outdo your body. You’ll start to challenge yourself a little harder, but your body may start to signal that it’s tired or even resist your efforts entirely.  And then there will be that time when you’ll feel let down; hopeless even.  But rather than give up and watch your hard work unravel because you’re mind starts to get the best of you, maybe supplements would be something you might want to consider? Not because you’re too weak or not good enough, but because your body is telling you that it needs support.  Ultimately, your mind won’t give up, unless you first allow your body to.

Listen to your body; it’s your house and you’re in charge!

Calorie Counting

Looking for something to eat for breakfast? Are you concerned with calories? Most people on average consume about 500 calories or more eating the most important meal of the day, and this is just by eating a bowl of cereal ridden sugar, but doesn’t leave you satisfied, which results in eating more and trying to fight off cravings. Most people ‘buy’ into the context of the outside of the box on the front cover, quickly glance at the nutritional list, but very seldom read the actual ingredients list. The truth is; it doesn’t take much to slide by FDA regulations to put a product out into the consumer’s hands by using tricks such as using words that people can relate to, such as ‘heart healthy’, ‘lowers cholesterol’ etc. We make our choices based on branding and marketing rather than the actual truth. How can we not? Most people don’t want to look at the inside of a product much less rather study the contents of  a cereal box. Most people want to purchase what they are accustomed to, a product that has a familiarity to it.

However, Calorie counting, if not done correctly, can lead to a deficiency in essential vitamins and nutrients, which can eventually hinder your overall health.  Avoiding one food and holding onto another in an obsessive manner, or jumping on the next new fad because you heard it would lower your cholesterol or some other promise that sucks you right in, is only a recipe for disaster, because you end up focusing on that one product or trick, that you abruptly eliminate other nutrients, which is a setup for failure because when you lack certain nutrients, your body starts to shut down physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Remember the saying, “it’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what is on the inside that counts” or “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” Those sayings hold true in many arenas, but it most certainly applies to nutrition.  For example, one cereal that is extremely popular, Cheerios, over the years that they expanded their product to include “whole grain” “honey nut” ” peanut butter” and the list goes on..  Also, cheerios is a good example because it is marketed and infamously known for 2 important staples: lowering your cholesterol and heart healthy.

Bottom line, if you count calories, you more than likely are making choices regarding the number of calories while inadvertently ignoring the quality of the food that you are eating. And before you hold up in your hands in protest, I understand that a lot of foods with more nutritional value cost more, but at the same time, you get more in and outside of the box; they leaving you feeling full longer, and preventing you from overeating as well as keeps those cravings at bay. Try substituting at least one product- start with breakfast- that you purchased based on marketability and branding for one that is more nutritious simply because it just is. You’ll be surprised how making subtle changes, you begin to feel and look better. Let me know how you feel in the comments below or find me on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/meganarlenefitness