Monthly Archives: February 2015

Body(building) Dysmorphia

Body Dysmorphia:

“…Involves belief that one’s own appearance is unusually defective

and is worthy of being hidden or fixed.

At the ripe young age of 25 I found myself a new mother. My whole life I had fought to fit into a mold of some kind, whether religious or emotional or relational or physical, and I felt lost. I had wider hips. Boobs. I was “oddly shaped”: small upper body, skinny legs, tired glutes…. and I really did have boobs. Double D’s, at the time (oh the nursing days…). I felt lost. I didn’t know this body. What was this? What should I do with it?

I started counting calories and running with some light weight lifting again, something I hadn’t really done since highschool. I’d been active, but not religious with food concerns.

Around that time I got an iphone. I got Instagram. I searched “fitness”… and I found a bikini competitor. I was hooked. I saw she was a mom… and I was hooked.

5.5 months later I placed top 2 at my first NPC show and qualified for nationals. I’d followed months of rigorous nutrition plans and workouts and starved and depleted myself down appropriately for peak week. I hadn’t ever been so proud of how I looked.

2 weeks later, with poor coaching and no reverse dieting instructions, I was 22 lbs heavier and absolutely miserable.

So began a long cycle this last few years of “bulking” and “cutting”. So began what I am now examining as a probably unhealthy relationship with food and a certainly unhealthy immersion into a culture that perpetuated insecurities and increasingly severe body dysmorphia.

The bodybuilding culture lives, eats, breathes, and thrives on comparisons. How you look LITERALLY determines your value.

While this culture has been easy on some… it is very, very hard on others.

The focus is always on flaws… not progress. If you’re going to stand onstage next to someone who worked harder or has better genetics in their favor, you have to make up for it somehow. To increase your value… you have to look different.

Spend almost 3 years trying very hard to look different, and it becomes incredibly easy to be supremely self-critical. You spend so much time trying to “fix” your body, that you forget how much it’s already changed or what it’s capable of. You begin to view it as a piece of shit failure with a lot of ground to cover to be “the best”, and you become obsessed with your own flaws.

Everyone is constantly trying to fix themselves. Diet changes, workout tweaks, everything – all grounded on becoming “perfect”.

Nutrition is regimented to the gram… to the nut! I remember my boyfriend saying “seriously… what is one extra almond going to do to you babe” as I religiously counted out my 10 almonds one night.

Take these behaviors out of the sport of bodybuilding: self-criticism of an already athletic and healthy physique, supreme obsession with measuring food, high concern about varying even an iota off plan, and severe self-criticism and abasement… and you have what many would call an eating disorder, an exercise disorder, or at the least… body dysmorphia.

In the beginning, bodybuilding was an amazing test of discipline. Over the last 5 preps, it has instead become a painful way to color my view of my own body… a body that is sexy, strong, and very, very healthy.

Today I attended my first Crossfit class at Free Range Crossfit (http://freerangecrossfit.com/). I was super, super nervous. I kept thinking about how my thighs are still carrying fat from my bulk… I don’t have a six pack right now… my shoulders are still so small. I was worried about skipping a lift day and my body… digressing?

Instead, I had an absolute. Fucking. Blast. By the end, my shirt was off. I wasn’t thinking about extra bodyfat. No one was looking at or critiquing me. I rowed my damn heart out, and I buddy-carried a 150 lb dude back and forth in a parking lot multiple times. I heard “awesome job”, “one more”, “wow, your lungs are strong, dude!” and much more encouragement. Post-WOD, I’m incredibly sore and exhausted, but I didn’t come away and look at the mirror to see if my quads were tapering… or waist was smaller… or triceps more pronounced. I felt strong, powerful, beautiful, and capable.

When I got home, I ate a damn brown rice wrap with turkey and mustard and spinach – at a meal where I normally don’t get carbs. Later, I had egg whites instead of tuna. I had ketchup with it, too. Am I going off-grid, crazy, wild, treating my body like crap? No. But I’m letting go of the obsession.

I’m still meal planning. Still cutting. Still focused on what I need to do to progress. But I’m done hiding things, fixing them… viewing them as defective. I’m done buying into body dysmorphia disguised as a passion for progress.

I applaud everyone still in the industry who finds a balance, who feels great about themselves at every stage. But for me, every day is a greater confirmation that leaving competing was a good thing.I want to grow into a healthier mindset… a greater belief in my own power and less self-criticism. I want to stop worrying about an extra almond or a substitution. I want to change how I see myself. I want to give up the habit of critiquing every flaw. I want to move forward out of a very body dysmorphic culture, and into one that focuses on long-term good and uplifts and encourages me to be and do my very best.

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When to Move On… When it’s Not Giving Up.

I was in an odd frame of mind writing yesterday’s post, fighting with myself to remind myself why I compete, why I’ve been pushing into a new federation with WBFF, why I love it all enough to stick with it.

After a good night’s sleep and a few emails, I’ve come to the wearied conclusion that I’m simply done with it all.

As melodramatic and pained as that sounds, it’s really a relief.

This last 2.5 years of competing has taught me a ton about health, nutrition, exercise science… much, much more than I learned through my certifications with NASM and NCCPT. It’s taught me discipline, drive, and it’s taught me to care about what I put into my body.

Competing in bodybuilding has pushed my limits, and it’s taught me that I can surpass them. It’s taught me that my body is really capable of anything if I work hard enough, long enough, consistently enough.

Competing in bodybuilding has led me to some amazing friendships, relationships, opportunities as an athlete – widened horizons, new goals, new ways of moving and learning and growing. Competing has enlarged the world of fitness for me in some really, really cool ways.

At the same time, competing has taught me that people will do almost anything for fame, recognition, a leg up, perks, an incentive or an edge on someone else. It’s taught me that the bigger an industry gets, the more it grows in popularity, the more political it becomes. The more it’s about who you know, who they know, what you can pay, what shortcuts you’ll take.

Competing has bitterly introduced me to a darker side of humanity I didn’t run into as your average trainer in a gym. A world where people will backstab, gossip, and hurt. Where they will outright lie to preserve face. A world where jealousy, pettiness, anger, and selfish disdain for the feelings of others run rampant like weeds.

There are good things about this industry, and there are bad. Few people who stay in it long-term seem to keep their integrity, and the few who have are running against the odds, and I commend them.

In the past two years I’ve had several instances where I had to challenge what was “politically smart” on my part with my own sense of integrity, empathy, justice, and a strong desire to always stand up for those who won’t stand up for themselves. Every time, it’s gotten me “in trouble”, but every time, in a painful sense, it was worth it. Because I could never live with myself knowing I hadn’t spoken up.

“All that is necessary for evil men to triumph in this world… is for enough good men (and women) to do nothing.”

I refuse to do nothing, I will always do something. No matter the cost, I will always stand up for people  who are being mistreated, misused, hurt, abandoned, or put down. And that’s something about myself that may have slowly edged me out of this industry.

I’ve accomplished a lot, in a short time, for a young mom. I placed 3rd and 2nd in my first two shows, qualifying for nationals, and I worked really hard for and with each coach I’ve had the privilege of learning from. I’ve learned something from each of them, both positive and negative. I’ve come a long way from a skinny-obsessed distance runner counting every calorie with no knowledge of balance or muscle development, and I’m proud to be a constantly developing trainer today. I’m grateful for all the industry has taught me, both hard lessons and happy triumphs.

At this time, I feel I’ve learned what I can without buying into politics and increasing hurt at the hands of people who will sacrifice their integrity for recognition or ego. It’s time to move on, and I’m learning to be okay with that.

I’ve been a distance runner, triathlete, yogi, trainer, bodybuilder, group ex instructor, spin-ner and more. I’m ready to move on. Making the next 11 weeks my carved-out time for cutting bodyfat and then working on maintaining, with balance, and building muscle, slowly and in a healthy way. At the same time, purposing to try new things, like more boxing classes and (GASP!) Crossfit, to stay rounded and challenge myself.

There are no dead-ends in life unless you make them dead-ends. There are only stepping stones into your future.

I am not giving up, I am moving on.

And I’m okay with that.

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Why Competing Can Drive You… or Drive You Crazy

If you polled the average competitor from 18-35 I think you would get a variety of reasons for competing. Some would say it keeps them in shape, some want to see what they’re capable of. Some want to prove others right (or wrong), some want their “body back” after a baby. Some want to live up to the legends, see if they can beat them. Some want it for pure attention, and some want it because they know that it opens doors.

People compete for many different reasons, but at the end of the day, every person will be broken down and built back up by their journey.

I’ve seen relationships broken down and rebuilt. Broken down and abandoned. I’ve seen people cry backstage, post-stage, onstage. I’ve seen girls who got up there and were completely mortified to realize they weren’t ready, men who thought they looked good compared to their buddies, and realized how “small” they were when they lined up with the best of the best.

In the two short years I’ve been in this sport, my whole perspective on fitness has changed. In a way, it has become an obsession, and it’s something I have to watch closely.

The problem is, competing can drive you… or it can drive you crazy.

If you let it, if you control it, it can be an incredible motivator. It can give you discipline, self-control, focus in areas of your life that are outside of simple gym time. It can teach you a lot about your body, science, muscles, nutrition, fuel, metabolism. You can learn a lot.

After the shock of your first show, you will realize that the competition can be stiff, and it only gets harder the further you go. You will realize that you’re both capable of and far from your own high potential.

Competing can drive you to be your personal best, it can open new doors for you and inspire others. It can cut your carbs so low you cry, and push your endorphins so high you feel like you’re flying. I can break you, build you, mend you, make you.

All of the shit from your past life comes out in prep. All of the negative bull shit from your ex, your dad. The culture you grew up in, your self-doubt. All of that shit surfaces when you’re running on empty and have a long way to go. When you’re dehydrated, burnt out, and questioning yourself, you discover (or don’t) a lot more mental stamina than you ever though you would have. Competing can drive you to your best self- emotionally, mentally, physically.

Or, it can drive you crazy.

You will never compare yourself so much to others as you do as a competitor. No matter how far you go, someone has gone further. They’ve worked harder, eaten better, been in the sport longer. No matter how hard you push, someone has better genetics, better coaching, more time on their hands more rest, or drugs to give them a leg up.

You will feel your best, and you will look at your competitors, and you will wonder if you are good enough.

The further you go, the more you are exposed to the industry as a whole, the more you will deal with both the idolatry of the masses and the hatred and derision of the few. The larger the audience, the larger the negativity. The more you will learn that everyone is not your champion, everyone is not your friend. You will learn that the industry is harsh on the smallest of flaws. If you don’t watch out, that comparison, that negativity, that harshness, can control your life.

Religious adherence to meal plans can become an obsession with perfection in every gram. It’s own eating disorder. You may never view food the same as you learn about macronutrients, as you see what the slightest alterations in nutrition can do to your body.

The gym is your friend, and your enemy. You may wonder if one more rep, one more set, 20 more minutes of cardio … if that’s what your competitors are doing.

You will look in the mirror your first show, and you will see the best body of your life… and you will compete, and you may learn to look at the same body as flawed, imperfect, not good enough. You may begin to view yourself as an imperfect sculpture, something you want to break down, constantly, and rebuild, to be just right.

If you are not careful, competing will drive you crazy. It will take the joy out of your workouts and the fun out of food. If you are not careful, your world can become very, very small, and your self-esteem increasingly smaller.

If you are not careful, this industry, competing at large – can break you down into a self-absorbed, self-centered, miserably self-aware, imperfect, flawed, broken person fighting to be in someone else’s body. Fighting for a title or an opinion or approval of everyone. If you are not careful, competing can change your life… for the worse.

But.

IF you choose to look back and remember, if you realize that every single person out there competing is just as self-critical, just as flawed, just as individual, just as unique… if you realize that food is also for enjoyment, and indulge in moderation out of prep… if you recognize that you will compete for a time span but live for a lifetime, you will find joy in beating your best self. You will thrive on a curiosity for the unknown potential of your own physique… you will engage in every moment of competition prep and stage time with a zest for knowing you’ve achieved a discipline and drive many can only dream of. You will find joy in empowering other people to fight for their best self. You will compare yourself to no one but the old you. You will learn that everything has a time and a place, and you will refuse the negativity of others in a quest to find your own self-assurance.

If you control it as you grow as a competitor, you can stay sane in a crazy, perfection-obsessed industry. You can continually one-up your last best time, your last highest weight, your last rep count, your last push. You can expand your world instead of shrinking it as your digital presence grows. You can remember that you’re comparing on a different scale, and lose the burden to constantly fight to be anyone else.

You can look at your own weaknesses, and see them as a project. You can find a way to both accept yourself fully and yet never become static in your journey.

If you choose to take the wheel, you can drive your competing, as well as let it drive you, and it won’t drive you crazy.

You choose.

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