They say “Love your body.” But what if you don’t (yet)?

Despite an overly vain fitness industry, we are starting to see a small subset of voices like my own spreading the positive message of “love your body” no matter your shape or size.  It’s a great message with great intentions.  But what if you don’t (love your body)? Unfortunately for people with body image issues (which is many of us), it’s not something we can just “do.”  If it were that easy, we wouldn’t have these issues to begin with.  So the question is, how do you go about learning to love your body for what it is?

Some of you might be thinking “well, it’s pretty easy for someone with six pack abs, perfectly sculpted shoulders, arms, legs and glutes- features which most “fitness icons” portray- to be promoting this message, of course they love their bodies!” Perhaps, but believe it or not even those “perfect bodies” have many of the same insecurities we all experience. But regardless, what about the rest of us?  

Let me first tell you where I’m coming from so you can understand why I’m using the phrase “the rest of us” (because yes, I’m including myself).

I am a “pro fitness competitor” (albeit retired– for now) but realistically, I have been single digit body fat percentage lean.  I’ve been one of those “fitness icons” (so to speak). 

But right now I’m about 150lbs at 5’5 (I don’t actually weigh myself so I’m not sure of the exact number, but it’s around there).  My contest weight was about 130lbs (plus or minus water)- so I’m a good 20lbs heavier. My waist is probably about 28-29 inches.  I have far from what would be considered the ideal female hour glass shape.  In fact, I think my hips and waist are about the same, measured straight across.  I naturally carry my fat in my midsection, contributing to my “larger (by fitness industry standards) waistline,” and I’ll only ever have abs if I’m in contest shape.  I am FAR from “fitness icon perfect.” But you know what, that’s OK.  I’m not trying to be perfect. Because I’m happy with myself.  And regardless of any changes to my body in the future- leaner, heavier, whatever- I’ll still feel the same way.

 It hasn’t always been that way and in fact, it took me a very long time to get here.  But I believe it’s possible for everyone to come to a sense of peace with the body they are blessed with.

So how did I get here? What do you do if you know you want to get healthy and you know it’s time to start treating your body right, but you still struggle with body image? Can you improve your health and even your overall body composition (if you wanted to) all while still learning to fully embrace and love the body you have?

The answer is yes.

But it’s not as easy as so many people make it sound.  It’s a process. It takes a lot of hard work and consistency to CHANGE YOUR THINKING. But the end result is more powerful than any diet or workout you’ll ever do.

Here are some strategies that can help.

First things first, come to grips with the fact that NO ONE IS “PERFECT.”  You are not perfect, you will never be perfect, because we are not meant to be perfect.  In fact there’s no such thing as “perfect.”  That’s what makes each of us beautiful and unique.  Focus your mind on learning to love yourself for the person you are and what you can do.  Your worth DOES NOT come from what your body looks like. Period. End of story.  

Ok so now that we got that cleared up, here are a few more tips to keep in mind-

1.  When it comes to workouts, focus on function rather than a specific look.  It’s an unfortunate fact that, no matter how much work we put in, many of us just don’t have the genetics for that “ideal” physique.  So stop killing yourself trying to attain it, and stop beating yourself up for not looking like someone whose entire livelihood is devoted to his/her physique. 

Instead, focus on the amazing things your body is capable of.  Set performance and strength goals rather than “looks” goals.  Embrace how awesome it is to be able to lift more weight, or run faster, or master a new yoga pose.  And give yourself credit for making progress in these areas, regardless of what the scale or tape measure says.

2.  As I alluded to above, stop comparing yourself to the fitness icons.  Understand that for the majority of these people, their body is their livelihood.  Many are personal trainers or fitness models and their businesses are built based on their bodies.  Not to mention, they are able to spend a lot more time in the gym than most of us with jobs outside of the fitness industry.  I know I can speak for myself when I say competing got a whole lot harder after I finished school and jumped into a job that had nothing to do with fitness.  And this is not to say there is anything wrong with the fitness icons working in the business.  All I’m saying is FOCUS ON YOU, and what’s realistic for YOU to accomplish, within the realm of your own time constraints and personal responsibilities. 

3.  When it comes to nutrition, focus on health, not weight loss.  Shift your mindset toward eating healthy foods for the benefits they bring to your body, not for the amount of fat they may or may not help you lose.  Work on eating a variety of fresh foods and a balance of all the nutrients.  Treat your body well by fueling it with as much good stuff as you can.

4.  Try using positive affirmations to reinforce your belief in yourself.  Positive affirmations are simple phrases you can repeat over and over to yourself, that help you to “convince” your mind of what you want it to believe.  Try not to use any negative words.  For example, instead of saying “I will NOT say negative things about myself,” try saying “I WILL only speak of myself in a positive manner.” By using positive affirmations everyday you can help increase positive self image, even if you didn’t believe it at first (“fake it til you make it”). And you can google “positive affirmations” and find tons of examples.

5. Believe in your ability to make positive changes, even if they are small, and give yourself credit for any step in the right direction, no matter how large or small.  Focus on behavioral changes, not measured “number” outcomes (ie your weight).  The more capable and successful you feel in your ability to make positive changes, the better you will begin to feel about your own body.

6. Focus on other fulfilling aspects of your life that have nothing to do with how you look.  Friends, family, church, work, other hobbies, volunteering, teaching– find the bigger purpose in your life.  Because the truth is there is SO MUCH MORE to life than what your body looks like. And if your biggest focus in life is how your body looks, you’re truly missing out on all the joys life has to offer.

This totally sounds cliche, but remember, this is the only body you get.  You are unique.  You cannot have anyone else’s body, and no one else can have yours.  Do your best to treat your body with kindness and respect.  Be grateful for the body you have and what it can do .  Believe in yourself, stay positive and consistent, and follow the tips above, and you will be on your way to a better body image and a happier outlook, no matter your size or shape.

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Stay True to Your Beliefs- Why I Decided to Drop Out of the 1stPhorm Athlete Search

I haven’t been posting as much on social media lately, and there’s a few reasons for that, but the major one is that I’m coming to realize that the message I’ve been sending out is not quite the one I’m intending to promote. Let me preface this by saying that I have no issue with 1stphorm or their contest. As a brand and as a movement they have inspired and motivated hundreds of thousands of people and I support that. My issue lies within myself. In trying to promote myself to win a contest, I’ve lost sight of what I truly believe in and what truly matters to me. In aligning my message with what I thought would win, I’ve lost sight of promoting MY true message, the one that comes from my heart.

Do I believe in hard work, of course. Do I believe in giving it your all, absolutely. Do I believe in accomplishing your goal at all costs regardless of the toll it takes on your body, mind and life as a whole? No. And honestly I think a lot of the fitness industry via social media has been promoting that mentality- obsession.

Being obsessed with eating healthy and working out, at the expense of everything else in your life, is not in fact “healthy.” Being obsessed with how you look is not healthy. Being obsessed with doing “whatever it takes” and going to extremes to be “great” or to look a certain way is not healthy.

Obsession is not healthy.

But unfortunately, in my opinion, the majority of the fitness industry is promoting a message of obsession with diet and training, of extremes, of doing whatever it takes or else you’re a failure. And I no longer want to be a part of that message.

I used to be one of those fitness obsessed people. Quite frankly, I probably worked harder and more intensely at it than the majority of people out there. I turned pro in my second show, I competed at the Olympia in my first year as a pro. I was invited to compete in two Arnold Classic Fitness Internationals, I was sponsored by a major supplement company. I was ambitious, I did whatever it took, I was dedicated, disciplined, obsessed. I worked harder than most could dream of and I wasn’t going to stop until I was THE BEST. And you know what, I was absolutely miserable. It was NOT, in any way, shape or form, a healthy way to live. It did not create a healthy body or a healthy mindset. It gave me an outlet to channel my poor body image and to trick my mind into believing that I was successful because I was working hard and being 100% disciplined and pushing myself through no matter what. In reality, I was incredibly unhealthy both mentally and physically. I developed an injury that pretty much put an end to my career. I developed reproductive and thyroid issues. I isolated myself from family and friends. And I developed a severely distorted view of my body which lead to severely distorted eating habits.

When I returned to the stage in 2013 I vowed to do it the right way. With balance. With self confidence. With love and respect for my body and mind. Both on and off season. And I also vowed that this was the message I would promote to those that looked up to me. And I think in participating in this contest, I’ve lost sight of that a little bit.

The fact is, I whole heartedly believe that you can achieve great things in your life without becoming “obsessed.” I know because I’ve done it- I’ve done it both ways. Letting something consume your whole life is not healthy. As someone who’s “been there, done that” with that mentality, I just cannot go on promoting it, knowing all the damage it can cause and knowing that it’s just not necessary.

The images we see on social media are not real life. Realistically, the majority of these insta famous fitness icons are not the true picture of what is healthy. I certainly wasn’t. Although I was damn good at making everyone think I was.

In fact, by “fitness industry standards” right now I’m considered FAT. By fitness industry standards right now I’m “out of shape.”

The truth is, I’m not fat and I’m not out of shape. I’m far from it. I’m focusing on other things in my life and not spending as much time in the gym or “food prepping,” and you know what? That’s OK. I’m OK with it. But 5 years ago, back when I was “great,” I wouldn’t have been caught dead posting pictures at my current weight. I would have been terrified of what people thought. It’s really an absurd concept if you think about. WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE IS THIS PROMOTING?? I’ll tell you what message it’s sending- an unrealistic one that promotes poor body image. And it’s no better than the photo shopped “too skinny” cover models that everyone gets all up in arms about.

I believe people should work hard toward their goals, believe in themselves and give their all. But I cannot support this “get it done at all costs” philosophy because I just don’t believe in it. I lived it. And it damn near ruined my life. And I’ve since changed my approach, and done things the healthy, balanced, non-obsessed way- successfully.

I workout because I love my body. I eat healthy because I want to nourish my body not because I think I need to change it. I compete to see what my body and mind are capable of, not because I dislike how I look and I feel like I need to get in shape.

It took me a really long time to come to that realization. It took me a really long time to accept my body, my structure, my flaws. It took me a really long time to be proud of what my body is capable of and not just obsessed with how it looks. And it took me a really long time to realize that doing whatever it takes to be “great” is a good way to ruin my health and my happiness.

I want to promote a message of self confidence. A message of respect for your body, mind and soul. A message of kindness toward yourself. I’d like to inspire others to be well rounded, to be real, to be grounded, to encourage others. ENJOY YOUR LIFE. Be motivated, be dedicated, but never lose sight of the big picture. Stop trying to live up to the insta famous fitness model. That’s not real life. That’s not YOUR life.

Workout because you love your body. Eat well because you love your body. And always remember that you do not have to go to unhealthy extremes to accomplish what you want.

I don’t know what the future holds for me but I do know that moving forward, my message will be more clear. I don’t want people to look up to me because of how I used to look and what I’ve accomplished in the past, because the mindset and methods used to get there were far from healthy. I want to inspire people to do things the right way, respect their bodies, maintain a healthy mind and spirit, maintain balance, recognize obsession, BE HEALTHY! Personally, I want to be fit, healthy, HAPPY…
And should I ever be blessed with the opportunity to compete again, I am certain that I will be successful doing it my way.

Be inspired by actions, not looks

This may come across as a bit of a rant, but a humbling encounter with an exceptionally memorable patient in the hospital today got me to thinking about some things…

The nature of the fitness industry lends itself to a strong focus on “look.” Thousands of “fitspo” pictures of shredded abs and arms and glutes are posted daily as “inspiration.”

But really, what is so inspiring about these things? Honestly, nothing. That’s not inspiration. Inspiration comes from people’s’ actions, their character, their message. What is that person doing or overcoming every day to get those abs? What is that person doing to make themselves a BETTER PERSON?

Personally, I am more inspired by the patient I see in the hospital bed dealing with a terrible situation who has a better outlook on life than 99% of the people I encounter on a daily basis (myself included). What would your outlook be like in a situation like that? Because let’s be honest, most of us would have a hard time seeing the bright side.

I’m inspired by the obese person that finds the courage to go to the gym, despite being uncomfortable, despite the looks they get from the “fitspo” crowd. The person that loses 100+ pounds through hard work and dedication and probably more struggle than we can ever imagine but will never have those “fitspo” abs.

I’m inspired by people who genuinely help others; people who set a good example; people with morals; people that care about more in life than how they look; people that don’t quit despite the fact that the odds are stacked against them — IN LIFE. Not just in the gym or during contest prep.

So start looking a little deeper at your sources of inspiration. Be inspired by people’s actions, by their message. Not by how they look.

And if you’re biggest struggle is that you’re feeling “fluffy” in your morning ab selfie because of the cheeseburger you ate last night, I’m sorry, you are not an inspiration.

Stop chasing a placing. Seriously.

I have to admit, I cringe a little every time I hear someone say “My goal is a pro card. I will do whatever it takes to get it.”

As someone whose said those very words, which then turned into “My goal is the Olympia…” and then “My goal is top 5 at the Olympia…” –let me tell you that all that mindset got for me was injuries, frustration, anger, depression and terrible self esteem. I was chasing a placing; letting competition results dictate how I felt about myself. And in doing so I lost sight of who I was and what it meant for me to compete.

If you are training/competing solely for a placing, you are going to be disappointed. There are so many factors outside of your control that come into play in physique type competition, that in actuality, you have no control over where you place at all.

Let’s face it. In sports, just like anything else in life, politics exist, and that’s NEVER GOING TO CHANGE. The sooner you accept that the more sane you will stay. To make things worse, physique type competitions are SUBJECTIVE. They are judged by other peoples’ OPINIONS. And then there is that whole factor that you cannot control who else shows up (sometimes more politics here) but realistically, you may be at your absolute best, but the person standing next to you may still be better. Should that diminish the fact that you are at your all time best, and you did everything you could possibly do to get to that point?

Physique type competitions can be absolutely brutal on confidence and self esteem if your concept of success/failure is based on where you place.

Everyone wants to win. Not everyone will. #fact. It’s ok to want to win. I mean, why compete if you don’t want to win. But at the same time, how you feel about yourself and what you’ve accomplished cannot solely be based on winning.

My advice is to focus on YOU. Accept going into the show (and I mean really, truly accept) that your placing is beyond your control. Focus on the factors YOU control. Did you give 100% to your diet and training, did you work as hard as you could, are YOU happy with how you look. If you can answer yes to all of these questions then you are successful, regardless of where you place.

For the first time in my competitive career, I can honestly say that I couldn’t care less where I place in Phoenix. Of course I want to win and I train to win (I’m competitive, I always train to win) but it’s no longer the most important thing to me. I’m not trying to fit in, I’m not trying to impress anyone, and I’m not chasing an Olympia qualification. I’m doing this for ME. I’m doing this because I love it and because I want to and because I CAN. And I hope to inspire others to do the same along the way.

My goal is to be the absolute best version of ME that I can. In all aspects of life. My goal is to work towards improving myself, overcoming obstacles, learning from mistakes and teaching others to do the same.

I am honored to have the ability to compete as an IFBB Pro. But bottom line is- pro status, placings, qualifications- they really don’t mean anything in the big picture. It’s the process and what YOU get out of it that means everything.
Besides, once you turn IFBB pro you have to pay $200-$400 per year just to renew your pro card 😁😁😉

Be you. Do you. Never settle.