A Positive Perspective on Competing in the Fitness World

“Seek not to become a person of great success, but rather a person of great value.”Albert Einstein (rephrased)

My journey back to the stage started on a whim when a former eating disorder client of mine from several years ago contacted me with regards to doing a figure competition prep nutrition plan for her. Knowing what I do about eating disorders and competition prep, I was very reluctant to say the least. However, after meeting with her, I could tell she was in a better place, and quite frankly, she was going to pursue competing with or without my help. So I decided I would help her and we developed a game plan.

At that time competing had not been on my radar for several years. I was enjoying life as an intuitive eater, free from food anxiety, and not worrying at all about the scale. I was focusing more on my career and had recently started in a contracted sports nutrition dietitian position for the US Air Force. From a training perspective, I had completed a half marathon a few months earlier and I was still doing some running and getting in some lifting (maybe) a couple days per week, but nothing really focused or consistent.

After meeting with this client I really got to thinking about the feasibility of successfully competing in the physique based sports with a history of eating disorder tendencies. Personally, I was the furthest away from these tendencies that I had ever been in my life. I had a healthy relationship with food and my body, and I genuinely liked it that way. I was in a really good place. And competing again was not in my plans, as I had no intention of messing with that new found perspective. 

But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it could be done- compete, but maintain a healthy perspective toward food and my body. I have to admit, I really missed the challenge of training for something. I’m an athlete at heart and I have been my whole life. And I genuinely love the process of training for competition. But in addition to my mental health, my physical health had also been a concern when it came to competing. I had pushed myself too far in the past- worked through injuries that I never should have worked through, and ultimately destroyed my shoulder to the point where competing in the fitness division is no longer even possible.

And then suddenly I had this bright idea- “But what about Figure?”

Truthfully, the thought of competing in Figure was pretty intimidating to me. I am a FITNESS pro. I turned PRO and excelled in FITNESS because 2/3 of your score is based on your routine and I had some kick ass routines. But I certainly was not known for my physique. So to compete in a division judged solely on physique, against women that had spent years and years perfecting every detail of their physiques— one could see how that might be intimidating.

Regardless, I went online and checked the IFBB schedule and saw that the NY Pro was about 14.5 weeks away. Hmmm… doable…maybe?? Something in me kept saying yes. There was suddenly a strong compelling force within me saying “Yes. You can do this. You need to do this.” I don’t really know why I felt SOOO strongly about it, but I just felt like this is exactly what I was supposed to do.

So I emailed Dan to make sure he would be on board, and of course he was supportive (although I’m sure he also thought I was slightly out of my mind), but once I knew he was ok with it and believed I could pull it off, I literally got right to work. I came up with a plan and started right at 14 weeks out.

Right from the very start my mindset toward competing was completely different than it ever had been before. I was not doing this for a placing. And I was not doing this as a desperate attempt to get lean because I was so uncomfortable with my body (both underlying reasons for competing in the past). I was doing this so that I could go through the process, as someone that had truly developed a healthy relationship with food and my body, as someone that had developed the tools and mental strength to handle disordered eating  thoughts and as someone that was regularly helping other athletes to do the same (but not necessarily within the fitness industry). I wanted to go through this process, knowing what I now knew, and then be able to share the experience with others and hopefully offer some legitimate insight into the experience of competition prep.  

Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear. Despite my positive experience, I would still NOT advise anyone with a history of a diagnosed eating disorder to get into physique based competition. The fact is the eating/exercise behaviors required to get on stage are in some ways like a self-imposed eating disorder. If it’s done with the mindset that it is for a temporary period of time for a temporary look, and with a positive perspective toward one’s body and relationship with food that is maintained at all times- it can be done safely (in my opinion). However someone with a previously diagnosed eating disorder may find it very difficult to view it in this way and stay in this mind frame despite being recovered and old thoughts and behaviors may creep in. And it’s not worth that risk.  

Furthermore, the entire mindset that is portrayed throughout the fitness industry in general also tends to be very  disordered- it can be so triggering to those that are susceptible if not viewed in the right way. There are even a lot of people that enter the fitness industry with a perfectly healthy mindset and leave it with disordered eating tendencies.  I want to be someone that is doing it “the right way” and sending the right message.

So back to my journey-  I honestly had no idea how my body would hold up or how it would respond to literally being thrown into a contest prep nutrition/training regimen, but I was determined to give it a shot. And so I got started. I developed my own nutrition and training plan and started plugging away. I also began journaling- not just keeping track of my nutrition and training but really writing down all of my thoughts and insights and analyzing my successes and struggles- maybe I’ll publish it someday, maybe not. I also started reading more books about how to develop a strong and positive mindset, and applied these principles to my prep on a daily basis.

Several weeks into my prep, from a behavioral perspective, everything was going smoothly. I was on point with my nutrition, I was training hard and sticking to my schedule, and I was maintaining a positive state of mind. Unfortunately, my body was not responding as quickly as I would have hoped. In the past this would have really thrown me into a state of panic and anxiety, however this time around I managed to keep myself calm and focused and I just continued to trust that I was doing the right thing.

At about 6 weeks out I knew I was behind. But I had made so much progress and gained so much insight by that point that I just didn’t want to quit. I just knew that I could get to the stage. I also knew that I was going to have to be a little more extreme with my nutrition and training than I would have liked to be, but it was necessary (TEMPORARY and short term, but necessary) if I wanted to get on stage looking like I belonged there.

I had made the commitment to myself before I started that if I felt like I was jeopardizing my mental or physical health in any way, at any point during the prep, I would stop. But I honestly felt great physically, and my mental game/mindset was stronger than it had ever been. So I made the decision to push through until the end, even if it meant double cardios and very low carbs, as long as I kept that commitment and a positive frame of mind.

Those last 6 weeks were not easy, and to be honest, I was not always perfect. But looking back through my journal there is one key thing that stands out. No matter what happened, I never resorted to negative judgement toward myself. No matter what happened, I was always able to come back to a positive and determined mindset. I was always able to get back to trusting that I was going to pull it off and no matter the outcome I would be proud of myself because I knew I was doing all that I could. I just believed  it was all going to come together at the end. And it did!

This was the most positive prep experience I have ever had. I have truly gained so much insight and confidence from this experience, and I’ve learned so much that I believe can be helpful to others. Here are some of the initial major insights I’d like to share:

1. It was NOT easy. In fact, it was really, really HARD. And I was NOT always perfect. But I never beat myself up for it. I viewed every failure as a chance to learn and improve. I never resorted to judging myself negatively or “hating myself” for any choice or action. I analyzed it and learned from it. This has significantly improved my confidence in my ability to handle obstacles.

2. I never judged myself based on my body. My body was not necessarily responding how I wanted it to but I never let that determine how I felt about myself. I knew I was giving it my all, and I trusted that my body would do what it needed to do. And in the end if it didn’t, I was still going to stand on stage tall and proud because I knew where I started from and the amount of work I was putting in to make it happen. Throughout the prep I continually encouraged myself and made sure I felt proud of what I was achieving, regardless of how I looked. This made a HUGE difference in the experience as a whole.

3. I learned to stop comparing myself to everyone else and to my previous self. This was much more difficult than I had anticipated it being, and I had to be diligent in my efforts to avoid this behavior. But for as difficult as that was, I was never, ever focused on a placing. Getting on stage was my goal. Where I placed was irrelevant. In the end my placing had no impact whatsoever on how I felt about myself, my journey or what I had accomplished (and this is the first time I can say this with 100% honesty).

4. I managed to maintain a healthy relationship with food. No matter how rough the diet got, I always viewed it as a temporary way of eating for a temporary goal. And once that goal was achieved I knew I would resume a healthy, balanced way of eating. Again, I was not perfect and I had my moments. But I was always able to bring myself back to a positive place pretty quickly. I never ever judged myself negatively, or freaked out about, or had a mental meltdown regarding any food choice/behavior that was less than consistent with my goals. I just got right back to a positive place mentally and right back on track to the best of my ability- always with the trust and belief that I was capable of seeing this through (this too is the first time I can say this with 100% honesty).

5. I maintained self-love. This sounds weird, but in the past I used to allow my fear of not being good enough to motivate my actions. I would do things because I felt like I had to, or else I was not good enough. This time around, I always believed I was enough, regardless of how I looked or if I had made a mistake. I always believed in myself, I always treated myself kindly and I never acted out of fear or compensation or punishment. I learned how to handle and overcome my anxiety and keep my mind on what I believed I could achieve, not on the fear of what might happen (again, another first).

In the end, this prep truly strengthened my confidence level in my ability to achieve any goal I set for myself. It improved my ability to handle and overcome obstacle and setbacks. And it strengthened my trust in myself and my body. My mind and self-image are stronger than ever and my healthy relationship with food has remained perfectly intact. Physically, I did not make my shoulder injury any worse (this is a big success as my last fitness prep REALLY added a lot of damage to my shoulder joint).  

Even in this post competition period which, in the past, I’ve REALLY struggled with, I’m finding my confidence in my ability to handle it is stronger than ever. I am two weeks post competition and it’s the best I’ve ever felt mentally and physically after a show. I have yet to experience any signs of a physical or emotional post-competition “rebound.” My body is healthy. My metabolism is healthy. And my mind is healthy. I am healthy. And I’m continuing to move forward in a positive way by setting new goals for myself.

So what is the next step for me? Do I plan on competing again? Absolutely…just not right away. I had to put my body through a lot for the final few weeks of this past prep and I don’t believe it’s healthy to compete multiple times in a row under those circumstances. Additionally, I want to focus more on other aspects of my life. A contest prep requires so much time and dedication, and most of your energy gets devoted to preparing to get on stage- other things tend to take a back seat. And this is ok, temporarily, because to achieve a great goal you must really put 100% of your energy into it. But I do not want my life to be that way year round. My goal is not necessarily to win a show or to compete at the Olympia (I’ve already been there, done that). My goal is to have a complete, well rounded and fulfilling life. Competing can be part of that life but it is not my whole life. For now I’d like to put a little more energy into building my professional career and sharing with others all that I’ve gained through this experience. I will compete again when the time is right, but in the meantime I’m going to try to build bigger shoulders and a bigger butt, spend a lot of time enjoying the summer with Dan and my family, and focus on helping others to achieve their nutrition and fitness goals.

 

Advertisements

I Am Not My Body

I am currently in the process of training for a competition in which I will be judged solely on what my body looks like. One might think that this means my entire focus right now is centered on my body, and how it looks. But in reality, I am learning more and more as time goes on that even though this process is technically entirely about my body, it is really nothing about my body at all.  

For the first time in my fitness career I am approaching this process from a new perspective. For the first time, I am not doing this for the sake of trying to find happiness in my body- for the belief that a certain look, or being leaner will make me happier and more satisfied. I have already learned that the “look” itself cannot bring true happiness or satisfaction. True satisfaction comes from something so much deeper than an outward appearance. For me, true satisfaction comes from who I am and what I do, not from how I look. Through this process I am getting better at maintaining discipline in tough situations, putting the work in every day, staying positive and persistent, learning how to handle obstacles, and helping others—these are the things that bring me true satisfaction. How my body looks is just an (irrelevant) side effect. 

In this sport, it is always possible to improve. And thus, most of us that compete are never actually 100% satisfied with our bodies from a bodybuilding perspective because there is always something to improve upon. There is no such thing as perfection. But that’s one of the cool things about the sport. There is always the opportunity to get better. But not being satisfied with my body from a bodybuilding perspective is NOT the same thing as not being satisfied with MYSELF. It also does NOT mean that I hate my body, or that I’m even unhappy with it. Wanting to improve can be a process of self-love, of belief in my own power. But deep down I KNOW that my body does not define who I am. I am defined by my character, my actions, my integrity and the way I treat others- none of which has anything to do with how I look.

In the process of training for a bodybuilding-style competition, I think it is extremely important that “person” and “body” remain separate. This can be a very tough thing to do. This is a sport that judges the body, and sometimes it can be very harsh. You must not allow judgement of your body to morph into judgement of who you are. I’ll say it again, YOUR BODY DOES NOT DEFINE WHO YOU ARE. When you allow judgement of your body, from yourself or from others, to influence how you feel about yourself, this is a big problem. And it can lead to the emotional and disordered eating issues that are seen in the fitness/bodybuilding industry.

So how do you avoid this?

First recognize WHY you want to compete, and be honest with yourself. This sport is not only physically grueling, but mentally and emotionally as well. Before jumping in, you must have a clear sense of who you are and have some sense of satisfaction with that person, regardless of what your body looks like. Understand why you want to compete and be realistic in your expectations.

Maintain a clear sense of who you are outside of the sport. Seek satisfaction in things that have nothing to do with your body- work, church, family, other hobbies, etc. Work to maintain the positive and important things in your life (outside of bodybuilding) and do not lose sight of them for the sake of changing your body. Stay involved in and aware of the bigger picture. This is so important because too often a competition prep can become an all-consuming black hole that can negatively affect relationships, finances, work and even your own physical and mental health. Keeping a clear sense of who you are and what is important to you in the bigger picture can help you avoid falling down this hole. Trust me, it is not a path you want to take.

Continue to help others in whatever way you can. This is one of the most satisfying things you can do.

Focus on process driven goals rather than outcome goals or physical changes. This is an extremely important key to maintaining your “person” satisfaction. Currently, my process goals focus more on my mental game and I have found this to be VERY helpful. For example, some process goals that I’ve been working on are- improving my ability to handle unexpected obstacles that used to throw me off track; staying relentless with my positive mindset and reframing negative thoughts; maintaining the “self-love” concept of discipline (as opposed to punishment/fear) and putting in the work every day, even when I don’t necessarily feel like it (and then mentally building myself up in a positive way for doing this); and replacing thoughts of self-doubt with ones of confidence and faith in my abilities. Focusing on these goals helps take the focus away from my body and allows me to feel successful even if my body does not look quite how I want it to. Process goals are always possible to achieve, outcome/results/body driven goals are not. It’s important to understand that concept.

Practice self-care and keep your focus on daily behaviors. Are you doing the things you need to do on a daily basis? If so, then give yourself credit for those accomplishments, regardless of how your body looks.  

Recognize if you are improving or if you are self-destructing. Are you getting stronger mentally or are you breaking down? If you find that things are turning negative, it may be because you are no longer separating how you judge your body from how you judge yourself. If that’s the case, take a step back and re-evaluate your approach. Remember, even in a sport where your body is being judged, YOUR BODY DOES NOT DEFINE YOU. Be proud of yourself for who you are and for what you are able to do, regardless of what your body looks like. Never lose sight of YOU the person. You are so much more than your body. 

 

The Comparison Game

OK, some Real Talk here…This past weekend I found myself checking up on all the social media accounts of the women competing at the Governor’s Cup out in Cali, as I was following the results of the show. All I kept finding myself thinking was “holy smokes, these women look amazing, there is no way I can compete with that.”

STOP RIGHT THERE.

Yes, that’s right- my personal mantra from the very start of this journey has been that I am doing this show FOR ME (my own self-improvement), not for anyone else and certainly not for a placing. And yet I still found myself falling victim to the dreaded but all too common social media comparison game.  

Here’s some advice. DON’T DO THAT.  

First of all, we must realize that the beauty of social media is that it lets us paint whatever picture we want. It lets us show only what we decide to show. And so our “followers” can never truly know if they are seeing the whole picture. This is fine. But with that, we “followers” must take ownership and realize this fact and therefore try not to put too much stock into what we see on social media.  

Social media, fitness personalities, IFBB pros- it can all certainly be very inspiring. There are people out there who are absolutely AMAZING (like all those women that competed at the Governor’s Cup- huge props ladies- you all killed it!!). But sometimes, without us even realizing it, social media can start becoming a negative mindset trigger—and usually that happens when we start comparing ourselves, our bodies, our own journeys to those of others. This was the case for me this past weekend.

But you know what, I have no business comparing myself to anyone else, and neither do you. Luckily, I am pretty quick to recognize these negative mindset triggers and snap myself out of them. But for those of you out there that may not have the same awareness yet, definitely check in on yourself once in a while as you’re scrolling through social media and ask yourself what emotion is it actually triggering. Are you feeling positively motivated and inspired or are you feeling like you’re not measuring up?

The comparison game can really become a negative mind f*ck if we let it (pardon my language, I don’t typically swear, but it really is the best term to describe what I’m talking about). But the fact is, I am ME and you are YOU. We each have our own unique circumstances with different challenges and obstacles to overcome. What I do should have no bearing on you and vice versa. Regardless of what anyone else out there is doing and regardless of how anyone else out there is looking (at 10 weeks out, 5 weeks out or on stage)- it really has nothing to do with me. It does not change what I need to do on a daily basis to get myself ready for the show. It does not change my reasons for wanting to compete. And it does not make me any less deserving to stand on stage. Because my journey is my own and it is for ME. And I encourage everyone out there to take that same approach. You can only control YOU- your own actions, your own behaviors, your own mindset- and those things have absolutely ZERO to do with what anyone else is doing. So stop comparing yourself to anyone else and start focusing on YOU.

On a personal level, I’m going to take this concept even one step further. Most people involved in bodybuilding style competitions set the goal to become better with each show. And this is a fantastic goal- it’s always best to work on improving yourself as opposed to trying to “beat” others or to win a certain placing. But sometimes even that thought process can be a little detrimental.  I’ve found that every contest prep is different with different challenges and circumstances, so it may not always be fair to even compare yourself to, well, yourself. We always have to take into account our current circumstances. When I had announced that I wanted to compete in figure, I stated that my goal was to beat my 2013 physique. It seemed like a valid and motivating goal at the time, but truthfully, I really didn’t consider my circumstances before making that statement. I have now come to realize that I was in a completely different place in 2013, and so constantly comparing myself now to myself back then has proved to be a bit of a negative mindset trigger as well. In 2013 I had done a strongman show earlier in the year (and placed 2nd and qualified for the nationals!).  I was doing a lot of crossfit and conditioning workouts leading into and throughout my prep, and my shoulders were MUCH more functional than they are now. My ability to train at an exceptionally high level was much better (and I was training for fitness) and thus my training was much different than it can be now (due to my current injury limitations).  

Additionally, my focus has really not been on bodybuilding AT ALL in the past few years. In the last 2-3 years I’ve focused a lot on my career and made some major career shifts.  I’ve also adopted two rescue chihuahuas (my full time fur- babies), and moved in with my boyfriend and taken on the role of weekend stepmom to two young boys. In the gym my focus had been on a balanced approach to exercise that kept my body (and mind) as healthy as possible, and I even trained for and ran in a half marathon this past fall. So no, I have NOT been training for a figure competition this whole time. I literally decided about 8 weeks ago that I wanted to compete again and that was when I started training for it (giving me about 2 weeks to come up with a game plan and 14 weeks for a contest prep). So with all of that being said, how can I truly compare myself now to myself in 2013, or 2011, or 2008 when I stood on the Olympia stage. I am completely different NOW than I was in any of those times, so the comparison is not valid.  

But it doesn’t change my journey. It doesn’t change how hard I am working to be my very best RIGHT NOW in my current circumstances. All I can do is the best I can do RIGHT NOW, with what I’ve got to work with RIGHT NOW. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

So just like I’m telling YOU to stop comparing yourself to others, I am also telling ME to stop comparing myself to others AND to myself in the past. MY current journey is what matters to me (and yours to you). RIGHT NOW is what I need to focus on, not what used to be.  I have no idea exactly how I’ll look the day of the show but I know I will be able to say that I did my very best. And that’s what truly matters. That, and sharing my journey and these types of insights with you guys, in the hopes that it may help you as well.

That little thing called “genetics”

I recently read an article that talked about how people respond differently to different types/amounts of cardio based on genetic factors.  To me this seemed pretty obvious, but I don’t know if the majority of people out there see it that way.  Let me preface all this by saying, the majority of what I’m going to bring up is based mostly on personal experience, discussion with others and observation.  My college degree is in Nutritional Science (which was in fact a “pre-med” major because I used to think I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon), but in pursuing that degree, I took one class in genetics which covered nothing about training/exercise/diet.  So that is the extent of my formal scientific training in genetics. 


Regardless, I’m going to speak my mind on own my understanding of the topic as it may or may not relate to training/nutrition based on MY experience.


Genetics is something a lot of people bring up when it comes to having a certain “look.”  Typically in physique sports the top competitors have “good” genetics, or even what we may consider “exceptional” genetics based on their natural shape/structure.  For women, this may mean naturally wide/capped shoulders, tiny waist, round glutes, etc.   The fact is everyone has a different genetic structure to work with.   Unfortunately, in the physique sports, genetic structure plays a major role.  It’s not to say we have no influence on how we look.  Proper training and nutrition can certainly help to alter one’s physique in dramatic ways.  However, we are ultimately limited by our natural structure.  I think it’s very important to accept this when it comes to developing physique based goals.  Be honest with yourself and be realistic with your own physical capabilities.  We would all love to have “perfect” structure, but it’s really not worth using unhealthy/unsafe practices in an attempt to alter your own genetic structure (i.e. wearing a squeem for hours a day in an attempt to reduce your waist size) for a placing at bodybuilding show.


Another concept involving genetics that I think is often overlooked is how it may impact our nutrition and training.  This is why there is no such thing as a one size fits all training or diet protocol.  I’m going to use my own personal experience here to explain the points I’m trying to make.  I feel like I can use myself as a valid example because I’ve been an athlete for a very long time, I’ve been training for many years, I’ve worked with many different coaches and I have employed many different training and nutrition styles over the years.  In doing so, I’ve really learned exactly how my body will respond to certain things—in essence, I’ve learned my own “genetics” when it comes to training/nutrition.  


I’ve learned that genetically speaking, I build muscle very well.  Additionally, I hold onto muscle very well.  I used to joke that I could eat nothing but iceberg lettuce and my body would still find a way to utilize it.  But what does that mean in terms of training and nutrition.  Well, in terms of getting ready for a fitness competition, it meant I could afford to do a decent amount of cardio without a huge fear of burning muscle.  It also meant that I could be a little stricter with my carb intake and still maintain size.  (And as a quick note, it doesn’t mean that it was ok or ideal for me to be doing zero carbs and 2 hours of cardio for weeks on end- it just meant that I probably could do more than some others and still maintain muscle mass).  There are others out there that lose muscle with just the thought of extra cardio, and thus their training/nutrition should be tailored accordingly


On the topic of cardio (and I’d like to do a full blog one day on this topic as it seems to be one of great debate), I did a contest prep one time which included little to no cardio (at least, it was a significant amount less than my body was used to doing), and I really didn’t have great results with that approach.  In addition to my personal genetic response to cardio I also attribute this to the fact that growing up and through college, I was spending anywhere from 4-8 hours in the gym everyday training for gymnastics.  My theory is- maybe my body just needs a little more because of this (training adaptation).  There are plenty of others out there who can do an entire contest prep and get stage-ready lean with hardly any cardio at all– and honestly, if you can do it that way you should!  But that wasn’t me (and it still isn’t- to this day my body responds very well to certain types/amounts of cardio)


Another example would be my response to strength training.  Like I said, I build muscle very easily.  I know there are some competitors that typically include crossfit workouts (and/or a lot of heavy barbell stuff) while getting ready for a show.  In fact, I know of a fellow fitness competitor that trained for her last show using exclusively crossfit training (in addition to routine work)-and her physique is AMAZING.  However, personally, that approach would never have worked for me.  I did a lot of heavy training and metabolic stuff back in my day, which would have been similar to crossfit as this was before crossfit became mainstream (you can still see the youtube videos of my crazy training here https://www.youtube.com/user/Ergis1999/videos, but the fact is, that type of training was actually detrimental to MY “stage” physique.  It was awesome, I loved it, I got super strong and I had a blast, so I certainly don’t regret any of it, but it definitely did not help me out in terms of my physique round placings.  So why can some people train like that and look amazing, and others maybe not so much- well, for me, I build muscle quickly, I have a very wide and thick back, my traps insert high on my neck (they used to call me Marcus Ruhl when I trained with the guys) and I naturally have a wider waistline with very thick core muscles.  That type of training enhances all of those features– which is the opposite of what I wanted for the physique rounds.  But on a side note, my fitness routine kicked ass when I was training like that because it was the strongest I have ever been (you can see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPRtGeDue2Y if you don’t believe me).


The last show I did back in 2013 was my ultimate physique to date.  The reason why is because I understood my body and I trained very specifically with that understanding in mind.  I used lighter/moderate weights with a VERY (let me repeat VEEEEERRY) strong emphasis on the mind muscle connection and focused VERY hard on feeling exactly what muscle I wanted to be targeting.  I also did a good mix of high intensity cardio, moderate intensity cardio- not a ton of steady state stuff- and metabolic workouts.  My cardio was geared towards preparing me for my fitness routine– I felt like none of it was “wasted” or “mindless” – each cardio workout had a specific purpose.  My nutrition consisted of a moderate amount of healthy carbs, fats and proteins- a very balanced approach- but I ate mostly fresh foods (fruits, vegetables, eggs, sweet potatoes, lean meats, greek yogurt) because these were the foods I responded best to, from both a performance and physique perspective.   I also limited gluten because I generally feel much better when I keep it relatively low in my diet (side bar here, I do not have Celiacs disease and I do not advocate a gluten free diet.  There is nothing inherently wrong with gluten, and I CANand do eat a modest amount of food containing gluten, I just personally feel a million times better when I keep it low—again, learn your body).  


I can honestly say I did NOTHING excessive or extreme for that contest prep.  It was really a matter of using all of the knowledge I had gained along the way, knowing how my body would respond to specific training and nutrition techniques and being smart about what I was doing.  And I was able to present my best physique.  It doesn’t mean that the way I trained is the ONLY way, and it doesn’t mean that the way I prepped will work for everyone.  


The point I’m trying to make here is learn your own “genetics.”  Avoid falling into the trap of following certain protocols just because other people are using them.  Learn what YOU need to do to improve YOURSELF, whether it be performance or physique based, and tailor your approach with that specific goal in mind.  If you work with a coach, make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to your goals and your genetic response (and make sure your program is tailored to YOU).  


Furthermore, be honest with yourself about your own structural and genetic limitations.  We can’t all look like Ms. Figure/Physique/Bikini (or Mr.) Olympia, just like we can’t all perform like Rich Froning or Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (crossfit superstars if you’re not familiar with the names).  I’m not saying don’t try.  It’s not the point I’m trying to make at all.  We truly have the power to accomplish great things when we work hard, believe in ourselves and go after our goals.  However, I AM saying be realistic.  Focus on self improvement in a way that’s healthy and productive, not self destructive.  Not everyone’s “end-all/be-all” is to be a Pro in the physique sports or a crossfit games competitor, and that’s OK.  Try to be the best YOU that you can be.  Learn to listen to your body.  Learn to work WITH your body, not against it. And always keep your health as top priority. Learning your “genetics” is a process, but the outcomes will be well worth it.

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.

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.

“Badass or Bad Idea”

These days it seems everyone wants to be “hardcore.” But in reality, there is a very fine line between dedication and just plain dumb.

Let me preface this by saying that pretty much every mistake I’m about to list- I’ve made. The thing about pros is that we can be very good at only showing what we want people to see. After all, we are pros, we are supposed to be the best of the best and we have an image to uphold. But in turn, we are doing a complete disservice to those people who look to us for inspiration and advice.

What you get to see are the beautiful stage shots and photoshoot shots and contest shape gym selfies that we like to share, but what you don’t get to see through those photos are the actual consequences of what it might have taken to get there. You don’t get to see the permanent injuries, the thyroid damage, the 25lb post contest rebounds, the reproductive issues, the broken relationships and all the other not so nice things that can go along with taking “badass” a little too far.

Since returning to the fitness world last year, I’ve made it a point to maintain perspective and balance in my life, to keep my health and my relationships at the top of my priority list, even while contest prepping. It’s definitely still a work in progress for me, but let me share with you a quick reference list that may help…

>Getting your fasted cardio in at 5am before a long day of work and returning to the gym later to get your weight training in is pretty badass.
>>Spending 4 hours on the stepmill everyday is a bad idea.

>Training when you’re sore, or improving a different lift/body part/area while recovering from/working around an injury is pretty badass.
>>Continuing to train on a known injury to the point where it becomes a lifetime problem is a bad idea (yes, this one I am very guilty of).

>Getting through your very low carb days two weeks out from your show with no deviations to the plan is pretty badass.
>>Spending 12+ weeks eating nothing but tilapia, chicken, eggwhites, broccoli and asparagus is a bad idea.

>Going to a party and opting to avoid the desserts and alcohol while still spending time with friends is pretty badass.
>>Skipping all special/social occasions for an extended period of time because there will be “bad food there” is a bad idea.

>Doing some extra work on the side to make some extra money to put towards competing is pretty badass.
>>Spending your life savings and putting yourself into debt for the sake of competing is a bad idea.

>Completing a 12-16 week contest prep to the absolute best of your ability is pretty badass.
>>Spending 6+ months on a contest diet without giving your body any time to recover, only to rebound 30lbs when you’re finally “off” your diet is a bad idea.

>Going to the gym instead of to the bar on Friday nights is pretty badass.
>>Being a complete bitch because of your workout schedule/diet to the point where none of your friends/family even call you to hang out anymore is a bad idea.

I’m sure the list could go on and on. The point is, there needs to be a distinction between giving your all and being stupid. You can still be hardcore/badass/completely dedicated or whatever you want to call it, while still being SMART. You still need to dedicate yourself to your goals and do what it takes to accomplish them. If you want something, you need to work your ass off and sacrifice and do things that may not be a lot of fun to get there.

I’m NOT saying to slack. I’m NOT saying to take the easy way. I’m NOT saying to give less that 110% every damn day. But what I AM saying is that part of being “badass” and dedicating 100% is also being knowledgeable enough to realize when something you’re doing is just flat out not good for you. If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s the importance of keeping perspective. You always have to keep in mind the things that are most important in this life- spending time with the people you love, maintaining good health, enjoying this short time we have here on the earth—because winning that plastic trophy at your show will not mean anything if you lose all of those other things along the way.
Just something to keep in mind.

Survival of the Fittest: The Last Few Weeks of A Contest Prep

You’re tired. You’re hungry. You’re cranky. You’re not sure how you will make it through your next workout, and then cardio, and then four more weeks of the same. You question whether or not you’ll be ready. You’re checking the roster to see who else is competing, sizing yourself up against them. You check your abs a few times per day to see if hat last bit of fat has finally gone away. And all you can think about is pizza and donuts.

No, you’re not crazy. You’re 4 weeks out.

Even the most well planned, well thought out, sanely executed contest preps can be extremely grueling. Competing in a physique contest is NOT easy. You are pushing your body to a state its not likely comfortable maintaining and this can prove mentally and physically challenging for even the toughest of athletes.

So how do you handle the mental aspect of those last few weeks before a show, without finding yourself elbow deep in a gallon of ice cream?

It’s easy.

Just suck it up buttercup, you’re almost there…

But for real, here are a few pointers that have helped me through those last few tough weeks before a show.

1. Do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed. This is one of the only times I would suggest NOT looking at the big picture. If you overwhelm your thought process with “oh my god, how am I going to do this for another 4 weeks” you will never survive. So break it down into pieces. Take one workout, one cardio, one meal at a time. After all, it really is only one workout, or one cardio, or one meal that you have to get through. It’s nothing more or nothing less. You’ve done it before and you can do it again.

2. Trust the process. Your body will be ready if you just trust the process. You can only do what you can do. Stressing out about how you look or not being ready will only increase cortisol levels, causing you to hold more water and fat. Relax. Take a deep breath. And have faith that your body will do what it needs to do.

3. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Do what YOU are supposed to do. Just because Johnny is cutting sodium and Mary is doing two hours of cardio does not mean that YOU need to be doing that. Do what is best for YOU.

4. On a similar note, stop worrying about who else is going to be at your show. You can only control what YOU bring to the stage. It doesn’t matter if Jay Cutler is going to be in your class. It should not change what YOU put into how you look. So stop worrying about it!

5. Keep your mind busy with things other than contest prep. I know that all you feel like doing is sleeping until it’s the next time to eat again. But staying busy can help distract you from the overwhelming thoughts of “will I be ready in time” and “how will I look.” Find things to do- movies, hang out with friends, read, clean, etc. Time is going to pass regardless, but it’s better spent doing things that help keep you calm, rather than stressing you out.

6. Surround yourself with people that support you. Having a solid support system is key during those last few weeks. The last thing you need is negativity. Stay near people that boost you up and give you the confidence to keep going.

7. And finally, believe that no matter what, it will be worth it. And trust me, it will be. No matter how you look or where you place, you will be so happy that you didn’t give up. You want to be able to say, I gave it my all, I could not have done anything more. It is an experience you will never forget.

So there you have it. I hope you find these tips helpful. Please feel free to comment and share your own “survival of the fittest” tips below!