The problem with #TransformationTuesday: Why you should stop demonizing your “Before” self

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For some, killer transformation photos are the reason they do this whole fitness thing in the first place.

Scan any #TransformationTuesday hashtag and you’ll see a common theme: Phrases like “I can’t believe I allowed myself to be that big” or “I feel so disgusted looking at the left photo” echo like a comedic soundboard as you scroll through endless left-right comparisons.

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There is undoubtedly a lot of work and dedication that go into any transformation photo – no matter how small the changes are. However, what’s problematic is the self-deprecating talk. This isn’t a contest for how many euphemisms for fat you can string together in a single Instagram caption. Embracing fitness and fitting an active lifestyle into your routine should improve you. Making everything about the tangible results isn’t the point.

For me, fitness quite literally saved my life. I found purpose and found my sport – something my nine year-old wheezing, soccer-playing self wouldn’t have ever dreamt of. In my 20’s and after a bad break up, I found an outlet for my sad energy. Instead of letting inferiority and heartbreak stew and simmer deep inside of me, physically pushing, running, or stomping it out gave me a sense of control over my emotions I didn’t have before. My initial goals were transformational in nature, but today, I am much more appreciative of the confidence and drive fitness and gym-going have given me. It’s a priceless gift that I encourage everyone embarking on a fitness journey to find for themselves – whatever your “fitness” is.

That gift is precisely the reason why you shouldn’t discount that girl/guy on the left. You gave yourself that gift in the moment you decided to make a change. As much as it hurts to look at your left hand-self, that’s still you in that photo. I admire Left-Me for taking the steps (baby-sized and giant) towards where I am today. I went from a predominantly sedentary lifestyle of work, home, study, repeat to fitting in activity where I could, and finally to committing to a sport I love. I admire the strength (both the figurative and literal kind) it took for Before-Me to get where I am today. I respect myself, present and past, for all of the progress and decisions made thus far.

Don’t get hung up on the “I wishes” of life. Many times I have scolded myself for not incorporating working out earlier in my life, but what matters is that I’m here today and thoroughly enjoying my fitness routine. It’s never too late to start something new – whether it’s fitness, a new book, or learning opportunity. Focus on the You that exists, lives, breathes in this moment and not on your unchangeable past.

Why you should ditch your inferiority complex and make the grass greener where you water it

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That guy’s shoulder caps are bigger than my head. 

Look at her! Why can’t I lose these last 10lbs?

I just wish I had her genes (the DNA kind).

If you’ve frequented any gym, chances are these thoughts have trickled into your self-talk regimen. It’s unfortunate, unhealthy, and yet it’s automatic behaviour. Comparative and competitive instincts are just human nature and take a lot of conscious correcting to control.

I started this blog to talk about fitness, but also to remain transparent about my experiences as I take baby steps into the world of powerlifting. A few days ago, I had a meltdown on bench day. Bench press was (or still is?) my best lift, but my numbers aren’t budging. I’ve been stuck at a 110lb bench for a few months now, and I became so frustrated after my third failed attempt the other day that tears began to form. Y’all can bug me about crying at the gym (what a wimp, amirite???). My meet in September is so important to me, and this “off” day became the straw that broke my perfectly arched back. I furiously scrolled through my Instagram feed to find some insight into how I’m failing. Are there cues I’m missing? Is my form off? Am I just not meant for powerlifting? I see all of these incredibly strong women benching 135lbs like it was an empty bar, and the inferiority sets in all over again. I’m not worthy! I wanted to quit.

I am my own worst enemy. I’m finding that as I progress further into training, my mental barriers are the toughest part of lifting. I can have my form and mobility down, but my mind tells me I’ll never hit this personal record squat. It’s something that has been ingrained, rehearsed, and is seemingly impossible to unlearn.

I am by no means free of this self-deprecating monologue, but I’m actively acknowledging it. I’m slowly learning to catch myself at these low points and remember the ONLY comparison I should be making: it’s me vs. me.

Fitness in a digital age

In one of my earlier posts, I talk about fitness as an industry and boy, has the industry changed as technology makes fitness more popular. Instead of just seeing our favourite celebs on the big screen, we can now follow their daily activities with ease. We can see Kim K’s workout selfies on Snapchat, Instagram… I’ve even seen her gym selfies on the national news (um, how is that national news?)  Celebrities reveal their workout secrets and if you’re following Kim’s workout regimen every day (she runs 4 miles a day followed by 1000 jump ropes), you might be strapped for time if you don’t call yourself a seasoned runner.

The reality is that if you’re a single mom with two jobs, it’s no surprise that you can’t achieve a Kardashian body. Kim probably has two chefs, three personal trainers, and a surgeon on-call. Her life is all about looking her best. Your life is about bringing home the bacon for your kids. Actors and sponsored athletes make a living off of their bodies. Their gym sessions can range from 4-6 hours. For all of us common folk, this is outrageously unrealistic.

The other troublesome fact is that images online or in print are manipulated. From the documentary Bigger, Faster, Stronger, here is a clip of some photographers talking about editing:

The “after” image for the supplement absolutely astonished me, because to me, that transformation looks very real. The key takeaway is that what you see isn’t always what you get. Photographers and athletes rely on a bunch of different factors (lighting, blurring, etc) in order to project their ideal body to the digital world.

Having a You vs. You Mentality

Because walking into the gym with blinders on isn’t very productive, here are a few things I try to remember when the self-doubts surface:

1. I’m on a path

This path is no one else’s. It is my own. It is full of individual obstacles and triumphs that are completely unique to me.

2. Everyone has a story

We assume that the girl with the flawless curves at the gym also has a perfect life. This is a fallacy. Great body ≠ Perfect life. 

3. Everyone brings experiences with them

Some people have been lifting since they were adolescents, others have started in their mid 30’s. If you’ve been lifting for a year, you won’t be hitting big lifts like someone who has been lifting for their whole adult life.

4. My body is unique to me

It has its own quirks and while some of these quirks are the opposite of a blessing, they are unique to me and I should honour them.

5. Failure and plateaus are normal

Not every week is going to be stellar. You won’t hit records reliably. Each time you fail you get another opportunity to learn and grow in order to battle your weaknesses.

The next time you get mad that a 13 year-old girl can bench press more than you, try to remember that this is all about being better. Feel the cold steel in your hands and tune out the static telling you you’re not good enough because you are good enough – even better than your were before.

Why fitness competitions shouldn’t measure your success

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A few days ago, I was approached by a stranger in the gym who asked me if I compete. I never thought I’d be at a place physically and mentally to step on stage and strut my goodies in a blingy bikini. I immediately thanked them, because I know the amount of dexterity, commitment, and discipline it takes to train for physique competitions. But then I began thinking: just because I don’t want to compete as a physique model, does that mean I don’t exhibit commitment? Does it make me less of an athlete?

I started my active lifestyle four years ago with the hopes of losing weight. Later on, I wanted milestones. I signed up for my first 5k and trained for it. Next, I signed up for Tough Mudder and found my love of obstacle racing. Commitment to running these events got me off of the couch and into the weight room, but they’re not the sport that’s keeping me going now. I just want to be strong. And although I’m still on the fence about delving into my first powerlifting meet, I love lifting, and I love lifting heavy. Just like I did years ago, signing up for this meet could be the spark I need to train to get stronger.

Clearly, your goals will change. I’m a Zumba class dropout. I’m a cardio bunny turned Iron Lady. I’m Exhibit A of how much your training focus might change throughout your journey. It has taken me years of experimenting to find the right combination of fitness and fun and I’m finally at a place where I can say I’m happy with my training program. I don’t need a competition to validate my success in fitness because knowing how happy I am right now in this moment, is enough validation for me.

If you are thinking about competing, I encourage you to do it because you love the sport. Don’t compete because it seems like the only next step for you. I feel as if fitness – especially around Instagram – has one be-all and end-all goal and that’s becoming an International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) pro. If you have made progress in your own way, believe me when I say that you do NOT need to be an IFBB pro to be an inspiration, nor do you need to be shredded and lean year round to be respected. I think fitness has become so conflated to the point where we forget that fitness is an everyman and everywoman sport. It’s accessible to everyone. Whether your fitness is at the tennis court or dancing in your living room, you’re making fitness your own. Own it, wear it, and your confidence will grow. No competition will allow that natural confidence within you to bloom.

Nutrition: What you need to know

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When you lose 40+lbs, you start getting questions: how’d you do it? What are your workouts like? Can you recommend a meal plan? The truth is, it’s taken me 3 years of experimenting with fitness and nutrition to find the perfect combination for me.

I’m not a nutritionist, so really the only things I can recommend are consistency and dedication. While your workouts are important, the real magic happens in the kitchen. Anyone can go and workout for 2 hours but it takes real commitment to keep nutrition at the forefront. Before you jump into the next fad diet, detox, or juice cleanse you scroll over on Instagram, here are a few things you need to consider about your food preferences and your meal strategy:

Feed your needs

I’ve shared that I grew up with food and that food was there for me emotionally whenever I needed it. In the moments when I was eating, everything was okay. It didn’t matter if I was sad, happy, angry – food was comfort.

I still reach for that unnecessary slice of pie when I feel stressed or even as a reward for myself. What’s different now is that I don’t overindulge (or I try not to). Ignoring my cravings just made me more agitated. Combine a shitty mood with an intense workout and you get SURPRISE! an even shittier mood. Have you ever tried to deadlift your 1RM on a stomach full of baby carrots? I don’t recommend it.

I use flexible dieting because it gives me enough freedom to have the odd donut and still see results. I can eat carbs before a heavy lifting sesh and get the most out of my workouts. Evaluate your goals (strength, marathons, fitness competitor etc.) alongside your individual preferences and then go from there.

Lifestyle

Hey, diet! Don’t tell me how to live my life!

A lot of nutrition gurus might call bullshit on this one, but I think your lifestyle is totally valid in this decision making process.

Do you travel a lot? Constantly on your feet all day with minimal breaks? Strapped for cash? All of these reasons factor into your food choices whether you like to admit it or not. You can be the meal prepping MASTER and still succumb to on-the-run food choices.

In my case, I work part-time (no food or drinks allowed on the sales floor) and don’t make a lot of money (no extra cash for ultra-organic food). Sometimes, my study snack involves protein oats and poptarts. They’re quick, in my fridge, and satisfying. That being said, I make sure that these things fit my macronutrients  for the day. If I’m travelling, there’s no guarantee that there will be a microwave and a minifridge where I’m going. My flexible diet allows me to eat out at restaurants with relative ease. If you’re not willing to give up girl’s night at your fav wine-o joint (I hate to tell you this, but wine has carbs) , maybe that no-carb diet isn’t so great for you.

That being said, there are options if you still want the occasional high-carb refeed. Here’s a great into to carb cycling from Bodybuilding.com.

Don’t be afraid to test drive

I think I’m one of the few people who “diet” and can say they genuinely enjoy their nutrition plan. I didn’t get to this point, though, without some trial and error. Tried paleo, hated it. Tried eating clean, binged on chocolate every 2 days. Your nutrition plan should complement you. Research some nutrition plans that interest you and fit your goals and experiment.

I have the utmost respect for people that eat paleo because it is damn hard. Whole 30 is a great program that allows you to try before you commit to paleo indefinitely. Hey, it’s only 30 days. So if after 30 days it’s not your thing, you didn’t waste 6 months of your time grumbling about missing butter.

Masterpieces aren’t made in a night

Nutrition is probably the most difficult part of any wellness goal. It’s important to know that there will be some growing pains on starting any diet or nutrition plan. You won’t be and aren’t perfect – no one is. The most important part is not eating right but waking up each day and making the conscious decision to keep at it and get back up if you’ve strayed from the path.

Orange you glad I didn’t say Denim?

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Okay okay okay… let’s talk about JEAN shopping. If I was Kanye, I would insist that jean shopping deserves the Worst-Shopping-Experience-Of-All-Time Award. Of all TIME. I think most of my fitness friends will agree: jeans are the devil in a mask of acid-washed denim. 

Let me also preface this by saying that even before my fitness journey I hated jean shopping. At the age of 9, I remember grumbling as my mother took me from store-to-store to stock up on jeans during the Back To School season. At the time, I just thought it was lame (but also way better than dress shopping). Looking back, though, I was 9 years old wearing size 9 women’s jeans. That’s completely insane. At this very moment of writing this blog post, I am a size 8.

I have to stress the “moment” part because jean sizes fluctuate. They fluctuate to align with styles, specific stores/brands, and even time (anyone remember when the size “double zero” didn’t exist?). They change almost as much as your body changes. I’m not as lean as I was 3 months ago. As a result, my muffin top is a lot more noticeable than it was in October. The reverse can also be true. You could be getting really lean, starting to get some quad separation (!!!) and your jeans, with an evil zipper-toothed grin, laugh and say, “Not today, quads. Not today.”

And with all of this sadistic pleasure your jeans partake in, every one of us still needs at least one pair. I mean, would Casual Friday even exist if it weren’t for jeans? Would I still be a great Canadian if I didn’t have a Canadian Tuxedo in my closet?

I’ll leave these philosophical questions to the experts and I’ll also leave the jean shopping to the very last possible second. If jeans are an absolute pleasure for you to shop for, call me insanely jealous – because once I enter the realm of low-rise vs. super low-rise and bootcut vs. these-make-me-look-anything-BUT skinny jeans I lose every ounce of joy shopping once brought me.

Metamorphosis of a Fat Kid

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Growing up, I was bullied a lot for being a big bonedheftyheavy set, a little husky or any other euphemism for “fat” you can think of. At the age of 9 I found myself hoping, wishing, praying I was just a swan gosling living in a duckling’s world and that puberty would solve everything. I would hatch from that cocoon a new woman with looks, personality, and confidence. 10 years later at 19 years old I still remained that awkward caterpillar.

Weight shouldn’t dictate who you are. I say “shouldn’t” because in my case, growing up overweight influenced my identity quite a bit. Even now I gravitate towards the larger sizes and styles – even though I know they’re too bulky for me. I cover my stomach while at the beach or conceal my body as much as possible in public changing areas – even though I’ve worked hard for my flatter tummy and diminished rolls. In the back of my mind elementary school bullies still linger and their voices still carry. Former fat kid syndrome is something I work through daily and although the confidence issues have improved, sometimes I gaze in that mirror and see my 10 year-old self’s plump, sad face staring back at me.

If you were a former fat kid, I encourage you to reflect on that experience. As much as it’s easier to ignore it, it’s much more important to not forget where you came from. Whether you’re a fitness veteran or just starting out, I bet that your fat kid self is thanking you for taking a step towards self-care and wellness.You might not feel like a butterfly yet, but then again, metamorphosis doesn’t happen overnight. Consistency, work, and a lil’ TLC will have you fluttering in no time.

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Left: January 2012. Right: February 2016

 

 

A Fat Kid’s Lament: Struggling with Overeating

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I’d like to say I’m a FORMER fat kid, but I still get the urge to eat a whole bag of chips or row of cookies almost daily. Overeating was what made me fat as a child, and it is something that I think a lot of people can relate to – whether you grew up fat or were #blessed with high metabolism.

I cannot stress enough how important nutrition is, especially when paired with fitness. Fueling your body correctly helps you get the most out of a workout and gets you results reliably and more quickly than exercise alone. After all, the real work in body sculpting happens not in the gym, but in the kitchen and meal time.

I’m not sugar-coating this when I say: anyone can go an workout for an hour. It takes true dedication and commitment to keep working at a diet that feeds your body – without overindulging.

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The holidays create the perfect scene for this crime. With cookies, chocolates, and tantalizing dinners tempting you with every waft of cinnamon and gravy, it is easy to succumb to temptation. I’ve crumbled under the massive cravings. And chances are, you have too. Here are a few ways to stay on track:

Log EVERYTHING

Nowadays, food logging has become very simple. There are probably thousands of apps for that, but the most popular is MyFitnessPal. MFP is great because it makes you feel super shitty for eating those leftover Halloween chocolate bars: If everyday were like today, you’d weigh 232lbs in 5 weeks. Um… thanks?

You can also kick it old school and keep a food diary. You’ll at least avoid the snide comments.

Prepare

If you know you will be heading to a buffet-style Christmas party/dinner with lots of opportunities to abandon your diet, eat before. If you feel full, you are less likely to be that jerk that ate four plates of turkey and mashed potatoes.

Preparation is also your best line of defense against lazy binge eating. Stay two hours later at work for a crazy deadline? Wave goodbye to your fav drive-thru, because you have a lovely prepared dinner at home that you made on Sunday! Meal prepping saves you time and money, allowing you to cook healthy meals that are diet-friendly!

Protein, BRO

I’ve been there. You find yourself wondering where the last hour has gone, as you stare at your grease-tinged reflection in the foil at the bottom of your Cheetos bag. You never felt full. You aimlessly ate that whole bag!

Maybe you aren’t eating enough protein. When I first got strict with my diet, eating 170g of protein made eating a chore. I felt perpetually full. You can get protein from all different kinds of sources:

  • Protein powder
  • Peanut butter
  • Protein bars
  • Chicken, Fish, Beef
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt

I love to even mix my protein powder with my Greek yogurt for an super protein snack. Protein fuels your muscles and also tells your stomach to kindly shut the fuck up.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Try, try again.

If you do end up overindulging, big whoop. Will that extra helping of stuffing matter 5 years from now? Probably not. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Dust yourself off and start fresh tomorrow.

If, however, overeating becomes a continuous problem, then maybe it’s your diet. I tried to eat clean, quit sweets cold turkey. Nothing ever worked for me. Instead, I find a structured, flexible diet works best for me. I can still eat the foods I enjoy as long as it fits my daily macronutrient goals. There are many other diets out there. Consider doing some research to find the magical fit for you.