The Gift of: Your (Beautiful) Body Story

I wrote this blog post about 6 months ago. I thought it would be worth sharing again, especially for newbies to the blog:

A wise person once said: You Don’t Have a Body. You Are a Body.

In light of my occupation as a personal trainer and bodybuilder, I started to take a second look at the entire fitness industry in light of this statement.

I think too often we focus on the negatives of our bodies. “We hate our own bodiliness,” was something a wise person once said recently (actually it’s the same wise person I just mentioned. I can’t help it, I love wise people.)

I tend to agree that there is an almost universal negative attitude towards our bodies.

I’ve spoken to people on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to what to do with “this body.” I’ve noticed 2 types of people:

The Hater

We hate our body and we do everything possible to hide it, to lie about it, to use it, and abuse it in an effort to make it appear acceptable, perhaps even attractive according to outside influences or societal standards. This becomes an obsession to the point that we become envious of anyone who has the body that we desire so much. This also could lead to despair as we try over and over to attain this “perfect body” with little to show for it. We devalue our bodies and think ourselves unworthy.

The Lover

We love our body so much that we become vain to the point of over exposure. We boast and brag and show off, becoming completely obsessed with maintaining this “perfect” physique. A narcissistic attitude takes over. We believe our body is something to be worshiped by those who hate their own bodies (and we know there are plenty of those).  We also become very frustrated by anyone who isn’t like us. We don’t understand how they just don’t “get with it” and aren’t in love with fitness and health like we are.

But there’s some good news, kind of.

Perhaps the overwhelming majority are those in the middle:

The Love/Haters

These folks have a love/hate relationship with their body. They struggle just like everyone else with maintaining their weight but they don’t obsess over it. They “watch” their diet but they don’t write down what they eat and they most certainly don’t count calories. They like what they see in the mirror but they don’t love it. There’s always room for improvement but they probably only get to the gym once or twice a month.

If there’s one thing all of these people have in common, it’s that they see their bodies as Objects. Things. Possessions.

But what if you looked at your body as a way to tell a story. That certainly changes things doesn’t it?

You can either tell a good, honest story, or a story of lies and deception.

Some examples, since this is a difficult concept:

I’m a smoker and I go to my doctor for a checkup. The doctor tells me that I’m showing all the signs of lung cancer and that I had better cut back or quit on the smoking if I want to live longer. Meanwhile, I’ve seen this same doctor light up a cigarette outside the office and I see a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. That doctor is lying with his body.

Or:

I go to a used car salesmen to try and find a good deal. He sells me this great looking car, I take it for a test drive, the price is right and I drive off the lot but not before he shakes my hand and tells me I made a great decision. Meanwhile, he goes back to his desk and laughs to himself because he knows he just sold me a lemon. By shaking my hand and sincerely telling me I made a great purchase, he lied with is body, as well as his words.

Or:

In the gym, let’s say I take some video demonstrating an exercise or I take a few pictures to put up on my website. When someone asks me how I manage to be so strong or in such great shape, I tell them “Hard work!” but in the meantime, I’m taking some performance enhancing drugs or steroids. I would be lying with my body.


 

So how do we use our body to tell the truth, specifically with regards to health and fitness?

 

It starts with honesty with ourselves. It’s EASY to lie to others. “Oh yeah, I’ve been sticking with my diet and my training. I’ll be ready for that 5k in a few weeks, no problem!”

Meanwhile, you know you’ve cheated on your diet, eaten ll the wrong things, splurged on junk food, and haven’t gotten a run in because you still haven’t bought a good pair of running shoes (or whatever the case may be).  But no one else knows that! So there’s no one to tell the truth to, except yourself.

If we can be honest with ourselves, by speaking the truth, by admitting our faults and our screw-ups, even if it’s in a journal or out loud to ourselves, it’s one step towards telling the truth with our bodies.

It starts when we stop thinking of our bodies as these “things” you have to deal with and work at and drag around. What a sad way to view ourselves. And we wonder why people are SO interested in the quick-fix diet schemes?


 

We need to re-frame our thinking to understand that our body is exactly who we are. It’s not something to be mocked, abused, degraded and devalued at the expense of others or in the name of vanity and pride. And certainly not the in the name of fitness.

Start telling your story with honesty. If we start there, it might become easier to view OTHERS in a more respectful way, not just ourselves.

If you are telling a story every minute of the day with your body…

What kind of story are you telling and what would you want people to remember about it?

The Gift of: Healing the Inside

While attending a Young Adult retreat recently I met a woman (I actually should refer to her as a “young lady” since I found out she’s 14 years younger than me) who mentioned her past life as a Crossfit athlete. Her and I bonded over the fact that we both have had a similar “departure” from the fitness world due in large part to the vanity that seems to accompany many of the wanna-be athletes who frequent the gyms these days.

This isn’t a knock on CrossFit by the way (although I do tend to enjoy giving them a hard time now and then). And it’s clearly not a knock on anyone who goes to the gym considering I am one of those people.

I mention this because I find it interesting to read stories of athletes and bodybuilders who didn’t get burn out per se, but they came to the realization that working out constantly and obsessing over their PR’s and what they ate and how much weight they pulled, pressed and pushed, or all their races they ran – none of it truly satisfied them. They thought they would find happiness at the finish line or after they crossed the stage and received a trophy or left the gym a sweaty mess.

They have since found that none of that really matters as much to them anymore.

The Thrill is Gone

I know I was super excited after I did my competition. I couldn’t wait to get in the gym and “bulk up” and hit some PR’s and lift some heavy weight and make progress.

It was fun for a long time. You could even say I made the gym my sanctuary.

But something isn’t quite right when even my independent, solitary-loving self felt like I spent more time in the gym and writing in my workout log than I did writing emails to friends or spent time with my family and friends. And I wasn’t even one of the “worst cases.” I have read and known many folks who became gym addicts and their relationships suffered.

What I find most interesting is that we can become addicted to something inherently good. Like an infatuation.

This desire to be strong, be fit and be a good athlete usually starts out all good. (Or, in some cases and I would actually say MOST, we give up after awhile or we get distracted by other life events and neglect our health).

But sometimes, and I would argue this is happening more and more, especially with social media – this desire to be healthy becomes an unhealthy desire for glory and praise.

You “Look” Amazing!

For me personally, it felt awkward to receive compliments from people. So many times my friends or even random strangers would comment on my blog or to my face, “You look fantastic!!! I want to look like that!” when referring to my before and after pics (I’ve taken them down, so don’t bother looking for them).

Why couldn’t I even accept a compliment of praise? For me, I felt like it was like people were congratulating me on how I looked and my appearance and it felt…vain. Fake. Like, “Why are you praising my body for looking this way?” I know this sounds strange and selfish and whiny – Who wouldn’t want to receive a compliment like that? But the keyword was “look.” I couldn’t get past that word. And to be complimented on my appearance was something I was not used to considering I never looked like that way ever before.

Of course I said thank you, I’m not rude. But still, it felt really strange and it was a feeling I couldn’t shake.

So imagine what it felt like when those compliments stopped after the competition.  I was bulking and trying to put on weight. I was somewhat relieved to not receive any more of them because then the pressure was off! But of course, looking in the mirror told a different story.

I cannot even begin to tell you the mind games the that went through my head. And I considered myself to have a good relationship with food and decent body image of myself.  Imagine what a professional figure competitor or bikini competitor goes through when he/she rebounds and gains a ton of weight too quickly! And we wonder why there are heartbreaking stories of these (mostly) women who can’t see their value anymore other than a body designed to win trophies or look good in photos. The bingeing and the dieting becomes obsessive and their health and metabolism is shot. And they take YEARS to re-cover.  Granted, this is a worse-case scenario but I assure you, the bodybuilding world is full of them.

Prioritize the Inner Self

I think the lesson learned is that we should keep our bodies healthy and in shape the best way we know how and dedicate a good amount of time to doing so. Perhaps invest in a Personal Trainer? 😉

But when the time spent in the gym or measuring our food or taking selfies (please don’t, just don’t) takes up the majority of our days, that’s when pride and vanity enter and that’s when I would suggest you take a big step back and re-asses your priorities.

I will tell you from experience, when outward appearance takes over your life, it does more harm internally than you realize at the time. And no one will tell you this – it’s something you will discover on your own.

My advice is to focus on mental and spiritual health before anything else. The physical stuff is easy to dedicate time to once you have the internal priorities set.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “R” Word

IMG_5595

I have come to strongly dislike the word “Resolution.”

And because it’s soon to be a new year, I know I’ll be hearing a lot of it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have GOALS. But that’s just it, I like the “G” word better than the “R” word.

Resolution makes me automatically think of the New Year. And the New Year is a HORRIBLE time to make a Resolution. They (someone smarter than me) said the best time to make a Resolution is in August. Why? No idea. But apparently, people are more successful when they make them in the middle of the year rather than the beginning.

With that in mind, about a month ago I told my trainer that I wanted to deadlift 200lbs.

Recently, he recorded me lifting 145lbs for several reps you can watch here. (Afterwards, I lifted 165lbs but they were only mediocre so we never posted them.)

And then on Christmas Eve, my trainer suggested we should try and “work on those deadlifts.”  At first I was all about going home to get ready for some Christmas Eve food…but then I remembered if I was going to hit this goal of 200lbs, I kinda needed to work at it. 🙂

The picture above is me before hitting 185lbs, a new PR for me! I’m very excited about one day hitting 200lbs. And there WILL be video proof of this when it happens.

I’m also aware that not everyone has strength training goals in mind when they join a gym or begin a new year and new plan to “get in shape.” I respect the fact that people get motivated at the thought of a “new body” in the new year. But I’m so used to seeing people get their hopes up only to fail because of their lack of planning (see below for specifics).

I’m more about being happy with the body you have and making reasonable changes to it, not in order to have a NEW body (because you’re body is aging and getting older everyday, it’s never going to be NEW) but in order to enjoy the one you HAVE!  It’s not about what it LOOKS like, it’s about how it FUNCTIONS.


 

Back to that dreaded “R” word:

EVERY time I hear it I cringe. It brings back memories of working at gyms, speaking with new members about their New Years Resolutions. Always the same speech, every time.

Client: “Yeah I thought since it’s the new year I would try and lose weight…again.”

Me: “Again? Have you been successful in the past?”

Client: “Yes, but as soon as I lost the weight I thought I could eat the way I used to and went back to my old bad habits.” (Didn’t have a maintenance plan)

or

Client: “Yes, but I lost the motivation as soon as my life got busy with other things.”  (Didn’t prioritize their health)

or

Client: “I worked out a lot and even trained for a race but never really lost any weight. I don’t know why!” (Didn’t learn any good eating habits)

or

Client: “I lost a ton of weight! I stopped eating carbs and I worked out 5 days a week! But the holiday ruined me and I ate all the foods I shouldn’t have and now I’m back up in weight. I guess the only way I can lose weight is to restrict myself.” (Took part in a diet that was not feasible or conducive to real life)

So here’s some quick advice for you to carry you into 2016:

  • Identify your MAIN issue and make a plan to WORK on it – Is it TIME? Is it MEAL PLANNING? Is it COOKING? Is it LACK OF KNOWLEDGE?  Is it LOGISTICS? The good news is that there’s a solution to all of these.
  • Ask yourself what you have done in the past that worked and if this is something you CAN and DESIRE to do again?
  • If you have NEVER been successful at reaching your health and fitness goals, ask yourself why? I think many times we don’t like to admit our failures but we have to in order to learn from them, right?
  • What was the barrier? Was it budget? Figure out what you CAN afford. Was it lack of support? There’s ALWAYS someone out there willing to support you, many times it’s a total stranger or even just the person behind the desk at the gym. But I promise you someone out there is supporting you and cheering you on! Was it just plain old procrastination or laziness? Set up some rules for yourself. I wrote about this recently on the faith blog that might be helpful.

Start off 2016 in the same way you’re ending 2015:

Hopeful, not dismayed.

Positive, not discouraged.

Eager, not afraid.

I hope this new year brings about change in you that’s positive, that’s exciting and continues on for years to come!

 

 

The “No Time To Workout” Workout

Ever since I started my blog, I asked people, “What could I write about that you’d ACTUALLY READ and follow?” The majority of my friends responded with the same answer: A quick workout I can do anytime, especially if I don’t have time to workout.

Well, that’s kind of an oxymoron isn’t it? But fine, you want a quick workout. Preferably one that won’t make you sweat that you can do at home or at your office.

I’m not exactly sure this workout exists. But I’ve been thinking:

If I had literally no time to workout but just enough time to do something, what would I do?

The best answer I’ve come up with is an isolation move – You hold a position for period of time that challenges your whole body. Most people would say – “I bet she’s going to say a Plank.”

You’d be close. But no.

I suggest holding a push up – MID-WAY.

This is the best image I could find. The middle image is what we are shooting for here.

 

This is challenging for anyone, no matter your fitness level.

You can do it in your office clothes. In your office.

You can do it anytime.

You don’t need any equipment except a floor.

You could modify it by using your desk/counter top.

Voila!

So the challenge is to hold it for as long as you can.

OR, a better way, is to hold it for 10 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Hold it again for 10 seconds or longer. Rest for 10 seconds. Then hold it for as long as possible. Done.

You’re engaging the entire body because you have to tuck your hips, squeeze your glutes, your quads, bring your navel to the spine, squeeze your shoulder blades, aim your chest to the floor and bend the arms. That’s total body right there folks!

Now get pushin!

I mean, holdin!

 

4 Moves To Become a Morning Person

Ugh, Monday. What’s worse than Monday? Sunday night. Sunday evenings have always been the absolute worst for me for as long as I could remember. Back when I was a child, I would have the worst anxiety on Sunday nights. Pretty sure this caused me my insomnia that I had for decades.

But now? I LOVE Mondays. Not only that, but now I’m a morning person!

How does a night owl with anxiety become a Monday loving early morning riser?  Train for a marathon!  Okay, so that’s extreme. But honestly, that’s how the early mornings started for me. But for those that can’t just decide one day to train for a race, you can start an Early Morning Routine.

For most people, the mere ACT of getting up early IS their early morning routine. For those that have mastered turning off the snooze button, your next step is to MOVE. Out of the bed is preferable. For those who are super lazy, I suppose you can stay in your bed and do these moves but…yeah, you should probably roll onto the floor for these.

  1. Iron Cross
    If you can’t straighten your leg in the first picture, try bending one (or BOTH!) as pictured here.

    2. Glute/Hip Bridge

    Squeeze the glutes together at the top of the movement; hold it for a few seconds before lowering down.

    3. Bird Dog

    Alternate opposite arm and leg. The challenge is to keep the head, shoulders, back and hips all in alignment. Very challenging, especially first thing in the morning.

    4. “Sneaky” 30 Second Plank

    Rest for 10 Seconds; then Hold a Plank for 10 Seconds. Repeat 2 more times. Adds up to 30 seconds. Clever, eh?

    There you go. A simple Monday morning (or any morning) “Just Move” routine anyone can do by just rolling out of bed. There’s no mention of reps except for this last move because you can do as many or as little as you want. Enjoy!

 

Your Body Tells a Story

A wise person once said:

You Don’t Have a Body. You Are a Body.

If I AM a body and it is not something I have, then why or how could I possibly consider changing it?

I think too often we focus on the negatives of our bodies. “We hate our own bodiliness,” was also a statement I’ve been hearing these past few months.

I can’t help but agree.  I talk to people on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to what to do with “this body.”

Either:

We hate our body and we do everything possible to hide it, to lie about it, to use it, and abuse it in an effort to make it appear acceptable, perhaps even attractive according to outside influences or societal standards. This becomes an obsession to the point that we become envious of anyone who has the body that we desire so much. This also could lead to despair as we try over and over to attain this “perfect body” with little to show for it. We don’t value our bodies at all and think ourselves unworthy.

Or:

We love our body so much that we become vain to the point of over exposure. We boast and brag and show off and become completely obsessed with maintaining this “perfect” physique. A narcissistic attitude takes over. We believe our body is something to be worshiped by those who hate their own bodies. We don’t understand how some people just don’t “get with it” and aren’t in love with fitness and health like we are.

But perhaps the overwhelming majority are those in the middle:

These folks have a love/hate relationship with their body. They struggle just like everyone else with maintaining their weight but they don’t obsess over it. They “watch” their diet but they don’t write down what they eat and they most certainly don’t count calories. They like what they see in the mirror but they don’t love it. There’s always room for improvement but they probably only get to the gym once or twice a month.

 

If there’s one thing all of these people have in common, it’s that they see their bodies as Objects. Things. Possessions.

But what if you looked at your body as a way to tell a story. How?

Simple: How you live your life through your body tells your story.

You can either tell a good, honest story, or a story of lies and deception.

Some examples:

I’m a smoker and I go to my doctor for a checkup. The doctor tells me that I’m showing all the signs of lung cancer and that I had better cut back or quit on the smoking if I want to live longer. Meanwhile, let’s pretend this is the 50’s and he lights up a cigarette after telling me this. That would be lying with his body.

Or:

I go to a used car salesmen to try and find a good deal. He sells me this great looking car, I take it for a test drive, the price is right and I drive off the lot but not before he shakes my hand and tells me I made a great decision. Meanwhile, he goes back to his desk and laughs to himself because he knows he just sold me a lemon. By shaking my hand and sincerely telling me I made a great purchase, he lied with is body, as well as his words.

Or:

In the gym, let’s say I take some video demonstrating an exercise or I take a few pictures to put up on my website. When someone asks me how I manage to be so strong or in such great shape, I tell them “Hard work!” but in the meantime, I’m taking some performance enhancing drugs or steroids. I would be lying with my body.

So how do we use our body to tell the truth?

I think the most obvious example, for me personally, is posting my progress pictures. (I know I’m in need of posting updated ones). But you’ll always notice I never even add so much as a filter to the pictures. I let it all hang out, I don’t do any re-touching. I merely admit that I get a spray tan to cover up some minor “flaws” that I’m honest about.

Other ways we tell lies and how to tell the truth:

You see someone at the gym using a piece of equipment completely incorrectly to the point that they are probably going to injure themselves or someone else. Lying with our bodies would be to say nothing and walk away knowing full well we know how to help them. (I am guilty of this).  Telling the truth would obviously going over and explaining what to do to that person so they won’t hurt themselves again.

(I avoid confrontation because I’m intimidated by people sometimes. If I took my own advice, I would see that I don’t need to be afraid to let someone know they are using their bodies to HARM or cause an injury.)

Or:

We see some good looking person at the gym and we want to show off a little bit. So we grab a set of heavier dumbbells (Men do this ALL the time, I am convinced) and lift just a little heavier than we normally do. We know we cannot and shouldn’t be lifting this heavy but we really want to catch someone’s attention. That’s lying with your body. Even if you manage to get a few reps out, you’re deceiving others by making it appear that you are stronger than you are.  Don’t be a hero Johnny. Stick to your usual weights.

With diet and food this is much easier to slip up and lie. How?

Let’s say you’re on a diet. Let’s say you actually signed up for sessions with a personal trainer. And let’s say you know that since your trainer/friends can’t see you every minute of the day, you take it upon yourself to sneak a few “cheats” in here and there. After all, no one will know! But you made a commitment to be true to yourself. To be true to your body and try to stick to this diet or this workout plan. And you know full well that “cheating,” even once in a while, is going to make your trainer look bad, it’s going to make you feel worse and it’s and not going to help your health. This is one of the more common “lies” we tell with our bodies. When asked, “Did you indulge this weekend at all?” and we answer, “Of course not! I was “good!” we lie right to our own faces/trainer/people who care about us and want us to succeed.  When it comes time to step on the scale, you can’t act surprised when it’s not where it should be.

 

Start to think of your body as more than just this “thing” you have to deal with and work at and drag around. It’s who you are.

You are telling a story every minute of the day with your body.

What kind of story are you telling and what would you want people to remember about it?

 

 

Chasing Shade

This past weekend I was house sitting for a friend of mine who lives in an awesome part of Cleveland. The homes there remind me of my old neighborhood, Oak Park Illinois. It’s full of huge trees that line the streets, the local park always has something going on, (one night they had “Movie in the Park” and they were showing Big Hero 6, my newest all time favorite movie), people were out walking their dogs, everyone was very friendly as they typically are here in the midwest. I would describe it as a cozy neighborhood with a “city-like” vibe.

Sunday morning I was scheduled to run 13 miles as part of my marathon training.  As I ran jogged along this part of town, I found myself running away from the sun that was beating down that morning. I was constantly searching for those huge trees because it was getting upwards to 84 degrees and I had started my run a little later than I had anticipated. And since “I’m not fast” (that’s a movie reference but also, very true for me), I was concerned that I would melt away and not be able to complete this run.

I was literally chasing the shade.

Kinda made me think about life in general. Any runner will tell you that your mind wanders, you start thinking maybe a little too much as your feet are pounding the pavement. So this blog might be a little…deep. But bear with me.

Most of the time I’m running I’m thinking “I gotta get some water in me soon,” or “I should probably take a walk break in another mile.” But sometimes you can’t help but think other things too. It’s quiet, there’s no one around because it’s so early in the day. So it’s a perfect environment for some deep thoughts.

I kept coming back to “Gotta find shade, gotta find shade…find the darkest parts of the street.”

Yes I’m doing this to cool off, literally. But I couldn’t help but think it was a perfect metaphor for where a lot of people are in their personal lives. We hide! We run away from light that exposes us.

In the dark, in the shade, we are more comfortable.  “This is my little comfort zone.”

We, and my fellow women can relate best, hide ourselves in darkness. We can hide our scars, our flaws, our less-than-perfect bodies in the dark. No one can see lines, the wrinkles, the cellulite, the stretch marks, the blemishes, the soft parts, the flabby parts in the dark.

The more light, the more they are exposed and revealed. And the more REAL we are when there’s no shade to hide us.

By the end of my run, over 2 hours later, I didn’t care so much about the shade anymore. I didn’t care about hiding because I knew it was almost over. But I was also exhausted from seeking out the shade. It became a grueling effort to hide from the heat. I had to admit that it felt like I was running scared. And I didn’t like that feeling. I had to get out into the light, no matter how much I didn’t want to. I really had no choice.

The sun was out in all it’s hot glory and there was no running away from it anymore.

So this is my little shout out to those who feel the need to hide – You’re going to have to get out from that darkness at some point. Come on out into the sun. It’s bold, it’s beautiful, and it’s shining brightly! Just like you.