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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voices of Reason

A super short post tonight to kick off 2016. Hope you all like it!

While having lunch with a friend of mine, she remarked, “Michelle, I hear your voice in my head every time I think about my diet. You said something that has stuck with me over the years: It’s not all about cardio and exercising all the time. Your diet matters more.”

I was telling her this while I was training for my bodybuilding competition. It’s something I have told clients repeatedly and most of them listen to me. But some still don’t believe me.

While exercise and working out is important for overall general health, it’s not the end all be all. What is most important is what we are feeding our bodies. What do we consider our fuel?

What do we shop for at the grocery store and put in our cart as the “best” we can do for ourselves and our families?

What do we consider a “once a year indulgence” and is it really worth it?

It’s interesting that my friend hears my voice in her head. Because I hear voices in my head (it’s healthy, I swear) from people in my past that have said similar things that have stuck with me.  A few that I think are worth sharing:

  • “Don’t focus on the number, (your weight, the weight on the bar, number of days, number of weeks you’ve been trying this) focus on the task at hand and conquer THAT.”
  • “If there’s a food or snack that you know isn’t all that healthy, why do you keep buying it?” (and if you say it’s for your kids, why isn’t their health as important as yours?)
  • “Not every occasion/get together/event is a reason to EAT something.”
  • “Start working out before you have a chance to talk yourself out of it.”
  • “If you’re tempted to eat that garbage food, think about how you felt the last time you ate it.” (Garbage in…garbage out)
  • “You’re not supposed to feel guilty if you screw up. Guilt is for criminals. You just made a poor choice. Choose wisely next time.”

And the most important voice…

“Sleep trumps all. So get plenty!”

 

 

 

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!

 

Only The Strong Will Survive

This past month I’ve been thinking a lot about strength. And my lack of it.

How it would frustrate me if I didn’t hit a big number on my lifts and set a new personal record, especially after weeks of training.

“I’m such a weakling.”

So back to the rack I go and try again.

Still, nothing momentous would occur. Proper form, great execution but no big amount of weight moved. Same with the following week.

“Why can’t I just be STRONG!?”

Then another week goes by and I try again. And STILL nothing major. I’m still pulling (or pressing) the same amount of weight.

“What’s the use?”

And then I thought, “What’s the point of even trying?”

But the story doesn’t end there. I go back and have gone back and tried and tried and tried again. It got me thinking though: This “weakness” mindset. I thought how if I let that little voice have it’s way, I would not have gone back. I could have given up and assumed this whole strength training/bodybuilding/weightlifting stuff is for the strong. And there is no place for the weak in that world.

Luckily, that didn’t happen because weightlifting IS a huge part of my life and one that I would like to never give up on. But what about those who have no desire to lift, no desire to be strong, no desire to even work up a sweat?

They would have given up. They would have assumed only the strong will survive anyways so might as well never bother. This is too hard, too difficult, impossible.

When you THINK and BELIEVE you are destined to be WEAK, destined to fail,  you start to think that you are inherently useless.  I’ve seen this a lot lately – People think because they are getting older, they can’t possibly hire a personal trainer because they aren’t young enough. And forget going to the gym “That’s for the young folks! That’s for the athletes! That’s for the people who have willpower!”

Or they have so many physical ailments that no amount of activity will do any good. So why bother? They resort to thinking, “If I can’t even work up a sweat, it won’t produce results.”

Or they aren’t smart enough to come up with a good workout plan on their own. So why bother at all? It’s easier to just go on the elliptical for 15 minutes and call it a day.

But here’s the bit that no one ever talks about:

Just because you aren’t producing anything, doesn’t mean you are useless.

We don’t have to constantly be moving and thinking and writing and working in order to be useful. We can be just as productive and get stronger in our mind, body and spirit by being still. Being quiet. Being silent.

I think the mind can play some tricks on you if you let it. I see, now, why my clients in the past would have a physical or mental setback and just quit on me. Even if they had a number of sessions left, they allowed outside circumstances affect them to the point that they just quit.

  • Perhaps it was financial – “I lost my job, I have to save some money before I come back to the gym”
  • Perhaps it was unsupportive family/spouse – “My husband thinks of this as a hobby for me and we should try and spend more time working/being with each other.”
  • Or a moment of weakness -“I cheated on my diet so badly, there’s no way I’ll get this weight off in time for my trip!”

Even if none of those clients came back, wouldn’t it have been great if they used this time to become stronger in other ways?

Stronger in their knowledge base in order to get a new/better job.

Stronger in their marriage/relationships

Stronger in their diet mindset.

The take home message: It’s okay to be weak! 

After all, if we have no weakness, how can we possibly grow in our strengths?

Mentally/Spiritually/Socially I have a lot of weaknesses. But for the sake of this post and speaking directly to my physical weakness, it’s my upper body. I’ve never had a strong back. But you know, after many years, its finally gotten stronger. I can pinpoint the moment I FELT stronger and GOT stronger – It was when I finally stopped and envisioned this muscle doing it’s job. I imagined and pictured it contracting and releasing. The next time I went to pull the weight, I didn’t rush it. I went slowly and methodically and it FELT different – I had finally FOUND my muscles! And I wouldn’t have found them if I hadn’t focused on resting and waiting and being still in that moment.

So here’s to leading with our weaknesses!

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

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.

 

 

Put Down Your Phone and Pick Up A Book

A popular saying among fitness people and gym rats is, “Do you even lift?”  This is usually directed towards the male  population in a mocking tone to those boys who don’t take strength training too seriously.

But lately, I think the bigger question is, Do you even READ? Do you even do research? I’m not quite sure anyone does when it comes to working out. Why would they? Why would anyone when we have social media to instruct us on how to work out and eat and diet…and live. Right?

No..not so much. Books are still relevant, in my opinion. It’s still the best medium to get a message out there, and it’s especially useful for longevity. People need to refer, quickly, back to a resource. And what’s quicker than just flipping through a book? Yeah yeah, you could download a book to your electronic device but doesn’t anyone else just LOVE to hold a real book in their hands anymore? Plus, I LOVE to highlight in my books. And you can’t really do that on a Kindle. At least not the old fashioned way.

In an effort to get everyone back to reading the old fashioned way, and as way to keep myself from repeating myself a bazillion times on social media, I wanted to put together an easy way for my readers to see what I’m reading and what I recommend, especially when it comes to diet and fitness. Theres a ton of misleading information out there and I feel it’s important to share the relevant and well-researched information. Not just copying a workout you saw on YouTube. Let’s get back to really researching what works best and calling out those quick fix, hokey, quackery looking, scamming authors who just put out books to sell garbage and make a buck.

So without further ado, I present to you my Amazon.com Store! (I included an extra page at the top of my site as well as a link on the sidebar. And I’m including it here so you have no excuse not to give it a visit. What am I recommending?

Four categories:

Fitness Books

Diet and Healthy Living Books

Fitness Gear: All my favorite products that I own/use on myself and my clients

Miscellaneous Faith-Based Books: since my faith is huge part of who I am, I thought why not show you what I’ve been reading and what has changed my life

That’s it! Simple.

Also, if you missed my post about Periscope from last week, be sure to follow me if you are on Twitter (@fromfittofigure) and download the app. You will become quickly addicted, I promise! 🙂

 

-Michelle