I used to think that my “fitness story” wasn’t worthy of telling because I don’t have a drastic transformation story. I haven’t lost 30 lbs or cut body fat by 10%. However, with more time that goes by, the more I realize that there are a lot of girls (and guys) that can relate to my story. So, if this helps one person, here goes:
At age 8, I started playing volleyball. My kneepads were bigger than my head, and they constantly slid down my skinny little legs, but I was instantly pushed at a young age to keep up with the older, bigger, stronger girls I played with. Starting volleyball at such a young age quickly flourished into a year-round passion for me. There wasn’t much time between the end of high school season and the start of club volleyball season, so the gym was my second home year-round. I was blessed with the opportunity to go on and play two years of Division II collegiate volleyball. Volleyball was my first love, but over time, my appreciation grew for the strength and conditioning workouts that came along with it. Plyometrics, isometrics, pool workouts, strength training, and sprinting, became second nature to me, and I quickly saw how individual and team performance skyrocketed when we pushed just as hard in our workouts as we did on the volleyball court.
My volleyball career hadn’t even ended yet, and I was already coming to the gym on my own time. It was all I knew for 12 years and I couldn’t be without it, whether I was still playing a sport or not. It was bittersweet to walk away from volleyball, but I quickly got excited to try new things in the gym, try to beat old mile times, and keep working on old conditioning workouts. I wasn’t necessarily trying to change my body at this time, but I just wanted to remain active and healthy. Between studying, working out, hanging out with friends, and going to class, I started researching nutrition and lifting. Bodybuilding.com was my best friend. That’s when I started with the 12 week Live-Fit trainer by Jamie Eason. I still recommend this program for anyone who is just learning their way around the gym, and needs some guidance. It was an awesome program and it helped me find my new love – lifting. I felt great with my new “eat clean” lifestyle. I have now grown to hate that term, but more on that later. 🙂
I kept up with “body-building” style lifting for about a year and a half before I decided to try something different: powerlifting and CrossFit. Again, I fell in love. Looking back, it didn’t matter what I was doing in the gym. I was happy when I was there, and I was passionate about challenging myself. Taking a leap of faith and becoming a member at a CrossFit box is what I credit a lot of my knowledge and experience to today (Shout-out to my Riverbend peeps). I loved having coaches and mentors to help me, guide me, and push me. This is where I hit a PR on my deadlift – 305 pounds – something I never would have dreamed of doing without those coaches.
Throughout all of this time, I tried tons of different diets. Here’s where the majority of my “lessons learned” came. Eating a “clean” diet of egg whites, oats, chicken, sweet potatoes, broccoli, brown rice, ground turkey, and protein shakes was pretty standard for a while. Then, I tried counting my macronutrients for quite some time, and learned how to fit a variety of foods into my daily calorie goal instead of just eating the same thing over and over again. I enjoyed that for the most part, but when I heard about the Paleo diet, I thought I would try that as well. I had nothing to lose, right? Paleo wasn’t too far off from what I already had experience with – I just had to cut out my protein shakes and all grains. Well… that didn’t last long. Pretty soon I was back to eating the same meals, over and over again, and counting my macros fairly regularly.
Up until now, this story seems all fine, dandy, and “normal”. However, there’s a catch. The problem with “diets” is that they are almost always temporary. This is an issue because though a diet may work for the few weeks you’re on it, the results won’t last if you go back to your old ways right after the end date. Maybe that’s why I tried so many different things; I was never 100% satisfied with one of them, and none were maintainable for a lifestyle. With constantly restricting yourself and staying limited to a certain list of foods, there are so many things that can go wrong. I was exposed to these things right away, but I believe that I was blindsided by my goals, and it took me a long time to realize that I was creating some very unhealthy habits. I struggled with under-eating and over-eating, being too restrictive, constantly comparing myself to other people, low confidence, and skipping workouts… Just like 7 billion other people in the world. There’s this word that’s thrown around constantly in the fitness industry: balance. Though I think the word is over-used and abused, finding “balance” was the true turning point in my mental and physical health. When I talk about creating unhealthy habits because I felt that I was blindsided by my goals… Here’s what I mean:
- Working out twice a day (on top of a busy school and work schedule)
- Refusing to eat anything outside of my macros or meal plan unless it was a “cheat day”
- Spending hours planning what foods to eat in order to hit my macros perfectly
- Bailing on friends or family because I had to go to the gym, or couldn’t eat what they were eating
- Becoming anti-social because it was “easier” than explaining why I went to the gym every day and why I didn’t go out to eat
- Completely forgetting about other hobbies and things I was passionate about
- The list could go on and on
At the time, I thought I was happy. Honestly, I loved my strict regimen and the gym made me happy. However, there are ways you can keep up with a healthy and active lifestyle without creating unhealthy habits that I listed above. At some point, I finally realized all of the things I was missing out on. Life is too short to miss birthday parties, movie nights, family dinners, and reunions because you have a diet or workout plan to stick to. If you’re a competitor, circumstances may be different. But if you’re just trying to be healthy and fit, the habits listed above are FAR from healthy. I’m no mental health expert, but I’ve witnessed unhealthy habits turn into major mental problems and eating disorders – a heartbreaking, but very common thing these days. All I wanted to do was stay active and fit after my volleyball career ended. But, I let it get out of hand. Looking back, the more I realize that I was lonely, selfish, and depressed during this time. The obsession with seeing results in and out of the gym became extremely unhealthy for me, and I believe it is for many others, too.
Currently, I’m in such a good place. I don’t “diet”. I eat wholesome, nutritious foods, but I don’t limit myself. I don’t restrict food groups and I don’t cut carbs or fats. I don’t weigh myself or compare progress pictures constantly. I don’t count my calories or macros. I make good choices, but I don’t say no to friends who want to go out for pizza once in a while. And I definitely don’t say no to ice cream. 🙂 I don’t have rock-solid abs or ripped legs, but I have great energy for intense workouts and a bigger smile than I’ve ever had before. I’ve learned that the more obsessed and restrictive you are, the worse things can get. If you have health and fitness goals, that’s AWESOME. But don’t let it control you. Don’t forget the true purpose: health. To me, health is so much more than “body goals” and eating a strict diet. It’s having energy to be active, fueling your body with a wide variety of foods, spending time with friends and family, and having hobbies and passions outside of the gym. My purpose for telling this story is to help people realize the true meaning of health. Keep in mind that this can be totally different for everyone, but I hope my story helps you realize what it means to you.
I could speak for days on this topic, so feel free to reach out to me if it’s something you’re struggling with. Keep an eye out for future blog posts going more into detail on how I’ve dealt with this over the past couple of years.