I’m doing everything “wrong” and that’s ok

There are endless rules and laws related to the fitness industry dictating how, what, and when to eat, exercise, sleep, stretch, meditate, sit, stand, defecate and BREATHE.  Enough to make your head spin.  And if that’s not overwhelming enough you can find 2 equally reputable sources making completely opposing claims both of which will have scientific studies and research to prove their point.  But HOW?  How can science prove 2 completely different things simultaneously?  Well my lovelies it’s quite simple, EVERYONE is different.  All of our bodies are unique and ever changing.  So the exact same study done on two different test groups will yield different  results, in fact the same study performed twice on the SAME test group a year apart will also yield different results.  Now you’re overwhelmed I know, how are you supposed to figure out what’s right if nothing is guaranteed to succeed or fail?  The simplest route is to hire a professional, an alternative is simply trial and error my dear.  The latter has been my approach given that I am the professional, and I’ll tell you a little secret, I’m still constantly learning, I still fuck it up sometimes and I don’t follow all the rules.

So let me tell you AAALLL the things I do completely wrong that just happen to work for ME!

My workouts are WAY longer than 1 hour!

That’s right, my workouts usually hover around the 2hr mark sometimes even more! And I have miraculously yet to experience my muscles falling off, crazy talk I know.  Now let me explain before too many off you think you have to devote several hours a day to the gym because nothing could be further from the truth.  There are specific reasons this works for me and why I see progress doing this.  One very important thing to keep in mind is I’m not going hard for 2 hours straight, I would pass out mid workout if I tried that.  My rests between sets are relatively long (60secs or more), I take my time and listen to my body.  If I feel that I need rest then I rest and I finish my workout when my body feels done.  As you can imagine you have to be pretty in tune with your body and fatigue levels to do this safely but it’s certainly possible.  This works for me primarily because I LOVE working out and I enjoy the freedom of not having to rush through to stay in a 1 hour window.  My workout is like my recess and I like the ability to play when I’m in the gym, if I want to try a new workout or exercise I’ll throw it in the mix and know that I have plenty of time to do so.  When I was attempting to stick to 1hr I felt so rushed I never did anything new for fear of going over my safe “window” and for that reason I wasn’t really challenging myself during my workouts.  Longer workouts like this make me feel that I’ve accomplished something and give me the motivation to stay on track with everything else.

The good news here is that either way works!  If you aren’t exactly the gym rat the 1hr workout is more than enough.  In fact you can see noticeable results with even shorter workouts as long as you stay efficient in your programming.  (If you feel that this is an area you need guidance on feel free to contact me regarding online personal training at cassie@fithappenspt.net) And for those of you that could spend the entire day in the gym and feel paralyzed by time constraints don’t stress it.  Your workout should be fun regardless of duration!

I eat ALL the soy plus carbs and gluten OH MY!

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Like seriously all of it, I empty the tofu and edamame sections when I go to the grocery.  And this is ok because I’m NOT allergic to it and guess what if you aren’t diagnosed with an allergy/intolerance to soy nor breast cancer it’s ok for you too, yes even if you’re a man. If you don’t believe me I suggest researching phytoestrogen so this doesn’t turn into a science article.  For me soy has yet to have an adverse affect on my health, and it’s a phenomenal low fat source of protein with minimal sodium.  I also enjoy the occasional bowl of pasta, stack or waffles or PB sandwich.  Now I of course stick with only whole grain and multi-grain options but this rampant fear of bread and gluten is insanity. Grains are listed in the food pyramid for a reason and gluten is simply the naturally occurring grain based protein, and an important one at that.  It is often found in other foods simply because manufacturers extract the gluten to add to their products both for it’s protein density and it’s binding properties.  Yes of course some people truly suffer from celiac disease(1% of population), gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity (6%),  but not nearly as many as there are people blindly cutting it out of there diet.  So as my little PSA please if you believe you have a sensitivity to gluten I urge you to get tested prior to simply eliminating such an important component of a balanced diet.

I eat processed foods!

Blasphemous I know!  But the bottom line is there’s a huge difference between strict and restrictive diets.  It’s ok to be a little strict on yourself especially amidst a lifestyle change, after all a large part of my job entails helping people learn to be stricter with their health early on.  However being restrictive will make you miserable.  Simply put it’s the difference between “I’m going to reduce my soda consumption” and “I’ll NEVER have a soda again for the rest of my life!” for most people the second declaration is a little scarier.  So it’s best to stick with phrases closer to the first when setting lifestyle goals for yourself.  All that being said yes I eat processed foods, not daily of course and certainly not at every meal but a few times a week.  Now to clarify simply because of my dietary preferences, processed doesn’t mean fast food but more frozen and convenience foods.  Why?  well one because life fucking happens!  I have busy days, I forget to meal prep or sometimes feel downright lazy and you know what works in a pinch? Protein rich frozen food!  And second because I like to enjoy a social life and I’m a bit of a foodie so I enjoy the freedom to go out with friends and have a whole damn plate of sweet potato fries if I so choose.

 

I drink, and sometimes pretty heavily

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Because it’s fun dammit!  Now how often do I drink heavily? at most once or twice a month usually.  How often do I consume alcohol?  Well I had a beer with a friend yesterday…normally 1- 2 alcoholic beverages a week, and of course there are often weeks when I don’t drink at all.  What I’m getting at here is enjoy yourself don’t limit yourself.  Being healthy and active is wonderful but what’s the point if you live your life in a bubble, you don’t have to be perfect, no one is.  As long as your health falls somewhere near the top of your list of priorities, you’re happy and you feel comfortable with yourself and your body you my friend are winning at life!

Competing Almost Ruined My Relationship With Food: How I’ve Bounced Back

Before I made the decision to compete I had never thought about my relationship with food.  I selected foods that were nutritious and tasted halfway decent.   I ate a LOT before competing and stayed relatively lean without trying, in fact I was known for my resilient appetite.  Sure I didn’t have visible abs or sculpted muscles but I was pretty content with my physique.  Not once did I ever think about calories content, nor did I care.  My focus was on nutrient density, variety and the quality of my foods.  I never binged.  I rarely ate when I already felt full.  I simply didn’t spend too much energy on my nutrition.

Before I made the decision to compete, when I read ingredient labels I looked at serving size, sodium content, cholesterol, protein and sometimes I would check out the fat content.  I would never look at the calories in foods.  I wouldn’t have even been able to guess how many calories were in any given meal much less my daily calorie intake and expenditure.

This changed after I competed. After my most recent competition (10/3) I gained about 8lbs from competition weight (prior to dehydrating) which was 127, I now fluctuate between 130 and 133.  I’ve found I’m most comfortable between 129 and 130.  Let me just point out that the fact that I’m even aware of my weight to this degree is a huge shift, I had never even owned a scale until about a month into my first prep. Both shows were followed by several binge days during which no matter how full I got I just wanted to eat more and couldn’t seem to stop myself.  I knew I was more than full but wanted to eat just because I went so long feeling deprived I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to rush to enjoy the food while I could.  This was both a troublesome and an incredibly foreign feeling.  Self-control has never been an issue for me, really in any regard.  If I chose to do something I did it and if I chose not to I didn’t.  So out of sheer confusion I would try to reconcile the binge days by going on a one or 2 day liquid diet at a very low calorie content, often unsuccessfully.  At the risk of seeming melodramatic in an attempt to gain pity and grab attention; I was quite scared by this point and the prospect of developing an eating disorder crossed my mind on multiple occasions.

Now I know anyone reading this that has spent any time reading up on competition prep and/or off-season life is probably wondering why I didn’t just reverse diet.  Reverse dieting entails slowly raising your calories after a competition, so you don’t gain massive amounts of fat as your body becomes used to more calories.  I did try to reverse diet, for about two weeks, and not without mistakes.  Partly because I just wanted to eat everything and partly because I was so sick of counting and measuring everything.  I just wanted to return to normal.

After I stopped reverse dieting I realized how much I missed my relationship with food.  I missed not worrying about what I was eating.  I missed not turning every meal into a math problem.  So, I tried to just “go back to normal” by not counting calories, simple right?  All I had to do was stop using MyFitnessPal and stop measuring.  Unfortunately I hit a bit of a snag in my plan.   It seems I’d trained myself too well.  Without having to look I knew the calorie content of everything I put in my mouth either from memory or I could guess within 10-20 calories and found myself doing the math in my head whether I wanted to or not.  Not to mention that resisting the urge to measure or guess quantities was almost painful.  This was when I panicked.  I felt stuck.  I felt helpless.

I tried everything I could think of to try and get my appetite back on track, to try to keep food and math off my mind.  Finally I realized that I’d had to train my mind and my appetite once before by simply forcing myself to eat right by filling my house with nothing but health food and changing my palate. 

That’s when I turned to the raw vegan diet. 

The choice to take on the raw vegan cleanse was probably the best thing I could have done to regain control.  I only did this for about a month but it completely reset my appetite and my cravings, the fruits and veggies kept me full, I remembered how much I loved both the taste and feeling of eating well and I started feeling much better and cleaner overall.  Eventually my appetite started to calm back down.  My first big success was about six weeks ago. 

I had a particularly busy day with clients throughout which, when or how much I was going to eat didn’t cross my mind once.  I grabbed some fruit or a granola bar when I felt hungry but never felt the desire to get more and more.  I didn’t feel like I had opened the flood gates the moment I tasted food.  Since then days like that have become more and more frequent.  I do get a little ‘bingey’ every now and then but my body and my mind are finally getting reacquainted and I’m able to stop closer to when I’m full and not give in so easily to cravings, although lady hormones are always going to take over every once in a while! 

Though I’m still more aware of calories than I once was and that will never really go away it’s more of a general guide.  Yes, ignorance was bliss before, but I’ve learned to view the knowledge of calories and ability to guess calories as an asset that I know will help me down the road not only with my clients but also in future competitions or I suppose if one day losing pregnancy weight is a concern.  I do tend to get a little more excited than I should on days when I’m not as hungry and under eat but I’m also not feeling as guilty on days when I indulge a bit.  I can feel myself reaching balance and I’m working on bringing my focus back to building my strength and finding balance in my mental and physical health.

By this point all of this probably sounds like my attempt to discourage anyone from competing.  It is not.   I loved competing and have every intention of competing again.  However, I personally went into this a bit ill-prepared and this is my attempt to prevent others from doing the same.  Though I’d read several articles and blogs about the effects of competing and the horrors of off-season rebounding, every single one was written by someone who had previously already had a terrible relationship with food or a weight problem. Not only had I never dealt with either. I had already developed healthy habits and thought it would be an easier transition.  No, I never expected it to be easy, just easier than it was for those with other issues to fight against.  So I went into my competitions thinking I was an exception and perhaps a bit over confident.

These repercussions are the very reason that in a previous post I advised against competing as a means of crash dieting or if you have a history of disordered eating or weight problems until you are 100% mentally and physically recovered.  Though many would disagree with this I simply don’t think it’s a healthy choice to rush your body or your mind.  I do actually encourage several of my clients to compete but it’s important to really know what you’re getting yourself into.  It’s quite a mental and physical undertaking even in optimal conditions.  

By all means if you want to compete do it.  It truly is an exciting and unique experience through which you’ll learn a great deal about yourself and your body, if you listen to it, but you have to listen to it!  The majority of people who die climbing Mount Everest die on the way down, not on the way up.  The thrill of getting to the top overpowers the brains’ of even the most seasoned climbers.  They don’t even think about what they have to do to get down from the highest summit in the world.  

In other words, that means knowing when and if you’re ready to begin prep and step on stage, but most importantly if you’re prepared for the challenge of reaching homeostasis again once the trophies are gone and the lights are off. 

 

Nutrition for My First Competition

There are an unlimited amount of different approaches when it comes to nutrition during contest prep.  Many people take contest prep to the extreme.  I’ve heard of people completely cutting out fruit, bread, or other self-imposed, arbitrary restrictions!  If seriously jeopardizing my health is involved, well, I don’t want a trophy or a card with my name on it that badly.  I’m competing because I want to be healthy, to see what I can achieve, and to inspire others to pursue their goals and lead healthier lives…nutrient deficiencies don’t exactly scream out healthy.

My diet didn’t change very much at all until six weeks out.  Until that point I was bulking which for me entailed eating maintenance calories (caloric consumption that would make my weight remain the same) most days and maybe going over my calories once a week to ensure I had enough fat for my body to feed off of in order to avoid losing muscle mass.  Prior to my decision to compete I had never actively tried to lose weight.  Knowing that I would soon be in a caloric deficit (caloric consumption that would make me lose weight, i.e. eating less calories than I burned), I took the time during my bulking phase to get in the habit of tracking my calories and protein and finding a system that worked for me.  This is a look at the rough distribution of my calories and protein during my bulking phase:

Calories: 2000-2200/day

Protein: 115-125g/day

Carbs & Fat: I didn’t track these.  I let my cravings control how much of each I consumed (within my caloric limit).

Throughout this time my weight fluctuated between 123 and 125lbs.

At six weeks out I cut my calories to 1900 while keeping my protein ratios about the same relative to my caloric intake.  This was when I started to struggle a bit.  I had never tried to lose weight, which meant this was my first time experiencing a caloric deficit and I’ll admit I didn’t know how to handle it at first.  Staying within my calories and still hitting my protein certainly didn’t happen every day, maybe 50% of the time at best.  I usually exceeded my calories by 50-100 on my bad days.  As I got better at finding filling foods and adjusted to eating at a deficit it gradually got easier.

I cut my daily calories by 100 every week.  So what began at 1900 at six weeks out ended up at 1600 calories at three weeks out.  I stayed at 1600 hundred calories for several weeks eating no less than 90g of protein/day.  That was pretty rough, but in my desperation to find filling foods I got much better at getting in my fruits and veggies. 🙂  “Clean” or “healthy” foods like vegetables are going to fill you up much quicker, and with fewer calories, than a candy bar will. There were more than a few days when I went over my calories, but when I did I always tried to make up for it by setting aside a day when I knew I would be able to consume very few calories (usually 1200) to make up for the excess.

Then came peak week.  This was the first time I did anything drastic with my diet that wasn’t optimally healthy.  I have always had a major issue with bloating, and my coach suggested gradually dehydrating during peak week to reduce bloating.  Given that I often dehydrated for 24hrs prior to photo shoots for the same reason this seemed like my best bet.  This is a breakdown of my water intake:

Monday: 128oz

Tuesday: 96oz

Wednesday: 64oz

Thursday: 32oz

Friday: 12oz before 5pm

Saturday (show day): No water

I also took dandelion root capsules, a natural diuretic, every day Tuesday – Friday to completely flush the excess water out of my system.  As an additional precautionary measure I limited my sodium intake to 1000mg/day for the week leading up to the show and starting the day before and day of, I consumed virtually no sodium, less than 100mg a day.  In order to do this my diet consisted of steamed veggies, either unseasoned or seasoned with Mrs. Dash salt-free seasoning, raw fruit or fruit smoothies, low sodium natural peanut butter (Whole Foods freshly ground has 2mg per serving) and salt-free rice cakes.  I also cut protein powders and bars out of my diet as of Tuesday.

Show day diet:

Breakfast: Almost black coffee (I added some Truvia, a natural, calorie free sweetener), dry oatmeal with cinnamon and Truvia.

Lunch: Unseasoned, brown rice and grilled tofu seasoned with Mrs. Dash salt-free garlic pepper seasoning.

Snack: More dry oats.

Pre-show snack: Salt-free rice cake with low sodium peanut butter to increase muscle pump.  This was pretty much all I ate for the rest of the day apart from 2 pieces of dark chocolate right before I went on stage to compete for Overall Bikini.

Post-show: everything within arms-length and LOTS of water!

That pretty much covers the “How” now for the “What I ate.”  I know main questions will be regarding my protein intake so I’ll only briefly discuss my fruits and veggie intake.  Fruit intake was always great, veggies wasn’t.  I had at least the recommended servings of fruit/day 95% of the time, and almost never ate enough vegetables until I got to 1600 calories.  At about the same time I hit 1600 calories I discovered the magic of broccoli!  Green veggies quickly became my secret weapon for taming my appetite and hitting my goals.

Protein. How did a vegan manage to consistently hit over 100g of protein a day?  My go to protein sources were tofu or tempeh, soy “dairy,” black-eyed peas, rice, peanut butter, whole wheat breads, almonds, and broccoli (pound for pound broccoli has as much protein as many protein powders).  I often had veggie dogs or vegan burger patties with guacamole on a whole wheat bun.  I also had a vegan ice cream and cookie sandwich almost every day until I was down to 1700 calories.  I did consume protein powders and bars most days, though not out of necessity, simply because protein powder makes smoothies and oatmeal taste great, and I have a sweet tooth so protein bars are a better alternative to candy.  Overall no more than 25-30% of my daily protein came from bars and powders and there were many days that I easily hit my protein without consuming either.

Looking back at my nutrition there are several thing I intend to adjust during my current prep for my show in October, the details of which will have to wait for another post.  The primary change I want to make is the gradual dehydration.  Ideally I don’t want to do this at all, not only because it’s not the healthiest option, but also because of the repercussions the next day.  The night after the show I consumed roughly 64-80oz of water and ate quite a few sodium dense foods.  Unfortunately I woke up the next day with what felt like a mild hangover.  That feeling lasted for several hours.  I also feel that I was much more ravenous than I would have been otherwise, simply because my body knew something very important was missing and desperately tried to replenish it.  I’m testing and researching alternatives to dehydrating now in hopes of finding a healthier option.  Ultimately I would not recommend dehydrating, and I hope to not have to do it this time around.

If anyone has any other questions for me regarding my prep last time or for my upcoming show feel free to contact me at cassie@fithappenspt.net or visit my website www.fithappenspt.com

My First Bodybuilding Competition

I finally did it!  My first bodybuilding competition actually happened!  This is something I’ve previously mentioned in passing but I haven’t really delved into my prep, experience, or the outcome… until now.
What I expected from contest prep: I’ve followed, practically stalked, several successful competitors such as Nicole Wilkins, Amanda Latona, Candice Keene, and Dana Linn Bailey for quite some time. Many of these competitors talk frequently about the stress of dieting, weight fluctuation, mental pressures, and the binge eating that often follows competition.  It had me concerned and nervous that my experience would be similar.   I anticipated completely losing touch with my social life during prep.  I also expected starvation, fatigue, stress, and a generally unpleasant experience.   Six weeks away from the show my goal was to go from 123lbs to 118lbs.  My intent was also to compete in the figure division, which rewards muscle and definition while also penalizing too much of both.

Reality: My workout routines continued as normal but with quite a bit more emphasis on lagging body parts (damn my quads!).  In order to sufficiently lean out I started cutting calories very slowly, down to 1900/day one week, 1800/day the next week and so on until I was down to 1600/day for the last couple of weeks leading up to my show.  My protein intake stayed consistently between 100-130 grams a day.

Side note: Hitting my protein goals was very easy, even though I’m a veganJ.

The 1600 was rough but it wasn’t unbearable.  Yes, I was hungry from time to time, but fatigue and exhaustion weren’t an issue.  I attribute the lack of fatigue to the fact that many competitors carb cycle prior to a show in order to both lean out and increase muscle pump on the day of the show.  I personally felt carb cycling was a bit extreme and wasn’t concerned with monitoring my carb intake, just my calories and protein.

I will say that while being hungry was frustrating, it wasn’t awful every single day.  I had good days and bad days.  There were days when I went over my calories for a couple days in a row and had to make up for it the next day by eating fewer calories.  There were also several days in a row where my hunger was under control and my caloric intake was on point.

I wasn’t miserable for six weeks nor did I feel much like I was on a “strict” diet.  Unfortunately, because my upper body is much more cooperative than my lower body I didn’t make the leg gains necessary to compete in figure.  I instead competed in the bikini division, which rewards a more slender, toned physique.

I did not lose the five pounds I had planned on, but there were noticeable changes to my physique in the six weeks leading up to the event.  This is a perfect example of not worrying too much about the scale and much more about the mirror and how you feel about yourself!

6wks out (5/15/15) 123lbs           Day of (6/27/15)  122lbs                    Day of (6/27/15) 122lbs
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Click Here for more photos from my competition

I will do a follow up post regarding detailing my contest prep diet soon.

Now in regard to the days before and day of the competition

What I expected from competition: The first thing I expected after having switched to the bikini division was to not be taken seriously by competitors in other divisions.  My second expectation, and I don’t have a logical reason as to why I thought this, was that everyone involved in organizing the event (judges, makeup artists, sponsors, etc…) would be very cold and uninviting especially given that I was a novice.  I’m vocal about not knowing what’s going on when I’m confused, and I’m easily confused, so I thought everyone would judge me for being ignorant.  I also assumed that when you mixed women and competition based solely on physical appearance there would be quite a lot of cattiness from fellow competitors.

Reality: Every single person that I met from the moment I checked in to the end of competition was absolutely amazing.  I was surrounded by some of the most impressive, supportive, and kind people I’ve ever met all in one place.  The judges were very helpful and welcoming of new competitors.  They emphasized the importance of enjoying the competition process rather than stressing about the outcome.  As for my fellow competitors, the moments before walking on stage with my division no one was looking each other up and down to size them up.  We stood around complimenting each other’s physiques, talked about what brought us to this point, how nervous we were to step on stage, and we all did our best to reassure and encourage each other.  I have since connected and chatted with several of those girls and even made plans to compete together again or just meet up for dinner one day.  Overall it was an amazing and uplifting experience and I can’t wait for my next competition in October!

The outcome

What I expected: I honestly had no expectations for the outcome of the competition because I had NO idea who I would be competing against.  Expecting a certain result would ultimately just have been setting myself up for disappointment.  I will say that based on the opinion of my posing coach, coworkers, and family and friends, I was confident that I would at least look like I belonged.

Reality: I actually placed first in my division! 🙂 I even got the opportunity to compete against the open bikini winner for a pro card.  I did not get the pro card but it was an amazing experience and I absolutely loved getting the opportunity to meet the girl I competed against!

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All that being said there is something I would like to point out about the decision to compete.  Many people think of competing as something the can be very unhealthy both mentally and physically.  I, however, don’t believe it has to be that way.  Though I did do a couple of things (consuming a natural diuretic and limiting my water intake) the days before the competition that weren’t optimally healthy, overall my mental and physical health were not jeopardized during my prep.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen several people use competition as a means by which to force themselves to get very fit very quickly.  This, in my opinion, is a recipe for disaster.  I personally believe that the decision to compete shouldn’t be rushed and shouldn’t be something you throw yourself into having not spent much time in a gym.  I have made health and fitness a major priority in my life for over half a decade, so the healthy habits were already there.  So the cleaning up of my diet and being more aware of my eating habits didn’t result in much of a shock to my system and I really didn’t change my workout routine.

The only real changes for me were just the act of dieting and cutting calories, something I had never done.  It was an adjustment, but not too difficult.  It was also no longer acceptable to skip a workout every once in a while, every workout counted.  Whereas before if life happened and I had to skip a workout on occasion it didn’t matter much.  During prep if I had to skip a workout that meant I had to somehow makeup for it before the end of the week.  Though it’s clear that these were distinct changes in how I approached my health and fitness routine they simply required minor adjustments in my schedule rather than major life altering changes.

I do not want to discourage anyone from competing.  I had a great time and met some wonderful people.  I thoroughly enjoyed the process just as much, if not more, than the actual competition.  This post is simply my attempt to discourage people from rushing the journey and rushing their mind and body.   Everyone knows that crash dieting is unhealthy.   Stage lights and a sparkling bikini don’t suddenly make it healthy. Enjoy the process, accept the results.  It is about the journey, not the destination.

Progress

One year has passed since I fractured my spine cliff jumping.  While I have made great progress in the gym it is the mental progress that I am most proud of.  I wrote a post not long after the accident about overcoming obstacles and the importance of not getting discouraged by injuries or setbacks, but I didn’t really go into much detail about how it affected me mentally.

The accident happened less than a month before I had originally planned to sit for my personal training exam, and less than three months before my wedding.  You could say I picked a terrible day to go jumping off of cliffs.  At the moment it happened I was terrified but when I realized I still had feeling in most of my body I calmed down for a moment.  That didn’t last long.  When the nearby family helped me climb onto their boat, the pain set in and I realized something was very wrong with my back.

Riding in the ambulance on the way to the hospital every bump hurt and I was terrified that I would never be able to do the things I enjoy, that I wouldn’t be able to be as active, much less pursue a career in personal training.  The EMT tried talking to me, as they usually do, to make sure I was coherent, looking back he probably thought I had a concussion because I was so preoccupied with the permanent repercussions of my injury that regardless of what he asked or tried to talk to me about I just kept saying, “I have to be a personal trainer, my back can’t be broken,” and looking for him to reassure me that it wasn’t broken and I would get better soon.

By the time I arrived at the hospital and (more importantly) the pain killers had kicked in, I began to convince myself that it wasn’t broken, just badly bruised.  Maybe even some muscle tears, but it couldn’t be broken, that wasn’t possible.  When they gave me the bad news I burst into tears and spent the next hour crying on my husband’s shoulder.  I cried a lot over the next few months.

They gave me instructions to be on the lookout for signs of oncoming paralysis.  I woke up multiple times throughout the night for several weeks frantically checking my legs to make sure I could move them.  I went as far as to get a used wheelchair at the Salvation Army to decrease the likelihood of moving my spine beyond its limits.  In my mind, that would reduce the chance I would become a quadriplegic.  Strong bro science on my part.

That fear subsided relatively quickly.  I then moved on to the fear of permanent limitations in my lifestyle considering the doctors actually implied that I would likely never be the same.  For those of you who have never heard those words from a doctor, there are only a few things more depressing.   And this was all because I jumped off a cliff.  Three seconds caused all of this!  I would replay the images of me jumping off that cliff over and over in my head.  It was as if I was trying to relive the incident in a desperate attempt to change what had happened! It didn’t work.

I slowly started giving up on any fitness goals I had hoped to achieve and became depressed.  Although I didn’t even know if I could recover, I eventually began studying my personal trainer book again.  Serendipitously, the next section in my book was about injury and recovery.  I noticed a section about how the bones mend and how the body’s potential for recovery is directly related to creating optimal circumstances.  So I started working toward creating optimal circumstances.

I watched my vitamin and mineral intake to ensure proper nourishment.  Unfortunately I still dropped quite a lot of weight due to loss of appetite from the pain killers and inactivity.  Even if I was losing weight, at least I was still getting the nutrients necessary for recovery and bone repair. Once I found out I had narrowly avoided the need for surgery I started working out within my limitations.  I grabbed some resistance bands and did what I could to prevent muscle atrophy.  I even worked to strengthen my core by simply flexing my abs for extended periods of time.

I was still very discouraged when my doctors repeatedly told me about the probable permanent limitations as a result of the injury.  I started frantically googling success stories and found dozens of people who had made a full recovery with virtually no limitations after injuries far more severe than mine.  I convinced myself that there was no reason I couldn’t recover just as successfully as they had.
Enough with the negatives, onto the positives!  Before the accident working out and staying active were certainly a major part of my life.  After the accident my perspective toward health and fitness shifted dramatically.  Going to the gym and working out went from something I enjoyed doing and did to satisfy vanity, to something I’m constantly thankful for.  I know that eventually as I age this injury might permanently prevent me from doing the things I’m able to now, so I don’t intend to waste any time.  When I signed up for my personal training certification I hadn’t actually decided yet if I wanted to be a personal trainer and considered just getting the certification for the knowledge.  After the accident I felt almost obligated to at least try to pursue a career in fitness

I’m in better shape now than I was before the accident and some of my lifts are stronger.  I’ll also be competing in the figure division of my first competition at the end of June!  I have a job that I love where I am surrounded by people with similar passions and goals.  My situation of course isn’t ideal, I’m still in some degree of pain every day and I’ll certainly be at a disadvantage for a while when I compete but at least I’m doing it.  If nothing else I’m glad something finally kicked my ass into gear.

From my time as a swimwear and fitness model, years before my injury.
I was working out 4-5 days a week at the time.

.6 months after I started modeling and lifting again 556923_10150964835630688_692003215_n (2) 1005701_10200800106298637_994948199_n (2)

about 6 weeks after my accident when I was told I should
be safe walking around without exhausting myself.
the day they say I was safe walking VERY slowly on a treadmill the first day family and friends came to visit while I was staying with my wonderful mother (in background)

These were taken this week, almost exactly
on year after the accident! 🙂

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Although most of this was uncomfortable for me to write, I wanted to share just how much progress can be made and to be honest about how badly it affected me.  I know most of my posts about my accident have been overly optimistic and I didn’t want anyone thinking I was simply exceptionally strong-willed and resilient enough that it never affected me.  If anyone is going through something similar, regardless of what it is, if you’re feeling depressed or discouraged that does not make you weak.  It’s ok to let yourself feel that way, in fact you need to let your emotions take over for a little while, just don’t let yourself get stuck in that mindset.  Allow yourself plenty of time to grieve and then find a way to pick yourself up and move forward!

If anyone is interested in coming to my competition and seeing the result of my progress in person you can buy tickets here.  You can also watch my strength gains progress in several of the Anytime Fitness Youtube videos.

Vegetarian Bodybuilding

I haven’t officially made this announcement until now but I switched to a vegetarian diet just over a 1 month ago and am now transitioning into veganism.  For me this is a moral choice, the health benefits are just icing on the cake!  But honestly there’s a plethora of reasons to be vegan, just close your eyes and pick one.  Though Its only been short time and I haven’t told many people yet I’ve encountered a few of the common arguments against vegetarian and vegan diets, particularly arguments that are common from bodybuilders. So here are a few of them! Enjoy 🙂

“How will you EVER get enough protein?”
Adequate protein intake is often the first thing vegetarians and vegans have to defend, it’s that much harder to defend as a body builder.  Many bodybuilders advocate very carnivorous diets consisting of animal proteins at every meal and red meat at least once a week.  This leads to quite a lot of skepticism around whether successful vegetarian bodybuilding is even possible.  Not only is soy the most common ingredient in most meat and dairy substitutes it is a complete protein just like meat.  Even beyond that it’s very easy to combine plant products to create a complete protein.  Meals as simple as rice and beans or peanut butter sandwich form complete amino profiles.  Many things that vegetarians and vegans naturally pair do an excellent job of ensuring quality protein intake.  And guess what, peanut butter is vegan, and you’ve got to love spoonfuls of peanut butter!  Or for those with nut allergies hummus is another tasty source of protein.

“No fish? What about your Omega 3s?”
Gasp! No fish? What about your Omega 3s? Now this is a fair enough argument because fish are without a doubt the best source of Omega 3s, primarily because the type of Omega 3s with the best bioavailability (DHA) is found almost exclusively in fish.  However, in addition to the prevalence of fortified foods containing this type of Omega 3s the alternative form (ALA) is prevalent in flaxseed and leafy green vegetables.  Fortunately for us our bodies are so good at what they do that they can actually convert ALA to DHA in the body. Tada!  This does of course mean that vegetarians and vegans have to consume higher quantities of ALA Omega 3s, but most vegetarians/vegans already do-so without too much extra effort.  Of course if you’re concerned that you aren’t it’s easy to just write down your Omega 3 intake every day for a few days and see where you can make improvements.

“Isn’t it hard to find things to eat?”
Not only are there plenty of excellent vegetarian and vegan dishes as well as tons of creative ways to cook vegetables (pumpkin and squash fries are two that come to mind) vegetarian and vegan diet are becoming increasingly popular.  So what does that mean?  It’s easier and easier to be a “lazy American” vegan.  There are several frozen food brands that sell strictly vegetarian and/or vegan dishes.  Morning Star and Boca are my top two thus far, and new vegetarian/vegan-friendly companies are sprouting up every day!  So a few years ago did it require some extra effort to adopt a balanced vegetarian/vegan diet? Certainly but it’s gotten so much easier and if you’ve been stalking the food industry it’s easy to see that this trend is certainly going to continue.

“Where enough energy to do anything?”
Many argue that vegetarianism leads to fatigue due to lack of protein.  First let me take a moment to point out that protein is your body’s last resort for pure energy, in fact animal protein (particularly red meat) takes so long to digest it’s more likely to slow you down than anything.

Now yes if vegetarians and vegans aren’t somewhat health conscious nutrient deficiencies are certainly possible, but to be fair nutrient deficiencies are quite common in the typical American diet as well.  However, the average vegetarian or vegan eats a wide enough variety of foods that it isn’t as common a problem as many assume.  These deficiencies are much more common in vegetarians and vegans that are also picky eaters and depend heavily on processed foods or frozen foods rather than whole fruits, veggies, etc.

“Are you always tired?”
Nope I feel fine thanks for asking!  If you ask most vegans and vegetarians how they felt after eliminating meat and/or diary the vast majority will say they noticed a huge improvement in energy levels and overall well-being.  BUT this is certainly not the case for everyone, we’ve all heard of and perhaps met at least one person that attempted to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle and ended up feeling weak and sick much of the time.   While yes it is a 100% sustainable and healthy lifestyle for everyone (with the exception of individuals with specific health conditions and dietary requirements), if you switch to vegetarianism or veganism you have to see it for what it is, a lifestyle change.  Meaning you will have to change many of your habits, plan ahead and work at it until the old eating habits have been completely replaced by the new ones. It’s not just a matter of taking some things off your grocery list and trying to sustain yourself on whatever is left, you will have to make substitutions for the foods that were eliminated.  If done correctly anyone who adopts this lifestyle will certainly see huge benefits but don’t just try to throw yourself headfirst into it and hope for the best.  Well I mean I suppose you could do that and eventually you will likely figure it out, but not without some difficulty initially.
Thinking about switching?
Like I said research and planning are important to see the health benefits that can come from a vegan diet, so I’ve done quite a lot of googling lately and here are a few useful resources that I’ve discovered.  If anyone else has more to share feel free to do so in the comments!

Accidentally Vegan – a friend told me about this list recently and it’s definitely helped quite a lot.  The Snacks section is particularly useful on road trips when you’re living on gas station food
Vegan Food – PETA’s vegan food section has so much helpful information, including how to order vegan at Starbucks or other popular fast food chains, as well as recipes and tips on eating a balanced plant-based diet
Happy Cow – this is a great database of vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurants and stores.
My Instagram – if you check out the people I follow on Instagram you’ll find tons of vegans that post awesome recipes every day.

FAT Makes Women Look Bulky, NOT Muscle!

          Usually one of the first questions I’m asked when I tell another woman about my lifting routine is “Aren’t you afraid of getting too bulky or masculine” or something to that effect.  A question often followed by “you have to do low weight high reps to keep from being too bulky right?”  The answer to both questions is a resounding NO.  You could do low weight high reps for everything to build lean muscle, but it would be incredibly inefficient.  I don’t know about you guys but as much as I love the gym I don’t want to spend 2 hours on a workout that could have taken me 45 minutes to get the same results.  The fact is as much as we want to believe that “anything a man can do we can do better” building muscle just isn’t one of them, sorry ladies.

Now I know that the first image that comes to mind when most people hear ‘female bodybuilder’ or ‘female weight lifter’ is of massive physique competitors easily rivaling their male competitors in bulk and strength.  Simply put in the case of these women one of two things has happened. They are either genetically predisposed to great muscle gains due to higher than average testosterone levels or they are taking testosterone supplements to stimulate muscle growth beyond their natural limits, or perhaps both.

Branton, a trainer and manager at Anytime Fitness, would like to add:  Another great thing about lifting heavy is when you are satisfied with the amount of muscle you have in a particular area of your body, then stop increasing the weights!  It is that easy, just continue to do the same weight and your muscle will stay the same!  My mom once said to me, “I don’t want to get too much muscle!”  My response to her, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!”

          As a female that has been lifting heavy since I was prepubescent I can say from experience that not once has the act picking up heavy objects and putting them back down affected my femininity one bit!  What did happen was an increased metabolic rate which meant fat loss, and lean feminine muscle definition.  The bottom line here is our genetic makeup just doesn’t allow for that level of natural muscle growth, our bodies have a different purpose than men and are built accordingly.  Even beyond our physical makeup, chemically we don’t have the hormones necessary to build that level of muscle.  If you still don’t believe me take a look at female bodybuilders like Jamie Eason, Jen Heward or Felicia Romero, there’s nothing masculine about their bodies and I assure you, you won’t see these women doing infinite reps with 10lb dumbbells for every exercise.

So rest assured, lifting heavy is only going to help you lose weight, build strength and confidence, and of course look great in a bikini! Now don’t be afraid to compete with men at the gym or throw 100lbs on a bar and see what you can do! Then go be a show off and brag about it, you’d be crazy not to!

Need more proof?
If you need more proof watch this video of my deadlift, part of a series of heavy lifting ladies.  Now, pay attention to the body measurements mentioned at the beginning of each video and you’ll notice that, of the three of us, at my whopping 122lbs I am the ‘big’ one.

The fuss about Thinspo and Fitspo!

We’ve all seen and heard these buzzwords floating around the internet dozens if not hundreds of times, often accompanied by some rather opinionated individuals.  I’ve read many of these articles and have found that the vast majority seem to be speaking out against or in favor of these internet fads.  On that note I would like to share my thoughts on these topics in hopes of encouraging a bit of internet peace.

For those of you that aren’t familiar here are some examples of each:
    Thinspo                                                 Fitspo

Now you might see these and think, “oh that’s not so bad” and you would be right.  These two examples are not inherently detrimental and are a bit motivational as they should be.  The only real difference between the two is that they are similar representations of two different goals.  Now let’s take a look at examples that are causing all the fuss of thinspo and fitspo

Thinspo

Fitspo

It’s easy to see how any of those can lead to body image issues, eating disorders or psychological disorders. The point I’m trying to make with this is: There will unfortunately always be people out there that will jump at the chance to ruin a good thing, be it an accident or not.  So the real problem I have with blanket statements like ‘thinspo or fitspo are dangerous and detrimental to female body image’ is that they are entirely disregarding all of the excellent examples of these current trends in social media.  Yes there are some horrible and disturbing examples but that could be said about anything.   It’s no more rational to stereotype these trends as inherently dangerous than to apply negative stereotypes to anything else. I personally use the motivational and healthy fitspo and thinspo images on my twitter and my gym’s facebook and instagram pages frequently and I honestly think it’s wonderful that the expansiveness of social media now affords us the opportunity to share something that motivates us with 100s of 1000s of people and potentially provide them with some motivation and support as well.  It’s simply a matter of being aware that ignorance exists in the world and it’s impossible to avoid exposure to it.

What seems to be another issue surrounding these fads is the general public’s attempt to choose ONE specific look or body type that is inherently healthy, which simply is not possible.  I’m sure you’ve seen images comparing skinny versus muscular like this:
     The assumption here is that the girl on the left is unhealthy and less attractive, and that’s possible of course but not definitively accurate.  For plenty of women depending on the body type and mere genetics, very thin is just as healthy as being incredibly fit.  Furthermore not every woman wants to be muscular, not every woman would feel comfortable looking in the mirror and seeing muscle, it’s all a matter of perspective and personal preference.  Now obviously I am a proponent for being exceptionally muscular, but that is a personal goal not a belief system that I’m trying to force on the world.
I suppose the ultimate conclusion to this is that everyone’s ‘healthy’ or ‘sexy’ is never going to look the same and we can’t force it to.  All we can do is be supportive of the happiness and wellness of those around us, whether they achieve it differently than we ourselves would have or not.

So on that note:

6 Pack Bags – Renee Tote In Stone

So I recently purchased the Renee Tote from 6 Pack Fitness in stone, I’ve been dying for one of their bags for literally years! However the bags are pretty expensive (at least by my cheap ass standards) and if I’m going to throw down that much money for anything I’m the kind of person that will read reviews for days trying to make sure it’s EXACTLY what I want.  Unfortunately, I discovered there was a shortage of reviews on these bags and not a single YouTube video! (which means I’m considering making my first YouTube video)  So that being said, I am going to attempt to provide the most detailed review/description possible!  I received this bag on Monday and have been using it for the past few days.

Before I begin I am not sponsored by or being paid by 6 Pack Fitness.  I am just a consumer that has wanted this bag for a while and felt that there was a shortage of detailed reviews on this product.

So first I’ll start with simple  appearance, now I read a few reviews claiming that the bags looked cheap because they weren’t real leather but I personally strongly disagree I actually prefer the smooth sleek look of this bag over the look of real leather bags.  Plus though I unfortunately own one or two leather items I feel better not carrying a dead animal around.  Here are some pictures of just the outside so you can see the quality.

I’ve adjusted all of these photos to try to get everything to show as true to color as possible.

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So as you can see though it’s obviously not leather but it’s very attractive and to me doesn’t look cheap in the least. I always love the little 6 pack fitness detailing on the label and the zippers. My mother-in-law even complimented how nice it looked and she’s a pretty frequent coach and louis vutton (and other expensive brands that I don’t know the name of because I can’t afford them lol) shopper so I personally trust her taste.  I would like to point out that the horizontal zipper compartment on the front is quite shallow I currently only have 2 pairs of gloves stuffed in their and that’s pretty much maximum capacity.  The two pouch pockets however are great I have three bottles of travel lotion a little tub of lip balm and a bottle of antibiotics in them and there’s still a bit of room for more.  There are also pockets on either side of the bag, these are NOT water bottle pockets.  The pockets are far to tight for that, you can fit things like phones, ipods , maybe a small workout log, a passport when at the airport and you need easy access things of that nature.  Sunglasses will not fit in these pockets either.  As a side note I personally don’t care about minuscule imperfections in things like stitching unless something is falling off but for those of you that lose your shit over that kind of stuff, there was one less than perfect stitch around the zipper compartment on the inside of the purse compartment.

Now lets delve inside this beauty!

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Ok so here’s of course the key feature of this bag, the meal management compartment.  As you can see I’ve done some maneuvering with it (I’ll explain why I keep my wallet in there in a bit) which is great because there is more flexibility than I realized.  On the left side is the food storage section which I have set up just as it came in the box, but as you can see on the right I have actually removed the shelving units and the containers in order to have enough space and because as of now two containers are enough for me on an average work day.  Also that little flaps that’s just plopped over is actually the center divider it cannot be removed completely but on the bottom it’s only connected by velcro.  I unhooked it in order to make slightly more room in the top because it actually created a slightly raised area in the purse compartment.  In regard to the containers, I was actually surprised by how big they are. I can fit much more food than I had anticipated in each of them.  And depending on the size, some of my forks and spoons can fit diagonally inside the containers.  I did read some reviews about the container not sealing very well, which is an issue I haven’t run into, though I don’t make a habit of turning my purse upside down and shaking it either…

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These are the gel freezer packs it comes with, I saw in an old YouTube review of one of their other bags that the freezer packs were these flimsy little paper things and I was worried about that but as you can see the bags are great (maybe some of the other bags don’t come with the gel packs?) The 2 small ones slide into little mesh slots at the top of each side of the compartment and the long one that you see in the picture slide into a mesh compartment in the front flap of the bag.  They do a great job of keeping food cold!  I put these in my bag this morning at 9:00 am, it is now 6:00 pm and they are still almost solid with the exception of the edges starting to thaw slightly.
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It also comes with this precious little supplement container that’s divided into 5 sections.

Now for the purse compartment, the one downfall of this bag.

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So here’s the purse compartment it has one zipper compartment a slot for a laptop and two pockets.  As you can see it’s relatively small.  Now if we’re being realistic if we don’t want this bag to be unbearably large something had to be sacrificed to allow ample room for the food storage compartment.  I did read reviews saying that this compartment is small but I couldn’t seem to get measurements or anything so I will provide the measurements for you guys!  In order to allow enough space to zip the compartment the depth is about 5.5″, then stuffed to capacity the width space would be about 6″ and the length is about 16.5″.  Now these measurement aren’t exact because I’m trying to allow space to be sure it will zip.  So for some people this might work just fine, however for me it was a bit of a disappointment but that is only because I have a large Kikki-K planner as you can see in the picture below that’s a little over 8″ wide.  So of course it doesn’t fit, I also have my laptop in there which means there’s a bit less give on the sides.  Now if the laptop weren’t in my bag I could probably slide my planner down in the laptop compartment without a problem, but unfortunately I need my laptop for work.  So as it stands now this is what my purse looks like going to work.

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So going back to the wallet in the food compartment I did that in order to give my planner enough horizontal room to allow it to sit diagonally rather than upright because I felt that it would be too easy for it to fall out that way.  Yes it’s not ideal and when I saw that the planner didn’t really fit I actually thought about returning it.  The only reason I didn’t is because for one I can’t afford any of the other bags so I would basically be S.O.L and because the primary reason I purchased this bag is because I was sick of walking into work carrying my gym bag, my purse, my lunch and my laptop in constant fear of dropping everything.  So it certainly still serves that purpose, plus I can always get a smaller wallet, I may one day have a smaller planner and I might not always need to bring my laptop to work.  Plus I don’t zip my purse half the time anyway and this is strictly my work purse not my everyday  purse.

Other details:  The bag is certainly quite heavy, according to an Amazon product description that I found, it’s 4lbs empty and for me about 10lbs full.  But I mean it’s intended for people who make fitness a main priority, so there’s nothing wrong with a little an extra workout (maybe just switch arms to avoid muscle imbalances) and honestly you probably lift way more than this on a regular basis.  Hey maybe you can use the bag for the exercises in my hotel room workout!

So overall:
I personally think the quality is EXCELLENT! The bag is very stylish, it seems quite durable, the meal management compartment is great, somewhat customizable, and very functional.  Yes the purse compartment is quite small but for me it wasn’t a deal breaker, almost but not quite.

So let’s update some things

So quite a lot has happened since my last post, last you heard my wedding had passed and I was job-hunting, still recovering from my back injury (progress has definitely been made since then! 🙂 ) and I had started my Etsy store trying to make a bit of money until I found a job. Well….I GOT A JOB! Yay! As of mid-October I am the gym manager of an Anytime Fitness gym! I absolutely love my job! I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but among the many, perhaps too many, goals that I have I want to one day start my own gym, so this job couldn’t be more perfect! I’m getting a chance to see what at least some aspects of running my own gym would be like and since I started this job I’ve gained a much clearer vision of what I would want my gym to be, from atmosphere to layout to paint color. So I guess this basically comes down to me saying that this job has already helped me so much and given me clearer perspective on one of my career goals. Speaking of careers I also finally got my medical clearance to perform CPR and I was able to get my certification which means I was also able to sign up for my personal training certification exam! The exam will be in March and I’m so excited yet absolutely terrified. Excited for obvious reasons and scared for a few reasons. Big exams have always terrified me, though I’ve never really failed or done poorly on a big exam such as this, just the process and act of taking an exam with so much riding on it scares me shitless. Apart from that I’m a bit anxious about the aftermath of actually passing the exam because try as I might I still have zero hands on personal training experience. Yes I have of course offered to train friends and family for free but unfortunately the only friends I have here are my husband’s military friends whose schedules of course don’t allow much free time for personal training. I’m still trying to find ways to try get some experience actual doing personal training, but to no avail thus far. If anyone has ANY suggestions at all for how to find “guinea pigs” for my personal training, comments or messages would be greatly appreciated.

Anyway apart from helping my career, the job has also obviously helped with my health and fitness as well as recovery from my back injury. It’s so great to be surrounded by people as interested in and educated about (often more so) as I am! I always have someone to talk to about new workouts, supplements and ask about ways to improve my routines to help my back heal properly. Since I started the job I’ve able to workout almost every day that I go to work, so my strength is coming back slowly but surely and the pain is fading pretty steadily. I rarely wake-up in pain now, which is a HUGE step. I might not have gone into much detail in the past but for quite some time after my injury even well after the brace came off getting up in the morning was excruciatingly painful and it usually took about an hour every morning for the pain to subside. So not starting my day with that level of pain it absolutely WONDERFUL!

Oh and the last little update in regard to my new job is that I’ve been working on improving the gym and encouraging members to participate in gym event to the best of my ability. So I’ve been starting up little fitness challenges for which we have made quite a lot of YouTube videos, I also, with the help of a coworker, hosted a Member Appreciation Day with snacks and goodies so if anyone would like to see how those things turned out here are the links to all the places you can find pictures and videos! Please check out these pages and support my gym!

YouTube
Facebook
Instagram

Well that’s all for today hopefully I’ll be able to post again soon!

….hmmm maybe I should come up with a little signature for the end of all of my posts, that would be cute right? I’ll try to think of something and give it a test run next time 🙂