This past week week, I set out to do what I called my “No” Week. Sunday evening I resolved to adhere to whatever lifestyle parameters I set for myself, no exceptions. My foci were (1) eating clean (by my personal standards, which aren’t necessarily the same for everyone) and (2) doing the amount of cardio I wanted to do that week. Though seemingly minor goals, they meant a lot to me. Everyone knows how easy it is to shrug-off weight-loss goals, and, as someone who has spent half of the last two years in prep, it’s not difficult for me to convince myself to deviate from my health-related goals for the sake of “enjoying the off-season.”
However, I find that each time I deviate from a goal, I break self-trust and self-belief. The lie I hear in my mind that says You can’t do this feels a little more real. Deep down, this was my main concern going into the week. I decided that, for at least seven days, I would let the truth about me be true: that I am capable, that I am competent.
In the face of excuses, rather than telling myself “You can’t ___,” I told myself, “No”.
In regard to my diet, it removed the restriction that people with BED so often struggle against. Rather than saying, “You can’t have that,” I simply left the response to a craving at “No,” and I refused to allow it to mean anything more. Or, instead of allowing my mind to run with reasons why I should just leave the gym instead of throwing in cardio at the end, I simply stopped the train of though before it got out of hand.
For me, this minor shift in language served as a kinder way of speaking to myself. “No,” feels more empowering than “You can’t do ___.” It served as a reminder of my what and my why, the latter of which was to prove to myself that I was capable of deciding to do something and doing it, no matter how seemingly minute.
At the beginning of the week, I felt out of control of my thoughts, my impulses and my discipline. I reminded myself of the power of my mind and actions throughout the week. The week did not lack its presentation of temptations. There were days that I was craving something sweet or comforting, something not in my wheelhouse of foods that I wanted to eat. There were days that all I wanted to do after my workout was have my next meal, not stay and do cardio. For seven days, however, I did the things I set out to do. I reminded myself of my “why.” I felt more in control of my thoughts and my body, which resulted in feeling better as a whole mentally and physically. I was proud of myself for rebuilding bonds of self-trust and self-belief. Furthermore, I entered the next week feeling motivated and capable, and those feelings have carried me four days into this week.
So I encourage you, if your goals feel a little too big or if you feel a little too incapable, relentlessly do the thing you want to do for just seven days. If you’d rather go back to the way things were after the seven days, have at it. But for seven days, I want you to feel like “the thing” - reaching a weight-loss goal, writing a book, learning something new, etc. - is within reach.
I want you to feel like the truth is more true about you than the lies are, because it is.
Like having a brick wall smashed over your head, it hits and I feel the weight of pieces crumbling around me. Like a wave of raging fury, I'm trenched from head to toe. Like taking a bullet to the chest, I'm stopped dead in my tracks. Anger is a powerful emotion. The worst of it comes quickly and unexpectedly, consuming me completely. The heat rises from my gut, into my chest, flushing my face. It takes an equally-shocking jolt for it to recede: the bitter wind of a freezing day.
Walking down the rocky gravel path, the wind nipped at my numbing cheeks and nose. In this moment I thanked myself for neither wearing my hair up nor getting it cut any shorter. Pulling my hood up over my head and stuffing my belongings - binos, pencil pouch and sketchbook - into various pockets, I tugged my sleeves over my fingertips and crunched my hands into fists. the sound of each footstep on the gravel seemed obnoxiously loud compared to the overwhelming silence of the wood. Broken only by the sound of leaves rustling in the wind and the occasional far-off bird call, the silence, a seeming friend of the cold, accompanied me to the stream.
Well, the cat's out of the bag -- I am officially less than 8 weeks out from my first bodybuilding competition! I know that it's a foreign sport to some people (including the 8 month-ago version of myself), so I wanted to write this blog post to answer some of the questions I commonly get about it and my experience, including how I was introduced to the sport and why I decided to do the competition.
Honestly, the sport was introduced to me by accident. This time last year I started training at Elite Fitness in Huntersville, North Carolina, which was recently ranked as one of the Top Ten Gyms of the Carolinas by Carolina Bodybuilding Magazine. I trained on my own for a while, dipping my toe into the gym's community, training for my then-upcoming half-marathon, and exchanging incidental glances and conversation with other members as we worked out. A few days after ringing in the new year, and after about a month's hiatus from the gym, I found myself easing back into weightlifting with an undemanding leg day when I was approached by a veteran gym member.
"I want you to be really honest with yourself and with me," he began.
"Do you feel like you actually trained or did that feel like a warmup?"
Now, before you decide to hate the acerbic protagonist of the story, you should have some context. It's not like he was a total stranger -- I had been introduced to him on my first day at the gym when the person giving me a tour pointed out his picture from a prior bodybuilding competition that was hanging on the wall. He'd also helped me a few other times by spotting me and correcting my form on different lifts. It was always clear that he knew what he was doing and, since I'd been out of the lifting environment since high school, I figured he would be more knowledgeable than I. So it's not like we'd never had any interaction before, and I could tell he was very intentional in his decision to call me out. My respect of him allowed me to answer,
"I guess, if I'm being honest, it did feel more like a warmup."
He nodded in reassuring agreement and invited me to go finish training legs with him. After a few sets of banded single-leg presses, I snuck off to the bathroom and threw up. This was a level of intensity in a workout that I hadn't had in a long time -- and one that I missed dearly. Cleaning myself up, I returned to the machine where I found him waiting patiently.
"Well, you did it. You made me sick. Let's finish this," I said.
I finished out his leg workout and bid him farewell with a question:
"What are you training tomorrow?"
And that's how it started -- I wound up with a bodybuilder as my training partner. After a few weeks, he made a seemingly off-handed comment to the gym's owner about getting me on stage. It wasn't long before I realized he was serious and I started toying with the idea myself.
I spent a couple months allowing the idea of doing a bodybuilding competition to roll around in my mind. I didn't want to make any commitments — I had a half marathon to get through, first (and the last semester of senior year, job applications, graduation, etc.). When I finally decided to pull the trigger, it was neither spontaneous nor unintentional. In fact, there were several reasons why I wanted to give it a go:
Okay, so when is it?
I will be competing in the Women's Figure Division (check out this article for an explanation of the differences in women's divisions) in the NPC Mid-Atlantic Classic on October 23, 2021.
As of today, I'm less than 8 weeks out and only getting more and more excited for the show! I've had the greatest support system in my training partner, my gym and my family. I already know that I would not have been able to get this far if any one of those factors were missing. I'm so incredibly thankful for the village that has helped raise me as a competitor. My greatest goal is to bring the absolute best version of myself that I can to the stage in October.
I hope this answered any questions you had! Feel free to ask those that I may have left unanswered. You can keep up with my progress through my Instagram, where I share progress updates and daily insights.
I struggle with binge eating.
And I have my whole life.
All through my childhood, high school and early college, I was active enough that I never really saw the effects of binging, so it was never on my radar. Honestly, it’s shown up in different degrees and intensities throughout my life. The September of 2019 is when it hit the hardest: I was struggling with depression, anxiety and isolation. At first, I was running miles and miles every day to release the disruptive emotions I was experiencing, to cope, to survive. After I sustained a foot injury, I turned to binge eating as my primary coping mechanism and that’s how I coped for a long time (like….well over a year).
My experience with binge eating is marked by lots of things: sneaking food, overeating ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ things (anything can be unhealthy in great amounts), saying “I’ll do better tomorrow” every day and giving myself excuses to eat more “this last time,” and shame — crippling, paralyzing shame. The shame triggered more disappointment and uncomfortable emotions, which triggered continued binging. It’s a vicious, brutal cycle, as anyone who struggles with this knows.
Today someone asked me, “As a Christian, how did you deal with the temptation of food and the struggle of binging?”
In that moment I was reminded of the desperate prayers I prayed in February of 2020 asking God to help me change my relationship with food. “God, please help change my perception of food. Help me see it as fuel for my body rather than as something in which I can overindulge.” I remember also feeling a nudge from the Spirit, “And God, help me grow to love myself the way that I am right now, that I would not be more worthy of love if I were in better shape or if I had a better relationship with food. Help me train to strengthen the body you gave me rather than for the hopes of ‘looking better.’ I am loved by you and I am worth being loved right now, just as I am.”
In our conversation today, I realized that the answer to my first prayer didn’t show up until after the Lord answered my second prayer, the one I prayed almost nonchalantly, the one I cared about less, the one He cared about the most. He addressed the heart problem: He addressed the fact that I wasn’t loving myself or my body well. Only after I started surrendering my self-loathing to the Lord did answer to the first prayer come along later.
Thankfully, God cares far more about my heart than anything. In the past, it didn’t matter how athletic I was: it was never good enough and I was never good enough. Now, my heart has undergone (and is still experiencing) a transformation that has resulted in a better understanding of my self-worth. The opportunity to pursue bodybuilding arose after I was at a place of greater contentment with and love of my body, with the way I was. I can genuinely say that I wanted to grow stronger and that any physical changes were a byproduct of the strength I was gaining.
I share this to encourage anyone who may be struggling with something similar: the Lord deeply cares about your heart and about your ability to love yourself. Even in the moments when it doesn’t feel like prayers are being answered, He’s working and moving. He’s loving you better than you could ever love yourself.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need to talk about anything you may be struggling with.
1 Thess. 2:2
"...but with the help of our God we dared to tell His gospel in the face of strong opposition."