This is a post that in so many ways, I have been trying to write for 6 months.
It starts with a girl who ate whatever she wanted and lived her life, moves on to a girl who cried herself to sleep starving and full of anxiety, and ends (for now) with a girl who is trying her best to find balance.
The difference in weight between those 3 girls?
Less than 3kgs.
A whole lot of headspace and 3kgs.
In 2007 my renewed interest in fitness surged and competing in running events became my norm. A look to combine my swimming past with my running future led me to commence triathlon training, with the hope to compete in that sport in the months to come. With such a change also came the observation that my body and body fat were not on par with my competitors in that field.
Seeking the advice of sports dieticians and nutritionists, I amended my diet and continued to train.
When nothing obvious changed, more experts opinion's were sought and my PCOS diagnosis (more on that here) brought into the fold.
By 2009, and with skeletal issues preventing me from further competition, my focus shifted to becoming leaner.
At the start of 2012, this became my overall goal.
By the beginning of this year, 2014, my life was completely devoted to this one goal and no matter what it took - I would attain this dream. This goal, this dream, this obsession, this idea that would make my life immeasurably better. The thing that would make me the best that I could be.
The idea that if you could just lose that 10kg, get rid of cellulite, have skinnier legs, that everything would be better and life that much sweeter....
I don't think that I will ever forget one Saturday evening in late 2013, when I was so hungry that I was in agony. My vision blurred, energy levels flailing and mood, miserable. Taking myself off to bed very early in an attempt to escape this reality, I lay there with tears running down my face. Knowing that I had gone too far, that this was too much, this was not life and I needed to end my newest training and eating cycle.
The next day, I woke up and got on with it. Pushing the previous night's memories aside and once again striving to be leaner, leaner, leaner.
So that quality; my intense focus, determination and perseverance; would be as much my downfall as my success.
Over the past 5 years I have often thought that I wish I didn't ever start on this journey. That in many ways I had stayed in my naive state, not minding how the way I was eating and living affected my body. That's tough to admit... I write a health & wellbeing blog and spout all kinds of positive affirmations linked to doing right by your body, by learning more and living better. So for me to admit to this is hard.... hard and completely necessary.
Allow me to clarify.. Doing the right thing by your body involves so much more than whole foods and exercise. It involves nourishment, listening to your intuition, acceptance and love. Of yourself.
I have a suspicion that almost everyone reading this knows exactly what I am talking about. That makes me kind of sad. At the same time it makes me excited. That my experiences and knowledge can be shared openly and honestly with you, allowing you some insight and a story that could help.
For a while there this obsession of mine was publicly shared via countless selfies on social media with comments surrounding body fat and macronutrients. There was one other very common theme and that was sharing how happy and awesome I felt.
In many ways I absolutely did. There weren't always huge calorie deficits and misery, there was fitness and strength gains as well as the exploration of a whole new headspace. I found what it felt like to push myself physically beyond what I had ever experienced before, and that was freaking awesome.
However, what I didn't share, was how anxious I felt. How thoughts of what I would eat, in what amount and at what time, absolutely consumed my life. Calories burnt vs calories consumed. Macronutrient components of each and everything that went into my mouth. Sheer panic (and avoidance) of most social situations that involved food - and let's be honest, most social situations do involve food!
I won't tell you that I regret leaving all of that out when I shared those images on social media because that was my journey to take. However I am sorry, from the deepest part of my soul, if I ever made you feel inferior or not good enough because of an image that I posted with only part of the story.
Not because I am a supermodel and I think so highly of my looks though because I have felt that way too. I have looked at someone's account on social media, admired her commitment to training and eating well, her resulting toned arms, and felt crappy. I have compared myself to her and wondered what I am doing wrong? What am I doing differently? I do the work too!
Does this sound familiar as well?
There are those who do this for a living and I don't mean models, I mean competitors of figure sculpting.
Although I don't feel that these individuals necessarily share the complete story either, this post is by no means a judgement on them or what they do.
All I would say on this is that you need to make the conscious choice that if you follow such people on social media, do so without comparison. Know that there is always more to the story and that one image, on one day and at one time, may not always be the reality.
Also it would help to keep in mind that you and I, that most of us, are not competitors wanting to get on a stage in 16 weeks.
We are however looking and striving to be the best that we can be and live a wonderful life, a full life. So athletes, supermodels and celebrities would fall into the conscious choice category as well...
Be aware of how you feel when you see social updates from such accounts and be sure that you feel inspired and empowered as opposed to weighted down.
This post is not about losing weight, how to get a 6-pack or eat better. And I am not saying that counting calories is wrong or that focusing on macronutrients and increased exercise is negative. What it is about, is awareness of both sides of the coin and embracing it all, embracing yourself.
Since ending my last training and eating cycle (as mentioned above) I have gone through some big swings. Eating without counting each morsel, eating and counting, training like crazy, getting sick and above it all, doing my best to be more honest with myself, and with those around me - that now includes all of you!
It should be said that the reason I felt great when posting the images I mentioned was generally an awesome source! I was soaring - hitting fitness goals and feeling their subsequent endorphin rush, nourishing my body and feeling those awesome results too. As much as I did acknowledge that, my single focus was becoming leaner. That somehow the discipline, extremes and one-track mind would all end when I became leaner AND that my life would be better. That I would look great and feel amazing and somehow still enjoy pizza and wine with friends from time to time.
Really? I think that perhaps if I didn't love all of me then, why would I with a few less grams of body fat? What the hell difference would that make?
My hope is that this post will serve as a constant reminder that what I want and what makes me happy is balance and a full life; complete with smiles, joy and health. To know and trust that my body will best respond in such a state and that all the calorie counting, green-smoothie drinking, gym-going and self-hating will never achieve the same.
I know all too well about dedication and commitment. I know that I can do and stick to anything, forever if need be. Headstrong with the best of them, however I also know that change takes time and being unhappy whilst chasing an unhealthy focus is not at all where I want to be.
Having been involved in sport and exercise since I was a kid and carrying the DNA of my parents, movement is entrenched within me and I love it. The feeling of strength, athleticism and fitness are incredible and worth going after each and everyday in my mind. I also feel the best (surprise surprise don't we all?) when I intuitively nourish my body with fresh whole foods, prepared by my own hands and with love. All of this naturally provides the framework for your body to operate at its best, from the inside-out. The other ideas can go and get stuffed!
I know... I struggle with this belief as well at times. To let go and act out of love, not hate or fear of and for myself.
The times that I am at the gym and so focused on a task at hand provides sheer joy. Because I listened to my body and served it well. Because I can move my body in these weird and wonderful ways. Because I respected and appreciated its' power and beauty. NOT because I hate my arms.
The same can be said for creating a new and delicious recipe jam-packed with fresh whole foods and enjoyed with loved ones.
Here is a great question to ask yourself, when you find yourself struggling with any of this, and one that I have been posing to myself consistently over the past few weeks...
"Would you still do/eat/train/whatever as you do even if you never looked any different as a result?"
Sit with the answer, allow it to wash over you and then act with awareness.
This path is not a simple one to walk though surely it's better than walking around with the guilt-hate-shame-comparison cycle that plays inside your head each day?
If like me, you feel that this message is important to share, please do so with my best intentions. Spread the word and help someone else feel better about their journey.
I wish you nothing but joy, love and light - today and everyday
P.S. Like all of us, where you naturally carry fat and where you are leaner, is pre-determined and part of what makes you, you. I naturally have a lean mid-section and for me to have "abs" is my normal state. Just like you might have gorgeously-toned arms! Keep that in mind...