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Pressure

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Fit People Can Feel Shitty About Themselves Too

Ugh.

I had a crappy weekend.

It started out good – I’m transitioning out of my diet, I’m feeling strong, and I had a few really cool things happen last Friday that caused a mini dance celebration in the break room and left me grinning like a complete goon most of the afternoon.

I’m working on a Top-Secret New Project (but as my Mom has told me, I’m not really good at keeping secrets – email me at Genevieve@theinertiaproject.org for details!) and had been planning to take some photos for the project this past Sunday.

No big deal – I’ve done shoots before and know how to approach them.

Or rather, I SHOULD know how to approach them.

AND I TOTALLY SCREWED IT UP!!

I psyched myself out.

In an attempt to fill my muscles out like I’ve done for my other shoots, I tried to do an emergency carbo-load on Saturday (read: ate my weight in fun party carbs like fro-yo, cookies, and Pad Thai - mmmmmm) to fill out more, with the thought that not drinking water until the photos were taken on Sunday would get rid of the inevitable carb bloat and I’d look great and tan and happy.

What actually happened was the opposite.

I woke up bloated, my abs were NOT defined, and I felt like I’d eaten a load of mopey antisocial wallflower carbs instead of fun party carbs. Exactly how I DIDN’T want to feel – and DIDN’T WANT TO LOOK!!

I was distraught. And what’s worse is that I had concrete proof my body had changed because I had taken progress photos four days before.

How I looked on Wednesday

 

How I Looked 4 days later - my literal Photo Bomb

Take a look at the difference in these pictures – the one on Wednesday is blurry and I’m pale as all get-out, but you can tell that my abs are better. I’m not retaining water. I look good.

And here’s another confession: I actually took the second set of pictures Monday night because I couldn’t bring myself to do it Sunday – this is what I looked like a full 24 hours later, after my meltdown.

(Note: I realize that my “bloaty and gross” pictures are what a lot of people would kill to have. It goes to show that regardless of your weight, you can still feel bad about yourself. This is not a post to make anyone feel shitty about how they look, or say “look at me, even when I feel bad I look good” – NO. This is about how each and every one of us has struggles with how our body looks, regardless of whether you compete in fitness competitions or avoid mirrors at all costs.)

There was an internal war going on, and it wasn’t pretty.

Here’s what was going through my mind on Sunday:

“Gen, you KNOW how to do this correctly, and that you weren’t doing it right. Why the fuck did you do this? How could you totally let go? Why didn’t you try cleaner carbs like oatmeal? Why did you think you could pull this off? The tan won’t save you, your abs look like complete crap. They are watery and soft and you can’t take pictures like this. They looked better yesterday. Why didn’t you do the photos last week when you looked super cut? What if you look WORSE later this week if you put off the photos?”
(For those who are wondering, if I had eaten no differently than usual, this never would have happened in the first place.)

There was more, but that’s a small sample of what I was saying.

But this isn’t my first rodeo. Basically what happened was I took on too much water too fast thanks to the fun party carbs. All I need to do was go back to eating normally and the bloat will subside in 2-3 days.

In the scheme of things, this is not a big deal AT ALL.

But I know myself, and I know what can happen when I let these thoughts get out of hand. I wrote an article previously about how I had a hard time with self-talk last year. I felt myself ready to fly off the handle and knew that I needed to get my head back on right.

I swallowed my pride, called up a good friend and talked through my thoughts.

This was SO HARD.

As a fitness professional, it’s so hard to admit to myself that I’m not treating my body or mind nicely, much less verbalize it to someone else. And, to be quite candid, writing this for the world to see is pretty terrifying right now!

It’s so hard to explain though – people automatically assume that because I have a six-pack that I am satisfied with how I look all the time.

THAT IS NOT TRUE.

I have good days, and I have bad days, just like everyone else.

I have days when I feel invincible. And I will admit that I do have more of them now that I have changed my body and mindset.

But I, too, still fall prey to ugly thoughts. I too have moments when I look in a mirror and see imperfections. I too struggle to love my body – and to be honest, I don’t think ANYONE fully loves everything about their body.

As I was venting to my friend, I acknowledged that what I was complaining about would seem ludicrous to 98% of the population.

But these feelings are real to me, and learning how to deal with these emotions in a healthy and constructive manner is a battle.

But if I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that while I don’t always have control of what my body is doing (helloooo, carb bloat and hormonal water weight!), I DO always have control of something FAR more important – MY MIND.

After throwing a little more of a pity party, I rolled up my sleeves and started weed-whacking away my invasive thoughts.

I GET TO DECIDE TO STAY CALM.

I GET TO DECIDE THAT THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

I GET TO DECIDE THAT JUST BECAUSE I FUCKED UP THIS PHOTO SHOOT, IT DOESN’T MAKE ME LESS LOVEABLE OR WORTHY.

I GET TO DECIDE THAT I WILL LET THESE THOUGHTS PASS INTO MY MIND, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN I SHOULD PAY ATTENTION TO THEM.

I AM IN CONTROL.

I bet you’ve had similar thoughts –

  • You’ve walked past a mirror or caught a glimpse of your reflection in a storefront window and been less than thrilled with what you see.
  • You’ve eaten too much and feel like you need to compensate by not eating for the rest of the day, texting your best friend that you’re “such a fatty”. 
  • You decide that THIS TIME, you’re REALLY going to buckle down and exercise but you give up after three workouts when you’re sore, and label yourself “lazy and unmotivated”.
  • You step on the scale and your confidence is shattered because you’re three pounds heavier than you were yesterday.
  • You have a weak moment and go for that third (and then fourth) slice of pizza and then continue the food fest because you’ve already screwed up and might as well keep going.

Look, these things happen.

It’s easy (and common!) to freak out and beat yourself up.

I clearly struggle with this too.

But always remember that you’re the master of your thoughts. Take a deep breath. Resist the temptation to take your ugly thoughts seriously. Treat them like a troll leaving a stupid comment on a YouTube video and scroll on past.

I have a challenge for you all – this week, I want you to stop yourself when you start that downward spiral and send me a short email telling me the exact thought you had when you caught yourself. I promise it will be better than hating yourself for the next day or two or three.

Chances are you’re blowing things out of proportion.

Practice acknowledging that you are having the thought, but that this particular thought doesn’t define you. This is a toughie but it will get easier with time.  And just to let you know, I’m going to be doing this too – we are in this together.

Now go, stop those negative thoughts, and be a winner.


Have you ever had a meltdown over a fitness mishap that in hindsight wasn’t a big deal? I’d love to hear it - send me an email and share your story. And please feel free to pass this on to a friend who needs to hear this.

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“But I Don’t Want to Look Bulky!” Mythbusters, Part 1.

Ok, stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

“Cello lessons? Forget about that, I don’t want to turn into Yo Yo Ma.”

No? Ok – here’s another:

“I’m afraid of going to spin class because I don’t want to compete in the Tour de France!”

Still nothing? What about now:

 “I don’t want to learn how to sing because I’m afraid I’ll accidentally turn into an opera singer.”

If you think I’m totally nuts right about now, indulge me in just one more:

“I don’t want to lift weights; I don’t want to look like a bodybuilder!”

OOOHHH snap. I bet you’ve heard that one before.

I could go into the logical, rational arguments why that’s not the case. I can wax poetical about how women’s testosterone levels make it difficult for muscle growth, how it takes YEARS of 100% dedicated lifting AND dieting to get to that point, or how lifting generally makes you smaller, not larger (take me as a case study: Pre-lifting Genevieve was a size 10-12; lifting Genevieve is a size 4-6).

Picture time so I can prove it!

But I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to address what I hear when a woman looks me in the eyes with dread and utters those words.

I’m going to dive straight into the fear behind that statement.

Though the tide is (wonderfully!) turning, it’s not yet totally acceptable for women to lift weights. If you look at the popular magazines, the articles on “toning” and “shaping” tell you:

1.       Run on the treadmill and lift 5 pound dumbbells for a fartbillion repetitions.

2.       To be slim and pretty, you should run. Just run. Or elliptical, whatever, just as long as it's cardio.

3.       Stay far, far away from lifting anything over 15 pounds because you’ll turn into the Incredible Hulk and no man will ever want to date you.

They play on the basic fears that all of us have: societal norms, physical attractiveness, social belonging, and feminine ideals of beauty.

The discomfort, in real life, sounds like this: “I don’t want to be bulkier than my boyfriend. He likes me small and soft and petite. What if he stops finding me attractive?" Or “I’m losing weight and one of my guy friends told me that he usually doesn’t find muscular girls attractive, but he likes the way I look. I know he meant it as a compliment, but it made me question the way I look. Am I getting too buff? Is that a thing?”

I have no problem admitting that I, too, was scared when I started lifting. It was embarrassing and I did a ton of things wrong.

But NOT taking the leap would have been worse.

Why is that?

Because I would have been trapped, like so many women are, in a spiral of self-loathing.

We’re taught to hate things about ourselves (like this clip from Mean Girls). Every magazine tells you how to “Lose Those Last 10 Pounds”, as if you’re not already good enough. And the kicker is that their advice SUCKS and WON’T MAKE YOU LOSE THAT WEIGHT!!

So you never lose the weight, you hate yourself more, you tell yourself you’re lazy and why bother, and you give up and eat ice cream in a corner while blasting Adele. (Not from personal experience.)

Lifting weights changed all that for me.

By lifting, I became confident. Yeah, starting out I probably looked like the weight room equivalent of Bambi on ice. But once I started to get stronger and increase my dumbbells from the 10s to the 15s to the 20s and even further, I started to see my body change. I started to have physical, concrete evidence that I was improving. I was reaching my goals by giving Shape Magazine the middle finger and doing everything it said I shouldn’t.

(Actually, I will give the magazines credit. They say to stay away from the 10s and 15s. They’re right. When I loaded up on 25s and 45s, I saw drastic changes.)

But the most drastic change was that I started believing in myself. I saw what happened when I followed conventional wisdom – crying  at the thought of 30 more minutes on the treadmill for the umpteenth day in a row (this one IS from personal experience), and what happened when I took that leap of faith - walking tall with my head held high.

I get the fear behind “I don’t want to be bulky”. I really do.

But the REAL fear is the fear of change.

It’s the fear that we won’t be beautiful in the socially accepted sense.

It’s the fear of your friends making fun of you for eating “rabbit food” while they slam burgers like it’s their job.

It’s the fear of being given the side eye by those three guys piling the plates on the bench press while you’re trying to concentrate on not dropping the bar on your face.

Those fears are the silent fears that are publicly pronounced as “I don’t want to get bulky”.

If you’ve found yourself saying “I don’t want to get bulky”, here’s what I want you to do.

I want you to really think about what this means to you.

What are you actually scared of? Is it how you’ll look? Is it how your friends will react? Is it that your sister doesn’t understand what you’re doing? Is it that you’re realizing you don’t actually know how to lift?

Once you figure out the actual answer, that dragon will be easier to slay. We’ll go more in depth on each one of these topics because dealing with your thoughts is often harder than physically picking up those barbells. But that’s exactly why I’m here. I don’t want you to wallow in misery, chasing those last elusive 5 pounds. I want you to kick ass and take names.

For now, though, take a second and write in the comments below – have you ever said “I don’t want to be bulky”, or heard someone say that to you? What’s the fear behind those words for you? I’m going to base the next few posts on what comes out in the comments, so don’t be shy!

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