Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness

The Skinny Complex

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I remember from a young age and even today being praised for being tiny and skinny. I remember standing in my bedroom at 6 years old and knowing how much I weighed and that it was a good thing that the number was so small. I remember being a teenager and a relative of mine stood next to me and said to our family “Look how small Denise is, she’s half my size!”. I remember this past summer, running into a friend after I had just gone for a jog and her saying to me “Oh my God, you’re so nice and skinny, it’s amazing”. I thought that things were shifting, that people were starting to see health before skinny, that the focus was on taking care of yourself instead of losing weight. I was completely wrong. Nothing has changed. People are still obsessed with being skinny. The more time goes by, the more I think that it’s getting worse.

At every family gathering, the conversation always shifts to losing weight regardless of what else is going on in our lives, it always goes back to being thin. I even had one relative ask me for advice when she mentioned that her biggest issue was that she gets so busy during the day, she forgets to eat and then goes home and overeats. Before I share my response, I would like to say this : HOW CAN ANYONE FORGET TO EAT?! Seriously!!!! I have never forgotten to eat; it is a concept so foreign to me. But I guess it does happen so I suggested that she pack a little something ahead of time that she can toss in her purse as a snack or buy something like individual prepackaged unsalted nuts or fresh cut fruit and leave them in the fridge at her office. Well, it was in one ear and out the other, she had this glazed over look in her eye and instantly responded with “well, that would mean that I’d have to be organized which I am not”. If that’s what you truly think of yourself and what you say to yourself, then that’s exactly what you’ll be. What you’re really saying is that you’re too lazing to eat right. That’s the bottom line, it’s harsh, but the truth hurts. Needless to say, the conversation went right back to losing weight. No mention of health or wellness or nutrition, it was all about the number on the scale dropping.

For some reason people always feel the need to point out when someone is skinny or eating healthy. It’s always such a big deal. A prime example was when I went out to dinner with some friends and the only plant based option on the menu was a salad, so that’s what I ordered. Out of the 9 of us, each one of the ladies at one point or another during the evening would say “Denise, you must be starving!”. This happened non-stop throughout  the night. No matter how many times I repeated that I was good because I eat every 2 hours anyway so I was perfectly fine, they kept on making a fuss over my meal and pointing out that I was eating light. It’s not as if I was sitting there staring at everyone else’s plates and salivating, or saying “that looks so good, I wish I could eat that!” That wasn’t the case at all, trust me when I say that I was really very much good with my salad. Finally towards the end of the night after my trying to no avail to convince my group that I wasn’t depriving myself of nourishment, one friend turned to me and said “I think we are making a bigger deal out of this than it actually is”. Yes, yes you were.

I like to think that when people say things or point things out that it’s coming from a place of love and concern, but really it’s not. If anything, it’s coming from a place of discomfort. People are genuinely uncomfortable eating with someone who is choosing a lighter option when they are eating something a bit more decadent. At this point it’s happened so many times that it no longer surprises me. I’ve heard it all. The saddest one was when after enjoying a big dinner, I had turned desert because I was stuffed and the back-handed response I received was “well, you’ve become very reasonable haven’t you?” This was coming from a person who admitted to hiding in the kitchen and stuffing their face with cookies when their mother had passed away just minutes before. It’s tragic, it’s suffering. I’m sad for this person because I know that they are hurting, but that at this point they’ve given up on themselves, and yet they still feel the need to point out that my husband and I are always reasonable when it comes to eating habits and always says it with a touch of disdain.

Another aspect of The Skinny Complex is self-deprication. A few days ago a friend of mine pointed out that the ladies in her family who appear to be slim always point out that they’ve gained a few pounds, or need to work on their tummy or love handles or try to get rid of their muffin top. These ladies unfortunately feel the need to point it out and claim that they have these so-called flaws. Why are these flaws? Why do we need to point them out? Self-deprication is just a way of protecting yourself, by pointing out what you think is wrong with you before anyone else might. First of all, nobody notices this stuff on other people because they are so busy thinking about themselves and their own “flaws”. Think about it: Do you seek out the cellulite on other women? Do you stare at woman’s midsection if she doesn’t have a six pack of abs? My guess is that you don’t, I know that I don’t and when I realized this, I realized how ridiculous we can all be. The negative self-talk isn’t something that you would say to anyone else, ever.

This obsession is so intense, being skinny seems to be on everyone’s mind all the time, whether they realize it or not. The comments I’ve heard, the conversations I’ve had, the back-handed snarky remarks thrown at me are all just projections of other peoples issues. A person’s size has nothing to do with anything whatsoever. Being a certain dress size is not an accomplishment at all and it doesn’t deserve to be praised in any way. Just because someone may appear slim doesn’t mean that they are healthy and it certainly doesn’t mean that they’ve done something so miraculous that it needs to be pointed out. An accomplishment in terms of physique would be someone who decides to become healthier by becoming more active or starting to eat more whole foods and balanced meals. Dress size has nothing to do with it, looks have nothing to do with it. Focus on health above anything else, because it’s everything. When you’re health is not 100% everything stops, priorities shift and suddenly the number on the scale or those emails that you just have to respond to or that Instagram post that you just have to put up no longer matter.

Those comments that I heard when I was younger could have been so damaging and dangerous to me; I couldn’t become terribly sick as a result of that. The reason why I didn’t was honestly because I have always enjoyed exercising, I’m terrible at sports, but working out has always been fun. Everything from doing workout videos with my mom in our basement to taking up jogging with my dad and then weightlifting in recent years with my husband. Being exposed to that from an early age helped me understand and become aware of health above size. Everything that I’ve done in terms of nutrition, diet, weight loss and workouts have always been driven by my wanting to be as healthy as possible, not as thin as possible.

The next time you catch yourself pointing out someone else’s meal or size or anything of that sort, stop before you speak and think about why you are saying this. Remember that this is only you projecting some insecurity onto someone else and keep in mind that it may even impact that other person in a negative way (especially if they are young). Just focus on yourself and your well being, instead of how everyone else looks compared to you. Stop the cycle, stop hurting yourself and please start recognizing that skinny is not something to be praised or celebrated. Being physically active, eating a well balanced diet, maintaining a healthy body are what should be celebrated and considered inspiring. Be the best you every day, eat to live and be well.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Wellness

Recovery Week

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Competing in any sport is rough. The training process, the nutrition and meal prep, not to mention the constant build up to the big day is enough to take a toll on even the most elite athletes. That’s why having a designated and scheduled recovery time is an absolute must for everyone, and I’m not just talking about one rest day away from the gym, what I’m talking about is some serious downtime for some real R&R.

Taking time out from exercising is a must for anyone who workouts consistently and who trains hard. You can lift as heavy as possible and be super on point with your nutrition all you want, but if you don’t take legitimate time off, you are guaranteed to not only plateau and over train, but to burn out completely. Working out is only part of the puzzle, everything that you do outside of your gym time will dictate your progress, your health and your wellbeing. You can’t build muscle if you’re exhausted, you can’t lose body fat if you’re physically over worked, just like ou can’t out-train a bad diet. It’s all three pieces of training hard, eating clean (and enough!) and restful sleep and recovery, that allow you to grow, to get stronger, to get lean and stay that way.

Last year when I competed for the first time, I only lasted 2 days away from the gym and these weren’t even real rest days, they were more like active recovery days instead where I would go for a nice hike or light jog outside. This time was completely different. I knew in advance that regardless of how I placed and whether or not I would qualify for the Provincial Championships, that I would take time away from the weight room. After all, at that point it had been well over a year since I had taken more than one day off from working out in the same week…needless to say, I was due.

So that’s exactly what I did; three full days off followed by a couple of days of light jogging outside for no more than 20 minutes and zero weight training. This may sound strange, but it was a challenge for me to stay away from the gym. Think about it: when you spend months on end where everyday has several hours dedicated to working out and then you completely eliminate it altogether, it’s bound to leave you wondering about what you’ll do with all that extra time. It was certainly nice to sleep in a bit longer and not have to run for the bus on my way to the gym, but it was also really nice to start jogging again after three days. I felt productive again.

What was not so awesome about my rest days was how I felt physically and emotionally to be honest. The day after the competition I woke up feeling a bit sore and stiff; posing in heels on stage coupled with stress and dehydration will do that to a person. The worst part though was that I was super bloated, my belly was pushed out and I felt heavy and soft. It is normal to get some bloating after dehydrating for show day and then rehydrating after, but this was way worse than I could have ever imagined. I also got the worst heartburn every single time that I would eat. It was awful. I felt full all the time, but I also wanted to eat everything in sight, no good. On the emotional side, well let’s just say that the post contest blues hit me hard this time. I was disappointed that I didn’t place in the top 3, but I also knew that the judges had their reasons and the top three ladies absolutely deserved to win without question. My disappointment lied within myself; maybe I could have lifted heavier or practiced posing more or gotten more rest during my prep. I felt like I could have done more and that I was in control of how well I placed, so my not winning was a reflection of my lack of effort somewhere along the line. It may not be true, but I couldn’t help but feel and think that way; I didn’t win and I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t do enough or work hard enough. Ultimately though it was all said and done and the show was over. On the bright getting the great piece of news that I and placed 4th and did qualify for the Provincial Championships definitely perked me up!

So now I am back on prep and getting ready for the big competition in just 6 weeks from now. The good news is since I’m starting this prep already pretty shredded I get to enjoy a bit more carbs (for now) and less interval training with my cardio. So that’s nice, but we’ll see how long it lasts! This next show will be with people who are the best in my Province and possibly the country; the top 5 move on to nationals! This one will no doubt be my biggest challenge yet.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

 

Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness

Fearing Failure

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One of the biggest lessons that I have learned on my health and fitness journey has been this:

                                             The body achieves what the mind believes

This statement is so huge and has had a massive impact on how well I’ve been able to progress overtime and stay consistent in that continuous development. A person’s success in weight loss, overall health improvement and long term maintenance is 100% dependent on their mindset. That’s where the fear of failure comes into play.

Fear is what holds us back and stops us in our tracks from going after something or taking it to the next level. I’ve heard all kinds of so called “reasoning” that people tell themselves when it comes to their fitness  and weight loss goals and it always comes back to the fear of failure. For example, I had a conversation with a relative of mine a few weeks ago who mentioned that she was concerned that if she tried to be plant-based that she would be hungry all the time. My response to that was “If you are hungry, then you need to eat”. Simple enough right? Hunger (not a craving!) is a sign that your body needs more fuel and nourishment…so just eat more!  What’s stopping you from doing so? There is no reason to fear hunger or to overthink your nutrition. What I believe the thought process around being hungry on a plant-based diet stems from is the fear of feeling deprived or of having cravings all the time. This only happens if you don’t eat enough, don’t eat a balanced diet or miss out on important nutrients that your body needs. So just eat already! Yes, take a proactive approach to your nutrition and inform yourself of eating well (whether plant based or not), but then take action and just go for it instead of sitting around overthinking it and worrying about how “hungry” you may feel.

Another solid example of fearing failure also came from another relative who said that she was worried that if she started to clean up her diet, maybe try a few meatless meals that her family would not be on board and she would end up having to cook separate meals to appease everybody. To that I say, it may be time to show your family a little tough love. You are not doing your family or yourself any favours by serving food that is lacking nutrients, that is overly processed and just unhealthy. Don’t you want your family to be as healthy as possible so that they can live a long and fulfilling life? Because if that’s the case, then their diets absolutely need to be healthy all the time. If you are constantly giving in when they say let’s order in again or I won’t eat vegetables even if they are deep fried in chocolate sauce, then your loved ones on are the fast track to a life filled with countless health problems. And this goes for anyone at any age even if they don’t look overweight. When I was younger, before how learned how to cook, it didn’t matter whether I wanted french fries for dinner instead of lentil soup, that’s what was prepared by my mom and that’s all that I could have. Same goes for my husband when he was young. My mother in-law mentioned that if he didn’t like what was being served then it was too bad for him, that was the meal and he could either go hungry or eat. Needless to say his stubbornness and attempt at a hunger strike was very short lived. That’s the case with everyone; they may give you grief but it won’t last long. Hunger is very powerful and unless your loved are willing to cook for themselves (which chances are they probably won’t ) they’re going to eat what you put in front of them. You’re the boss of the kitchen, you set the rules, so make it healthy, stand strong and show off your tough love muscles.

A third and rather funny example of fearing failure that I hear all the time has to do with fitness, mostly weightlifting. “I don’t want to bulk up”, “I need to lose weight before I should start weightlifting”, “I need to get in better shape before I can start weightlifting”. These always make me laugh on the inside because each one of these examples is completely false! I’ve already address multiple times why you won’t bulk up from weightlifting so I’m not gonna go there now. In terms of needing to lose weight or get in better shape before picking up some dumbbells, stop and think about what you are ACTUALLY saying here. You are stating that you need to get “in better shape” before you can get in shape. That makes no sense at all. How can you get in shape before you get in shape? You don’t have to start by benching 200lbs or working with massive weights, I certainly didn’t, in fact I started by working out with a pairs of 2lbs dumbbells in my bedroom . You lift weights to get stronger and to sculpt your body regardless of your excess bodyweight and fat. If that’s not enough to convince you then keep in mind that diet will and cardio alone will only take you so far (that’s why you’ll see a lot of puny and soft looking people who are runners or cyclist), also the more muscle you have the more calories you burn throughout the day, and too much cardio can actually impact your posture making your belly round outwards a bit.

My current fear failure has to do with how hard I can push myself during workouts, mostly in terms of how heavy I can actually lift. It’s a big hindrance for me as this fear is stopping me from growing, from getting stronger and from becoming the best version of myself possible. This is all from a mix of self-doubt and discomfort; I don’t think that I can actually lift so much and I’m trying to protect myself from the difficulty of it. With this though, I’m only hurting myself and preventing myself from getting as much gains as possible and crushing it on show day. A wise lady once said : Always lift heavier than you think you can. This wise individual was actually Miss Piggy and these are words to live by! With my current prep I’ve become far more self-aware and I have built up my mind-muscle connection so know I am able to recognize when my body can handle a heavier load with each session. Each week I try to lift heavier than I had from the previous week and always worked out for the best. My mantra now is if I’m not swearing to myself by the end of each set (usually something like mother f*#^!r), then it’s not heavy enough. That’s just what works for me and my current goals though; it is different for each one of us so think about what your gauge would be.

Ultimately our minds are just trying to protect us from harm, whether it be physical or psychological as well. We don’t want to get injured, embarrassed or leered at for a making a mistake. At the end of the day though, bringing awareness to that fear and working through it and in spite of it will finally allow you to get to where you want to be. You can lose the weight, keep it off and get strong; it is possible but at a certain point you have see past the roadblocks that you are creating and just do it. It is you vs you, it is your reality vs your stories that you keep telling yourself. Recognize them and then move beyond them. When you get to the other side, it is a beautiful thing because you can finally see and achieve the endless possibilities in your journey fitness.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Wellness

Conquering Setbacks

 

Major setbacks are awful; they take a huge toll on you both physically and emotionally. Whether you’re derailed due to serious injury, surgery, illness or personal reasons, this will definitely impact your day to day routine especially your appetite, diet and ability to exercise. The worst is when you’ve really been on a roll in terms of your regiment and you’ve been working out hard and consistently while maintaining a well-balanced diet, in other words you’ve developed a long term healthy and fit lifestyle, and then suddenly it all comes to a screeching halt. This is pretty much what happened to me about six weeks ago and it’s been a struggle ever since. I went from injury to illness to being hospitalized to major personal issues within the past month and a half. Today I’m going to share some strategies that I’m using for getting back on the right track in the healthiest way possible.

The first and most important (and obvious!) thing is to consult with a medical professional that you are in fact cleared to start exercising and eating a nourishing diet. I cannot stress this enough; make sure to follow the doctor’s orders to a T whether they suggest just physio therapy, light stretching, short walks or certain foods to avoid, do not deviate from what you are told. If you do, it is a recipe for disaster and will probably only put you right back to where you started, negating any potential progress. Once you are given the green light, start with very basic exercises and movements, think dynamic stretching, yoga poses followed by some static stretches and a quiet meditation. This should last no more than 20 minutes, but another good option is to also include 5-10 minute walks each day; not full on race-walking, but just a leisurely stroll to get the blood flowing. It may seem too easy when you think about, but start with this and see how feel; you may be surprised with how you’re body reacts in terms of how strenuous or tiring these movements feel. The first day that I tried to just do some very simple stretches, I found that I felt tired and my muscles were very tight. Needless to say, this is a big change from five day per week training splits and weekly hot yoga classes, but progress takes time. When you are ready (after about a week or so), start incorporating some body weight strength training exercises like squats, lunges, push ups and plank, but go easy on yourself because it will take time to build up your strength again, so don’t do more than a few sets of 10 reps of each exercise. From there, each week aim to increase your challenge by either upping the number sets/reps or by starting to add weighted exercises as well. Gradually over the span of several weeks and months you’ll get back to where you were and then some, but don’t overdo it; if you start to feel tired, any strains or any pain then you need to stop and consult with your doctor again for alternative solutions. The important thing here is to slowly build up your strength and to not take any short cuts. As always be sure to start any training with some dynamic stretching and a few warm up sets and end your workout with some static stretching to prevent injury and soreness.

Nutrition will have the biggest impact on getting back to a healthy lifestyle, but I find that it’s always the hardest part to get down packed. Food nourishes and fuels you for the day and I know that this was the biggest reason as to why my muscle mass has gone down so much. My nice defined abs have gone a little soft, my beefy quads have now turned into skinny thighs and my muscular arms are looking a little puny. Unfortunately this is mostly from being under nourished and not taking in enough calories to support my weight. To avoid tummy troubles, start by phasing out one simple carb for one easy to digest complex carb each day. For example, start with a small portion of squash or sweet potatoes instead or white rice or pasta, and then switch to whole grain toast instead of the white stuff, and so on. When it comes to vegetables in general start by slowly adding in leafy greens salads with tomatoes, or cooked mushrooms with onions and then move on to the cruciferous veg like broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. Keep your portions small though, the last thing that you want is to end up spending your afternoon in the bathroom. Your body needs to slowly adapt to taking in fiber again and it can be a bit harsh for you to digest it at first, so pay attention to how you feel and how your body responds. Drink lots of water throughout each day and avoid stimulants like caffeine especially from coffee, tea and soft drinks as these can cause indigestion and heartburn. In terms of protein I strongly suggest that you hold off on any protein powders or fatty meats as these can also be tough on your digestive tract. Instead opt lean proteins such as tempeh, tofu, seitan or if you choose to eat animal proteins go for lean meats or non-fatty fish. Start to also minimize your added sugar content as well including any “natural” liquid sweeteners or artificial sweeteners and try not to consume too much fruit unless right before or after your workouts. Remember that at this point your body doesn’t need that much fructose from fruit in order to support itself, you should be getting plenty enough vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants from your vegetable intake with less sugar than you would from fruit.

When trying to get back into to a regiment with the aim of losing fat while building muscle, consistency is key and it’s important to be patient and stay focused along the way. All of those small and gradual steps that you take will help you to slowly get back to where you once were and go even further than before. Your day to day routine may have changed and you may have either more responsibilities or priorities than before, but taking care of yourself still needs to be part of your life. If you are swamped all the time and feel overwhelmed then let this be the one thing that you do for yourself and make it something enjoyable. Try some new simple recipes, maybe take a class at the gym or find a nearby hiking trail to walk with a friend. With time you’ll get back into a solid routine and feel like you again, so start small and always keep at it.

Start It, Finish It