exercise

Between "Before & After"

I think it's fair to say that our society is pretty fixated on the idea of "improving" things. We love renovations, trash to treasure, corrective surgery, and Transformation Tuesday. Never heard of that last one? Do a Google search and check out the images.

We love that shit. 

Those side-by-side photos of dramatic weight loss do a horrible job at telling the story of the individuals journey. I know, because I am one of those stories. And I've been blessed to be an integral part of so many other people's stories. 

In actuality, my weight loss story would feature a TON of before/after images. Before I started dressing my size and I wore oversized shirts to hide the fact that my pants were unbuttoned and unzipped ( I refused to by jeans in a size 20 so I squeezed into 18s). And after I started dressing my size when I was a teenager shopping at Lane Bryant. Before I binged, after I purged. Before I I hit the gym, after 2 hours on the elliptical. Before depriving myself of energy and nourishment for a full day, after going to bed with an empty stomach and feeling proud and accomplished. And so on. Those are just a few of the small details that reveal the in-between. All the shit a person might endure before and after a substantial weight loss. 

Rarely is it ever as pretty a picture as the one we show. In fact, I deemed my images and writings so ugly that I destroyed them all a long time ago. I was disgusted with myself. Embarrassed, ashamed, and most of all, angry. So I destroyed the evidence; almost everything that linked me to my past. I have almost no photos of me from before about 2006. No journals. No old "big girl" jeans. No artifacts from my inner travels. I'm lucky when I uncover one of these rare relics in my mother's garage or a family storage unit. They make me smile now, whereas they made me sad before. There's another before and after for you.

Besides hiding the story, these images also create a sense of insatiable yearning for some viewers. I'm still, after 5 years in the health and fitness industry, shocked at how many times I receive a message, inquiry, email, or face-to-face exchange about someone wanting to look like someone else. I get it ALL the time. "I want her results!" or "I want to look like him!" It's as if for a brief moment, we forget we are individuals and have our own bodies. You will NEVER look exactly like anybody else. Nor will you EVER share the same story. I happen to think that is amazing and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Of course, that wasn't always the case. I too used to fantasize about other bodies. But most often, an extreme version of my own. I wanted to be thin. Very badly. My weight goal was far below what was healthy for my body but I didn't know that, and I wouldn't have cared anyways. All that mattered to me was the number on the scale and the number on the tag inside of my jeans. And any way I could measure a decrease in those numbers made me happy. Well, a funny thing happened when I would do anything to lose weight: I didn't lose any weight. 

So, why do I share my before and after photos then? Probably for some of the same reasons other people do. To inspire and motivate. To encourage and support. But most importantly, to educate. I share my photos to reveal just a small part of my story. A picture is worth a thousand words. Which means a before and after photo is worth two thousand...at least. My intention is to educate others so that you're not led astray like I was. Yes you can change your body, if that's what you would like to do, but it has nothing to do with buying diet books, fake food, or joining the gym. It has everything to do with being honest and vulnerable; sharing your innermost fears, embarrassments, failures, and feelings with others so that you can empower yourself to WANT to do and be better...however you define that betterment. Share your story with the world. Don't hide. Don't be embarrassed. And most importantly, don't compare yourself to anyone else. 


Why I Chose to Keep My Loose Skin

So there's this one time, and I can't believe I haven't shared this with you already, that I decided I was going to have a tummy tuck. It was just a couple of years ago, but it's something I've thought A LOT about over the past 5 years or so. Blogging about my most personal experiences, dilemmas, challenges, and achievements helps me sort through my own feelings and ride them out with raw honesty and an open-mind. I tell you this story for myself; and hope that is resonates with at least one other person.

I should probably back up and tell you why this all came back to me. I happen to have a very large and passionate interest in human sexuality (and everything about people and the human body that we don't get to learn enough about in school). So, I read a lot of research papers, articles, blogs, etc and I watch a lot of documentaries. About a week ago, I watched a documentary about the shame and secrecy behind intersex births called Intersexion, which I highly recommend. I was fascinated by the stories I heard and felt that I could relate to many of these individuals. Often they used words like "wrong" and "disgusting" when they talked about how others viewed their bodies. The narrator mentioned that when an intersex child is birthed, the standard procedure is to "fix it, shame it, and hide it." That is exactly how I used to (and sometimes, but very rarely, still do) feel about my own body. But, in order for that to be the proper procedure, it would mean something would have to be WRONG in the first place. And there is nothing wrong with my body. 

I've gone back and forth with wanting the surgery, then not wanting it, thinking it was an absolute must, to thinking it was the worse idea in the world. I've felt excited, scared, guilty, ashamed, happy, relieved, anxious, angry, wrong, and happy about the idea of not having loose skin on my body. Yeah, ALL of those feelings. But the one thing I never felt was RIGHT...it just never felt right. 

But, that one time, when it was feeling like a really good decision, I got as close as scheduling a consultation with a plastic surgeon. Mind you, I've done a lot of research about this procedure (get the gist yourself here.) And, I've researched doctors like crazy too. I've watched videos, read blogs and visited forums all about the joys of having a flat, tight, tummy. And, I wanted that joy. Even though the thought of voluntarily and surgically removing a section of my body made me ill. 

So, I submitted my info online for a consultation with a surgeon in Alameda. Within a few hours, I got a call from his office and the person on the other end wanted to confirm my appointment with me. She proceeded to tell me about the procedure from consultation to recovery and even though I already knew EVERYTHING she was talking about, when it was discussed within the context of ME, I suddenly freaked the fuck out. I kept thinking, "What the hell are you doing? This isn't what you want!" But then I argued with myself as she continued with the timeline of events..."Oh you're just being cheap, you do want this, you just don't want to pay for it! Imagine what you'll look like when it's done and you're all healed up, it's a small price to pay! Wait, what the hell?! You're seriously OPTING in to having someone put you under and cut into your body for no good reason? You're not ill, you're not trying to prevent illness, this is totally ridiculous!" 

So, I thanked her for her time, apologized, and asked her to cancel my appointment. I just could not imagine myself going through with it. I didn't want to pay $6,000, that is certainly true. But I also didn't want to be put under. I didn't want to not be able to stand fully upright for weeks. I didn't want to be in pain. I didn't want a fake belly button. I didn't want to put my life on hold. Not for the sake of vanity, at least. And it was then that I realized that having this procedure would go against everything I believed in about myself, my life, and my body. It would go against everything I teach others and work so hard to help them believe. But you know what, that's not even what mattered most to me. I give myself permission to change my mind, to change what I believe, to challenge myself in different ways, to do things I wouldn't normally do, to be different versions of myself. I do. I think that's what makes me the person I am, a self-loving mystical beast. I know no limits when it comes to personal growth and change. I'm all about it. What mattered most to me was that it just. never. felt. right

And so, after all of that was said and done, that's the only conclusion I could come to that made sense to me. And it helped me understand why so many others opt to have these procedures done. Because it felt right for them. Cosmetic surgery is such a personal thing. There truly is no right or wrong answer. It's a means to an end and some of us use it, while others do not. I chose not to. Will I change my mind later and decide to go for it? It's highly unlikely but I guess it's possible...

But for now I am super glad I decided not to do it. Since that day, I've literally changed and shaped my body in ways I never thought possible (see photo timeline below). And it feels amazing to know that all I used was my own power, heart, determination, and commitment. I feel like my body reflects who I am on the inside, and never in my life was I able to say that until now. I'm strong, nonconforming, present, and beautiful both inside and out...naked and clothed. And THAT, feels right!  

P.S. I used to think of my loose skin and stretch marks as sort of "battle wounds" of the body...little snippets of physical evidence of my journey. But, what's funny is that the more comfortable I get with my new body, and the more I accept it as perfect and beautiful exactly how it is, the less I differentiate each part. I am WHOLE, no longer broken. 

 

That One Time I Exceeded My Own Expectations

Actually, I'd be lying if I said that this has only happened to me once. I blow myself away on a regular basis. Dare I even say it happens everyday? Yup, sure does! It's because I have a ton of love and respect for myself. And I take a moment everyday to check in on my badassery and acknowledge myself on the inside and out.

That's usually when "it" happens.

Some days it's as simple as, "Wow, I can't believe I got up and made shit happen at 7am!" or "Damn, I just cooked an insane amount of food in just a few hours!" Other times it's more monumental..."Did I really just toss that cookie simply because I didn't like it and felt not even a smidge of pressure to eat it all?" or "Are you fucking kidding me, I'm at 15% body fat?"

That last one happened two weeks ago, and I'm still a little shocked about it. 

I've never had my body fat measured via hydrostatic testing before. This is also known as a "dunk tank." The last time I had my body fat measured with any accuracy at all was when I was a teenager and it was also the first time I had ever had my body fat measured. I had no idea why it was important or what the numbers meant. I just knew my results (45%) and what the technician told me (you're morbidly obese). Devastation, guilt, and shame set over me and I carried it with me every where I went. 

Am I killing myself? How much bigger am I going to get? What happens now? What am I supposed to do? How did I let this happen? Why did I let this happen?

The only answers I ever seemed to get led me to extremely low-calorie diets, a deep sense of self-hatred, and a neverending cycle of binging and purging. It was the darkest and loneliest time of my life. 

My weight has been a topic of discussion, an issue, a THING for nearly my entire life. I was almost 10lb when I was born...so I've been big since Day 1. From a big baby, to a chubby girl, to a pretty face, to nobody. People seem to get uncomfortable around fat people. Especially fat adults. Because if you're a fat kid, it's not your fault. But if you're a fat adult, you're lazy and pathetic. Even though I was fat, I used to compare myself to other fat bodies and wonder if I looked as grotesque or disgusting. I always came to the same conclusion...no. What I saw and thought never had anything to do with the person I was looking at or thinking about, it had everything to do with me. I felt ugly. My body seemed grotesque. I was disgusting. But deeming others worse off than me made me feel better. I was a bully.

Fast forward to 2006 when I left the country for 14 months and was officially reborn. It took me that entire time away to realize who I was, what I wanted for myself and my life, and why I had become the person I was. A person I was desperate to love and accept. I felt my potential exploding within me and I wanted so bad to let it out. When I finally did, my whole world changed. And it wasn't until that moment, when I just let go and embraced me in my entirety, that I became the person I had always wanted to be. 

When I returned home in late 2007, I was finally ready to reveal my true self to the world. Between now and then I graduated from college, paid off all my student loans and other debts, rekindled some precious relationships within my blood family, came out to my family as a gay woman, got certified as a personal trainer, then as a fitness nutrition specialist, then as a health coach, traveled to 3 different continents and explored more countries than I can list, met the love of my life, moved in with the love of my life, proposed to the love of my life (she said yes), adopted two furry kids, started a business, and have been financially self-sustaining and independent for two full years now. None of any of that would have been possible without my own self-love and acceptance. 

So where does the weightloss come in? Notice I didn't mention that in my grand list of achievements. Why not? Because my weightloss was a byproduct. As a result of me embracing myself in my entirety, I made my health my number one priority. And then, I defined what it meant to be healthy. It was easy for me to do that once I stopped listening to others. Health = happiness. Simple as that. What makes me happy is being outside, helping others, exploring, cooking, eating, traveling, dancing, animals, good people, and love. So, I just cranked up the volume on all of those things and left everything else in the dust. Consequently, I lost 140 lb. But because I stopped focusing on the numbers, how hard I was working, how often I was exercising, how long I was on the treadmill, etc., the weight came off of me like a snakeskin. Slow, bit-by-bit, and revealing a brighter version of the same person underneath. 

I stopped weighing myself, I stopped caring about carbs and sugar, I stopped worrying about calories, I stopped restricting foods from my diet. I ate what I want, when I wanted, and however much I wanted. Nothing was off limits. Nothing was a "bad" choice. I wanted to be free of my abusive relationship with food and that's how I did it. 

And that's why I, again, exceeded my own expectations two weeks ago. I had no idea just how hard I've been working, how strong I've gotten, how much muscle I've built, how much body fat I've lost. No idea because I'm happy as hell about everything in my life, therefore I know I'm healthy! So, fuck numbers and scales! That's not how I measure my success. But, it's an amazing feeling to know what I was/am capable of and to see the physical transformation I've made. Ready to see my results? :) 

About to go in! We went with  Fitness Wave  for their mobile testing service and they were AMAZING! Highly recommend them. 

About to go in! We went with Fitness Wave for their mobile testing service and they were AMAZING! Highly recommend them. 

Getting my resting metabolic rate analyzed. Apparently, I have a faster than average metabolism, SWEET! P.S. Breathing through your mouth for 10 minutes, into a tube, while your nose is plugged, is seriously difficult!

Getting my resting metabolic rate analyzed. Apparently, I have a faster than average metabolism, SWEET! P.S. Breathing through your mouth for 10 minutes, into a tube, while your nose is plugged, is seriously difficult!

Getting weighed, something I stopped doing regularly a long time ago. 168 lbs. A meaningless number to me. 

Getting weighed, something I stopped doing regularly a long time ago. 168 lbs. A meaningless number to me. 

I'm going in! The water was warm thank god! 

I'm going in! The water was warm thank god! 

Getting prepared to submerge myself under water and have my water weight measured. 

Getting prepared to submerge myself under water and have my water weight measured. 

Aeron (dude on my left)  told me that I sink like a stone in the water...which is an indication of someone who has lost a lot of weight and has a low bodyfat percentage. 

Aeron (dude on my left)  told me that I sink like a stone in the water...which is an indication of someone who has lost a lot of weight and has a low bodyfat percentage. 

And now, the numbers:

  • Previous weight: 300+ lb 
  • Current weight: 168lb
  • Previous body fat: 135lb or 45%
  • Current body fat: 26lb or 15.9%

Before the test, Aeron asked me what my body fat goal was. I promised the participants of my current 90-Day Program that I would join them on their journey every step of the way, so I knew I had to have a goal to work towards just as they do. So, I just threw out a random number that I felt was attainable in that time frame given a lot of hard work...

My answer: "20%" 

Hello, my name is anxiety...

...and I love to make you freak out about everything

When I was young I used to suffer from panic attacks in the night. I would hide under my covers and hyperventilate until I had almost no oxygen left and I was drenched in sweat. Then, I would expose JUST my mouth to the side edge of the comforter so my face was still covered and try to breath normally until I fell asleep. On nights like these, which were frequent, I would wake up hours later in a pool of my own urine, shivering, and exhausted. Words can't describe how horrible that was. And it happened well into my adolescent years. 

I never told anyone that, until fairly recently. Probably because I had forgotten the details. The bed wetting was widely known, but not the anxiety or panic attacks. But after 3 months of life coaching, having a heart-to-heart conversation with one family member, and writing a 10-page letter to another...it all came back to me. And that's when I realized that I have been dealing with anxiety my whole life.

It's nice to put a name to a face. I see her around often but didn't know who she was. 

There have been stages in my life when she follows me every where I go, and other times she just kinda hangs out...waiting. About 5 years ago I started working at a gym in Oakland and I was super duper excited about the job and the doors it would open for me. I ignored several red flags from the start and dove in head first giving it all I had. Soon I realized I was in deep shit. I loved my role, I loved the people I was meeting, training, and helping, but I was very unhappy with the inner workings of the gym, and the person running it. The situation got worse and worse over time and my anxiety levels were through the roof because I didn't know how to quit. I wanted to. Badly. For a long time. But I stayed. Probably out of fear of being without a job and losing that "security" but also largely because I absolutely loved my clients. I lost sleep and I became irritable and easily agitated. Everyone noticed; including my partner. It affected our relationship. I was mean. I was snappy. I was unhappy. 

The emotions and stress built up inside of me until the universe decided that if I wasn't going to take action, it would do it for me. One day, after a long double shift at work I came home and started rummaging through my things cleaning out my closet and other pointless tasks (which was therapeutic at the time). That's when I had my first seizure. You should know that I have ZERO history of seizures, blackouts, or head trauma. Nothing in my family history either. All of my gazillion tests came back normal. My doctor and my neurologist agreed that I was healthy as could be and there was no explanation for it.

But I knew that wasn't true. I felt it. And sure enough, 3 days later I had another one. And guess what I was doing when I had that 2nd one? Getting ready to go to work. 

I immediately switched doctors and found an Ayurvedic practitioner. He read my chart and asked me about my life and lifestyle. I told him everything. We did more blood tests just in case it was diet related. During our next visit he asked me about stress and anxiety. I told him about the stresses in my life and how I am up all night and sometimes jolt awake all sweaty, heart racing, and gasping for air. He looked concerned. "That sounds like anxiety," he said.

What?

ME?

Anxiety?

No way.

Yes.

Totally anxiety. 

So ever since then I have been on a mission to try to find healthy ways to cope with it. I thought it was a new thing for me until, like I mentioned before, I started seeing my life coach and put the pieces of my life together like a puzzle. I know I will never be completely rid of anxiety. She purchased real estate in my mind long ago so my only option is to work on our relationship. 

One thing that's VERY helpful to me is to not let things fester. I used to keep my feelings to myself, which is very unhealthy. Now, if I have something to say to someone, I tell them as soon as possible. If I have a looming task, I complete it first. Procrastination and anxiety are ultimate BFFs. They have an unbreakable bond. The longer you let something go on, the worse your anxiety will be over it.  Another helpful tool is accountability. I am fortunate to have a solid handful of close friends who know and understand me well enough to help me when I need to combat my anxiety with greater force. Communicating feelings and talking through your thoughts with a person whom you trust and can actually listen is highly effective.

Let me give you a recent example...

While I was traveling around Europe last month, I started to feel a little anxiety brewing the closer it got to my departure date. I was anxious to come home. Normal stuff, right? I mean, I had been away for 4 weeks! I didn't think much of it. But, then I realized that the anxiety was mainly centered around my training and getting back into it. Although I exercised almost everyday while I was on vacation (because I enjoy it, and it's an important and normal part of my lifestyle, not because I forced myself to) I was not training like I normally do, 5x per week. I guess I was anxious about not being as strong or as fast as I was before my trip. I tried not to let it bother me, but it did. It bothered me a lot. That's when I realized that maybe I was too obsessive about my training. Don't get me wrong...I absolutely love CrossFit. I love my gym, I love my coach(es), I love my fellow athletes, and I love the way it makes me look and feel. But perhaps I put too much pressure on myself to fulfill a certain status or perform a certain way. I don't care to be a competing athlete, to win titles or awards, or to be ranked in any way. I just want to feel strong, able-bodied, and healthy. CrossFit does that for me. But I don't need it to run my life. My vacation showed me that I was scheduling my life according to my training program, instead of scheduling my training program around my life. I don't know how it got to be that way, but that wasn't my intention. I don't live to train. Yet I was dedicating my time and energy to it like I do. I decided that when I got home, that was going to change.

So when I arrived back in the states, I did not obsess about when I was going to get back into the gym. In fact, I allowed a full 10 days to go by before I decided to return. Was this easy? Hell no. I had some major anxiety about it. But that was part of the challenge for me. Not to give in and force myself to do something that I didn't want to just because I felt the pressure. I still took care of myself, physically. I will never give that up. But I'd like to OK myself to explore other ways of moving my body, and make those equally important. I met my good friend, Mel, for lunch and told her everything. She didn't judge me, or tell me I should go to the gym, or add to the pressure or anxiety at all. She just listened. When I got home later that day I decided I would hit the gym the next day, no matter what. The next morning, I texted Mel to let her know I was on my way...(WARNING: graphic language not suitable for children or sensitive folks follows

And here are the photos I sent her, and a photo of the workout which did indeed nearly kill me. 

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

This was a proud moment for me for many reasons:

  1. I was vulnerable and I was OK with it. 
  2. I admitted to someone else that I was vulnerable.
  3. I did not allow external forces to pressure me into making decisions. 
  4. I was successful in initiating this very difficult, new change in my lifestyle.
  5. I started with a smile, a positive attitude, and the outcome was perfect. 

And I'm sharing this experience and personal details of my past to let you know that I KNOW. And to remind you that I'm a human being just like you. A lot of people look at leaders and role models as superhuman or exempt from the trials and tribulations of life. That couldn't be more inaccurate. I know what makes me a good role model is that I practice what I preach. My coaching is centered on my personal experiences. That makes me relatable. It also makes me trustworthy and honest. I don't just say things because I think they sound good. I say what I mean, as cliche as that sounds. And I say it with conviction because I know it to be true. If you've been going back and forth about some decision to be made, or action to be taken, or words to be spoken...DO NOT WAIT any longer. Decide now. Act now. Say it NOW! 

P.S. I did end up quitting my job at the gym. I would have been crazy to ignore the signs. And now I'm happily 100% self-employed, growing my own business. 

P.P.S. This is my friend Mel. I thought I should include some photos of her so you can see just how special she really is....

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