I still remember this day like it was yesterday.
It was about a month after my last show of the season in 2015 and I was staring at myself in the mirror, as I used to do, hating what I saw.
The funny thing was, I was “lean.”
I was staring at myself, with a bicep vein running down each arm, with abs that were still visible and a small waist and with hips that had less width than “normal,” and yet I spent a lot of my emotional energy calling myself fat. At the same time as my emotions were screaming at me that I was somehow inferior, my logical mind was standing there watching the whole process unfold, shrugging and going “Are you fucking serious!? LOOK at yourself. You’re delusional.”
It’s so strange to be able to see those aspects of my body that confirmed I wasn’t at all fat, that meant I had sub 15% body fat levels (which is athletically lean and technically “underfat” for the female body) and yet still have the nerve to tell myself that I was somehow too plump.
Not good enough.
Not striated enough.
Not lean enough.
Just not enough.
During 2015 I had worked with an amazing coach
He didn’t put any pressure upon me to overtrain. He reminded me to stay rested and well balanced and temperate, he gave a shit about my mental and physical health all the way through.
It was the “perfect” prep as far as being comfortable giving my implicit trust to someone else went, and when I asked if I could step it up a notch when I feared I wasn’t going to be lean enough, told me to calm down and remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I truly appreciate what my coach did for me and how he took me to the stage.
During the entire prep I also managed my binge eating habits. I was creative and flexible with my food. I spent time outside of the house. I even went to the pub and to social gatherings with my partner after flatly refusing to go anywhere or do anything for the entire competitive season prior.
I found it easy to stay compliant with my diet and exercise and I was focused as hell.
So on the surface it seems like I had the “perfect” prep, I had the perfect mindset, the perfect coach, the perfect balance. I didn’t rebound. I didn’t run myself into the ground – and yet I never want to do a show ever again.
And the reason why I feel this way, the reason why I discovered that bodybuilding wasn’t for me and the reason why I feel so happy today in comparison, is because I didn’t like who I was trying to force myself to become when I called myself a “bodybuilder.”
When you identify as a bodybuilder, as a fitness or a bikini model – you create an inevitable, strong link between your physical appearance and your self worth. If you’re not in contest shape, which is 99.99999999% of your year, you feel inferior. So if you think you’re unhappy with your body now, and you think that doing a show will help you feel better about your body, NO. It makes it WORSE. If you cannot accept, love and cherish your body NOW, your REAL BODY, trust me when I say you’re going to have a fucking horrible time loving yourself after the stage lights are turned off.
This link between our physical body and our self worth is sadly not just limited to bodybuilders
This identity problem is pandemic in our society, and our lack of body confidence is ultimately from the perception that if we have fat or we are carrying a bit of extra fat, we’re worse people.
We assume that if we eat healthy, nutritious, whole foods we’re better. Not only is our diet better, but we’re superior. We’re superior to those other people who “can’t help themselves” and don’t know how to go a day without eating sugar or processed foods or “bad” things.
So if you’re a bodybuilder and you’re not lean, you’ve been “bad.”
If you’re part of a growing number of overweight and obese people, the MAJORITY of the population, well – it’s because you’re “bad.”
And that is a complete and utter load of shit.
Bodybuilding, being obsessed with your image and being obsessively concerned with your physical appearance is a result of ascribing a morality to the state of being lean. You learn to associate your body with your self worth and the actions you take with your diet and your training are manipulated to reflect that because you look a certain way, you are a better person.
NOTHING ABOUT YOUR BODY MAKES YOU A BETTER OR A WORSE PERSON.
If you’re a dickhead when you’re “fat,” you’ll probably be a dickhead when you’re lean, too. But now you’re just a dickhead with abs.
So unfortunately, instead of realising that our bodies are not our souls – we work on our bodies instead of working on our souls.
We forget who we are as human beings, we forget to indulge ourselves in the values that we hold true and we forget that our clothing size doesn’t have a sense of righteousness or superiority attached to it. And unfortunately, because we live in a society wherein the “perfected” physical body is an object of desire and a representation of superiority, and fat people are judged for their appearance and morally critiqued, this will always be present to some degree and we will always have this juxtaposition. Even though we intrinsically know that we are not our bodies, we will use diet and exercise to change our bodies to try to become better people.
What I disliked about myself, I was channeling into my body. There was nothing “wrong” with my body, there was something wrong with my values and the way I was living my life, and my body copped the brunt of that.
Instead of looking at myself and asking if I was living a life I was proud of, I looked at myself in the mirror and stared at my flesh as if there was something wrong with IT. I was being unduly harsh and critical of my physical body because my mind and my emotional being was sick of the pressure I was putting myself under. My mind and my emotional being was tired and it was drained, because I was trying to be someone I was not.
I now think of the way we relate to our bodies as being akin to a crime being committed in a public place, and instead of criticising the perpetrator, we point fingers at the innocent bystanders.
Your body is the innocent bystander because your body will only change shape when you make a change to your mind.
What the mind feeds the body, the body will eat
What I was feeding my body was the bullshit idea that my physical image was so important.
That being lean, being shredded, having a good physique was imperative.
That following my diet to the letter, never skipping a gym session, always pushing myself hard – that was a non-negotiable.
The rest of the stuff in life like relationships, friendships, the pursuit of truth and of education and of making a positive difference in the world, of being someone who is true to their word – that was optional.
I didn’t like who I was forcing myself to become because in order to become a better bodybuilder, to win more shows, to place higher – I had to tell myself that keeping my physical body incredibly lean was one of the most important things in my life – and I don’t fucking believe that for a second. Because ultimately what I was trying to tell myself was that my “normal” body, the one that isn’t as lean, the one that is soft and feminine and yet still strong – wasn’t “good enough,” even though my stage body was an optical illusion. Something that exists for a week before it’s gone again.
Imagine living your life feeling constantly unfulfilled because you’re working hard for a time when you can look a certain way, but that look can only ever be temporary.
Wouldn’t if feel like you’re also telling yourself on a daily basis that the body you always have, your REAL body, is inferior?
THIS is why I won’t be bodybuilding again.
I grew tired of telling myself that I was only worthy when I looked a certain way, and in order to make myself LOOK a certain way I had to behave in a way that wasn’t in line with my personal values and made me unhappy.
I was trying to force myself to swallow a pill that made me feel sick.
Particularly because one of the reasons why I did shows in the first place was because of the false belief that unless I looked a certain way no one would hire me as a coach.
Unless I had 6 pack abs, I didn’t know what I was talking about.
If I didn’t have rock hard glutes and striated boobs because I was so lean all the time, I was an imposter.
Now I realise that I was more of an imposter then than I could ever be now. because I was using diet and exercise as a way to become something I never was – someone who believed that my physical image held the key to success and to happiness.
And I know I’m not alone here, I know that you probably believe this too. And how could you not? When each and every fucking day, hour after hour, minute after minute we’re bombarded with images of perfection that create a problem in our minds and then sell us a solution that only focuses on our bodies.
What I learned by giving up bodybuilding was profound, literally life changing and what I believe has been a message that has set me apart from other coaches, made me real, made me true to myself and actually made me someone worth listening to.
That message that I learned was simply this;
We use our physical bodies as dumping grounds for the shit in our lives we don’t want to deal with.
Like I was, you might be dealing with feelings of inadequacy. You might feel like because you don’t look like everyone else, you stand out too much and no one will pay you any attention. (Which is a contradiction in itself.)
Like I was, you might be dealing with conflicting values. You might be trying to change your body when in actual fact, it’s your LIFE that sucks, so you eat to escape.
We diet because even though it’s hard, it’s easier to try to change the food we eat than it is to change our careers, leave our partners, move to another city or town or make a significant change to our thought processes and how we interact both with other people and with ourselves.
So instead of addressing our real issues, we’ll go on a diet.
Instead of realising my value, my education, experience and authority as a coach wasn’t based on what my body looked like, instead of working on my confidence and what I have to offer other people, I became a bodybuilder to “prove” I was good enough to other people, instead of giving a fuck about how I felt about MYSELF.
And each and every one of us know what this feels like, because it’s easier to cut out carbs than it is to address a toxic thought pattern or acknowledge our life just isn’t where we hoped it would be.
It’s easier to go to the gym and to “burn off” your cheat meal than it is to acknowledge that the real reason you struggle with binge eating in the first place, is because you’re afraid of changing that part of your life that you’ve been putting off for years.
It’s easier to buy a diet plan and to try to cut out the crap you’ve been binging on after work, than it is to address the fact that you’re incredibly bored, unchallenged and unmotivated in your current career.
We use food to self-medicate, we use exercise as punishment and we use our bodies as a dumping ground for shit in our lives, and it’s about as effective as putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. (The fitness industry knows this, that’s why it keeps selling us different coloured band-aids, we buy them and just keep getting fatter and unhappier.)
One of the most powerful things I asked myself
….was what my VALUES in life are.
What is it that I truly believe in?
What do I stand for?
What would I die for?
What causes and concepts and virtues would I fight for in the world?
And most importantly, I started asking myself what I wanted instead of telling myself what I “should” be doing.
It was changing the line of inquiry to “Who do I want to BE?” instead of telling myself “This is who I should LOOK to be.”
Once I asked myself these questions I realised that in the grand scheme of my life, my physical appearance didn’t scratch the surface of who I am as a person.
I don’t really CARE about being shredded. It doesn’t give me anything.
Bodybuilding didn’t make my life better, it didn’t give me anything, in fact – it DRAINED me.
When I asked this question of myself, I also started asking this question about my clients. I realised that they, too – didn’t need me to coach them to be MORE insecure about their physical body. They didn’t need me to help inflict that sense of inferiority on THEM, either.
I believe in education, in honesty, in integrity and in making positive changes in the world. I believe in helping people look after their bodies not so that they can strut on a stage half naked, but because of how powerful healthy eating and resistance training makes us FEEL. Because once you can begin to use food and training as NOURISHMENT and not PUNISHMENT you can gain the strength needed to start addressing the other shit in your life that isn’t working for you.
And if you really want to feel good, if you really want to be happy, if you want to avoid extremes and fads and years of hating yourself, you need to learn what you VALUE and learn to change your life to reflect those values.
For me, living in line with my values started with hanging up the blingy bikini – and has progressed into some powerful, positive changes that have reinforced, not depleted, my self worth.
I don’t look like I did on stage, but that’s ok.
Because I FEEL amazing.
I don’t want my clients to feel the way I did
And that realisation has had a powerful effect on how I coach people today, compared to how I did back then.
My clients are PEOPLE with souls and dreams and personalities – they’re not a body.
They have more important things to think about in life than the size of their shoulders relative to their waists.
They have the inspiraiton to eat and train well because it makes their lives better – not their bodies.
They have the support they need to become better people, and have support not just to change their movement and their nourishment but if they need some help in other areas – mindset, psychology, life coaching or ANYTHING related to improving the quality of their lives, their relationships and their relationship with themselves, I can help them or I can help them find someone who can.
When you realise that the value of training and nutrition has little to do with your body, that’s when the most amazing things happen in your life.
Changes to your body happen without you trying to force it – you become stronger, fitter, more resilient, more confident, and yes, maybe you become leaner – but it’s because it’s a fringe benefit of being content within yourself, not because it’s the only thing that matters.