WEIGHT 205 lbs
BODY FAT 38%
WEIGHT 140 lbs
BODY FAT 8.5%
Why I Got Started
When I began my journey in December 2010, I had no idea what I was capable of. I had been battling chronic and debilitating depression for several years, and it had depleted my energy and sucked the meaning from life. No goal inspired me.
Fatigue had overcome any motivation to strive towards much more than getting through the day, making it to nap time and finding some occasional flashes of hedonistic relief in food or alcohol.
This battle had taken its toll on my belief in myself and fitness had long taken a backseat. Miserable and topping the scales at 205 lbs, I felt every bit of my 40 years.
Why didn't I just continue burrowing farther into my rut? I'm not sure what specific event was the turning point. There were probably a lot of little things. I remember seeing a photo my mom took of me in the summer or fall of 2010. I was shocked at how fat I really looked. It's funny how we can look in the mirror every day and not really see it, how we are able to rationalize it.
Also, at the time, I was talking to a counselor regularly. I remember at one point mentioning to her how bad I felt about how out of shape I'd become. When I told her that I had completed a couple marathons in the past, I'm not sure she even believed me. I remember her saying that given my weight, I was considered obese.
Of course, this hurt to hear, but, to my surprise, she was right. I was 205 lbs and had a BMI of 31.2. That put me in the obese category. But, it got under my skin.
Most importantly, I think mentally I was just in a bad place. I was tired all the time and although mostly over my depression, just really didn't feel much zest for life. I was going through the motions.
One of the things that got me started working out was just the hope of feeling better and having more energy. I felt like I had tried everything and nothing was really working. I knew exercise is touted as a great anti-depressant.
It took a couple months to really get my brain around what I needed to do to crawl out of this hole I'd dug for myself. In my state of mind, it was hard to remember how good I could feel after a workout. But, initially, that's all that got me started working out again: consciously, willfully, reminding myself that odds were good that I would at least feel better than miserable after my workout, if even temporarily.
My hope was that eventually it would be more than temporary and that I might get a better looking body out of it to boot.
How I Did It
Early on I realized that my brain would fight me in this change. The brain likes its comfort ruts, and I knew change would be hard. I had read something Jennifer Nicole Lee said in an article that it took her like 2.5 months to really start seeing changes and to get momentum on her training plan.
So, I figured if I could just grit it out that long, maybe I'd make it. Until then I would just look at it as sort of a war. I imagined that my brain would constantly be thinking up ways to keep me in my comfort zone and not change. So, anytime I felt resistance or my mind creating negative thoughts, I would learn to recognize it as just trying to keep me "safe" in my old rut.
At the same time, I imagined that I was trying to create a new, more positive rut or groove. And in order to make a groove you just have to do something over and over again enough times that you carve it out. Until you get to that point, it takes a lot of willpower and effort, but I kept reminding myself that my goal was simply to get through it day by day and that it wouldn't always be this hard.
My goal was to reinforce this new pattern as much as possible though and that meant no skipping workouts or whatever. The times I'd feel like not going to the gym, I would imagine that was just reinforcing my old rut some more, and that every time I made myself choose the new action of going to the gym, it would be one more reinforcement of the new pattern.
On top of all that, I realized my mind was generating a lot of negative energy towards working out that was making it more difficult than it had to be. For instance, getting out of bed in the morning is a hard thing for many of us; and I realized I was making it worse by mentally groaning about it. I could feel and hear myself in the morning say, oh bed feels so good, oh it's so hard getting up and going to the gym.
Well, I decided for every negative discouraging thought like that I had, I would just try to come up with a positive one. Instead of focusing on how difficult it was, I'd focus on how tough I was or how disciplined I felt when I did something I said I was going to do.
When I'd feel like quitting early at the gym or not giving full effort, I'd focus on how good it felt when I had an intense workout. I'd imagine that I was an athlete and how an athlete would push harder instead of giving in to the feelings of difficulty. Heck, an athlete would go looking for intensity. I decided I needed to think like an athlete.
I visualized a lot and still do. Not only the body that I wanted, but imagining how I wanted to feel. When something feels good at the gym, I try to remember and really absorb that and use it again. I set small daily progress goals as well as long-term goals. I'd try to outdo my number of pull-ups or add weight to a particular exercise. I found these little daily goals keep me excited to get to the gym every day.
Also, instead of just focusing on how much weight I lost, I'd focus on the fact that I completed all of my workouts that week. Or I'd remember that every time I followed through on my commitment to workout, I was proving to myself that I really wasn't the quitter that I always sort of thought I was. With each action you become and reinforce who you want to be.
I'd build in rewards. If I got through a whole month of workouts, I might reward myself with some new cool workout clothes. My big reward for completing the first challenge was to treat myself to a photo shoot. This was great, because every time I felt like cheating or not giving my all, I'd think of how great I was going to feel if I stuck to my goal and was able to show that in my photos.
And believe or not, I cut myself a little slack and stopped aiming for perfection. I started aiming for consistency and excellence. Diet was always really hard for me, so I told myself to aim for about 80% instead of perfection because I found that when I focused too much on getting things perfect, when I'd slip I'd just throw in the whole nine yards.
So, I just built in a slop factor. I still do. Besides a month or so leading up to my contest I was baking in higher calorie and carb days as well as cheat meals occasionally. I found psychologically this helped me immensely. If I thought I'd never be able to eat one of my favorite things again, it would be too high a price, so I said…yes you can have that … but just not now.
You can have it… tomorrow or this weekend or whatever. It worked for me. Still does. But, then again it's all gotten easier with time too. So, 80% is better now than 80% used to be.
Lastly, music provided an essential soundtrack for working out, a way to psyche myself up. It's amazing what great music can do to get you energized. Even on a crummy day, I could believe I was a "badass" at least for a workout with the right music playing.
In December 2010, I started doing Couch To 5k workouts on my home treadmill and using exercise DVDs with light weights. I quickly grew bored of doing endless repetitions with 3lb dumbbells, but the workouts were enough to reignite a long-standing enthusiasm for weightlifting.
I dug out old books on weightlifting that I had used in the past. I began researching online. Poring over articles, I became inspired again by the strong, athletic figures of women bodybuilders and figure competitors. I stumbled on a "fitness model" workout on Bodybuilding.com. While I didn't necessarily want to be one, I wanted to have a body that was close as I could get. As cliché as it was, I wanted to see my abs.
To train seriously, I knew I needed more equipment than I had at home. So, I returned to the gym that I hadn't set foot in for a year or more. For a while I followed a plan I found on Bodybuilding.com and cleaned up my diet by limiting my complex carbs and eliminating junk and processed foods. I didn't sauce everything like I used to. I learned more and more about bodybuilding diets.
In Jan, I entered the ON Transformation Challenge because I figured it would be good motivation. I was meeting people on BodySpace as well and that was helpful. I made friends and stayed active on the forums and that helped keep me charged up. I was inspired by a lot of the positive energy I found from various friends on BodySpace.
In Feb 2011 I hired personal trainer, Steve Poynter, and he has helped me take my diet and training to new levels. His program was just what I needed at the time. I wouldn't have been able to handle his diet plan earlier, but I had a decent amount of clean eating habits already in place, so the leap to a diet that was more strictly a bodybuilding diet was very doable.
Also, I loved his training plan because it changed frequently enough to prevent boredom and keep muscles challenged. Also, he's just an all around great guy to work with. He was very available to answer questions and discuss stuff I wasn't sure about. He was encouraging without being a hand-holder.
He expected dedication and commitment and was a bit of a hard-ass, which I like, because I kind of am too! He didn't give me any rinky-dink sissy workouts specially designed for women. I was lifting hard and heavy and that was just what I wanted. I was in love with the iron, so that was just right.
Well, I didn't win the challenge, but I finished and by the end in May I was closer and closer to my ultimate goal of 145 lbs and 12-14% bf. I knew I wanted to keep working towards it. Also, I was beginning to think about competing.
I showed pictures of Dana Linn Bailey, whose physique was totally inspiring to me, to various trainers that I knew, and I said I wanted abs like hers. I wanted to know if that was achievable. To my surprise, most said that I shouldn't expect those sorts of results. I was a little discouraged, but also kind of pissed.
I mean, I know Dana's got world-class abs, but I thought, okay, surely I could have something on that level of ripped-ness? I mean isn't it just science…get lean enough, etc…do x, y, and z and your body will follow?
Well, there was a time when discouraging words would have made me crawl back in my hole, but I was developing an inner strength and confidence along with this new body, and it really just kind of lit my fire.
I was discovering that now when people told me that something couldn't be done, it was quite likely that my response was going to be, "Oh, yeah, well, watch me." And there was this big part of me that just wanted to see how far I could go, how far I could challenge myself.
In June 2011, I entered the Labrada Challenge because I knew it would be a good way to stay accountable and have a goal to work towards on the way to competing. Much to my surprise, I finished 2nd in that challenge. It was great encouragement.
Shortly thereafter, I contacted trainer Jill Vadala and asked if she could help me compete in the Women's Physique at NPC Nationals in Miami in November. She was honest but encouraging. She said that I probably wouldn't have enough size to be very competitive, but that it would be a great way to get my feet wet.
I decided that it was as much about the experience and challenging myself as winning. Just being in the best shape I could be in would be reward enough for me. I wasn't under any illusion that I would even place, but I wanted to do it anyway. As it turned out, I was thrilled with my level of conditioning. In the end, I did my best with the variables I could control.
There was nothing more I could have done to gain muscle any faster while remaining natural, which is what I want, so I felt great about what I accomplished. It was an experience I will always remember and be proud of.
I know I want to continue this lifestyle that is built around fitness and supports my goals. So, I recently completed my personal training certification from NSCA and hope to start helping others transform their bodies. I also am continuing my own training. Currently, I'm working on building more muscle, but I'm looking forward to starting to cut to be ready for more competitions starting in July.
I may do some figure shows depending on how much muscle I've gained, but ultimately I'd like to compete in physique again in the not too distant future.
Suggestions For Others
If you are struggling, train your brain as much as you train your body. You wouldn't feed your body junk food and expect to train optimally, you can't keep feeding yourself mental junk food and expect to perform well either.
Stop telling yourself how hard things are, and tell yourself how strong you are instead. Stop focusing on believing you're an undisciplined slug and put in the time consistently enough to start proving to yourself that you are disciplined.
You have to build a foundation for belief and confidence in yourself. And that takes time. I see it as almost like a scale. For years I fed my mind negative information about myself. Well, it takes time to put enough positive stuff in your brain to overcome the weight of the negative.
So, you just gotta keep doing it and eventually things will turn around. Until then you just have to kind of grind through it, and realize that your brain won't want to cooperate with you. It wants you to stay in your rut. It will fight you.
Be prepared for it at every turn. And remember, every time you feed your rut it gets deeper. So, don't keep deepening the negative rut. You've got to build new paths or grooves that are positive and support the person you want to be…feed those instead. They will eventually become just as comfortable.
Jeff Binns for Muscular Development