5 Things I Learned From Working in the Fitness Industry

I have always held a passion for fitness, before even knowing what the term “fitness” was. 

P.E. was my favorite subject in grade school. Every chance I had to be outdoors, I took without question. I was the 8-year-old tomboy who you could find rollerblading in the streets and strategizing with my brother and neighborhood kids in an intense game of backyard football. I loved how being active made my body feel, and I loved the escape that sports gave me. The physical accomplishments and recreational outlets positively impacted my ability to stay focused on intellectual tasks and in school. And after dealing with my own struggles in my teens to effectively balance nutritional needs with my enthusiasm for exercise, it made sense that I would choose Exercise Science as my undergraduate major in college. It was a logical decision to immediately pursue a Health and Fitness Specialist (EP) certification upon graduation followed by a nosedive into a professional opportunity in the fitness industry. Everything seemed to be lining up appropriately. 

For over three consecutive years I worked as a wellness associate, group exercise instructor and personal trainer, and I have since continued my fitness enthusiast efforts as both a holistic health coach and high school running coach. Within that early time period there was a season when I lived, breathed, and bled everything fitness. I was immersed in the competitively evolving atmosphere and was eagerly soaking in every minute of it. I fully embraced the title of Personal Trainer and spent every ounce of my time reading and researching theories, scientific articles, periodization approaches, and ways to improve myself for my clients. I spent my time devising incentivized wellness challenges and grueling workouts, counting tedious repetitions and tracking results, hopping around the group exercise studio like a bunny rabbit on caffeine, and developing a love-hate relationships with burpees. 

I loved promoting fitness as part of a healthy lifestyle, and motivating others through physical activity. But one day this trainer hit burnout. I realized that there are so many more aspects to the wheel that would be forever turning. I recognized that in the world of fitness, there are many lessons to be learned. There will always be something that can be changed, adjusted, or critiqued. Rarely on the fitness planet do we hear the words “good enough.” 

In an age where we are constantly being shown how we can better ourselves, fitness is always a hot topic in the “self-improvement” category. But even from someone who favors this idea, I think it is also important to take some time to rest with ourselves rather than wrestle with ourselves. 

Fitness will always be a part of my lifestyle, because it’s just such a deep part of who I am. But I have now adopted a contemporary “holistic fitness” mindset… aiming to maintain a balance of a fit mind, body, and spirit. And so, from the reflections of a forever-fitness lover, I invite you to take a rest and read on. Below are five lessons I would like to take with me, and hope to pass along to anyone reading this today.

1. The Comparison Game Has No Winner

Everyone is uniquely and individually different for a reason—you aren’t meant to be exactly like that person you are admiring on social media. Sure, you can have similar results and maybe even similar stories, but even if you do the exact same workouts and eat the exact same things, you will ultimately witness what those changes do for you. One of the most common misconceptions about any fitness program is the idea that what is written in the books or advertised on the internet will work for everyone. While this kind of “cookie-cutter” approach is often misleading, it is important to understand why it does not work. The fact is that each and every person is different with regards to their individual make-up, hormones, genetics, ability to adapt to their environment, personalities, biological elements, etc, their needs and their circumstances. Therefore each person must be treated as a special project, as still highly capable. I was deceived by this trap soooo many times, thinking that my circumstances or training regimen must match up with what is portrayed by the text books or broadcasted by progress pictures. This teasing of inadequacy is very difficult to escape—Facebook and Instagram news feeds are flooded with other people’s prides and accomplishments. Our eyes and minds are filled with unrealistic photo-enhanced expectations often on a daily basis, oftentimes leading to crushed dreams. Constantly seeing how the world is so much farther ahead of where we are currently can make us feel as if we will never be able to keep up. I have learned that the combination of this pressure with the comparison factor really can be a thief of joy. Life is too short to live this way, piled with self-judgment and self-ridicule. So stop beating yourself up! You are you for a purpose, meant to play a role that only you can fulfill. Be happy for those who seem to have reached their goals, but work on finding and achieving your own. Find your “perfect fit.”

2. Thinner Isn’t Always Better 

“Strong is the new sexy…” 

“From skinny to strong …” 

Whatever the tag line reads, the bottom line is that strength should be valued over slim. This lesson is a difficult one, especially for anyone dealing with poor body image or feeling societal pressures to be a certain size or look a certain way. I for one used to be afraid of putting on too much muscle, which stemmed from my own struggles with an eating disorder as a a teenager. Surprisingly enough, my position working in the fitness industry surrounded by heavy barbells, creative competitions, and strong and admirable fitness-goers led me to believe even more in ability over aesthetics. I was inspired by others who cared more about what their bodies were capable of, than what size clothes they wore. It was during this time that I was humbled as an athlete: before I graduated college I could run 26 miles no problem but I couldn’t perform a proper squat. I received compliments on my “tiny” frame, but couldn’t even do a “real” push-up. Once I jumped into the world of personal training, I knew something needed to change. It was a daunting change, but an intriguing one. I knew it would take time, and I knew it would take heart. But I also knew it would strengthen me on the inside as much as the outside. And so began my determination to regain functional strength. Weight training became my new experiment and nutritional exploration became my new hobby. I was fueling for function and nourishing to glow. My desire to be a reliable trainer and a strong empowering woman motivated me to get over my past battles to stay slim. Accountability kicked in, and so did my new eyesight. My perspective changed along with my attitude. Muscles grew, and so did my confidence. Looking back on my early twenties, this was one of the best decisions I had made since college. You are capable of so much more than you realize. 

3. There Is Such a Thing As Too Much

More is not always better and harder is not always smarter, just like too much of a good thing can turn into a not-so-good thing. This applies to exercise as well. Sometimes our bodies need a break! As the Sports Recovery Annex would say “You are only as good in your training as in your ability to recover.”  (Awesome place to check out if you’re in the Jacksonville area, btw.) If you aren’t recovering from your workouts, there isn’t any sense in doing them. Your bodies adapt by recovering from a progressive load, just as muscles develop by repairing from a tearing stressor. This is how you become stronger. Too much stress causes a tie to break—if you keep pulling your knot tighter and tighter, ignoring the pain or fatigued sensation, you could find yourself strangled in too many injured loops to crawl out of. Pay attention to quality nutrition, fueling timely and enough, hydrating properly and adhering to self-care. One piece of the functional puzzle cannot be neglected. While you may hear the phrase “No one ever regrets a workout,” be prepared to deal with the consequences of pushing too hard for too long, or pushing too hard too soon. Overtraining is a real thing—I’ve seen it happen with my athletes, and I’ve experienced it myself. There is no benefit in pulling from an empty tank. I understand that as a fitness fanatic or avid athlete, stubbornness can often overpower sanity. But most importantly, it is vital to listen to your body. Use your fitness journey to develop a sense of self-awareness that allows you to tune in to your body and recognize its needs. Rest days are ok. Hard days are ok. Easy days are ok. Putting your health at risk to squeeze in a workout is not. When in doubt, “Train smarter not harder.”

4. The 3 P’s: Patience, Persistence, Perseverance

“Practice, practice, practice—for practice makes perfect,” may have been the famous mantra I received time and time again in my adolescent all-star days, but after some serious encounters with reality I have come to believe differently. While practice does lead to progress, sometimes stagnant progress leads to a never-ending cycle of dissatisfaction. While we push our limits and practice to our utmost potential, sometimes we find ourselves in a frustrated position where we are constantly reaching for more and more. This can create a feeling of inadequacy, especially if we have indeed put forth the hours and hours of dedicated hard work. I have found that “progress over perfection” is so much more rewarding. Be patient with yourself, your time, and your commitments. Do make the commitments, but know where and when to extend grace. Unfortunately, quick fixes do not exist.  Fitness is a journey, just like life. Goals require steps, and steps are meant to be taken one foot at a time. As much as we may want to, we cannot skip the basics. Reality is, you cannot get stronger without a stable foundation, regardless of your training background. Therefore, you cannot continue to progress without building upon existing platforms. Stability and mobility must precede agility and intensity. Strength must precede power, and with power comes performance. Muscles cannot grow if your stabilizers cannot support the larger mass, and even our greatest strengths can become crippled by our hidden weaknesses. So start slow, and maybe even small. But most of all, start smart. Just don’t get so caught up in becoming the “best,” that you forget to notice your current “being.” 

5. You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too (Seriously)

You heard me. Have your cake, eat it, and most of all, enjoy it. One “bad” day, nutritional “slip-up,” missed workout, relapse, slow interval, tired run, choppy swim, failed pull-up, fluctuating scale, or weak lift won’t ruin all of your fitness progress (unless you let it). The journey isn’t an “all or nothing” mentality…that kind of thinking is exactly what will lead to an eventual burnout. Holistic fitness is all about developing a long-term trust with yourself. Learn about your anatomy, your psychology, and your physiology. But don’t ignore the main goal of vitality. Don’t punish yourself with workouts or you won’t view movement as a privilege. Don’t restrict your food intake or you will most likely fall into a binge. Don’t guilt-trip yourself for skipping a day at the gym or you will constantly be at war with your own inner expectations. Fitness is a fabulously freeing lifestyle, but only when we work to integrate an interconnected strength with our minds, bodies, and emotions. Challenging ourselves can be invigorating. Recognizing our potential can be empowering. Accomplishing goals can be inspiring. And seeing yourself from a different perspective can be life-changing. So bask in your body’s ability to move, take time to enjoy your favorite foods, notice how you feel in response to your actions, and honor your willpower to savor today. You can change your lifestyle and still embrace who you are. You can embark on a new fitness journey and rediscover your strengths. You can still be disciplined and practice healthy balance. You can have your cake and eat it too. So hike the Appalachian, try a yoga/spin/pilates class, set the record for the world’s longest plank, build that booty, engage that core, swim in open water, complete a 5K, get coached for CrossFit, hit a new 1RM, train for a marathon…whatever you venture to do, go about it wisely. Try something new, get others to help, and just BE YOU.

 

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A Forest of Life




“ANNN-ORR-EX-SSEE-AAA…” the sly serpent hissed. Slithering among the confusing forest of dissatisfaction and uncertainty, he released the echoing curse which overpowered the voice of reason within my innocent ears…

“AN-OR-EXX-SSSEE-AA…” The sinister syllables assembled together, and while seeping into my thoughts of denial, formed together the painful word that forces me to cringe even to this day…

“ANNN-ORR-EX-SSEE-AAAA…”
As I crouched defeatedly below the rising trees of threatening disgrace, I mistook the devious whisper from the luring vine as a convenient leverage out of my misery. Meanwhile, that poisonous snake had slowly, tactfully, and tenaciously wound his way around my legs, wrapping his scaly course skin tighter and tighter as he inched his way up my torso. I had fallen blindly into his convincing trap, and as he constricted firmly with every breath I took, his beady little hypnotizing eyes focused straight on my heart. “I know who you are…” He whispered, “….I will make everything better…trust me…jusssst trusssstt meeeeee…”



With each stifling constriction, his master grip strained my efforts to fight back. It was so much easier to simply give in, to slip back under the deceiving serpent’s shield. It felt safer…it felt secure…yet at the same time it felt sneaky and regretful. So many times I surrendered to that nasty snake’s lying little tongue. So many times I knew I was suffocating under his clever strangling grasp. Yet while clenched beneath the scheming serpent’s squeeze, the idea of freedom was even more petrifying than remaining pinned beneath his deathly hold.

____________

 

I remember the first time I was introduced to the word “anorexia.” On a gloomy rainy afternoon, my mother and I were together in her bedroom as I anxiously searched for ways to counteract the boredom from being cooped up inside all day. There was a copy of PEOPLE magazine lying on top of the bedcovers that she began flipping through, pausing briefly on a page which featured a story of a girl who had suffered from the awful illness. I remember looking at the picture of this woman in complete disgust, while my mom explained to me that this sickly skinny woman in the photo had once believed that she looked “good” posing for the camera. At this time, my view was not distorted–that poor woman looked anything but “good” as far as I was concerned. I had never seen someone so thin before, and quite frankly it was utterly disturbing to witness. It was a scary concept to think that the human body was capable of that kind of ignorant self-destruction. “Why would anyone ever do that to themselves?” I thought, puzzled. I remember discussing this shocking discovery with a friend on our way out to go get ice cream. I remember thinking, “Anorexia will NEVER happen to me…”



Unfortunately, with so much misleading information floating around the media these days, many people tend to believe in the common misconception that the unfortunate incarcerated life of an eating disorder victim is a deliberate cognitive choice. Eating disorders can often be mistakenly perceived as simply a disciplined “quick fix,” or a popular “fad” diet. Yet while the initial changes in behavior, which gradually lead into a rather harsh restrictive lifestyle, are premeditated, the end result does not always tend to match the beginning vision of the curiously determined individual. The fact of the matter is, eating disorders are not merely another trial “diet” or temporary alteration in habitual living. Once that dangerous line is crossed, it is extremely difficult to turn back around. It is true that the anorexic/bulimic may always be intrigued by various cycling diet trends which society manages to toss around on a constant basis, but many cases are also often classified as having severe poor body image and perfectionist personality coupled with extreme anxiety over food. Yet, the conditions are so much more than that–intertwined with these distortions and fear come feelings of inadequacy, guilt, delusion, self-ridicule, scrutiny, helplessness, hopelessness, and despair.

The disease develops into a self-built prison…



Eventually you become trapped behind your own cold skeletal bars. You have a narrow glimpse of life outside your cell, only you’ve been malignantly deceived by the snake and have swallowed the key to the door. That key which once gave you access to self-control and clear decision-making is now churning recklessly inside your stomach, ripping apart your intestinal walls and preventing any absorption of sustaining nourishment. Sometimes you feel empowered and even thin enough to perhaps slip through the cell bars, but you disappointedly get stuck with one foot in and one foot out. As the frustrating time passes, you regress further into the encompassing shadows. The idea of escape involves too much energy; energy which your body lacks. Isolation soon becomes the norm. Alone in the corner of your stone-cold cell, you feel complacent and disoriented. Though you may be unaware, you have the key to freedom buried deep inside. You just have to discover the strength to find it. 



Just like any other psychological disorder, anorexia is classified as a form of mental illness. It is more often than not, paired with other psychological disorders, (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety disorder.) Additionally, it is common for one form of disordered eating to develop into another unhealthy eating disorder classification. Any form is indeed a sickness in need of proper healing– a sickness which is a progressive obsession over manipulating controllable factors in order to gain a convincing sense of stability; a misconceived form of comfort; a source of safety; an outlet for escape. It is a silent plea for approval and attention; a search for satisfying accomplishment, and attempt at self-appraisal. It is a distorted concept of becoming “the best you can be”–a false belief that true happiness will sprout from a thin “perfected” figure. It is an internal battle with present purpose and past failures; an unintentional development into selfish self-worship and physical idolatry; a search for identity; a quest for peace.

Contrary to popular belief, very few of the desirably envisioned attributes sought by the individual in the beginning, are ones which are ultimately gained. The initial goal may be as simple as healthy weight loss or improved structured schedule, but even these small positive modifications can grow out of hand. With the condition’s severity, there is not one underlying treatment, or magic button that instantly creates a dramatic shift back to joyful reality. If they aren’t caught early, behaviors and habits grow exceedingly worse, and ironically feed the confused mind and driven personality. Without fair warning, the initial attempt to control your own life is inevitably taken away: No more strenuous solemn workouts in the garage laboring to your heart’s extent. No more afternoon bike rides with a pit stop by the smoothie shop for your first allotted meal of the day. No more freedom in the kitchen, or choice over what or when you eat. No more agility training or basketball practices…and good luck trying to explain to your friends why you will be sitting on the bench for your championship soccer game.

The control over the very few aspects of your life which you perceived to have finally been able to manage, is abruptly snatched from your closely fastened grip. Suddenly confined to a lifestyle of strict supervision, there is inadvertently no escape–someone is always there hovering over your shoulder, monitoring your activity, weighing your food, and closely watching over your every move. A small part of you undeniably likes the attention and the relief from the rigorous regimen you had become pinned underneath. A subtle piece inside your being–the tiny piece of the real you that is left–breathes a sigh of thankfulness that someone finally noticed. All of your efforts, all your self-induced pressures, all of your determination, athletic drive, and ignorant restrictions had collectively gained momentum down the treacherous hill towards disaster. A curious desire to make a change, originally with positive intentions, had all of a sudden backfired, blowing a deadly ring of smoke in your face. Little harmless habits had developed into obsession. Obsession had triggered an entirely new drive to persistently keep digging…and keep digging and keep digging…an endless hole which would never be deep enough, wide enough, or firm enough to hold all of your secret dissatisfactions, as you disappeared further and further into its shadowy deceiving depths.

Sometimes it takes someone else standing from up above the edge of the dark hole with eyes of wisdom to cry down to your own trapped soul quivering at the bottom. Unfortunately, we are often buried so far down beneath our own piling dirt that we cannot hear the concerned voices of love coming from back on top of level ground. Sometimes it takes a daring individual to break the surface with their own shovel, and begin digging alongside your mound until the tip of their shovel reaches yours…the cares and prayers of family and friends trickling into your trench and lifting you up; the necessary intervention of a team of professionals, and forceful drags to doctor appointments against your will; the coaxing and pleading around the dinner table; long battling meals; attempts to educate and break through the pit of self-destruction. Sometimes it takes the honest truth from a friend, and a comforting promise that even though the climb may be rocky, you’re never climbing alone. 

Sometimes it takes the tears of the parents who raised you; who reminded you each day that you are beautiful, and told you every morning and night that they love you; tears from the caregivers who raised you right. Sometimes it requires all the patience, all the courage, all the strength, all the cries, all the efforts, yet most importantly, all the love…so much unconditional, unsurpassable, unquenchable love. The precious family who remained there through it all…who saw all the things you couldn’t, heard all the worried phone calls you didn’t, vouched for all the things you wouldn’t, and sacrificed everything one shouldn’t. They didn’t deserve any of the filthy mess involved in your frustrating rescue, but out of desperate love they strapped on their hard hats and dove into the hole with you.

Slowly but surely, everyone found footholds in the caving walls. Reaching up hand in hand, the treacherous climb was manageable. Victory was attainable, step by step.


Once at the top, however, it wasn’t always firm soil…sometimes I would indeed find myself with one foot out and one foot in. But at that point, the light was radiantly clear, and my group of spotters only continued to grow.

It is this group of spotters, cheerleaders, listeners, and role models, whose valued presence simply cannot be emphasized enough. There is something to be said about a sturdy net of caring influencers, paired with instilled hopeful confidence when it comes to overcoming any internal struggle. As a matter of fact, there have been numerous studies on the scientifically termed “placebo effect” in relation to the miraculous outcomes of documented “spontaneous recoveries” in the medical field. Various evidence has pointed to the following conclusion that certain life-threatening diseases have been known to take a complete 180 degree turn when the victim (1) believes in a hopeful future, and (2) is surrounded by an empathetic, caring and trusted source. I would loyally vouch for the highly beneficial impact of these same two factors in the realm of eating disorders.

Now I stand on solid rock–an unshakable foundation that not even an earthquake could break apart. Yet even if disturbance were possible, I now have multiple branches nearby on which I could latch: branches of education, experience, wisdom, and support, extending to a whole network of caring spirits. My dream is to continue planting, and to fervently cultivate trees of abundance, promise and hope…trees to fill the valley of uncertainty so that there is no longer any space left on the ground for any more dark holes. Together, we can build a forest…a strong, beautiful forest. A forest full of rejuvenating air, stable trunks, sprightly grass and comforting leaves. A forest filled with singing birds, swaying stems, gentle brooks and havens of revival… a forest that is serpent-free. Together we can create a forest…an interconnected, forever-growing forest…a sustaining forest…a forest of Life.


A Voice To Be Heard

 In honor of eating disorder awareness week, which ironically also happens to be the week of my birthday, I invite you to share in both sincere reflection and new excitement with me. But most of all, I invite you to join me in celebrating 25 years of life–a life that was once shackled, and is now free–eating disorder-free. 

  
I applied to become a mentor in an online eating disorder mentoring program, pretty much on a whim. I usually don’t think spontaneously like that, or act with rash intention, but this new curiosity was different. I never even knew something like this existed, and intrigued, I wanted to be a part. Simply put, life is just too short to keep this truth hidden any longer. It is a part of my story, viewed from a new perspective of gratefulness and strength. Yes, it is a heavy part of who I am, but it no longer defines my inner being or enslaves my identity. I have considered myself “in remission” from this awful disease for the last ten years, but it wasn’t until my senior year in college that I began to experience climactic mental breakthroughs. I had finally reached a point in recovery where I was tired of waiting for someone with a similar history to stumble across my path. I wanted to reach out and help heal, or at least offer my own account as some sort of hopeful encouragement. I can remember back when I was struggling through those gruesome times, feeling utterly alone. Thankfully I had my loving family by my side through its entirety, but as much as their caring hearts longed for my curing, they would never fully understand where I was during that daunting point in my life. I want to be able to be that special someone for other suffering souls. Someone who can genuinely say, “I know…I’ve been there…and it does get better.” Sometimes, in the midst of our struggles, those simple words are enough. 

Hearing the news that I had been accepted into the MentorConnect program as a mentor spoke wonders for my current state of stability and strength as an “ED survivor”, and I was elated to immediately receive two match requests for mentees. Excitement overflowed as I was finally able to speak one-on-one with my first match over the phone, and I immediately felt a strong connection to this complete yet friendly stranger from Greenwood, SC. I had never done anything like this before, (conversing with someone form an entirely different state in the U.S. whom I had never met,) about something so personal. Since then, our friendship has continued to grow, despite the fact that we still have yet to speak face to face.

The opportunity to share life with this amazing woman has been extraordinary. The idea that someone would respect my insight (my mentee is 32 years old) and admire me for my success story and current position of recovery is not only encouraging, but completely humbling. It has been an excellent exercise for me also, because our extensive conversations provoke a certain revisiting of those dark times and cause me to realize just how much I truly have overcome. It has prompted me to view my situation with yet another whole new set of eyes, and has allowed me to take on a new grateful title as a counselor and role model. The more accountability I can acquire, the better, as I strive to reach out to this overlooked population and use my story to help others. It is gradually giving me a new voice…a voice which wants so much to be heard, not for my own merit but simply to break the wall of misunderstanding and hopelessness in so many out there. My mentee, just like each and every victim of this disease, also has a voice of her own, and by actively seeking this mentoring program has acquired a new listening companion from my compassionate heart. 

In speaking with her I am faced with a new challenge–I must be open and honest, but also take into consideration her current state and respect the fact that all of us move through life at our own unique pace. Being a true “fixer” in personality, this is often extremely difficult. I must accept my own limits and circumstances beyond my control, and focus instead on how to help encourage healthy behavior and positive outlook. I do feel a personal connection and care deeply for this incredible gal, but must wait out this journey with her while demonstrating patience, persistence, and understanding. Everything isn’t always perfect on my end either, nor will it ever be. But for the first time in a really long time, I’ve accepted that fact with peace. 

Upon acquiring this exciting new outlet, I have also been engaged in a lot of deep reflection, which is something I am often accustomed to doing when life throws me curveballs. My mind has been spinning and bouncing back and forth to past revelations, scenes, and emotions, and has repetitively hovered around one recurring idea, or dream if you will: to write a book.

For a while now, I have heard God’s voice telling me that I’m meant to use my story to help others, and I have just been rather unsure as to the specifics attached to this. Recently, however, I have begun to connect a few dots here and there. One of my “breakthrough moments” was in the car while listening to the song “My Story” on the Christian radio–a beautiful song of how God’s saving grace is revealed in each of our unique individual stories. Lately I have realized just how much I love to write, and talking with my mentee has influenced me to reflect on just how much I wish to be able to say. All my life, friends and family have attempted to highlight writing as one of my gifts. Words have always had a special meaning to me, and I find joy in sharing them with others. In a hand-written note on the inside cover of a journal that my Nana gave me for Christmas following graduation, she encouraged me to continue to record my memories through expression of the written word, using this joyful gift. I already have a plentiful archive of journals and thoughts stashed away from over the years, pertaining to the sincere topic of my painful history. But why only continue to write for myself? What good will spark from keeping powerful words in anxious secret? Why not write with the intention to share not only a personal journey, but a story of conquered struggles, successful survival, and sustaining hope? 

I have now reached a point where I passionately want to be heard. No more sulking behind a regretful shell of shame. There is so much truth that I wish to share, with an attempt to instill faith and comfort to those currently struggling, or who are helping a loved one fight the battle. My mother admitted to me the other night that during the most devastating times, a comforting word was something she searched for–book after book was flipped through, only to disappointedly stumble across one more depressing narrative after another. There were very limited (from what my mother could find) success stories and uplifting documents on the topic. During the dark hole when my family needed it most, the encouraging promise from someone who had walked in their shoes ensuring that “things will get better,” was simply nowhere to be found. 

Standing before you today with even greater compassion and voice of confidence, sincerity, empathy and truth, I wish to change that sad report. I want to provide that encouraging word, that yet even in the toughest challenges, offers a faithful account of a true success story–something which is devoutly possible given the proper education, guidance, and support. There is so much to be said, so much to be revealed, about the complexities and anxieties of this misunderstood condition, which I long to bring to the surface. But not to evoke a sense of sadness, or create an aurora of disheartening sympathy. My efforts will be to be real enough to draw you into the mind and home of an eating disorder victim, with an attempt to offer a glimpse of the severities, only to emphasize the immeasurable weight of a stable recovery–which IS attainable through a network of faithful, dedicated spirits. 

Writing and collecting my thoughts into one published piece of work would allow me to share this voice–this strong, bold voice of truth. The voice which has won over the notoriously often-quoted “eating disorder voice.” And in doing so, hopefully will bring peace, comfort, insight, and exhortation to every person who flips through its pages. I want to obey the voice of my eternal Savior, who dug me out of my unintentional self-made pit, and represent all of those precious trapped voices of victims then and now. I am excited to let the words flow…words no longer to be kept guarded inside, but shared out of love.
                                                          ________________

Stay tuned for relevant snippets of my survival story in its entirety, optimistically projected to be completed by Feb 25, 2017 (Which will be my 26th birthday and over a decade since my initial diagnosis.) Although I still plan on consistently posting healthy recipes during this project, the Fit Peace By Peace blog site will be mainly devoted to a collaboration of thoughts and expression towards this goal. Therefore, please pardon my brief hiatus from general nutrition and wellness posts as I attempt to gather and organize all of the jumbled heavy words which have been pressing on the inside walls of my brain over these past 12 years. Using detailed memories, personal accounts and maturing circumstances, I hope to extend a message of hope and encouragement to those suffering and to their loved ones, as well as to the other misguided minds of society. Your support means the world to me as I strive towards fulfilling my vocational calling to intentionally give back in this area, while sharing bits and pieces along the way, to become genuinely transparent in attempts to help anyone through their own health journey no matter what their background entails. I welcome any questions or inquiries with outstretched arms as I take on this compelling opportunity. The time has come to commit to a new season of openness; to become the woman I’m meant to be; to cough up some courage, and truly become an “open book.”

There is a voice to be heard, a voice once trapped behind a lying voice of false identity–and I’m not just referring to my own here. Voices of sweet souls past and present. His voice, her voice, your voice…all deserve to be heard. There is no reason to be ashamed…your voice may be exactly what the person next to you needs to hear. 
                      ~“This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long.”~ 

Core Strength 

The past few days have been truly humbling, once again setting me in my place in this world of my creator. I was a little too ambitious in the gym on Friday, and ended up straining a lower abdominal muscle pretty severely. It scared me, and although the pain didn’t really begin until the next morning, all I could think was “great job, Amanda. You screwed yourself up again.” Sometimes we really do have to learn the hard way, which I have learned one too many times. But in this minor setback I was forced again to surrender control over something that I often take for granted–once again, something in the realm of fitness. Ironically, it was my core that was weak. My inner structure and support lacked strength and sustainable power. It wasn’t until I tried to perform everyday activities and common motions that I realized just how much I rely on my core strength for just about everything. This was enlightening to me, as I forced myself to sit up straight and had to overcompensate for my lack of stability, frustrated with my limitations and helpless control over my body. I actually even sat there with my small protruding swollen belly thinking “is this what it is like to be pregnant??” 
Yet in this frustration and temporary mood downer, I had to accept this new position of inconvenient vulnerability. I do believe that with our own free will we are prone to make mistakes. But God can still use our mistakes for good, and I couldn’t help but wonder if God was allowing me to get a taste of a rather functionally limited world. It really did alter my perspective again, as it did with my former marathon injury. It amazes me sometimes how quick we are to try and take matters into our own hands, to take risks which seem fine and dandy during the moment, only to remind us later of our own stupidity. Fallen, once again, due to our own pride, only to cry out in tears for forgiveness and healing, but all the while in strict reliance on our Savior.  

Even in these moments of misunderstanding, regret and hopelessness, God is still sovereign. I am glad to announce that my tummy is slowly returning to normal, but even if it had turned out to be permanent damage, I would have to be ok with that. God would have still found a way for a misfortunate circumstance to bring him glory, and that is essentially our sole purpose on this earth. It might not have been the exact state I had envisioned myself to glorify him in, but it’s not my plan that reigns–God has the ultimate say, and deserves to have the last laugh. I am honored to have his unshakable power inside of me, forever serving as my internal core strength. Even if I were never able to do another sit-up ever again, with God as my inner source of strength, my spirit would be unstoppable . I have to center my heart and mind on His will, and his alone. Remembering, of course, that every strength and ability is graciously given by him as a gift and not an entitlement. 

Little reminders like these aren’t always fun, but are definitely necessary. I have come a long way in my ability to let go of things that I’m not supposed to be gripping onto anymore, which has been a continuous lesson in my sanctification journey. Lately, I have really been making an effort to pause and listen, and to refocus on the here and now rather than always set my mind 2 steps ahead. Not to say preparation is a bad thing, but recently I have realized my tendency to jump forward into future tasks and plans rather than take the time to savor, appreciate and invest in the moment. I now am well aware of my my over-thinking and analyzing habits, and impulse to easily feel poured on by pressure. Knowing this, I daily pray for peace. When my mind and spirit is relaxed and content, fully and truly extending trust to God, my inner being is stable and secure. It has taken me a long time to let go of the tight grip I have always held on myself, and on my own high expectations. Through much struggle and defeat to try and race against time, through years of beating my body to the ground, holding myself to unbeatable standards and strict discipline, my exhausted soul is finally raising a white flag. Although I still have strong ambitions to be the best I can be, to fight strong, to hold my faith and stand bold in self-discipline, loyalty, honest effort and integrity, it is all now for a greater purpose–all for the Lord and his kingdom. I try so hard…so very hard…to figure everything out. To be what I believe to be acceptable, respected, and admired. When really, all that matters is that I work for Christ, out of his love. I am already acceptable in his book, I am already precious in his eyes. His grace covers everything…even all of my past and failed attempts, even my over-ambitious and naïve mistakes. He is my inner strength forever, although my flesh and my heart may fail.

 Funny how with any condition out of the “norm”, our bodies know deep down, how to survive. Instinctively when faced with any grueling circumstance, or inflicted with an injury, all our other parts kick in to pick up the slack. Priorities shift around, perspectives change, and other pieces contribute on a different scale. It may be difficult to learn, to accept, and grasp at first. We may stumble, or experience reoccurring pain here and there, but eventually our bodies adapt. We find an inner drive that keeps us going. Only a creator so genius like our God could have come up with a system so remarkable. He is my internal and external strength, forever worthy of praise.  

 

It Began With a Tire Flip

It all began with a tire flip. Literally. And I’m not talking about your typical compact car everyday Goodyear tire. I’m talking dirty, cumbersome, 250lb tractor tire–and I flipped it with my own bare hands.

Now, before all you cross-fitters snicker and claim this feat as simple business, let me give you some context:
For the past 10 years, I have been quite an avid distance runner. Small-framed, carb-driven, with no anaerobic power whatsoever, distance runner. I could trot along 20 miles no problem, but struggled to perform even a simple traditional push-up or consecutive squat series. After completing my first full marathon, a resulting injury forced me to reconsider my current running-dominant routine, and I quickly discovered my physical strength weaknesses from literally running my body to the ground. But instead of using my time of injury to venture into the world of weights, I simply resorted to other forms of cardio. I hauled that bulky black boot up on the elliptical, stationary bike, ark trainer, etc., anywhere the boot would fit. I didn’t use the given “break time” as down time, nor did I dare to even lift a dumbbell beyond maybe 8 shoulder raises at 5lbs each. All this to say, my perspective definitely changed, and though I still made an effort to stay as active as I could, I was able to give my body somewhat of some rest from the pounding of miles and got myself out of my “running rut.”

After that, I no longer took running (or walking for that matter) for granted. Once my annoying tibial tendinitis healed, I did jump right back into my sport, but with a slightly new outlook. Through influence from my current job as a group exercise instructor and personal trainer, I was introduced to other workout styles and trends over the following years. I quickly took on on teaching HiiT classes and Abs class once a week, and liked the added variety in my structured fitness regimen. This continued for a good year or so, but needless to say, I didn’t back off of the running. But as my fitness enthusiast mind began to explore beyond its boundaries, I began to become enthralled with the art of body sculpting and total-body movement. I noticed I was beginning to lack motivation in my runs, and was subconsciously in search of something more…

The loud bang of the rustic tire hitting the pavement startled me–something I had never in my life pictured myself doing–not this skinny little distance runner with a history of distorted body image. “You’re not strong enough,” I told myself as I watched the other fitness go-ers lift and rotate the huge tractor tire over and over again down the driveway. “That thing weights more than twice your body weight. Don’t even try.”

“C’mon!” My new buddy Ron, clearly was a little more optimistic. “You can do it!” A faithful determination echoed in his voice as he helped me hoist the base of the tire on my thighs, demonstrating the skill before I attempted the maneuver myself. I bent down into a deep squat, blindly feeling under the tire’s edge for a sensible grip to latch my shaky fingers around. Face to the rubber, I inhaled deeply and lifted with all my might, until the rugged grooves of the tread dug into the top of my hips. The hardest part was done…”Push it over!” Ron yelled. Repositioning my hand placement behind the black monster, I gave that bad boy one final shove. BAM!

Amidst the rising dust, I threw my hands up in victory. My smile couldn’t hold itself in any longer–this girl had just turned the table, and to be honest, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought.

That day officially marked an entry into a new beginning. I had been curiously contemplating switching things up a bit, by sacrificing my mundane runs and substituting some reasonable strength training. I don’t know why I was so afraid, but I was. I thrive on consistency and was petrified about slipping out of my persistent exercise schedule. I wasn’t dissatisfied with my current state necessarily, but was frankly beginning to feel bored. I wanted to know what it felt like to take a step out–to work different muscles, to let go of my thin grip and experiment a little, to actually allow my body to try different forms of exercise and adapt where necessary.

Finally, the coin of “change” vs “same” had officially been flipped, and the bold face of “change” had inevitably landed face-up. The timid inkling to test the waters of strength training had been shaken, and thus confirmed with the pounding adrenaline and faithful inspiration. Ever since that exciting morning in Ron’s driveway, I have devoutly stuck to my own commitment of switching up my routine, and incorporating at least 2 strength training sessions a week (primarily upper body focused.) I no longer wanted to be that weeny runner anymore…I still wanted to be lean, fit and functional, but most of all, I wanted to be strong. I have been continuing to work towards that balance of both inner and physical strength, and am pleased to report that I have experienced noticeable “gains” over the past several months. Remembering the importance of perspective from my season of injury, I now try and make workouts fun while deliberately striving to avoid getting trapped in another forbidden rut. I enjoy being strong, capable, and able to move quicker, lift heavier, sprint faster and push harder than ever before. I feel more well-rounded, vibrant, eager and empowered. The inner peace that found me while I was forced to stop running has once again made its way back in. I deliberately cut back my running mileage in hopes of building new solid muscle, and the efforts have indeed paid off. The decision to choose change over comfort has been increasingly rewarding for this over-analyzing control freak, and has shed a whole new light on my own fitness path. Through continued education, curiosity and research, I acquired enough courage to test out some other practices relating to nutrition and lifestyle improvement. The overall accumulation of benefits from this surprise package has been exponential…and it all began with a tire flip.

Many thanks to faithful souls like Ron who believed in me from the beginning. Clear evidence that with God, all things are possible. With Jesus as your spotter, no tire is too heavy–even for the skinny former cardio bunny.