Don’t Give Up. Just Don’t.

After competing in my second show, (yes, that was number 2 for me!), many folks have been asking “How did you do it?”  I figured since the New Year is looming and some people are thinking about setting their fitness goals for 2018, now might be a good time to share my secrets.  The first secret is that there are no secrets – I worked my butt off.  I’ll give you the abridged version, and if you’re interested in setting your own fitness goals, read on to see how to set yourself up for success the upcoming year.  Some of the things I did (or didn’t do) might be surprising.

at the van luits
The photo that started it all for me – it wasn’t that I was incredibly overweight, but I knew I wasn’t what I used to be – and I was at a tipping point.  I was eating unhealthy, drinking to excess, and sedentary.  When I saw this photo, I didn’t like what I saw.

How did I do it?  Here’s the short list:   I lifted a lot of weights.  I ate a lot of protein.  I didn’t do a boatload of cardio.  I hired trainers and joined a team.  I followed the diet plan – to the letter.  I walked away from office donuts (Yes, it’s really that hard and that easy.  Stare at them.  Smell them.  Complain about not being able to eat them.  And then don’t eat them.) I stopped drinking wine.  I drank a TON of water.  I never missed a workout.  I lifted a LOT of leg days. I realized and came to terms with the fact that my stage-ready conditioning is for the stage – not for every day living.  I spent a lot of time sore.  I went to bed early.  I woke up really early to guarantee my workouts would get done.  I committed.  And I got results.  Easy, right?

I have my goals for 2018 to get ready for my next competition – I need to build a LOT more muscle, and I’m already working on that right now – in fact, I’ve been pretty committed in the days since my show.  My interest level in backsliding is quite low, so I’ve been a good little egg when it comes to getting right back to work. It’s been a little shocking to friends and family who want me to go right back to hot wings and cheese dip at happy hours (“You can eat this now, right?” Well… I can … but not if I want to meet my next goals.)

Many others have asked for advice for setting fitness goals, and this is what I came up with in terms of a little pep talk for the 2018 kickoff.  Keep in mind that I’m not a personal trainer or a dietician or anything close to that, so be smart and do your own research. But I can say with confidence that #1 is pretty solid advice:

  1.  DON’T GIVE UP.

Just don’t.  Progress is slow – snail’s pace even.  There will be weeks when you feel as though you aren’t making any progress.  But you CAN’T give up.  That’s the only non-negotiable.  Slow down if you must, but keep going.  I’ve been in a state of body transformation for a year and a half, and that’s nothing compared to some people I know!  It’s a long haul.  It’s also so easy to throw in the towel.  But here’s the thing – you’ve probably spent a long time living in bad habits.  You know how to make a bad habit – habits are habits, and so if you can make a bad one, you can definitely make a good one.  Don’t quit.  Don’t.  If you quit, it is a guaranteed loss!

2.  IT TOOK A LONG TIME TO GET WHERE YOU ARE, AND IT’S GONNA TAKE A LONG TIME TO GET OUT.

It’s true.  You didn’t put the weight you’d like to lose on your body overnight.  It’s not going to come off overnight, either.  Be. Patient.  Take it one meal, one workout, one hour

with julia cropped
One of my coaches, IFBB Bikini Pro Julia Wolschlegel with Team Elite Physique. This woman is amazing! She is inspiring, motivating, wicked smart, and beautiful inside and out!  Between her and Adam, they whipped my booty in to shape!

at a time if you have to, but keep moving toward the goal.  It’s always about the goal.  Always.  Every bad decision you make takes you further away and will make your progress take even longer.  All of the “just this once, it’s a celebration” cheats add up over time. (FYI, “Hard day at work,” “3rd cousin once removed birthdays”, any holiday the post office doesn’t get off – and the majority of the ones they do – and “Tuesday” do not count as holidays.)  Every workout you miss adds up over time.  Chances are good you didn’t see yourself gaining the weight until there was some sort of hard evidence – pants that normally fit one day didn’t button, or you saw a photo of your face looking a little fuller than you last remembered.  The reverse of the process is the same way.  Don’t let the fact that you haven’t hit one of those great moments in the reverse direction allow you to think it’s okay to backslide, and more importantly, don’t think that progress isn’t happening.  You won’t notice any big changes for a while.  It’s also much easier to ignore loose pants than tight ones, so it’s easier to miss your milestones. Just keep working toward the goal.

3.  IT’S NOT THE WORKOUTS.  IT’S THE FOOD.

Hate to break it out so early, but it’s facts.  It’s been written a thousand times – this is nothing Earth-shattering here.  I didn’t see any measurable progress until I started believing this absolute truth.  What you eat matters.

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And it doesn’t have to be bland and soulless food. It does, however, limit the intake of cheese and French fries. You get used to it, and even look forward to the comfort of knowing that what you’re eating moves you toward your goal. The trick is to give yourself a fighting chance to start liking a diet plan.  And once you get the diet plan?  Stick to it.  Saying no to bad choices really is that easy – just say no.  It’s really hard the first few weeks you have to actually refuse the donuts and hot wings.  But it does get easier, I promise – so long as your diet plan is giving you what you need nutritionally.  Which leads me to my next point…

4.  IT’S NOT EVEN JUST THE FOOD – IT’S THE FOOD IN THE RIGHT RATIOS.

What are those right ratios?  I have NO idea.  Everyone responds differently to different ratios of protein, carbs, and fats.  You gotta talk to a pro to figure out your right balance. There are a ton of options online to use that will get you to the right place and will help you set your goals.  Then there’s a ton of other online options that will meal plan for you in those ratios. (If you want recommendations, reach out to me on the site, I have plenty.)  Here’s what I will say – you’re probably not getting enough protein.  Even if you think, “Yeah, right …I eat a ton of protein.”  It’s probably not enough.  Sadly, more protein is not more protein in the form of bacon or sausages. I tried that for years. It didn’t work.

5.  THERE ARE NO GIMMICKS.

Sorry.  If it sounds too good to be true, it is.  Stop watching infomercials.  Stop reading Pinterest.  As my trainer Adam posted online recently, there are no “fat burning” foods.  It’s unlikely to lose 10 pounds in 30 days with a burpee or ab or booty-building challenge that’s been neatly packaged onto a single Facebook photo post. There’s no way to (healthily) lose 5 pounds in a week (unless you’re offloading tons of water).  Just stop with the gimmicks that promise you the world in any other form besides sweat and hard work. Now, I say this with the caveat that I do know people who have found success with programs like Beachbody and other MLM-style weight management programs.  Those friends look ahhhh-mazing!  It just didn’t work for me as a long term solution.

6.  WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT?  THEN MOVE WEIGHT.

And ladies?  Just stahhhhhhp with the “I don’t want to get big.”  It won’t happen.  I hear women lament this as if there’s just sooooooooooo many horror stories out there of women who went on a moderate weight lifting schedule and then woke up one day and they looked like The Rock. Happens all the time. Tragic.

Find me a female who works out with a heavy lifting schedule who regrets it because she “got too big”. Go on. I’ll wait right here. UNTIL THE APOCALYPSE. (Thus rendering the regret null and void because who can really fight zombies without muscle?)

onstagecropped
Iron Heart Classic – Open Division 3rd Place!  Photo credit: Julia Wolschlegel – awesome photographer and incredible coach who made my hammies look stage ready!

I’ve been trying to get more muscular for a year, and my muscles have gotten bigger, but in the process my waistline has gotten smaller.  In the last year and a half, I’ve lifted well over a half a million pounds in weight.  I don’t look like He-Man.  Heck, I still don’t even look like She-Ra!  A half million pounds of weight and I still don’t (and won’t ever) look like the Terminator.  A solid foundation of muscle mass will torch calories.  Build some muscle?  Torch some calories.  Don’t be a cardio king or queen.  Endless amounts of cardio is not the answer unless your question is “Can I run a marathon?”  If that’s the case, then get your butt on the treadmill.

7.  PUT SOME MONEY BEHIND IT.

It’s amazing what kind of a motivator finances can be.  If you put a portion of your income into a trainer, the right decisions get much easier to make when it comes to diet and exercise.  Why screw up your diet when you’re paying for it?  Plus?  Professional trainers know what they’re doing.  If you’ve tried at weight loss and failed – multiple times – then find an expert and let them do the legwork to get your diet and exercise on point.  Then all you have to do is follow the directions.  It’s also a lot easier to make good choices when you have to answer to a face for your results over the course of a week.  I deliberately make it a point to check in with my trainer on Mondays – because I know if I’m going to epically fail on my diet and exercise it’s most likely to happen on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  If I have a looming check in on Monday over my head, I had better behave myself on the weekend.  I’d also like to recommend finding a trainer who will meal plan with you.  (See #3).  While it’s great to have someone who works you out in the gym so you don’t get injured, it bears repeating that the real work is done in the kitchen.  If you don’t know how to eat, you won’t get results.   Also?  Hire someone you don’t want to disappoint.  I worked with one of my former athletes, April, (see photo below and #9) and let her train me during my initial weight loss because hello…she busted her butt for me for two years.  It was a no-brainer for me to give her back two months of unwavering effort.  It changed my life completely.

8.  DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Seriously.  There is a LOT of bad information out there.

9.    STANDING SIX PACKS ON WOMEN AREN’T UNICORNS – BUT THEY ARE NARWHALS.

There are women out there with the elusive “standing abs.”  You know, where you just stand around and the six pack is just…ever present.  But how often do you see them in real life and not in a magazine or as a wall mural at your local Athleta?  Yeah.  Didn’t think so.  Women don’t just have six packs as a result of a casual workout regimen.  Which is why for the longest time I called the female six pack a unicorn – they don’t exist.  I personally know two people who have them as part of a full-time body feature.  One is an IFBB Bikini PRO.  The other is a nationally qualified physique competitor. So it’s not technically a unicorn, but it is a unicorn of the sea – they exist, but don’t expect to see it anytime soon in anything other than a picture unless you have some bodybuilding friends or athlete acquaintances in high places.  They are incredibly rare and geographically limited to places like the Arctic Ocean and Instagram – like narwhals.  Don’t believe me?  Look around at the gym, the mall, the pool, yoga class…anywhere…. count the number of women you see at all of those places (thousands) and divide that into the number of six packs you see (1? 0?) The percentage is small for a reason – they’re ultra hard to acquire. The only way to get them is by taking all of your belly fat away to reveal them, not (as the infomercials would have you believe) by doing magic sit ups with the next new-fangled ab torture device. (Not to mention they dissolve like jello in hot water following every poor decision you make in the kitchen – I may or may not know this from direct experience…)

after with april
Me with one of the elusive Narwhals of fitness goals – my dear friend April! When April flexed her abs at the show, the whole crowd went bonkers! Look how great she looks! April got me stage ready for my very first show, and she and I are now setting goals and working together!

I guess what I’m trying to say is, when setting your goals for 2018, save the six pack for the next round of goal setting after you achieve your first set of goals.  I’m not saying it isn’t attainable.  But you’ll be working a long time towards that if that’s what you want, and there’s probably some other really great accomplishments that will happen before you catch the narwhal that you may miss out on along the way. Which leads me to my last point…

10.  THERE’S NO END IN SIGHT.  AND THAT’S A GOOD THING.

It takes a long time to get to the finish line.  And guess what?  Once you get there, there’s another peak on the horizon you’ll already be looking at.  You’ll never be done with this.  I thought I’d be “done” with working on myself after this last competition.  The truth is, there isn’t an end, whether it’s setting another weight loss goal or finding a way to “live comfortably” at your goal weight, you’re never finished.  It’s a daunting thought, but here’s the thing – if you don’t set the fitness goal you wanted to set for yourself, there’s no end in sight on the other side of the coin, either.  You’ll always be moving toward something.  The question is, what do you want to be moving toward?

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