So what’s the real difference between the BEFORE and AFTER photos, and why am I posting this up?
Besides the obvious physique changes – the first photo is of me post figure competition in 2008 at about 117lbs and let’s say about 15-17% bodyfat, and the latter is a photo of me today, post workout. I don’t know how much I weigh as I’m not attached to the scale (anymore), but I would guesstimate between 136-140lbs on my 5’3” frame. I would guess my body fat percentage is about mid to high twenties now.
The REAL difference is what you CAN’T physically see just from looking at the photos…which is that I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin and body in the AFTER photo (i.e., TODAY).
My intention of posting these photos is to inspire those of you who struggle with your body image and/or weight to honor and relax into the beautiful body you have now, regardless of your body’s shape and size. My inspiration for this blog entry comes from seeing what’s being posted on my Facebook newsfeed, as well as hearing what a lot of people say around holidays and eating.
This whole week, especially on Christmas Day, many of the Facebook fitness pages I subscribe to bombard it’s fans with typical before and after photos, promoting diet and weight loss programs (I understand they need to make a living too, and what better time to market themselves than now?!) I also have noticed the significant number of Facebook statuses of self-punishment: “needing to work off the food belly/ extra calories” and self- judgement: “I ate so bad these past few days!” and endorsing self-guilt.
I’m not going to lie…having an amazingly sculpted bikini fitness physique is pretty awesome- you get compliments, admiration, you can fit into clothes easily, it’s a great way to develop/enhance attributes of commitment and dedication, you witness how food can transform your physique, you inspire others along the way and you learn a lot about yourself and pushing your limits physically and mentally.
As there are many positive aspects to having a bikini body, it can equally come with a lot of costs: undesirable thoughts, feelings and behaviours, especially if the positive attributes become rigid and extreme.
Here’s a timeline of my changing body throughout the past 4 and a half years.
Having gone through the experience of achieving and maintaining for awhile what I would call “my ideal/perfect” body (2010) and reflecting on my life as it is now, I can absolutely say that, although I am at least ten pounds heavier with a ratio of lower lean muscle mass and high body fat body composition, and a mama belly to boot, I am now truly much happier with my fuller physique.
I was very athletic growing up, playing different sports – mostly soccer, and spent much of my time in the dojo practicing and teaching karate. Once I resigned from karate in 2006, I shifted my passion into working out at the gym with weights and cardio machines. Of course with that, I learned more about “dieting”. In 2008, I got intrigued with pushing my body to see where I could take it by entering a figure competition (softer physique than bodybuilder, but more muscle than bikini competitor). I really enjoyed the journey – dieting (learning about what foods and how much; tweaks in the diet to build more muscle and lean out on a consistent basis); working out; witnessing my transformation, journaling about my emotions to make sure I stayed grounded, aware, and proactive; and inspiring others to make healthy shifts in their lives. The last 2 weeks were brutal on my mind and body, as I only ate white fish and drank distilled water (no carbs -not even veggies!). I could feel my brain didn’t work well! I realize now that the person I hired to diet me really didn’t know much about dieting her clients in a safe, healthy way. Nevertheless, I never complained and actually felt (a false) high as I witnessed my physique getting leaner, muscles and abs popping – just like I always wanted!
I was realistic in knowing that “competition day” physique isn’t maintainable, and when I was journaling throughout my journey, I took photos of my progress and made it a realistic goal of where I wanted my physique to look like post-competition (which was about 3 or 4 weeks approaching the show, still at a healthy bodyfat level).
Because of the physical stress on my body due to drastic changes in my body in less than 6 months- i.e., dropping about 20lbs and a significant body composition change (dropping a significant amount of body fat, and gaining more muscle), and having an extremely strict diet (I stuck to it to a T), my hormones began to get out of whack, and I developed amenorrhoea (cessation of menstrual cycle) for about a year. One of the reasons ammenorhoea develops is because bodyfat is too low (many anorexic females develop ammenorhoea).
Although I was able to maintain my “dream” physique, it came with such a price. A price of constant underlying anxiety in my relationship with food- talk about exhausting!! I was constantly focused on food – what I could and couldn’t eat, how would that food affect my physique, being hungry and having to wait until my next meal time to eat, oh no I ate chocolate, I have to work out harder tomorrow– and a constant focus on my body’s appearance – “do I look bloated? Is my stomach poking out too much in these pants?” And going to parties/events was a challenge, but I found a way to accommodate my anxiety by packing my own food in a cooler to bring to parties (YES, I did that!) or only sticking to plain ol’ boring veggies (as much as I really love veggies on a daily regular basis, I am neglecting myself of the wonderful and beautiful selection of foods so my body would create tension build-up from resisting them).
The most painful part of being in this pattern was developing an unhealthy relationship with food, which I never had any struggles with growing up. Ever since I discovered “dieting” in my early adulthood, I developed periodic binging experiences – although I would still binge mostly on “healthy” foods (natural peanut butter, nuts, dark chocolate were usually inhaled) – I was stuck in a stressful relationship with food. I became afraid of eating certain foods for fear of gaining fat. I had a love-hate relationship with food. Egads!
Through my own therapy and therapy training in Hakomi (an approach I am now certified in), I was able to shift out of my stuckness and become more gentle with myself, my body and my relationship with food – although definitely not perfect. Because I still loved the fitness journey of challenging my body, in 2010, I went on a more realistic, “healthier” 6-week fitness journey, in which I had the goal of building a little more muscle and leaning out a bit to get more definition, as well as take my fitness skills/level to another level. This was a very easy diet to me, and being much more educated in health and nutrition, I made sure to do my research before committing to the meal program. The diet was healthy because it incorporated a balance of macronutrients (protein/carbs/fats) – which was congruent with a healthy “lifestyle” rather than “diet”. The results of this journey was only a 6lb weight loss, but even with that, my body was so sensitive to any changes that my menstrual cycle stopped again!
I maintained my 2010 physique with a more balanced lifestyle, less anxiety around food, and more gentle with myself. However, that little voice saying “Control yourself” still came up when I would came across foods not on my “good” foods list, just not as loud – but it was definitely still there!
In early 2011, I went to my first naturopath appointment to get my hormones balanced so that we could start a family! My relationship with Dr. Christina Bjorndal has been one of the most important ones in my journey to healing in my relationship with my body. She not only helped my body get into optimal state for fertility (within only 1 or 2 visits, I was pregnant!) but I learned so much more about a true holistic health approach to the body from within- I truly developed a deeper understanding about how beautiful and amazing our bodies really are – more than just surface appearance!
I enjoyed my pregnancy and all my worries and anxieties around food disappeared, because my focus was now optimal health for mommy and baby. I ate whatever I felt like (most of my choices were still what society would consider “healthy”, but I definitely discovered unlimited carbs (bread) and cheese. I was blessed with an uneventful pregnancy and worked out at the gym (of course at a significantly less intense level). I gained about 55lbs, and was absolutely fine with this. What use to be my most self-conscious part of me, I loved and embraced as it grew bigger and bigger.
Post pregnancy, I was on a mission to lose the babyweight and get back to my prebaby weight (with a realistic goal of having 5lbs extra as it’s important to have bodyfat, especially while nursing). I joined a gym weight loss challenge, and was able to get back down to my target weight by the time my son was about 6 or 7 months, with a different bodyshape.
I realize that emotionally, I have shifted so much in how I view my body. Yes, I still have moments of self-consciousness (if you read my previous entry Ways to discover and embrace your sensuality and love your body as it is NOW), but as I continue to embrace and love my new curves and appreciate how AMAZING it is – I made a baby with it, my body nourishes my healthy and happy son, AND it’s still as athletically fit as ever even if I’m not the most “fit looking” (I recently participated in a high intensity interval training class, and was shocked that my fitness level excelled compared to both males and females in the class).
In fact, I have a confession (as if I have not confessed enough!) – since hitting my target weight, I think I’ve gained back some weight (and I’m talking way BEFORE Christmas holidays!) and I AM ABSOLUTELY FINE with this. You want to know how and why? Because I am now truly in a loving, healthy and empowered relationship with food. I am no longer controlled by food, I no longer fear it, I no longer fear gaining weight. There’s this belief in our society about having to be back at your prebaby body weight and size- but I now realize that this is just another way that society is resistant to change, and very dishonouring of the fact that our bodies change. Who says we have to go back to our prebaby weight? Wow, that was a big a-ha moment for me!
I feel like I’ve not only deepened my relationship with food, but also my relationship with myself, and with my life – and although it did take a while to get here, I do not regret anything about my journey. I am so glad I went through what I went through, each obstacle/challenge brought me here, and there was a bigger lesson in all this – that in the big scheme of things, what really matters is not having a “perfect/ideal” body (really in the end, how does having a perfect body make me happier? It didn’t! How does it serve me on a deeper level?), but that when I am happy in my relationship with food, with self, with life – I am able to feel at peace and share my own gifts with others from a deeper level.
Of course I know I am not completely “cured” or healed, as I know that there are layers and I continue to embrace upcoming challenges. I continue to work hard at the gym because I’m passionate about working out (some people may see working out as self-punishment, but because I have always been athletic, I’ve never experienced workouts as such), and in time, as my hormones settle postbaby, my body will find it’s “natural weight and shape” – whatever that may look and feel like. And that annoying voice that use to “control” me has no power anymore. No longer am I spending my thoughts, emotions and energy in a stressful relationship with food, and I cannot express in words how truly FREEING this is! Today, I eat what nourishes my body, my heart, and my soul – and that includes daily dosages of peanut butter, nuts and chocolate 😉
These discoveries happened throughout my unique journey, and motherhood was a significant part of helping me love me more. I know that had I not become a mother, that I would have landed in this place through another journey. So what I’m saying is, you don’t have to wait until motherhood (for females) to change your relationship with your self, with your body and with food. I wish for those of you who struggle in your relationship with food/weight and/or body image to discover the gifts that your struggle is disguising…because they are there!
I hope that my journey inspired you to start your own journey in embracing and loving your self, your body and all kinds of food!
If you have a similar story to mine, I encourage you to email me your story (email@example.com) and I can share it anonymously or post in comments section below (note it won’t be anonymous this way) – let’s create a community of empowerment!
If you would like to work with me to learn how to get on your own journey towards an empowering relationship with yourself, your body, and food, please contact me. You can find my contact info here. It would be such an honor for me to be on your journey with you!!!
For a head start, check out my FREE E-Guide on “8 Ways to Cope with Stress & Manage Cravings” here.