Is Dieting the Thief of Joy?—Part 3

Eyes Wide Open

My friends used to call me Astro Girl.

At 25, I had never dealt with a serious injury despite being a lifelong athlete. No breaks, tears or nagging injuries—all stuff most people will experience when they play sports at a high level. Even recreational athletes will likely encounter some dings and dents, but not I. Aside from a concussion from snowboarding, I had dodged the injuries.

That changed when I turned 30. As if to make up for lost time, the injuries came fast and furious. In no particular order of incident or importance, I broke my hand, tore my MCL and injured a disc in my back. I also suffered nerve damage from a compression injury to my cervical spine. For the first time, I couldn’t do exactly what I wanted to with fitness, and I was crushed.

It’s fair to say that for the first few years I didn’t cope with these setbacks well. I sheepishly ponder how my husband tolerated me, as I’m certain I was insufferable. And to what end? Slowly, I gave up on setting goals, caring about fitness and nutrition, and accepted my new normal. Night pain from my back was tempered with NSAIDS, movement was limited, I drank a lot of wine, and I put less emphasis on my health. I gained weight, lost strength and convinced myself that this was inevitable—just what comes with age and injury.

There was wasn’t a specific incident that changed my negative mindset, and I can tell you it definitely didn’t happen overnight. It was a process. I reached a point where I was tired of feeling like shit inside and out. I was tired of chronic pain, I was tired of feeling worthless, and I was tired of not caring. I didn’t want to be complacent. It just wasn’t me. If I couldn’t pursue the same goals I once had, and if my body wouldn’t allow me to do everything I once did, fine. I was ready to explore some alternatives.

I was tired of feeling worthless, and I was tired of not caring. I didn’t want to be complacent. It just wasn’t me.

I started by finding a chiropractor who understood and encouraged weightlifting. He explained my injury, gave me some honest feedback about what to expect in recovery and life, and then gave me permission to go lift. I needed to be told that some pain and discomfort were going to be a part of my journey. I needed to be told that it wouldn’t be a linear process. Some days would suck, and perhaps certain things would never be available again. But I had the confidence to go forward and try. I had the permission and encouragement to get strong again.

The process of recovery was layered. It revealed so much about myself. I attach so much of my self-worth to my physical strength. When I don’t feel strong, I feel less worthy. As a child, I developed my self-esteem through sport, and this continued into adulthood. I realized that I needed to balance this against other pursuits and characteristics. Injury had shown me that I might not always be able to move my body the same way. I needed to have compassion and kindness for myself while I pursued my goals. And some of my goals needed to be rooted outside sport.

To say that this whole experience made me a better coach and person is an understatement. I developed so much more patience, understanding and empathy. I listened to my athletes talk about their injuries, their fears and frustrations without judgement. I understood. And I respected and marvelled at their resilience. After a days full of work, kids’ activities, social obligations and stress, they still chose to come to my gym. I came to understand even more that the most important thing I would do each day was ensure they had the best hour of their day at 204. It was more important than my own workouts and results. This remarkable shift in focus started to positively affect every aspect of my life, including my mental, emotional and physical health.

One of my new goals had been to start a nutrition business within my CrossFit gym. There was a demand for it. People wanted nutrition education because they had goals rooted in health. Nutrition had always fascinated me, so I threw myself into courses and explored the food-science world. I was lucky enough to be training a client who also happened to be a registered dietitian. She was an excellent resource and a big advocate of offering nutrition education. Eventually she joined our nutrition staff as one of the founding coaches.

As I worked through my recovery and launched 204 Lifestyle, I decided to document my own nutrition journey. I was coming back from a period of “no cares given” about my body composition, my performance and sport in general. In the nutrition world, personal experience and rhetoric is often more potent than actual science. I decided to combine all of these elements and tell my story as it was being written.

A lot of research had pointed me toward macro tracking and the flexible dieting model, which allow all foods to fit.

My initial goal was to get back to my pre “fuck it” weight and feel better with gymnastics. I wasn’t confident that I would ever lift really big weight again, so I wanted to focus on improving calisthenics. A lot of research and discussion had pointed me toward macro tracking and the flexible dieting model, which allow all foods to fit. There isn’t a list of restricted foods or “bad” foods. Adopting this approach was pivotal: I hailed from the eat-clean, train-dirty world, so being able to include foods once labeled “bad” was very liberating.

The results were staggering. Physically, my body morphed into a lean, well-muscled machine. But I’m fairly convinced that a huge part of this physical change was tied to my newfound mental and emotional happiness. I didn’t stress about food restrictions, labels and moral attachments. And the back injury that had plagued me for years was becoming less symptomatic daily. None of this happened overnight, and the changes weren’t related only to macro tracking and diet.

Adversity had challenged and changed my idea of what it means to be healthy. Being unable to pursue my fitness goals had left me unhappy and eventually angry. I knew movement and strength training had to be a part of my life, but they couldn’t be the only parts. Throwing myself into my business and helping my members helped me. It balanced me. It led me to start another business that reignited my passion for fitness and health with a more holistic approach. I cared more about nutrition, rest, stress management, personal growth, time with friends and family, and enjoying the moment. All of this helped me recover physically and grow emotionally.

In May 2018, I entered my second physique show. I saw an Instagram post and thought, “I wonder if I can do this using flexible dieting?” I did some research and then threw myself into the prep. I was definitely not the first athlete to use macro tracking to prepare for a contest, but it was a huge switch from how I had prepared 10 years prior.

First, I had 10 years of weightlifting behind me. Training was a way of life. It brought me joy. I did CrossFit because I liked to suffer. That’s not to say everyone suffers—it’s all relative, but I like to push until I get that burning deep in my lungs and muscles. Second, CrossFit and bodybuilding compliment and even resemble each other in so many ways. Drop sets? Feels like max effort to me! Third, and probably the most important: diet. When you’re given a list of foods you can and cannot eat and quantities that in no way support your biology and training volume, you’re going to fail. Either now or later. When you use science to determine how much food you need to reach your goals, and when you can select any food items, you’re more likely to succeed.

The entire prep was fun for me. Stepping on stage felt like my reward regardless of the outcome. I had worked so hard and so diligently, so it really didn’t matter was the results were. And competing lit a fire.

I’ve spent the last six months working to add more muscle. My nutrition business has exploded, my CrossFit gym is thriving, and my body and my mind thank me every day for honouring who I am and pursuing my own definition of health.

I’ll be stepping on stage again on March 23, 2019, and I’m documenting all my preparation. Watch my vlog on YouTube to follow my journey, and subscribe to the 204 Lifestyle channel! Episode one is below.

For now, I’ll close by sharing the biggest thing I’ve learned so far. For me, dieting isn’t the thief of joy. The real thief was not being true to myself and living my life passionately, authentically and by my own design. I sincerely hope I can share that wisdom with others and support my clients as they find their joy through health and fitness.

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