Put the “Shoulds” On the Shelf

We all have things that we feel we “should” be doing: people we should see or call, places we should go, things to get checked off the list. I have always have a bad case of the “shoulds”. “I should be fitter, leaner, happier, smarter…” or “I should be working out; I should go for a run; I should be saving more money”. You might be able to relate. Lately I have been really trying to “shed the shoulds” (Thank you Jessica Tomlinson for this amazing saying).

I’ve been turning those “shoulds” into “should-nots” and saying “No” to my inner self, the self that keeps telling me that I should be able to do it all. No,  I actually cannot do it all and some things must be put on the shelf in order to maintain my health and mental well-being. I’ve surrendered to the fact that some days I am just too tired to work out and even when my mind tells me I should be training, I can kindly tell myself, “No”. I am in the midst of grieving my former body – the one that could do 20+ pull-ups and effortless bike sprints and 800m runs. My legs are losing their size and therefore cannot squat as much weight as they used to. I can still squat though, so I am grateful for that.

I’ve had to say no to events which I felt guilty about, I struggled to keep the shoulds from creeping in. I remind myself that it’s okay to say no. By saying no I am actually empowering myself to not always have to say yes, to not feel guilty if I say no, or feel like I should be saying yes. This process, and the ability to say no, are always a work in progress. It takes practice and confidence-building to do this.

When I first began writing this blog I wrote about how every person’s balance is different. Everyone has their own way of handling and viewing life. It takes a long time to find what balance is right. I feel like I am starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel that is the beginning of me finding my balance.

balance-scale

My Athletic Journey

I have been struggling lately. I am caught between the world where I am an athlete training for the next event – intensely focused on fueling my body correctly, concerned with getting the appropriate amount of sleep, intent on perusing my personal best with the barbell day in and day out – and the world where I barely touch a barbell, feel weak when I train, and feel my body getting soft in all the wrong places. I’m not complaining, just kind of stating where I’m at in my head space and trying to write through it as a way of figuring out where to go next.

I must apologize for this post being lengthy. It was written partly as therapy for me [smile!].

It all began back when I was about 15 years old. My Dad had some weights and equipment in our basement and a few body building guides. I asked him to show me how to lift some weights. I began by lifting small dumbbells and progressed to heavier ones. I was so intrigued by what the human body was capable of, but more than that, I loved how exercise made me feel. Through high school I went to a nearby fitness facility and worked out at home and ran during the summer.

When it came to time to go to college I knew I wanted to study the human body in some way. I chose Plymouth State University because I felt at home there, in the mountains, surrounded by natural beauty. It was so comforting. There I studied applied health and fitness which was part of the Health & Human Performance Department. Through experience-based learning I became an health and fitness connoisseur and soaked it all in. I was a personal trainer and heavily involved in the faculty fitness program offered by the University. I thrived.

College days. The was the descent down Mt Washington. Eating trail mix, of course.

College days. The was the descent down Mt Washington. Eating trail mix, of course.

Upon graduation in 2008 I was up in the air about what I wanted to do. I was just beginning to learn about CrossFit and that seemed interesting. There were 1 or 2 gyms in New Hampshire at that time and I remember talking to my Dad about “opening a CrossFit gym” and how cool that would be. I decided that my lack of business knowledge and real-world experience were limiters and I took a job at PSU instead. I taught for a year in the HHP department and continued my own fitness pursuits. I took up yoga, continued to lift free weights, and walked and ran a lot.

Then I moved to Oregon to get my masters degree. While I was out there I joined a CrossFit gym. My brother Kyle was back on the east coast starting his own CrossFit gym as a business pursuit. I became obsessed with training, nutrition, and everything in between. I tried to link all of my grad school research to physical activity, exercise, and nutrition in some way. It all came together. When I returned to New Hampshire I was on board at The Fort CrossFit, full force. That was 2011.

Fast forward a few years. After dabbling in a few local competitions here and there I decided I really wanted more from myself as an athlete. I knew I was capable of more. I asked Kyle to begin programming for me in preparation for a competition in December and then the 2015 CF Open. I had some weaknesses and holes in my performance that needed to be worked on. Upper body pulling and pushing were the most glaring weaknesses. I trained alone from September 2014 through March 2015, working on making myself better.

December 2014 in Vermont.

December 2014 in Vermont.

I learned a lot during those months. I got super strong and fit. I focused on nutrition and sleep and I got lean and slept like a rock. During the 2015 Open I improved by 444 spots in the northeast region and finished in the top 600 women. It felt amazing, but there were definite trade offs. My social life definitely suffered a bit. As someone who loves enjoying a margarita with friends, this was something that had to be put on the back burner the majority of the time. I also began to have a nagging left shoulder and wrist that I (mostly) chose to ignore because I didn’t want it to mess up my training. Looking back in all of this I realize that I created an illusion of health. Outwardly it would appear that I was living a very healthy lifestyle, but there were many aspects of my health the were suffering. It would just take a while for me to figure that out.

 

Open Workout 15.1

Open Workout 15.1

Eventually my wrist just broke down. I ended up with tendinitis and soft tissue damage that took months to heal. I could not grip a barbell, dumbbell, pull up bar or ring for about two solid months. My inability to train at a high level got to me mentally and I ended up feeling bummed out about life in general. I was able to begin a dumbbell/bodyweight program midway through the summer which helped to get me feeling good about training again, but it wasn’t the same. It was like the fire had burned out. Additionally, the intensity and stress of the previous months’ training caught up with me and I began to feel broken down emotionally. In some ways I felt like I was losing my identity. If I wasn’t a CrossFit athlete, what was I?

I tried to get back into the groove of training hard after signing up for a competition in VT that I’d done the previous 3 years. I jumped back into an intense training program, yet found myself disliking training and literally crying when it got hard. I felt like a complete failure. I felt like I was letting down my coach, people who looked up to me, and myself. I withdrew from the VT competition and stopped training so intensely. I was desperately trying to find the fun in training again, but I was even struggling in group classes. I was also feeling fatigued pretty much all the time, I was beginning to have trouble sleeping, and I got sick about 5 times from November to December.

Around December 2015 I finally decided to just stop. STOP. I needed a break. Like a real break. Looking back, it had been about 5 solid years of CrossFit without taking time off except for built in rest days and a week here and there. I also realized that I tend to be very hard on myself. I never follow the rule I give others…”Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” I am a good athlete, I am a good friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend. The amount of weight I squat or clean and jerk does not determine how useful I am or my self-worth or the amount of knowledge I own.

O2X Challenge at Loon Mountain. October 2015.

O2X Challenge at Loon Mountain. So challenging and so fun. October 2015.

So now it’s April 2016. I did not sign up for the CrossFit open this year and I have done about 3 intense workouts in the gym since Christmas. I have been enjoying yoga once or twice each week and trying to get outside more to be in nature. After about a month to 6 weeks of not training the intense feelings of stress and doom began to subside. I started to relax a little and even took a long weekend away in North Conway, one of my favorite places in the whole world.

I am definitely grieving a little bit for the “old me” – the me who could crush sets of 20+ pull ups, squat clean a heavy barbell smoothly, and sprint on the assault bike with ease. I am trying to remain focused on the positive and the goal of healing my body. At this moment in time I really don’t have the desire to train at a high level. I am happy if I get in 30 minutes of biking  and can keep a smile on my face.

As a fitness and nutrition coach it’s difficult to admit that the lifestyle is not always rainbows, heavy squats, butterflies, and perfectly-portioned food. I think the the perception of people in this business is that we all have our shit together when it comes to our own personal fitness and nutrition. While I have a ton of knowledge, I definitely do not have it all together all of the time. At the moment  my life is changing. Although I value fitness and exercise tremendously, training as hard as I can is just not in my deck of cards at the moment.

I’ve been working with a few helpful coaches of my own, women I admire and look to for advice and knowledge. With their guidance I am discovering ways to heal my body, to feel fulfilled, and to respect the process I am going through. As a coach it feels so nice to be coached! It feels good to let go of the control and let someone else guide me at the moment. I couldn’t do it without these influential women.

I believe that these changes are all part of some larger purpose and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that I am not the only one who goes through changes and struggles like this. I think that I will be able to help others on their journey and I am really looking forward to it! I also believe that I will be back in action at some point; I want to feel that desire for lifting heavy and getting sweaty and having fun. It will happen, it might just take a little while.

What has your athletic journey looked like? Have you struggled with changes like these?

Surrender-life-quote

Back to the Basics

These days I have been thinking about the basics of living a healthy life. Food, water, sleep, activity, and stress. How are you doing with each of these areas? There are so many conflicting messages, so much information to study and decipher, so many numbers to remember, especially with food — eat this, don’t eat that. I’m confused, are you?

When you boil it down it’s pretty simple. When you eat food the body breaks it down and uses it for various processes necessary for survival. It’s your energy and your life force. So how has food become our enemy? Well, that’s the topic for another entire blog post. Over the last 2 years my personal challenge has been to make food “not the enemy”, if that makes sense. Relax, take a breath, take a bite, chew, swallow, enjoy. It’s only food. But it’s not just about food. I know that when I am stressed out or I rush while eating I don’t digest my food as well. I also know that when I am sleep deprived or dehydrated I feel extra hungry and crave cookies. Health is a big web of relationships.

Lately I have been racking my brain trying to understand the struggles, intricate relationships, and misunderstandings we all have with our food. It’s a tough train of thought to follow so I don’t suggest going too far down the rabbit hole unless that is your sort of thing. The one thought I have had over and over again is “get back to the basics”. The basics besides food (sleep, water, stress, exercise) can also be very helpful when trying to “fix” your food situation. The basics, applied on a consistent basis, are the key to it all, the “magic bullet” if you will.

There is no pill, potion, cleanse, exercise program, challenge, spa treatment, or concoction that can replace consistent effort. By consistent I am not talking about 30 days, or 3 months. I am talking about years. Y-E-A-R-S. As I mentioned above, I have spent the last two years of my life making food “not the enemy”. Actually, I should retract that statement because it has been many more years, more like 10 years. Do I still struggle from time to time, of course. I know that if I eat sugar I want more sugar. Do I still occasionally eat sugar? Hell yes because I love ice cream and margaritas. Do I know when to quit? Hell yes because I know if I go too far into the abyss I begin to feel reallllllly bad.

If you have a specific goal in mind, instead of thinking about years, think about tomorrow and this weekend. What are the steps you need to take to set yourself up to eat well? Do you need to go grocery shopping; throw something in the crock pot; chop some veggies; plan a few meals for your busy nights? What can you do in the next hour to set yourself up for success? Maybe you need to drink a few glasses of water instead of grabbing a coffee at Dunks – hydrate and save money. Maybe you need to turn off all your electronics and create a wind-down routine before bedtime or get into your bed 30 minutes earlier. Maybe you need to find your way back to a consistent exercise routine.

Let’s get back to the basics:

  • FOOD – Are the meals you are eating on a consistent basis made up of quality meats, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and some starch?
  • WATER – Are you drinking enough water (at least 1/2 body weight in ounces per day)?
  • SLEEP – Are you getting quality sleep (7-9 hours uninterrupted in a dark room)?
  • STRESS – Are you actively seeking ways to manage stress?
  • EXERCISE – Are you getting an appropriate amount of physical activity for your goals? Is too much exercise contributing to your stress?

If you answer “No” to any of these questions, you have found your starting point. Back to the basics you go. If you need help, ask. Maybe you need your spouse to get on board with food prep – perhaps it’s something you could do together to make it less cumbersome. Do you need to change up a relationship with a friend who always seems to sabotage your efforts? If you need ideas because you’re bored with food, ask your friends about what they eat. If you are feeling stagnant with your training in the gym, talk to one of your coaches about the best path for you.

The best thing you can do for yourself is simplify all the “noise” by getting back to the basics. You don’t have to be perfect. No one is perfect, but I’m guessing you want to feel good and be happy. Trust the process, embrace the journey, and commit to yourself. You get one life, commit to making it the one you want to live.

Write that sh*t down! It's totally helpful to keep track of this stuff: food, feelings, training.

Write that sh*t down! It’s totally helpful to keep track of this stuff: food, feelings, training.