So You Are Totally Body Positive, But You Still Totally Want To Be Lean?

Not so fast! Before we get into this story… Am I calling out the Body Positive Movement? The one that is sponsored by mega companies like Dove and American Eagle? The one that is being pushed by some very smart and influential fitness professionals?

Yes. Yes, I am.

I have some beef. But, I’m not here to attack the idea that women shouldn’t love their bodies, accept themselves, and be intuitive about self-care. I actually believe these skills are imperative to any kind of body composition journey and I am so incredibly happy that they are seeing the spotlight. I consider myself on board.

I’m simply sharing my story of prepping for figure competitions,  maintaining a svelte body on the daily, and the small shift that can divide stressful weight loss from self-loving and intuitive leanness. OK?

I've got love for everyone. But when it's implied that all lean individuals must be some measure of crazy and MY clients start coming in ashamed of or intimidated by their goals...

Let’s get into it.

A New Hope

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (or maybe just New Jersey), there was a little lost girl named Ashleigh. Maybe not so little. She had definitely just put on about five pounds of muscle and had competed in figure division. But I digress.. 

Anyway, Ashleigh was 13% body fat (which is a pretty lean body composition reading on the scale). And she was not happy.

I want you to keep reading here. Stay with me, because unlike all the rest of the typical body positive posts, this one doesn’t really end up the way you’ve come to expect. At the conclusion of our tale, little Ashleigh is all grown up (ok, or maybe just a few years older and wiser), and she is 13% body fat and lives happily ever after…

…I'm sorry, What?

That’s not how the story is supposed to go, right? Where are the before-and-after photos that look like a reverse transformation?

I mean, I definitely put on close to 10 pounds of muscle since then. i weighed about 128 lbs. in 2013. Right now it varies from 136-138 lbs.

I mean, I definitely put on close to 10 pounds of muscle since then. i weighed about 128 lbs. in 2013. Right now it varies from 136-138 lbs.

Isn’t she supposed to put on like 10-20 pounds and four inches on the waist in order to finally feel at peace with her feminine body?

People.

Come on.

While I may be referencing Star Wars, this is not a fucking fairy tale.

I am a 28 yr-old perpetually single girl running my own life and business on my own in the very real hustle that is New York City. I ain’t got no time for fairy tales. 

Been there. Done that. He was a complete disaster. ANYWAY… back to the 13% body fat.

First, I am a PERSONAL TRAINER. THIS IS WHAT I DO FOR A LIVING OMG. I have a responsibility to myself and to my clients to maintain an athletic body that can perform at a high level and also rock a fitness photo shoot when asked. I need to be a role model and set a high standard for my clients.

But more importantly than that, I don’t personally have the mental toughness required to live in a body that doesn’t feel right to me. And when I am 13% body fat, my body can feel so damn good. And when it does, it’s because I am being so damn good to my body. 

I give it the nutrition it needs. I challenge it with training, but I respect it’s capabilities.

I give it yoga and meditation. I challenge it with work, but I offer it rest.

 

Same Bod, Different Mindset

Ok, ok. I know what you’re thinking. This story doesn’t make any sense. How could I go from being unhappy to happy at the same 13%? 

And this sounds like sunshine and rainbows, not dark clouds and tough times. 

Where is the typical horror story that all these fit pros narrate? Where does the external transformation come in? Where is the crashed metabolism and the low self-esteem?

Again, this is not a fantastic piece. And it certainly isn’t any kind of nightmare.

But… there was a time that Ashleigh woke up in a cold sweat. And this is where the story really begins.

She was about 24. She had completed a figure competition with ease. And I mean EASE. She used Dan John’s Easy Strength program to get there. "What are macros?" she wondered. She had never felt better or looked better.

First figure comp, feeling so damn good!  

First figure comp, feeling so damn good!

 

But somewhere between that first prep for May and the following show in September, little Ashleigh lost her goddamn mind(wouldn’t be the last time lolz).

Her family and personal life spiraled out of control. Those tales are not part of this story so we’ll skip the details. But suffice it to say, our little Ashleigh found escape from it all by preparing for the next competition.

And that is when she took it too far. Way too far.

She measured her progress far too often. She ate almost no carbs. She trained at least two hours a day. She experienced a heinous injury. And she really did not like herself at all.

Ashleigh knew something had to change. She was caught in a vicious cycle. As the days passed, it seemed as though it became increasingly difficult to maintain her ideal body composition.

More restriction was required. More working out was necessary.

But she still wanted to to be lean. And she was not willing to give that up so easily. Purchasing a new padawan wardrobe was not going to fit her budget.

Our reluctant heroine had come to an impasse. She had to choose a new ending.

 

Reacting Vs. Responding

Now in life, when we are faced with a problem — We don’t like the way things are and we need a change — It was originally thought that we have one of two options. 

There really are no unexpected plot twists in real life.

We either react

Or we respond.

That’s it.

Reaction, meaning that we act too quickly and impulsively, and let emotions rule the decision. Response means that we take time to reflect and let logic and intuition direct our move.

Found this gem on Pinterest.

Found this gem on Pinterest.

But somewhere along the line, the Body Positive Movement created this new third option.

Do nothing.

Do nothing. Forget the goal, and convince yourself that you are content exactly where you are now.

WHATTTT????

I’m sorry. This option might legitimately be the right choice for some people. And I have to believe that these reverse transformation posts are directed at that specific audience.

We’re talking specifically about physique goals here. Perhaps a person wants to achieve something too extreme or it’s an unhealthy pursuit for their current head state.

But in most cases (even beyond training goals), I believe the following to be true:

You can try to play lots of Jedi mind tricks with your brain to pretend like you’re not being called to some kind of higher goal or purpose.

But even Luke Skywalker had to go on the Hero’s journey just like everyone else. 

It would have been a really boring movie if Luke had stayed on Tatooine and pretended he didn’t want to go on an adventure and learn what he needed to know about himself.

Let's apply this to fitness. You can react, respond, or do nothing. 

And this is a really, really important note: If you want defined abs and body positive culture (or your trainer, or some "expert") is telling you that’s not a sufficiently righteous enough purpose, as seems to be the current trend, consider me the omnipotent presence that shows up to reassure you. 

You can even call me Obi Wan if you like.

But like, Obi Wan if he was a woman and wore lots of platforms. BTW this is me, any given day.

But like, Obi Wan if he was a woman and wore lots of platforms. BTW this is me, any given day.

Your desires are real and valid. They are a call to action. And aesthetic goals are ABSOLUTELY a legitimate purpose as they correlate directly with adopting healthier life habits and building strength and good movement patterns(See I’m with you on prioritizing strength and movement, body positive people!)

You can either react by dieting erratically and over-exercising, you can do nothing by attempting to love yourself just the way you are (and ignoring the call), or you can…

Respond.

Aesthetic physique goals, even seemingly “elite” ones, are absolutely attainable in a safe and sustainable way.

Let’s go back to our reluctant heroine’s story…

Well, baby Ashleigh reacted, fueled by the negative things happening in her life, to the task of staying lean for her second competition. She had experienced a certain amount of luck in her first prep. She tested out her theories on how to prepare and they worked. And she did it all on her own. 

But despite her success, she didn’t trust herself. And she crashed on the second round. She felt terrible about herself. Even though she looked pretty great. 

You see, body image is directly related to our overall health. This is where the whole self esteem thing comes in. She was unhappy at 13% because she wasn’t healthy.

She had restricted her body to the point where it was in a constant state of stress. And because this state was so threatening, she had no idea what was going on inside that body and kept comparing it to ever other body. She didn't even think she looked good half the time.

Now this last part of the self-esteem problem might be tough for you non-fit pros to understand. But it's an important note. She questioned her competence as a trainer in this shaken state. 

And so as painful as it was, this crash prompted Ashleigh to make a change. To respond.

#WhatWouldCampbellDo?

She knew she had to get a squad if she was gonna go on a tough journey. Some Han Solo types if you will. People who could be objective. So she found support.

She went out and learned. She had to find the Yodas. Real experts and research to discover why things worked the first time and what was so wrong abut the second.

And she had to find the force again. To realize that she was going to need to go deep and trust her soul voice. 

She tested out her own theories, but with newfound confidence. She learned to trust her intuition, while relying on others.

Of course, there were Siths who tried to throw her off course. People who said it couldn’t be done. But she learned the ways of the force, to drown out these voices and only hear her own heart.

She didn’t let fear guide her. She resisted the dark side.

 

How You TOO, Can Defeat The Dark Side

Of course your big goals are always going to be somewhat scary. You’re signing yourself up for struggle and discomfort and work! 

But there are certain truths you need to remember when you feel like you want to hesitate.

There Is Always Someone Who Can Help You Find Your Way

We all need a coach, someone who can guide us through the process and prevent us from veering off course. Find yourself a Yoda, someone more experienced and wiser, with the practical expertise you desire, who can act as your spiritual guide. Put trust in someone else.

You Can Learn To Master Your Fear

When we get discouraged by our failures or frustrated by someone else’s success during this very personal journey, that’s just our ego getting pushed around a bit. 

We have to be able to hear that fear without acting(or not acting) on it. That’s the difference between the dark side and the force. Choose the force. Choose strength.

I failed on my odyssey several times. I look forward to falling down again. Failures are part of life. Keep smiling and keep fighting.

Change is Inherently Uncomfortable For Everyone

Realize the process is going to push you out of your comfort zone. But the second we get started on something that seems too big and daunting, the anxiety begins to diminish immediately.

Take the first step. and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

You Need a Squad

You need caring listeners who will hear your struggles and let you talk out your fears. You need objective judges to tell you when you’re making progress. And you need your girlfriends to warn you when you start sounding straight crazy.

You Hold The Power

The Obi-Wans, the god-like characters that appear in stories to light the fire --  the ones who show up at just the right moment in the middle of the battle when all seems lost? They’re not real in the sense that they are human or separate from the main character. They are an extension of the Hero — A projection of your own divinity to remind you that you alone hold the almighty spirit required to get where you want to go. All of the power lies within you.

And finally...

Chart Your Own Course

This is your story!

Luke had to answer the call. He had to look to within. He couldn’t have done it without R-2 and the rest of the crew. And he couldn’t have done it if he stayed on the farm.

Ashleigh had to get real uncomfortable. She had to silence her fear, learn more about herself, trust others, and work smarter.

Me, on Thursday. Any Thursday, really. But it was last Thursday.

Me, on Thursday. Any Thursday, really. But it was last Thursday.

These are the things you never hear from these one-man show reverse transformations. And there are certainly great lessons in their stories.

But the experts who tell you your goals are unhealthy or not worthy evade the power of response -- the self-discipline, wisdom, time, effort, and accountability that goes into crafting truly elite or transformative fitness goals.

You don’t hear about how they change things and try again. Or how they bring in other experts to guide them through. Because they thought they knew everything. I get that. As I explained, I've been there too.

I don't want to assume too much, but I would venture to conclude that these pros attached their self-worth not only to their physiques, but to their ability to coach themselves successfully as well. 

That's their story. 

But that doesn’t have to be your story.

and speaking of squads… I'd love to be part of yours! E-mail me any time ashleigh@sophisticatedstrength.com

#bodybuilderpositive #followtheforce #sophisticatedstrength