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You’re a Real Woman & Why Strong is NOT the New Skinny

I’m not sure when exactly it was that I realized that instead of inspiring and motivating me, so called “fitspo” or “fitspiration” was mostly making me feel really bad about myself.

At first, I was so excited that strength was finally cool! When I started lifting weights, being strong was not cool. In fact, I would say most people thought it was a weird and obscure goal to have and even more weird that I was a woman. It was like, “that chick is strange and intense”… (I’m not sure that the assessment is actually wrong, ha). Like, it was okay that I was working out to be hot, but it was strange that I liked and cared about being strong. For me, I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be strong! I went through a phase where I thought once I explained myself, everyone would see the light and join my bandwagon, but they didn’t. They still thought it was a weird and obscure obsession, and questionably worthwhile. So when all this “strong is the new skinny” stuff started trending, I was so happy! Everyone was finally “getting it” and I was really excited… at first.

From the sea of headless ab shots, sexualized, sweaty women with heaving cleavage and perfect round butts, the unrelenting captions telling me to not to stop and that pain was my fat cells dying or whatever BS… somewhere along the way, it became all about being sexy, objectification and defining another narrow and rigid aesthetic for us all to scramble to fit into.

This is also why “strong is the new skinny” is really just another crock of shit being spoonfed to us. Same old wolf, new disguise. The message really seems to be “strong is awesome only if you are small and ripped and, of course, sexy“… after all girls, we have to be sexy! We are nothing and nobody if we are not sexy, are we? And God forbid strong means you have big, powerful muscles. Strong is not sexy if it’s “too bulky” or “too much”… girls, you can only be strong if you stay small and cute, preferably in a push up sports bra with your boobs hiked up to your chin.

The sarcasm is oozing from pretty much the entire above paragraph, in case you missed it!

And that’s never what strength is or should be about. You get strong to be strong. Because strong is awesome. Thats the only reason and justification you need. Being strong literally makes you better at everything else in life that you do. It’ll make you a better runner, a better dancer, better and more powerful in any sport that you play. Better at your household chores and activities, better at just being. No lie. I mean, if you train right, training will improve and correct your posture. So literally, just standing there and “being” you are better. Your strong muscles hold up your bones and spine and pin your shoulders back more efficiently. Hence, you are better “just being”, get it?

You don’t get strong because its sexy, or because its the new cool thing and not because its going to help you fit into a new, oppressive paradigm for how you are supposed to look.

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I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, I think all bodies are beautiful when they’re fit and strong, within a healthy weight range and the individual is happy and enjoying their life. And whatever that looks like for each person, pretty much always looks some shade of great!

Short limbs, long limbs, boxy torso, long torso, naturally lean, naturally curvy, naturally thin… we ALL have our strengths and weaknesses, we don’t have to look exactly alike to look beautiful; and in order to be inspiring, it doesn’t matter how you look. To be inspiring in fitness, athletics and sport you have to have a great attitude, perseverance and the ability to do cool shit, like maybe squat 100kg, or run a marathon in under 3 hours, or do the splits or a backflip! All that stuff is pretty damn cool, but I admire anyone who is healthy and works hard to excel in a particular skill, overcome physical and mental limitations and takes care of their body and mind. People like that are cool. People like that are the real fitspo. Not some headless, nameless chick with abs wearing co-ordinated workout gear. What’s cool about that?

And, another thing: we’re ALL “real” women! Do you have a vagina? Well guess what? You’re a real woman. THE END.

Just because “thin is in” doesn’t mean we get to trash and degrade women who are thin by saying stupid crap like “real women have curves”… Do you know how dumb you sound? Stop saying that. Some women really struggle to gain weight and certainly covet fuller hips and thighs and bums, and it’s no easier for them to attain those than it is for someone significantly overweight to lose fat. Can you imagine how heartbreaking and hurtful it is to be someone who is naturally very thin and doesn’t want to be, to have the message thrown in her face that she is fundamentally inadequate as a woman because of her shape? The bold is wrong no matter what body type we’re talking about. That is a harsh and unkind message to put out there to people, lacking in compassion or understanding. You can’t expect to come out smelling like roses when you’re down in the dirt slinging mud at everyone else.

What inspires you towards your fitness goals every day? What is that you most like about your body? I’d love to hear about it n the comments!

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Ditching the ‘All or Nothing’ Attitude in Fitness

My European adventure is drawing to a close and with 7 days ‘til I arrive in Sydney, I have been contemplating my fitness goals.

Part of that is thinking about how I want to evolve and what things I need to let go of, that may have held me back in the past. One of those is an all-or-nothing attitude.

I used to be like that about dieting.

I still struggle a little with it in training. I hate deload weeks and I have been known to get agitated when things don’t go as planned in the gym. I like intense workouts. I like to struggle and triumph. When the latter doesn’t happen, I can get pissed and take my ball and go home… sometimes funny, but never productive!

True fitness is a lifestyle and life has it’s ups and downs. One of the key qualities to being happy, fulfilled and successful is resilience, and you can’t be resilient when you’re rigid, afraid to make mistakes, or get upset when things don’t go 100% your way.

Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for excellence!

Strive to develop good habits and consistency. Strive to be better than you were yesterday. Strive to challenge yourself in some way, every day. Step outside of your comfort zone. Forgive yourself mistakes. They happen.

Those of us prone to an all-or-nothing attitude often end up with just the latter… nothing.

We’re prone to overtraining, because we try to push hard and train hard every single day, thinking more is more. It certainly isn’t.

We’re prone to struggling with our diets because we expect perfection from ourselves, with nary a calorie or macronutrient out of place. And when we can’t achieve that, we fall right off the wagon and binge… guess what? 100% diet adherence is overrated… and not possible without an adjunct obsessive-compulsive disorder. Certainly, eating well 90% of the time is necessary to looking your best, but perfection is a myth and unnecessary.

We’re prone to being competitive, which personally, I tend to find a friendly competitive streak in a person kind of cute 🙂 HOWEVER, not everything is a competition! Not everything is so serious. And no one said you had to be the best at everything or the most of something. Just be you and strive for constant improvement. Stay humble. Keep your ego in check.

Some of us never even get started because we think we have to be “dedicated” and “disciplined” and “train hard” to make any of it worthwhile and it’s all just too intense and overwhelming. So we do nothing. We sit on the couch instead. Well guess what? MOVING YOUR BODY in some way every single day is certainly worthwhile and good for your health, even if you don’t approach things with the razor focus of a professional athlete. Just move! Pick something you like doing and just go with it.

Do something. Walk for 20 minutes a day. Eat a serving of vegetables at dinner every night. Who told you that you had to eat perfectly and train like an Olympic Athlete for it to be worthwhile? Hey, they lied. Eat your veges and move a little each day. Baby steps. Will you look like a fitness model? No. Will you feel better and look better, and be glad you made those small changes? Yes! You will.

Something always trumps nothing.

The people you admire the most in sports and fitness, they have off-seasons, they have intelligently periodized training protocols (i.e: not pushing at 100% capacity all the time), they have diet slip-ups and off-plan meals. They have bad days at training, days where they feel tired. But guess what? They do things MOSTLY right and properly, and stick to their plans the vast majority of the time.

Getting it right over 90% of the time is what gets results and what is important.

Earnest effort is everything. Perfection is a myth. A fitness unicorn! You wanna go chasing unicorns? Be my guest. Have fun with that. Getting great results and maintaining them is a balance between consistent, intelligent training, good nutrition and incorporating all of that into your every day, real life.

Have you had an all or nothing attitude to your fitness? Have you been far too intense in the past or has your attitude kept you on the couch? How have you managed to find YOUR balance?

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Gym adventures in Split: the prequel!

I’m sitting in a really hot common room in a hostel in Split writing this!

I’m about to embark on my mission to find a gym and get some lifting in. I think it’ll make me feel good. I had a great nights sleep and I’m ready to go!

I just spent a week in Paris which was amazing! I walked for hours and hours and hours every single day. My diet strategy has just been to eat when I’m hungry and have whatever I like in a reasonable portion. Walking for so many hours each day burns an extraordinary amount of calories so it almost doesn’t matter what I eat as long as I don’t get too crazy with it!

So I had tarts and macarons and terrines and croissants and crepes… just not big portions and I probably only averaged 2 meals a day. We also had a steady supply of boiled eggs we carried around with us and those are really filling! I ate bananas, but not much other fruit because it was so outrageously expensive! Peaches and nectarines averaged about 5 – 7 euros a kilo, and I was just going to flip out if I spent that much on a bunch of tasteless nectarines, so I didn’t risk it.

As an example, I bought 3 peaches here in Croatia when I arrived yesterday and paid about 1 euro and they were absolutely spectacular and sweet!

It was also smart to deload while in Paris because I walked all over that city and I didn’t even see a HINT of a gym anywhere! However, Parisians seem very active. They all walk everywhere and ride bicycles, so they are hardly sloppy and sedentary.

Here are my tips for eating while on holiday:

1. Eat whatever you like, however have only ONE reasonable portion (i.e: not large and out-of-control portions).

2. If it isn’t an active holiday, meaning you aren’t walking for hours, swimming or hiking, and it’s longer than 5 days, then you definitely need to make time to work out and move your body. There is always something you can do. Almost all hotels and resorts have gyms, and you can use dumb bells to get a really solid freeweight workout in. You can go for a walk or a jog. You can do bodyweight exercises. Move your body. Your body loves to move! Being on holiday isn’t an excuse to neglect yourself.

3. Items like nuts and boiled eggs and fresh fruit can offer you tasty, filling and healthy snacks.

4. Of course you have to live life and have fun, but part of maintaining a balanced approach is also maintaining the healthy part of that balance. It doesn’t all just go out the window because you’re on holiday. So if you’ve been drinking and eating crap for the last 2 days, for the next day or two you should be ordering salads and lean protein and veges and drinking a much water as possible.

I’ll definitely be back to let you know how my gym adventures in Split went! I plan to lift today and then in about 2 days time. I left on my holiday with a 105kg deadlift and a 95kg squat, so as long as I can maintain within 90% of that, I’ll be happy (I return to Australia in mid September).

ETA: I guess lifting in Split is just not going to happen. Bummer.

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And the bikini trimdown begins!

Today is Day 2 of my 9 week slimdown. I am quite happy with my figure and appearance right now, so I’m really just looking to refine and make sure I look my best when I am in Europe for 2.5 months.

I eat very well and I am very consistent with my workouts, I just haven’t been super regimented with my cardio/metabolic conditioning in recent months. I do it, but if I really don’t feel like it, then i don’t and that’s been fine. My attitude to diet has been a sort of relaxed “eat protein based meals, don’t overeat, don’t go crazy on anything carbohydrate based” and the one change I’m about to make that will make the biggest difference is I’m about to cut out all alcohol intake, down to 1 or 2 glasses of red wine a week, if at all. I have been very social for all of 2013 and drinking champagne and beer and cocktails probably 2 times and sometimes 3 times a week. I really think the alcohol is a huge factor and I can honestly take it or leave it, and it needs to GO.

I will be frank with you all, I come with a history of extreme dieting and a very regimented lifestyle. I competed in figure in 2009 and in 2011 I did a 4 month prep planning to compete again. I had to pull out 6 weeks before my contest date due to an injury. I am ambivalent about competing in the future, for various reasons, some of which are in this post and others, which I’ll probably talk about in a future post. What I’ve learned over the years is that having a balance is of paramount importance, and the last 2 years I have made huge strides in finding that balance.

What does balance mean to me?

Balance to me is training regularly, but never oppressively. I love to train. I love to train HARD and PUSH, but in the past I have sometimes gotten bogged down in the mentality where more is more (it really isn’t) and where my diet and exercise habits may have been more of an exercise in self-flagellation and martyrdom than anything to do with REAL health, strength and fitness.

Balance to me is also eating well and also enjoying time openly and freely with family and friends and enjoying food, without ascribing emotional values to things like “good, “bad”, “cheat”… The only truly bad foods are things like transfats and high-fructose-corn-syrup, chemicals, additives, unnatural preservatives. Carbs are not bad. Carbs are fuel. Fat does not make you fat. Proteins are the building blocks of lean tissue, and everything has it’s place in your diet.

If you eat well and train consistently, having a cocktail and some birthday cake on the weekend with your friends is not going to make you fat.

Back to my 9 week trim down!

So, as I said, I have been focused on finding balance and I have been very good at it. I think when you’re just looking to maintain, the occasional piece of cake and cocktails are fine, but I’m going to get rid of the alcohol, because drinking regularly and especially high sugar beverages will hinder fat loss. For maintenance, it’s OK. For fat loss, the drinks have to go. Honestly, I enjoy a social drink, but I don’t love it all that much. I can truly take it or leave it. 

In addition to that, I’m tightening up my carbohydrate intake. Please note: I am not eliminating carbs by any means, I am just tightening up my diet. Which means most of my carbs will be restricted to pre and post lifting and refeed days, and other than post-workout carbohydrates, they will be all complex carbs.

Lastly, I am creating a cardio schedule a sticking to it. There will only be one or two steady state cardio sessions in my plan, starting at only 20 minutes a session. The rest will be interval training and metabolic conditioning.

I plan to take progress pictures and share them with you all at some point, too.

How well have you managed to adopt a balanced approach to your diet and training? What has worked best for you?