Many times I am reluctant to share my story…in fact I often forget it is my story to share. We have a tendency to bury the painful and traumatic in order to move forward, in order to not be defined by our crises. But no matter how deep I buried it, or how faded it appeared in my subconscious, my time as a fitness competitor was, undeniably, one of the most critical moments of my entire life, and set me on my course to true well-being.
Six years ago, I was deeply entrenched in the world of bodybuilding and fitness modeling. I ate it, breathed it, and slept it. It was—quite frankly—everything that I was. It defined my career as a personal trainer, my friendships, the men I dated, my free time, every morsel I put into my body… all of it. If I ever tried to do something “normal”, i.e. anything unattached to bodybuilding and fitness, I would end up in a panic attack with insecure thoughts, and a gut full of shame. I felt like I no longer fit into the world because no one understood my lifestyle or the sacrifices I had to make in order to achieve my goals. Looking back I couldn’t even tell you what those goals were. It was never really to win a competition: I never cared about winning. And it was never to be a famous fitness model: I never wanted to be famous. I guess my goals were to look the best that I could. Be leaner, tighter, stronger. Be more disciplined than anyone could possibly understand. Excel at something that most people couldn’t. And honestly …to feel beautiful.
All of the sacrifices I made never ever made me feel like I was achieving my goals. Unbelievably restrictive eating. Unhealthy socializing. Cutting myself off from the family and friends that loved me. Hours (if not days) in the gym. All of these sacrifices…and for what? I was never happy. There was not one moment that I enjoyed. Yet I was surrounded with fellow competitors and models that seemed to be pumped, happy, energized and loving the process! And so, again, I felt alone. Like I didn’t fit in.
As a result I starved myself. I depleted myself. I dehydrated myself. I injured myself. I did damage to my organs, my immune system, my digestive system, my skin, and my metabolism. I was broken, mind, heart, and body. In the beginning when I decided to leave the sport I felt empowered by my choice. I believed that I could just go back to the time when I loved my body, and had confidence. I told myself everything would fall back into place. But the psychological and physical trauma that I endured was so deep that I could not get out of the cycle of binge eating, shame, anxiety and negative self-talk. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just go back to being “healthy” and “balanced”? I’m a health professional for God’s sake! I was sinking deeper and deeper into a hole of despair. I would binge uncontrollably because my body was starved for years, then I would gain extra weight because my body had no idea how to process food. Then I would extreme diet again because it’s what I knew “worked”, and then I would start the cycle all over again. The emotional damage this did to me is indescribable. I eventually fell to my knees when I went to see my doctor and she told me that I was doing this to myself, and that if I continued to abuse my body she couldn’t help me. And so, I landed in a therapist’s office two days later, which led me to a nutritional behavioral specialist not long after that. This all brought me to Intuitive Eating… Here is where my physical well-being began to shift.
Through completely listening to my body’s cues, and completely surrendering any and all food rules and regulations, I began to repair my metabolism. My mind was completely blown when I started to see my weight come back to a comfortable place solely by eating only when I was hungry, stopping when I was full, giving my body unconditional permission to eat what she wanted, and incorporating mindful practices during my meals. I started to see it and feel it. I had this control all along. The control that I was trying to have over my body was in fact mine. My body had her own deep and natural knowing, and once I completely surrendered to the process, I healed.
But my compulsion to work out, and my obsession with being “healthy” still consumed me. I was never relaxed. I was always worried about going back to work because of all the questions I would get from my peers and clients: When is your next show? When is your next photo shoot? What is going on with your body? Why haven’t you been to the gym as much? It turned into a battle I had to fight every day. My reputation as a competitor followed me everywhere. And I was completely self-conscience about it. All I wanted to do was move forward and be happy, healed and connected to my body. As I was trying to do this I was still immersed in the same environment and relationships that I was in while I was competing. Talk about triggers! So the pendulum kept swinging back and forth, just a little slower now that I was learning more about mindfulness and Intuitive Eating. But it was still swinging and I held my breath each time, waiting for it to knock me over and throw my healing off course.
I finally had enough! I knew enough about personal development at this point to know that my insides, my heart and my mind were holding the key to true wellness and joy. I just needed help unlocking it. So I went deep. I sought out all the soul-searching guidance I could find. I attended lectures, studied, meditated, completely stopped going to the gym, shifted who I spent time with, left my job and started my own business, and finally decided to work with an incredible holistic health coach. Through our work together we cracked open my subconscious mind and looked her dead in the eye. Staring her down I was able to clean up pain from the past that was holding me back. I was able to end the loop, the cycle, the limbo of control vs. shame. I worked on becoming deeply connected to myself, others, the Earth, and the Universe. I started cooking again with passion and love instead of food prepping out of fear. I shifted to a bottomless state of pure gratitude for everything in my life, and most significantly my body and my human experience. This work was just that—Work. And it is continuous, it is lifelong, it shifts, and transforms, and patterns itself in other places in your life. But this work eventually became and is my greatest and most beautiful life experience thus far. It has opened me to a consciousness that is richer than I ever could have imagined.
Healing from a trauma of any kind is a highly personal journey and what works for some doesn’t work for all. However, I want to share the key elements of my healing. Each and every one of these seven keys helped me reprogram my mind, body and heart because I was diligent, focused, surrendered and ready. I want to share these because healing your spirit can seem existential and hard to grasp, so I want to outline tangible, real steps that can be taken. These major keys allowed me to come into alignment, step into joy, love my body and live fearlessly.
1) Intuitive Eating: I began this beautiful practice by throwing every food rule out the window! I simply (or not so simply depending on how you look at it) began to eat only when I was hungry, stopped when I was full, and tuned into my body’s levels of satisfaction. I listened to my cravings and gave myself unconditional permission to eat anything I desired. Intuitive eating taught me how to be mindful not only with my food choices, but in the way I chose to eat it. I blessed my food, only ate when I was sitting in a relaxed state, and tried to eat with no distractions, truly being present with every bite. I began to listen and then I watched this magical dance begin. Once I started to reprogram my subconscious mind and start to trust the process and my body’s natural intelligence, my weight steadied at its optimal and healthiest place.
2) Daily Gratitude: Every morning I began my day with a practice of gratitude. I listed ten things in my life that I was grateful for. It was all over the map. Some things were about my body, some my career, family, the world, you name it – there are just too many damn things to be thankful for when you give yourself the opportunity to honor them. I started to shift the lens in which I was witnessing my life and slowly my energy began to change. Suddenly I felt as though I was in a constant state of abundance. My body felt this love as well and continued to respond positively.
3) Forgiveness Letters: I worked with my coach to identify all of the anger, judgement and pain I was holding on to. I came to the conclusion that until we completely release this anger toward ourselves and others we can never truly heal. My way of releasing this anger is writing forgiveness letters. This took a lot of time for me to put into practice and it is a tool that I continue to use for myself and with my clients. The first letter I wrote was to myself. I apologized for the abuse and the beatings I had given myself both emotionally and physically over the years. I apologized for the unkind words I spoke about my body, and how I never told her she was good enough how I judged her, how I didn’t stick up for her, and how I disrespected her time and time again. I forgave myself for it all. Completely and wholly. Once you accomplished that first step, than you can begin to forgive others. And don’t be afraid to write to yourself again when you need to.
4) Declarations to the Universe: In my journal I took some time to allow myself to go deep within and free-write my vision for how I wanted to feel in my body. I declared to the universe who I was and how I wanted to walk through this life in the vessel that I was given. I envisioned it and let it out into the universe, firmly declaring everything I deserved, who I knew I was inside, and what I was willing to do to achieve this sense of peace and meaning. .. I then read this declaration over, and over…. And over again. Believing and visualizing every word.
5) Fingertip Affirmations: As triggers came up for me, as they of course did (frequently) especially working in the fitness industry, I would be loaded with an army of positive affirmations about my body, my spirit, and my connection with the deeper meaning of life. The things I was trying to keep in the forefront of my mind. I stored them in my phone, and in my journal so that I had them at my fingertips. A few deep breaths and an affirmation was an excellent way for me to shift my mindset to a space of peace, love, and healing.
6) Alignment with joy: I patterned the principles of intuitive eating with my workouts, relationships, my career, everything. I completely stepped into a space of feeling. And that feeling was joy. What felt good in my heart and made me light up from the inside were the choices I made. From the simplest yoga class, to eating homemade apple pie, to surrounding myself with inspirational and like-minded people. It all felt so right. I began to feel like I wasn’t swimming upstream and against the current anymore, but instead I was floating down the river in perfect synchronization.
7) Self-Care Support System: I realized in a short amount of time that in order to keep myself grounded and consistent with my recovery and the work that I was doing, I needed a consistent, supportive system of rituals to practice daily. They were as simple as meditating for ten minutes every morning and saying a prayer of gratitude every night. I blessed my food before every meal, and practiced yoga as much as I could even if just for five minutes a day. I used essential oils regularly which helped ground and soothe me and made sure I listened to one inspirational thought leader speak every day, either in a podcast, YouTube, or audiobook. These sacred practices kept me steady and connected to myself and served as a constant reminder for the love I wanted to have for my body and an unconditional acceptance that I longed to keep.