This past year has served as an eyeopener for many of us, priorities most certainly shifted. I have to be honest, prior to this pandemic I was so incredibly busy doing all of the things that I rarely stopped to question if any of what I was doing felt right. I would wake up some mornings dreading the tasks ahead of me and yearning for a break. I am not sure the pandemic was quite the break I was looking for but, nonetheless here I was.

Throughout this pandemic I  discovered so much of what has value to me. It wasn’t pretty at first, far from it, I had a lot of fear and a sort of identity crisis. I was  bodybuilder, it’s what I loved and how I defined myself. I did the bodybuilder things, I went to the gym and ate the chicken and had the coach who I thought was the best. Although I knew a lot about nutrition and strength training, I would ignore all of what I thought and only listen to my coach. I was becoming a little miserable and I started to wonder if the same was true for my clients. I wondered if they were attempting to follow my suggestions regardless of how they felt. And, if that were the case, could that also be the reason they were struggling like I was. I started to explore my identity as both a body builder and a trainer. I was pretty sure I could find more joy on both fronts so I began my process of undoing

I always enjoyed being a trainer/coach, my ability to help others gives me purpose. Most people seek out a trainer when they want to change their appearance. Being that I work mainly with women my job was mostly helping with weight loss. When I was unsuccessful, I would desperately seek solutions, confident in my belief that if I could just turn the right gear I could  help this person lose the weight. So, I would make suggestions like; food logging, increasing steps, counting macros, changing training plans, taking progress pics, taking measurements, tracking weight, rarely would any of these suggested interventions bring about positive results. In those instances, I had an inner voice that would tell me that maybe I was doing it wrong, perhaps I was reinforcing weight loss obsession thereby preventing them from finding happiness. I believed that I could probably be more useful if I helped the person identify what brings them joy or adds value to their lives and weave that into the process. Regardless, I ignored my inner voice so I could help them achieve what they wanted but, that misguided feeling never quite went away.

When the pandemic hit I was about 8 weeks out from my first competition of 2020. I had invested 8 months into getting my body ready for the stage which meant I had to miss out countless family dinners, social events and celebrations. My family missed out on a lot too, they knew that when it was prep time I got tunnel vision and I let go of  most that usually brought me joy, they accepted it. However, I always noticed how happy they were when I would actually enjoy a meal with them outside of competition prep. I knew that they were being supportive out of love for me. But if they were that overjoyed to the point of applause when I would sit and have a meatball with them that indicated that they were missing that part of their life. That never sat well with me. My family is a huge priority and I didn’t want them to have to sacrifice for something I was doing.

So here I was 8 weeks out from my competition season and the gyms were closed. What is a bodybuilder without a gym, talk about an existential crisis? I knew that if the gyms were closed than shows would be as well so I had a decision to make; was I going to try and hang in there until the pandemic hit or was I going to bail for the year? I have to be honest, I was over it so I decided to bail for the year. I was so sick of the rigidity. I wanted Sunday dinners back. I felt out of touch with myself and I wanted to find a different approach, this one wasn’t for me and I knew it. I no longer believed that the methods I was using were right for me. I knew they didn’t line up with who I was or what mattered to me I listened to Jeff Alberts of team 3DMJ who talked about being a husband and a father and making his training work around it. He was able to go out and have an occasional meal with his wife and still maintain his goals. Thats what I wanted so, I gave myself permission to explore my own nutrition and training methods.

I incorporated some more intuitive concepts that I had been learning about, made sense since the world was shut down, I decided not to compete and I was now training on my patio instead of in a gym. I had always trained at dirty old school bodybuilding gyms with plenty of equipment and now I was training in a Japanese meditation garden with anything that I could buy off Facebook marketplace. I made a complete mindset shift. My training became more like a spiritual practice than a grind.

I began writing my own training plans for the first time in years. I wanted to love training again, I was getting bored so I explored strength training concepts that fascinated me. I was so grateful for the equipment I had; I was one of the lucky few of my friends with a barbell, squat rack, weight bench and plenty of plates. I really got into the concept of ‘weight is weight and gravity is gravity’. How could I make this equipment do all of the things I needed it to? My childhood sport was art and I felt like I was back to painting in my garage listening to prince. I now had autonomy over my training and my limited equipment was forcing me to get really creative. Creativity is a huge value of mine so again, things were starting to align for me.

My values became a guiding factor in the decisions I made. Adding Sunday dinners back was a game changer, It wasn’t  even about the food, it was about the experience, community, love, sharing, cooking in the kitchen all day, I really missed that. My quality of life skyrocketed. Mind you I wasn’t binge eating, I was questing for balance and enjoying family. My family was overjoyed, there is nothing like mom’s meatballs. My son would bake desert and my family would actually sit over a meal. This made me feel more aligned and I started breathing deeper. The nagging voices in my head were getting quieter.

Another important thing that brought me joy during covid was walking with my friend Laura, we became covid survival buddies. On the days where the kids were driving us mad we would walk twice a day. Walking was so healing for me, it was social, it was my time out of the house, I could talk to another person and I could laugh. This aligned with my values, it made me feel like I was on a healthy path. If I had been in prep I would have still been counting my steps so I wouldn’t be able to walk and get all those other rewards, it would have been too much cardio. At the time the walking was so needed that it would have been entirely misguided to disallow myself from doing it. I am so grateful that I had the self awareness to let go and allow myself that experience.

Lightbulb moment=Our values have value.

Today one of the first steps I do with clients is values identification. Values are such a big part of who we are and yet most of us don’t stop to question what our values are. Perhaps the reason so many of us struggle with reaching our goals is because they are divorced from who we are, external to us. Once we are able to identify our values and weave our goals into them and around them, we give our goals importance, we are now invested. Let’s take hypothetical Jane, Jane loves the outdoors, adventure, socializing, travel and challenge. Jane has been trying to increase health and lose weight for the past 5 years but, she finds the whole process boring and it gets in the way of doing all the stuff she loves so, she quickly jumps ship after each attempt. We could absolutely make the journey more exciting if we took Jane’s values and wove them into her health and weight loss goals, some interventions may involve outdoor activity and adventures with friends, exploring different foods from different cultures. Jane could then have her cake and eat it too (pardon the pun).

List 5 values that really matter to you.

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Cool, now dont ignore those.

Those values are a huge part of who you are.

Most people who want to increase health or lose weight try to follow the lead of any given diet without questioning whether or not it aligns with who they are, when a diet promises results its very appealing especially if we are suffering. But, adjusting our lives to suit a diet seems like failure in a box. Are we ignoring our values because we are spending all of our time trying to look a certain way? I was. It was a little shitty. We all have so many differences, how can one thing that works for one person work for all. We absolutely can all find our own path to health.

I am now a few months into competition prep but, I have decided to do it differently this time. I have invited my values to the party and given myself plenty of time so I can keep stress low and my quality of life high. I have taken a much more flexible approach and adopted a flexible mindset. My family life is really important to me and I want to keep that in tact so my diet has some cushion but in. I am writing my own diet and training plans because I am finding joy in it. I explore each movement during my workouts rather than worry if I am doing what a trainer wants me to do which adds huge value for me. All of that has carried over into all aspects of my life. I don’t feel burnt, bored or stressed. This approach is not really common for a bodybuilding prep but it’s my process and I am choosing to infuse as much health into it as I can.

Each of us can benefit from questioning what matters to us. We can give ourselves to take ownership over our paths to health. For me, my path as a bodybuilder was absent of mental and emotional health. My path as a coach was missing my values of integrity and teaching. Today all of these things are becoming more aligned and I am here for it.