Practicing intentional gratefulness is a relatively new thing in my life. I’ve known, theoretically, for years that being thankful for what we do have, and focusing on that instead of everything we don’t have, is good for us and blah, blah, blah.
But like I just want a lot of things okay? I want that sexy, strong but simultaneously curvy body. I want to make a six digit salary so that I can live freely without worrying about making ends meet. I want to travel the world and have amazing high quality pictures and videos to show off how much fun I am having. I want that perfect life partner that is handsome but also caring and sweet. I want to eat at all the restaurants and explore cuisines. I want it all!
Gratefulness is not about that, though. It’s much more simple. It’s actually the really subtle things. That we barely notice as we go through our days. That’s where it has its biggest impact (in my opinion).
What does this have to do with bodybuilding and food, you ask? Well, let me start by giving you some context.
In the summer of 2015, I decided that I needed a goal to work towards. I needed something to focus on, a purpose, a reason to wake up and get shit done; because I was recovering from a burn out. As I realized that working shift work as a RN in the ICU was slowly sucking the life out of me, I experienced a bit of a life crisis. The very core of my identity was so tightly woven into my being an intensive care nurse, that as I let go of that, it’s like I needed something else to cling to.
So I made a public announcement to my Insta followers, stating that I was going to compete in a bikini/bodybuilding show in June 2016. Game on.
It was 10 months of freaking torture, guys. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a dramatic statement 😅. It was more like 10 months of absolute dedication … and obsession. 10 months of constantly worrying about what I was eating, when I was eating it, how much I was training, how much I weighed and how great (or horrible) I looked.
The first 6 months were a slow introduction to structured training and eating. I balanced healthy meals with outings fairly well, and didn’t feel deprived.
However as the prep became more intense, so too did my obsession with what I ate and the way I looked. I’m talking weighing every single morsel of food that I put it in my mouth. Every ounce of water I drank. Even the gum I chewed (2g of carbs per piece yo!). Obsession.
I spent so many hours looking at myself in the mirror (sad, right?), posing, analysing every inch of my body. One minute, I thought I looked great. I was feeling myself. The next, I was fat. I was a disgrace. I was mad that all my efforts weren’t producing the results I wanted. I compared myself to the other girls on Instagram and felt ashamed.
So I binged.
I guess it was the only way for me to cope and feel better. Honestly, food had always been my friend in that way. I know now that it’s both physiological and psychological.
Physically, my body was craving those feel good hormones. “Give me a quick fix!” is what my brain was telling me. They (the scientists) say that sugar, salt and fat trigger the same addiction centers as cocaine. So ya, I was addicted to food.
Psychologically, it was a way to distract myself from the difficult emotions I was experiencing. And I think that it was also a bit of a punishment. In a way, I think part of me said “You can’t actually do this anyway, Michèle. Who are you kidding? You may as well just eat this whole box of cookies, you fat ass”.
So I binged.
And then I’d feel horrible. Ashamed. I’d fess up to my trainer and we’d work out a way to make up for my binge. More exercise. Less food. Perpetuate the cycle, really.
In the end, I think I rocked my bikini competition. I looked the best that I ever have. I didn’t place, but I was damn proud of my hard work.
The rebound was horrible. And that’s where the negative impact of this bodybuilding competition really took place.
I couldn’t get out of the mindset that I had to eat a certain way and look a certain way to be worthy. After months of depriving myself, I wasn’t able to go back to some relatively balanced way of eating. I just binged. Non-stop.
To make things worst, 2 months after my competition, I moved away from home and started school. This meant that instead of working 12 hour shifts on my feet, I was sitting all day studying. Instead of working out 3-6 times/week, I was laying in bed feeling sorry for myself. Instead of meal prepping and counting macros, I ordered in or went out to eat. Instead of seeing friends and staying engaged, I isolated myself.
Massive rebound, guys. And I felt so out of control. For almost two years, I mentally struggled between thinking I should diet and “treat yoself!” It was either good or bad. I was either obsessed or completely careless about my health. No middle ground. I just couldn’t find that sweet spot in the middle.
Yet I am grateful for that struggle. I won’t say that I think I NEEDED to go through that to get to where I am today. But I can find a way to be grateful for the experience because it has helped me understand how I deal with emotions. And mostly, because being grateful is much more compassionate than being mad at myself. Being mad at myself won’t help me move on. Being grateful might.
And where do I stand today? Well, I still have a tendency to binge eat. I honestly don’t think that will ever go away. However I think that I have gained, and will continue to gain, an awareness of how I use food to cope with emotions. I can now observe the thoughts come into my mind, when I am feeling bored, sad, anxious, upset or tired. Sometimes I can just observe the thoughts come and easily let them go. Other times I wrestle with the thoughts for a while until I find another way to cope with my emotions. And other times I just binge without self control. Sigh. But that’s okay.
I am not perfect, and that’s okay.