SEXYFIT FOUNDER ZLATA SUSHCHIK: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

SEXYFIT FOUNDER ZLATA SUSHCHIK: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

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Name: Zlata Sushchik

Age: 24

Occupation: Lifestyle Coach, Sports Nutritionist and Founder of Sexyfit

Location: San Diego, CA

Thank you for having me Amber. I just want to warn everyone who is reading this is the most honest truth about what competing was like for me. I certainly don’t want to jade anyone from stepping on stage but I hope this can really help some current competitors or women who are considering getting into this sport.

Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story Zlata. My blog has always been dedicated to spilling the truth in this industry. I appreciate your willingness to join me in being honest with your struggles, in hopes of helping others. I know you have had your fair shares of ups and downs in this industry which is why I reached out to feature you, and congrats on your success! That being said, can you fill us in on a little background about yourself?

I relocated to the United States from Moscow, Russia when I was 15. At the time I could only say two worlds “Hello” and “Big Mac”. My mom was a traveling journalist who fell madly in love with Alaska during her work assignment and decided to make it her permanent residence. When I lived in Russia, I was a vocal singer and a piano player for 8 years and actually have formal music school education. I have competed in a total of 26 shows and didn’t place in only 3 of them. I am a founder of an online wellness coaching company called Sexyfit where we combine nutrition, fitness and accountability to help women get in the best shape of their life.

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I know you were into beauty pageants prior to competing, so what made you transition to bodybuilding shows and when was your first show?

It’s a great question Amber. Actually, during my first year in the US, after piano and vocal singing was no longer occupying my free time, I somehow ended up competing in my first fitness show. To be honest it really wasn’t an accident. I just really wanted to have friends and lose a few pounds I gained eating lots of processed food. My friends were doing it and I simply agreed to the whole “shenanigan” not knowing what I was getting myself into. (I would like to also note that prior to training for the show, I never even ran a timed mile and my Russian friends still laugh at the fact I am an experienced competitor). As expected, my first show was a total fiasco but it ignited a new passion –fitness. I did about five shows before I actually competed for Miss Alaska Teen. I didn’t want to ask my mom or take a student loan and I knew that Miss Universe and Miss Alaska Foundations award a full ride college scholarship. After holding the title of Miss Alaska Teen for a year, I went back to competing.

I was a competitor before competing was cool or “a thing” to do. There was no Facebook, no Instagram and I basically was raised in an environment with old and grundy Powerhouse gym training and real big grungy bodybuilders.

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When did you start to notice a difference in yourself and when do you feel you really hit your “rock bottom”? What was that experience like?

I LOVED my early years of competing but I wasn’t very strict about my diet during the first few shows I competed in. I would eat healthy year round and maybe work out 2-3 times per week and would train 2x per day and diet for only about 6 weeks before the actual shows date. I never did more than 45 minutes of cardio though and ate tons of carbs. Competing was fun for me. I loved the energy. I loved the people. I loved my coaches. I loved my body. When I was running for the state pageant, I didn’t even diet. Competing was a fun thing I did to stay healthy. It was never about turning “pro” or doing it to put another piece of hardware on the shelf.

In 2010, I won state show, placed top 3 at the USA’s and won Collegiate Nationals and placed top 5 at North Americans. I was in- season for 32 weeks! It was the first season when I trained intensely and dieted for such a long period of time. Tilapia, cardio, some binge eating after the shows for 2-3 days, but I was able to go back to normal life about 6 weeks after that. Honestly, It was probably the best year of my life. Everything was falling into place, I had a great time on stage and while it was harder and harder to diet down for every show, I still felt healthy physically and mentally. Actually, I was very productive in all areas of my life like my full time job, full time college class schedule and social life. However, competing in 2010 came with some sacrifices, I turned down an internship with the state Senator and living in Washington DC for the summer.

I skipped 2011 season entirely. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to compete but because every time I would start back on my competition “diet”, I would just binge 2-3 days into it and beat myself over it. I trained really hard in previous season and I felt like I really needed to up level myself this time around and bring a new “package” to stage. Mentally and physically, I just wasn’t there and didn’t really want to put myself though an exhausting year. I was told my coaches and local judges I was favored to be the next big PRO. OMG, guys? ME? PRO? At this bikini thing? WOW, must be awesome. I didn’t compete at all because I couldn’t get my shit together (as everyone was saying) and focused more on finishing my college degree and finding a job. I didn’t want to miss out on career opportunities again. I felt as a huge failure and like I let down a lot of my supporters, coaches, friends.

Rock bottom really hit when I came back in 2012 .Thats when my life really started revolving around food, show talk, gym, show prep. Competing was my life. Every single picture I have from my phone from 2011, 2012 is about competing. If you didn’t compete and want to talk to me about competing, I didn’t talk to you. I was “focused”. I lived around 6 meals a day. I lived around gym time. I lived around comparing myself to every other competitor out there and didn’t “reveal” my “physique” until the day of the show. I remember how excited I was but it was really hard mentally because that’s all I focused on. It was also hard physically because I spent a big portion of my life at the gym. It was hard socially too. I remember everyone in the office hating the smell of tilapia and I honestly thought at one point I was going to get fired for it :). I didn’t have a lot of friends at the time because all I talked about was THE show or my carb count.

At that time, I noticed that every bikini girl who turned pro had a breast augmentation (don’t ever even think that you need boobs to win a show). I was thinking, duh, you wanna win you get boobs! DUH? So I did, and 6 weeks after surgery I stepped on stage at Emerald Cup and placed 3rd. I already have dieted and done enormous amount of cardio for 24 weeks or so. I went on to two nationals and came home with nothing. In fact, I was dead last at both national shows. Now, I wasn’t even winning and I have do to all this? CRAP! LOL 🙂 I looked great but far from my best.

What happened I thought? I worked so hard to bring this new “physique” and new “package” and I just look worse? It’s 10x harder to maintain and mentally I felt like such a failure. I also should mention the confusion that was going on in my head. How come these girls do “this” and look like “that” and I do “that” and look like “this”. My coach just said eat less carbs and do more cardio… Sigh.

What actually happened was, my body was so starved and so depleted of nutrients that I got hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue. I looked swollen, felt like I had no energy ever and had to take 2 fat burners just to stay alive and alert. I didn’t know this until 2013 really. It just how my body was, I thought.

I don’t have very many photos from that year. I literally felt because I wasn’t 114 pounds, I wasn’t worthy of a picture, a boyfriend or a compliment toward myself. Shopping – out of the question. Your coach tells you that this is normal and you should just be stronger then your mind. Your body SCREAMS otherwise. After last show, I ate so much that on the plane home I swelled up to like 25 pounds more. My cravings were so out of control it didn’t really matter what I ate. I was whatever was in the house. Beans and bread, ok! Tortilla and honey, alright! Whole plate of broccoli, sold.

I avoided the grocery store and never bought anything I could “cheat” with. I had zero self control and it was just really sad because I am not the type of person to lose control over anything. I would go out or to a party and eat a lot because “this is this one time I can have this”. Worst part about all of this that I would punish”myself for not having self control and literally kill myself with cardio the next day.

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I know you had your fair share of different coaches along the way, including some “big names” like Kim Oddo of “Oddos Angels”, do you feel your money was well invested with these coaches or can you elaborate more on your experience with that?

Great question. I am one of the most stubborn people you will ever meet. The only way to win was to get on the winning team, right? So, I quit my job, packed my bags and moved to San Diego to be a part of the Oddo’s Angels.

It wasn’t the only reason I moved but it was a big part of the reason why I chose San Diego. That season, even though I was traveling internationally 90% of the time for my job, I pushed harder then I ever had before when I was coached by Kim. My life again, was largely about competing. I was lunging 70 pounds, squatting 150 and lifting the heaviest I possibly could. My diet was so on point, I ate on alarms. I didn’t do much outside of work and gym for like 2-3 month because I was so focused. I wanted to win and I wanted it bad!

I remember I had an epiphany moment standing in front of the mirror taking another selfie (go figure). I hated how I looked. I hated my big quads that didn’t fit into jeans. I hated that my back wouldn’t fit into coats. I hated taking a picture straight on because my shoulders got so much wider. I competed again, walked away 6th from the show. I promised to myself I will never ever ever ever again step on stage. It’s not Kim’s fault at all. I honestly wasn’t even following what he gave me to the T as far as my work outs go…

This is my advice if you invest in coaching. Follow the plan. Your trust that coach, you paid them money. Invest in yourself and if the plans seems reasonable ( no two hour of cardio a day or tilapia 5 times a day) stick with that plan.

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What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

Best moment? When I stood in front of that mirror and I knew this wasn’t the life for me. I knew I was not meant to be the woman who talks about carbs and fats all day. I knew I shouldn’t spend 3 hours of my life at the gym, I knew I can do so much more with that time. I hated how I looked and that I compared myself to everyone else and wanted to be what judges wanted me to be. I thought, I have an MBA, I love art, I love hiking, I love all kinds of things and if I gave those things half the effort I dedicated to competing, where would I be? I knew this wasn’t ME.

Worst moment? I had all my hormonal levels checked and doc looked at me and said “you either have kids, or you compete”. GULP! My thyroid and my adrenals were barely producing any hormones and no wonder, I just kept gaining fat and craving everything that I could get my hands on.

When a doctor tells you that you can’t have babies thats a wake up moment. You should never lose your period ladies. NEVER. This helped me really see how messed up things were.

I took a nutritional certification which wasn’t bro-science. I completed another training cert. I studied under a naturopath for a few month. I basically did my own research instead of Googling my health.

As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

Honestly, I really want to compete again but I don’t like what “Bikini” class standards have turned into. I also know that I will never have a “winning set of glutes” (insert a laugh here). It’s all about big glutes, tight hamstrings, big quads and I don’t that. I like having small legs and I am totally ok with the size of my rear end. Therefore, if I ever compete again it would only be for me to show myself and others I can do in without ruining myself again.

I came to a conclusion after my last show that I will love me for me. There are no longer days where I stand in the mirror and pinch my side fat, poke my butt and wonder when it will grow or wish I had capped shoulders.

Now, I choose to I love myself for who I am. I love my body, my small butt, my current abs right now (not if i lose 10 pounds) and it took me a really long time to understand that its about becoming the best version of yourself.

We often times treat fitness as some sort of struggle. We try to fix anger, insecurity, prove a point and punish ourselves for something. It’s suppose to be fun! I treat my body and my ability to work out as a gift. I have a healthy enough body and mind not to ever put myself though competing again.

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What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance?

Mentally – look within yourself and see what you true motivation is to compete in a show. If it’s a negative emotion -proving her right, keeping the title, showing him what he lost, fixing anger, proving to yourself your self -worth or anything else along those lines, stop competing right now.

I see so many fitness competitors schedule shows and compete without job, careers, direction, education or any clue about they are doing with their life because they are in hiding from their own true potential. There is life outside of competing and it’s quite amazing actually.

Physically – try everything. I recently ran a half-marathon. I am thinking about doing a tri even though I can’t swim. I lift in supersets and light some days and heavy other days. I do kickboxing, yoga, spin, tabata, plyos or whatever else to mix up my routine. There is no one road to fitness.

Nutritionally – this is a hard one depending how messed up your hormones are. But journaling why you eat and when you eat really helps you see your patterns of behavior and cravings. Just be honest with yourself and eat when you are hungry.

What methods of nutrition have you or do you currently use to help with balance? IIFYM, Intuitive Eating, Fasting, Specific Meal Planning, etc?

I have three different nutritional certifications and every one of them taught me something different. I am a HUGE advocate of cleaner IIFYM. Meaning, you will never catch me dead pilling up fries, white pasta, cream, cheese, candy just because it fits my macros. I think industry flipped a great concept of having a balance and turned it into numbers game for how much junk food we can really have. I eat organic chicken, turkey, grass-fed beef only, organic eggs. I stay away from dairy and gluten because they are not the best sources of fuel for my thyroid. I recently did an online summit of world- class 35 experts about nutrition and fitness and I have a couple of GMO experts and a Washington lobbyist who really drilled down how the dairy and gluten process works and I tend to stay away from those sources of calories 99% of the time. I do eat a LOT of carbs. I tend to be at around 150-180 gr a day (used to be under 50 and no fruit). I got back up to my calorie count by reverse dieting. I also took on long distance running and do about 10-12 miles a week and on long run days my carbs are 220 gr. I track my food on MyFitnessPal when I start to skip meals. I have to have my 5 meals a day or I am sluggish and have zero energy. I like shakes and quest bars and occasionally drink wine or whiskey.

I don’t think enough competitors talk about their drinking habits because it’s either nothing or from 0- hero in no time because diet starts “next day”. Occasional glass of wine will not make you fat.

There is also one more thing to mention, when you compete your social life goes out of the window and you feel like it just throws you off track when you go out with friends. I am not talking about getting wasted at the club every weekend but just having parties with girlfriends or family. We lock ourselves at the gym on Friday and Saturday nights and think that we are so darn fit and dedicated for not going out. I think having a social circle is extremely important to feel like you have balance in your life. When I was in earlier stage of competing, I would still go out with friends and eat healthier options at restaurants and drink tons of water. When I “focused” and stopped socializing is when I really started to lose my mind.

I know you are big into hormonal balance. Can you elaborate your personal and professional experiences with hormone related issues you may have faced and what you have done to balance them?

I am really glad you asked me about this. I certainly believe that hormonal issues are largely discounted in the industry. They are usually perceived as lack of self- control or dedication. Here is the deal, if you think you are tired, sleepy, loopy, gaining fat for no reason, irrational, emotional and if you feel like the world is against you. “Oh, you are just carb depleted honey” or “it’s ok to lose your period” or “this is how things are supposed to be”. Do not listen. Your body will tell you everything you need to know.

There are three different types of tests that I recommend for all of my clients who have done at least 1 show. You need to know what your levels of progesterone, estrogen, adrenals, t4, t3 (thyroid hormones) are. They can be done via blood, saliva or urine. They are simple tests that you can request at your local clinic or OBGYN office.

It’s very common for fitness competitors to have hypo-thyrodism. Its a condition where you body does not produce enough thyroid hormone. I am about to get nerdy for a moment here but you really should know this information.

What is a thyroid? Thyroid gland is an endocrine gland that is located in front of our neck. Its responsible for metabolic rate, heart (temperature regulation), digestive function (constipation), muscle control, moods and countless other things.
Hypothyroidism results in decreased metabolic rate. This causes symptoms which include fatigue, intolerance of cold temperatures, low heart rate, weight gain, reduced appetite, poor memory, depression stiffness of muscles and infertility. (YourHormones, 2014).

When you over exercise and under-eat, as all of us do, this is the first thing that can explain uncontrollable cravings, unexplained weight gain, mood swings ( common during “carb- depletion”), fatigue (think of the weeks leading up to the show).

I see that HITT style training, plyometrics are becoming very popular during the last weeks leading up the show. But what trainers do not consider that yes, that style of training works really well shedding off unwanted pounds, but it’s not the most ideal type of training for women who have even a slight inclination toward not producing enough thyroid hormones. It can cause what is commonly known as “adrenal fatigue” or “ adrenal unsuffiency”. Essentially, it decreases circulating levels of stress hormones, or perhaps more frequently, decreased sensitivity to them. This has been supposed to be a defense mechanism against the catabolic and deleterious effects of training and stress-hormone release.

Dysregulated cortisol metabolism, caused by overtraining, is a major pathological inhibitor of training adaptations. During exercise, corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus stimulates growth hormone and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) release from the pituitary gland. ACTH subsequently stimulates the adrenal gland to release cortisol particularly following exercise at high intensities. Acute elevations in cortisol are integral to training adaptations and actually go on to reduce inflammation via a negative-feedback mechanism16. Cortisol causes subsequent alleviation of catabolic stress responses when released acutely following high intensity exercise. However, chronic elevations in basal cortisol levels only serve to act as a continual catabolic stimulus and are involved with muscle wasting and a plethora of adverse health outcomes.

In an athletes who are constantly trying to drop body fat this can often become a vicious cycle of over training in order to achieve weight targets. The increased training exacerbates the adrenal issues and compounds the problems – in addition thyroid activity will lower in medium to longer term over training and excess exposure to stressors. The tendency in this case can be to administer thyroid hormone replacement therapy, which may worsen the adrenal fatigue as the whole system is pushed further by upregulating thyroid activity, when in reality the body’s defensive mechanisms are slowing the whole process down. Furthermore, supplementation with stimulant fat burning supplements will compound this problem.

Yes, HITT style training is extremely beneficial if want to shed unwanted pounds and increase your endurance, however we should be extremely cautious of this style of training if our thyroid isn’t functioning well.

I have to warn you. Do not self diagnose yourself. There also has been a lot of talk about so called “metabolic damage” and how every competitor who has ever stepped on stage has experienced it. I am not sure how metabolic damage is measured. I do know that if you know your hormonal levels and actively are taking vitamins, minerals and other proper supplementation, these issues can be fixed without medication.

How has your body image changed over time? Do you feel you are at a place of complete self acceptance within your body now?

I would say I have a healthy self image now. I don’t check out my abs in the mirror every daay and go “omg, i look fluffy”. 🙂 I love me for me. I don’t want to look like her and compare myself to anyone. This is HUGE. Everyone else is not you. What judges are looking for an what industry standards want you to look like are not the measurements of my self worth anymore.

Be proud of yourself every day. Show off your confidence. Take photos. Insecurities wouldn’t go away even if you are 10 pounds lighter. This is honestly mostly what I do with every competitor client of mine when they walk though the door. Competing beats you down because you are constantly comparing yourself to others.

What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

A plan motivates me. When I lay out my plan and complete it, it keeps me motivated to do more 🙂 Running personal records are motivating. I was never a runner but now I love it. I recently flipped all my work outs to be in the morning and thats been quite a change but I love it. The more I challenge myself, the more motivated I am. But, I dislike the word motivation in general. You either do it or you don’t. Fitness really teaches you the art of follow though, committing to yourself and making time for yourself. Not in a selfish way but in a way that gives your strength and power to serve others things in life like your family, friends, career, faith, education. Fitness serves as a foundation for our life. It can’t be your life. It’s what you do in order to have mental and physical balance and yes, to look great. We tend to miss that when we compete and lose balance. Thats why so many eventually crumble because we put our eggs in one basket and expect to be happy. When we don’t meet our own expectation or expectation others placed on us, there is nothing else to fall back on and be happy about because there is no foundation. Do you know what I mean?

I definitely know what you mean Zlata! So I have to ask, if you could do it all over again, would you?

Absolutely. I would do it very differently now though. It was an amazing journey. Everyone should compete at least once to see how far they can push their body and their mind. I loved every minute on stage and being surrounded by so much love and support from friends and family. I learned so much about myself, my boundaries, self-esteeem, self-control, get shit done attitude, art of follow though, setting goals, inspiring other

What are your upcoming career goals, and how do you plan to pursuit your future with incorporating balance in your life?

I am so excited that I am full filling my dream to inspire other women to get healthy. I started Sexyfit in hopes to inspired, motivate and deliver the proper education to women of all shapes in sized to get in the best shape of their life. It honestly been the most rewarding experience and I am so humbled by all the women in our online community.

Since I mentioned Sexyfit, right now I am working on Sexy Through The Holidays campaign where I am motivating people to stay on track with their fitness goals during the season. Its SO HARD!

I wrote an e-book and recently released a 3 part video course. You can find it here Also, every Wednesday up until the end of the season, I am hosting LIVE Google Hangouts where I talk about eating healthy, working out, finding motivation, handling stress and enjoying the holidays.

As far as my fitness goals, I am running a half marathon again in December and in February 2015. Honestly, I would really love to do a triathlon. I don’t know how to swim or bike, this is going to be a challenge. But I am so ready for it 🙂

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If you are interested in following Zlata’s story and her SexyFit Campaign, you can do so through the following social media channels:

Instagram & Twitter: @zlatasushchik

Facebook: www.facebook.com/iamsexyfit

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IFBB PRO DIANA BECKER: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

The Struggle is Real: Devoted to Unveiling All Sides of the Fitness Industry

Name: Diana Becker
Age: 30
Occupation: Online coach/Personal Trainer
Location: Seattle

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Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story Diana!  I appreciate your willingness to join me in being honest with your struggles, in hopes of helping others. I have been familiar with your story for a while as we are both from the North West and I have watched you go from the small stages of the Washington NPC shows to being on the Olympia stage, but for those who don’t know much about you can you fill them in on a little background about yourself and where you are at now with your fitness career?

I have been a personal trainer for almost 10 years now. I began training for a fitness competition after the birth of my son in 2004 and competed in the fitness division. Fast forward a couple of years to 2009 when bikini came out I gave it a try! I definitely felt like it was a better fit for me. I joined Team Bombshell in 2010 and began the journey with the goal of becoming an IFBB PRO. Through the past couple of years I have fulfilled that and every goal I ever set for myself. At this point I am home in Seattle being a mom and coaching women to all sorts of goals in and off the stage. I don’t have any plans to compete any time soon but work with Cyclone Cup and have my girls to be with at competitions so I get my fill.

When was your first show and what made you want to compete?

2005 I competed in fitness as a goal for getting back in shape post pregnancy. I think we all get into it for the challenge and many of us get wrapped up in the constant attention and affirmation that comes from looking so abnormally fit.

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After your first show, how would you describe the weeks following? How did you handle eating? Working out? Your mental state? How was this different from the way you viewed exercise and diet previous to ever competing?

Well, I had an eating disorder that started in high school. For me, in the early days of competing, it was a healthy outlet for me to appreciate my body and learn about what actually worked to help me look the way I wanted to look. Once I became a pro and had a lot of expectations surrounding me it definitely became an added stress. Something to manage that had expectation attached to it. My relationship with food deteriorated. My relationship with my body deteriorated. My sense of self aside from how I looked in the current moment all but disappeared.

At one point in the weeks following a show I would do the typical post show binge. Man, at one point I retained so much water from a week of “fun” that on the flight home my ankles swelled so bad it actually hurt to walk.

Prior to competing seriously, I never experienced that. I was disciplined and regimented. I was in pretty good shape and I worked out daily and ate pretty well. I stayed within 3-5 lbs of my normal weight which was a healthy, fit, 125 lbs.

How many shows have you done since your first and why do you or didn’t you continue to compete? I have followed your journey for a while and know that you were with Team Bombshell, do you hold any resentment towards the rigidness of the plans you were put on? I also know that you did a TON of shows when you started competing at the national level, you were a machine! I always asked myself, how does she keep going… can you elaborate on that experience?

How many shows…I have actually lost count…..close to 40 at this point.

By now, I’ve won my pro card, competed at The Olympia twice, placed 7th at The Arnold, competed internationally, won a pro show, had an amazing sponsor…man…there is not much I haven’t done. I think that now, as a single mom of an almost 10 year old, it’s time that I spend the money I would use to travel to shows, on my kiddo. Take him to Disney or be able to put him into music lessons. I had an amazing career but priorities shift and I am so excited to experience new things as a coach. Thankfully going through the metabolic breakdown and the ensuing forced break in competing gave me the space I needed to really learn to love who I am again. Im lucky I learned to value myself based on intangibles and really get self reflective about the way I was living my life. I let a lot of things go to the wayside in order to achieve what I did. It is time that I put my value on who I am and place my priorities in an order that leads to lasting happiness.

I was a part of team bombshell. As a coach, I try to take what I loved about the atmosphere and the training process and use that stuff and let go of what I didn’t love. There is a certain empowering atmosphere that can be felt and I appreciated that greatly. It definitely helped to shape me. With my girls, I’m more one on one and hands on than I felt like I had the opportunity to be with my coaches by the time I left. I certainly won’t be coaching more than I can realistically handle. I don’t take the “whatever it takes” attitude with them.

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When did you start to notice a difference in yourself and when do you feel you really hit your “rock bottom”?  What was that experience like?

I had pushed my body past a healthy point. I had competed in close to 20 shows over the course of 2 years and even when my body became resistant I still pushed it to continue on. That was the fall of 2012. I was already in the middle of a divorce and had moved across the country in order to remove myself from a very toxic situation only to get involved with a toxic situation and it was just a lot for my wellbeing. At that point I really found very little value in myself off the stage. My identity had to do largely with how I looked and how well I placed in the latest show.

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What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

Well immediately I thought of the moment I won my pro card, but it’s so easy to feel strong when you’re on top. In really reflecting I know my biggest moments when my strength showed thru when I got back up onstage for the NY Pro this year. A lot of very difficult things had transpired since the day i won my pro card and I could have quit many times over but I wanted to finish competing for me and me alone and that’s what doing that show was for me.

My weakest moment was definitely when I competed at St. Louis. I was still recovering from the metabolic issues I had, I had agreed to compete, but I was working an insane amount outside of the industry, my personal life was inexplicably awful, far away from my family, it was me competing for everyone else at a time when I really needed to take care of myself. Instead I did the opposite.

 

As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

Honestly, I have never been in a better place. I feel like my relationship with food and my body is better than it has ever been. I struggled pretty publicly to recover from metabolic damage and that taught me so much about valuing myself on things that have nothing to do with how I look. My biggest struggle will probably always be not reverting to that line of thinking. Reminding myself always who I am is much more than a number on the scale.

I try to be a really solid example to the women I coach. I want them to feel empowered by the process and excited about their ability to achieve goals even when their prep has ended.

My struggle…has become my strength.

What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance?

Learning to love my body at all states has taken the panic out of contest prep. Seeing myself to be the same beautiful soul at 145 lbs as I can be at 115 lbs has empowered me to live in a state of balance and normalcy. It has allowed me to eat in a way that leads to how I want to look most of the time and have a little fun with out the pressure of needing to be a certain weight or ideal for stage. In my opinion, I’ve never looked better and that is a result of my relaxed, non panicked, non judgmental approach.

What methods of nutrition have you or do you currently use to help with balance? IIFYM, Intuitive Eating, Fasting, Specific Meal Planning, etc?

I have used IIFYM, meal plans, and intuitive eating in the past year. At this point I just cook a bunch of chicken, fish, or whatever protein I’m craving and use whatever in season produce I can gather to fulfill my macros. It makes eating more fun and gives me more variety. If I were to have a shoot I just eliminate the cheats and extras I enjoy in times I am not focused on a physique driven event.

I have never done intermittent fasting. I’ve heard great things about it, but I love to eat…maybe I’ll try it just to experiment but idk…I LOVE to eat. Haha. Even if it’s plain green beans and chicken breast.

How has social media/the fitness industry influenced the way you view yourself?

Well there was a point I needed the validation so much. I was really lost and hurting. I’ve actually left much of the pictures I posted then on my Instagram. Some of them are downright embarrassing to see when I see them with the perspective I have now. BUT I’ve left them there so that if anyone in encouraged by seeing the shift in thinking that has really brought about the transformation of my life, it’s there.

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How has your body image changed over time?

Well I’m proud of my body at this point but it’s not my identity. That’s the biggest change. I’m so much more than how I look. In reality, how I look is just a reflection of the incredible transformation happening in my heart, soul, and mind. If for some reason I wasn’t in as good of shape I don’t think it would take on the shame and devastation that it brought on before. I can get back in shape, and sometimes, something’s are more important. Perspective is powerful. For example, when I was pregnant with Braden I was absolutely miserable. I hated how I looked and because my identity was found in that, I hated myself the entire time. I did not enjoy a single moment. I loathed absolutely every part and when he was born all I could think about was how awful I looked. I tell the pregnant women I know now to be careful with themselves. It’s a time that is special and really only happens a few times in our lifetimes we should take great care to nurture our bodies with our thoughts. We are creating another human being with our body and it deserves love, that baby deserves to have you love yourself with your thinking so that it is raised in an environment of love from the very beginning.

What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

I am motivated by being the woman God created me to be. I believe I have a purpose. I believe He wants me to help other women take care of themselves. I believe he’s given me a unique perspective and much success to have a platform to speak from. I believe He has given me courage to share my experiences and the desire to empower and encourage women to be the happiest they can be.

It’s changed dramatically. At one point I only cared about being successful onstage. Thankfully I experienced much success and have the knowledge and wisdom to know that that does not equate success nor long term fulfillment. I had an absolute blast and am certainly so fortunate and extremely blessed to have been given the opportunities I had but part of me looks back and thinks, if only you knew how to really enjoy the success while still knowing who you were with or without it. It really would have been so much sweeter.

If you could do it all over again, would you? I know you have your son Braden as well, can you tell me if you felt like you ever “missed out” on experiences with him due to competition prep or extremes?

Yes I would. I know it’s part of my story. It’s part of what gives me the insight and words to encourage other women to look how they want to without it becoming their identity.

I missed out on a lot with Braden. I was married when I started competing seriously and missed out on a lot there too. If I had been more present maybe things wouldn’t have deteriorated to the point they did. I moved far away from him and pursued things that are not worth near as much as the time I lost but you know, I can point to the above statement on that as well. It’s all a learning experience and thankfully, gratefully, I am a better mom for it. I am a happier woman because of it.

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What are your upcoming career goals, and how do you plan to pursuit your future with incorporating balance in your life?

Well, I’m finding my way. I moved home to Seattle and took a job at my old gym. I’ve started really putting positive energy into my professional life and it is paying off greatly. I train clients online, both competitors and non competitors. I feel lucky. I’m blessed by each client. From my single moms who inspire me to my little brand new competitors who come offstage with their eyes wide wondering “what just happened?” Each one teaches me. Each one gives me the avenue to encourage and empower daily. I couldn’t be happier with the group of women allowing me to lead them.

 

If you are interested in following and supporting Ashley’s continued journey to balance, please follow her through the following channels:

Facebook: Www.facebook.com/dianabecker

Twitter: @dianaleighbecker

Instagram: @dianabecker12

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SUPER LOW CAL FRENCH TOAST

So I have been a bit obsessed with French Toast Lately! I have had a lot of requests for  my macro friendly french toast recipe that I have been making so here it is! Super easy and quick, great macros, and low calorie!

 

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What you will need: Sarah Lea 45 calorie bread of choice (I like the oatmeal bread) + liquid egg whites + cinnamon + 30 calorie vanilla almond milk.

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Instructions:

1) pre-heat cast iron flat griddle or large pan. Spray with a tiny bit of coconut oil or non-stick of choice.

2) Mix 1/3c. liquid egg whites with 1/3c. vanilla almond milk and cinnamon to preference.

3) Dunk 2-3 slices of bread in egg mixture, flip and make sure both sides are soaked.

4) Place on griddle, medium low heat. Cook for a few minutes, then flip.

5) While bread is cooking add another 1/2c. egg whites to cook on hot surface.

6) Continue to flip french toast until cooked through, golden brown on both sides.

7) Serve with walden farms 0 calorie pancake syrup and/or fruit or peanut butter (Fruit and pb not included in macros here).

Macros for 3 slices of bread and an additional 1/2c. egg whites=250 Calories – 2G Fat, 29G carbs – 8G Fiber, 30G protein

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WBFF PRO ASHLEY HOFFMANN: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

The Struggle is Real: Devoted to Unveiling All Sides of the Fitness Industry

Name: Ashley Sarina Hoffmann
Age: 26
Occupation: Spray Tan Artist, Online Coach
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story Ashley! My blog has always been dedicated to spilling the truth regarding the struggles we go through in this industry and our personal struggles associated with it. I appreciate your willingness to join me in being honest with your struggles, in hopes of helping others. I know you have had your fair shares of ups and downs in this industry which is why I reached out to feature you, and congrats on your success! That being said, can you fill us in on a little background about yourself and where you are at now with your fitness career?

Thank you for asking me to be part of this journey to spread the truth in our industry. I feel like so many athletes hide the truth because they are afraid. Not afraid to speak the truth but are afraid they will be looked down upon if they do, as if there is something wrong with them. Truth is, we all struggle. We share our stories because we want to reach out and let others know that they aren’t alone and that they don’t have to be afraid anymore.

A little about myself; I have always been athletic. I was in sports even before I entered kindergarden. I have always been competitive and loved the reward of doing well in sports. It was fun and rewarding to me. In high school I was involved in varsity track and field. I did every sprinting event, opens and relays. As well as long and triple jump, 100 and 300 hurdles. I was a busy bee for track and field and could get away with eating whatever I wanted since I was so active and only weighed no more than 100lbs. I also rode horses as well but that died out as soon as I graduated high school. After high school, I went to college like most. I wasn’t involved with sports and just focused on school. I didn’t really know what to do sports wise so I just ran 3 miles every day and did abs, never touched the weights. In college I got a little carried away with drinking and going out every night of the week and it lead to me dropping out. I was really unhappy with how much weight I gained. I eventually met a friend that convinced me to start lifting with him. I was addicted instantly and became even more addicted once I started seeing muscle. That was the start of it all for me.

Currently, I have hung up the competition bikini for a bit and am focusing on my health and decided to start powerlifting. I love lifting heavy and always have. The powerlifting community is so welcoming and motivational. I’ve loved every second of it compared to being in the gym with bodybuilders around me. Just a more welcoming environment. Powerlifting is letting me focus on strength compared to working about my abs. It also is giving my body a break because in the past, I was overworking my body too much and resulted in many health issues.

When was your first show and what made you want to compete?

My first show was a local Wisconsin show in April of 2012. I didn’t have any expectations going into the show and just went on stage to have fun. I ended up winning my height class as well as bikini overall. After that, I became addicted to competing. It was a blast to be on stage, as well as placing well. I had so many positive words passed along to me from judges and Pro athletes that were at the show. This gave me fuel to continue competing as well as being naturally competitive. Competing just became something that I did yearly, almost routine like. I enjoyed it a lot.

After your first show, how would you describe the weeks following? How did you handle eating? Working out? Your mental state? How was this different from the way you viewed exercise and diet previous to ever competing?

I had a few months between my first few shows and I was still new to the competing game. So I just did what I was told by an old coach. Then as time went on and more shows under my belt, I felt myself constantly looking at myself in the mirror and becoming more obsessive with my image. I would feel depressed about not being as lean. I would obsess over food as well. I felt guilty eating things and felt lost. Which would cause me want to start a prep so I could do I show. I was obsessed with being lean. I loved the look, I loved seeing definition. After winning my Pro card and reverse dieting the healthy way, I still was unhappy with the fact I was getting ‘fluffy’. I want to stress that the word ‘fluffy” is a word fitness competitors use when we have even a little layer of fat over us. We don’t use it to describe others but we are so used to being lean that the ‘fluff’ that is added is just a light layer of fat that is healthy and is needed. Anyways, I think the biggest struggle mentally, was when I started prep for my Pro debut. I kept comparing myself to my stage look for the year before, which caused a lot of stress for me. I fell into depression because I let my looks determine my happiness. This recent struggle with my health really made me depressed. It was and still is really hard for me to see myself look nothing like I have in my past. I have to remember though, my health isn’t what it was and that I have to get better. My looks do not determine the person I am. I currently switched to powerlifting to give my body a break physically and mentally. It has helped a lot actually. I also have been surrounding myself with more positive people in my life and it also has helped a lot. As far as eating, it was a bit of a struggle this time post show since my body was reacting in a way it never has with gaining weight very rapidly. I currently am being very careful and slowly raising my macros.

How many shows have you done since your first and why do you or didn’t you continue to compete? I have followed your journey for a while and know that you were with a few different coaches in the past- some bringing your calories down to 800 kcal/day! Can you explain to me what this was like and do you regret listening?

I have done two local, national qualifying shows and after that I decided to head to a National stage. I then competed at Jr. Nationals and then Team Universe. After two National shows in the NPC, I decided I was going to switch over and try a Wbff show because I was a bit too muscular for the bikini division in NPC but too small for figure. I competed at Wbff Worlds in the bikini and fitness diva division. I ended up winning my Pro card as a Fitness Diva. I was beyond thrilled and felt I was finally rewarded for all the hard work I put in. Not that I wouldn’t stop working hard if I wasn’t awarded my Pro status.

After, I took 7 months off for my offseason. Wbff doesn’t have many Pro shows, so Worlds was the only show I could really pick from to make my Pro debut. I was in the mindset and routine that I had to compete every year. It was like I didn’t know what I would do if I didn’t compete since I was so used to stepping on stage every year. It wasn’t until this year that I realized that I don’t need to compete to become a leader in the fitness industry and inspire others and teach the proper way of living a healthy lifestyle, mentally and physically. I never regret anything from what I did or listened to in my past. It has just made me grow as an individual and has made me gain more knowledge as far as what’s healthy and what isn’t. I have been though drastically low calories (as little as less than 500 calories), depletion, depression, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, health issues and a few other things. Even though these things haven’t been very positive, I still have grown from them and am stronger from it.

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When did you start to notice a difference in yourself and when do you feel you really hit your “rock bottom” in your journey- if you had one? What was that experience like?

I have lost a few very close people to me while I was training for shows. That was always very difficult for me but still made it through. I have been through some very difficult times health wise as well. The biggest set back has been recently. After I won my Pro card in August of 2013, I began reverse dieting. The struggles to accept not being as lean as I was became a big challenge for me. I was eager to start my prep for my Pro debut for Wbff Worlds 2014. My health was slowly coming back from the drastic training and dieting I had went through in my past. So I thought I would be ready to start my prep. This was not the case though.

This past prep for my Pro debut was the biggest challenge of my life. I want to make it known that I was working with Layne Norton, who is an amazing coach. Most people blame their coaches for issues they have during prep, Layne is not the reason I had issues at all. My struggles were that my body did not respond to anything we did at all. We both were very confused as to what was going on but I continued with my prep giving it my all. I would have workouts that I cried and wanted to give up because I was giving it my everything and then some. People that know me and see me workout, know that I am a very hard worker in the gym. So it wasn’t a matter of I wasn’t working hard enough. That was part of my issue though, I was working too hard and my body couldn’t respond. If I didn’t work as hard, my body would be in set back mode. So I had to over work my over training, if that makes sense. I made it to show day. I was happy I made it however I was unhappy with my show physique. I knew something wasn’t right when I hadn’t lost hardly any weight all of prep and I didn’t look anywhere close to my physique from the year before. But, I put those thoughts behind me and stepped on stage. This was the start of the end for me.

After my show, I had only a few meals like any competitor would. I went home and got back to counting my macros and thinking things were fine. A few days after my show, my whole body swelled up. It was to the point I couldn’t even walk without being in pain and feeling like my skin was ripping. I didn’t know what was going on so I went to the doctors. I was afraid because the next month was Olympia and I had a few huge photoshoots planned. My test results said nothing was wrong. It didn’t make sense but just tried my best to try and get my body back to normal and get ready for my shoots and Olympia. I ended up making it, although the look I brought wasn’t my best, but it was the best I could do with what was going on.

After Olympia, my body reacted the same way it did after my show. This time it was even worse. I went to another doctor and had more bloodwork done. This leads me to where I am now. I received my bloodwork back and now know that I have hyperthyroidism, a damaged kidney and liver, dangerously low vitamin d levels, and my reproductive hormones are not what they should be. With gaining a lot of weight since my show in August without having very high of calories, this all made sense as to why my body was reacting and reacted the way it had during prep and post show. It was a HUGE wakeup call for me and something I feel happened for a reason. I was in this constant ‘grind mode’ and never had slowed down and literally burned myself out to the point my body shut down. I currently just started medication and hope that things start to balance out and that my weight comes down slightly so I feel a little more comfortable in my skin. However, I know that I cannot let this determine who I am.

What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

One would think I would say it was when I won my pro card. Yes, I am very happy that I have and very blessed for the opportunities that I have been given from it. However, the strongest and weakest moments in my journey is the fact that I had to struggle with health issues to make me realize to put my health first. It has been a negative situation that will be turned into a positive one. I now can help others realize that the stage is not a necessity in life, your health is. This doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t compete. This means that it should be done in a way that doesn’t jeopardize their health. Just because I am hanging up my competition bikini for now, doesn’t mean it will remain that way. For now, my goal is to tell my journey and to help others. What I have been though has happened for a reason and now I can help and inspire others in a way I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t gone through certain struggles.

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As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

My biggest ‘hidden struggle’ has been the way I see myself in the mirror. I have come a long ways from what I used to view myself. In my past I would look at myself in the mirror and constantly compare my current state to what my stage look has been. Feeling I wasn’t good enough or attractive. This is something I have been working on for a while and have made significant progress. I think that a lot of fitness competitors struggle with self image. They are constantly comparing themselves to stage looks or to other competitors.Yes, myself, along with others my not be stage lean currently. I think the fitness community needs to work together to show a healthy side of fitness. We need to show beauty in our offseason looks as well as stage looks. What you see in the mirror should not define who you are. On or off season, we can still become leaders. We can still inspire others. We can still smile and enjoy life.

What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance?

The best advice I can give someone in my position is to stop obsessing. Stop obsessing over a reflection in the mirror. Stop punishing yourself for living life a little. Just because you went out with friends or a social event and enjoyed some food or drinks, doesn’t mean you need to jump on the treadmill the next morning. This self punishment is not healthy and it is important to find balance. Start slow, go out with friends and have a nice meal and proceed with your normal routine the next day. Notice how you’re still alive and breathing and that once meal didn’t make or break who you are.

I have realized that I would rather live life with balance instead of missing out on what life has to offer just because I was afraid of being in a world outside of the gym or prep mode. For the past few years, I would worry more about my meals and the gym during family time and holidays. Those are times that you can never get back. What if one day you wake up and realize you lost someone close to you and didn’t spend enough time with them because you consumed your time with being in the gym?

Finding balance does take practice. It starts by taking baby steps. I have found balance in little things like not weighing myself anymore. In the past, I would obsess over a number on the scale. I realized that this number didn’t determine who I was. So, I stopped weighing myself and haven’t for months. I’m to the point where I don’t even care what I weigh. I also stopped obsessing with spending too much time in the gym. Before I would spend way too much time in there and would miss out on going out with friends or family. I would finish a workout and feel like I had to do more. This lead to me feeling burnt out and lost as to what to do outside of the gym. To find balance, I started working smarter. I gave myself a time limit and gave my workouts my all and when that time limit was up, I left the gym. Don’t be afraid of breaking a cycle that you’re in. I know that it can be scary at first but it won’t hurt you.

What methods of nutrition have you or do you currently use to help with balance? IIFYM, Intuitive Eating, Fasting, Specific Meal Planning, etc? As you said, you have been working with Layne Norton who is a big advocate of tracking macros and implementing IIFYM, how has your experience been working with him?

In my past, I was the typical ‘bro dieter’. I wasn’t knowledgeable with nutrition at that point. It wasn’t until a few bumps along the way, made me become more knowledgeable with my nutrition. I reached out to Layne Norton, who believes in tracking macros and flexible dieting (also known as IIFYM). This was very new to me at first and a bit scary. I came from being afraid of foods like fruit, bread and some processed items.

After being with Layne, I have gotten over most of my fears of foods. I have learned that flexible dieting makes life a little easier. It isn’t restrictive and doesn’t lead to panicking when you’re in a situation where you might not have a meal at your side. I travel a lot so flexible dieting has really helped me with that as well. Being able to grab a protein bar at the airport and not have to worry that its “not on my meal plan”, has been nothing but a sigh of relief. As long as I hit my protein, carbs and fat intake daily, I don’t have to limit myself to certain foods. I do have times where I will go out with a friend and have a meal that I don’t track. I don’t freak out about it because I know to eat until I am content.

In the past when I was limited to most foods, I would have a ‘cheat meal’ and eat until I couldn’t move. I don’t do this anymore because I never limit myself and I am not afraid I won’t be able to have something I want to eat. Flexible dieting is a great way to start the process of finding balance. I highly recommend watching Layne’s videos on flexible dieting if one is interested.

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How has social media/the fitness industry influenced the way you view yourself?

At first, social media was a way that I could compare myself to other athletes that inspired me. I realized that I’m not them and that I had to stop comparing myself and just be me. Once I saw that others followed me because I inspired them by just being myself, it was motivating to me. I am very thankful for those that follow me and have watched my journey. They have seen my struggles and have supported me though them. It truly is an amazing feeling that so many people care. It is an even better feeling when I am able to meet my fans. It is a feeling I cannot describe but leaves me feeling very blessed. This has helped me continue to just be myself on social media. People love realism, truth and honesty and this is something that I give to those that follow me. I feel it is more powerful and more people can connect to someone vs. some fitness icons that portray “a perfect life”.

How has your body image changed over time? I know you have posted about currently struggling with hormonal issues after competing at the WBFF Worlds this summer and gaining weight even on a low calorie plan, how has the mental aspect of that affected you recently?

With my body shutting down after the stress that it has been under for the past 4 years, it has changed in a way I never thought it would. I have gained weight in a very short amount of time on not that high of calories and didn’t understand what was going on until I finally got answers to what was going on.

Being diagnosed with hypothyroidism makes sense as to why I wasn’t able to lose weigh during my prep and why my body shut down after my show. I want to stress that I am my biggest critic and that to the average person, they may see nothing wrong with my current state, image wise. However, to me this is a bit uncomfortable but it is something that I have to be okay with.

I now know the reasons behind it and now can start the process of balancing out my hormones and getting my health back to normal. Cutting way back on my cardio to only 3 times a week and powerlifitng, really has given my body a break that it needs. I know that eventually my body will balance back out and I will be able to step on stage again if thats what I want to do. Health is more important right now because it is something I cannot get back if I neglect it.

What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

In the past, it was the results that motivated me and the addictiveness to seeing change. Not that I still don’t love seeing results, but now my motivation comes from a lot of different things instead of one selfish thing. I am constantly motivated by my family, friends, fans and teammates. I follow people in the industry that want to change how we view health, which is a big thing that motivates me. With maturing a lot of the past few years due to struggles, I am my own motivation as well. I want to help others, I want to lead them in the right direction and help them realize that we all struggle and aren’t alone. When I get feedback from others, saying that I have helped them change or motivate them, that is something that is very rewarding and motivating for me.

If you could do it all over again, would you?

Even though I haven’t had the smoothest journey, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. We go through struggles to learn and grow. Without them, we wouldn’t be who we are today. There are things that I wished I would have done differently or paid more attention to, but certain things happen and we cannot change them. Everything happens for a reason.

What are your upcoming career goals, and how do you plan to pursuit your future with incorporating balance in your life?

I currently am in the works of launching my website where I will offer online services. I want to be able to teach others the right way of dieting or living a healthy lifestyle with balance. I also want to share my story and let it be known that we all go through struggles but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I want to inspire others and help in any way possible. As far as competing, the stage doesn’t determine anything for me. I can be a leader in the fitness industry without stepping on stage, just like so many amazing athletes who have realized the same.

If you are interested in following and supporting Ashley’s continued journey to balance, please follow her through the following channels:

IG: @missashleysarina
Facebook: Facebook.com/missashleysarina
Twitter: @ashleysarina
Email: ash@ashfitness.com
Website: www.ASHFitness.com

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IFBB PRO RUTHIE HARRISON: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

The Struggle is Real: Devoted to Unveiling All Sides of the Fitness Industry

Name: Ruthie Harrison
Age: 25
Occupation: Mechanical Engineer, Bikini Posing Coach
Location: Bremerton, Washington

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Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story Ruthie! My blog has always been dedicated to spilling the truth regarding the struggles we go through in this industry and our personal struggles associated with it. I appreciate your willingness to join me in being honest with your struggles, in hopes of helping others. I know you have had your fair shares of ups and downs in this industry which is why I reached out to feature you, and congrats on your success! That being said, can you fill us in on a little background about yourself and where you are at now with your fitness career?

I’ve been a part of the fitness industry since 2011 when I first decided to “go for it” and try to be a fitness role-model and inspiration for women. This is still a huger passion of mine – but now it involves a lot less of “me” and a lot more of others in a personal face to face type of way. In the peak of my fitness career, I was competing as an FMG-signed IFBB Bikini Pro athlete; coaching my own bikini competitors; modeling as a signed/published fitness model for Nike, Brooks Running, and others; writing and modeling for Muscle & Fitness Hers magazine; representing my sponsors BADDASS Nutrition, Power Crunch Bars, and Zipfizz energy drinks at the yearly Olympia and Arnold expos; AND still working at my full time job with the Department of Defense as a Mechanical Engineer.

These days, I still teach bikini posing but I do not compete anymore myself (I explain why below). I am still blessed to work with all my sponsors as an athlete ambassador, but I am not actively modeling or writing. I essentially stepped out of the spotlight and am just working towards restoring a healthy mindset, rebuilding my metabolic capacity via reverse-dieting, and increasing my powerlifting PR’s under the coaching of the infamous Dr. Layne Norton. You know the saying, “You can’t help anyone until you help yourself?” well I truly want to help others – so I have finally decided to help myself.

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When was your first show and what made you want to compete?

I began competing in the spring of 2011 at the Big Sky Classic in Missoula, MT. I entered that first show because a girl I went to college with suggested I “compete” – which I thought meant gymnastics, or track or something! -but once I realized what she meant I decided “why not” and entered a show. I wouldn’t have entered that show without her suggesting it; however, I was an avid Oxygen Magazine reader and I knew Jamie Eason competed once so I thought, “It’s my dream to be a fitness writer and model like Jamie. Maybe if I compete like she did I can make this dream come true!” I didn’t know I’d meet such incredibly strong and inspiring women backstage, but THAT’S the reason I kept competing. Those women made me feel so welcomed, encouraged and included that I left my first show itching to do it all over and see all my new friends again! I went home and googled “Natalia Melo’s trainer,” which led me to Team Bombshell and Shannon Dey. I hired her immediately.

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When did you start to notice a difference in yourself and when do you feel you really hit your “rock bottom”? What was that experience like?  

I distinctly remember when I realized I was dealing with an eating disorder. It was about 2 months into my first show prep with Team Bombshell, and I must have finally used up every last drop of my self-control, because I just cracked. I was so hungry! It felt like nature just took over and prevented me from starving myself any longer. First I ate a whole container of my roommate’s cottage cheese. Not being able to stop, I ate more… and more… random things… things I didn’t even bother to cook… I think I even took bites off a stick of butter! I was mortified with myself and my stomach hurt so badly I went outside and forced myself to throw up. I felt so guilty. I didn’t tell my coach. I called my dad crying and asked him if I could use his credit card (I didn’t have a credit/debit card) to order an eating disorder self-help book online. I had been flawlessly starving myself for months but something just snapped. My first binge was absolutely 100% due to starvation. Prior to that, many nights I had fallen asleep in my salad greens because I was so exhausted from working out for 5 hours that day to actually eat my food. I should have stepped away from competing right then, realizing I was feeding a negative cycle of starvation and binging, but I didn’t stop. I tried to silently overcome. I tried to “Stick to the Plan,” the Team Bombshell mantra.

Fast forward a year and a half to after I turned Pro, that is when I feel like I really hit “rock bottom.” When I got home from the show and I binged and purged for weeks straight. I didn’t stop competing immediately after this – I still competed twice as a Pro, but I knew I couldn’t continue to compete for long against the healthy Pro’s with such a destructive problem. After the Bikini Olympia in 2012 I quite honestly thought I might end up causing my own death if I didn’t get help, so I found a therapist and saw him twice a week as I tried to unlearn my destructive habits and mindset. I quietly left Team Bombshell, FMG, and modeling… six months later I was functional and no longer binging/purging uncontrollably. In my therapy I underwent Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) where I basically learned how to value myself by things besides by appearance and how to manage stress, happiness, and other emotions without involving food.

After your first show, how would you describe the weeks following? How did you handle eating? Working out? Your mental state? How was this different from the way you viewed exercise and diet previous to ever competing?

After my first show I ate the typical celebratory meal, complete with dessert and a glass of wine, but I didn’t feel guilty. I remember thinking to myself that it was weird to see all the other competitors going ape-sh!t on food I knew they’d have never have touched before, but I figured it was normal so I brushed it off. After my show, I returned to working out and eating healthy as I had done before (I had a good thing going, think Oxygen Magazine-style diet and workouts) but that didn’t last long because as soon as I hired a coach for the first time my fitness lifestyle got extreme in a hurry. Say hello to waist trimmers, Ziploc baggies of fish, two-a-days, and fretting over my glute-ham tie in. Fitness started shifting to being 100% about my appearance and “what the judges were looking for,” and no longer about my personal enjoyment or feeling strong. I know that I shouldn’t have focused purely on the physical, or on pleasing others, but I was young and impressionable and I didn’t see the error of my ways! I lost almost 15lbs from my already “fit” frame over my first prep. I was working out 5 hours a day most days and falling asleep in my food at night. BUT I won my next two shows (plus an overall title!) so I chalked it all up to being “part of the plan” and soldiered on. I slowly became simultaneously the most lean and the most self-conscious I’d ever been in my entire life.

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How many shows have you done since your first and why do you or didn’t you continue to compete? I have followed your journey for a while and know that you were with Team Bombshell, do you hold any resentment towards the rigidness of the plans you were put on?

I’ve done 9 shows since I started. It only took me three national shows to earn my Pro Card and I was an IFBB Bikini Pro by June 16, 2012 at the NPC Jr. Nationals. My Pro debut was the 2012 St. Louis Bikini Championships on Sept 15, 2012 where I got second place and earned an invitation to the 2012 Miss Bikini Olympia. Only 2 weeks later at the Bikini Olympia I placed “16th” (everyone not in the top 15 at the Olympia gets “16th” place on the scorecard, so there’s no telling what my actual placing was). Regardless of my placing, I felt proud of myself as I stood on that Olympia stage. No one can give you that feeling, you can’t buy it, and you can’t take any shortcuts – you have to EARN IT. It was unforgettable! BUT… I had already decided that would be my last show for what turned out to be forever. I stopped competing after the Olympia because I realized competing was a catalyst for my self-destructive behavior of negative self-talk, perfectionism, and an ED – and I needed to get healthy.

I actually don’t even blame my coach, Shannon Dey, or Team Bombshell for the ED. I do think that no matter who you are the Team Bombshell diet plans are unhealthy and unsustainable, but I know that I was producing my own eating disorder – and that competing was just a trigger. Some people won’t agree with that viewpoint, but at the end of the day I wasn’t self-loving or confident enough in myself to know that with or without the accomplishments of an IFBB Pro Card, booking a sexy photo shoot, getting signed by FMG, or being the newest it-girl of fitness that I am just as worthy of love and respect.

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What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

My weakest moments were when I was trying to do it all alone – I had many weak moments during that time! My strongest moments came after I sought help, started serving others in my day-to-day life and in my church to remove the focus on my appearance and start seeing my beauty in my character. A very crucial step in my journey was deciding to intentionally and daily reiterate healthy, positive, kind, and loving mantras to myself. “I AM a victor, I am not a bulimic, and I thrive under pressure, I am worthy of joy and I will seek the joy of others.” The mind is everything!

As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

I haven’t shared this publicly before, but before I ever competed I had an issue with using food to numb feelings of stress and anxiousness. If I was anxious about not meeting either my own or someone else’s expectations, I’d binge. I never investigated the root cause or felt it was an issue though because I just would compensate with extra exercise. I now know this behavior fits another definition of bulimia: “Extreme over eating, compensated by extreme over exercise.”

I still tend to doubt myself sometimes so I would say my biggest “hidden struggle” I have is being consistent to speak kindly to myself and believe in myself. My coach always told me that she believed in me and that I was special. In the past, I put so much pressure on myself to make my coach proud that I would crumble under the pressure and lose all control before it was “mission accomplished.” Call it self-sabotage at its finest. My daily challenge is to slow my mind down, believe in myself and my ability to maintain a healthy balance, and just do it!

What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance?

Start with the mind. Fill your thought life with intentional, positive, uplifting and self-loving thoughts. Also, I think it’s equally important to help others as it is to love yourself! I’m a Christian so I believe as Jesus called it “the greatest commandment” is to love. Loving others and not focusing on your problems can really help forge your self-worth and help balance out an overly self-focused life. That was a big part of finding balance in my life, making my life more about others and less about me and my body.

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What methods of nutrition have you or do you currently use to help with balance? IIFYM, Intuitive Eating, Fasting, Specific Meal Planning, etc?

Currently, I follow IIFYM protocol. IIFYM sounds glamorous, but I still mostly eat nutrition dense “bro” foods. I do make room for a maple bar, sushi, white chocolate chips or a corn dog every once in a while though – because I enjoy them! I still food prep some basics every Sunday: chicken, greens, veggie snack bags, spaghetti squash, etc. and portion them off (yes, into baggies!) but leave a substantial allotment of my daily macros up for variation. On occasion I will use intermittent fasting when I feel like I need to remind myself that I am in control of food – not food in control of me! I think it’s important to continually work on being free of food obsession.

So true Ruthie! Can I ask, how has social media/the fitness industry influenced the way you view yourself?

The biggest thing I’ve learned from the fitness industry and social media is that fitness truly is about you becoming the best and healthiest version of YOU. Competing compares you with the next girl, and we often do that on social media too – but what we should be doing is being our own best self! Forget what anyone else is doing! Now I try to use the fitness industry for building a support network, learning new information and sharing my knowledge. I got into working out to develop a relentless work ethic and have fun reaching my athletic potential – that’s something I think we can all benefit from fitness!

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And how has your body image changed over time?

My mindset started out all sorts of unhealthy. I saw my body as what it “wasn’t” not what it was. I’ve softened a lot and widened my self-worth to include what I am capable of, not just what I look like. I used to think I what I needed was someone to tell me, “Ruthie you’re just great just the way you are, don’t stress about what you think others want out of you. We are all proud of you no matter how you place.” I’ve found out this someone was supposed to be ME!

What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

In fitness, I am motivated to make new PR’s in my lifts – especially deadlifts and squats! In nutrition, I am motivated and challenged to work on consistency with meeting my macros, and finding new ways to incorporate the foods I’ve always loved into a balanced intake. I think the difference versus my previous mindset is pretty obvious :p I’m no longer mastered by the mirror. I know that if I meet my goals (above) I won’t end up with too shabby of a body ha-ha.

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If you could do it all over again, would you?

I am a strong believer that God can use everything for good and that “You can make your Mess into our Message, and your Test into your Testimony.” I’d hope if I competed again I’d do it in a healthier way, but I would have never realized I had such a lack of self-love or such an unhealthy stress response unless I competed so for that I am grateful, because now I can work on it!

I love that message, and I agree its a learning process and all about moving forward! That being said, what are your upcoming career goals, and how do you plan to pursuit your future with incorporating balance in your life?

Like I said in my intro, these days I have essentially stepped out of the spotlight and am working on restoring a healthy mindset, reverse-dieting, and powerlifting! An ongoing goal of mine is to help as many women as I can become free of self-hate and live the beautiful lives God intended for them. Personally I’d love to become more educated with the psychology of healthy body image, eating disorder recovery, building self-esteem and defeating negative thought patterns – so who knows, perhaps another degree is in my future!

I have a vision to start a joint business with my Nutritionist sister, Sarah Wilkins. I feel like this is a 5 year plan but it may include writing an e-book on healthy body image and weight loss, reverse dieting, some of our yummy protein recipes, and much more – so keep a lookout for that! Thank you for reading and I hope this interview has been a source of hope for you 🙂

Blessings,
Ruthie Harrison

You can continue to follow and support Ruthie on her journey for balance through the following channels:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Ruthie.Harrison
Instagram: Ruthie_Harrison_
Twitter: @L4eternal
Email: L4eternal@gmail.com
Blog: www.L4eternal.blogspot.com

 

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