Hello. I’m Jessi.
And I help people from all wall walks of life discover what it means to connect with their rhythm as it pertains to health and life. We all march to the beat of a different drum and we often try to march to the beat of someone else’s; maybe because we look up to them, inspire to be like them, or are on a quest to change something about ourselves. This leaves us feeling like were spinning our wheels – attempting every diet, goal-setting strategy and program on the market.
The greatest change we can experience in our lives comes from identifying our own rhythm and working in unison with it. This is what I teach. How to become aware of and work in unison with the rhythm at which your heart, mind, and soul beats in order to produce the greatest results in your health and in your life.
As a professional I am:
- A health and fitness coach; resulting from a decade long battle with eating disorders and body image struggles that lead me to understand the value of freedom & proper nutrition and deeply desire that for others (you can read my full story below).
- An educator; my coaching philosophy stems from the belief that education is what leads to empowerment and life-long, sustainable change.
- Of the belief that mindset mastery is pivotal for transformation in your health, fitness, and life.
- My coaching style is known to be compassionate, kind-hearted, and gentle yet driven by a relentless pursuit of transformation and growth.
- Courageously evolving; continually growing and diving deep outside my comfort zone to become a better coach, educator, and mentor.
- The cofounder of SoBoss; a health and wellness coaching company with a mission of empowering millions to connect with their rhythm & experience transformative change physically, mentally, and emotionally.
For the encouragement, hope, and healing of others:
A 12-year account of my struggles with eating and body image disorders.
My Eating Disorder:
The seeds of what would later result in a 10year battle with a variety of eating and body image disorders were being planted at the ripe age of 14. I was a freshmen in high school, a cheerleader – a flyer I might add (the smallest girl – who was being thrown in the air), and overly ambitious in all areas from my studies, to my faith, to a variety of extra curricular activities. I set unrealistic standards for myself in everything I did and I had no idea this would cause me to fall deep into the pit of disordered eating.
As perfection was the standard I set for myself, sleep became less and less important. Throughout my high school years I developed a bond with coffee or rather my first addiction. I depended on it to get me through my crazy, non-‐stop schedule. I would stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning studying and get up at 5am to go workout before school. I plugged into anything and everything I felt was beneficial from student council, to college level courses, community service, gymnastics, cheerleading, track and field, church, Younglife, Bible study, various jobs…you name it I was a part of it. And usually I wasn’t just a part of it…I played
some sort of leadership role. This obviously left me exhausted because I refused to do anything half ass. I was all in….in everything. When coffee quit giving me the energy I needed, I turned to food. Before my freshmen year of high school I really had no concept of body image. I simply existed in my own skin and was fine with it. Talk about the good life. I was naturally slender and grew up eating very balanced meals but food became a source of fuel and replaced sleep to keep me going.
This is when I noticed my petite frame start to change shape. The less I slept, the more I ate, and the more I ate, the more my body started to change. But I couldn’t give up eating, it was the only thing that gave me relief from the exhaustion, the stress, it calmed my anxiety, it fueled me to keep going, it numbed the emotion…
…It became a drug
I began to turn to food no matter the emotion I felt. It didn’t matter if it was a negative or a positive emotion…I would eat.
- When I was tired – food gave me fuel
- Feeling anxious – eating calmed my nerves
- Sad and confused – food was comforting
- Excited and relieved – lets eat and celebrate!
- Bored – eating would fill the time
- Joyful and accomplished – food was a reward
Any surge of emotion pushed me towards food. It was my drug of choice. But as I started to gain weight, the feelings of shame and defeat set in. The perceived control I had over every other area of my life was what I clung to and not being able to control my eating habits crushed my spirit. It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I admitted to myself that I had a really big problem with food. I thought about it often, every single day… whether I should eat or shouldn’t eat; exercise twice as long for the binge I had the night before; or start eliminating certain foods that I really couldn’t seem to control. I had no idea what to do or how to get out of the cycles of binging and restricting that had become my reality.
The High of Binge Eating
When I say food became my drug, I don’t say that lightly. There is no doubt that eating changes the chemicals in the brain and the release of feel-‐good hormones. When I would binge, I would do so to the point where I couldn’t think straight anymore. I would typically start with sugary foods, and then I would move on to salty foods, and maybe back to more sugary choices until I was literally in a fog. Sick to my stomach, and in a complete mind fog. I would eat really fast too during a binge, as if getting it all in a certain time frame would result in actually eating less. This is how my brain functioned, completely irrational. Following a binge, feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment would set in so I would vow to not eat at all the next day to make up for it. Or I would vow to only eat carrots or other weird foods I deemed “safe,” or exercise at least 3 hours the next day, or never touch trail mix again. Trail mix was a huge trigger food for me – sweet and salty all in one! By the end of the next day I was starving, run down, and immediately turned back to food. These cycles were hell.
The dependency I had was confusing. Food addiction is a controversial topic as the protocol to treat addiction is abstinence – BUT you can’t just quit eating. Coming from a family with substance abuse issues, I associated positive progress with abstinence. My brain didn’t know how to handle the fact that I knew I was dealing with an addiction but couldn’t quit my ‘drug’ of choice. The shame I felt for not being able to eat normally was so embarrassing I remember vowing to myself that I would NEVER tell a soul. People would most definitely think I was crazy.
So in secrecy it continued…
I gained weight and by my junior year of high school I became a base in cheerleading – a girl who lifts the other, smaller, girls in the air. THIS was heart wrenching. I had let myself get to the point where I no longer was the petite and fragile girl on top of the stunts, but rather lifting girls who, seemingly had it all together…girls who could control their eating and had a normal relationship with food. To my knowledge no one knew I was struggling. I was still a very normal size, just a growing girl. But I was becoming increasingly unhappier in my own skin. I prayed and prayed and asked God for a way out of the hell I was living in. I went through the weirdest of phases:
- I became a vegetarian for a year thinking cutting meat would solve my problems.
- One time all I ate were carrots and cheese sticks for a week straight.
- I went through a phase where I would drink copious amounts of diet coke and eat Mentos to try and suppress my hunger.
- I would frequently eat alone so no one could see the weird relationship I had with food. I didn’t want to be judged or told I was eating too little or too much.
- I would eliminate things like sugar from my diet to try and avoid binges (which would normally start with sugary foods) only to end up binging even worse on the foods I cut out.
- I took laxatives for a while because I couldn’t make myself throw up.
- For years I refused to wear tank tops because I hated the way my arms looked.
- Anxiety would over take me when pool parties, beach vacations, or other swimsuit activities were on the calendar.
- I prepped all my meals, ate out of Tupperware (even at restaurants), and refused to eat “off plan.”
- I lived on cardio machines trying to burn off everything I ate that day and more.
- I bounced from fad diet to fad diet to the latest workout trend without ever achieving the results I was hoping for.
- There were periods were I was so mentally exhausted from the fight that I can remember telling myself I don’t care if I am 50lbs overweight so long as my brain could be in peace.
At the end of each phase I usually had the “f*ck it” mentality. I was fed up, hopeless, exhausted and the cycles of binging and restricting would come back full swing until I mustered up the strength to try again! I felt so utterly alone inside my own head. I was a complete loony! No one else in the world struggled with these crazy, obsessive, irrational, compulsive behaviors with food! Or did they?
You are amongst millions!
Did you know 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States ALONE suffer with some form of an eating disorder through out their life (Wade, Keski-‐ Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011)? I certainly didn’t! I legitimately thought I was the ONLY one who struggled with an abnormal relationship with food. And this statistic refers to a clinically diagnosable eating disorder. This does not account for ALL the disorders that are unreported, untreated, and much like the one I struggle with, which is a complete combination of a variety of different types of eating disorders.
I found out I wasn’t alone at a Christian women’s conference in Downtown Denver the summer before my freshmen year of college. Beth Moore was the speaker and she was discussing her past struggles with alcoholism and she mentioned the best book she had ever read on addition – The Last Addiction by Sharon Hersh. She discussed how the book covered a variety of addictions such as drugs and alcohol, and even eating disorders. She talked about how the author explored the mind of an addict and the tendencies we have as humans to make one thing in our lives more central than it should be – to the point it begins to cause harm. She continued to share the details of the book to the huge auditorium of women and I literally felt like she was speaking directly to me. My heart was racing as a listened to her speak. I wasn’t alone, others struggled, and food (whether overeating or refusing to eat) can become just as much as an addiction as anything else.
I began to read the book at the beginning of my freshmen year of college and all I can say is it ROCKED my world. The words bounced off the page at me. Who knew there were others in this world that struggled with such irrational thoughts and behaviors! Although I was reading about a variety of addictions, the tendencies, thought patterns, and habits were all so relatable. I couldn’t believe it. I felt a little less crazy. Still crazy… just not crazy and alone.
HOLY CRAP! I am being chased!
Once I got to the end of the book I was so hungry for more that I decided to look up the author and see if she had any other relevant books. As I was reading the “About The Author” section at the back of the book my jaw literally hit the floor. I read the words, “Sharon Hersh is a licensed professional counselor and lives with her family in Lone Tree, Colorado.” LONE TREE, COLORADO!!!!!! As in 20minutes away from where I was living! I was in shock. I felt God move so powerfully in my heart. I knew he was chasing after me, I knew in my soul he was orchestrating the answers to my prayers. I immediately Googled Sharon, emailed her, poured out my heart and told her how revolutionary her book was for me, and asked if she had the time to see me. She agreed to have me and I begun counseling.
Before going to my 1st counseling session…
I was terrified. A million emotions were running through me. There was a piece of me that was so incredibly excited because I felt that there was maybe, just maybe hope for healing but the majority of me felt sick to my stomach and fearful that I might actually have to let go of my eating disorder. Although I hated the grip my eating disorder had over me it was familiar. And the thought of living without it was terrifying. Who would I be? How would I operate day-‐to-‐day without the ever-‐ present nagging voice inside my head? Change is scary, even when it is for the better.
Letting the cat out of the bag. FINALLY.
I knew before my 1st counseling session I had to tell my two best friends, who also happened to be my roommates. We had been best friends since middle school and I knew they would love me no matter what I told them but I was petrified to share my shameful and embarrassing reality. I honestly think telling them was one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life. The moment I shared my story of binging, restricting, and not knowing how to eat normally with them was absolutely REVOLUTIONARY! It was one of the most pivotal moments in my life and recovery because from this point forward I began to make positive progress towards healing. God had literally been telling me to share my struggle for years. I heard his voice in the depths of my soul whisper every time I prayed for healing. I knew for years he
was responding to my prayers by telling me to share my burdens but I felt paralyzed. I remember I told God I would NEVER tell a soul how much I struggled so he’d better figure out another way to help me find healing. But every single time I prayed it was the same answer…
“Tell your story…”
It took every once of strength and courage I could muster up and the Holy Spirit there pushing me to spit the words out to share my story with my two best friends. I felt like I was in fight or flight mode. My body was numb, tingling from head to toe. I had never been so nervous. I spit the words out and can’t even remember exactly what I said but I just started bawling and word vomiting and bawling some more.
The most beautiful thing happened in that moment…five million pounds was lifted off my shoulders. There are not words to describe the power of transparency and exiting isolation. I had fully admitted I struggled and needed help by sharing it with another person and I felt like I had the weight of the world lifted from my chest. I could breathe. It was like I had been held under water for 6 years and I was finally coming up for a breath.
My best friend looked at me with complete compassion and love in her eyes and said, “It’s okay Jess, we will get through this.” She sat there with me in that moment and just offered her presence, completely judgment-free and that was all I needed.
Kelli, thank you for being exactly what my soul needed that day; one of the most pivotal moments of my life and journey to freedom.
I begun counseling and cried like a big baby every session. Before each session I was flooded with nerves and filled with apprehension, but by the end of every session I didn’t want to leave. I felt like each time I shared part of my story with my counselor I was giving away a small weight of the burden I had carried alone for so many years. She listened and poured out her wisdom, insight, and helped me understand my own brain a little better. Each week she would send me home with homework and various activities to complete that helped me work towards recovery in one way or another. My eating disorder tendencies and habits certainly didn’t change over night but each week I had a greater understanding of my compulsive behavior and that was an incredible feeling. Progress was slow but I was FINALLY moving forward.
I continued counseling on and off for years throughout college. There were seasons where I would fall back into old habits with my eating disorder but my mind had grown to the point where I was able to identify the trigger – the thing that set me off and sent me spiraling in a negative direction – and I was learning how to get back on track. I began to share my story and struggles more openly with people around me because I knew how freeing it felt to open up. Staying bottled up, although less scary, was hell. Isolation is exactly where the enemy wanted me and I refused to let him keep me there. So I told people I trusted and incredible things started to happen. 90% of the people I told looked at me and said they too struggled with a disordered relationship with food or body image. It was insane to me HOW many people battled the same demons. I couldn’t believe it and for years I thought I was the only one. As I shared my story with others I was encouraged, inspired, and fueled with hope.
Small Steps Towards Recovery
From the moment I opened up about my struggle with food and body image I began laying stepping-‐stones towards a life of freedom, healing, and recovery. However, it didn’t go away in months or even years. The obsessive thoughts about food and my body never fully went away…even to this day. But the groundwork was being laid for a life outside of addiction. Early on in my journey to recovery I would get so frustrated that my issues were still lingering. I wanted them to be gone. But something I learned and accepted was that this was a DEEPLY engrained struggle and I would likely have to be cognizant of it my entire life. This didn’t mean I couldn’t live in freedom but it did mean that I needed to be aware of my tendencies. I learned that I needed to care for myself and put effort into my recovery daily. I didn’t just want to manage my disorder; I wanted ever increasing freedom and healing from it. So some of the things I continued to do to care for myself were:
- Read books on recovery – knowledge truly is power.
- Journal – taking the time each night to reflect on the day is hugely therapeutic.
- See a counselor or therapist – a trained professional can help you understand your brain in ways that you might not be able to alone. I saw a Christian counselor, which I enjoyed so much as she brought a spiritual component to her practice.
- Tell people you trust – share your story often with people you trust. I knew that having a support system and accountability was key to keeping me from a downward spiral.
Unfortunately all of this wasn’t enough.
Although the aforementioned steps helped me work towards freedom from the extremes I once lived in I still lacked contentment and confidence in my body. I didn’t know how to achieve self-confidence and balance in my nutrition until I got into the fitness lifestyle. My interest in fitness grew to the point I decided to get certified as a personal trainer and shift my career as a marketing specialist to a totally new world. I was living in Miami, Florida at the time and began working at a local gym. I was falling more in love with the fitness lifestyle the more I learned about it. As I attempted to eat more balanced and achieve my goals in a healthy way I began to see results. This was completely revolutionary for me.
At this time I also started my Instagram account (instagram.com/jessijeanfitness) and began following various fitness icons like Bella Falconi. I would scroll through photos of women with shredded physiques and knew that I wanted to achieve that look! I decided that competing in a bikini competition was key to achieving the look I desired with the right amount of pressure to remain committed…I mean c’mon I would have to get up in front of a panel of judges and an audience of people in a bikini with less fabric than a pair of booty shorts…you better believe I’m going stay committed.
So my journey to the stage commenced…
I began prepping for my 1st NPC bikini competition in February of 2013 following a very traditional bodybuilders diet and training regimen. I ate only “clean” foods and did two-a-day workouts for 16 weeks straight – one 45-minute cardio session in the morning and weight lifting plus an additional 45 minutes of cardio in the evening. I ate more tilapia, asparagus, chicken, almonds, and egg whites than I ever want to eat again in my life. I restricted all foods that were not deemed “clean” or nutrient dense and ate an ever-‐decreasing number of carbs throughout the 16-‐week journey. I refused to eat out and begin withdrawing from social events to avoid the temptation of eating off plan.
Throughout my 16-week contest prep I became moody, irritable, and short-tempered. I was hungry, tired, and worn out ALL THE TIME. I started to develop anxiety over certain lifts and exercises because I felt so weak that I might collapse if I performed them. In addition, I was starting to get splitting headaches whenever I exerted any sort of effort during lifting. I lived for my weekly cheat-meal and would cancel any plans I had to ensure I got to eat whatever I wanted during this time. My cheat-meals were complete binge sessions. I would eat like it was literally my last meal and as soon as it was over sadness set in knowing that I had to go another week before I could eat the foods I enjoyed.
I spent copious amounts of time in the gym and had frequent breakdowns because I literally felt like I was running myself to the ground. I remember one of my trainer friends came up to me and said, “You look so unhappy, why are you doing this?” I couldn’t even answer him. I had committed, I couldn’t back out now. I HAD TO FINISH. So in my misery I continued to push through. By the end of my prep I was having so much anxiety I thought I was going to lose it.
The final week before the show was complete hell. I dropped almost all carbs and fats, and began depleting water. I lost 15lbs in a matter of days from cutting water, carbs, and fats and I could barely walk a flight of stairs because of how weak I had become. I could not wait for the show to be over. I fantasized about eating after I got off stage. That was all I cared about. Backstage the day of the show I could hardly stand because of how much pain my body was in. My muscles were stiff and achy because of the lack of water and my head was pounding. I forced a smile but was truly a wreck inside. In between prejudging and finals I came home to rest and lie on my bed and I remember tears just started rolling down my face. I looked over at a friend of mine and told her I felt like my body was shutting down inside.
I ended up taking 2nd place in the competition but again it really didn’t matter. My excitement to be able to eat was ALL I cared about. That night I ate at the Cheesecake Factory until I could think straight anymore. My stomach was in so much pain but I didn’t care. I woke up the next day and ate some more. I felt completely out of control. I was craving everything I hadn’t had in months and in copious amounts.
A Total Rebound.
Following my show, I was completely sick and tired of the gym. I avoided it for weeks. All I wanted to do was eat and sure enough my weight started to increase. I forced myself to go back to the gym, not because I loved fitness – because at the time I was over it – but because I was so fearful of gaining all the weight back I had worked so hard to lose. I tried to workout and eat right but I found myself continually binging on foods I hadn’t had in months. My desire was to simply eat normally again but I had no idea what that even looked like.
I was fearful, ashamed and felt like a failure. How could I let myself go after coming so far? At this time I was dealing with intense feelings of anxiety and depression, and my hormones were completely out-‐of-‐whack. I remember thinking to myself, “How are there competitors out there that compete in show after show after show?” There was no way someone could go through what I did and be able to do it over and over again! So I began to research and this is when I found the man who has forever changed my life and become one of my biggest heroes.
Hiring The Right Coach
After gaining upwards of 20lbs in a few short months following my show I was desperate to find help. In my research I came across Layne Notron’s YouTube Channel. I went through every single video on his channel and was completely floored. He talked about individuals who follow very restrictive diets and do copious amounts of cardio and the metabolic damage that results. It was if he was explaining EXACTLY what I had gone through. In one of his videos he discussed a process termed “Reverse Dieting.” He explained that it is a process of slowly increasing overall calories (primarily through carbs and fats) in an effort to rebuild the metabolism. When an individual puts their metabolism through the ringer with restrictive diets, nutritional inconsistencies, or eating disorders the metabolism begins to not function optimally and weight gain, even when eating low calorie, is common.
My heart was racing. It was a similar feeling I had when I first shared my struggles with my friends. I finally felt like I had found hope again and I knew I had to reach out. I emailed Layne and explained my story and asked if he would be willing to coach me back to health. I told him how desperate I was to find health and get back to a place of confidence in my body. He responded within a day and told me he would be willing to coach me but I had to trust him. Nervous, apprehensive, and uncertain of what the future had in store I agreed and began the BIGGEST step in my journey to freedom yet.
Reverse Dieting. Flexible Dieting. And Minimal Cardio.
I explained my goals to Layne and told him I wanted to lose the weight I had put on so quickly following my competition. He explained to me that I had likely caused a significant amount of damage to my metabolism and losing weight WAS NOT the first step towards repairing the damage. He explained that the first step was reverse dieting. He told me we were going to focus on repairing my metabolism by slowly increasing my caloric intake week-to-week with the goal of minimal weight gain. During the reverse dieting phase the goal is not to lose weight but rather increase calories as high as possible while aiming to maintain your current weight.
He also explained to me that NO foods were going to be off limits and that I could eat whatever I wanted within my set macronutrients (daily allotted grams of proteins, carbs, and fats). I told him that I had been eating “clean” for so long and feared that I would blow up if I ate things my body wasn’t used to. Again he reminded me to trust him and reiterated that flexible dieting is a science-based approach and 100% effective. In addition, he told me we were going to keep cardio as minimal as possible as the goal was to be able to increase my calories as high as possible while doing the least amount of cardio. Needless to say I was terrified, but I trusted Layne more than I trusted myself and committed to following his recommendations.
Throughout my reverse diet my relationship with food started to normalize and balance out. The binging episodes became fewer and fewer and my craving for foods that I used to deem off limits subsided, as I was able to include those foods in my daily macronutrients. I was eating things like cookies, ice cream, cheese, pasta, peanut butter and other foods that were formally not allowed. There were weeks I was able to increase my calories and I didn’t gain a single pound, however there were also weeks were my weight climbed the scale. This gripped me with fear, as I was already uncomfortable with the excess weight I had put on following my show. However, Layne explained to me that reserve dieting was an investment in my metabolic health and that even if I did gain a little weight in the process it would pay off in the long run. So I continued to trust him and reverse dieted for a total of almost 5 months. I gained an additional 10lbs through my reverse but I also increased my calories by almost double and was lifting heavier than I ever had and doing almost no cardio.
A Redemptive Contest Prep
Following my NPC bikini competition I swore I would NEVER compete again. I would never put my body through such unhealthy extremes. I had developed a fear of competing because of what it did to me physically and mentally. It jacked up my hormones, created completely new and intensified old eating disorder tendencies, and left me heavier than I had ever been in my life. However, after being under Layne’s guidance for half a year and witnessing his competitors succeed AND ENJOY the process I became intrigued. I hated that I had literally developed a fear of competing because of my prior experience and I desperately wanted to overcome that.
After much prayer, consideration, and 5 months of reverse dieting I decided I would compete again. But this time would be entirely different. This time I would not do two-a-day workouts, fasted cardio, long steady state cardio, or restrict my calories to “clean” foods only. I promised myself that I would approach this prep with balance and would never push my body to extremes. I vowed to not take diuretics, nor deplete sodium, carbs, or water. And above all, I vowed to NOT let my pursuit of the stage cause those around me misery. It was not fair for me to push people away, avoid social outings, act irritably, or be short-tempered because of something I was CHOOSING to do.
So I entered prep, a 24-week journey to the stage, slow and steady. It was not easy. Dieting, training, embracing discipline, and fighting a metabolism that did not respond seamlessly, even after reverse dieting was hard. However, this prep was different. It was balanced, it was NOT miserable, changes were slow, progress was slow but steady. I never worked out more than 2 hours a day and never did more than four 30mintue HIIT cardio sessions per week! This was a night and day difference compared to the 3½+ hours I used to spend in the gym during my previous prep. The best part of the entire process was that I never ever restricted any of the foods I loved. I ate Reddi Wip, Quest Bars, ice cream, carbs, fats, and all of my favorite foods the entire journey AND I lost over 25lbs doing so! I could hardly believe it!
There were countless moments of doubt and uncertainty the entire prep. I questioned whether I should do more cardio and cut out certain treat type foods I ate whenever my body seemed to reach a plateau but I didn’t. I refused to do what I vowed I wouldn’t. My relationship with food and my body image were the strongest, most balanced, and peaceful they had been in my entire life. It was absolutely incredible!
Without a doubt flexible dieting changed my life!
Understanding the science behind nutrition and the body without a doubt was the biggest stepping-‐stone in my journey to recovery. And for this reason I preach that knowledge is power. Flexible dieting helped me overcome fear foods, and proved to me that not only could I lose a significant amount of weight in a healthy and balanced manner without deeming a single food off limits, it also showed me that I could compete in bodybuilding and bikini competitions successfully following this approach.
On July 19th, 2014 I stepped on the WBFF Denver stage with more excitement and pride in my heart than I think I have ever felt. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to lose all the weight I had re-‐gained after my 1st show, let alone compete! I had won everything I had ever dreamed of and more by simply making it to the point I had on show day. I could careless the outcome of the competition. I had gained the knowledge of how to truly fuel my body in a healthy and balanced way while achieving a body I felt comfortable and confident in. The biggest thing I had won however was freedom from the cycles of binging and restricting. I had discovered balance, self-‐confidence, and a renewed relationship with food and nothing else mattered!
The stylized heart on my theme-wear is the symbol for the National Eating Disorders Association and can be interpreted as the outline of a female body. The heart demonstrates loving concern for those suffering from eating disorders. Designed by Lux Costume Design.
But I was blessed with even more on this day. I got to share the stage with countless gorgeous, disciplined, dedicated, hard-‐working women and I am humbled to say the judges awarded me the 1st place title and named me a WBFF Bikini Pro - An absolutely surreal experience. This moment didn’t change who I was or the pride that I felt from the redemptive journey I had fought through but it was an honor nonetheless and I am proud to be a part of the WBFF Pro family.
Freedom Within The STRUCTURE of Macros
This is important for me to address as I receive countless questions in regards to this topic.
Flexible dieting is an approach to nutrition that requires tracking your intake through macros – making sure you are consuming the right amount of proteins, carbs, and fats on a daily basis. This may not seem “flexible” as the goal is to consume no more or less than your set macronutrients each day. However, the flexibility comes into play in that you are given complete freedom as to which foods you choose to eat to fulfill your daily totals. No foods are off-limits, nor do they need to be to reach your goals.
This may seem far stretched for some individuals struggling with eating disorders as this too can become obsessive. Accounting for every gram of protein, carb, and fat that enters your body can be just as unhealthy as any other obsessive side affect of an eating disorder. But the beauty of flexible dieting is that is teaches us HOW to properly fuel our bodies in a balanced manner, ensuring that the body is getting a sufficient amount of each macronutrient that it needs to survive and function at its’ optimum. Proteins, carbs, and fats all perform various and important functions within the body, none of which should be removed from a healthy, balanced diet.
Without first understanding the science behind what my body needed nutrient-wise I would have never developed the mental capacity to eat freely without guilt or fear.
In addition, I found that understanding macronutrients and eating according to my body’s specific macro-needs allowed me to spend less time mentally obsessing over everything I ate. Before I learned flexible dieting and macro counting I would constantly stress over if what I ate was ok or not and the guilt and stress surrounding eating was overwhelming. I certainly faced moments of doubt and fear over feelings of eating too much, as well as moments of anxiety when I wanted to eat more than my set macros. However, I knew consistency was the absolute key to long-term success so I prayed through these moments and fought to trust the process and stick with it!
The Learning Curve
Now I want to make something very clear. The beginning of my flexible dieting and macro-counting journey was NOT easy. Learning the nutrition in each bite of food I put in my body was, at times, absolutely exhausting. However, as with anything, with time and practice this task became easier and easier. I began my journey in macro counting by dedicating Thursday nights to planning the following weeks meals. I wrote down everything in an excel document, including the foods I would eat at each meal and in what amount, along with the specific amount of protein, carbs, and fats included in my meals. See one of my meal plans below for when my macros were set at 155g Protein/270g Carbs/62g of fat per day:
Taking the time to do this eliminated the need to try and think of what I was eating on the fly, which rarely led to good choices. By pre-planning my meals I freed up a lot of brainpower throughout the week and also lessened the amount of anxiety previously associated with eating. On Friday nights I would do my grocery shopping based exactly on what I had planned out in my meal plan the night before. By already knowing the foods I’d be eating the following week and only grocery shopping for those items, I not only saved money but I also didn’t buy a bunch of random food that would later cause temptation. I dedicated Sundays to cooking, measuring, and prepping all my meals for the week based on the meal plan I had created on Thursday. I would cook, measure, and put every meal for the entire next 7 days in Tupperware or Baggies and store half the week in the fridge and the other half in the freezer. The only thing I had left to do for the following 7 days was commit to my plan. I had set myself up for success and I did this every week for almost a year. Although Thursday nights were spent tediously planning meals I would enjoy for the following week, and half the day Sunday was spent in the kitchen, this method was the groundwork for developing consistency and balance in my nutrition for the first time in my entire life.
The Evolving Journey In My Nutrition
My excel meal planning method was an incredibly tool I used to teach myself discipline, consistency, and commitment. Although it was often tiring and time-consuming, it helped me reach countless breakthroughs in my journey to recovery and truly lessened the amount of time my brain spent obsessing over food throughout the week.
However, I got to a point where I didn’t want to eat the same 4-6 meals each day throughout the week and I knew that within the structure of flexible dieting I could build my meal plan around whatever foods I wanted. So I decided I would attempt to plan my meals one day at a time and track my macros as I ate. I downloaded a macro-tracking app called MyMacros+ (another popular macro tracking app is MyFitnessPal), which allowed me to input my daily-allotted macro numbers and enter in the foods I ate. It kept a running total of how much of my allotted macros I ate and how much I had left for the day as I entered in my meals. This was an intimidating step, as I feared without having my meals prepped and ready-to-go I would veer off track and fall into old habits of binging. However, through almost a year of discipline and consistency in my nutrition, and understanding how to build a meal that was balanced in proteins, carbs, and fats I began to enjoy the feeling of eating in a balanced manner. I had grown mentality to the point where I could track my macros as I ate throughout the day and not suffer from obsessive thoughts or anxious feelings.
Post Competition With NO Rebound!
After completing an amazing and redemptive contest prep and earning my WBFF Pro status following a flexible diet, it was time again to reverse diet, instead of going crazy and binging to the point of sickness like I had done during my 1st post show season. After completing a dieting phase or contest prep it is important to reverse diet to help build metabolic capacity. This process helps reintroduce addition calories through carbs and fats slowly and methodically, while tapering off cardio.
The benefits of reverse dieting are that it allows the body time to get used to the slowly increasing amount of calories without storing excessive body fat. Following my WBFF competition I began to increase the amount of carbs and fats I was consuming each week while slowly lessening the amount of HIIT cardio I was performing. By embracing the same amount of discipline in my reverse diet as I did during my contest prep journey I allowed my metabolism to catch up to the increased food intake without blowing up and gaining a ton of weight as I had done after my first competition season.
I reverse dieted strictly and consistently for 3 and half months and was able to maintain a relatively lean physique, increase my strength (as my calorie intake increased), and build a much stronger metabolism! I had planned on reverse dieting and focusing on building my strength, developing weaker areas of my body, and of course build as strong of a metabolism as possible for it least a year and a half before competing again – but God had other plans.
Bedridden - A Blessing In Disguise.
Three and half months into my reverse I came down with a nasty cold and was knocked off my feet for nearly two weeks. It was the first time I had been really sick in over a year and half and it was the first time I had missed more than 2 consecutive days of training in over a year!!!! It was weird to have an additional two hours a day to myself. I stayed in bed and worked from my computer and had a lot of time to think. I was anxious and wanted to get back to the gym but my body couldn’t handle it. I was weak and I knew if I didn’t listen to my body I would prolong the sickness. So I stayed in bed and reflected and thought and reflected some more.
During this time I didn’t eat according to my macros. I just ate what I could stomach and didn’t worry about hitting my totals each day. I listened to my body and consumed what I was hungry for and stopped when I was full….AND THAT WAS WEIRD! REALLY, REALLY WEIRD. I believe they call that NORMAL eating! During this time I realized that although I had come so far and found so much balance and freedom from my unhealthy eating behaviors there was still healing that needed to take place in certain areas of my mind. I still had work to do to reach new levels of freedom mentally, emotional, and physically from my eating disorder.
God spoke to the depths of my heart and mind during the two weeks I spent in bed trying to get over this sickness. He reminded me that he was the one who designed my body. He designed us as humans to need food for survival and healthy functioning. He created our bodies with hunger signals to prompt us to feed ourselves, as well as signals of being satiated and satisfied to inform us when to stop. However, the concept of eating this way and listening to my body was so foreign to me it flat out scared me. For years I ignored these signals and was in a constant fight with my body, whether that meant punishing it by malnourishment or punishing it with binging. When I found balance through flexible dieting and macro tracking I began to listen more closely to my body’s hunger signals but I still ate according to my specific macro-numbers. I wouldn’t eat more than my specific macro numbers even if I was hungry and I wouldn’t stop eating my planned meal even if I was full, as I knew that making progress towards my fitness goals in a healthy and calculated way was through consistency. But, as I laid in bed with all this extra time on my hands I was starting to feel God prompt me to take my nutrition a step-further into uncharted waters!
Although I have come to understand nutrition an incredibly deep level and have the privilege of coaching others in their journey, the thought of not sticking to my numbers and being under the guidance of a terrified me. What would happen if I didn’t have the accountability from my weekly check-ins? Would I no longer be motivated to stay on track if I knew I wasn’t checking in week-to-week? Would I totally spiral out of control? This uncertainty mentally was something I wanted to overcome. I desired to have an increased confidence in my ability to maintain balance in my nutrition not because I felt I had to since I was being coached but rather because I wanted to out of a desire to live in FREEDOM!
In addition, I wanted to learn how to become more in touch with my body’s natural hunger signals and cues. I wanted to learn how to simply eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full, also known as Intuitive Eating. For some this may sound like common sense but for those of us who struggle with eating disorders, chronic dieting, or an unhealthy relationship with food this can be an extremely complex and intimidating task.
I desired to learn how to honor my hunger and respect my fullness so that I could attend family dinners, holiday get-togethers, and unplanned for events all without anxiety, over doing it and feeling guilty. I also wanted to learn how to eat balanced by listening to my body so that during these times I wouldn’t need to spend time trying to calculate the macros in dishes that I had no idea how they were made. For the longest time, even throughout my flexible dieting journey, if I didn’t know the macros or was unable to pre-‐plan my meals I would end up over doing it and feeling a slight loss of control and I wanted to overcome that. So I decided to take the plunge, let go of tracking what I ate, and practice intuitive eating.
And To My Surprise…
It wasn’t AS scary as I thought it would be! I feared if I wasn’t under the guidance of a coach who was checking in on me each week, and if I weren’t following my macros consistently I would lose control and the disordered eating habits would return. But they didn’t! I had practiced consistency in tracking my macros for nearly two years to the point it had become second nature. I knew the nutritional facts of almost every single food I ate so it was easy to know how to build well-‐balanced meals with satisfying portion sizes without weighing, measuring, and tracking.
The challenge for me personally has been learning to recognize being physically satisfied instead eating based on emotion while also letting go of such rigid control over what my body looks like. The understanding of proper nutrition and how to adjust that to reach a fitness goal is part of my profession as a coach and trainer in the health and fitness industry. However, I know that in order for me to reach new levels of freedom mentally and become more in tune with my body’s natural cues I have to be willing to practice intuitive eating, even if it is just for a season, and release control of how my body looks to the Lord, trusting that he will take care of me. Each phase of my journey has been critical to my healing and they had to happen in the order they did for me to get where I am at today.
My Experience with Intuitive Eating
I started practicing eating without tracking my macros by doing my best to listen more closely to my body. This phase of my journey was definitely a little intimidating but beautiful in many ways. I did not step on the scale when I dove into intuitive eating as I knew weight may fluctuate. I used to weigh myself once a week to measure my progress, whether that was during a dieting phase or to ensure my weight was staying relatively the same during a reverse diet/maintenance phase. Although I did my best to not let the number on the scale affect the way I felt about myself at times it would.
While eating intuitively I also enjoyed putting together meals based on what sounds good to me at that moment instead of considering what macro numbers I need to hit for that meal. It has been fun and freeing to place less concern on how many grams of protein, carbs, and fats there are in each food I consume. I have found comfort in the fact that I am a creature of habit and am still eating pretty much the same as when I was tracking my macros. Since I practiced flexible dieting and did not restrict any food groups when I was tracking, I have had no urge to binge or go crazy on foods that some diets deem off-limits.
A variety of books on intuitive eating that offer incredible insight and are a great resource for anyone working towards developing a healthier and more balanced relationship with food include:
- Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- Made To Crave by Lysa TerKeurst
- Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth
The intuitive eating phase of my journey challenged me to live balanced for the sake of health and health alone, instead of for a competition, photo shoot, weekly check-in with my coach, or validation from others. I am a complete work in progress and have had to remind myself that not being super lean with defined abs and veins running down my arms is OK! I am beautiful because I am healthy and not trapped in the pit of hell that was once my reality. In addition I consider this phase of my journey to be a HUGE step towards even greater freedom from my past and the control that food has previously had over me. Whenever I get discouraged or face a little anxiety over my body image and whether or not I should start tracking my intake again I remind myself that:
- If I don’t work towards become more in tune with my body and at least try eating based on my hunger signals I will never make the mental progress I am striving to make.
- I cannot remember the last time I binged and that is a HUGE WIN in my book!
- I do not fear certain foods anymore.
- I am learning how to stop when I am full, knowing that I can eat again whenever I am hungry.
- I can always start tracking macros again when I have a more specific goal in mind (building metabolic capacity, shedding body fat, or competing).
- Defined abs do not equate to health or my level of physical fitness. I can be fit, strong, and healthy without having a 6-‐pack.
- Mental progress is even more important than physical progress. The mind is in the drivers seat.
- The fitness lifestyle happens in phases. It is impossible to reverse diet, build your metabolic capacity, shed body fat, and increase strength all at the same time! Additionally, I cannot learn how to recognize my hunger signals if I don’t practice eating without trying to hit my macros for at least a season.
- Body fat isn’t forever. It can always be shed.
- Life is a journey and enjoying it outside of obsession with nutrition and body image is important.
As each day passes more and more of my story is being written and I will never quit striving to live in freedom and inspire others along the way. Thank you for taking the time to read through the story of My Eating Disorder.
I will leave you with this:
Self-belief, the courage to begin, and the refusal to quit is THE combination for success. A world of possibilities and a life of freedom await those who embrace these three qualities!
Wade, T. D., Keski-Rahkonen A., & Hudson J. (2011).Epidemiology of eating disorders. In M. Tsuang and M. Tohen (Eds.), Textbook inPsychiatric Epidemiology (3rd ed.) (pp. 343-360). New York: Wiley.