Usually every session starts the same with women filing in one by one or sometimes in pairs as they shuffle into class trying to manage the heavy weight of their dumbbells and the weight of the world on their shoulders. As we all start to exchange smiles, greetings and rants about the hours before, a sense of unity and comfort among the 16 or so women ensues. Like a dark cloud of a passing storm, the stress that just minutes prior hung over many of their heads is now starting to drift off as class was about to begin. Most would expect me to go on and say, it was another ordinary night at Fit Camp, except every night at Fit Camp is nothing short of extraordinary and this night would be no different.
It is not uncommon for a friend of a member to join us for a training session to decide if Fit Camp is where they want to be and tonight, she was the newbie. She was tall, thin and beautiful yet quiet and reserved as I welcomed her in. As we started to warm up and prepared to train I could almost hear the silent thoughts of those that might be wondering why she was there since at first glance she appeared to be already in shape. I bear no judgement on age, size, shape or fitness level of any of the women I train and in any given session you will see a wide variety of each. So, regardless of her appearance she became part of our crew that night with the commonality being that we were all there to improve on our individual health and fitness levels.
Like a mama bear watching her cubs, I watched the women and paid close attention to the form and execution of every exercise making sure they were being performed safely and effectively. As my eyes bounced from one woman to the next, I could see that she was struggling to keep up with the rest of the crew and if she had started out with any confidence at all, it was now visibly diminishing with each passing second. Then it happened. During a set of walking lunges she collapsed to her knees and began to cry. I rushed over to see if she was hurt. As we made eye contact, her big brown eyes were overflowing with tears creating a steady stream down her cheeks and I sensed she was hurt...but not physically hurt. Her pain was from heartache. Her spirit was broken and her pride was shattered. It was in this moment that I truly met Christina.
Christina managed to pull herself together to finish the last bit of our training session and at the end, while the rest of the crew stretched, her and I stepped out and had a private conversation. Still teary-eyed and feeling down she explained that more than anything she was so upset with herself for getting so out of shape, she said, “In my early twenties I worked out 6 days a week with my boyfriend at the time who was into bodybuilding. I ate well and I just felt great. That lasted about four years and then we broke up. Because I didn’t want to run into him, I stopped going to the gym altogether. Now it’s been over four years and I haven’t worked out with any consistency and have been eating and drinking whatever I wanted. I feel so bad about myself and can’t believe where I’m at.” Christina was now 30, married and mother to two teenage stepchildren. She had come to Fit Camp after becoming tired of complaining to her husband and herself about how “fat” she felt. Christina wasn’t “fat”, she was rather skinny and out of shape which can be just as unhealthy. Most importantly, she didn’t feel good about herself which had started to affect every aspect of her life. I encouraged her to keep coming to class and to commit to a new start and embrace a fresh perspective. As I watched her walk away I honestly didn’t know if I’d see her again.
Christina did come back and we became engrossed in designing her personal comeback! No road traveled is absent of bumps, twists and hills so we expected challenges to arise but her commitment to the journey and her intentness would be the fuel to propel her onward. Christina quickly reconnected with her love of training so being devoted to her workouts would not pose a problem. However, achieving the physique goals she was after and the training and nutrition requirements that were necessary, would be a challenge and take a considerable amount of unwavering effort. Cooking meals at home would also prove to be difficult since she shared the dinner table with two teenage children and her hubby who were all of course set in their ways. Peaking the mountain of obstacles we were facing would be the lack of support initially from co-workers and friends who didn’t quite understand why Christina felt like she needed to be on a ‘diet’ because after all, she was already ‘skinny’. This would be a difficult road but not impossible to maneuver...and so we began.
Most of the health and fitness industry seems to cater to those who are interested in losing weight and so the women who want to gain weight, the good kind of weight, slip through the cracks with little to no support. The painstaking truth is with the high percentage of obesity in our nation, women who are thin are automatically considered fit and healthy. It is a misconception and so was the case with Christina. Yes, she was skinny but with a much higher percentage of fat than muscle which makes her skinny fat. Not healthy and not fit. Christina wanted to feel and look fit. She wanted sculpted muscles and a tone physique. To achieve this her nutrition and training plan had to undergo a complete overhaul. She was in the habit of eating whatever she wanted and whenever she wanted and since she does have a higher metabolism genetically, she never physically appeared big or fat. Still her metabolism could be higher and she could be more firm and more physically fit, so her meal plan had to support her new physique goals and the training to get there.
Christina’s structured meal plan included:
An increase in calories from lean protein sources, healthy carbohydrates and good fats.
Frequent meal times scheduled every 2-3 hours, averaging 6-8 meals per day.
Supplements such as protein powder and glutamine to help with muscle recovery and growth.
Increase in water intake to help with muscle recovery and alleviate muscle cramps.
Changes in her training included:
Lift heavier weight, less repetitions and more rest in between sets.
Less cardiovascular training with minimal shorter higher intensity bouts of cardio such as sprints.
These changes were not easy for her and it took her continuous effort week after week.
If changing your own eating habits wasn’t daunting enough, imagine trying to tackle those of your husband and two teenage children; it could seem impossible...and sometimes it just might be. Christina was fully committed to her new nutrition plan but what she didn’t realize was that just maybe her family wasn’t sold on it quite yet. At first Christina went full bore making healthy dishes that were on her plan and she had the attitude that, “Every one will just have to eat what I’m cooking whether they like it or not.” Except this didn’t fly and nor should it being that she wasn’t catering to 2 year-olds. This was a grown man and teenagers whose habits were not going to change overnight just because she was ready for change. This is a common hurdle in households. When one person chooses it’s time to change but the others are not quite on board, it can cause stress within the family unit and needs to be discussed. Christina had to look at her family’s perspective and understand this was her decision and not their's and she had to take a different approach than the, “I’m the boss” attitude. That mentality was not going to get her anywhere and more importantly, would not gain their loving support.
Here are a couple ways Christina remedied the situation:
She cooked healthy recipes and offered them to her family and some they loved and some they didn't but either way she was okay with it.
Her husband cooked certain meals while Christina cooked some of her own and they still sat together and ate as a family without having a struggle or making it a big ordeal.
We must remember that anytime we choose to make lifestyle changes, it is a choice we made and we cannot expect our loved ones and friends to do the same. What we can do is lead by example consistently and allow our loved ones to catch up in their own time.
While the challenges continued as Christina worked towards achieving her goals, one of the hardest to overcome was the lack of support from society as a whole. Quite frankly most of the population in our nation is overweight and not fit. To most individuals Christina appeared to be in great shape because she was thin in appearance. So when she began her journey, which included bringing portioned prepared food from home into her workplace, her co-workers were not the most supportive. She heard remarks such as, "why are you on a diet, you are already skinny" and comments like, "you are just obsessed." It really comes as no surprise to us who have been in the fitness industry for any length of time and have experienced the prejudices that come with living the fit lifestyle, but for a young beautiful woman who wants to be excited about the path she is taking, it can feel hurtful and be deflating. Christina and I talked about ways to improve the situation. I explained to her that when people don’t have a clear understanding of something, they jump to their own conclusions and assumptions and most times will behave from a place of ignorance, so educating them can work wonders.
Below are some of the steps Christina took to gain support of family, friends and co-workers:
Christina took the time to share her goals and why they were important to her.
She remained consistent with her plan and in doing so, friends and co-workers soon began to come to her for tips and advice.
Christina also embraced the reality that with or without the support of others she was committed to living a healthier lifestyle and would not allow the opinions or behavior of others bring her down.
Christina not only reached and surpassed the goals she set to achieve but continues to live each day as a beautiful role model for all women. Through this journey, she has blossomed emotionally and physically. She states, “I feel so much more positive and energetic which has improved all aspects of my life.” One of the biggest rewards for Christina has been to help others help themselves. She shares, “At first I couldn’t believe how influential I had become in the past year. Co-workers and friends come to me for advice on nutrition and exercise and my day gets a little brighter every time I answer questions and give back. I love feeling like I can improve the lives of others by leading by example.” When our behavior and actions come from a place of positive energy and our hearts, our path will always be the right one. Christina embodied this philosophy and now inspires and empowers other women to take better care of themselves. She exudes a new found inner beauty and confidence and has become a powerful presence. Christina blossomed from skinny to fierce.
By Liza Hughes RN
Lifestyle Coach to Women