Making the Most of a Glass Half Full…of Dirt…

Though it’s no longer my job, I realize that in some way motivating others in their fitness endeavors will always be a responsibility for me.  Even when I think I’ve created miles of distance from my time as a competitive bodybuilder, I still receive emails from people who tell me that something I’ve said has inspired them.  I still receive requests for workout ideas and diet plans.  I am happy to help, and I am glad to have a skill that can help others–whether I like it or not, people associate me with fitness, food, and health.   Why is this a responsibility and why wouldn’t I like it?  Because it’s a lot of pressure to know how much the little things we say and do can affect the people around us!  I could use this as an opportunity to say anything, and there is a lot of harm that can be done if one is ignorant of the responsibility.  I have seen far too many “trainers” and fitness gurus lead people in a very unhealthy direction simply for personal gain.  And people define health differently.  I am not a guru, and I do not define health in an aesthetic sense—so if you measure success with the scale or the mirror, then we have to talk!

I see this as an opportunity: people are listening, so I will seize this moment to bring something positive.  And that something positive is the message that fitness and health should not serve a purely aesthetic purpose!!!  Yes, looking good can make you feel good, but an appearance-oriented goal is an elusive one. First you’ll want to lose ten pounds.  Then 20.  Then you’ll want abs.  Then you’ll hate your thighs… Don’t fool yourself into believing that you’ll one day “get there” to a magical place where if you’re thin enough or fit enough your dreams will come true…because you will never find it.  If you feel bad because you haven’t made it to the gym in three weeks, then I totally understand.  But don’t feel bad because you think you’re fat—feel bad because you know you need the dose of seratonin that only an awesome workout can give you.  I hate when people equate a missed workout (or 20…) with being fat and miserable.

With that said, I also want to share that I have been struggling lately.  I understand what it feels like to not feel good about your body.  I understand frustration, hoplessness, discouragement, and all of the other things that hold us back from success—not only in fitness, but in life.  For me, success in the gym mirrors success in life; the will to squeeze out that last rep when I think I can’t, or the tenacity to stay in the fight after I’ve been hit in the face so hard I can’t see straight define who I am not only as an athlete but as a person.

But in these last few months, I have been profoundly rocked.  My mind desperately wanted to squeeze out that last rep, but my body wouldn’t let me.  My mind forced my body to spar multiple rounds, but afterward I couldn’t recover for a week.  Despite eating well and exercising reguarly, I watched my clothes stop fitting and the number on the scale go up.  I literally had to force myself to go to the gym, even though I have spent years easily waking up at 5 a.m. for training.  After years of being fit and lean and disciplined and having control of my Self, suddenly everything about how I define my Self was ripped away.  I was left trying to figure out not only how to physically deal with the illness, but also how to mentally cope with the changes.

I am on the road to recovery now, but it is difficult.  In fact, it’s almost more difficult than the years of work I put in before taking the stage in my first bodybuilding show.  I thought that maybe I’d get a diagnosis (I actually ended up with two), get some medicine, and everything would be better.  Voila!  But the reality is that this is going to be a longer road than I expected.  After about a month of treatment, I am free of the debilitating fatigue, my weight has gone down by about 8 of the 12 pounds I gained, and I generally feel normal.  But my strength and endurance are down in a way that hurts my pride almost more than the physical pain of the illness.

This week, I faced the truth: I am starting over.  Not over as in setting a new goal and moving forward, but over as in from the beginning.  And the beginning was several years ago. My bodyfat is not much lower than what it was before I started bodybuilding.  My strength and endurance are not what I’m used to—I jump up to the pullup bar for multiple sets of 10 and freeze after the first set of 6.  I put my shoes on for an easy 10 mile run and wipe out around 3.   I feel more like a lump of coal than a finely tuned athlete.

But wait—before you think this is me feeling sorry for myself, stick around.  This is me saying, “dude, I’ve been there.  I’m there now.  But I am picking myself up and starting over…join me.”  This is more difficult than squeezing out that last rep or finishing a round with a freshly broken nose.  Those examples have forward momentum and optimism in their favor, but right now I’m fighting discouragement, and I know for a fact that it’s a tough opponent.  Maybe your started Couch to 5K and stopped after the third week.  Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution and have already quit.  The discouragement is the worst part.  Get over that and get back up!

For me, back to the beginning means back to the weights.  I love training muay thai and boxing, but I have had to accept that my body can’t recover from them right now.  I have to take time off from it and watch my teammates train without me.  That is not fun.  But I have the pleasure of rediscovering the little things that got me hooked in the first place, like the calluses on my hands from heavy deadlifts or a bruise on my back from the squat bar.  I don’t look as lean and ripped as I’d like to for the kind of training I’m putting in, but the frustration of that is teaching me a lesson about pride…and speaking of pride, I’m also not back to big weight [yet, hehe….], but I’m at about 75% and I’ll have to take that for now.  My body will decide when it’s ready to get lean and go heavy, but it loves to build muscle and it is built for power so for now I will focus on that.

Maybe you are an athlete with a thyroid condition, a runner with celiac disease, a college grad who can’t find a job, a couch potato who keeps trying and quitting,  a fast food junkie who desperately wants to eat better, a writer who can’t get past a blank page, or a smoker who can’t seem to quit…I know that every single person who reads this blog has some sort of inner battle.  And I am fascinated by the fact that for all of us it comes down to a battle of will that calls on us to triumph over discouragement.

My blog is changing because my health has caused major changes to my diet.  At this point, I no longer know who my audience is!  Those of you who have been with me since I started may not relate to my gluten-free lifestyle, and people who are just tuning in specifically for support for celiac disease and/or Hashimoto’s disease could probably benefit from reading about my journey.  I’m going to mix it up a little bit in my posts, and I will add a page soon that details my celiac/Hashimoto’s story.  So look for that soon!

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For today’s recipe, I have to share with you what I made for dinner tonight—three recipes in one blog!  I made coconut almond chicken nuggets, candied braised greens, and turnip/potato mash.   I made these up on the spot tonight because Mike is currently on a grain-free and dairy-free diet, I can’t have gluten, and I am cooking for a six year old.  So I have to get a little creative!

Coconut-Almond Chicken Nuggets:

1 lb chicken breast, pounded flat and cut into pieces
olive oil or 2 eggs, beaten
Unsweetened coconut flakes
Almond meal
A greased glass baking dish

You’ll notice that I didn’t list any measurements: basically, you’ll want to set up a breading station, with a bowl of almond meal, a bowl of olive oil, and a bowl of coconut.  Dip each piece of chicken first in the olive oil or egg, then roll in almond meal to coat, and then carefully press it into the coconut (if the coconut doesn’t stick, sprinkle with olive oil or re-dip in the egg before pressing into coconut).   Gently lay each piece on the baking sheet.  Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes.

Candied Braised Greens:  (Isabella LOVED these)

2 slices of bacon (optional but yummy!)
2-4 bunches of greens (I used mustard and red kale tonight)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tbsp sugar or honey
chopped onion (I had to use powder since Mike hates onions)
1 garlic clove, minced

Fry bacon in the bottom of a large pot until it browns; add garlic and onion and cook for about one minute, adding a little bit of water if necessary.  Add the apple cider vinegar, water, and sugar; bring to a boil.  Add the greens a bit at a time so that each bit can cook down a little.  Once all of the greens are added, boil for about ten minutes, then reduce heat to medium/low and cover.  I start these first so that they can simmer while everything else is cooking.

Mashed turnip and potato:

3 potatoes (I used Yukon gold)
3 large turnips (the ones I got at the farmers market today were as big as baseballs!)
butter and milk are optional, but I didn’t use them tonight
salt and pepper to taste.

Peel and dice the potatoes and the turnips; boil for 15 minutes.  Season and mash to taste!  I like to mash them only partially because we really enjoy the chunks of turnip that get left behind.

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