“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brené Brown
Recently I read an article written by a woman whom has had her life changed by CrossFit. She went into great detail of her story. While reading it, it brought back memories of my own journey. I’m so immersed in CrossFit now I often forget where I came from and how I was different before. I’m not talking about the physical capabilities and my lifting numbers. I’m talking about my confidence, ability to stand up for myself, and my overall health and body image.
I’ll start with eating issues. I got to be pretty skinny (128lbs) during college gymnastics because honestly at 5’7″ unless you’re super powerful it’s really hard to be good at that height. I watched what I ate like a hawk and didn’t have pizza or dessert for probably 3 years. That is unless I threw it up. My story just got real huh? Luckily that didn’t happen too often because I knew how bad I performed if I wasn’t keeping food down, but I’m being honest here when I say I was neurotic about what I ate. To give you an idea I still ate close to 2,000 calories a day (highly calculated) so I wasn’t malnourished but I was so lean a bod pod wouldn’t read me, 24lbs less than I am now, and mentally obsessed with food. It’s hard not to be when you’re hungry all the time, but afraid of the majority of foods in the world.
There was a period after college gymnastics of trying to regain a normal relationship with food while still exercising, which I loved to do. Sometimes I wished I was just an alcoholic instead so I could use my all or nothing approach, but everyone has to eat to live so that wouldn’t work. It was hard and while I improved I would say I was still your normal guilt ridden female after eating a brownie. I’d plan extra running in before having Mexican and margaritas, but at least I was able to have them and be ok with it. Ok, well… most of the time. Sometimes I still slipped up. Honestly the slip ups, guilt, and poor relationship with food never completely went away until I started CrossFit.
Even then it was a gradual change. As I got more competitive and concerned with performance goals I started eating in align with achieving those goals. However one great thing in this sport was I didn’t have to be the lightest version of myself possible to be good. Quite the contrary, I wanted to put on some mass! The calories in my cottage cheese didn’t seem to matter. Actually just eating fruit and cottage cheese didn’t fuel my workouts enough anymore anyways so I can’t tell you the last time I ate it. Gradually I learned what did and it’s mostly whole foods (lots of meat, vegetables and starchy carbs), none of which are in the diet version although I still avoid sugar. The beauty in eating healthy and having more muscle to perform well is that I can actually feel my body using food and if I do decide to eat not so healthy my body burns right through it. If I decide to do it for a few meals in a row I also feel like crap and it becomes less and less rewarding.
It didn’t hit me just how much I had changed until this year’s Regionals. They were so body weight based I knew dropping 2-3lbs would help. I eat so many calories now it wasn’t hard to do, but man was it a flash back. Something I don’t care to ever go back to!
My next change was almost as big and is still evolving which is body image. About a year into CrossFit I really loved how I looked. I was strong, but slim, and not stared at in public, but still told I was attractive. As the sport has evolved so have the athletes and with 10 more lbs. of muscle I was probably more socially accepted as a class going CrossFitter, not a competitive one. Let’s just say if I go out in a tank top I get looks. I recently visited a friend who had a baby and used to be a gymnast with me. She is slim, but hasn’t worked out since she quit gymnastics 10 years ago so not muscular like before. She used to despise the muscular comments we got as gymnasts. She was pointing to the skin around her lats and referring to her “flabbiness”. All I saw was a place that muscle used to fill and suggested she try a little strength training since there really wasn’t fat there. She said she didn’t want to look like me or be all muscular, it was fine that I liked it but not for her. I suppose this comment from a friend may have bothered some women, but I’m so proud of what my muscles enable me to do I’d never trade it in for being socially accepted as feminine and worrying about my gasp… “arm flab”.
Another instance where I realized just how much CrossFit has changed my mindset on body image is jean shopping. Jeans fit me now that fit me 15-20lbs ago, which is sort of weird, except they are tight in the thighs and I like it. I even made a comment to a girl friend while shopping that maybe I’d get a pair that were slightly tight and see if I could squat enough to grow out of them! How backwards is that from society? Of course some of that may be due to the fact that I can’t grow my legs to save my life. Someone even commented on a picture of me doing a chest to bar pull-up during the 14.2 announcement, “Someone skipped leg day”. How dare he? Does he realize how often I squat to battle these long femurs? I was actually more hurt by that comment from a key board warrior than the one from my friend not wanting to look like me. Knowing how much pain eating and body issues caused me in the past I can’t help but rejoice at that.
Last issue I’ll tackle here is self confidence. When I started CrossFit I was in a relationship that had plummeted my self esteem. There were comments like “why don’t you wear dresses”, “you’re not feminine”, or “sometimes being physically needy is attractive”. It played with my head so much, because I liked to be active and had always been an athlete but I wanted to please. When I started CrossFit I never talked about it because I knew he didn’t like it, but I knew I had found myself again. The rips on my hands and shaky limbs were pure nostalgia from my gymnastics days and it was so exhilarating I couldn’t wait to go every day after work. One of the last straws was when he refused to hold my hand because the blisters I had weren’t “sexy”. At that point I knew he didn’t have a clue who I really was and I was never going to be able to change myself enough to be what he was trying to get me to be. I know discovering CrossFit helped me to leave an unsupportive relationship, and has given me the self confidence to know I’ll never sacrifice being who I am to be with someone again. I’d also be lying if I said it doesn’t make me chuckle to wonder if he thinks I look “unfeminine” on ESPN.
Now that CrossFit, for the time being, has basically become my career, I am reminded of all that it has done for me without monetary value, that is priceless. I hope sharing some of this lets people know that the competitors at the top share similar journeys and struggles to others in the community. After all, I’ve made some of my best friends through CrossFit and I really don’t know any of their strength or benchmark numbers. I love to watch them succeed but their physical gains aren’t as important. Who they are as people is the most important aspect to me. Particularly for women, I feel CrossFit helps us grow into stronger, healthier, and more confident versions of ourselves. It certainly has done so for me.