Friday, December 23, 2016

Relfections as I turn 36

I wrote a post on Facebook and Instagram yesterday but hit the word count before my thoughts ran out. Realizing I only broke the surface of what I wanted to say about turning 36 this year, I decided to expand with a blog post.

Missed it? Here's what I wrote:

Today I turn 36. What a year it has been. It has been one of truth for me, unable to exist with the drapery of safety. I have been stripped of pride and cloaked in vulnerability. I have forced myself to keep an open heart when my entire being was desperate to contract into a small little ball, shielding myself from hurt. I have looked long at hard at the qualities I don't love about me and worked my ass off to change them. What a challenging year it has been but what gifts I have been given. What wonderful, beautiful gifts.

I think back to my life 20 years ago. I was a teenager then. And just getting out of a very deep depression that intermingled with eating disorders and various other self loathing acts. I struggled to enjoy anything and I couldn't stand the sight of myself. I hated many things about me - from my curly hair to my shy personality. I floundered through my days, feeling comfort in anything but my own thoughts and feelings.

I think back 10 years. Just 26 years old, I had buried my Mom 3 years earlier and was still reeling with grief. I would be married that year and assumed marriage just existed after the vows. I hadn't realized the work, appreciation and dedication it required every single day. I was afraid of everything back then and managed to find a quiet little bubble I could seclude myself into. Anytime I felt my anxiety approaching, I would step back into my comfort zone and be okay again. I shrank lots around this time and only wanted to do what I felt others wanted from me. I found my joy from morphing into the person I thought was expected of me.

At 36 year of age, I never imagined my life as it is. I never knew I could feel such freedom, both from living an authentic life and from just learning to love and be ME. I never imagined I could find so much joy from everything and nothing at the same time. I am filled with gratitude every single day. I enjoy silence and a hot cup of tea. I like my own company now.

I never would have such an appreciation and thirst for life had I not gone through so much. Grateful for my struggles that have lead me to this amazing life surrounded by soul inspiring people of all ages & sizes

36. Freedom.

Birthdays in the past have largely been spent in a great big funk. I've never been able to pinpoint the source of my discontent. I never knew if it was due to disappointment from expectations, or the fact that my birthdays would cause me to miss my Mom desperately. I would miss the over-the-top ways she celebrated the day I was born. I knew this day was more important to her than anyone. I selfishly miss that appreciation and love. Or maybe it was witnessing another year passing, further from my youth and knowing I can't turn back time to change the things I would maybe like to change, or learn faster, knowing full well that it was always my age itself that brought about that clarity anyway.

This past year as a 35 year old I have struggled. I have struggled with facing parts of myself I am not proud of. I have run hills so hard I've almost vomited, in an effort to face things in my past that have haunted me and that I have covered up through trying to be perfect. Some of the darkness I have carried inside could only be acknowledged if my body was moving hard. It felt more tolerable to me. I made a conscious effort to stop hiding. Stop pretending. Stop covering. I let my whole self come out to the world. My anxiety peaked, and I clung, white knuckled, to the armour I always so readily put on in the face of hurt feelings and vulnerability. But I left it all on the floor. It was me or nobody, I promised myself. I meditated on keeping my heart open. My yoga poses were all heart opening poses. When I felt the tug to close, I opened my arms wide, even when tears were falling down my face. I spread my body on the ground, taking up as much room as I could, promising myself I would not close anymore.

Have you tried this before?

Exhausting. Terrifying. So much work.

But on the other side of it all? Once you work through your crap and live with the fears, doubts and emotions rather than behind them?

Freedom. Joy. Peace.

And finally...after 36 years on this Earth, I have found things I have been striving to find my entire life.

I enjoy being alone because I finally like who I am and the company I keep.

I finally appreciate my quiet nature. Without it I would never be able to hear my inner voice, which has been loud and clear and so obviously guiding me toward great things.

At one time in my life, it served me well to shut down and stop feeling. I learned this year that that this response no longer serves me and I have discovered ways of living without that protection. And the quality of people that have walked into my life because of this willingness has more than been worth those moments of fear and uncertainty.

I can be soft. I don't have to be tough and ferocious and hard as nails to be appreciated.

I don't have to take on the world by myself. It's ok to ask for help. It's necessary even. It will save my sanity and allow others a piece of me that I so often kept under lock and key.

I don't have to be perfect to be liked. In fact, people who see me as perfect feel they can't connect to me on any level. Admitting my weaknesses and showing them to others in truth and honesty has created deep bonds and friendships that never would have happened otherwise.

Sometimes in life I just need to let go and trust. I'll never have all the answers. And if I wait to have them before I act, I will always be stagnant. This year I moved myself forward in my career and my personal life. Even as anxiety threatened my sanity.

This year I felt as though every tool I have developed throughout my life to feel safe and secure in this unstable world was ripped from my knowledge base. And I had to stand; bare, weak and beaten to the core, shroud in the hauntings of my childhood that were presenting themselves in different clothing. And all I could do was face it all, completely naked and swimming in vulnerability. I would choke and sputter and kick and protest. But eventually the strength and depth of the waves required me to surrender. If not, I'd never make it out alive. Surrender. Let go. Two themes that stood so prominently for me this year.

After all this, here I sit. I'm now 36 years old and peace fills my heart. I have finally reached shore after swimming through so much - my childhood, my fears, my insecurities, much loss.

And you know what?

I am okay.
I am more than okay.

I have faced all my fears. I have been torn down and have managed to build myself back up. I have accepted my responsibility for the areas of my life that I am not happy with and I have changed it all. I have faced massive resistance and finally threw my hands up in the air, telling the universe I was handing it all over.

I am free.
I am free to be me.

I used to hate being called stubborn. It's being stubborn that has allowed me to accomplish all the goals I set for myself, both big and small because I refuse to quit.

I used to hate getting anything less than an A+ on my report card. Now I take those less than perfect spaces in my life and learn from them. They excite me, because in them, I grow.

I used to look in the mirror and see every flaw, real or imagined, that plagued me. Now I can finally look in the mirror and smile at myself, feeling connected to ME, and feeling love and pride for the way I've handled my life.

I used to hate my body and would notice every ounce of "fat" it held. Even at 90 pounds and starving myself for weeks and months at a time. Now I honour it and appreciate it for all it has done for me - from carrying 3 babies to allowing me to move strongly and freely.

I used to neatly pack myself into a tight little comfortable box so I could avoid anxiety. I now finally have learned to live outside my comfort zone because I am thirsty to grow and to learn. I live with anxiety and thank it for reminding me where my edges are, so that I can continually expand them.

As I enter this new age, I am feeling content. And at peace. And free. I am the designer and the executor of my life and I am creating a beautiful one.

At first I felt like I was becoming the person I've always wanted to me. But now I know better.

I am finally shedding the built up layers of illusion that I have created to protect myself.
And underneath?
Underneath it all is the true and authentic Rachel. The one I was born to be. The girl I was before I allowed the world to tell me who I wasn't.

And you know what?
I kinda like her.

My Birthday wish for you is that you too, feel this freedom in your own life and in your own body.

Not sure where to begin? Message me. I have so much to share with you.

xoxo <3

Friday, December 9, 2016

Will I ever compete again?

I competed in a fitness competition in 2013. My daughter was 3 and a half years old, and my son was 18 months old the day I stepped onto stage. I had trained a good year, half with a trainer and half on my own. My diet was super clean for that year and started getting really strict about 4 months out. To sum it up, I worked my ASS off every day. The hard work paid off. The day of the competition, I looked aesthetically better (by the industry's standards) than I ever had, even after 2 kids. I rocked a teeny tiny bikini and felt GREAT in it. It was such a freedom for me, as body image has been an area of my well-being that I have struggled with since I was 8 years old. My cellulite that I'd had since I was 10 was totally gone. The social anxiety I suffered with for years was a distant memory as I stood on stage alone in front of 300+ people as a panel of judges picked me apart silently.

And you know what? I felt fucking awesome. The pride I had for myself engulfed any fear or insecurity that may have threatened to rise. I was invincible.

Since that time I have had another baby and my body has again changed dramatically. I am fluffier than my "normal," and my motivation to stick to a strict diet has never returned. I am asked on a very regular basis if I will ever compete again. I usually answer with "I don't know" and give a lengthy list of why I may or may not. I did love the journey and motivation I felt and I may or may not be a chronic goal setter. However, it is only recently that I have decided that no, in fact, I won't ever compete again. While I have respect for the work these athletes put into the craft, I have a lot of my own personal reasons why I'll never go through that process again.

1. Hormone Imbalances

Here I am one day before I stepped on stage

I looked damn good. My belly was flat, my muscles were defined and my ass rock solid. So what was the issue? In this picture you don't see the month I went without my period because my body fat had dropped so low. You don't see the clumps of hair that would come out every single day because my adrenals were totally taxed. You didn't see the nights I couldn't move off the couch because I couldn't muster up another second of energy to move. When you begin restricting your fat and caloric intake, hormones, energy, moods and overall well-being begin to suffer. My cortisol levels shot through the roof because I was putting my body (and mind) through so much stress, creating chronic inflammation within my body.

2. Disconnection with the Body
As a Holistic Nutritionist (I wasn't at the time), it is most important for me to connect with my body and to listen to all it tells me, because I know that's how I will stay healthy and vibrant. Training for a competition like this takes away any connection with the body, as you follow a food plan no matter what. 4 ounces of broccoli mixed with 4 ounces of tilapia and maybe a few ounces of sweet potato. It didn't matter if I was craving peanut butter (because my fat intake was so low). It didn't matter if the sight of tilapia made my stomach turn. Those were things I ate. Day in and day out. No matter what. I stopped listening to my body's wisdom and instead became impatient, even angry with it, for saying things to me that counteracted what my plan was saying. It took me a long time to nurture that relationship again.

3. Body Dysmorphia
I will admit that in the few months before the competition, I would have jumped at any opportunity to saunter around in a bikini. I had a body that I was proud of and wanted to show off to anyone even slightly interested. The stricter my diet got, the more workouts I put in, the more my body changed and the more pride I had. So what happens when the competition is over? Well, typically there is a backstage loaded with treats - cookies, cupcakes and muffins. The second the competition is over you can find dozens of athletes stuffing their faces uncontrollably, making up for the months of deprivation experienced during training. And if you aren't used to the process of reverse dieting, you go home, open the cupboard and stuff your face full of all the things you hadn't been able to eat for months. And don't stop. And very quickly gain weight. Truth be told, the way athletes look onstage typically isn't a sustainable look. And putting on weight can really mess up your sense of self worth if you have so much of it tied into the way you looked on stage. Again, for me, in the end, competing created a big rift in my relationship with my body. I started disliking the way my body looked and felt. When my pants no longer fit (they were a size 0 and still a bit big), my self esteem suffered greatly. Coming back around to a regular weight and size felt like obesity to me, for I had become accustomed to being so small and defined.

4. Playing into Society's Standards
Rock hard glutes. Glutes that don't sit on the hamstrings. Defined shoulders. But not TOO defined. Flat abs, Curvy hips. Chiseled back.
These are just some of the qualities judges look for when deciding who looks the best amongst a stage of athletes. Everyone stepping on to stage is fully aware that their hard work, sweat, tears, dedication and discipline are about to be picked apart by watchful eyes. For me, I didn't care. The fact that I was on stage in front of hundreds of people after battling serious social anxiety was enough. I had no concern for what anyone thought of me. Me, at 31 years old, in a line full of 20 years old....I had won. However, after the initial elation of the first competition, many go on to compete with the goal of placing. They work harder, eat stricter, work out longer...and it becomes a very slippery slope between dedication and obsession. Almost without notice many athletes pick apart their body, wondering if their shoulders are round enough, if judges will notice the defined lines along the back...appreciation of the body evolves into either being satisfied or disappointed in a feature that others will approve or disapprove of. The standards of the profession becomes the barometer for which self approval resides. And if I am honest with myself, I am not entirely convinced I can avoid that downslide. And I certainly don't want to test it to find out.

5. Creating Unhealthy Habits
Binge eating once a week. Chewing sugar free (aka artificial sweeteners) gum nonstop to deal with severe cravings. Drinking flavoured BCAAs (aka more artificial sweeteners). Weighing every morsel of food incessantly. Avoiding social situations so you don't have to be around the food. Drinking flavoured water crystals (aka total crap) to give your diet some taste. Dehydrating yourself. Pushing the body through illnesses. Giving up sleep to get a second workout in....the list goes on. Now that I know the things I know about health and well-being, I see so many unhealthy practices that I at least indulged in during the year or so that I prepped for my competition. And I knew at the time (to some degree) that those things weren't things I would normally do, but...when your body is so deprived of calories, fat and enjoyment from food, you'll do some atypical things just to get through. I'm not willing to sacrifice my health for my appearance.

6. Nutritional Deficiencies and/or imbalances
As I mentioned already, my diet was super strict. My food choices were very limited, to mostly vegetables, sweet potato and white fish. Without a variety in the diet, you are bound to run into some sort of deficiencies in a vitamin or mineral necessary for optimal body functioning. Also, such intense training puts the body under a huge amount of stress and creates large amounts of inflammation. Without addressing that, every system within the body starts to become affected - hormones, adrenals, thyroid, immune system, digestive system....everything.

So now that I know better I can do better and the idea of a competition just doesn't sit well with me. Perhaps there are better ways of approaching the sport that I could create for myself. I'm sure of it actually. But I feel as though my body and mind are still trying to recover from the effects of restricting my diet and depriving my body of things it really needed at that time, especially as I was raising 2 small children and breastfeeding one of them.

I do not, however, regret for a second the journey I took to get on stage. There were so many benefits for me - to prove I could accomplish whatever I want to, to prove I had the dedication and drive, to prove to myself I didn't have to allow social anxiety to drive my life, and so many more lessons. I met lots of people, I discovered a deep passion I had for fitness, which brought about my business and has brought many ridiculously amazing women into my life.

However. I kind of have a "been there done that" type of attitude to competing. It served it's purpose in my life, and while there are times I miss the intensity such a lofty goal provided my life, I know there are other goals and dreams I have to work toward that don't include threatening a relationship with my body that I have poured myself into strengthening over the past 4 years.

Stay tuned. Goals in progress :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What The F#$k Makes Me Happy list

Earlier this year I was going through some stuff. Let's just leave it at that annoying, standard, non-specific explanation that drives everyone crazy :) Forgive me for being vague.

Anyway, amidst this stuff, I analyzed a lot, as I tend to do. You know when you're going through something really difficult and you suddenly feel like you're in the middle of a foreign country? This results from a changing perspective, from going through something so challenging that clarity strips away all the superficial priorities that once defined your time. It can get rather annoying how suddenly you lose all sense of who you are and what's important to you.

So that's where I found myself months ago and I was taken aback at how suddenly I stopped caring for certain things - friendships that once mattered a great deal to me, having a clean home, perusing the internet, social media, even the work that once filled me. I just didn't give a shit anymore. The problem was I had no idea what I DID care about, other than the obvious answer of my children. But in my funk I knew I needed more. I couldn't rely solely on my kids to fill my cup and my sense of purpose in the world. What a burden that would be for them.

The good thing about these times (or should I say ONE of the good things) is that the false securities we hang on to in order to feel fulfilled are completely unmasked and it becomes apparent what we really need in order to serve the world and ourselves.

During this period, I sat at my computer and opened up a brand new document, titling it:


(yep, it really was all in capitals, with many question marks at the end. I was annoyed that these answers didn't come so easily or naturally to me.)

I started with one thing. I won't share with you my entire list, just the first few to give you an idea.
But I wrote down the first thing during that time that had managed to create even the faintest spark in my heart:

1. Family time and creating new memories

That was about it. The time I had with my family was what made me happy. Anything else could take a hike and I would be content. But I knew I needed to add more because I couldn't spend all day every day with my family, and I knew that ultimately that wouldn't completely fulfill me either. I needed to look more internally.

2. Challenging my body (like hill runs).

Yep, during really emotional times I like to be in my body. It causes me to be fully aware of the present moment and live within it rather than in the past or the future. And, pushing through physical discomfort amps up my adrenaline like nothing else. I feel powerful and strong when I push my body.

3. Surrounding myself with amazing women.

I somehow managed to hit the jackpot in the friend category and it's only been a recent win. All my life I have actively chosen to surround myself with only a handful of girls. I'm such an introvert I could never handle large groups of friends nor was I ever willing to open my heart up to that many people. So as I was shifting into this difficult space this year, the door opened up and this large gaggle of ridiculously supportive, encouraging, uplifting women wandered in and insisted on holding my hands and my heart through it all. They cried with me, laughed for me, did my laundry, fed me and held space for me to process whatever emotions popped up. Without questioning or fixing or shrinking. And I am insanely grateful for them all, who inspire and encourage me to always be my best and never allow me to settle for anything less than joy.

So those are the top three things on my list that came into my head as things that kept me feeling alive.
I have 11 things on my list (which took a good week to brainstorm) but I don't want to share them all with you. Instead, I want you to look inward after stripping away all the time killers you indulge in to really zone in on what's important to YOU. I would love for you to try this and share with me if you're comfortable doing so. It's like a de-cluttering of your life. Like becoming a minimalist of your spirit. Oh and feel free to title it something else that resonates with you...perhaps something a little more on the pleasant and positive side??

When you find yourself in a funk and engage in an activity that brings you a smile, write that down. It's easy to forget what brings us joy when we're in the throes of a pity party. Notice what warms your heart and arouses your curiosity. And during those times you just feel like cocooning from everything in life, open up this list and spend time doing one of the things on it. I promise your heart will fill in a very sustainable way.