Over the next weeks, I am going to share with you insights from some of the most inspiring women I know that are heavily into health and fitness. These women have all figured out what works for them, their bodies, and have overcome mental and physical challenges. My hope is that you find someone you identify with, pick up on a helpful nugget of information and are overall inspired to be a healthier individual through their trials, failures, and successes.
Week 2: Anne the Ex-Collegiate Athlete
For my wellness story, I think it’s important to know my background from 10+ years ago. When I was in high school, I was obsessed with being skinny. I counted calories, severely restricted my diet, and binged and purged in the name of calorie control. I always knew in the back of my mind that what I was doing was messed up. But I was a silly teenager, so I didn’t care. I started to come out of that way of thinking as I graduated high school and prepared for college. I decided to study dietetics to help other young women who struggled with the pressure to fit the skinny mold.
I competed in track and field in college and I was constantly at odds with myself. I struggled to decide if I wanted to be strong for track or skinny. I felt like I couldn’t have both. Finally my last couple of years competing, I saw the light and decided to focus on optimizing my nutrition through whole foods, lots of protein sources (helloooooo, grilled chicken), and even some pre-workout and whey protein supplements. Weekly, I weightlifted 2-3 times, completed 5 technical and endurance workouts, and typically competed in 1 meet. I was at the top of my game. I put out most of the top performances of my athletic career in those two years. Ironically, I was at my heaviest weight and I did not give anything resembling a fuck about that.
Fast forward to graduating and becoming a real adult. Scary shit. I tried to maintain the lifting and some of the good food behaviors that I held previously, but it just didn’t work the same way. I quickly became lazy and depressed and I just couldn’t understand why. At that point, I was still pretty bamboozled by the food industry and I was alllllll about that Special K, chocolate-flavored cardboard whatever and had a pretty limited palate. In retrospect….gross. Can’t even. Anyway, I had a few years that I really struggled with my health. The ironic part is that I was actually *very* healthy compared to the average American.
When I moved to Minnesota though is when things really started to fall into place for me. I was never much of a documentary person, but I hijacked my sister’s Netflix password and away I went. Before the docs, I was already beginning to shift to a more whole foods based diet, but with each one I watched, I became more and more skeptical and concerned about not only what I was eating, but what the entire WORLD was eating. I mean, it’s super freaky to consider what a grasp big food has on each of us. Educating myself further is what sparked my interest in nutrition education and policy, which is what I am applying for graduate school to study.
Now, my eating habits are drastically different than what they used to be and I don’t work out like a crazy person. Right now my focus is primarily nutrition-based. Again, it’s ironic because when I was in high school, I knew I wasn’t eating that healthy. My last years of college, I thought I was pretty darn healthy with my food choices and I was proud of it–same thing with my post-collegiate diet. In retrospect, I was seriously delusional in each of these instances, but I was doing what society told me was healthy. If I had met my current self in high school, or even college, I would think I was a crazy hippie who went off the deep end.
For workouts, I do yoga at home and will be joining a gym soon and getting back into a groove of outdoor workouts as summer rolls around, but I’m fascinated how much food impacts our health, so I am doing some experimenting. I am researching right now to do an elimination diet because I have been more cognizant of how my body feels on a regular basis, so I am interested to see if I will uncover any trigger foods. Many people are hesitant to treat themselves as a human science experiment to see what works for them and what could possibly be negatively impacting their health. As a society, we are so used to feeling sick and tired that it’s the norm—we don’t even realize how amazing we could feel OR, more importantly that our health is in our own hands.
How has working out and eating healthy affected your self-confidence?
It’s huge. (yuuuuuuuge) When I’m eating healthy, I feel better, healthier, and stronger, and that has a direct impact on my confidence. It also makes me feel sharper mentally and my mood is vastly improved—all of these things contribute to feeling like a confident, kick ass lady.
What has your fitness journey taught you?
First, it allllllll starts with the food you put into your body. You absolutely cannot out-exercise/out-train a poor diet. I’ve tried it. It sucks. You feel better, perform better, and recover better with better food. My mindset is completely different now, too. Instead of considering how to starve my body to lose weight, I focus on eating foods that give my body the micronutrients it needs to perform at its peak. One of the biggest lessons that I learned though is that the focus has to be health. For me anyway, it couldn’t be about losing weight or being skinny. It has to be about health or nothing will ever feel like enough. My body awareness did a 180. I am significantly more cognizant of my feels body and how I treat it.
How your mindset has changed?
My focus has shifted from looking skinny, to being strong and healthy. My body awareness is high, but on a completely different level than in HS/early college years. Now I’m more aware of how the different things I eat and the different workouts impact my body in different ways. I’m more in tune with my body and I appreciate it. Something super nerdy about me: I am fascinated by the intricacy of the human body. Like, think about it: it’s a MIRACLE that every complex process in our body just happens without us having to think about it. Our bodies are these incredible, intricate machines. They even adapted to find a way to function (albeit for not as long) with the processed food shit that we put into our bodies. Our bodies are bad. ass. NOW, consider this: the universe is equally as bad ass. How convenient is it that literally everything that we need to survive can be found in nature? EVERYTHING. It’s amazing and incredible and if more people could wrap their heads around that, people would love their bodies so much more and treat their bodies a million times better than they do now! See why my HS self would have thought I’m a crazy hippie now? lol
Fad diets you’ve tried/thoughts on those:
Aside from starving myself in high school, I was a Beachbody coach for a period last year and did the 21 Day Fix. I actually really enjoyed and I think it’s a great starting point for people and I’m not just saying it because I have to or anything. The containers are easy to navigate and it greatly simplifies the “what” and “how much” part of nutrition. Honestly though, at the end of the day, on that program, you eat primarily whole foods. If you’re eating lots of plants and whole foods, you don’t need to do a whole lot of tracking. At this point in my life though, I eat more intuitively anyway.
I had to think about this one. I have a few, but the most significant is: simplify, simplify, simplify. Don’t
overcomplicate things. Eat whole foods that are close to their natural state—you don’t have to be a master chef to be able to eat healthy. You also don’t have to be rich to eat healthy. Shop local, seasonal produce, and shop the ads of your local grocers. It makes a difference. And you don’t need 30 hours a week to prepare food. Prepping is an excellent idea that I HIGHLY support, but don’t overexert yourself with weird circus recipes and then run out of enthusiasm for it.
What you want people to know who are just starting out:
Food is everything. It is where health begins and it is absolutely the first thing you should look at when you are looking to make a lifestyle change. Abs are made in the kitchen. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. All of those quotes and things are actually very true. Food is everything, but your mind is second to food. If you decide that it is going to be a struggle, it will be. If you say that you could never go 30 days without added sugar, then you won’t. Decide to be successful. Decide to fuel your body and then do it. (I get a lot of “I could never eat the way you do/I could never give up meat/I could never not have added sugar”) YES. YOU CAN.
What is your favorite way to eat?
Whole foods, plant-based. I’m lacto-ovo vegetarian, but I try to keep the eggs and dairy to a minimum, despite a burning love for cheese, because #wisconsin. Honestly though, I’ve been on and off point with my eating habits and when I’m off, I’m very off and I can tell—my body and mind feel completely different. While I do still indulge in some processed foods or treats, in general, I eat for my health. Probably in the 80/20-90/10 range.
What is your favorite way to workout?
I love lifting. I feel in love with it my last couple of years competing. Love me some good, solid Olympic lifts. I have also fallen in love with yoga. At first, I just wanted to try some cool poses, but when I actually took a class, I became fascinated with how your breath can drive your entire flow/practice and I remain fascinated, although I’m not attending classes now. I did gain the confidence to experiment with my own flows though.
Are there any health/fitness misconceptions that come to mind?
The biggest misconception that bothers me is the emphasis on calories. We have been brainwashed as a society to focus on calories and macros, when the magic is in the micros. THAT is what makes our bodies function on a cellular level. It’s magical.
What motivates you?
My health. Now that I know what it feels like to have energy, clarity, and happiness, there isn’t anything more important. Although a good competition usually gets me going for workouts.
What happens when you have an off day?
Hydrate. Forgive. Repeat. It happens. It happens to everyone. You can’t camp out and have a pity fest every time you have a bad day. It’s not productive and it will only make you feel worse. Forgiveness sounds like a weird step, but I’ve found it to be super important.
How does mindset play a role in health?
Mindset is huge. Our entire lives are determined by the choices that we make and one of the worst choices that we can make is deciding that we are doomed to fail. I’ve studied more spirituality lately and one of the things I’ve learned is that you are always manifesting, regardless of what you are thinking about. That’s why it’s super important to be aware of the thoughts you have. Self love is super important too. In the same vein, if you are constantly thinking about how much you hate your body and how you want to squeeze it into whatever old of perfection is being marketed at any given time, you will continue to struggle. Begin to celebrate your body for the strong, incredible machine that it is and it will perform amazingly for you. The mind-body connection is an amazing thing and I wish I had been aware of it when I was still competing!
Are there any supplements you take or recommend?
Right now I just take a multivitamin (yeahhh Flinstones!), and vitamin D. Ironically, I don’t much believe in the effectiveness of multivitamins, but for me it act as a daily reminder of the healthier lifestyle choices that those who regularly take multis engage in. And I take vitamin D because I live in Minnesota.
Do you have any physical challenges/injuries?
Nothing recently. In college, I strained my quad and had to sit out an outdoor season, coming off my All-American indoor run. It was terrifying to make the decision to hold off on that outdoor season to keep training and focus on nutrition, but it was well worth it. I didn’t think it was possible, but I improved significantly with 3 years of lifting and nutrition under my belt. The bad news: everyone else got better, too. :/
Before and After: mindset, body, confidence
Mindset—Totally different. I would highly recommend doing a piece of personal development daily. This is something that I picked up through Beachbody and I am obsessed now. Books are great, but I am obsessed with audio books because you can listen to them on your commute, while doing cardio….whatever.
Body—I think of it differently now. I’m far more appreciative of my health because I’ve taken it for granted in the past and that was with poor nutrition choices. I appreciate it for the amazing, complex machine that it is. :]
Confidence—Definitely higher than when I was younger. Strength = confidence.
I always like to see my muscles develop when I lift. Like, my shoulders can look pretty badass. Although that’s also partially because I have no upper body, so it pops pretty quickly. Here’s a non-scale victory though—when I truly go sugar-free for even a couple of weeks, the cellulite disappears from my assso fast. It’s amazing and I don’t lose a ton of weight when I drop sugar, I think it just speaks to how my body processes the excessive amounts of sugar that I can consume over time.
What are your Goals/views on goal setting?
I like it, but my views on it are evolving as I continue to study mindset/intention-setting/vision.
The Number on the scale — do you care? Yes/no/why
Yes and no. I usually weigh myself once weekly to make sure I’m not way off kilter either way, but other than that, not really. Like I said, I was the best athlete at my highest weight and I gave zero fucks about it. Skinny was not going to make me a national qualifier and All-American. I wanted to crush my opponents.
Views on fat/having extra fat:
I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. Not everybody is built the same way, although I do think that some people take a little too much freedom in blaming their excess fat on genetics. I think it just bothers me when people just don’t even try to improve their health and wellness because they don’t think they are capable of it. I think that bothers me more than the fat itself.
What’s your focus? Aesthetic, performance, wellness, balance
Wellness, balance, and soon to be performance. Aesthetic usually takes care of itself, if you focus on the others.
Have a business?
No business to promote. I just have my little blog where I’m trying to get better about posting about my ongoing experience and whole foods, plant-based recipes for the world. It’s just so hard when I eat raw fruit and nuts. Like, welcome to my blog, here’s a recipe: Buy fruit. Wash fruit. Eat fruit. (And nuts). Haha.
Did you miss Week 1? Check out Maddie the Mostly Vegetarian Yogi’s take on health!