Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What I'm Thankful For This Year

As the Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaches, I've been thinking quite a bit about gratitude. I honestly cannot believe 2015 is coming to a close - it seems the older I get, the faster the years whiz on by. There have definitely been some highs and lows over the past year, so I decided to embark on a gratitude journey - appreciating all of the lessons I've learned over the past 11 months. If you haven't tried a gratitude exercise, I encourage you to do so. Studies and research show practicing gratitude improves your physical and psychological health as well as overall self-esteem and mental strength. 

So let's flip the script and cultivate gratitude this holiday season rather than succumb to complaining about holiday mall traffic, being the only single one at the family holiday dinner table, or whatever else may be weighing on you as the season quickly approaches.

2015, thank you for:

My New Home
I mean, look at this beautiful spa-like bathroom! :) 

In all seriousness, I was blessed with the ability to purchase a beautiful new home this year. One in which I was able to re-design essentially from the ground up. I had so much fun working with a skilled contractor gutting nearly 75% of my 1960s ranch-style home. Some of my favorite touches? My all-white kitchen, 7 ft island perfect for entertaining, huge dining room which will be hosting my very first Thanksgiving, a beautifully feminine bedroom complete with an adorable chandelier that hangs over my bed, nearly an acre of peaceful, private land... and the list goes on. 

Phenomenal Friends
Boy have I been blessed with amazing friends. They've supported me all year long - from coming to cheer me on at my bikini competition, to being my listening ear, letting me be the third wheel, putting up with me bringing tupperware to fancy restaurants, calling/texting/emailing/showing up at my house when I just needed support, and so much more. I feel beyond blessed to be surrounded by such strong, supportive and loving women.

A Strong Mind and Resilient Body

Competition prep was anything but easy this year. Dropping 10% body fat while putting on lean muscle mass over a short 4 months was hard. There were days - especially as my show came near - where I had barely enough energy to get out of bed. Juggling a full-time career, spending 2-3 hours a day in the gym, living on less than 1,000 calories and around 5g fat a day left me EXHAUSTED. Yet somehow, I pushed myself beyond my limits and made it to show day unscathed. I am beyond grateful for making it through without a single physical injury. Sure, I missed out on quite a few memories and my lady friend still hasn't returned, but all in all - my body and mind stayed strong and kept pushing... even when all I wanted to do was quit (which I debated daily!).

Maturity to Trust the Timing of My Life
This year, I finally stopped swimming up stream. I spent nearly the entire year single, embracing the opportunity to spend some time on myself. I taught barre, took some vacations, prepped for my first bikini competition, worked my tail off, received a promotion, sold my condo, bought and renovated a new (to me) home, nurtured relationships with friends and family and just "did me." I spent lots of time reflecting on past decisions, future desires, and worked on aspects of myself I was less than thrilled with. It's been an incredible journey - one that I am particularly proud of considering embracing singleness has always been a point of contention for me. I am beyond grateful I took the time and am so very excited to see what the future has in store for me. They say you have to be your own before you can be someone else's... and for the first time in a long time - I feel like I am the person that the person I am looking for is looking for. 

Well, friends... what are YOU thankful for??


Sunday, November 8, 2015

My First NPC Bikini Competition Recap!

I did it! On 10/31 I competed in my first NPC Bikini Fitness Competition at the Lee Haney Games here in Atlanta, GA. I competed in Bikini A Novice – for women under 35 years old, under 5’4 and placed in the top 5!

What an emotional experience prepping for my first competition has been. There were days I loved the process – there is something so empowering as a woman to uncover this raw inner strength we never knew resided within us. Then, as it got closer to my show date and I began the “cutting phase” of prep, there were days I struggled to get out of bed. Struggled to power through extreme fatigue and a brain fog I simply couldn’t shake. All in all, the experience was so rewarding, on so many levels.

  • I made some wonderful friends. There’s something comforting when you experience this with someone who can relate. These girls know what it’s like to go to bed starving, wake up with a rumbling belly and forcing yourself into the gym for hours when all you want to do is take a nap. These girls were my listening ear, confidants, and partners in and out of the gym for the past 6 months. They’re simply awesome – and we’ve already begun making memories outside of the gym that I cherish.

  • I uncovered willpower I never thought I had. Prior to this prep, I lived by mottos including: life is short, have dessert first! And treat yourself! You deserve it! I was awful about depriving myself. If I drove by Pinkberry on the way home and wanted it, I got it. If I was tired and felt like calling my lifting session short, or called it quits at mile 3 instead of pushing myself further, I stopped. This experience forced me to take this seriously. I knew I couldn’t “cheat” on the diet… I knew I couldn’t skip out on workouts. I was going to have to push myself. Push myself beyond every single limitation I ever placed on myself. There was going to be no “I can’t” or “I don’t want to.” I had to give it every single ounce I had. And I did. And it was fucking amazing. Now don’t get me wrong, eating chicken and cod and asparagus out of my microwave (I was living through a renovation the last month of prep) was not amazing. It was terrible. I cried. A lot. Dragging my exhausted ass to the gym for hours a day wasn’t fun towards the end. I had zero strength. Zero endurance. Deadlifts are some of my favorite moves – and I went from being able to pull 135lb for 10 reps no problem to struggling with 95lbs for one rep. Sometimes I felt so dizzy, other times my stomach grumbled so loudly I would troll Pinterest for hours… just looking at food I knew I couldn’t eat. But I realized just how strong I am. It’s mind over matter – and that transcends into various aspects of life beyond any fitness competition.
  • My confidence skyrocketed. I’ve briefly discussed my past struggles on this blog, but I battled a serious eating disorder for 10+ years of my life. It was awful. I just never felt confident in my own skin. I compared myself to other girls, I stared at my reflection in the mirror wondering why I couldn’t have slender hips and chiseled abs. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy – the feeling you get as a woman when you’d do anything – including risking your own health – to feel better about yourself. Throughout prep, my confidence soared. Sure, the comments and glances from men were nice, but it was seeing myself transform that really motivated me. I saw my body tone and tighten, and I saw my strength and endurance increase. For the first time in my 31 years, I was proud of the reflection that stared back at me. I felt beautiful in my skin – and that is priceless. In fact, I had a friend of mine - who happens to be an exceptionally talented photographer - offer to take some pictures the day after my show... and I'm in love with each shot more than the next. She hasn't had a chance to work her photoshop magic on my splotchy spray tan, but here is a sneak peak at some of my favorite shots:

Now, as I’ve always said, it hasn’t been all unicorns shitting rainbows. It’s been hard. And there have definitely been quite a few “lows” throughout the past 6 months.

  • I’ve isolated myself. I’ve declined invitations to bachelorette parties, vacations, dinners out, girl’s weekends, work trips and more. I’ve spent more Friday and Saturday nights alone on the couch than ever before. By the end of prep, I was so hungry and irritable, I stopped answering my phone and refused to return phone calls. I don’t like being a negative person and rather than project my grumpiness on anyone else, I abstained from communicating with the people I care about.
  • I created a body that isn’t sustainable. I’ll admit it – I love being as lean as I was show day. But the fact of the matter is, it’s not sustainable. I have zero desire to live a life of deprivation. I want the margarita. I want the fro yo. But I also want the abs. Well friends, you can’t have it all. So now I’m going to have to live life and figure out how to balance it all.
  • I’ve become shallow. It’s embarrassing to see how many of the pictures in my phone over the last 6 months are shirtless selfies. Every day I’d wake up, weigh myself and take a selfie to see my “progress.” What I want is a camera roll full of pictures of me and my loved ones, smiling, making once in a lifetime memories. So again, now I strive to live a life of balance – and stop putting my life on hold.

So, you must be reading this and wondering… “So Jenn, will you do it again?”

And the answer is probably. My goal over the next few months is to continue hitting the gym and building a bit of muscle in key areas including my delts, hamstrings and glutes. I’m going to indulge and let myself enjoy some treats I used to enjoy like frozen yogurt, petite filets, wine and margaritas but try and limit my indulgences so I can maintain some sort of lean physique over the holidays.

If I do another prep, I’d like it to be with a IIFYM approach. I did my last prep with a “clean eating” and “elimination diet” and I don’t think I would or could do it again. I don’t have the desire to eliminate complete food groups from my diet nor do I think it’s necessary. Plenty of people compete using an “If It Fits Your Macros” approach – meaning they track their macronutrients including calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates. And as long as they calories out exceed their calories in, they can eat any food groups they choose. Coming from someone who hasn’t had a banana in nearly 6 months, I’d say IIFYM sounds pretty damn good to me.

So there’s my recap, folks! I must say yet again – thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you for all of your support and kind words throughout this whole journey. I’ve kept every note, every voicemail. I cherish my friends who came out and sat for 5 hours on show day waiting for me to come out and strut myself nearly naked for 5 minutes on stage.

My desire for balance transcends into every aspect of life, including this blog. I’m excited to resume writing about life, love and everything in between and sharing it all with you along the way.