For most of my adolescent years and early twenties, I thought people’s bodies; their shapes, leanness or fatness, muscularity or lack thereof, was mostly luck and genes. I thought their abilities – speed, strength, power, agility, and endurance were evolutionary poker and if you weren’t dealt a good hand, you were fucked. I really believed this, although it wasn’t a conscious belief, which made it even more insidious and limiting. I didn’t know anything about lifting or nutrition, or how my lifestyle and beliefs about myself were affecting my mind, body and spirit. I didn’t know a goddamn thing. I know slightly more than a goddamn thing now, and through about five years of education, experimentation, and a remarkable amount of work, this is where I’m at now:
I’m 5’8 ¾ , right now I’m around 170 lbs, and I’m pretty muscular, with relatively low bodyfat. I can deadlift a little over double my bodyweight, I can farmer carry 2.5 times my bodyweight, I can carry 250 lbs in my arms for a pretty long time, and I can put about my bodyweight over my head (my max barbell clean and jerk is 161 lbs). Not too bad for somebody who spent critical athletic development years slumped over in a desk and behind a computer.
I drink a little, I eat a lot, and I train like it’s my job. But I was not always this way.
I’ve discussed my history with depression and shitty habits on IG in short spurts, but I haven’t ever laid out a complete physical history, to my knowledge. This is important to me with regard to how people craft their understanding of me, in so much as that they view me as someone who has some kind of physical capacity beyond the average, or uncanny predisposition toward gaining muscle, and not what I really am, which is someone with very average capacities who created a much higher physical ceiling by working like an insane person.
I had never maintained a consistent exercise habit since preadolescence (which was the usual running around that little kids do, in addition to a little bit of sports; I was lucky to participate in a variety of activities, principally softball, snowboarding, and a little horseback riding for a few years). I had a decent base of childhood variability, so I wasn’t, you know, literally handicapped. But I was not some prodigy or even just someone to whom athletics came easily. By the time I was 23 and out of college (acting conservatory), it had been at least seven years since I had had some kind of routine physical activity. My job in a bar kept me on my feet, and carrying boxes of liquor and trays of beer pitchers up and down stairs was the most strenuous it got. That was something, and I’m grateful for it in retrospect.
I was not an athlete. My teen and college years, from a physical standpoint were utterly wasted in terms of development. I felt slow, and disconnected from my body. I refer to those years as my “brain in a jar” years. I thought that fitness was something that some people were “just” good at; and some people weren’t. I did not know that women could grow muscle intentionally; I thought girls could only looked muscular and athletic if you grew up practicing an extreme sport like gymnastics from the age of 6 or so. I didn’t even think about this too hard, because sports didn’t interest me much, although action movies did. I filed away characters like Sarah Connor and Trinity and the X-Men in the back of my mind as aspirations; but aspirations I didn’t know how to get to. Like many young girls, my ideas of what I should look like was aggressively held hostage by Hollywood standards of model thinness.
Without going into my whole mental health saga; I’ll boil it down to contextual essentials. Depression kicked in pretty hard in high-school, and would come and go over the next few years. The end of a catastrophically bad relationship in 2012 woke me the fuck up to the mediocre hellscape that I was allowing my life to become, and therapy in 2013, as well as the journal-keeping habit I developed in college, helped get a better understanding of why I kept repeating some patterns. Around that time, I decided that even though I really hated what my life was, I could start experimenting, because I had nothing to lose.
For as long as I can remember, I have had a distinct idea-feeling of what I now refer to as my “Higher Self”, a version of me that reflects all my best qualities, fully manifested and realized, and I’ve always felt like it was my duty in life to try to bring forth that person, by whatever means I could. This idea is somewhat more articulated now, and was more of a hazy feeling back in 2012. More on that in another post at some point. Basically I felt a deep yearning to better myself and become the most advanced version of myself possible.
I had no idea where to start, so naturally, I turned to the internet. So in 2012 I started reading some blogs, NerdFitness.com, JamesClear.com (thanks Dad for the rec), and ImpossibleHQ.com , all of which I’m happy to say are all still thriving businesses, and rightly so. These guys all had the right message rolled out when I needed it most: If you decide, you can change your whole life and be whatever you want to be, if you work hard and pick a direction to work toward.
It may sound funny, but the first post that really stood out to me was one on ImpossibleHQ about getting visible abs. The author embarked on a fitness regimen with that as the sole goal, and he presented it as “Why not? Get you some abs if you want ‘em!” rather than much of the current cautionary tale of “That’s an unrealistic goal,” and “you’ll have to suffer too much, don’t pick that as a goal, that’s stupid.” I didn’t care if it was stupid; it was something I could aim toward that I found motivating. I thought seeing my abs would prove to me that I could make a tangible physical change; which would mean that my will had power to, well, make change. And guess what? It did.
While I certainly had my fair share of body-hate to undo that I would address later as I came to love barbell training and strongman, “getting abs” served at the time as something I could hold in my minds eye and aim toward. After all, like most humans, I am hyper visually oriented, and I found visual goals, while somewhat harder to quantify than weight on a bar, very intrinsically motivating. In general, these days I care far more about what I’m lifting than what my bodyfat percentage is, and I’m very happy with that, but understand that my INITIAL real commitment to a program was born out of a simple, common, aesthetic desire: visible abs.
As a side note, if you are a trainer or coach and someone comes to you and says, “I want to see my abs,” try to resist the impulse to tell them that that’s not a good goal. Maybe it’s not, but let them re-orient their own goals gradually, and don’t be so quick to be the “expert.” I was not an expert, but I knew what I wanted, and I got what I wanted, and it was an incredibly empowering experience. If I had gone to some dip-shit trainer who told me, “Well, it’s hard for chicks to lose belly-fat, and you’re very untrained, so set your bar lower,” I might have been very discouraged from every proving to myself that I could make big changes if I simply decided to and committed to a program.
I didn’t even use ImpossibleHQ’s program (because it cost money and I was pretty broke), but I committed hard to at least a 30 day stretch of consistent working out and eating well. I followed a DIY beginner bodyweight workout protocol from NerdFitness, I implemented strict paleo diet(meat, nuts, legumes and veggies, no added sugar, no alcohol, no dairy, very minimal grains), AND intermittent fasting (IF), keeping my eating windows around 8 hours, and I started paying attention to small lifestyle factors that I had never really tried to control before. I was dieting in that I was following a type of diet or nutrition regimen, it was not a diet in the sense of most mainstream/fad diets (“Just 20 days! Cut out all carbs!” or that sort of thing).
I was really trying. James Clear’s blog had a ton of awesome articles on mindset, habit-stacking, and other things I found helpful. I can’t tell you how delighted I am that these 3 businesses are all still booming, because as far as I’m concerned, they deserve it. They all helped me immeasurably. Clear’s new book, Atomic Habits, is a must read for anyone who wants to start making changes, big or small.
Okay, so I committed to this month, and then what? Well, I went hard in the paint. I lost a ton of body-fat, and started developing some muscle. I cooked up my plan in July, and implemented hard in August through October, when I would be acting in my first feature film; an artsy indie thriller produced by famous LES NYC burlesque club The Slipper Room. In that film I played one of cast of eclectic performers, and got the scanty and hilarious costumes to match. Knowing that I would likely be wearing something along those lines; I had a pretty good incentive to get confident in my body; and I knew that confidence would only come if I put in the work and started seeing results. So I did.
I suppose one question for anyone who is looking to get started with big lifestyle changes, is how did you stick to implementing these drastic changes, and I’ll discuss that in part II of this series.
Pt II coming soon.