Meet my cousin Anna. A person with a heart of gold and dedication to health and fitness.
She spends her free time in the weight room and continues to build her strength every day. She is an active person with a great mindset and understands the importance of nutrition. But, it wasn’t always this way.
A number of years ago, she had a wake-up call. That eye-opening moment that presents us with a choice to change or continue down a path that takes us further away from who we want to be.
At the time, Anna was working at a bar and she was living an unhealthy lifestyle. The bar life promotes many unhealthy opportunities to eat fried food and have a few drinks after her shift with co-workers. If you have worked in the restaurant industry, you know how that is.
But something was wrong.
She felt like shit day in and day out and was gaining weight. It was hard to maintain her health at the time because she didn’t have a strong sense of what that meant. She knew what needed to be done but her mind was too cloudy and she little energy to put toward it.
Then, the realization hit Anna. It was time to make a change. She was going to lose the weight and began to stack the conditions in her favor.
Like most, she looked to exercise beyond all others with great confidence. If others could do it, she sure as shit could. And rightfully so.
“I thought I could fix everything with exercise. I have a strong will, if they could do it I could do it no problem. This will be a piece of cake.”
But it wasn’t. And besides, how do you know what you’re doing is the right thing?
Frustrated by the lack of quality information in popular health magazines and the uncertainty of online articles, Anna took a different approach.
She found a highly respected professional in the weightlifting field and bought his book. The next few months she would only focus on this ONE thing. Weight loss through weightlifting.
The book of choice was one by a true professional in weightlifting, Alwyn Cosgrove. She picked up a copy of his book the New rules of Weightlifting for Women. Although she went into her weight loss journey thinking cardio would be the main thing that would produce results, but this was partially true. One of the many misconceptions of weightlifting and women.
This book identified and proved wrong the belief that women will “bulk” up if they lift heavy weights. It emphasized that muscles need to be strengthened to achieve a lean, healthy body because properly conditioned muscles increase metabolism and promote weight loss.
And she was quite good throwing the weights around too. So much so, her initial perspective started to change. Instead of focusing on weight loss, it became more about getting stronger and seeing how far she could take her strength.
She knew that doing so would help her lose weight along the way so she focused on her strengths (no pun intended) instead of fixating on what she hated to do in exercise.
However, every great story has its struggle. Her first one was overcoming the judgment women get in the gym (something even men face). She wasn’t comfortable with her body and working out in a huge gym like LA Fitness was intimidating. Whenever you walk into a gym full of fit people, you get a weird vibe of feeling judged.
“There were many times where I walked in the door and took a look around at everybody and walked right back out. It was hard at first.”
So how do you overcome these feelings?
Anna believes that one of the instrumental pieces to her success, in the beginning, was having a gym partner. Someone who shared the same interest as her and was focused on similar goals. Together, they worked out and stuck with it day after day.
Having that “gym buddy” and not going in alone can make all the difference. But as time went on, her training partner dropped off and she was faced with the tough decision to keep pushing or to join her on the sidelines too.
Of course, she stuck with it. Why give up now?
As she grew stronger, she realized that her initial views were misguided. Up to this point, the focus had been mainly exercise. She would never be able to achieve the results she wanted by only focusing on one piece of her health. It takes nutrition, the proper mindset, and exercise to achieve the results you desire.
As Anna began to look more into nutrition and how it could compliment her goals in weightlifting, the real results started happening. She was progressing great.
Until she wasn’t.
Despite doing everything right, she still felt off. She had meal prepped, was eliminating the wrong foods, nailing her macronutrients but nothing seemed to bust through that infamous plateau.
She completely cut out alcohol during this 5 year time period, she reduced all of her sugar intakes, and it was a constant battle of trying to find the right nutritional balance for her body.
“I was doing all of the right things. I was dedicated and disciplined to my exercise and nutrition but my body continued to be stubborn. After years of frustration, I decided to look into it.”
She was told by doctor after doctor and test after test that the problem “was all in her head.” Since they couldn’t find anything wrong with her, they continued to send her down the road with a “suck it up” diagnosis. One that provided little value or actionable steps forward.
“What helped me the most was sticking to paleo principles. That is, no grains or dairy because these were acting up my stomach issues. What helped me the most was cutting out sugar. When I eliminated most of the sugar I was eating, it was life changing. I felt incredible.”
At the time, autoimmune diseases weren’t a prevalent diagnosis in the medical field. And it turns out, this was exactly what she had. It is something that she continues to struggle with today. Despite the diagnosis, it didn’t stop her from playing the victim. She kept pushing.
The stress multiplier
Of course, the struggles only are magnified when you throw in 12-hour shifts. Working as a security guard at a nuclear power plant allows almost zero flexibility on hours. Long nights and a high-stress environment weren’t helping her become who she wanted to be. She was unable to achieve her goals outside of work and her health was suffering because there was no time to nurture her body.
She found that in addition to her autoimmune disease caused problems the added stress from her work made her stomach issues even worse.
Then came the realization that in order to achieve a more balanced schedule (and life), she would have to sacrifice her great paying job and find something that was going to make her happier. That freedom which would allow her to pursue her passions in weightlifting and health. A freedom that helped reduce her stress to enable her to accomplish the many things in life she sets out to.
A tough pill to swallow for someone as ambitious as her.
The growth mindset
Through all of this, I asked her, what kept you pushing forward? Anna responded,
“It is easy to seek instant gratification but life is a long game. You have to create goals for yourself every step of the way. Goals that are not written down are just wishes.”
She recommends everyone revisits their goal each day. Her method was to visualize and burn them into her memory by putting it in front of her face each day. She tied incredible emotion to the goal so each time she saw it, she remembered her purpose. It consumed her and constantly pushed her forward.
When I asked what she felt her strengths were, Anna mentioned that without a strong support system around her, she wouldn’t be where she is today. By surrounding herself with like-minded people and those who spend their lives growing in health, she has learned so much about herself. Including the proper mechanics of weightlifting and the importance of patience in life and the gym.
All because she made a choice that got her out of her comfort zone which helped her grow as a person.
Most importantly, she found that when you surround yourself with the things you love, you come away with so much more. Now happily in a relationship, her and her BF Eric, continue forward with their shared passion for weightlifting and health.
While she doesn’t know what and if anything will ever fix her stomach issues, she focuses on the things she can control. She can lift weights to get healthy. Nutrition can be an overarching staple in her life. Taking back that control puts her one step closer to accomplishing everything she wants in life.
This is a SKIED mentality.
Anna has demonstrated time and time again that we must never accept our health misfortunes and that we always have a choice. Despite her constant struggle with leading a stress-free and stomach pain-free life, she knew that it provides the best opportunity to unlock her greatness when she chooses her wellness.
This is wellness.
Although she may have taken a step back in her career, she took a leap forward in life. In fact, she recently got a new job. She now has the time to pursue the things she is most interested in her life and career.
Now, she can focus on the things that will provide her the most value and open up opportunities into the future. She has taken back control of her routine.
It is not a one-step approach and it is ever adapting. In the beginning, Anna went in with the same mindset as others, she realized that without the right mindset and a nutritional strategy that worked for her, her progress will suffer.
The difference between her and many others? She never gave up. This health journey wasn’t always easy and it continues to be rocky. In life, career, and health, all of the problems we face are magnified without our wellness. We must never try to ignore it and continue forward without it.
We can be so driven by our ambitions that we forget about the importance of our wellness. We forget that we need incredible energy and strength to overcome the biggest challenges in life. The same energy and strength that frees us up to pursue our passions. To be truly happy we have to feel our best. And when we feel our best, we can perform at the highest level.
Wellness is different for everyone. What is yours? I would love to hear your story!