Fitness Fact and Fiction

It boggles my mind really that there are so many misconceptions to working out and living a healthy life style. I don’t know why it boggles my mind really, because I too watch the infomercials and am intrigued by the buzz words they choose to use to sell their products. The uninformed public desperate to lose weight and feel good again takes these things to heart because they are bombarded by the fancy “science” and guys in lab coats. I am going to try today to dispel some of these myths by separating fact from fiction and helping people create a better understanding of how the body works and what REALLY happens when you workout.

Let’s Start very simple: 1. Fat DOES NOT turn into muscle or vise versa. Fat and muscle are two completely separate organs. They have two completely different functions in the body and it’s important not to confuse them. Fats primary roll in the body is to create a cushion and protect vital organs. It helps to transport fat soluble vitamins and is necessary for insulation and temperature control in the body. Muscle on the other hand is a support system, it helps keep your bones erect it provides your body with stability and it is actively moving and changing. Muscle uses food as fuel where fat on the other hand, just absorbs the excess causing it to expand. So you ask, what happens to fat as you get more fit? Simple, the fat cells shrink. See you are born with a set number of fat cells and depending on how active or inactive you are they either expand or contract. When you eat, two things happen. One, some of the food gets stored in the body in its most basic form and then two, the rest of it gets used up to provide you with energy. If you consume to much food your fat cells expand to accommodate the extra energy your body is not using. As you become more active your body turns to those fat stores and begins to use the reserve to fuel your body hence the fat cells shrink. As fat cells shrink, and you build the muscle that is under it, you start to see the definition of the muscle as it hypertrophies(gets bigger). Since muscle uses more energy than fat, your metabolism speeds up and you use the energy you take in more efficiently there for keeping the fat cells from expanding.

2. You CAN NOT spot reduce. Spot reduction simply means that you want to shape or mold one part of your body specifically. This is not possible. Your body moves as a unit. Some areas will change faster than others and a million crunches and biceps curls will not give you shapely arms or washboard abs on their own. A few other things have to be put into place before you start to see either change. Also as a disclaimer, genetics plays a role in this as well so you may be doing all of the things I’m about to mention and still never get a six pack….I’ll explain later. Lets start with diet. As I stated earlier, if you are consuming more energy that you need you are just going to continue to stretch your fat cells. Second remember how I said that muscles use more energy than fat, well when it comes to muscles, bigger muscles burn more overall calories that smaller ones. So If your eating is out of whack and you are blowing out biceps curls hoping for supermodel arms….it aint happen-in! Let’s think about this. Biceps are small muscles they are not going to use as much energy as say your legs for instance. Also your building your muscles that are under the fat that is laying on top of them so instead of making your arms smaller you can actually make them bigger because the fat cells are not shrinking and your building the muscle under it. Oops! not what we were going for. However, if you combine cardiovascular activity such as the walking or running or elliptical, you will be using more energy which will help to shrink the fat cells in your body there for showing off all the hard work of repping out biceps curls. Same can be said for the abs as well. If you do not incorporate cardiovascular activity and healthy food choices your abdominal’s will be ultra strong from the crunches but the fat that is on top will not go away! So add a little cardio and some fruits and veggies to your diet and you will get a leaner physique. Now going back to the genetics. Some peoples bodies are just not predisposed to having certain muscle definition. Flat abs is possible, because you are shrinking the fat cells that lay on top of the abdominal wall. However, the six pack look may vary, some may only get a four pack or some may not get any distinct definition at all… really it just depends on your body type and how your muscles respond to your weight lifting efforts.

3. Women, lifting heavy weights is NOT going to make you look like a man: Oh if I could collect a quarter every time I heard that, I swear I would be freaking rich! Seriously, this is a huge misconception and yes I would be rich off of collecting quarters because that is how often I hear this. I don’t know where it came from or where women get this idea, but HONESTLY, I am about to dispel this myth for you so that you too are not afraid to pick up heavy weights!

First, from a hormonal stand point women, do not have the same amount of testosterone as men.

Second women are not physically built the same as a man.

Third, diet and sometimes, supplements are what can be attributed to large muscular physiques. Testosterone, a hormone that can be found in men and women, but more so in men. It is what gives men their masculine characteristics. It also helps with bone mass and muscle growth. Since men have more testosterone than women it plays a more primary roll in men’s muscle development, along with other male sex characteristics. Since women have less testosterone, physically, women have both a smaller bone structure and physique than a man. This smaller bone structure has a harder time handling the forces that heavy bulky muscles put on your body. While women are able to put on muscle mass and look muscular it is only in proportion to their size.

I know your skeptical…hold on I know what you are thinking! “What about female body builders?” OK, I am just about to address that next. OK, your female body builder question, a women does have the ability to drastically increase their muscle mass to be similar in size to a man, however, this takes extreme dedication, strict diet adherence, and even sometimes the use of supplements. Women body builders not only lift heavy weights but they also lift very very frequently, sometimes for hours at a time. Body builders also adhere to a very strict diet. Many consuming upward of 3000 calories a day. You see, muscle thrives on fuel and it is very important that body builders keep their muscles well fed. Sometimes women who body build also use muscle enhancers such as creatine a steroid like substance that helps to promote muscle hypertrophy. Getting the body builder physique takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Many general exercisers are not consuming the amounts of food that these competitors are ingesting and they do not have the time of day or desire to be spending hours in the gym. On the same token, many average women exercisers are not taking muscle enhancers or supplements unless hopefully under the supervision of a doctor. So hopefully this helps to quell your fear of getting big and bulky.

So what have we learned today from all of this?

First, muscle and fat are not interchangeable.

Second, if you want to see changes in one area of your body you have to work the whole body.

Third, women should not fear bulking up, instead, they should feel confident that lifting heavier weights is going to make them stronger, leaner and longer.

I hope that this helps you move forward in your weight loss and weight lifting efforts. Its been a pleasure helping you dispel some of these myths! Have a happy healthy holiday!

Written By Julie S.


Personal Trainers…Staying in Our Scope of Practice

With more and more gyms requiring personal trainers to get certified, it still baffles my mind that so many of these personal trainers still do things that are outside their scope of practice. In this blog post I am going to discuss areas where personal trainers tend to step outside their scope of practice and how you can pin point it.With more and more gyms requiring personal trainers to get certified, it still baffles my mind that so many of these personal trainers still do things that are outside their scope of practice. In this blog post I am going to discuss areas where personal trainers tend to step outside their scope of practice and how you can pin point it.
With this being said, I know that many personal trainers pair their services with other things that they are licensed to do like chiropractic, physical therapy, dietetics etc. This does not apply to them. They obviously are trained professionals in their field and are highly qualified to do what they do.

This article is geared towards those trainers that “think” that they are qualified without having the proper licensure or credentials, and how you can stay safe by knowing the difference. Personal Trainers who crack your back or joints, or give you a massage after your workout. It is unethical for a personal trainer to engage in this activity even if they have had some “training” on it. Adjustments, and massage therapy work should be done by those who are properly educated with licensure to do so.A friend of mine who is a licensed chiropractor was in the gym and she saw a personal trainer ask their client to lay on the floor while he proceeded to crack this clients back.

Later on when she was telling us of this she very clearly explained why this was inappropriate for the trainer to be doing so.

1. They are not a health care professional (chiropractor or physical therapist.)

2. While she can assume that as a personal trainer this person has some knowledge of the human body, this does not give them permission to perform such treatments.

3. This personal trainer could have popped the clients rib, dislocated a disc, or punctured an organ.

This is very serious business and as personal trainers our MAIN responsibility, in my opinion is to provide safe and effective training programs. This clearly crosses many legal and ethical lines! Don’t let anyone but a chiropractor, or physical therapist perform this on you!

2. Massage treatments, what harm could come from muscle manipulation? It seems harmless right? Well it’s not! Improper manipulation of musculature could cause nerves to be pinched or joints dislocated. There is a reason why Massage therapists need to get licensed! A personal story from a personal client of mine. We will call her “Abby.”

Abby went to a salon where they were allowing their new massage therapists to offer free chair massages. She thought she would give it a try. Not being seasoned, the massage therapist had her sit in the massage chair and without asking if she needed adjustments to the chair, the massage therapist began her work. When she was done, my client got up, and finished her appointment with her hairdresser.
A day later, Abby felt a pain in her hip and there was a bruise where she had been leaning up against the massage chair. Slightly freaked out because it hurt to sit, stand, or bend, she called her physical therapist. After the physical therapist did her assessment, she assured my client that no real damage had been made, and that the most likely cause was that the massage therapist, being new, probably should have taken the time to assess the chair because when she applied pressure to Abby, the hip bone was pressing into part of the chair that was not as well padded.

Now I understand you are probably thinking well that has nothing to do with personal trainers. Well it does, because you see, if an unseasoned massage therapist can make that mistake and she is licensed, think about the damage that a personal trainer, who is not properly trained or unlicensed can do. Not to mention it is beyond their scope of practice as a personal trainer to be doing such things so keep that in mind the next time your personal trainer offers to give you a massage at the end of your workout.

3. Personal Trainers who give meal plans that are not registered dietitians. I see this all the time. Personal trainers telling clients what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner because that is what they ate to see the results that they have.

As a personal trainer, yes it is part of our job description to talk about nutrition and eating healthfully. However, beyond that it’s really not in a personal trainers scope of practice. Why? What is so harmful about telling people what to eat? A few things

  1. Everyone’s physiology is different. How we process food is different for each person and our nutritional needs are different. Yes there are a few commonalities among all of us, such as well all need to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and we should all strive for high fiber foods, etc. However, there may be some things that differ such as food allergies and intolerance that prevent people from eating certain foods.
  2. People may be harboring illnesses that do not have visible outward signs or they may not know themselves that they are in the process of developing conditions. Altering a persons diet without having a full understanding of a persons health history and how components of food can alter a persons health can be detrimental.
  3. The ONLY people that should be administering food menu’s are those that are licensed to do so with the proper education and training. Registered Dietitians go through rigorous training to understand how the human body works and how food can react in the body.

I will give you an example, it’s a bit extreme, but I feel that in order to make a point it is important to really see the damage that can be done when personal trainers start giving menu’s to their clients.

**This is not a true story**
Jenna, 54 years old, about 40 lbs over weight comes to you the personal trainer for help with weight loss. As far as she is concerned, she is healthy and has no health issues that she is aware of, but then again, she has not been to the doctors in a few years.
She asks you to give her a meal plan as part of her program to help her with her weight loss. You are not a registered dietitian. You have been doing research on different diets and you decide on one that worked well for you, so you give it to her as part of her plan.
With in a week or so of starting the diet she starting noticing that her hair was falling out, that she was feeling weak and tired all the time. Worried that she might be sick she finally caves and goes to see her doctor. Upon further review, it turns out that the diet that worked so well for you was missing nutrients, vitamins, minerals etc. That she needed for her body to function properly. Noticing the recent weight loss, he orders a few more blood tests and then he refers her to a dietitian. The dietitian analyses her diet and realizes that she is severely deficient in several key nutrients that are necessary for hair growth and decreasing fatigue.

This is bad news for the personal trainer because if the dietitian makes mention that the personal trainer should have had Jenna go see a registered dietitian right off the bat, then Jenna would have been saved a lot of time and money not to mention the health scare. Jenna extremely upset, decided that she needs to take action and she files a law suit against you as a personal trainer for neglect and malpractice.

See what I am getting at here? 1. You have stepped over your scope of practice by offering a meal plan that was not approved by a dietitian. 2. You put yourself in a situation that easily could have been avoided. 3. You jeopardized another humans health and well-being.
These are only just a few of the things that you should be keeping your eye out for when looking for a personal trainer. Here is what you can do to keep yourself safe. If your personal trainer offers to crack your back, give you a massage or offer to manipulate your skeletal or musculature in any way ALWAYS ask if they are licensed to do so. Meaning they can provide PROOF that they are licensed, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists. If they can not do this and you like them as a personal trainer kindly reject the offer. If you don’t feel that you have a connection with the trainer feel free to start looking elsewhere!

  • Instead of asking your trainer for a meal plan, ask them to refer you to a dietitian or ask if they know one who they can refer you to. If they offer to provide a meal plan to you, ask if they are licensed and registered to do so. Meaning the have a degree in nutrition management AND they did the proper requirements that all registered dietitians are mandated to take  AND they have taken their boards to be certified. If one or ALL of those components are missing kindly say thanks but no thanks and talk with your physician about getting a referral.

I hope that after reading this article you can feel confident that your personal trainer will surround you with a team of professionals including themselves in helping you achieve your goals. A great personal trainer knows when to refer out. A great personal trainer always has your best interests in mind and a great personal trainer will ALWAYS know how to stay within their scope of practice.


There’s NEVER a GOOD TIME to Start

There is never a good time to start anything. There will always be things that stand in your way. That is just how it is and how it will always be. But here’s the thing, when you do start, that will be the perfect time. Why, because when you decide to start, you have decided that you are ready to take on obstacles, ready to forge forward, ready to see success.

There are so many times that I said, well when the time is right I will have a baby, I will lose weight, I will start a business, I will…But each time I embarked on any of those things the time was far from right. But it became right because it was something that I decided was something I wanted.

When you truly want something the right time is not important. I knew that I wanted to have a baby. I thought that the best time for that would be when my business was thriving and everything was going well. Well, when I found out I was pregnant, things could not have been further from going well. I was struggling financially, my business was struggling and it was not how I had pictured when I would get pregnant. During my pregnancy, I was sick all the time, we closed the business down, I was back to traveling around, I had to take a bridge job, and my student loans were piled miles high.  But, I wanted to have a child, I wanted that family, I wanted to be a mom. I made it work, I make it work. Now, almost a year and a half later, my business is thriving, my clients love my daughter, my student loan payments are under control again and I am making money doing what I love, along with being the mom I always wanted to be!

I was 21 years old, I was in college, I was 50 lbs over weight. I knew how I got there, I knew what I needed to do, but I was in college. College food, drinking with friends, late night stops at fast food joints. That was by far the worst time to want to lose weight, but I wanted it…I could not stand being heavy. I took my first aerobics class, I was so sore, but I felt so good. Then I started watching what I was eating making better choices with food, and cutting back on the weekend drinking. I lost 20 lbs in the course of a year and graduated feeling better about myself. I continued to exercise and eating healthfully after college, and before I knew it, I was down 30 lbs. I had lost all the weight I had gained plus some. I have been able to maintain my weight for 12 years. It took dedication, it took discipline, but I did it. It was not glamorous, it was not easy, but I did it.

I guess what I am trying to get at is that there is never a perfect, good or right time to do anything. Everyday that you get out of bed you make the decision to either do what you have always done and get what you always get, or you can do something extraordinary to change your circumstances for the better. Will you get it right off the bat, probably not, will you hit obstacles? YES! What you choose to do when you hit those blocks will determine your success. I can say from experience that we are our own road blocks and until we get out of our own way and allow ourselves to be bigger than our blocks, it is then we will find success on the other side.

Happy NEW YEAR!! Namaste


You Have A Choice

I know that I am taking a flying leap here especially when the holidays are right around the corner, but I want to put a spin on it. I say flying leap because I know the thought process and many of you will think I am trying to be overly optimistic when in reality, I am merely re-framing it and taking another perspective. You can choose to agree or choose to agree to disagree or just disagree but just like the title of this post. “You have a choice.”

As a personal trainer and yoga teacher it is always right around this time that people are ready to get back into the routine of a regular fitness and yoga practice but at the same time they are bombarded by the challenges that comes around at this time of the year. Some of the things I hear from clients is,

” I want to start losing weight, I want to start getting back into shape, but (sigh) it is just so hard with the kids schedules and holiday’s right around the corner. I mean, first it starts with Halloween with the kids bringing candy into the house, then Thanksgiving with all that food, followed by Christmas and New Years Parties, it just seems endless and impossible to to start a program right now.”

The intentions start out so positive and then slowly they spiral into the negative, as if for some reason, the holiday’s are to blame for people to not continue making good choices. Don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday’s and I will be the first one to indulge in foods that I only get once a year, but what I think sets me and my mindset apart from the rest and keeps me moving in the direction of leading a healthy lifestyle, is that 1. I choose to not see food as good or bad. 2. I give myself the permission to make the choices I want to make. 3. I know that each day I am presented with an opportunity to continue on with a lifestyle that is not limited or confined restricted.

This is where I take that flying leap. I say that because I feel like sometimes when I say this, people look at me like I have my head on backwards or that I am overly optimistic or they give me that look that screams…well you are a personal trainer and yoga teacher, you HAVE to eat that way, you HAVE to be fit, you HAVE to make good choices, you HAVE to do it because it is part of your job.  Well here’s the thing, I do not HAVE to do ANY of those things. I CHOOSE to do those things. I Choose to make healthier choices when it comes to food. I choose to eat the right portion sizes and I choose to stay fit, and I choose to work in this profession. Here’s the other bit of advice, when you look at something as having to start that means you anticipate there being an end and when it comes to living the best and healthiest and fullest life possible there is no end. Once you decide that you want to make changes then those changes need to stick with you through thick and thin, through good times and bad. Those changes are being made to allow you to live fully, give fully, and be everything that you want to be.

So with that being said, I am going to state the obvious, when you are ready to start, it will not be the perfect time, when you are ready to make changes, there are going to be hurdles that stand in your way. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, birthday parties, parties in general, are not going away. They are always going to be with us. How we choose to manage those holidays and events while still being able to enjoy them is what will allow us to stick with our choice to live a healthy life. Here’s the thing, we are not incapable of achieving our goals and dreams, how we choose to react in times that challenge us and the conscious and even subconscious decisions we make are what influence how successful we are.

When it comes to taking care of ourselves and making healthy choices we can not afford to make choices that are going to hurt us. Even though, it might be the cheaper, easier or quicker option, down the road those choices will catch up to us. I do not know about you, but I want to know that I am making choices today that are going to save me time, money, and energy in the future. Just because it is easier cheaper and quicker now, could ultimately lead it to be longer, harder stays in the hospital or doctor visits, more expensive medical bills and paying for medications I could have avoided and now everything goes slower because I have pills to take, doctors visits to make, and that is time and energy that is out the window when I could have been enjoying my time doing something I enjoyed.

A lifestyle change is something we must not take lightly. It is not something you start and stop and start and stop, even though with the bumps and blocks life throws at us it can feel that way. I would encourage you to think about your journey more as weaving a little to the right or left, but always staying consistent to yourself. There is no track, there is just a way of life. If you are not on a track or wagon, you can not fall off you can not lose your way. You are just moving in one direction, the direction of living a quality life. I think that part of the problem is that so many diet programs and our culture in general like to put dates on things and likes to say this is the best time to start, this is bad, this is good, this is right, this is wrong. Everything when it comes to living a healthy life it seems is either black or white.

As a personal trainer and yoga teacher, I work daily to change peoples mindsets and perceptions around this concepts. When a clients tells me that they were bad and at all the wrong things. I quickly come back to them with the questions, well why do you think that YOU were bad, or why do you think you did ALL the wrong things? They always are a bit confused at first, but then they realize that what they are saying is coming from a place of all or nothing, from a place of black and white with no shades of gray. This is an important realization because they need to realize that eating foods that are not the healthiest on occasion does not make them bad people, it does not make them incapable of making good choices, it merely means that there were no other options available at the given time or that on occasion we can enjoy foods that should be kept in moderation. When you re-frame your situation to a more positive mindset, you will be more likely to continue with the healthy lifestyle that you started.

You will have people that try and convince you other wise to deviate from making good choices. Or it will seem that way. I encourage you to re-frame how they are approaching you. You must understand that because of the stigma of eating healthy and living a healthful life has, people are more likely to feel insecure and or even awkward. That is their insecurity not yours. That is their feeling and because it makes them feel uncomfortable they are going to do what they can to make you feel like you are the one who is being “weird” or deflecting their feelings on to you to make you uncomfortable. That is when you must pull yourself by the boot straps and let them know that you are making choices that are in the long term bettering your life. Either they accept it or they don’t. Not your problem. You can nicely even let them know that you are fine eating a piece of cake a birthday party or enjoying a glass of wine with a nice dinner but those are occasional things and that in general you are being more conscious of the choices you are making. Again, either they will accept it and leave it be, or they won’t. Again, not your problem it is their issue.

You are your best advocate for a life that is the greatest it can possibly be. You are your own best friend when it comes to taking care of yourself. I encourage you to be more mindful of your choices. Take a look at the impulsive and subconscious choices you are making and try to understand why you are making that choice, is it a habit, is it something you need to be more conscious of? Think about how you want to retrain and rephrase your words in your head to be more positive about the changes that you are making. Today is your day to saying YES to conscious eating choices. Today is your day to move forward in living a life that is the best possible. You have amazing things to accomplish and things to do and awesome things to experience. Live each day fully with the mind set of nourishing your body with foods that are going to allow you to do all of it!

Namaste! Jules


Too Tired to Exercise?

This morning started at 4:30 am with the alarm clock ringing by my side I reached over to turn it off and began to start my day. Breakfast check, coffee check, bag packed check. Out the door and on the road to my first shift. At 8:30 am I am off again to another destination. With each progressing hour, I get a little more heavy eyed. By 10:00 am I am back home for a break and ready to crash. No, I can’t, not yet anyways, I still have to get my cardio session in.

Even as a personal trainer I find myself lacking the motivation to put in the time. However, I know it’s important so I catch up on some email pay a few bills and then make my way over to the bike to log in my time. Thirty minutes, that’s nothing, I can do this easy. I start pedaling the bike and that first revolution feels like I had never set foot on the machine before, ugh this is gonna be the longest half hour ever.I know I  have to be back to work in two hours so I continue pedaling along feeling the sweat dripping from my forehead, I begin to pick up speed. I start moving faster and each revolution gets just a bit easier.

No longer do my legs feel like lead and im keeping a good clip. I get a second wind and before I know it the timer beeps and I am done. I sit there a minute, tired but invigorated because I pushed through and accomplished what I had said I would do. I was excited that I held myself accountable and completed what I set out to do.

The second half of my day also moved along much quicker because I felt good. I had energy to get things done. Was I tired at the end of my day, yes, but was it in vain? Absolutely not!! I would take this kind of tired any day knowing that it was because I worked fitness into my day and it gave me the boost I needed. I am a well deserved tired and for that, now I can take a little rest and feel good about my decision!What I am trying to say is that it is possible to do things you didn’t think you could do. Seriously, I thought I would rather sit on the couch this morning than sweat it out on the bike it just seemed to be too much work. I didn’t sit the morning away though, and you don’t have to either! You too can get up, tie your shoes and get to working out even if its for a half hour like me, do it you will be proud you did and your body will thank you later! Have a great day!Written By Julie S


It was a weight problem…But it wasn’t

Blowing out the candles on my thirteenth birthday I had one wish. It was something I asked God to take away every night before I went to bed.  Holding back tears in front of a room full of family, I closed my eyes tight, pretending to wish for something grand in the eyes of my family and blew out the candles. For me though nothing could be grander than being normal again. Being happy again, and not worrying anymore. When I opened my eyes I thought for sure this wish would be granted and things would be the way they used to be!

The next morning, I woke up and the same daunting worries were on my mind. Nothing had changed. My brain was still infested with horrible thoughts. The same thoughts that clouded my mind since that fateful August afternoon.

The irony of this whole story is that before all of this started, I never had a problem with weight. I never had an issue with body image, and I never would have thought this was ever something I would have to worry about. I was happy, healthy and active. I had a great childhood with loving parents, supportive sisters, and at the time, I could not have asked for things to have been better. As a child I was always on the tentative side and usually always the last to learn something, but I never shied away from the experience I always eventually learned or tried things. There was nothing in my childhood that I can remember that would have made my parents or myself believe that confidence, self-image or self-doubt would ever play a role in hindering my development, much less concern them with me having an issue with body image. Then on a warm sunny August day while basking in the last few weeks of summer vacation everything changed. Pandora’s box opened and my mind was flooded with unstoppable thoughts. I went from happy-go-lucky and carefree to quiet, cautious, and filled with fear.

It was the last week of summer camp and the annual trip to the water park was always the highlight of the whole summer. We waited months for this. This was why we went to camp. We thought we were so grown up. At the age of twelve to go to the water park without our parents made us feel very independent and confident. The counselors were cool, they pretty much gave us the freedom to do as we pleased as long as we were back at the bus on time. It was the perfect summer day, warm, sunny and just right for a day at the park. When the bus pulled into the parking lot, we could hardly contain ourselves with excitement. We took our seats feverishly planning our day with friends. Once at the park we jumped out of our seats and as we exited the bus the counselors shouted “be back at 3:30 pm” we barely heard them we were so ecstatic. Straight to the water park was our initial destination. We did not want to waste one minute of our time dawdling around. We knew it would get crowded fast and we didn’t want to be held up in lines. Off we went basking in the sunshine, zipping down the water slides, having a great time.
After endless runs on down the water slides my friends and I gathered to decide if it was time for lunch. We decided a few more runs would be better and then we could eat quickly and check out the rest of the park rides. On my way up to the top I felt something funny on the bottom of my foot. Thinking nothing of it, I picked up my foot and saw it was a band-aid. “Gross”, I thought, but with my mind on the ride, I quickly brushed it off and kept going. I made a quick  mental note to wash my hands before I ate and forgot all about it. About an hour later, we decided enough was enough and it was time to eat lunch. We grabbed our lunches and sat at the table planning what we would do for the rest of the time. Finishing our lunches and our plan set, we cleaned up and headed out of the water park. As we were packing up, it hit me like a ton of bricks on the head, I had not gone and washed my hands. I just ate lunch with my hands, the hands that had touched that band-aid. What if that band aid had been worn by a person who had HIV? Having just learned about this horrible disease in health class I became nervous. Could I have contracted HIV from that band aid? Could I get sick? It was at that moment that a switch had been flipped in my brain the “on” button had been pushed and like a flood gate, the thoughts took over my mind and like flooding water rushing down a street they were unstoppable. I became terrified, it was at that moment my life changed forever.
My days became consumed with research, reading encyclopedias, searching the internet, and asking vague questions to counselors at camp. I prayed nightly that the tormenting thoughts of getting HIV would just stop. I became quiet, reserved. I became cautious, careful. I didn’t want to get sick, I didn’t want to do anything to set off my “compromised” immune system. I thought for sure once school started, that the thoughts would disappear, that I would be too consumed with homework, theater practice, etc, that I would not have time to think about it.  It didn’t. The light-hearted things that most pre-teen, teenage kids thought about, talked about, and worried about, were not things that I thought about. I spent my time, reliving that specific moment at the water park when I made the decision to touch that band-aid. It became difficult to concentrate, I lost interest, what was the point? I was doomed to spend the rest of my days in a hospital bed, or so I thought.  While my friends started going to parties, and talking about boys, I waited anxiously for symptoms that might begin popping up. Instead of counting days to homecoming, I was counting how many days it had been since I had touched that band-aid.  As the days progressed, my behavior started changing too. All of a sudden the finger I had used brushing the band-aid off, I would not use it. When I saw a band-aid on a waitress at a restaurant I would not eat. I was constantly washing my hands every time I touched something that I believed was contaminated. I would not shake people’s hands at church. Now, not only was I obsessive in my thought patterns but to calm those thoughts I started acting strangely and my parents started to notice.

My mom was the one who confronted me and asked me what was going on. When I told her she laughed it off. Told me not to be ridiculous and not to worry. She tried to talk me out of the nervousness and fear that I truly believed that I had HIV. She tried so hard to make me believe that it was not possible to contract HIV from a band-aid. She tried to explain that the chlorine in the water would have killed it. That HIV does not live outside of the body for very long. She made me watch the Greg Louganis story so that I could see that the doctor that helped him who was bare handed touched Greg’s blood and did not get HIV to prove how difficult it was to get that way. She started stating facts about how it is contracted and even set up an appointment for me to talk to my pediatrician. It didn’t matter though, my mind was convinced and nothing was louder than my mind. It hollered so loud, no amount of reason from my doctor was changing my mind. I wanted him to test me for it, but he said “No.” He felt that I needed to overcome the issue without feeding into the fear. Getting tested would feed the fear and he was confident 100% that I was fine and I needed to see a psychiatrist. Angry and frustrated I left refusing to get help.
As the urges to wash my hands, purge of contaminated clothing got stronger and stronger, my behaviors became harder and harder to control and in turn, they became very obvious and frustrating to my parents, friends, and family. Every time I washed my hands my mom asked me why? Every time I needed to throw something out I got asked why? I found myself making up excuses, lying and feeling guilty.  I needed to find something less conspicuous than my go to behaviors, that’s when I found food. It was the one thing that I could turn to that was not going to be obvious and it calmed my mind just as well as washing my hands. If I could not control my thoughts then I would control my actions by eating.

The calmness that overcame me with each bite was almost addicting. It felt good to be able to hide my feelings and not get questioned. It was easier to convince my parents that I was better.  By the time I was a senior in high school I had gained 50 pounds. I was self-conscious, I was lacking self-esteem, and my body image was in the toilet. I could no longer shop in the stores I used to shop, because I had gone from a junior 6-8 to a women’s 12-14 and I was heading towards 16’s.  Shorts, tank tops and a bathing suit were out of the question. I was disgusted but I thought it was the only option I had.  With this plummeting self-confidence came declining friendships.  It was not long before I was besties with “Ben and Jerry’s.” Ben and Jerry didn’t care that I was gaining weight, they didn’t question me, they were simply there to quell my thoughts. To feel a little more like I had a social life or at least feel like I was a normal teenager, I spent my afternoons living vicariously through reruns of  90210.
Before I knew it I was graduating high school and going off to college. It was my chance I thought to start fresh. One of the perks of going to college was getting a physical and getting up to date with blood work and vaccinations. Knowing that my new doctor could not go to my parents because I was eighteen, thank you HIPPA, I was able to get blood work done.   I was given a new lease on life. I was given a clean bill of health from my doctor. Finally knowing for sure that the band-aid at the park had not given me HIV, was surely just what I needed to get these obsessive thoughts out of my head. Or so I thought. The scale at the doctor’s office left me less than thrilled at the self sabotaging.  I spent that summer in pants and short sleeve shirts to cover my thighs and arms. I tried to prepare for preseason as I was going into college as a varsity athlete, but it was so hard. The runs were unbearable on my knees and my runs consisted of me telling myself to “just finish fat-so.”

“ You are a disgusting disgrace.”

“ I can’t believe you let yourself get this way.”

“ How could you do this to yourself?”

“ What a jerk you are. “ The self loathing was incredible. The amount of self hate that I generated that summer was extremely intense and even though I was not binging my way through the summer the weight seemed to not budge. I tried my best to keep up with the workouts but my best to me was never good enough.
Despite the discouraging summer, I was excited to go to college. I was playing tennis on the varsity team and I was making friends and things were starting to look up. I hit the tennis courts and worked hard during the season.  That resulted in the dropping of 20 pounds because I was not compulsively eating to calm my mind any more, plus dining hall food was less than desirable. It felt good. I was gaining confidence, I thought I had for sure kicked this thing to the curb. I had finally beaten it.
Then like a slap in the face the obsessive thoughts started bombarding my mind again. This time, it was not that I had HIV, but that I could get HIV from contaminated things from my tennis team. During a team trip one of the girls got a blister from her sneakers and her heel was bleeding. She grabbed some bandages, and antiseptic. Cleaned it up threw her sneakers and blood stained socks in her bag. She then threw her bag in the van on top of all the other bags. I froze, what if it was on my bag, what if it leaked through her bag and stained my bag. I was silently freaking out. The whole ride home I was quiet on the outside, but on the inside my brain was screaming. I started crying. I could not help it. It was uncontrollable. My team mates were concerned. They could not understand why I was upset, I had won my match, I played well. I was smiling and having fun not a few hours earlier. I made up an excuse that I thought I had eaten something bad and that my stomach was in a lot of pain. They bought it. But not for long. With the resurgence of the obsessive thoughts came the compulsions. The urge to wash, toss, and avoid, was ten time stronger than it was the first time around. I was throwing out contaminated clothes like it was my job. I was washing my hands until they were red, and my self-confidence and fun-loving personality disappeared as quickly as it had come back.

My teammates started to notice. They started to question. I had to do something, but there was no way I was going to gain all that weight back. I felt good. I looked good, and people noticed the weight loss. It was exhilarating and it was empowering. There had to be another way to quell the thoughts. Again I turned to food. But rather than over consuming food. I began to restrict it. The less I ate, the more I lost. The more I lost the more I was complimented, it was powerful and it was perfect. It was a perfect way to hide my true problem.
I came home from college another 20 lbs lighter. Everyone noticed. It was awesome. It gave me something else to focus on. I joined a gym that summer and started taking fitness classes. I loved the feeling I got from working out. My obsessions shifted from worrying about getting sick to getting fat. I was so afraid that I would revert to old ways, I hit the gym hard-core. I gave myself reasons to not eat. I took a part-time job, went to summer school and spent my time at the gym. I ran myself ragged and was eating toast and milk for breakfast, sweet potatoes for lunch and a piece of grilled chicken for dinner. If I veered from this regiment I panicked. Being preoccupied with studying, work, and gym helped me to maintain my schedule.

As the summer progressed, and the self-sustained stress mounted my body started to revolt. I had the shakes, my hair was falling out and my skin was getting dry. I attributed the shakes to drinking too much coffee, my hair while it was scary, I attributed to stress at school. The dry skin I really didn’t think too much about it was summer after all and much of my time was spent in the air conditioning. Then one night I woke up, I had a funny pain in my stomach, I went to the bathroom thinking that might help. It didn’t. I thought maybe I’m just hungry, I will grab something small and go back to bed. I had to be up early anyways so I would consider that breakfast and head out to work. I never went into work that day. The pain spread, down my shoulder, into my back, across my stomach, before I could even think, I was doubled over screaming in pain. My dad came running out and rushed me to the hospital. The whole ride I was thriving in unbelievable pain. We barely made it in the ER I was screaming and crying and crying and apologizing. The woman who was registering us called a nurse and I was whisked into the ER.
On my way to get an ultrasound, the nurse was asking me routine questions about my height and weight. After I gave her my weight, I asked her if the weight and height were normal, if she thought I was fat. She stared at me and said, “I wish I could be your height and weight.” “You are perfect for your height.”   She rolled me into the room and the tech came in. The nurse told me she would be back to get me in a bit. She brought me back to my room and my parents were there waiting for me. All of a sudden, I had to use the bathroom. I was barefoot and the bathroom was about 100 feet away and I was hooked to an IV. I asked my mom for my shoes and she told me she had put them in the car. I freaked out. I lost it. There was no way on this God-given earth I was walking barefoot to the bathroom on a dirty hospital floor. What if I stepped on a syringe? What if I stepped in blood. I was furious, and my mom began to understand exactly what was going on. It had nothing to do with not having my shoes, it had everything to do with me not getting over my fear of diseases. That the strict regiment I was putting myself on was to control my intrusive thoughts. The food restriction, the over emphasis on homework, the added stress I was putting on myself to take extra shifts at work. They were all to minimize my need to worry. That day I was given an ultimatum. I was either going to get help from a psychiatrist or I was not going back to school in August. With only 4 weeks left, I wanted to go back. I had friends, I loved my classes, I enjoyed playing tennis and all of it was going to be taken from me if I did not agree to get help.  I agreed with a condition. That I get that help back at school. I promised that when I got back to school I would go to the health center and get a referral.
Knowing my mom would pull me from school in a heartbeat, when I got to school for preseason my sophomore year, I went straight to the health center.  It happened to be perfect timing. The college was starting a new program with local mental health professionals to come onto campus and be a resource to students that needed it. If we needed more that a few sessions then we could get it covered under our health insurance.

Knowing I would need more than one or two I called my mom and had her get things situated with the college and my insurance to get my help. I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Disordered Eating. It was with this psychologist that I was introduced to meditation. Along with my primary care physician getting me on some anti anxiety medication, the psychologist had me doing daily meditation. We set up a gym schedule with boundaries that helped me to learn the difference between healthy exercise and using it to reduce anxiety rather than abusing it and using it as a crutch. I learned to understand that I had control over my situations and that I needed to develop language that was going to help me deal with my anxiety. I came to understand that my OCD was fueling my disordered eating and that while these things are  part of me, it did not define me. I learned to have a healthy relationship with food.

With this healthy new outlook on food, exercise and life, I became intrigued with teaching group exercise classes. I wanted to know more and spent time studying to become a certified group exercise instructor. I worked hard not only to maintain a healthy weight but to also have a healthy relationship with food and myself. Having worked hard to get my group exercise certification, I was given an opportunity for an on campus job of teaching classes. I was stoked. I began making more friends, I was having fun and it felt good. My self-esteem was beginning to rise.
My senior year of college came quicker than I had ever imagined. I was playing tennis, I was having fun with friends, and I had learned to love myself and have some self-respect and confidence. I was still working weekly with the psychologist and I felt myself getting better feeling more like the fun-loving “kid” now young adult, I had planned on becoming. As senior year progressed I was still teaching exercise classes, but my regular classes were getting intense. I was still practicing my meditation nightly, but I was still feeling anxious.

These were things that I was working with the doctor with but I still felt like something was missing.  I was flipping through the channels on TV and found Ashtanga Yoga. I fell in love. It was an amazing combination of the feel good fitness benefits, along with the meditation practices that I maintained as I worked with the psychologist. I made it part of my morning routine. I woke up a bit earlier, did yoga, got ready and headed out to class. At night before bed, I listened to my meditation CD’s. It helped. It was exactly what I needed to round out my self-care practice. Interestingly, the last semester of my senior year  I took the Psychology of Buddhist Meditation. It was as if the college had dropped that class in my lap as a congratulations for working so hard on your studies and yourself.  BAM mind blown. When I finished the class I knew I had to teach yoga and I knew that I had to share my experience with others.
After graduation I spent the summer teaching group exercise classes, getting certified as a personal trainer and I took my first job at a local YMCA. I then started going to yoga classes and reconnected with my love of yoga. I decided that it was integral to my personal growth to understand why yoga was such a powerful force in helping me heal. I became certified as a 200 hr yoga teacher.

Looking back on the experience, what I realized was that it was a weight problem, but it wasn’t. The reality was I needed to come to terms with and get a handle on my own fears. I was using food in both ways, over-consumption and under-consumption to fuel the fire rather than put it out. Since then, through teaching yoga and fitness classes  I have been using my experience to empower women to take charge of their life and be accountable for them understanding why, they truly turn to food when they are struggling with their weight. I encourage women to look at themselves and question why they are choosing to eat what they eat.

I have learned that we have a choice and what we choose to do is what leads us down the path that we follow. I also learned that even though we might make the wrong choice the right choice is never far away and we can always choose to change our direction. The power and the choice is ours and ours alone. For so long, I spent so much time resenting myself for having that time in my life. I spent so much time I wishing I could have gone back in time and changed that fateful day. I day dreamed about how I would have told myself to go and wash my hands. I should have scrapped the band-aid off with the step rather than touching it. I spent so much time replaying that day, that I forgot how to appreciate what I had at that moment. It has taken a great deal of time to forgive myself for the resentment. However, part of my ability to be successful as a fitness professional was taking that time to forgive myself and to use my story to fuel motivation and inspiration to other women.

It has been 21 years since that day at the water park. I can not really believe that much time has passed. The lessons I learned from that fateful day have made me who I am today. I don’t regret that day anymore. I appreciate the experience. I feel that it has made me more compassionate and empathetic to the needs of my clients and the growth of my business.  Today I have an amazing career as a fitness professional and most importantly I have a healthy relationship with food. I have a positive self-image, and I am confident in my abilities to be the best l can be. Are there days that those fears pop up, yes, but I can handle them so much better than ever before.  I attribute my ability to snuff out the fear because I have learned to forgive myself, to be patient with myself. I remind myself daily that food does not have the answer to my problems. I have the answer to my problems with in me. For me it was a weight problem, but it wasn’t. I used food to hide and as a result my weight suffered. It suffered greatly. Now that I understand this I am able to move forward and create the life that I want and I will not be hindered or deterred from being happy, healthy and self-confident.

*This blog post can be found in the soon to be published book “BeYOUtiful Book” By Yaisa Mann & Contributors. This is my piece.