I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the phrase: Progress not perfection.
Progress: forward or onward movement toward a destination.
Perfection: the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.
Progress NOT perfection.
I’ve resigned to the fact that I will never be perfect, and frankly THANK GOD because being perfect or free from faults or defects would be incredibly stressful and annoying. At my daughter’s 1st birthday party this past weekend, I indulged in some of her birthday cake which was not on my prep meal plan. Not perfect. Not the end of the world. Back on track today.
Progress, however, is a word and a state of being that I do take seriously. This week marked a milestone in my personal life. This week, 7 years ago, I made a decision to start living a healthier life. If you knew me 7 years ago, you probably knew a pretty different Mary. I was a 15 pounds lighter, a little more of a party animal, and I was no one that you wanted to take nutrition advice from. I was also a smoker! Yikes. After work happy hours which often turned into late nights and one-too-manys, eating whatever I wanted, and absolutely no thought about taking care of myself. That was the Mary you would have known. Crazy right?! I knew that I was not living the life that was intended for me.
One day, I decided that I really didn’t want to live that kind of life anymore, so I stopped living that kind of life. My after work happy hours were replaced with post work runs. I started small with a few miles around the neighborhood. I was always a gym rat, even in college, so I had decent cardiovascular health. I started going to bed earlier. I started doing simple things like drinking more water. I knew I had to stop smoking. I was one of those people that smoked on the way to and from the gym, and I knew that had to end. I also knew that I tried to quit smoking a thousand times, and it was just too hard to do on my own. So I picked a very important date, my late father’s birthday and quit on February 4th, 2010. My father passed away from lung cancer, and even though he was not a smoker, I knew that lung cancer would be knocking on my door if I kept up my habit. I also started training for my very first long distance race – the Zooma Half Marathon – and raised money to support the research and development of a lung cancer cure. I was very dedicated to my training, and I ran my first half marathon in June of 2010 in honor of my Dad. I haven’t had a cigarette since, not even a drag.
That race really kicked off my love of exercise and of overall fitness. I signed up for my next race, the Marine Corps Marathon. I figured, I was half way there, so why not?! In October of 2010, I ran my first (and likely last) full marathon in 4 hours and 33 minutes, without walking.
I kept going. More races. More getting healthier. More learning about nutrition. More PROGRESS.
One day, I switched out my running shoes for spin shoes. My was getting a little burned out, and my body was feeling the effects of my running schedule. I started spinning every morning at 6am before work. I loved it. It was less impact on my body, and the calorie burn was serious! My next passion was born. More progress.
I started learning more about how the food that I eat affects how I FEEL. I started reading blogs and articles about the effects of sugar on our bodies. I saw the movie Fed Up which really opened my eyes to the sugar epidemic in America. I watched TED talks, learning more about GMO’s and the chemicals that are put into our foods. I could not unlearn all of the things that I was learning. It was always in my brain. For these reasons, I purchase mostly organic foods, and if I do not know what the ingredient is on the side of a packaged food, I don’t buy it. More progress.
I was still a cardio queen. I would hit the weights as an afterthought if I got to the gym early before spin class started, but I was definitely not an avid weight lifter. I started learning more about weight lifting and the tremendous impact it can have on your overall health. I learned that it helps to improve your heart and bone strength. It helps to reduce body fat, since the more muscle that you have, the more fat that your body burns at rest. I really liked what I was learning, but I didn’t know where to start with my training. A friend told me about the free Jamie Eason LiveFit Trainer program, which was a 12-week online program. I completed that program in 3-months, and my passion for weight lifting was born. More progress.
From there, I tried out new programs. I started stepping more outside of my comfort zone and trying exercises that I had never seen before. I would watch YouTube videos and test them out on my own. I started to care a lot less about “what people would think” if they saw me doing these exercises in the “guy’s section” of the weight room. My confidence grew, inside and outside of the gym. I was proud of my muscles. I was proud that I could carry my baby and 2, 30-pound bags of groceries up the stairs. I was proud to wear tank tops to show of my arms, a part of my body that I used to be self conscious about. More progress.
For me, progress means growth. It means challenging myself to keep moving forward, to not settle for stagnant, to keep testing the limits that I create for myself. This is the very reason that I decided to start training for a body building competition. It was new, it was scary, and I would continue to progress forward. Fitness is my hobby, and I love having new goals to sink my teeth into.
Even though I have not been perfect during these past 5 weeks of training, I have made progress. My weights are increasing each week, and my muscle growth is starting to show. Last week I had all time high weights in 9 exercises. It felt SO GOOD. I was really proud.
I challenge you this week to think about the you from 7 years ago, from 5 years ago, from last year. Have you progressed? Have you stayed the same? When was the last time you did something for the first time?
I challenge you to grow. I challenge you to get uncomfortable, because that’s where the real growth happens. And always, I challenge you to seek PROGRESS not perfection.
I’m sure you’ve probably heard of the Colosseum. Located in the center of Rome, Italy, this famous oval amphitheater, the largest ever built, was used for gladiatorial contests, public spectacles, executions and re-enactments of famous battles. I visited the Colosseum this past week, and even though it wasn’t in Rome, it certainly felt like home to some of the great gladiators of our time. Over 200 men and women lined the walls of this facility in Columbia, MD. Strong, confident, disciplined men and women proudly displaying the muscles that they spent months – years – in this gym, building. It’s a place where you walk in and stop in your tracks and go WOW.
And then for a split second you want to run out and get in your car and drive home really, really fast because you get a little scared, and a little bit of self doubt creeps in, and you think, what the hell am I doing here? But before I had a chance to run, my coach Joe Bender walked up and greeted me, and it was time to get down and dirty for our first one-on-one training session.
This was the first time I had seen Joe since we initially met four weeks ago, so I was pleased when he said that he noticed some physical changes in me since our last meeting – more rounded shoulders and more defined arms. Sweet. I’ll take it. I send Joe progress photos in a 2-piece bathing suit each Monday morning (a little intimidating to say the least), but sometimes the lighting and shadows don’t show the real picture of progress. My diet has not been perfect, so I was glad that the changes are showing on the outside.
I also send Joe a food log of EVERYTHING I ate the week before, all of the workouts I completed, and a daily journal of how I am feeling (energy levels, hunger, mood). Needless to say, all of this reporting helps to hold me accountable and stay very focused. Since my show is still so far out, these weekly check-ins really help me to stay on track.
While I do feel that I am an advanced weight lifter, it is important for me to set aside extra time and money to train with Joe, one-on-one, while I am preparing for this show. A trainer pushes you to add that extra weight, motivates you to hit a few more reps and makes sure that your form is perfect. Perfect form helps to prevent injury and ensures that you are targeting the muscle groups that you intend to activate.
We started the training out with deadlifts. I told Joe that my max was 90 pounds, and he told me that I just warmed up with 95 pounds. That’s another perk of having a coach. He was adding all the weights for me. I was just lifting when he said GO. By the end of the session, I maxed out at 135-pound deadlifts, 45 more pounds than I thought I could handle. It was awesome AND HARD!
Joe also suggested ways for me to add extra weight to some of my exercises in creative ways. For instance, I had been maxing out at my local gym with 100 pound glute bridges. (Photo taken below was on July 3rd when my max out was 80 pounds). I was having a hard time pulling the 100 pounds on and off of me. Plus, there is no heavier barbell at 24 Hour Fitness, so I would have to use a 45 pound bar + plates if I wanted to go heavier.
Joe suggested that I use the leg extension machine to add more weight. It takes a little finesse to wiggle under the bar, but I made it work. I also needed to make sure that I lowered myself as low as I could on the descend of the exercise and to drive through the heels when I thrust my hips up. Since the bikini division of this competition is all about the booty and the shoulders, I need to make sure to master all of the exercises that grow these muscle groups.
By the end of the one hour, I was re-energized, re-motivated, and tired – a good tired. I couldn’t wait to get home and (after a large post workout meal) record my weights. There is no better feeling for me than to feel STRONG, and this training session helped to remind me that I can push myself more. My body is stronger than I think it is, and if I wanted to be on the gladiator wall, I needed to step it up. Next session with Joe is in 3 weeks, and I’ll be ready.
Have you ever had a diet or a new change in your life get in the way of your REAL life? That was one of the fears I had before I started training for this competition. The fear wasn’t around what people thought of me because frankly “what people think about me is none of my business,” a phrase I learned about 7 years ago that has forever stuck with me. I really didn’t care if people rolled their eyes if I brought a container of pre-weighed, perfectly portioned food to the beach or social event. I didn’t fear if people thought that I was obsessed with my body or selfish and self-centered. It was not my job to convince people of my motives, of my desire to challenge myself more than ever before. It’s absolutely none of my business what anyone thinks, and that is a very freeing feeling. Feel free to borrow this phrase anytime and apply it in your own life. Go on. Try it. You’ll thank me later.
The fear that I had was around if my training would negatively affect my family – my daughter – my husband – our marriage.
My husband is a football coach, and the summer is his only real time off. We spend a lot of time together which is well deserved and needed, because during the season, he works 7 days a week from August until February. So beginning this training during his time off was something that we talked a lot about before I committed to this challenge. Would it affect our traveling, our ability to eat out, our time together if I had to pull away for training? I decided that it would only negatively affect us if I LET it, and during this part of my training while my husband is off from work, I have to be a bit more flexible than I plan to be as I get closer to my competition. So when our four-year wedding anniversary came last week, we decided to head to the beach for the night.
I texted my coach a progress picture the day before, and he gave me permission to have a cheat dinner AND dessert. Score! I am very pleased with the changes I have seen in only 3 weeks of working with him. My lower fat macros, although very hard to hit, have set off some changes, notably in my abs and my legs. I am not complaining.
We had an amazing dinner at Salt Air Kitchen in Rehoboth Beach that evening. The wait at 6:30pm for 2 people was quoted 90 minutes, but they got us in after about 40. The place reminds me of one of my favorite Baltimore restaurants where we spent our two year anniversary, the Woodberry Kitchen. The atmosphere was rustic and charming, and the food was comforting and so fresh. My cheat meals have to be “clean cheats” so I opted for filet and crab cake with a “candy bar” dessert.
Even though I got a pass for dinner, that is only one of the meals that I would be eating while traveling for the 36 hours that we were away. I still had to plan for 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and snacks. I packed a lot of food with me for the trip – protein bread, chicken salad made with Greek yogurt, celery and onions, a nuts ‘n more toffee crunch and jelly sandwich on flax and quinoa bread (bread, nut butter and jelly all weighed on a gram scale), harvest snaps for snacking on the beach. We ate out for lunch at the hotel when we arrived, and I ordered a spinach salad with a piece of salmon on top. It had minimal ingredients in the salad, so it was pretty easy to log into My Fitness Pal, and I asked for salsa for the dressing. That is one trick I always use when I dine out – use salsa for dressing and save the fat that is in oils for something much better, like avocados, nut butter or red meat. In the morning before we left, we opted for the free hotel breakfast, and I had a small serving of steel cut oats and snacked on my protein bread. I also made sure to load up on water and BCAAs during the trip so that I did not get dehydrated. These BCAAs have a sweet kick, so they helped me with any cravings I had as I passed the local ice cream shoppes. Overall, I was able to do pretty well considering all of the temptations that are available on vacation.
We headed home to Annapolis at around 1pm on Friday, and after we got home and put Gianna to bed, I headed to the gym for an evening workout. Since this trip fell on Fourth of July week and I had already taken a rest day on Monday and Thursday, I HAD to get my workout in. I didn’t want to get home then rush off and miss out on time with my daughter whom I hadn’t seen in a day. I was back in time for a late dinner and a relaxing Friday night in. On Saturday morning, I was back on track 100%. An hour of weights in the gym, a one-hour grueling spin class and close to 1000 calories burned.
So, for now, my fears (false evidence appearing real) are just made up scenarios in my head that are not true or real. I can still prep for the toughest competition of my life while being flexible with my methods. I think we’ll even go back to the beach next week and bring the peanut. This time no cheats, more food for the hotel fridge, and more fun with my whole family.
Does anyone know where I can get a good burger? Seriously.
Two weeks into my prep, and that’s really what I wanted most this week. My coach titled my phase one diet a “slow lean” and I am very grateful for the “slow” part because even with over 1900 calories a day, I’ve still had off days this week. Luckily my coach is very supportive, so when I sent over my updates, he said I was doing a great job. Phew. I am a perfectionist, which is not necessarily a good quality. It has it’s place. It helps me to achieve some pretty tough goals. But it’s also a character defect and can definitely stand in the way of being kind to myself. Okay, enough of the deep thoughts. I am working on it.
When I was a kid, I used to have a bowl of cereal every night before I went to bed. I’m not sure if it was the comforting feeling of having a full belly of carbs before I drifted off into dreamland, or if I just really liked Fruity Pebbles, but eating before bed is a habit that is ingrained in me. I’ve tried to break it several times in so many ways. Drinking tea, taking a hot bath, journaling. At the end of the day, I just gave up and embraced my carbs before bed. When I found the lifestyle called IIFYM and a community of very fit men and women who eat whatever they want at whatever time of the day they want, I was elated that I could have my carbs and eat them at 9pm “because your body doesn’t know what time it is.” Countless articles have been written about why carbs before bed are bad and why carbs before bed are good, like this one which I particularly like because it argues in my favor.
Regardless of the articles and of what I want, I am working with a coach who prefers that I enjoy a very low carb snack before bed. Insert sad face. Luckily I’ve come up with a treat that allows me to still have a treat and not go to bed hungry.
Here is a sneak peek of some of the dishes I’ve dined on this week (all homemade) along with the macros for each dish. Macros are protein (P), carbs (C), and fat (F). Proteins and carbs are 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram. So a dish labeled 35P/35C/1F would have 289 calories.
Pre Workout Meal – Whole Foods brand white English muffin + 1T jelly + 12T (3/4 liquid cups) egg whites seasoned with salt and pepper
I have really been enjoying this meal because who doesn’t want an awesome white piece of bread with jelly before you go crush your legs?! I have tried swapping the egg whites for a protein shake, but the shake tends to be too heavy for me pre workout. I usually eat this meal about 45 minutes before I leave for the gym. The key with both pre and post workout meals is that you want things that are LOW fat and LOW fiber so that your body has quick access to the protein and carbs for fueling your workout and for muscle recovery.
Post Workout Meal – 1/4c (measured dry) Jasmine rice + 3.4 ounces chicken breast + 1/4c spicy black beans + 25g red peppers + 25g red onion + 4T salsa + Flavor God Taco Tuesday seasoning
I really can’t say enough good things about this taco bowl. It’s AMAZING. My husband saw me eating it yesterday and had me make him one too. It’s like a Mexican fiesta in your mouth. I typically do ground turkey for this because it’s lower in fat than chicken breast, but the one here is pictured with chicken.
I’ve also had Puffins cereal post workout with fruit on top and protein milk (protein powder blended with almond milk and water) on top. That was quite delicious, and it felt very indulgent.
My coach wants me to aim for 60g of carbs post workout along with about 35g of protein and minimal fat. I am sure I will come up with many more exciting meals to share with those macros.
Meals 3 and 4 are a nice balance of carbs and protein with a little more fat.
Left to Right: 1) spinach and arugula salad + 1/4c spicy black beans + 92g cooked sweet potatoes + 3.5 ounces of chicken breast + 4T salsa; 2) 6 ounces of cod + roasted veggies with a splash of olive oil + 1/4c (measured dry) Jasmine rice; 3) Homemade Greek turkey burger + Maria & Ricardos wheat tortilla + 1/4c arugula + 2T salsa + 100g zoodles
I also incorporated turkey meatloaf muffins into my meals this week. I adapted this recipe from Skinnytaste, leaving off the bacon and swapping the barbecue sauce for Dijon mustard.
For dinner one night (Meal 5), I finally got my burger, homemade of course, because eating a burger out would use up all of my fat allotted for the day.
I weighed out 5 ounces of grass-fed sirloin from Whole Foods and added some Worcester sauce, salt and pepper and diced jalapenos. I topped it with a few shreds of cheddar cheese and had it with a half of a bun and some sauteed onions and zoodles. I ate it really slowly and
I would really like another.
Finally Meal 6. High protein, moderate fats and low carb. A SLAP peanut butter protein shake (use code MARY for 10% off) made with some almond milk, ice and water and a large slice of my protein bread. I modified the recipe a bit by adding a bit more protein powder, less coconut flour and no chocolate chips. It’s delicious with SLAP Peanut Butter or with PEScience Blondie protein powders.
I have also been enjoying protein pancakes for dessert at night. I use a simple recipe of combining 1 scoop of protein powder + 1 egg + 1tsp baking powder + a little almond milk or water. If I am feeling really hungry, I will also add 1-2T of coconut flour and a bit more water. I top it with some PB2 or a light slather of nut butter. I look forward to it each day.
My goal with this prep is to continue to eat the foods that I love by finding creative ways to incorporate them into my program. Maybe I cannot have all of the foods that I want at the exact time of the day or on the exact day that I want it, but knowing that I can have them a couple of times a week makes this process a little more bearable. After all, if it was easy, everyone would do it. That’s what I need to keep reminding myself.
Someone reminded me something the other day that I will try to remember when things get really hard. The food will always be there. My favorite bakery in New York City isn’t closing down anytime soon. There will always be steakhouses in the area to serve me a filet.
Regrets are not always about things you did in your life. Sometimes they are about the things that you didn’t do. Week 3. Let’s do this.