*Note from Ally: Please welcome this guest post by my friend Shannon Hastings. I met Shannon a couple years ago when she did a placement me when she was at Sir Sandford Fleming College in the Fitness & Health Promotion program. I have loved watching Shannons journey in the fitness industry and I love the content she posts on social media. I asked Shannon if she would do a guest post and I hope she will regularly join us with her words of wisdom. Without further ado, please enjoy her first article!
The majority of society is familiar with the pressures of looking a certain way; male or female. Being a female myself, I know it’s a very difficult thing to deal with when you are constantly thinking what you need to change about yourself. What you need to improve. What needs to be smaller. Or bigger. Or taller. Or shorter. The list is endless of the things we are unhappy about which starts a vicious cycle of depression, insecurity, eating disorders, mental health problems etc. But why? Why is this happening? And why does everyone care so much?….
I’ve been active my whole life whether it was swimming, soccer, or rugby. Gym was my favourite class. As I got older, I went to college for Fitness and Health Promotion and started getting into lifting weights… Or so I thought. Mostly I would just do biceps and triceps because who doesn’t want killer arms? And me being inexperienced, I thought 3 sets of 10-15 a day would do the trick. When I graduated college, I took my Personal Trainer Specialist course, ran a bootcamp, and started training a variety of clients. I did this for about a year and a half and then I took a break from training and started doing my own thing. One day on Instagram, I came across a woman, who at the time was what I considered very fit. She was very lean and thin, had great abs, great arms and toned legs, a nice tan, great hair, very pretty… I guess you could say she was “perfect.” She competed in fitness competitions and I remember saying to myself “I want to do that, and I want to look like that!”
… and I did.
Let’s talk about my fitness competition. I was training at a regular gym and I had NO idea where to even start to do a fitness competition, so therefore I went and spent $1200 on personal training in hopes of getting me on the right track. I started with a personal trainer who was, to my surprise, pretty knowledgable. We would meet twice a week and spend the hour doing whatever we did. But it wasn’t enough. I needed a plan, a specific workout regime, a meal plan, supplement plan, but how? I met with another trainer and paid him another $500 for his “expertise” which led me to buy a bunch of supplements, knowing nothing of what they do. He also gave me a meal plan which was very precise. Everything is measured, you know. I was really surprised to find that this meal plan had NO vegetables in it? “I don’t like salad” he says. Okay boss, whatever you say. It consisted of eggs, yogurt, chicken, steak and potatoes. Nothing wrong with that, but that was your whole life for 14-16 weeks. The prep was the most robotic thing. No feelings or emotions put into the food. You cook it, shove it into labeled tupperware containers, eat it (sometimes with plugging your nose) and that’s the end of that. I have to do this if I want to be skinny. He says it works. I started following this along with meeting my other trainer for workouts, and VOILA! It was working. I was losing weight and starting slimming down. How happy was I? I didn’t care how shitty I felt because I was finally on a plan that was working! I was about 8-9 weeks out from the first competition I wanted to do when I started to feel really sick. At first, I thought it was just sunstroke, but it got worse. It has to go away. So then I thought it was the flu. But it got worse. It has to go away. One morning, I couldn’t even open my mouth and I was so fatigued I felt like I was hit by a truck. Off to the doctor I went, where I found out I had mono. How upset was I? All my hard work, my goals, my dreams, everything my whole life was revolving around is slipping through my fingers. I was so upset I couldn’t compete in my competition but in the back of my mind, I was so relieved. I was trying to do this prep during the summer months, so imagine how hard that would be. No Caesars? I wasn’t “allowed” anything outside of the prep diet. I spent the summer having fun traveling, eating, drinking and doing whatever else I wanted to because I was allowed to. After much needed time off, I decided I was going to do it again. I picked a November show, and this time went with a different trainer and a different meal plan. It was the same food, but I was prescribed vegetables! I only had a 9 week prep this time around because I decided so last minute, so there was no wiggle room for ANY “cheats”. These 9 weeks were absolutely miserable. You can imagine the mental strength you have to have to say no when going out with friends, or when you’re wide awake at 2 am starving, or when you’re working at a restaurant serving nachos. But it’s worth it isn’t it? To be fit. I remember waking up every single day, and taking a picture of myself, mainly just of my abs (who made abs the staple of being fit?) Over the 9 weeks, they of course got more visible and that was enough satisfaction for me to keep going, and to keep being miserable. The week before my prep, my coach and I were practicing the posing for my show, and she said she has a present for me. She gave me a piece of red velvet cake with cream cheese icing. Ask me if I cried? Cried over cake. She said my body would love the sugar rush since I hadn’t had anything like that in so long. She was right. Along came my show day, but not before I spent $350 on a suit that barely covered my jewels (sorry dad), $50 on some stripper heels, $200 on hair and make-up, $150 for the hotel and $100 on 4 COATS of spray tan. It was the most bizarre experience I’ve ever had. Men and women running around naked trying to find someone to put glue on their butts so you don’t get a wedgie. Backstage lifting weights so they get their swell on for the judges. Some on the verge of passing out from how dehydrated and hungry they were, because I know I was one of them. I went 28 hours without water in hopes of depleting my muscles as much as possible so they pop. 28 hours… This can’t be healthy I said to myself. I felt so out of place as soon as I got there looking at all of my competition. We went on stage and did our pose down, where I actually placed 3rd. I was surprised how much I didn’t care about my placing, and how much I cared about eating a burger. Which I did. And ending up having a couple drinks that night and puking my brains out. My body was not used to this.
I remember the months after my competition where I had so much trouble accepting that I was going to gain weight. When I competed, I weighed 123 lbs and I’m 5’7”. But I just couldn’t accept undoing all my hard work and chasing that perfect body. I received a lot of compliments on my figure, that I looked great, and people were envious of how I looked. Truth be told, I had never been so unhappy, or felt so low. I lost my menstrual cycle for 3 months, got mono, developed eating disorders and mental health issues. And for what? To look like the girls in the magazines? I see women everyday on social media outlets who look like this, and I don’t bash them, nor do I praise them. I get it. I went through it. I’m not envious of you because I’m sure you’re battling your daily demons, but to each their own. The thing that gets me the most is when I hear girls and women say they want to look like that. I always ask why? Why do you want a six pack or toned arms or quad separation? Will that make you happier? Will that bring satisfaction to your life? Usually when I ask these questions, it brings them to a stand-still. They never thought about that before because that’s all we know as a society. Social media portrays women to look the way I used to look as “healthy,” “fit,” “inspirational.” It’s everywhere you turn, and anything you see. It’s so easy to go on your phone feeling happy and after 5 minutes of scrolling you feel upset, sad, discouraged, insecure. We are all guilty of it. Therefore, we retaliate and post things in hopes of people thinking our lives are something they aren’t. Because we care so much about what everyone else thinks. We need to be accepted, and we need that self-validation of feeling good about ourselves by how many “likes” we get on social media. Hashtags, filters, borders, fades, blurs… Anything to mask the truth of what’s really going on. Or how we really feel. We think if we lose those last 5-10 pounds that it will finally bring the happiness we’ve been searching for. Just to lose that muffin top or to get that thigh gap, and then the happiness MUST come. We are always pushing the envelope. Just one more pound or dollar or whatever else we think will bring us happiness. The truth is, happiness comes from within and as cliche as that sounds, it’s never been more true. I don’t believe in “Look Good, Feel Good”. I believe in “Feel Good, Look Good.” The way you feel about yourself translates into how you treat yourself which then translates to how you look. If you take care of your body and give it what it deserves, the right food, exercise and self-loving thoughts, you will in turn achieve the physical appearance you desire. But at this point, you aren’t so concerned about what you look like, therefore you barely notice when it finally happens. That’s because you are already happy, so it just becomes another positive in your life. I wish society had better role models for younger girls and I feel bad for them and the pressures they have right now. Especially since most kids and teenagers have cell phones, and have access to all these men and women’s bodies at their fingertips. But it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Most fitness professionals are fresh off a strict diet, dehydration and a spray tan, and that’s not realistic. Show me something real! Show me your perfect squat form, or your handstand, or your best yoga pose, or the fact that you just climbed a mountain and are drenched in sweat. Now THAT’S cool. Having a six pack isn’t impressive unless you have the ability to perform.
Enter CrossFit. Yes I do CrossFit, no I don’t care how many people get injured, no I don’t care how silly the pull-ups look and I have never been so happy with my body and myself. Before I started, I was very insecure with my looks and thinking I needed to look like those girls on stage because like I said, it’s everywhere you turn. I then started CrossFit and realized how out of shape I was. Wow, there’s some mom’s in their 40’s with 3 kids in here kicking my ass!! Like everyone else who does CF, I was hooked. I then realized how my goals and values changed. I stopped caring so much about what I looked like and started caring way more about my lift numbers, and having way better shoulder, hip and ankle mobility, and striving for that muscle-up. I stopped worrying about my appearance and started worrying about making my heart stronger so I could keep up in running. And the best part is that everyone is there for those exact same reasons, supporting you along the way, and reaching their goals with you. Everyone has goals, and it’s so cool to see everyone progress over time. Your first pull-up or handstand push-up, or pistol squat… And it’s a moment you never, ever forget. Because you achieved something and it means something to you. The main faces of CF have killer bodies, but that isn’t their concern. Having a six pack isn’t a priority to them, it just happens along the way with eating clean and working out the way they do. If you treat your body the way you should, it responds with beautiful muscles and a strong heart. I was afraid to join CF like anyone else because, again, the labels society puts on it. It really is a cult, but it’s the best cult I’ve ever been apart of. And you can bet all your money I will never go back to a bodybuilding gym.
I hope this can bring some insight that you ARE enough. Right now. And instead of naming all the things you hate about yourself, start naming the things you like. Change your eating habits, mix in a mobility session, go for a walk, make baby steps, not excuses. Everyone starts somewhere and your chapter 20 may be someone’s chapter 1. So always go with love and care and please stop judging everyone. It really just shows how you feel about yourself, and will it make any difference? Probably not. Embrace the positive things in your life and suppress the negative. Family, Friends, Work, Gym… Wherever it may be. After all, it’s just flesh. I think a personality and a good heart beats a six pack any day.
xoxo Shannon Hastings