My Weight Loss Struggle

by Laurel Blackburn on August 28, 2013

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laurel

On left: In my body-building days
On right: Most recent pic – feeling huge

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog for quite a while. I’ve been struggling with this issue since I was a teenager. I know I am not alone.

This blog won’t give you the latest weight loss secret, nor will it give you a really incredible workout. As a matter of fact, it won’t give you any answers. My hope is that it starts a conversation that needs to happen.
It’s time for me to get honest with myself and it’s time for me to get honest with others.

I need to hear about other people out there who struggle with the same issues as I do. I know I am not alone. I see it in others, I see it in my clients, I see it all over social media and I see it in my family.

My issue is my love/hate affair with my body. I can’t even tell you when or why this started. All I know is that I have fought with my body image and my weight since I started junior high school. I have no idea whether or not I was actually overweight, but that does not even matter. I thought I was overweight and thus began decades of self-loathing, countless diets and a trip to a 28 day eating disorder clinic.

laurel3

On left: At leadership meeting, very ashamed about weight /
On right: Starting another diet

At 20 years old and after the birth of my first son, my goal was to weigh in the double digits. Imagine my elation when I tipped the scales at 99 pounds. I was on top of the world. That number meant that I was finally a success and that I was attractive.

Of course it didn’t last long. Before I knew it, I ballooned to a whopping 119 pounds. I felt like a failure. Suddenly I went from feeling attractive to feeling like a monster. I was buying a size 20 in clothes to hide my hideous body.

I only wore clothes that hid my massive frame. It was then that I sought help and entered treatment for my eating disorder. I never considered myself anorexic nor bulimic, I went because I was a straight up binge eater and my weight was out of control. Again I only weighed 119 pounds.

One of the things we had to do was exercise. I felt so hideous that my workout clothes consisted of my huge potato sack skirt that reached the floor and a huge over-sized shirt. After all, I didn’t want anyone to see how big I was.

I spent 28 days in treatment and left the same as when I went in.

laurel2

On left: Weight down, feel great /
On right: Weight up again – note the baggy clothes

Over the past decades, I have gained and lost 20 pounds.

My biggest weight loss successes came when I was competing in bodybuilding. Those were the days. Some how I managed to stay with a strict diet for 12 weeks. I ate by the clock every 2-3 hours. My meals consisted of boiled chicken, rice, cold sweet potatoes and broccoli. It wasn’t good, but it was what I ate. Food was not longer enjoyable. I even traveled to Las Vegas on vacation for a week with my cooler full of food.

On the day of my contests, my body fat was approximately, 18% and yet I still had a wad of fat on the back of my legs. I guess I should mention that I am of Hispanic, Italian descent.  We have some meaty thighs! God, how I hate them.

It took about 3-4 weeks after each contest to gain back 20 pounds. I had no idea how to transition back to normal eating. I went from a ripped, lean size 0, back to what I felt was a fat, over weight woman.

The next few years, I gained and lost 15-20 pounds through various diets and exercise plans.

Now I sit here writing this, ashamed. I am 51 years old and I’m still struggling with weight and body image.

Laurel5

On left: Weight up… Again / On right: Starting yet another diet…

As fitness professional, I know better. But, first and foremost, I am a woman. I am woman who has struggled with her weight, self-image, self-esteem and body image for 40 years.

Trust me, I have done every diet out there. I have done Paleo, I have done the Whole30, I have gone off sugar, I have gone off carbs, I have detoxed, I have done Precision Nutrition, I have eaten low fat, high fat, low protein, high protein, I have kept food journals. I have counted calories and I have measured my food. I have done tons of cardio, I have lifted heavy weights…I have done it all.

I still go through the same emotions and behaviors. I lose around 7-10 pounds. I feel great. I feel attractive. I feel successful. I go shopping and buy cute clothes and wear them with pride. Then I gain the weight back. My self-esteem, body image and confidence go to hell. I go back to my baggy clothes.

So, is there a point in life and I am asking anyone who is reading this blog, in which you stop the madness and just accept who you are, accept and love your body and quit torturing yourself? Or do you continue the self-destructive mental and physical abuse?

At 51 years old, I’m tired of fighting this. I’m tired of hating and fighting with my body. I want to enjoy my life and I want to just enjoy food. Damnit, I want to eat cake and not feel like a loser and not feel judged and not feel guilty.

I know I am not alone. I have clients who have been coming to me for years who pretty much do the same. We have transformation contests with pretty amazing results. After the contest is over, they end up where they started. I have clients who, after coming for years look pretty much the same. They work hard, their health has improved tremendously, but they are still overweight. Is that so bad?

As fitness professionals, we post before and after pictures of our best client’s transformations. However, when I see group pictures of clients working out, there are some who are over weight and obese and I know those clients have been coming to those classes for a very long time. It happens in gyms, in boot camps, in Kettlebell classes and in Crossfit.

Now I know that other fitness professionals will judge me because I am fitness professional and I should look the part. What is the part? Many of my new clients, when asked what their goals are, say they want arms like mine.

One of the things I am guilty of that just adds fuel to my already low self-esteem fire is that I compare myself to other women on Facebook who are leaner and stronger. I know those are part of the issues I need to work on.

I don’t know the answers. I don’t know what to tell my clients who struggle with the same issues. When is it time to quit the madness?

Laurel4

On left: Weight back up, ashamed.. / On right: Diet success, feeling great

One thing that really helps me is to understand different body types. We are all different. I will never be a skinny girl even though I have tried. My brothers and my oldest son struggle to put on weight. They are tall and thin with nice long legs. My sisters and I are short with short, muscular legs. No matter how hard I try and how lean I get, I will not have tall, lean legs. I know I can have a lean upper body, but my legs will always be and look heavier.

One of the things that help me, is the website that has pictures of some of the world’s most elite athletes. You will see they have completely different body types depending on their sport. None of them are the same.

http://reelfoto.blogspot.com/2012/08/howard-schatz-and-beverly-ornstein.html

I am not writing this blog to get pity and I am certainly not writing it to get any more advice.

If you are one of those who have never struggled with weight, or if you are one of those who have fought the weight loss battle and won, without having to fight the demons of self-loathing and constant failures, then you will never be able to wrap your head around this. As fitness professionals however, we need to understand that for some of your clients that struggle with this, we have to understand and we have to be able to help them.

Another diet, another food journal and harder workouts will not take care of the underlying emotional issues surrounding this issue.

So what are we to do?

Is quitting the madness and focusing on health instead of losing weight so bad? Do we support and affirm their efforts on improving their health or are we focused on their weight loss?

Do we refer them out for help, for counseling?

I go to counseling and have been on anti-depressants since I was a teenager. Many of our clients have never been and maybe it’s time. Do we do them a disservice by not addressing this issue?

I ask you to please share this blog in the hopes that it helps someone and starts a conversation that I think needs to happen. I really put myself out there and I would like to think I didn’t do this in vain.

***

Laurel Blackburn is an RKC Team Leader and owner of Boot Camp Fitness and Training and Tallahassee Kettlebells.  Look for Laurel at www.bootcampstogo.com or www.tallahasseekettlebells.com.

At 51, she is out to prove that age is just a number. Her goal is to motivate and inspire people everywhere, both young and old that strength, flexibility and mobility can get better with age. Follow her adventures on her blog: www.SuperStrongNana.com. 

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  • moses

    Thank you so very much for your honesty. You are very brave and I believe our weaknesses sometimes can be the biggest help that we can give others.

  • Joe Fixit

    I’m a man and struggle with weight issues too. I chose not to pursue the fitness trainer route because of my fat. The vast majority if fitness clients don’t care what you know, they want to look like what you look like (so you need to look awesome). They figure if you look great, you can help them look that way too. How far from the truth that is! Genetics is KING when it comes to appearance. Diet is second and (non-drug) induced exercise changes are third. That’s the way it is.

    Thank you so much for bringing up this issue. America is an image-obsessed culture. For far too many people, being lean is more important than anything else and most people equate being lean with being fit. They also equate being well conditioned for athletics with being healthy. Neither are necessarily so.

    BTW, I think you look great in ALL the pictures and have nothing to be ashamed of, age notwithstanding.

  • snaggletooth

    If I was as fat as you, I’d feel skinny! Don’t be too hard on yourself, you look fine.

    • I think you are missing the point. Self perception is always skewed by personal beliefs.

  • Amanda

    Thank you very much for sharing! You were very brave to do so, and as a fitness professional myself, I have been (and sometimes still find myself) in your shoes!

  • Shari Wagner

    Laurel, I applaud your courage to write and post this! It makes me sad to see some of these photos where you point out that your weight is up and say you feel ashamed, because you look great in all of them! But I understand because I also struggle with my body image. I’m not sure what the answers are either, because sometimes it feels like I’m not walking the talk with my clients, but it’s something I’m working on myself and in the long run it will only make me better at helping my clients. I personally see nothing wrong with referring a client to counseling and yes, I think we are doing them a disservice by not addressing these issues if we see them. You embody inner and outer strength, you are beautiful and you are an inspiration!

  • Thank you for this. One of the things I struggle with is remembering that it’s about gaining health.. not losing weight.. at my thinnest I was weak and practically fainting because I was so malnourished. I feel as though, at 40, I might be peeking around the corner of that self loathing and reaching a bit more “I am what I am”. But everytime I struggle to button my pants, the first thought I hear in my head is “gods I am so disgusting”… I don’t remember when I let this mean horrid person take up residence in my head, but hopefully, I’ll be able to evict that bitch soon. I eat more veggies and lean protein than I ever did and I feel so much better, even though my weight is up from my own 100lb days.

    • Joe Fixit

      You’re on the right track, Jeni. Once you realize exercise is about your health (or performance) not your appearance, things get better. Personally, I look my worst ever now and am more accepting of myself than when I was a lot younger and looked a whole lot better. And I feel better and can move better now (and with less pain) then when I was always trying to look good enough to be on a magazine cover.

      Personally, I have turned away from the sculpting & toning, bodybuilding approaches in exercise because they are all based on appearance, not performance or health.

      Perhaps part of it is getting comfortable with my age (51) and having a partner who loves me as I am. I have been heading in this direction for a long time, but things really sped up in that direction in the last 5 years, thanks to kettlebells, Z-health and the FMS. For the last year or so I only exercise for health and performance. Whatever that does for my appearance is just a side-effect.

      It took a lot of decades for me to approach this place and it’s still not always easy to stay there.

  • Proud of you, Laurel! 🙂

  • veganonthego

    This is an incredible post and took a lot of courage to put it out there! As a younger person in the fitness industry, it’s really awesome to have role models like you to look up to. It’s comforting to see that people of all ages struggle with the same issues, but can offer different perspectives because of different life experience.
    Personally, I’ve also struggled with body image issues in the past, and even in the present I have to make a conscious effort not to judge myself based on my body. It’s tough, but I feel that if I give it my best, I can conquer it, just like all the other struggles I’ve overcome.
    Thanks again for sharing this post, it’s extremely important to shed some light on this subject, especially in the health and fitness world!

  • Robin

    OMG, breaks my heart , too, because that is me. Up-down weight that determines ones worth is so wrong. I’ve finally gotten rid of my 40 plus diet/”nutrition” books–GONE–and am now eating a pale/autoimmune diet because I’ve developed Hashimotos. I’m pretty sure I screwed my health through dieting and gave myself this thyroid disease, but guess what? I think it might be a gift.

    I wrote the post above on a FB page that shared your article. I cannot say strongly enough that at 50 plus years(1’m about to turn 54 in 2 weeks)we have got to focus on gaining health. So, again, eat for health–and that can be paleo. So yes, my Hashimotos is a gift because now I’m choosing health–my new goal?? Not weight loss–lower my thyroid antibodies. I do look way better though…

  • Dave Hall

    Regardless of how you feel about yourself, you are a brave woman and deserve all the kudos you get.

    I’m a man, a fitness professional, and I share your concerns and fears. Maybe not as strongly, as society has historically looked with less scrutiny on my gender, but that’s changing and not for the better.

    I have made it my life’s work to stand in the face of this overwhelming tide of vanity and unreasonable expectation. The purpose of our time in the gym is to make our lives better and heaping layer upon layer of emotional abuse does no one any good.

    I maintain a small group of like minded professionals and enthusiasts on Facebook called Mental Meat Heads. I invite you to check us out. Additionally I do a weekly interview series whose purpose is to continue these types of discussions and to promote a broader spectrum of fitness professionals than what we all think we’re “supposed to be.” Feel free to contact me if your are interested in doing an interview. I’d love to talk more with you.

  • Liz

    Very nice article Laurel! There are MANY people who feel the same way you do – good for you for putting it out there!

  • Jessie Brazil

    Laurel, I applaud your courage. Body dis-morphia is a real problem with men and women alike and some day I hope you are able to overcome your demons.

  • Kathleen

    Gosh, look how strong you are! Look at what great posture you have! Look at your face, which looks to be the face of someone in her 30s! All that training has really paid off, Laurel.

    I am 58 and I’ve been where you’re at. In great shape when I competed in bodybuilding. These days, it’s a bit of a struggle. It’s a transition indeed.

    A lot of things happen, especially to women, after age 50. Hormones decline…and that is huge. The same diet and exercise program that worked at age 40 does NOT work after age 50. You don’t have the physiological equipment (the hormones) to be as lean and muscular as you once were. Getting trim takes soooo much longer!

    But after fussing about the unfairness of it all…and the frustrations with “dieting” and training…you hit a point where you’ve GOT to move on…if nothing else, for your own sanity.

    I now enjoy the freedom of not having that super limited diet. And I think I eat in a much healthier fashion now. I’ve made a break from diets and now do “the Kathleen diet.”

    And I have tossed the idea that I have to be perfect. Again, it’s freeing.

    I also count my blessings. I have seen tragedies and traumas occur to many people–some in my family and some outside.

    So my belly and triceps are softer. There’s more flesh on my butt and thighs. I’m alive and healthy! Again, HUGE! I have learned to be grateful for the blessings I do have.

    It’s okay to have goals to lose weight, get firmer, etc. I think it’s great to strive for something. But it helps to acknowledge other triumphs. Like…I am pretty dang strong for my age…I got to the gym–that will lower my risk for breast cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

    To boil it down, I’d have to say that dieting and training become less about vanity and more about health and vitality.

  • You were very brave to post this. I’ve struggled with body dismorphia too. Bulimia, plastic surgery, exercising to excess, starving myself – only to get to a ‘lowest’ weight of 145. For me, I doubt it’ll ever go away. You’re definitely not alone in your feelings.

  • Christine

    Thank you for writing this, Laurel. A lot of people out there are in the same situation, but lack the courage to say anything about it.
    I, too, have been in the same situation. What helped me gain perspective was the day I realized I was too tired to play with my children; this was the case for longer than I could remember. That is when I realized for myself that as long as I was healthy enough to live my life, whether life called for playing with my kids or working on the house or going out for a run, my body was good enough. It didn’t have to look like a model’s body, as long as it could perform the actions necessary to live my life.
    There are still days when I think “I could never wear what she’s wearing; I can’t carry it off”, or “I will never be able to wear that top or miniskirt”. To balance that out, however, there are now many days when I am glad I now have the energy to play with my kids. The message I’m trying to pass along to my kids is that it doesn’t matter how thin or fat or tall or short you are as long as your body is strong enough to do what you need it to do. I don’t want them to have to go through the same struggle with body image.

  • Sara

    Thanks for having the courage to post this! I’ve gotten HKC certified, and haven’t had the courage to teach yet because I’m overweight. I like the idea of gaining health. I’m 43 and probably 50 lbs heavier than when I graduated from high school, but am stronger and fitter than I was then. As I spend time with people in their 70’s and 80’s, I see that I need to eat and work out to be *healthy*, in body and mind. Will obsessing over every bite help? No! Will a few pounds matter? Unlikely. Will a balanced approach help? I think so. Perhaps our perspective should be “What can I do right now to gain health?” It might be a workout, brocolli and chicken, or it just might be a nap or a piece of great chocolate and a laugh with your best friend. You are an inspiration, and a beautiful, strong woman too!

    • Laurel Blackburn

      Sara, you should be teaching!!! One of my best instructors, Susan lost over 100 pounds. She is not skinny by any means, but she is a wonderful instructor. She inspires people who are afraid to come to the gym because they think they are too fat. You have no idea how much you will help others.

  • kettlebell king

    Laurel, I give you a great deal of credit for the courage for “opening your kimona” in an effort to help others. I’m going to resist my initial impulse as a coach and and an age contemporary (51 in October) and not offer advice. I’m certain that you’ve heard it all. However, I will make a few statements of support and pose a few questions for you to ask yourself. 1) Personally, I like like a woman with an athletic, thicker build. 🙂 Many, many others are attracted to the build. I am of Italian descent – so there is quite a bit of thickness in my family. 2) As long as you are healthy, fit and strong – all else will fall into place. 3) As we get older, it gets more difficult to keep weight off. Finding your balance and what you are comfortable with is most important. 4) When you are “heavier”, what happened? Why did you go off of your “diet” and by how much? How long did it take you to put weight on?
    As hard as it is, I’m not going to offer advice – only support. I’m certain that you’ve asked yourself many questions, but there is no easy answer. As long as you feel good about yourself and what you are doing – it’s all good. But you have feel comfortable and if you’re not, determine why.

  • Nononana

    Thank you for this!
    I am 29 and this has been a big year for me in focusing on balance. I used to hate that word because I thought it was synonymous with “weak” or “an excuse to not work hard enough.” I too have struggled with my weight since I was a child. I steadily gained weight until college and finally realized I needed to do something. I did an okay job and did not feel starved, but instead of being content at 125 lbs (which I stayed at comfortably for a few years), I wanted more, so I dieted and exercised more intensely, most days having just a cup of coffee and a chicken breast with some broccoli. I got down to around 113, but that didn’t last very much and then began the yo-yoing. If I had just stayed content, I probably would have maintained my steady weight, but the incessant perfectionism, along with not being 19 anymore, has meant I have consistently gone up and down 2-4 clothing sizes since. The funny part is, at the time, I didn’t see anything unusual about having one chicken breast a day as a problem.

    As a fitness pro, my clients never judged me, but I felt as though I was a hypocrite. Not to mention, my husband is the peak of physical perfection and so I feel like I did not match up.

    However, sometime around last Summer I thought: Enough! I am tired of thinking about food all the time, or my weight. I wanted to be thin because I thought I would enjoy life more, but instead, it took away from my quality of life. In fact, I realized my obsession towards being ripped on my body type was just as unnatural as it is for someone to be morbidly obese. When I decided to stop punishing my body and instead nourish it and respect it, it settled on an healthy weight. I may not look like a fitness model, but that’s okay. I also found my obsession with food cut down tremendously when I let go. I am not 125 (I actually no longer weigh myself), and I am not physically “perfect,” but I have energy and I am happier overall. There are so many things in life to appreciate, it is such a waste of time to obsess over a little extra fat.

  • Darlene Ellenburg

    Great courage. Great achievements, too.

    I think you nailed it with one statement, here, but maybe not in the way you outwardly realize.

    You said, “My issue is my love/hate affair with my body.” Now a twist. I was once really into studying the metaphysics of sabotage.

    I was this suit-wearing legal assistant wanting to start a business in my 20’s. I’d listen to Dennis Waitley, Wayne Dyer, read Think and Grow Rich, and Zig Zigler motivation books. I had an awesome course on the 7 aspects of life and setting immediate, short-term and long-term goals for those aspects of life.

    At 50, I can look back on these things with a bigger-picture view, like a view from a helicopter instead of …http://www.reimagineyes.com/the_metaphysical_neuroscience_-238061817.html

    I’m linking to my page simply not to take up all your space here. 🙂

  • Guest

    As I look at the pictures in the post (and I mean your current day pictures) all I can think is “Man, I wish I looked that good”. You look amazing for ANY age.

  • Missy

    Dear sweet Jesus. I’m in disbelief, but you never know one’s struggle. So bluntly speaking, I love your body and the fact of how strong you are and owning age 51! I’m not quite half your age but wish I had a quarter of the strength and the body type that you have. I look up to you. There may be an under lying issue on why you struggle so much that you may not have tapped into just yet. Talk to someone, it really helps. I don’t think ANY woman ever completely overcomes body image, but you should challenge yourself and know that beauty is more than what people see. I think you’re beautiful not because of what you look like, but when you shared your stories of struggling with other issues, and how you over came being a single mom. That’s what make you beautiful from the inside out.

  • Laurel Blackburn

    Thank you so much for such supportive comments. It’s so great to know I am not alone. I am really concentrating on focusing on my strengths and how strong and healthy my body is rather than what size it is. Although writing the blog was really hard, it helped me to see how unhealthy my mind and spirit are.

  • Laurel Blackburn

    I thought I left a comment and I don’t see it so I’ll try again. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for your support. I am so glad to see I am not alone.

  • Veronica

    Laurel, you look great. You look strong and fit, and you have looked that way in all of your photos. We have a similar build (I’m Puerto Rican and Cuban,) short with a thick strong frame. It is time for you to stop the madness! I’ve been there, I’ve done all the diets, hated myself, etc. It’s hard. But to answer your question, focusing on health including mental health, instead of weight loss, is the answer! Body acceptance is the best thing we can do for ourselves.

  • Carol

    Laurel, this has touched me in so many ways. Thank you for saying what we all have felt. As fitness professionals we have extra pressure to “look the part” and it feels overwhelming at times. I have told you before but it’s worth mentioning again- When I saw the picture of you in the splits holding a keg over your head I told my daughter you were my hero. After meeting you and spending the weekend as your roommate at the RKC it only confirmed my feelings. You are an amazing woman, both beautiful and strong and I strive to be more like you every day. Own who you are and delight in it because you are amazing!

  • Debbie Cassidy Massey

    Thank you Laurel for sharing your thoughts! I think many women (including myself) needed to hear this. You wrote my life story as it relates to self image and weight loss!

  • doc

    Concerning your looks and how it affects your teaching: I’ll use Bobby Bowden as an example (and hope I don’t get excommunicated from Gator Nation), he was an excellent coach and all his players wanted to play for him and learn from him. None of them wanted to physically look like him. Also, he didn’t have to run a slant across the middle of the field and make a diving catch to show his players how he wanted it done.
    Secondly, It is seemingly un- American for there to be a bunch of comments on the internet without there being at least one jackass, so since I haven’t seen any others on here I’ll volunteer. Assuming there aren’t any psychological or physiological reasons for your “perceived” problems, pretend those balls you are doing pullups on (they aren’t organic are they?) are life and “Get a Grip.”

  • doc

    Just a little clarification. I wasn’t saying you look like Bobby Bowden, you look great. Just saying you don’t have to be that 20 year old hard body in order to teach and motivate people.

    • Laurel Blackburn

      Bobby Bowden? Did you know I am a die hard FSU fan??

  • Jesse S

    The mental picture we hold of ourselves manifests in our body. It has taken me so long to learn this. I also struggle with feeling inferior, feeling bad about my body, no matter how big I get or how attractive my wife tells me I am.

    When I recently started using some visualization techniques (Psycho Cybernetics) along with guided meditation (headphone type stuff) I really saw some improvements.

    I am not surprised to hear that someone as strong, fit, and athletic looking as yourself struggle with this stuff too, especially considering how the media bombards us with unrealistic images of what we should aspire to.

    Thanks for sharing. And for what it is worth, you look fantastic!

  • Laura

    Meditation, acupuncture, reiki, NLP, EFT will all help with negative self talk. Try them out 🙂

  • Jwinegardner

    Amen. I’m one of those clients who looks the same no matter how hard I work. Because I haven’t ever really changed my eating habits. And I beat myself up all the time about it. It doesn’t help, either, when people like doctors reaffirm your self-loathing. I can’t tell you how many times a doc has lectured me to please walk 30 minutes 3 times a week. Or rolled his eyes in utter dismissal when I tell him my workout routine. But there’s the other side too. I simply cannot hear a good word. When I recently had my heart rate tested on some zippy computer device, I fell (barely, but still) into the elite athlete range for cardio health. Did I celebrate that? Nooooo. I obsessed over my gut when I had to lift up my shirt to buckle the heart rate monitor. So. Yeah. You nailed it. When is good ever good enough?

    • Laurel Blackburn

      I know. It’s crazy. I know plenty of women (you included) who are amazing athletes. Just because we may not look the part doesn’t mean we aren’t. I remember my first half marathon and I looked at all the bodies and I just assumed that all the thin ladies were in the first waves (fastest), then I figured out how the bib numbers were and I started looking again and I saw some ladies that were much heavier in the elite wave. You can’t judge an athlete by their outsides. Let’s focus on the amazing things that our bodies can do and how strong we are and how healthy we are and quit worrying about size and numbers.

  • Dear Laurel,

    First of all, I applaud you for writing this. So…*round of applause*! Women often talk about overcoming Body Image issues, but I haven’t ever read an article about someone discussing their current body image struggles. This is a fantastic article, and I appreciate you being so open, so raw! It shows that you’re human. And do you want to know something about us humans?

    We aren’t perfect. We aren’t meant to be perfect.

    Granted, having dived head first into the fitness world myself, I can certainly understand the pressure you may feel for having to be a good role model for people. Sometimes I find myself thinking about my own physique, and trying to make sure I keep my body in check. While I cannot say that I have had serious body image issues in my own life, I can tell you I have had an obsession with fitness for a while.

    2 to 3 years ago the lifestyle I was living was a big fat chaotic mess. I had left any form of exercising behind in exchange for a life of hardcore partying. I don’t want to get into the details of exactly how ridiculous that time of my life was, but I can assure you, I did a lot of things that were wrecking my health. I woke up one day and stared at my on single 12kg kettlebell I had at the time, thinking
    to my self “what happened to my life?” I couldn’t figure out why I was so hell bent on destroying myself, so I decided to stop…to actually do something good for my life, and live.

    I ended up training along side an RKC here in Pittsburgh who put me on track for do my own RKC certification. Training for RKC gave me such a hope and purpose. I often credit that whole process for saving my life (but again, that’s another story). Funny thing happened though after RKC. I actually got depressed. I got REALLY depressed, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure it
    out.

    I spoke with a number of people after my certification about this issue. To be honest, I thought I was losing touch with reality or something. Being depressed just didn’t make any logical sense to me. I’m not generally a depressed person, so I couldn’t understand why I would feel so low after having
    achieved something so great. It was my pastor at my Church who eventually pointed it out to me when he said “Did you ever think you were trying to compensate for something you hate about yourself? You can push yourself too hard sometimes in an attempt to find meaning and purpose. In the end, all you really need to do is forgive yourself for the harm you inflicted and love yourself, knowing you never have to return to that life.”

    THAT hit me like a ton of bricks. It made me realize that I had internalized a lot of guilt and hate for how I used to be, and it was blinding me from all the amazing feats of strength I had accomplished. That comment also put things in perspective for me. I had to really ask myself why I wanted to be RKC in the first place. Was it because I genuinely wanted to help people? Or was it because I was at war with myself? Why was I so hell bent on comparing my strength and physique to other fitness professionals? What was the point of it all, really?

    I took a month off training and gave myself some time to recuperate. From there on out, I decided to do just what my pastor told me to do. Forgive myself. It was harder to forgive myself than I actually thought, but laying it all down has helped me so much with moving forward. I’m establishing my business, training my clients, and finally appreciating myself for who I am, a
    strong woman who inspires other people to be strong themselves. THAT is so rewarding!

    My point with this whole story is this. While I do not know why you have struggled with this body image issue for so long, all I can encourage you to do is forgive yourself. Realize you aren’t perfect, and remember that it’s ok to be human. “Looking that part” means nothing. Performance and strength should always be the most important factors in your fitness career, not what a scale says or how your particular body appears. You are a strong woman who inspires a ton of people, myself included. Remind yourself daily that people love you for who you are and want you to be yourself. Embrace your life! You’re amazing!

    Janelle Pica, RKC

    • Laurel Blackburn

      Thanks Janelle!!

  • Eve Koivula

    Laurel, you really nailed it!

    But I have a feeling it only gets easier when we’re aging. For me, every bit of self loathing just flew away when I realized that my body does amazing things. It really doesn’t matter what it looks like when it amazes me week after week after week by performing the way I thought was never possible.

    Recently I learned that all the women friends of mine I used to envy because of their long lean legs actually envy my curves… who would have known! LOL

  • ROSE

    I UNDERSTAND HOW YOU FEEL…….NOT SAYING IM AN ATHLETE BUT AT 52 STUGGLED WITH WEIGHT WHOLE LIFE AND EVERYTIME I HAVE A PHYSICAL I GET A GREAT BILL OF HEALTH….BUT HOW IS THAT THAT IM HEALTHY AND OBESE…..THAT EQUATION IS NOT RIGHT SOME HOW…..I HAVE GONE ON LIQUID FAST LOST 96 LBS AND KEPT IT OFF FOR YEARS, BUT AS SOON AS A TRAGEDY STRUCK(THE LOSS OF MY FATHER) WITHIN 3MONTHS I HAD GAINED 64 OF THE 96LBS I HAD LOST AND SINCE THEN(WHICH HAS NOW BEEN 10YEARS) I HAVE BEEN BATTLING TO GO BACK TO A LOWER WEIGHT WHERE I FELT GOOD AND COULD WEAR A SIZE THAT DIDNT START WITH THE NUMBER 2. I RECENTLY SUFFERED A WORK RELATED INJURY, HAD MY HIP AND MY KNEE TOTALLY REPLACED, RIPPED ROTARY CUFF, FRACTURED NECK, FRACTURED 5TH METATARSAL(SURGERY PENDING) AND THE ONLY THING I CAN THINK ABOUT IS …WHAT TYPE OF EXCERSICE WILL I BE ABLE TO DO ….IN MY RECOVERY…….CAN YOU HELP WITH THOSE ISSUES…..

    • Laurel Blackburn

      Rose, I would find a good trainer but first talk to your Dr and see what you are allowed to do and proceed from there.

      • Rose

        Good advice, thanks!

  • Cindy N

    I recently started my first Kettlebell bootcamp. I love it. It’s hard but I always feel better. I’ve never incorporated exercise with diet before. usually just diet..
    Our trainer is amazing. She’s real and honest and believes in us. I just love her. We have a journal and we record our food intake, but, she also sends us thought provoking emails every week. Things we need to contemplate and answer like “what is your relationship with food like? Is it unhealthy”? These are questions that I just started asking myself a year ago. It’s on my bucketlist. To begin to understand food and it’s role in my life. It has always been a dysfunctional relationship. And I am finally strong enough to look it in the eye. It’s a journey, but I have my map and I’m on my way. Thanks for this amazing blog, thanks for your honesty. It’s the only way to peel back the layers and begin to heal.

    • Laurel Blackburn

      Cindy, it sounds like you have a great trainer!

  • Krieghart

    I’ve done a lot of hard work, but haven’t seen the results in the mirror because my eating habits habits improved and I haven’t had a place of my own where I can have full control of what’s in the fridge so I’m dealing with constant temptation. I know from observing my parents thought that there is a big key to being satisfied with your health and that’s to accept that the body fluctuates. I’m the oldest of 5 kids and have seen them both go up and down in weight over the years, but neither of them had just one number for their weight. They both looked toward achieving a healthy range that would eliminate the health risks and allow them some occasional indulgence. When ever I speak with friends and family about workout goals I ask them about BMI, body fat percentage, or something along those lines so that they aren’t fixated on the scale or an exact weight goal. I’m 220lbs. aiming for 170-180lbs.

  • LeeAnne Hebert

    I am also 51 and a certified health and fitness coach – what does that mean….. It means that food and excercise are only a small piece of the puzzel…. at 50 – I was 127 lbs today I am 146…. but right now I am going through my second divorce, have discovered that alcohol is not my friend and never will be – I’ve chosen to call myself a bit curvier than I want to be, and to motivate myself I’ve signed up for a 5k in Michigan with my friend – I live in Boston….. Personally I think you look fabulous – I am also tired of “trying” to have the perfect body. I’ve decided to be fit so I can enjoy the things I want to do like kayak, walk my dog, play with my granddaughter….. Age is just a number – I swear if I hear the hormone thing one more time… 🙂 although for some I know it’s true….. thank you for being so honest – It is a discussion that needs to be had. Kat Kim of the “Beauty Uprising” is trying to start a movement that has to to with what you’ve discussed and what I’ve mentioned above.
    Thanks again and god bless.

  • Larry Evans

    you are a ,beautiful woman, not a Barbie doll. Young start on the inside, between the ears. So does the stress that causes us to get fat, look and feel old, or just replay the tape from way back when. You know what I mean, we all have those hurts that still bug,or even torment us years later.Stress is stress, the body doesn’t care where it comes from. Its time.

  • Bobby Rudl

    hormones, and chemical additives in “food” are the problems. When we eat things like cake our body was not designed to process, the beautiful machine suffers. Feed your body with real foods, get regular exercise, and this will not be a problem. The problem is when you tell someone they can’t eat things like sugars, grains, and packaged “foods” they freak out.

    Oh yeah, and by the way, Laurel, you are a beautiful person, never forget that! 🙂

  • avg gal in sd

    Wow does this hit home with me! I’M 47 healthy & fit compared to other women my age. But have always hated my body! Other women say they’d love to have my body! So why do I hate it so much?

    • Laurel Blackburn

      That is the million dollar question!! Instead of figuring out why, let’s just change it by focusing on the positive.

  • lori

    Laurel – u need t o give yourself a break !!! If it wasnt for you I would have never learned how to workout. 4 years later and I go up and down 10. I cannot miss more than 1 week of working out without gaining back. And I eat cake. Especially lucy n leos! Dont feel guilty. Its nice to know my my workout mentor struggles the same as I do. Again without your help I wouldnt have made it. Love u – lori

    • Laurel Blackburn

      Thanks Lori! Since I have written that blog, things have changed. It was freeing.

  • Absolutely love this. Preach, sista! I’m noticing this movement among more and more female fitness pros. It’s a wonderful discussion to be having. I have hated my body since middle school. It’s only within the last year (yes, just one year) that I have come to grips with my body type, and my level of acceptance and happiness.

    Recently the debate in my head is…whoa, I’m actually happy with the way I look most of the time. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and I still hate bikinis, but hey…what’s so bad with accepting it? So the drive to push and drive myself crazy with strict diet and exercise is subsiding. Am I going to have the perfect body doing that? Nope. But right now, I’m really enjoying the lack of stress around the issue and the energy and focus to put into other areas that make me happy.

    Absolutely inspired by your post. To be honest, I was surprised. You always post such badass pics of you and your amazing strength. Your testimonial here just makes me appreciate you even more.

    • Laurel Blackburn

      Thanks Shari! I am focusing on other things since I wrote that blog and since I’ve read so many great responses. It gave me the push I needed to focus on change.

  • muddyoga

    Laurel, thank you for this post- I can relate to so much of what you are saying. I struggle every day with issues with my self image and weight. I lost 80 lbs after having my second daughter and stepped on stage for the first time looking amazing. I have gained and lost 20 lbs for each consecutive show(10 of them) and stopped the madness 2 years ago. My body naturally comes to the same point- almost exactly 20 lbs over comp weight – and it stays there. I know i should be happy i am 60 lbs lighter than i was at one point but when i look in the mirror i still see someone that is heavy. I am taking it one day at a time and working on loving who i am and what i look like .

    • Laurel Blackburn

      Yeah, I think I was the unhealthiest I’ve ever been while on stage. It really screwed me up physically but more so mentally. One day is all we have, let’s make it one of peace and acceptance.

  • ImFatYourNot

    I read your blog and looked all your pictures. I’m sorry but I didn’t notice any really heavy pictures of you. Being a heavy woman myself (235lbs) and all of 5’0, I’m looking at you and wishing I had your problems, wait maybe not, because I really think your problem is in your head. Keep working out and keep your body healthy God bless you on your quest to stop the madness.

    • Laurel Blackburn

      Thank you. I know my problem is in my head and writing the blog helped me see that more clearly. I have begun to work on it.

  • Georgia

    By the way, you have a beautiful body.

  • Steve McKanna

    Laurel, Thank you for your courage and your honesty! Not a lot of people in this business could do what you did and I am sure that your story is helping someone at this very moment. I did the RKC under Pavel a few years ago and I met some wonderful people that operate at a real high level of strength and fitness. I work in a public high school in New England and am constantly among teenagers who are trying to find their place in this world, many struggle with body image and weight both boys and girls alike. What they need is to see and hear people like you describe the struggle and how they have dealt with it and managed to live and become successful in spite of it!! You are a tremendous power of example because in spite of your issues with body image and weight you are also a very strong, confident and successful woman. That is the reality of it, we will all struggle with something, but it doesn t have to stop us or define us!! Congratulations for your courage and candor and best of luck to you in the future!!

  • Angie

    Thank you very much for this article. It really hits home with me as I’m sure it does with so many women and men alike out there. It really does hurt when you’ve tried everything, as drastic and severe as you can with diet and/or workout, and still have the others make statements that make you feel like they think you’re just being dishonest about your eating habits. What hurts worse though is that even when I make substantial improvement I can’t really see it. I can see it in pictures, the improvements, but still just see a fat girl. That’s the worst. I’m working very hard to overcome it and hearing this from someone with your experience and fitness level really helps.

  • Robbin Machida

    I’ve been overweight for 10 years and tried so many things. Different things work for different people and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 22 pounds in one month without much exercise and it’s been a life changer. I’m a little embarrased to post my before and after photos here but if anyone actually cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be happy to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at oceanflowers82@gmail.com and I’ll show you my before and after photos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish someone would have helped me out when I was struggling to find a solution so if I can help you then it would make my day

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