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December 24, 2012

Reflections on 2012 Part 2: PHYSIQUE

In Part 1, I revealed some of the key insights I had in 2012 about mindset. Today I want to talk about body, and how I learned so much more about physique change, willpower and the desire for “The Perfect Body” in 2012.

Between the years of 2006 and 2009, I did a lot of photo shoots and a lot of competitions. I also gained and lost A LOT of pounds, easily swinging 15-20 lbs up and down between shows. Not a good look or FEEL for the body.

I remember constantly feeling embarrassed in public when I was not in “show shape” and feeling like I was disappointing people, and also myself. I remember the inevitability of clothes getting tighter as I came off a show prep, and then letting it ruin me. “WHY HAD I LET MYSELF GET BACK HERE AGAIN??”

The truth is that “back here” was actually just my normal size 6-8. Luckily I never ever went back to the size I was before I ever started competing, unlike so many competitors who balloon dozens of pounds higher than they ever were before. But the bottom line is that I would never let myself feel comfortable at my normal size–I was choosing to see it like something was wrong with me and I wasn’t good enough. Good enough for what, I don’t know–just that for whatever reason, if I wasn’t in “show shape” or “shoot shape” (completely subjective BTW), I wasn’t worthy.

In early 2010, I had just come off a 6 month dieting craze, prepping for a bunch of shoots in a row. And I was down in weight and felt good. But I had also made the decision not to compete anymore. And that was a turning point for me, because I remember going, “If I don’t have the threat of a competition to keep me ‘in line’ then I need to find something that will work long term.” It was a scary thought–what if I could never have Reeses again? Or eat to my heart’s desire like I used to in my “off-season,” pretending there were no ramifications of my actions?

And the scary–yet ironically liberating–truth was that no, I could never eat to my heart’s desire ever again. I could never eat everything I wanted ever again, if I truly wanted to find balance and stay fairly lean long-term. It was scary because it was sad in a way (bye, bye binges). But it was also liberating because I knew I didn’t have to yo-yo up and down anymore, and I knew I didn’t have to deal with the feelings of being out of control or guilty when I did go off the rails with food. I could just take my time, figure it out, once and for all, forever.

I have written about my moderate approach to nutrition many times (like here and here). And it’s not hardcore, and it doesn’t get me super-lean. But I have come to realize that I will NEVER want to get super-lean ever again if it means I will balloon back up, feel awful and lose my sense of balance.

This year is the first year since I was 23 that I stayed at the same size and weight all year long. And I have to give myself the win for that. Because the alternative for me was staying on the crazy weight loss roller coaster that in the end left me tired, frustrated, distracted and feeling unworthy.

I have lost muscle since I stopped competing. I have gotten smaller up top, I’m a little softer than I was, but I am also still fairly lean, healthy and comfortable. My clothes fit. I don’t stress about food. I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m satisfied. I hardly get cravings anymore (except for coffee!) and I never stuff myself.

I had 2 specific insights this year as it relates to my physique:

1) The Power of Willpower

I learned first-hand how powerful willpower–or more specifically, harnessing willpower–can be in terms of our behaviors. The more we try to harness it and stick to something that takes tons of MENTAL energy, the more likely we are to overindulge later. Simple.

Because I follow a moderate approach, I have actually built up my willpower to the point that not overindulging is now effortless. I am so practiced at how I eat that I would never do off the deep end with food. However, the opposite is also true: because I am so practiced at moderation, I have an incredibly hard time eating any cleaner than I do. If you asked me to go on a competition diet, I couldn’t do it. Or, I guess I could, it would just take every ounce of mental energy I have (see #2 below).

But willpower is hilarious. Yes, it’s actually comical how hard it is change. Here’s a situation that happened with me this past year, to prove my point:

I was booked for modeling job with my agency on a Monday. It was for some catalogue, and it was booked for 1 week away, the following Monday. In preparation, I said to myself, ok, this week, I will just up my veggies, drink tons of water and maybe get in an extra cardio workout or two, just to shed a little water before the shoot. A few days later, I hadn’t done any of that. Simply because I am so practiced at my own, effortless way. So, then I said, well, that’s ok, I just do more veggies and water for the rest of the week. Come Friday, again, I hadn’t done any of that. So I said, ok, this WEEKEND, I’ll just chug water and eat tons of greens. Didn’t do that either. Come Sunday night, I go, well, it’s Sunday, my usual cheat night, I can at least skip that. And I actually did do that.

The shoot the next day went fine. No one called me out or told me to go home because I was too fat :) But then, here’s what happened… directly after the shoot, I immediately went to Fresh Market and got a huge bag of yogurt pretzels, some Reeses and some other crap. I hadn’t done that in YEARS. WTF?

So, just so we’re clear with what happened: I didn’t change anything about my eating or exercising the week prior to the shoot, I just thought a lot about it. Didn’t do anything differently, except try to harness willpower all week, even though that mental effort did not result in any actual action. In fact, the only thing that happened as a result was that I had a binge session after my shoot–something I would never had done if I wasn’t using so much mental effort all week.

Lol. If you understand what happened here with me, then you understand how powerful trying to harness willpower can be, in regard to our behaviors. And not a positive effect either! Ha!

Don’t get me wrong, willpower is important, but it needs to be practiced, not forced. The more we force ourselves to do too many things that don’t feel easy (all at once), the more likely we are to fail. Feelings of deprivation leads to binging. Even thinking about depriving ourselves leads to compensatory eating reactions. That’s how powerful willpower is.

2) Spending mental and physical effort keeping my diet flawless distracts me from being able to do anything else. And it also makes me obsessed with food.

This was my second insight, and it came about as I stopped prepping food each week. Yes, I know, we have been taught to have food prepped and ready–preparation is key. And I actually agree with that, except for the fact that for me, it’s an incredibly painful and distracting process that I found kept me obsessed with food.

We joke at JillFit that if you are prepping for a competition, you are always either shopping for food, cooking food or eating food. And this is the truth. Doing a competition and getting in that kind of shape is a full time job. It has to be your priority because it takes that much effort.

I found for me that when I was intent on keeping my diet flawless, everything else was pushed to the back burner. I was distracted from doing work, I couldn’t focus on my business, I was always stressed about, where’s my food? what time is it? has it been 3 hours yet? is there going to be enough? how many grams of protein is this? how much water have I drank today? when can I get to the grocery store again this week? what time do I need to get home to the chicken in the oven? are the Tupperwares clean? do I have enough veggies to get me to Wednesday? and on, and on, and on.

Some awareness is important. Besides, you need to be mindful of what you put in your mouth. But can you see the obsession that this can become? I think for some people, they enjoy operating this way–having a schedule, having structure and a routine. But for me, it was so painfully draining that it was all I could think about it, and for all the mental stress and physical energy, I didn’t look all that different when I finally just said, fuck it, I’m not prepping food this week, I’ll just figure it out. And I felt liberated!!

This may or may not be the answer for you, but since I stopped prepping food in an formal way, I have been a thousand times more productive in other areas of my life, like building my business, coaching my clients, doing things that are important to me, like reading (which I do 2-3 hours a day), training, spending time with friends and family, and generally not being obsessed with my next meal.

I used to feel scared that if I didn’t have food prepped and ready, that I’d end up at the McDonalds drive-thru with a biggie fry and quarter pounder. I was worried that if I didn’t have my entire weekly menu laid out that I would eat anything and everything I wanted. And you know what? That didn’t happen. And if anything, I am more motivated to stick to clean eating because it doesn’t take every ounce of mental energy anymore.

I eat when I’m hungry, I don’t stress if I miss a meal, I eat to feel satisfied and then stop. I am more in tune with my hunger and cravings then ever before, and because of that I am more disciplined than ever. No more overindulging, and most importantly for me, no more stress.

Below is what I looked like all of 2012 (January, April, July, October, respectively). There are some water fluctuations and maybe small changes here and there but overall, I look the same. Could I get leaner? Certainly. Could I build more muscle? Of course. But am I willing to take the mental energy away from other things to do it? Not at this point. Never say never, but my priorities have changed, and I don’t need to be in “show shape” anymore. I just need to be healthy, happy, not stressed and comfortable in my clothes.

2012: January—> April—> July—> October

Hope you enjoyed this walk through my brain, and how I think about food and physique. I have a lot more thoughts on the subject but this post is already too long! If you are reading this right now, thanks for hanging in there with me! And more importantly, THANK YOU for being on this incredible journey with me! ox, Jill

More in my next post about 2012 in business :)

Related: Exactly what I eat, and why it doesn’t matter for you

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