How Performance & Intuition Saved My Fitness Journey

For as long as I can remember, I lived (un)comfortably within diet culture. Cycle after cycle of frustration, nursed with countless 100-calorie packs and sporadic gym memberships that lasted anywhere from six days to six months, until eventually, my results, or lack there of, lead to more frustration.

And then there came a time when, day after day, I rose with the sun to hit the gym. Week after week, I meal prepped on Sunday to eat well on Monday. Until months turned into years of assimilating nutrition & fitness into my life. Until I began to refer to my choices as my lifestyle.

So, what changed? I think, accountability. Mainly, personal accountability – my next-level determination fueled by an honest look the way my actions shaped my internal and external perception. And of course, the creation of my “fit-stagram.”

But, does a lifestyle really get tracked, and counted, and measured in 30-day challenges? For some people, maybe. For me, most definitely not. Because I’ll let you in on a (not-so-secret) secret: despite all of the things that did change – overhauling my habits, restructuring my routine, swapping grease for greens, and trading in bars for barbells -some things didn’t. Fear (Will I regress? What’s next? Am I doing this right?), expectations (I should feel this way, I should look that way), comparison (She eats a certain way to get the results I desire, so I should follow), frustration (All these curls and still no bicep definition?!).

I could feel my relationship with health and fitness shifting. The signs were all there. Dreading the exercises whatever challenge I was following programmed for the next day, or struggling to plan my meals through indecisive anxieties, to name a few. On more than one occasion I said to myself (and actually, out loud), “I’m doing all of this, [eating a certain way, lifting a certain way] I should be ripped.” That statement was not okay. It was more than not okay. It was detrimental to my relationship with health & fitness.

So here I was, a fork in the road. One path leading to a familiar dead-end I’d circled many times before, and the other stretching out before me with limitless possibility to places unknown.

Standing there, at the fork, it became clear to me. I changed my eating habits, following meal plans down to the gram of kale and the teaspoon of coconut oil. I developed a fitness routine, finishing every rep of every set that targeted my inner-thighs and that spot where “my arm meets my tank top”. But why? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you a legitimate reason. Sure, I wanted to fuel my body and look + feel strong, but I had no idea what these things – from foods I was consuming to exercises I was completing – did for my body. Me. Personally. Because for so long, I had blindly followed plans, and programs, and even people that I thought were necessary to sustaining my desired lifestyle. When what I really needed to sustain my desired lifestyle, was to get to know myself. Like, physically, know myself down to every atom of my biology. Apart from labels and challenges and programs. Hello world, it’s me, Al.

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Well now, I think we all know which path I took 😉

The first step on my path forward in to the great labeless-unknown was right into a CrossFit gym. Here, in the box, fitness is all about function. Moving weight, exuding power, increasing stamina. In other words: Getting. Work. Done. In CrossFit, we don’t curtsy squat for booty gains, we deadlift so that we can pick up and transfer heavy objects. We don’t crunch for abs, we snatch to develop… literally everything 😉 (core stability, body awareness, explosive power, mobility, vertical jump, etc). We don’t exercise, we perform and, even better, we play.

Let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with traditional weight training that focuses on hypertrophic movements. But, there was something wrong with the role it played in my routine.

I was hyper-focused on form and not at all on function. I was cranking out and counting down reps in hopes of a chiseled physique, and criticizing myself in the mirror when, after another 8-week cycle, I didn’t see the tricep definition I’d hoped for. My goals and motivations were quite literally surface-level, rooted in aesthetics and body composition. And it left me feeling so confused and defeated that when my alarm chimed at 4:30, I wanted to hit “snooze” more often than “stop.”

CrossFit taught me how to view my body not as a statue to be admired, but a powerhouse to be respected. It taught me how to maximize my strengths and improve my weaknesses. It taught me how measure progress in performance and skill, and welcome fitness as a friend and aesthetics as a “with-benefits” 😉 Ultimately, it taught me to value function over form. You may find this from yoga, or running, or barre, but I’ll tell you right now – you better find it.

When I started measuring progress in terms of performance (could I lift heavier, complete more reps, run faster, master new skills?) instead of appearance, I found it much easier to co-exist with my reflection. As in, look at myself in the mirror and really, truly, not analyze what I saw looking back at me. I think it’s important to mention that I didn’t suddenly love my reflection, praise it or find new pride in it, “ooh” or “ahh” over it, I just simply didn’t think of it as a definitive factor of my level of fitness, my success, my worth, or my perception.

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It’s this mindset that carried over to the way I approach nutrition.

Until I began the practice of actively acknowledging the motives behind my food choices and analyzing how those choices affected my body, I didn’t realize I was forming a problematic and not-so-positive relationship with food.

The fact of the matter was, I had been basing my dietary preferences on external influence since the official beginning of my Fitness Journey (and, undoubtedly, long before that). From meal plans to macros, I was trying to take steps to learn more about nutrition and implement it in the ways I wanted. I don’t regret it, it’s all helped to shape my journey. But with each step forward, I took a step right back due to one major flaw in my strategy: my strategy was someone else’s strategy. My food choices were not informed by my biological cues, they were dictated by programs and numbers and lists of approved food groups. And, while I had learned a new way of eating, I didn’t really know anything about it. I wasn’t able to make correlations between my input of nutrients and output of daily function. I didn’t know why I was making the choices I was aside from the fact that someone, or something, told me I should.

In hindsight, it lead to all of the things I found frustrating about nutrition: cravings, not feeling satisfied, snacking, anxiety around dining out… ultimately, giving food power. No matter how small or subtle. Power in my thoughts, in the way I navigated life, and sometimes, in the way I felt about myself.

Just like with CrossFit, I stopped eating to meet specific aesthetic goals – leaning, gaining, you name it – and started eating to perform my best in the gym and function my best outside of the gym. I began to listen to my body’s cues, from satiety to energy levels and so much in between, apply them, in combination with personal preference, to make informed decisions. I began to reconnect to my intuition. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to eat like other people, and started eating like me – in the ways that made me feel best, in the ways I liked most – that I began to develop a true symbiotic relationship with food. Similar to my reflection, I don’t make a big to-do about food, I simply exist right along with it.

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If you’re still with me, this entire post can be summed up into one simple conclusion: Valuing function and performance over aesthetics and physical form changed saved my relationship with nutrition & fitness. It feels free of judgement, free of frustration, and free of fear. It feels like my life.

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At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition & fitness. No one definition of health. Everybody – and I mean quite literally every [space] body – is unique, from genetics to lifestyle. We know this, we preach it, and we post it; and now, it’s time to practice it. No two people, even if they eat and exercise in the exact same way, will look or feel the same. It’s why nutrition and fitness have to exist in our lives as more than a means to an end or a solution to a perceived problem. It’s why we absolutely can not measure our happiness, worth, satisfaction, or success in pounds or inches. It’s why our motivators have to be as deep as our squats 😉

I’ll leave you with some tips and tricks that I found helpful during this transition:

  1. Set Performance-Based Goals. Move over “six-pack by summer” and “build-a-booty,” there’s a new way to measure progress in town, and it’s all about performance. How about: hold a three-minute plank, PR by squat by 10 pounds, do an unassisted pull up. You’ll find yourself appreciating your body for all of the incredible things it can do, not how it looks.
  2. Define Your Lifestyle. Sit down and craft a definition for what a healthy, active, nutritious lifestyle looks like on your terms. Write it down, meditate on it, paste it onto a vision board – whatever works for you! And then, implement it, practice it, live by it! As you evolve, so will your definition, allow it to be flexible and empowering.
  3. Be Your Own Fitspo. Bye, bye, comparison! Repeat after me: no one is you, and that is your power. Accept yourself here and now, in whatever form you may present or photograph and in whatever way you may perform. Get too busy watering your own grass to notice if someone else’s is greener a different shade of green. Own your choices, your preferences.
  4. Embrace Intuition. Your body is quite literally the most in-depth hub of information you have access to, and it’s personalized to you. Listen to it, analyze it, and apply it. Trust in your body to tell you what it wants and needs. Check out my post on Intuitive Eating to learn the 10 Principles of the practice!

 

 

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