Balance by definition, is when different elements are equal or in the correct proportions to one another. For the sake of this post, I’m talking the balance between your fitness goals, and well, “life” (food, social events, traveling, family & sleep/beauty rest.)
“Finding balance” is a hot topic in the fitness world and I’ve been trying to master this since 2012 when I first began hitting the gym. I've always been an an all-or-nothing type of girl, and I don’t like to do anything unless I am FULLY committed... so what did I do for years?
Well, I “grinded”, I "prepped", I "selfied", "flexed", "meal prepped", "humpday'd" and I certainly didn’t miss a day at the gym, even if I was sick! Family events?! Forget it! Even during my mother's wedding I was stressed to the max about not being able to eat event food and that I was having to miss a workout (selfish? #guilty!) Travelling was a nightmare for me as I had no control over what I was eating and I was usually focused on trying to find a gym to get my workout in, because as you know, god forbid I missed a day & ate some french fries… let's be real, I had #gains to make and bodyfat to lose, what if I lost my abs?? Would I even still be fit, or an inspiration, how could I selfie? You can agree that my priorities and perspective was completely skewed...and I came to realize that things needed to change.
After many years of searching everywhere, I finally found what I have been looking for, the absolutely perfect equation for balance!
What I did realize though, is that true balance (or by definitions terms) doesn’t exist!
Let me explain; the more weight (or mental focus & intensity) you put on one end of the seesaw, the less weight (focus & energy) can be dedicated to holding down the other side, and although the ideal scenario would be equal weight on both ends, (which is what we all want), it’s very hard to achieve, if not impossible. Which lead me to my great discovery...
Balance isn't fixed, it's variable (and always slightly shifting)
Finding balance can be difficult for everyone regardless of their goals; however, those who struggle more intensive are those who have frequent and aggressive periodic (short term) goals; to name a few examples:
Scenario One; individuals who must lose/drop a large amount of bodyweight for health related reasons.
Scenario Two; those whom have weight goals/targets to hit for a sport (i.e powerlifting or wrestling)
Scenario Three; physique competitors in the sport of bodybuilding due to the overwhelming focus placed on their physique, bodyfat%, and relentless attention to diet & physical exercise.
Scenario three is the one I see on a daily basis. Raise your hand if the following scenario sounds familiar to you...
You set your eyes on a goal (maybe a competition for this example) that is 'X number of weeks' away, and during that time you grind, waking up at 4:00am every day to do your cardio, hit your diet 1000000% every single day, because "HELLO, you have goals right!?!" You are admired & looked up to for your dedication & very soon you look so amazing by the end of the 12-20 weeks that you do your show and then finally you get to celebrate.
& cookies, and pizza, and ice-cream, and alcohol and burgers and pizza, and pizza and pizzz...
Ahh, this is where we all struggle isn’t it? You see, with 100% dedication to fitness puts life on the other end of our seesaw (somewhere of low priority). I hear often, “I can’t wait for this to be over so I can just sleep in, or go on a date with my boyfriend/girlfriend, or eat pizza in my pj’s at 8am while watching cartoons”
Complete opposite spectrum of the healthy fitness you just preached and breathed for what felt like a hundred years, right?
As well, the other problem with being 100% dedicated to a single goal for a period of time is the aspect of restriction (even if you aren’t 'dieting' on low calories, there is still some aspect of restriction that comes along with any goal) & we always want what we can’t have!
This ultimately leads us to a completed goal followed by our slow demise and a 180 degree flip of priorities to now begin the process over compensating for all of the things we sacrificed during the last number of months...and BOOM! All of a sudden fitness & nutrition returns back to it's lower on your list of priorities, and we welcome with open arms those social life events that become number one.
Now, instead of taking your tupperware to a restaurant because you are 'dedicated', you order the double-bacon-cheeseburger-with-a-deep-fried-oreo for dessert because #offseason, and you deserve it right?!
But then after a few days, now you are sad because you feel all of your hard work went out the window and you now are saying goodbye to your little abs that you worked so hard for, and it turns into a vicious cycle.
Oh, but don’t worry, come Monday you will be back to that 100% that grind right?! You will start Monday, or in January (“Yeah, January 1st I’m committed”) .. and “don’t worry it’s ok that I ate this whole box of cereal tonight, because tomorrow I’m holding myself #accountable, and I’m going back to my meal plan and waking up at 4 am”.
But then you realize it’s your besties birthday on Wednesday. and the girls want to go out for dinner and drinks, so..
I guess I’ll start NEXT Monday!
...and until then I’ll just eat whatever I feel like (including the fridge and all of it’s contents every night). You probably wish that the magical balance fairy would just come and bless you with her magic so you could keep your sacred abs but eat an entire pizza to yourself while watching cartoons on a Saturday..Yeah me too!
(That hasn’t happened yet by the way for me so if you find her let me know and tell her I’d like a visit.)
Because so many reach out to me with a different story book cover of that exact same scenario, I wanted to talk to you guys to illustrate how I have found some balance, or at least what has worked for me to enjoy life and stay in shape.
Here are my Top (5) Tips;
1. Don’t label food at good or bad based on whether or not it will make you gain body fat, instead think of food as nutrient dense or not as nutrient dense. Also, don’t label any specific meal as a “cheat meal”. The word cheat by natural association is a very negative word and essentially means that you aren’t on track currently, and are not doing something that is conducive to your long term goal. Remember that we always want what we can’t have and by setting limits on what we can and can not eat makes us want it more! Sugar is just like any other drug in that when we have it it essentially gives us a “High” literally an endorphin rush and it’s that feeling we are addicted to, especially if we think we aren’t supposed to have it, thus we keep restricting and then over indulging. If you don’t label food as good or bad, you will severely limit food anxiety and when you are going out to eat you will order what you “want” and make a healthier choice usually, instead of the double bacon cheeseburger with extra bacon and cheese just because you start your diet monday and will never have one ever again.. Guess what? you will have another one, and probably sooner if you tell yourself you can’t.
2. If you are a physique competitor you don’t have an “offseason” you shouldn’t treat the time you aren’t prepping for a show as a total break. You are supposed to be a fit person and an athlete, which means fuelling your body with proper nutrition so that you can train effectively! You also should ensure you are allowing yourself to eat a wide variety of food so that you are getting a broad spectrum of micronutrients that you may not get when dieting for a contest to allow your body to function properly and recover.
3. Understand what you are eating! Knowledge is power! If you don’t understand macronutrients you should be educating yourself. Knowing what is in your food helps you to stay on track with your goals and you can have your cake and eat it too, (literally). If you are going out for dinner, plan your day to compensate for the macros you are low on that day, if you know you are going to order a steak at a restaurant, eat lower fat for the day, if you know you are going to have a piece of birthday cake at your grandmas 80th birthday, keep your sugar lower for that day. If you have the ability to pre-plan your meal you will feel more in control and less likely to feel stressed when in a social event, (you should never feel like the only thing on the menu you can eat is a bowl of spinach).. Unless of course you love plain spinach and air then who am I to tell you that you can’t..
4. You can drink alcohol in moderation. There are a lot of claims that alcohol alone will make you fat, when in fact this isn’t the case. You should however try to order low sugar drinks, (why would you ever want to drink your calories.. I’d rather eat them). It is not alcohol alone that causes gained bodyfat, (however it is a toxic substance and does have other negative health effects) just understand that you shouldn’t pair a high fat diet with alcohol as both are metabolized through your liver, and if your liver can’t metabolize the fat it will be stored, simple. The day of consuming alcohol and the day after opt for a lower fat diet, so skip the hashbrowns and bacon for breakfast and order some pancakes as a hangover cure instead.
5. When dieting for a goal/show I would recommend approaching your diet with a more flexible approach in a new research review by Eric Helms he concludes that dieters that approach calorie restriction with a more flexible approach are less likely to overeat and will maintain more weight-loss after the diet period likely due to simply the feeling of being less restricted. I think that you have to find what works best for you in regards to length of contest prep or diet timeline and it depends on the total net amount of body-fat you have to lose, for me personally I enjoy a shorter and more intense period of dieting to get ready for a show personally, but another approach would be a longer less linear approach which incorporates diet breaks or bringing calories to maintenance calories every few weeks which could decrease weight stalling and allows for a higher calorie intake overall. Your coach should figure out an approach which works best for you depending on your relationship with food, your current life to fitness balance, and your ability to adhere to your diet.
To conclude, if you are going to take one thing away from this it’s that balance isn’t fixed, it’s variable - there is no “one” balance it will change as your life changes and your current goals and life circumstances will dictate which side takes priority.