Opening Up

When I started CrossFit 3 years ago I did it mostly because I was bored. Bored, you ask? Yep. Bored with my fitness routine. Bored at my job. Bored (ok and maybe a little fed up) with being out of shape and overweight despite all the work that I put into changing that. I was in a rut, and I was open to try something different.

Almost immediately just the act of getting into that gym inspired me. For a long time it also scared me, but in a good way, you know? The intensity of the work outs lit a fire in my life that burned WAAAAAY more than my quads after a Body Pump class at Ye Olde 24 Hour Fitness and seeing the changes (big and small) in my body as well as my mind kept me motivated.

As my skills grew sharper, my commitment grew more intense. The best part of this whole thing was that my happiness and accomplishments inside the gym started to run over into my outside life. It was as if the Universe opened up the flood gates of success! I was trying new things that I never had the confidence to try before: I ran my first half marathon, I participated in a spur of the moment 10 miler, I spent a weekend running 20 miles while living out of a van with 7 other people. These were things that I never would have written in the Things I Am Capable Of column prior to Crossfit. And here they were written in indelible ink. Accomplishments that no one could take away from me.

Also notable: somewhere amidst all of that I shed 100 lbs. I say that as an afterthought because honestly, sometimes it felt like it was. I had spent 30 years WORKING HARD (and I mean reeeeeeeeeeally working) at losing weight. And now all of a sudden I tweaked my diet just a bit and showed up at this gym to hang out with cool people who were a great time and did workouts that were fun, where people would cheer me on and encourage me — and with seemingly little effort (aside from showing up and trying hard of course) those hundred pounds dropped off me like a bad habit in the first year and a half.

A year ago when my weight loss hit a bit of a stand still, I was concerned. But I certainly wasn’t obsessed because there were weights to life and races to run and experiences to be had and friends to hang out with and dogs to adopt and let’s be honest: life is about a million other things besides what your scale says — FULL STOP. I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that this website is built on: health is where good food and a good life intersect. And I knew if I pursued a good life, the health results would come. I continued to do what I had been doing, live my life, and of course pursue other avenues of achievement because, well…that’s who I am. I make no apologies that I am a person who sets goals and makes lists and charts paths and checks in and measures progress. I like to tinker with actions/results. While it is sometimes a frustrating process, I am open to change.

In November of last year, while all of that was going on, I had a professional opportunity fall into my lap. It was not something that was part of my long term plan, honestly, and at first I was a little gun shy about it. (I thought about the psychology of that reaction this weekend while reading Lean In, by the way and WOW could that be a whole post in itself.) It took a lot of thinking for me to take the plunge with this job and there were MANY speed bumps. It took quite a few conversations, personal and professional and in the end it took one part convincing and another part stars aligning and as you all know, in February I was in the new role. It was another bullet point that I would not have necessarily written on that list of Things I Am Capable Of but one I was open to. Let’s see where this goes, eh?

I was quickly reminded that growth always has a cost associated with it, right? We see this in our everyday training. The only way to gain muscle is to breakdown the tissue you already have and let it repair itself into something better and stronger, and obviously more capable. This experience was no different. All of the November to February hand-wringing and hemming and hawing and ultimately diving in wholeheartedly felt just like that muscle breakdown and repair cycle. It felt like I was sprinted my heart out and when I got to the finish line, I did so gasping for breath.

When I reached that finish line, I realized that this sprint had only led me to a the starting line of a marathon and that marathon has been something I have been telling the story of for the last six months. Just like an actual race, it has been very, very rewarding at times. The challenge has been mostly enlightening, and of course the monetary benefits are actively helping Garrett and I move towards some of the bigger picture line items on our Life To Do List (You know, Weddings, Babies, Homes, Cars — all of that stuff that AIN’T FREE. :)) But in almost equal measure, it has introduced plenty of moments where I have had to talk myself through doubt just to take one more step. And then another. I have wondered how many more steps so many times. Finding my rhythm has been a constant, and at times downright difficult, task. It has taken its mental toll.

What I didn’t really anticipate — though it seems so obvious to me now in hindsight — is that it has also taken a physical toll. The intensity of my Real Life has amped up a whole helluva lot and especially between the hours of 9 and 5. When I get to my 6pm workouts these days, my mind and body have so much less to give than they did just a couple short years ago. The past 6 months for me have felt like a cascade of poor sleep (I’m back to wearing my super sexy night guard to keep me from grinding my teeth. HAWT!), weight gain (in particular, an increase in body fat all around my mid secion. HAWT!), muscle tension, and less than ideal digestion. (Please, never EVER eat dried cherries after eating brussels sprouts. That is a gift from me to you.) For some time I have been a walking, talking poster child for stress, sugar cravings, and hormonal imbalance.

I have been as proactive as possible about prioritizing sleep when I can, eating fairly cleanly, trying hard but failing miserably at my burgeoning meditation practice, and supporting myself physically with some very specific supplementation. But for the longest time I have completely avoided examining my exercise routine. I’m sure you read the same things that I read and listen to the same podcasts — whether I love doing it or not, it is a fact that high intensity exercise (just like most exercise, actually) causes a cortisol response. And all of that is generally fine until YOUR LIFE starts causing a cortisol response. And I have buried my head to that over the last few months.

But I think it’s an important thing to explore, and more importantly I think it is worth discussing in the context of a blog like this. You have been with me through a lot of my successes over the past few years, and I want to be just as open with you about my opportunities. I have begun the process of actively reevaluating where I need to go with MY fitness. I’m thinking about what my goals are in my life long term (uh…don’t die, lose some body fat, protect fertility, etc) but also what my goals are right now (calm the fuck down and stop being a cortisol factory.) And somewhere between those two things I’m trying to find a fitness routine that will help me strike that balance. I never EVER want to give up CrossFit — sorry, I’m not sorry — it is my first love. But I think my goal of showing up no matter what the workout is and going 100% effort may need some adjusting.

I came across this old Chris Kresser article the other day called Why You May Need To Exercise Less and it really helped me put things into perspective. Maybe I can figure out something specific for ME, at THIS time in MY life. I am still going to keep my CrossFit workouts around at least three times per week (though I plan to be judicious with my metcons) but I am also going incorporate some yoga, some long walks, and a little bit more “Working In” into my Work Out Schedule. I am a little nervous about the change, and to be honest I have no idea where this path is going to take me. But I am hoping as long as I am open, I’ll find my way.

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27 comments to Opening Up

  • Amy
    July 9, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Girl, we should go eat a salad and talk about this very thing, because I’m RIGHT HERE WITH YOU. Wanna come to yoga with me?

  • Eliza
    July 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    You can take this for what it’s worth (unsolicited advice => not the best thing in the world), but I’ve recently started doing some heart-rate training (specifically the Maffetone method). Wearing a heart-rate monitor and going for long walks (very slow uphill, some jogging downhill) has been a.m.a.z.i.n.g. for me. The biofeedback of slowing down when I’m feeling under the weather, when it’s super hot out, when going up steep hills is so great.

    I feel *good* when I come back, not drained, not awful, not my-heart-is-going-to-beat-out-of-my-chest.

    Plus I’ve made progress already: I have to work harder to get my heart-rate up, and it’s much easier for me to bring it down if it spikes.

    I’m sure it’s good, low-cortisol, fat-burning exercise. And I LOVE it. Again, FWIW :)

    • Holly
      July 10, 2013 at 8:20 am

      Thanks for the info, Eliza! I never mind unsolicited advice since I basically have the best readers ever. :) I’m always learning good new stuff.

  • Eliza
    July 9, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    P.S. Kudos to you for being self-aware. It’s not easy, and you’re DOING it!

  • Erica
    July 9, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Be kind to yourself. Like you said, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

    • Holly
      July 10, 2013 at 8:18 am

      I think I need to tattoo that on my forehead. It makes sense why I tell myself that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but man if it isn’t super difficult in practice! :)

  • missysoupy
    July 9, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    This. Oh, lady, I needed this!
    I am a gigantic cortisol factory, and see no end to this excessive cortisol production in the near term (note: raising babies does not make life less stressful. More amazing, maybe, but not less stressful). I have been freaking out about some weight struggles lately, and so I decided to ramp up the workouts this summer. Cuz SURELY that’s why I’m chubby. This lazy girl is only working out 3 days a week. What’s wrong with me? Push it, woman!! And while you’re at it, cut back on the fruit & carbs, lady! (This is me talking to myself. How stupid do I sound?!) So, I work out 5 or 6 days for 2 consecutive weeks, and then promptly get sick AND cause my back to spaz out due to overworked quads & glutes (so says the chiro). Brilliant. And now, guess who can’t work out for 2 weeks? Duh.

    So, yeah. I hear ya. Figure it out and tell the me what to do, mmkay? (Actually, I probably know what to do, I just need to figure out how to be ok with it.)

    Also, love that Kresser post. Should’ve read that a month ago. Thanks, as always, for your transparency. Love your blog!

    • Holly
      July 10, 2013 at 8:32 am

      I feel for ya — I just know that exact head space and it is so hard to get yourself to a place of balance. I’m trying to focus on listening to my body first (look, that sounds super cheesy) and by that I mean — if I’m tired, not looking at it like “Oh you are being lazy” look it as “Hey, here are some signals I need some more sleep” and allowing myself to feel “productive” by giving my body what it wants instead of saying “Oh just push through and stick to the routine, you’ll be fine.” It’s hard. VERY hard actually. Not sure I’ll have a good solution, but I’ll definitely keep ya posted.

  • Alicia Jaybird
    July 10, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Holly, I really love this post. It’s clear that you’ve put so much reflection and effort into moving your life in a direction you want, and it’s natural to have a ton of stress go right along with that. I admire how active (physically and with friends, trips, career, all that good stuff) you seem to be through all the ups and downs. Erica said it right: be kind to yourself. Sounds like you’re on the right path.

  • Meg
    July 10, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Holly, thank you so much for sharing about where you are right now. I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t respond to stress very well (I’m a pretty sensitive person – emotionally and from a sensory perspective) and I found that intense metcon workouts made it worse – no matter how short they were. I’ve replaced those with long walks with the pups, some yoga and dancing and it’s made the biggest difference in my life – I sleep better, I’m less stressed and I can feel myself relaxing on those walks. Also – I don’t dread working out. Katy (http://www.alignedandwell.com/katysays/) is a big advocate of making movement a normal, natural function of your day-to-day life and thinking about being active in those terms as opposed to “scheduling workouts” has helped my perspective (and my overthinking brain) a lot.

    Best of luck Holly – I can’t wait to read more about this part of your journey and follow along. Because we’ve all been there!
    Meg

  • Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed
    July 10, 2013 at 7:52 am

    Ummmm I didn’t realize that you lost 100 lbs, congrats again! Love your honesty and your self awareness, good luck on your journey! PS you are one of the main reasons I started CrossFit and I love it!

    • Holly
      July 10, 2013 at 8:16 am

      Ha! Well I have FOUND at least 15 of those lbs in the last 6 months and I am NOT happy about it! :) But all in good time I guess. So glad you are liking CrossFit. I have never had so much fun working out, which is pretty much why I refuse to give it up. But I definitely think I need to make sure I’m keeping the intensity balanced. Don’t want to burn out!

      • Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed
        July 10, 2013 at 8:29 am

        I’ve been really struggling with my diet recently too… vacation last week really didn’t help (especially with our hosts making homemade bread… um fresh warm bread topped with butter makes me weak in the knees)! This week has been all about getting back on track, but geez it’s just so hard! I know I feel and look better when I eat healthy, so why is it so hard?

        I’m on the other end of the spectrum with my workouts, I’ve been going twice a week… and with the hefty price tag, I’d love to at least make it 3x. But a busy schedule (and sometimes the need to just sit my tush on the couch and relax) is making it hard! The balancing act continues :)

  • Rani
    July 10, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Thanks for writing this :) I am finding myself at a similiar spot with CrossFit. About a month ago I had a box jump fail and was out of CrossFit for 2 weeks (the first real break in 1.5 years). During this forced time-off, I realized how much I needed it! Being overtrained/under-recovered was messing up my sleep and mental outlook. When I returned to CrossFit, I had to modified workouts and used lighter weights. I feel so much better!! I am still getting a good workout and can actually fall asleep at night. I agree with you, I love CrossFit, but it is all about balance. CrossFit should make you stronger, not break you.

  • Carmen
    July 10, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Holly – thanks so much for this post and your honesty. I don’t comment very often, but I read regularly and this post just really hit me.

    Since the beginning of this year, it has been a goal of mine to get my health in order, but I have to tell you, I’m half a year in and I’m farther away from the goal than ever. And the worst part of it is where my mind has taken over in some very unhealthy ways. I believe now that I was going about it in the wrong way – trying to “muscle through” instead of taking the time to listen to my body, work through mental issues with food and approach things from a holistic viewpoint. I’ve now had to take a step back and really evaluate what I am doing and why. This has lead me to more healthy ways of working on myself – finally taking the step to join overeaters anonymous is probably the biggest one. I also recently came back to hot yoga and have incorporated swimming instead of running (which for me always leads to injury).

    So, what I am saying is, yes! it’s so great to hear that someone else is also taking time to figure out what is going to work for you at this time in your life. I was telling my sister the other day that I thought this was going to be a year of reaching goals and getting the things that I have wanted for myself, but that instead, this is turning out to be a year of improvement with a lot of uncomfortable, but necessary introspection and self awareness.

  • LizScott
    July 10, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    ” I was in a rut, and I was open to try something different.”

    You can be in a crossfit rut, too :) It’s OKAY. Nothing works forever, all the time. Life and routines ebb and flow, you just do what works for you at whatever time in your life you’re in. The point is to be active and healthy, not the best crossfitter that ever lived, right? So do whatever works to keep you happy and healthy, and know that’s it’s ok. You’re not letting anyone down. You’re not breaking a promise you made to yourself. You’re just living your life :)

    Once, I was a runner. And then I was a yoga-er. And then I was a triathlete. And then a crossfitter. And now I’m a pregnant bastardization of all of those : But I’m still me: an athlete, in whatever form is working today. Seasons of your life come and go and we adjust to them accordingly.

    xoxo

    • Holly
      July 12, 2013 at 8:21 am

      Very true. :) I think I’m struggling because I am physically in a crossfit rut, but not mentally. It’s all I want to do really, but something is telling me that going hard 5 days a week is just NOT what I should be doing. But my brain DOESN’T WANT TO HEAR IT. We’ll see. The yoga has been interesting. I mean, I don’t HATE it, but I don’t love it either. But I do feel it’s benefits. Even if I just sat in a god damn room and took deep breaths for 90 minutes I’d probably be better off. :) We’ll see what evolves.

  • Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie
    July 10, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Amazing post Holly – I loved, and related to, all of this. Good luck on your journey back to a healthy, happy self! <3

  • Kari
    July 10, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    I say we try to get our butts kicked in spin at least once a week. Tuesdays or Sundays are easier for me…but I might be able to swing a Thursday if my Wednesday night volleyball games aren’t too late. Let me know! :)

  • Laura
    July 11, 2013 at 5:05 am

    Awesome post, as usual! ;-) I’m a fairly new reader and commenter, but I can really relate to your struggles and thought process trying to work out this whole life stuff. Thanks for being so honest and transparent in your posts – it is really refreshing.

    I hope you find a balance that works for you! I’m looking forward to reading all about it!

  • Danielle
    July 12, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Thanks so much for this post. I 100% can relate. I have been beating myself up lately over the lack of Crossfit (and really, any regular routine) but new house, new job and upcoming wedding are all crushing me (awesome, but crushing). It’s the most frustrating thing to want to kill it in the gym and just not have the energy. My brain say “Shouldn’t this stressful time be when I need to work out most??” but by body says “DON”T DO IT”. I’m definitely interested to hear what works for you. Keep us updated!

  • Fitness Journeys and Destinations
    August 1, 2013 at 11:27 am

    [...] the intention to switch up my fitness routine. I didn’t want to give myself a numeric goal, I wanted to workout because it would help me feel better, which I though called for different fitness options on different days. My hypothesis was that if I [...]

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