Adjusting To A Changing Body

This month marks one year since I’ve been regularly attending Crossfit and strength workout classes. I love the progress I’ve made, the skills I’ve acquired, and the community I’ve joined. I feel more confident in a lot of areas and the past two weekends of moving around furniture with Neil has been tiring but also a piece of cake.

What I haven’t learned to love is how it has changed my body.

There’s a popular myth that lifting weights will make you bulky. The truth behind this myth is that women don’t have the testosterone levels that men do to result in such aggressive muscle growth. Typically the amount of weight that these articles and women are referring to is also much less than the 200 lb back squat that I have reached as a personal record. The truth is that if you’re not careful about eating as well as exercise, you absolutely can start to look bulkier instead of leaner and more defined.

One thing that becomes more important as you train with heavier and heavier weights is your diet. If you’re eating whatever you want, you will build muscle, but that muscle will grow along with the fat that your body isn’t able to utilize. The sloppier I am with my diet, the heavier and boxier I look.

When I was incorporating weight training (at a lower level than I am now) in high-intensity classes, I was also running, rowing, or doing some other sort of cardio for 45 minutes. In my new routine, the amount of cardio is intense, but much less. The intensity and amount of cardio I was previously doing allowed for significant post-exercise calorie burning that allowed me to be a little more lax with what I ate.

Prior to starting Crossfit, I was focused on running. Running was something that allowed me to be alone with my thoughts and work through a lot of things in my early recovery and after. There were periods of over-exercise and there were times when my running was healthy and mentally restorative.

As I switched to HIIT workouts and further into more Crossfit ones, I realized that my clothes were starting to fit differently. At first I was happy about it, but as I began to increase my muscle mass and I couldn’t fit in any of my jeans, I started to feel frustrated. On one hand I was happy with what I was now able to do, but my physical appearance was leaving me conflicted.

If you’ve been reading for some time, you know that I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with self-confidence and my perception of myself. This entire blog was started after realizing that making the outside look a certain way won’t change what’s happening inside — that wellness comes from within.

Because it’s been such an ingrained mindset that I’ve worked on reversing, it still comes up. It’s never completely gone. It’s a process to get to a place of total acceptance, and I am 100% in that process. Negative thoughts come up first, then I take steps to tell myself the opposite. I’m working on getting to a place where “the opposite” is the only thought I have, but it takes a little time.

To clarify, I don’t hate how I look. It’s just a change I’m acclimating to. I’m not going to stop workouts that make me feel strong and powerful. I just wanted to talk about a change that I wasn’t entirely prepared for. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some of the things that I’ve found to be effective:

1. Focus on more than aesthetics

2. Remind yourself what you can do now vs. then

3. Buy new clothes — trying to fit into old ones is just going to feel frustrating

4. Tell yourself you are more than what you look like

5. Repeat affirmations to help you remember how awesome you are (cheesy but effective!)

My arms are bigger. My legs are bigger. My butt is bigger (sweet). But you know what? They’re also stronger and I love that.

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14 Comments

  1. February 12, 2018 / 8:55 am

    I definitely relate. Growing up in gymnastics, I was always stronger – and, thus, more muscular – than my friends. I have had my ups and downs since those days (I’ve had issues with food and exercise myself), but now it’s something I remind myself of daily. Pregnancy and nursing were HUGE in my body acceptance. I just appreciate my body now for that I’m able to do with it and I buy clothes that fit MY shape.

  2. February 12, 2018 / 11:49 am

    I struggle with this 100 percent and as someone who has battled with disordered eating, it’s magnified. A few months back, I was making a ton of progress in the gym when it came to strength, but I was distracted by how I felt “bigger”. As much as I preach loving our bodies at every stage they’re in, it was hard not to feel frustrated and down. Now that I’m at the tail end of training for my first half-marathon, my clothes fit looser and I don’t feel as “big” but my strength isn’t what it used to be. My legs are strong and I’m still *strong*, but not as strong as I was. Finding that balance is hard. Thanks for your transparency. You’re strong and fine as hell! 🙂
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  3. February 12, 2018 / 11:50 am

    Another great post, Erin! I have a lot of runner friends turned Crossfitters that have experienced the same. Also, getting older, your body changes. I sometimes fight my body, too. I agree, though, that it’s important to appreciate what your awesome, strong body can do (and to get clothes that fit and make you feel good!)

  4. February 12, 2018 / 12:42 pm

    Thank you for this post. Over the summer, I was doing a lot of HIIT and lifting, and my body definitely started to look quite different. It was especially upsetting when my mom was like, what are you doing in the gym? You look bigger. And with my history of disordered eating and overexercising, that wasn’t exactly pleasant to hear. I love your tips for dealing with that, especially focusing on strength over aesthetics. I love how strong and powerful those workouts make me feel, though I did realize I was perhaps overdoing the intensity a bit. These days I do just 1-2 HIIT days and maybe a bit of lifting thrown in + lots of Pilates, and that’s been working for me. I think exercise is supposed to shift and meld depending on our lives, and our bodies change with that as well. 🙂
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  5. February 12, 2018 / 12:46 pm

    Buying new clothes (that fit!) can be such an easy solution. It removes the daily reminder that your body looks different. Plus getting into something flattering for your new shape will make you appreciate it more.

    I also like to focus on appreciating what my body can do vs how it looks.

  6. Beth
    February 12, 2018 / 2:28 pm

    Here’s to workouts that promote strong, healthy bodies. You look fab Erin! This post will resonate with many readers and for many reasons. Appreciate you sharing your experience and the sound advice!

  7. Mollie K
    February 13, 2018 / 3:59 am

    This is a great post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are so strong on the inside and out…sharing your journey is helpful to me and a lot of other women out there-so much gratitude for you. I know for me, when I started lifting heavy and getting more into it, I began to appreciate my body more for what it can do and the negative thoughts towards my physical being have significantly lessened and I don’t pick apart my body in the mirror. Something I tell myself that I read via Gabby Bernstein is, “My body is a vessel that allows me to deliver love.” So for me, love, strength, and gratitude are my words/mantras that help me deal with a changing body.

    Have a great day!

  8. February 13, 2018 / 8:46 am

    I can totally relate to this. I used to be a cardio queen but didn’t get much joy out of these workouts. Now I live for taking BodyPump classes and creating my own HIIT workouts and well, it’s different. While some results I’m excited about (abs, is that you?!), my shoulders are much broader than they used to be! But again, like you said, the whole point is I’m finding more motivation and excitement from of my workouts, and that’s kind of the whole point. The rest is just mind games to work through. Thanks for your authenticity <3

  9. Paula
    February 13, 2018 / 1:47 pm

    The only fitness people I follow on Instagram now are women like Jen Sinkler, Molly Galbraith, and Neghar Fonooni. They are all 100% about fitness being fun, making you feel good, and enabling you to TAKE UP SPACE IN THE WORLD, which is something I am forever trying to get comfortable with. Ultimately, we each have to find that happy balance between being comfortable in our bodies and exercising in a way that makes us feel powerful and joyful. It’s such a difficult journey! Having kickass role models helps (GirlsGoneStrong is fantastic), as does knowing that we’re not alone in our dueling desires for strength and our own personal aesthetic ideals.

  10. Wynne
    February 14, 2018 / 3:01 pm

    What does a CrossFit athlete look like to you? My guess is you currently have a picture in your mind of someone like this… Tia-Clair Toomey (Photo: Sunshine Coast Daily) Tia-Clair Toomey current Fittest Woman on Earth Or maybe someone like this… Rob Forte (Photo CrossFit Games) Rob Forte, Multiple winner of Pacific Regional. Obviously these are VERY fine examples of Elite CrossFit athletes and we are proud to have them represent our country.

  11. February 15, 2018 / 1:36 pm

    You’re not alone – it’s hard to embrace changing – take it from me, at nearly 8 months pregnant I often feel the struggle of seeing my body change – and have to remind myself to embrace it and appreciate how strong and healthy I am. You look fantastic, btw – people tell me that too – but it doesn’t necessarily mean it gets all that much easier. 🙂

    XO

  12. February 16, 2018 / 10:00 am

    This was something I had to deal with when I had to stop running for my hip replacement. I still teach spin 3 times a week and do some intervals on the elliptical, but in general my workouts are weight trainings. My body definitely changed because of that and you’re right, you have to eat clean to stay lean. It just comes with the turf. But I also know that lifting is so critical as we age so I keep telling myself that.
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  13. February 16, 2018 / 12:51 pm

    I’m having one of these moments right now. I’m having to rest quite a bit more with a hip / knee issue, so I can’t go quite as hard as often as even a few months ago. I’m getting back to it, but am still taking it somewhat easy. But I’m feeling good and fit, and then I look back at pictures from over the summer and feel fluffy. I’m trying to focus on how I feel and what I’m capable of rather than comparing how my body looks!

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