Monday, February 4, 2008

Straighten Up and Fly Right

I've thought of something: I have stretch marks.

I'm a modern woman; I'm not afraid to admit it. I've gained weight, lost weight, had a baby...and as a result my body has battle scars that while I am not ashamed of them, I'd rather not display to the world. A couple of weeks ago when endorphins and an overly-confident competitive streak were making the bulk of my decisions, these little badges of honor didn't even occur to me. But since then, I've become a little more educated about my competition, and I've noticed something that they all have in common: they don't have stretch marks.

In this fifth week of my training, I decided it was time to fine-tune my diet and make sure I wasn't wasting any nutrition. So I did some innocent Googling and came upon a website showcasing the profiles of women who compete in fitness competitions. I began to read their stories, curious to see how I stacked up. As I read, I quickly realized that these women were not like me. They run marathons. They started gymnastics at age three, dance lessons at age four. They are fitness models, semi-professional athletes, personal trainers, and professional cheerleaders. I work for a non-profit organization, wear glasses, and have stretch marks. I'm a nerd, straight up.

So the next day I showed up at the gym and announced to my trainer: "I have stretch marks." He laughed and said not to worry, the self-tanner covers them up, and the cooking spray will help, too. Yes, you read that correctly. I am going to lather up with self-tanner and then spray Pam on myself so after my competition, you can put me on the Thanksgiving table and debate who looks more like the turkey.

I know that a lot of these competitions are about smoke and mirrors, but I also know that these other women are in much better shape than I am. They're the girls I hated in high school - I was envious of their athleticism and fast metabolisms, and it turns out that they didn't all get fat after graduation like they were supposed to.

A friend tried to comfort me: "Those photos are Photoshopped. They don't really look like that." So as long as I can submit Photoshopped photos of myself onstage instead of the real me, I should be fine. Do you think they would notice a cardboard cut-out? Or a sign around my neck announcing that stretch marks may appear larger than they actually are?

As I pondered the source of all this self-doubt and negative talk, I knew right away where my weakness was - my diet was obviously not up to snuff, and I needed to change it. Diet is a big issue for me, and it is difficult for me to admit or even consider that the carefully-arranged plan I have created might not be the best for me. But this isn't about being right, it is about being the best I can be. To get there, I need to swallow my pride.

And I think I can get there, to a place where I don't have to be Photoshopped and Pammed and airbrushed with self-tanner to look good on stage. So I went old-school: I sat down with pen and paper and mapped out an all-new-and-improved food plan. It was beautiful - the perfect ratio of protein to carbohydrates to fat, gorgeous whole foods, nothing artificial. It was the diet that God himself would have designed had He been trying to lose His spare tire and c-section flab. I paused for a moment to admire my work and listened to the angels singing "The Hallelujia Chorus" in my head. Then I faced reality. I'd try it for a month, and see what happened. If I didn't have a larger than average fat loss after a month, I was throwing a first-class hissy fit.

Because after all, this is a journey, and that means I have to be willing to take the scenic route once in a while, even if it might be a little longer, and even if it means I want to make a u-turn by the end of it. I might not ever lose my stretch marks, but I hopefully I can lose the "my way or the highway" attitude. We'll see.

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