I am a professional loser.

When I was in high school, all I ever wanted was to be an officer in student government. I wanted to make a difference, and I had this idea in my head that the only way I could make a difference, truly, was to be elected into a position.

Okay, fine. I was a power hungry 16-year-old. I wanted that line on my resume.

But seriously – I wanted to be an elected officer so badly that I ran for some sort of office a grand total of eight times during my high school tenure, from class president to student government treasurer and even student representative to the school board (twice!).

And I lost. Eight times.

This past weekend, I lost again. I prepared for four months, lost thirty pounds, performed my very best on stage and in interview, felt amazing, and still failed to make the top 16 at Miss Maryland USA. I’ve already written about how pageantry is subjective, so all I’ll add is: my omission from the top 16 was in no way reflective of my worth or of the judges’ competence. That top 16 was full of smart, talented, and beautiful women who ALSO would have been outstanding Miss Maryland USAs. There is room for everyone to be fully qualified and deserving — on this particular weekend, I was not this particular panel’s choice, and that is okay.

12185259_2980605805496_8778382422740271259_o

I am a professional loser. I am tenacious and it takes a lot to knock me down. I take risks, I sign up, I show up, and, about 80% of the time, it just doesn’t pan out for me. And while that 20% success rate is always worth it, I’ve found a few ways to make being a perpetual loser way more fun as you propel yourself towards your greatest successes:

Realize that “winning” isn’t the only way to be a winner. For most things that are worthwhile, you invest a significant amount of your time, energy, and passion. If your only goal is winning – which, in many cases, is not 100% in your control – you’re automatically setting yourself up for failure. You have to understand the value of investing so much of yourself into a goal regardless of the outcome. For that reason, I always set a goal outside of winning, one that is entirely within my control. This time, it was simply to get up on that stage as the healthiest and happiest version of myself. Mission accomplished. Long before the “winner” was crowned, I had already won.

Learn to love the process. Competing in Miss Maryland USA required me to fully commit myself. I had to push through tough workouts, be grumpy, do things that I didn’t necessarily want to do in the moment, and get a little bit uncomfortable. If I hadn’t found a way to love the process, I would have been absolutely miserable for a significant chunk of life. Luckily, I found CrossFit, which gave me PRs weekly, and signed myself up for races. I bought myself new sports bras and found joy in seeing myself shrink. There are many ways to love your process, and you’ve got to find what works for you.

Be present and in the moment. This past weekend, thanks to the advice of my pretty amazing life coach, Kali, I made it my weekend goal to be present and in the moment. I focused less on what was coming, and more on enjoying every moment of rehearsal, hair and make-up, and, of course, meeting some incredible women. My way of being present was to try and make every interaction I had over the weekend positive. Whether it be cracking jokes with another contestant, making silly faces at teens when I was on stage, or telling staff members thank you, my goal was to leave every person I had contact with a little bit happier.

Be grateful. One of the best pieces of advice I received over the weekend was “It is impossible to be grateful and nervous at the same time.” And so, all weekend, I reminded myself how grateful I was not only for the opportunity to compete, but also for exactly where I was in my life right now. I am strong, happy, and loved. I have so many people in my life who support me win, lose, or draw. There is always so much to be grateful for.

Be happy for the winner, genuinely. I think that one of our biggest downfalls as people is that we don’t realize that the success of others is not always at our expense. Every single woman on that stage had prepared in her own way for the opportunity to be Miss Maryland USA. Her preparation may have been different than mine, but she worked hard, too. In recognition of her commitment and hard work, and in appreciation of my own hard work, I would have been genuinely happy for any woman crowned because she freakin’ earned it.

Reflect, adapt, grow. Losing can often be far more beneficial than winning because it gives you an opportunity to honestly and humbly reflect on your performance and analyze areas where you could improve. And then, you get to do it. You get to make necessary adjustments and come back better than ever.

It took me eight losses in high school elections to win my very first elected position, one that changed my life completely: vice president of membership of my sorority in college. Ultimately, you can’t win if you don’t enter. Not putting yourself out there doesn’t just guarantee you won’t win, it also guarantees you won’t grow. I may have lost the crown this past weekend, but I still think I came out on top (including an award for top score in evening gown!). And I’m pretty excited to see what’s next.

227674_2981282462412_8363193852132941421_n

You can do hard things, too.

Four months. Yesterday officially marked four months since I took my very first CrossFit class. And guess what? After four months, I can do a pull-up.

I may have shrieked. Okay, I definitely shrieked.

I have always seen myself as the non-athlete in my family. My little sister, Amanda, is a former competitive gymnast and D1 collegiate cheerleader. In high school, she lettered in athletics fourteen(!!!!) times. She was All-District in multiple sports and All-Region in a couple. She was a cheerleader, gymnast, pole vaulter, rower. Basically, Amanda is the definition of an athlete. She is determined, strong, and, well, just a champ.

I never felt like I had the athletic prowess that Amanda did/does. And that’s because I don’t. Not naturally, at least. It doesn’t come as easily to me, and, quite honestly, I never really worked as hard as she did. She was putting in 20 hours a week at gymnastics practice while I was cracking jokes at softball.

Here is what I have learned in the last four months: I can do hard things. And you can do them, too.

People who are successful – as athletes, at weight loss, in life – rarely have everything handed to them. They just work a whole lot harder than the rest of us. And granted, I could probably never be a professional athlete because of build alone, but my physical limitations have no impact on my ability to try.

Oftentimes, the only things holding us back from achieving our full potential are the limitations that we set for ourselves. The it’s-too-hards and I-can’ts and the not-so-nice things we tell ourselves that we would never say to our friends.

And so, four months ago, I decided it was time to stop limiting myself. I walked into South Baltimore Strength and Conditioning, I signed myself up for Miss Maryland USA, and I went all in to run the Marine Corps Marathon. And then, I committed to myself.

People have asked me to share the secret of my four month transformation, and so, here it is: the secret is that there is no shortcut. There is no magic supplement or shake or wrap thing that takes you from out of shape and miserable to fit and happy. There is only hard work and continuous commitment to yourself.

The secret is that you have to be your own cheerleader, coach, and advocate before anyone else can be successful in those roles. You have to continuously pump yourself up, get yourself to the gym, and commit to healthy eating. You could pay all the money in the world for a top trainer and top programming (which, I do have the best coaches and the best programming, and it is worth every penny), but if you don’t show up, if you don’t push yourself, or if you’re secretly sabotaging your hard work by binging on brownies at home, no program is going to work for you.

I want to share my before-and-during four month progress picture with you. But, I want to preface this picture by sharing with you everything that went into making the visible changes happen. I want to share this picture and the full disclosure with you because I want you to know that this kind of change is possible for you, too, if you are willing to put in the work.

In four months, I have:

  • Attended CrossFit classes four times a week, pushing myself as hard as possible each class. I worked with the very best coaches and followed the very best programming.
  • Run an average of 15 miles per week, at a fairly reasonable pace.
  • Spent a month attending hot yoga classes four times a week, for an hour per class.
  • Continuously watched what I ate, including sticking to a sub-50 carb per day paleo diet for the last month.
  • Slept like a boss.
  • Stopped drinking alcohol.
  • Continuously taken my favorite AdvoCare supplements for additional nutritional support: OmegaPlex, CorePlex, and Probiotics. DISCLAIMER: Supplements are NOT necessary for health or weight loss success, and you should ALWAYS consult with someone who understands supplements – your trainer, your doctor, your nutritionist – before adding any supplements to your diet plan.

Most importantly, I told myself yes. I got up, showed up, and put in the work every day. I cried, I laughed, I probably drove the people closest to me crazy sometimes.

<Picture Removed>

The difference between these two pictures is four months of hard work. And the girl on the right? She can also do a pull-up, deadlift 213 pounds, and run 13.1 miles in 2:18.

I may never be the athlete my sister is, but I can match her drive and dedication. I can push myself and tell myself yes every single day. Most importantly, I can do hard things. And you can do them, too.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

image1 (3)

This is how I look pre-morning run when I really, really, really don’t wanna do it.

Last week, I found myself mid-workout wanting to quit. I was losing the battle with the rowing machine, and I felt beat. I had that anxious feeling in my chest, where I’m on the verge of tears, but unwilling to cry in the middle of the gym.

My mind was flooded with thoughts: Why was this so much harder than running? How can I deadlift over 200 pounds but struggle through five minutes of rowing? And why the heck is my average pace getting slower as I pull harder?

I was uncomfortable.

Last week wasn’t the first time I’ve been uncomfortable on my path to the Miss Maryland USA stage, and it certainly won’t be the last. In fact, I find myself in uncomfortable situations on a daily basis, whether it’s in the middle of chaturanga, while I’m defying government recommendations and eating bacon to lean out, or running with a cramp in my side.

In the past, discomfort was unpleasant: hurting during a run was painful, and also a reminder that I’d let myself go. Denying myself an Oreo was frustrating because other people could eat them and stay lean (plus I really wanted that freaking Oreo). Plus, staying comfortable meant I got to binge watch Criminal Minds while eating kettle corn on my couch (read that three times fast), and that was pretty okay.

Here’s the thing: being comfortable means that things are fine, and fine is just another word for mediocre.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a mediocre life.

And so, here I am, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I am learning to sacrifice momentary pleasantness for long-term satisfaction. I am becoming okay with wanting to quit in the middle of a workout but keeping at it. And I want to share with you how you can, too.

Set goals. My man Brian Tracy suggests setting one year, five year, and ten year personal, family, and health goals, but you can start with just one area if you’re new to this. If you’re pretty seriously on the struggle bus (like I was in June), you can pick just one goal and put all your energy toward it. I picked Miss Maryland USA, but your goal could be related to finding a new job, getting your health back, or even dating more. The goal needs to be something you really, really want, because if it’s not intrinsically motivating, it’s going to be more difficult to stay committed.

Burn those suckers into your head. Write your goals down, share them with close friends or family, repeat them to yourself in front of a mirror. Every day. Remind yourself why you’re getting uncomfortable. So that you can…

Make a mantra of your purpose for when things get tough. Alright, so you’ve got your goals, and now you’re in a situation where the going is getting tough. Take a second, and remind yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing. For me, it’s “I am Miss Maryland USA.” During long runs, it’s “I am a marathoner.” The key here is that your mantra is short, sweet, and affirmative — you create your reality, so using “I am” sends a powerful message to your brain, and helps keep excuses in check.

Remind yourself that the discomfort is only temporary. During that rowing workout, I could’ve quit, but instead, I looked at the workout in manageable chunks: suffer through five minutes, get to the next part of the workout that I liked, and get that much closer to finishing. Reminding yourself that temporary discomfort is so much better than all-the-time mediocrity (and that in an hour, you’ll be done!) is often enough to get you through the tough.

…if all else fails, celebrate your accomplishments. Sometimes, discomfort’s gonna get a little bit too uncomfortable. When this happens, recognize what you did accomplish, and let go. There are small wins in every situation, and every step forward propels you in the right direction.

I don’t want a mediocre life. I want a dynamic, fulfilling, purpose-driven life that I love. I want to be excited to take on the day every morning when I wake up. More importantly, I know that I deserve that type of life — and you do too. You’re just going to have to be willing to get a little bit uncomfortable.

The great scale break-up

image1 (2)

I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost, and I’m okay with that.

A few days ago marked the three month mark in my most recent fitness endeavor, and I have no idea what I weigh.

Full disclosure: I don’t own a scale. I don’t want a scale, and I don’t need a scale. For most of my life, the scale has been this magic self-image-changing machine. I’d step on, see a number, and immediately feel either defeated or elated, and the difference between those two (drastically different) moods was one digit. ONE DIGIT.

Anyways, about a year ago, I left my scale at my parent’s house when I moved to Charleston. If you’ve followed this blog or my Instagram, you know what happened: I put on a little bit of weight fat. And, weighing myself on my parent’s scale in mid-June was just the kick in the butt I needed to get myself into gear.

About one month in, I weighed myself again, and it was frustrating to see that, despite the fact that I was visibly smaller, I had “only” lost five pounds. Despite the fact that I felt awesome, and felt like I was lookin’ pretty awesome too, my mood entirely changed because of a freakin’ number.

It was a nice reminder as to why I no longer keep that scale in my house, and it was also the last time I’m planning on weighing myself. Here’s why you should break up with your scale, too:

Your weight is just your relationship with gravity. No, seriously. That’s the definition of weight. It’s how much force your body is exerting on the earth in relation to the earth’s gravitational pull (yeah, SCIENCE!). It is one number that gives you no information about your body composition, your fitness levels, or your amazingly awesome personality (that counts, too!).

You likely already know if you’re a healthy weight. If you are overweight and working with a doctor to lose weight, he/she might have you weigh yourself to measure your progress. But, if you’re like most people “on a diet,” you likely already know whether you are overweight. When I started this most recent fitness kick, I was overweight. I didn’t need to get on a scale to know that, I could see it in pictures. I could feel it in my favorite pair of jeans. I also knew when I was moving in the right direction, so weighing myself to confirm that was pointless. Besides, we all get weighed at our yearly doctor’s appointment, so if you’ve changed A LOT, you’ll get to see at your doctor date.

Muscle weighs more than fat. Yes, I know this is a broken record line, but we all need to hear it. If your body composition is changing (read: you are lifting weights and building muscle), you are likely gaining muscle while you are losing fat. A month into CrossFit, I had most certainly put on muscle. So, that five pounds? Probably not really reflective of how much fat I had lost.

Weight fluctuates. It varies based on time of day, how hydrated you are, what you ate the day before or in the morning, and, if you’re a lady, even what based on the time of month. Weigh yourself in the morning, when you’re most dehydrated, and you could easily be five pounds less than the night before. Weigh yourself the same day, after a few meals, and you would appear to have gained pounds in less than twelve hours!

Breaking up with weighing yourself doesn’t mean that you’re eliminating accountability. It simply means that you’re acknowledging that the scale is not the best way to measure your progress. There are so many other ways to track whether you’re getting closer to your goals without compromising your sanity. I call these Non-Scale Victories.

Non-Scale Victories make you feel good about yourself, and they track progress in ways that matter. A few of my favorites? Comparing Before and During pictures of yourself in the same outfit, fitting into your favorite pair of “skinny” jeans, flexing (like a boss), lifting more weight, doing more reps, choosing fruit over a candy bar, running further or faster than you did before… the possibilities are endless.

Last week alone, I ran two miles in 17:12, back squatted 133 lbs, and zipped my Miss Virginia dress for the first time in TWO YEARS.

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 9.51.07 AM

…does it really matter what I weigh?

Progress, CrossFit and Integrity

Image

Well, guys, I’ve been doing CrossFit for just about 2.5 months. I workout at South Baltimore Strength and Conditioning, and I go four times a week. Just by the picture above, you may be able to tell: CrossFit’s completely transformed my body, and I’m well on my way to being swimsuit – and life! – ready for Miss Maryland USA in just under two months.

But today’s post isn’t about the obvious physical benefits of CrossFit – those can be shared in pictures and numbers and probably don’t need a full post from a non-expert. Today’s post is about integrity: why it’s important for life, workouts, fitness, and how I’ve gained it during my time at SBSC.

At my gym, we often run in 200m spurts; 200m, 400m, 800m, you get the idea. The 200m run is totally visible from the back door of our gym, but the 400m run (and 800m run) require you to round a corner and hit a particular telephone pole before turning to come back.

During those longer runs, I often find myself tempted to walk or turn back before I hit the telephone pole. “Nobody will know,” I bargain in my head, “plus, it’ll make your time a little faster.”

But I would know. My progress would show it. And what’s the point of a faster time if you don’t actually complete the workout?

The same is often true with jump roping, rowing, and kettle bell swings. In a CrossFit class, your coach isn’t counting every single rep — it’s up to you to do the number of reps, report the correct weight, do the full exercise. CrossFit creates an environment where it would be so easy to cheat the workout, and yet, nobody does.

Why? Because CrossFit builds integrity – it teaches you to want to do the workout correctly because it is the right thing to do.  Because the only person who loses when you cheat is you.

Merriam-Webster defines integrity as the quality of being honest and fair. I’ve heard it best described as “doing the right thing when no one else is looking.” More than any other activity I’ve ever attempted, CrossFit builds and rewards integrity.

I remember earlier this year complaining about not being able to lose the weight. I remember being unhappy with my level of fitness, especially because I was “trying.” I remember walking into SBSC and feeling embarrassed as I shared with Sean how much I was actually working out and what I was actually eating.

As embarrassing as it was at the time, being honest about where I was and what I had actually been doing allowed me to start having integrity about my workouts and diet. Acknowledging that, no, I wasn’t actually trying very hard to get my fitness back allowed me to drop the excuses and freakin’ go for it.

You might be in the same boat as I was earlier this year: frustrated with how you feel, discouraged by how you look, unhappy because you know that you are capable of so much more. I want to challenge you to take some time and honestly ask yourself a few questions:

What are my priorities right now? BE HONEST. Where do you invest your time and energy? What do you say yes to? No to?

What do I want my priorities to be? What do you really, really want? What makes you the happiest, very best version of yourself? When you picture the most successful you possible, what does he/she look like? Feel like? How does he/she utilize the hours in their day?

Do my actions align with my words? In other words, are you acting with integrity?Earlier this year, I told people that my health and fitness was a priority, but I chose marathon Netflix binges over going for a run and constantly treated myself to Oreos and chicken nuggets.

If the answer to the last question is no, then it’s time to be honest with yourself. Getting in shape is tough! It doesn’t happen because you wish it would happen, it happens because you work your butt off and don’t quit. It happens because you do the workouts you promise yourself you’ll do and eat in a way that fuels your goals.

How many times have I exclaimed over the last 2.5 months that a workout is terrible? More than I can count. I’ve left the gym, gone home, and laid on the floor while the post-workout nausea subsides on at least ten different occasions. I have cried at least twice in the middle of a workout and even told my coach I couldn’t finish.

But I have never quit.

And more importantly, I have never cheated. I have completed each workout as prescribed (or scaled). Even when it sucked. Even when I wanted to puke. Even when I felt like there was no way in heck I was ever going to finish.

So, early 2015 Jen: you’re not succeeding because you’re not trying. The good news is, in a few months, you’ll figure it out. I promise.