The Next Chapter

Have you ever found yourself immersed in a book? It’s almost as if you are there, watching the story unfold before you. You’re entranced and eager to find out what happens next, quickly turning the page as your eyes scale from left to right, top to bottom.

The joy you get from each finished page, from each completed chapter! Sadly, you know the end of the book is coming, as you can see the numbers of pages before the back cover is dwindling at an incomprehensible rate. But alas, you cannot stop. It’s one of those “It’s so good! I just can’t put it down!” type of books.

As bittersweet as it is for the story to the end, there’s also a sense of excitement and joy that washes over you as you finish the last word on the last line of the last page. It is a contentment of finally knowing how the story ends; and knowing that an end can only lead to a new beginning.

With mere hours left of being 26, that is exactly how I felt. I took a chance to pause and reflect on my last year and I cannot believe that it came and went so quickly. There were many twists and turns, unexpected events, highs and lows, great adventures and periods of stillness. I believe the year flew by because I was genuinely savoring every minute of every day, simultaneously living in the present moment while eagerly anticipating what happens next.

I was reveling in my growth. A growth that I can proudly say encompassed more than just my physical body. My growth was also, as I have said time and time again, very spiritual and mental. I jumped into new paths, fell into the depths of my own soul, and connected with God + the universe on a much larger level.

 

Hands at Heart Center, Photo by HMS Photography
Hands at Heart Center, Photo by HMS Photography

 

I am completely overwhelmed with all of the changes that the year of 26 brought me. In fact, I think 26 will forever be one of my favorite chapters in my life.

From starting my own blog/website, getting a promotion at work, a third season of competing, to finding myself through meditation, my very first solo photoshoot, to starting yoga teacher training… It’s been a wild ride.

In Chapter 26, I found depths of my own soul that I did not even know existed. I found the ability to let all facets of my being coexist. I found the strength to be soft, open, and vulnerable. I found the gentleness to love myself in any physical capacity, in any form or amount of space my body takes. I found the quiet hums of stillness to be the time that my inner voice is the loudest. I found on my darkest days that my vision is the clearest. I found the only way to truly mend was to stop trying to keep myself from breaking. I found my worth in periods of loneliness and solitude. I found connection in the absence of physical bodies through social media. I found happiness and comfort in the unfamiliarity of change. I found that I shine the most when my candle lights another’s.

In Chapter 26, each day… every little experience… each book read, tear shed, laugh cracked, coffee sipped, weight lifted… it all tied together. It all acted as a catalyst for the evolution and creation of the Leta that I will be in Chapter 27.

In Chapter 26, I found my magic. If Chapter 26 can hold all of that amazement and wonder… my oh my, what possibilities Chapter 27 could hold!?

Today, I begin a new story. I have a blank page and all of the ink in the world to write with. I have the power to make Chapter 27 just as glorious and adventurous as I desire it to be. How beautiful is it to start again?

So, how will I start Chapter 27, Page 1?

With a grateful heart.

Thank you all for your unbelievable support; thank you all for being a part of my story. I hope you join me for Chapter 27. It won’t disappoint.

Xo,

Leta

My Struggle With Binge Eating

It’s scary, you know. To have a secret… a big one. To hide a part of yourself from the world, because you are scared of what the outcome may be.

Judgment.
Disappointment.
Embarrassment.
Shame.
Loss of friends.
Loss of credibility.

You don’t want any of that. You don’t want to face those consequences, so instead you suffer in silence. Your thoughts and feelings bottled up. Choking on the screams that would call for help. Suffocating on the emotion that you can’t let spill out.

So here you are, curled up in bed at Friday night. Your stomach aches. Your face streaked with make-up from the tears. Your hand still moves from the jar of peanut butter back up to your mouth. You do not want to eat anymore. You have been binging for almost an hour. You cannot seem to stop although you desperately want to. You are so full that your stomach is expanded and is begging you to stop. The tears down your face outwardly show the pain you are in. If anyone were there, they would rush to your side, wipe your tears, and take the food away. They would see how this hurts you. But you are alone. No one even saw you grab the food, because it’s been hidden under your bed. You’ve been binging every few days for weeks. You’ve put on close to 20lbs in the last two months, which must be odd to everyone close to you because they see you post your daily gym grind and healthy meal prep on social media. And somehow, you’ve maintained a smile on your face whenever you are out in public so no one knows the hurt you’re feeling; no one understands that you’re in pain.

You are a binge eater.

You hide food so no one knows you binge. You can’t stop even when you want to. The immediate post-binge feelings of guilt, disgust, regret, and disgrace keep propelling this vicious cycle. You feel stuck. You don’t know who to turn to or where to go from here.

This was me.

After my first season of competing, I put back on the normal weight that anyone would after a show. After all, it’s not realistic to look competition day lean year-round. I struggled with that mentally though. I had an extremely hard time accepting my post-show body. In fact, I hated how I looked after my show. Lucky for me… I had just what I needed to make myself feel better. There, hidden beneath my bed, was packages of Oreos (limited edition flavors), two bags of rice cakes, and jars of flavored peanut butter. Oh, and a knife (for the peanut butter, of course). I kept those things hidden in my room, so my roommates wouldn’t know about them. After all, I was now a “fitness competitor” and I had an example to set.  It was my little secret.

 

Jessica James by Jason Little
Jessica James, Photo by Jason Little Photography

 

But… little did anyone know, there was a much bigger and darker secret I was hiding from more than just my roommates, I was hiding it from everyone. I was suffering from a binge eating disorder.

There is one night in particular I remember binging, because it was the night I recognized I had a real problem and needed help. On this night, I had one rice cake with peanut butter and an Oreo and thought, “That’s it, that’s all I need.” What a treat, right? Wrong. The next thing I know an hour had gone by and I had been eating the entire time. I had demolished a whole packet of rice cakes, three-quarters of a jar of peanut butter (I had already eaten some of it the night prior), and a handful of Oreos. My stomach was aching, I was crying, and I was still funnelling food into my mouth.

Let me break this down for you via calorie count, so you can understand the true volume of this binge:

1 package of Quaker Rice Cakes, Chocolate:
14 rice cakes per package
Total Calories: 840
Fats: 14g
Carbs: 168g
Protein: 14g

3/4 Jar of White Chocolate Wonderful Peanut Butter:
28 TBSP per jar, assuming approximately 21 TBSP consumed as 1/4 of the jar was already gone
Total Calories: 1,890
Fats: 147g
Carbs: 115.5g
Protein: 63g

Oreos (Birthday Cake and Reese’s Peanut Butter flavors):
I probably had three of each flavor, so let’s assume 6 total Oreos
Total Calories: 450
Fats: 24g
Carbs: 66g
Protein: 0g

TOTAL BINGE: 3,180 Calories
Fats: 185g
Carbs: 349.5g
Protein: 77p

3,180 Calories… That’s almost two full days worth of food that I had consumed in the matter of an hour, while laying in bed, in tears, desperately wanting to stop eating, but unable to stop from shoveling food into my mouth. And this was AFTER already having eaten a day’s worth of healthy meal-prepped meals (probably 1700-1800 calories).

Yes, this one night stands out to me. But sadly, this was a very common occurrence. 3-4 times per week at night after a day of perfect eating and a solid workout, I would binge to the point of tears and tummy aches. I didn’t understand it. Why couldn’t I stop? What was this vicious cycle? Feelings of guilt, depression, sadness, and anxiety of further weight gain loomed over me.

 

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Jessica James, Photo by Jason Little Photography

 

At this point in time, the “hot topic” on social media was FAR from the “find balance” message spread today. Instead, most posts incessantly slammed in the idea that if you ever cheat on your diet or take a few days off from the gym, then you were just cheating yourself and you didn’t want it bad enough. It was like constantly being bombarded with messages that I was not good enough, dedicated enough, and it was my own fault that I was binging — it was my own lack of self-control. It had nothing to do with an actual eating disorder, I was just lazy and had no discipline. That is what the fitness industry was telling me. So I believed it.

Because of this, I kept my binging to myself. I didn’t tell anyone. Although, with my rapid weight gain it had to be obvious to everyone that I saw daily or that followed my posts. In fact, I stepped on stage at 111lbs on October 18th, 2014. By the time January 23rd, I weighed 145lbs (standing at 5’4” tall). The most I had ever weighed in my life up to that point (I hit 150 by June ‘15).

I thought food would make me feel better. And it did. The initial bite was always comforting. After that first bite though… it’s all downhill. When you’re crying and your stomach aches and you just cannot stop eating… that is not comfort. That is not happiness. There is no form of contentment found in that.

To this very day, it scares me to think of how much mental, emotional, and physical turmoil I was going through. It scares me even more knowing that I kept my mouth shut. That I didn’t speak up or ask for help. But you know what scares me the most? That hundreds, thousands, millions of women, young and old, around the world battle with eating disorders and do the same thing that I did… they keep quiet.

Talking about an eating disorder, or the possibility of having an eating disorder is not a sign of weakness. Just as keeping quiet is not a sign of strength. The decision to keep an eating disorder a secret is driven by fear: fear of weakness, of judgment, of disappointment, of the “never good enough.” This stigma must be lifted!

If you’re reading this and you have been saying to yourself, “This is me. I am there. I have reached this point.” If you’re reading this and you have been saying to yourself, “That was me. I’ve been there.” Know that you are not alone. You have never been alone. There are just too many of us that keep quiet.

Please, research binge eating disorders. Self-diagnose and then seek help! It will be the best decision you make, for your overall health and wellness.

Binge eating can be cured. You can stop. It is possible. It is hard. If I can do it, you can, too. Yes, I still struggle daily. I still fall victim to the occasional binge (I will proudly say mine are finally extremely infrequent), but today I am better and stronger. I continue to fight it each and every day. Everyone’s journey to recovery will be different. For me, it took a lot of soul-searching and self-acceptance. I had to come to a lot of very painful realizations of why I turn to food for comfort. I had to understand my triggers. I had to eliminate keeping certain foods in my apartment. I had to learn to really believe in myself and believe in my worth. Today, I am very openly gung-ho about SELF LOVE on social media and I completely believe in myself and how important and valuable I really am, but I didn’t always believe that. But before… My self-esteem was always very low. I had a “fake it til you make it” approach to my self-love and really faked having confidence in myself. It’s not easy to be vulnerable. It’s not easy to say, “I have a problem.” But it is necessary. You must look deep into yourself and understand why you are doing what you are doing… and you must ask for help.

I don’t ever really talk about this publically, but I realize now that it is necessary for my growth as an individual to be open about the times I’ve been broken; it is also necessary for me to speak up because I know that sharing my story could potentially help someone else facing this same struggle. I wish more women would share their stories.

One story in particular comes to mind for me, as it was her story that inspired me to find help for BED. Who was it? Jessica James.

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Jessica James

 

If you do not know who she is, Jessica was an IFBB pro bikini competitor and Bodybuilding.com athlete, who divulged that she had also been hiding from her (very large) social media following that she was a compulsive eater. She would binge and then restrict in an effort to undo the damage from the binge. In order to spread her message, she shot a very compelling series of photos, featured in this blog post (with Jessica’s permission, of course), to showcase what her eating disorder felt like. You feel trapped. You feel like a slave to the food and to the weight scale. It was these moving pictures that I could so adequately relate to, as well as her openness about her struggle that inspired me to also move forward and free myself from binge eating.

You can be free, too. You are worthy of freedom from the eating disorder you are suffering from. You are worthy of freedom from the body dysmorphia it has caused. Right now, in this very moment, just as you are… you are worthy.

So, do it… ask for help! Know that you are not alone. I am here. Women like Jessica are here. We will stand with you and for you and offering a helping hand.

Have you struggled with BED? Are you struggling now? This can be a tough subject to discuss, so if you don’t feel comfortable commenting below… please, contact me via the Connect page on my website. Let’s talk. Let’s heal together.

Xo,

Leta

P.S. Right after I reached out to her about this specific piece, this video went live on YouTube. It’s a spoken word piece in which Jessica so powerfully talks of her eating disorder and how it affected her life. It brought me to tears. It’s beautiful. Give it a watch!

*Photo Credits: Jason Little Photography

Go Ahead and Break: This Is Your Evolution

There is a lot to be said about a strong woman. A brave woman. A woman who consistently strives to improve herself: mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. You admire this woman. You see her everywhere; you see her on tv, in the magazines, on social media. The strong woman that is ever-changing, ever-evolving, and always focused on personal growth.

This woman makes you want to be a better woman. So you take that step… that terrifying, exhilarating step outside of your comfort zone. You look inward. You really think about the woman that YOU want to become; the woman that YOU are destined to be.

A photo by Julia Caesar. unsplash.com/photos/DpoMKEARZe4

You know who she is; you know what she stands for. You understand what drives her, what she’s passionate about, what she is willing to commit her life to. Now that you know who this woman you want to grow into really is, you act on it. In order to be HER, YOU must take the appropriate steps to get there.

You have a goal. You have a vision. Now it is time to do the work! It is time for the sacrifice and the struggle, because believe me, there is no growth without either.

It is hard, of course, to step outside of your comfort zone. It is hard to push past your own limits in any aspect of your life: physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. You are giving it your all. You are sacrificing sleep, time with friends and family, and any free time you used to have. Your motivation is fleeting, you find it unreliable some days… so you think back to your “why” and the woman you envisioned. You remember her. You know she would not give up. She would push forward. And since SHE is your future self, you decide that you, too, will push forward.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and you are focusing on just getting through the day. One foot in front of the other. It is getting harder and harder to juggle everything that you have taken on. You feel overwhelmed. You feel as though your failure may be inevitable. You consider just giving up now so you don’t risk having to face the disappointment of failing. But then you realize that the disappointment of quitting would be far worse than that of failure. So again, you pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

Change is happening. In fact, you can hardly recognize the girl you used to be. Slowly but surely that woman you strive to be is getting closer and closer. And yet, instead of focusing on how far you have come, you focus on how far you still have to go. This discourages you. Is it too far? Can you carry on for that long? The mental and emotional toll of your endeavors continues to seep into your mind.

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The weight of it all seems heavier and heavier each day. Can you bear to carry the load any longer? You doubt it. So you start to break. It is uncontrollable. You cannot stop it. You are cracking. Tears stream down your face. As much as it hurts to let it all out, it is just as therapeutic to let the tears fall. You feel weak and defeated for breaking down. Pieces of your shattered shell all around you. Surely, the woman that you envision in the future would not break so easily.

My darling, you are right. She won’t break this easily, because this breakdown is making you stronger so that the next venture you take on (that will surely be bigger and better) will not be a burden to bear.

You are changing. You are growing. Growth is painful. It doesn’t matter if it is physical, mental, emotional, spiritual… growth in any aspect means that you will need more space to encapsulate you. More love needs a bigger heart. Higher consciousness needs a greater soul. More muscle needs more physical space. You, in your current form, cannot hold everything that you are becoming.

Like a flower bud blooms. Like a caterpillar cocoons into a butterfly. Like a Phoenix rises from it’s own ashes.

Your shell cracks. You shatter. Thousands and millions of pieces. You burn. The flames leave nothing but ashes. Embrace this. Embrace the hurt, the pain, and the struggle as it is a tell-tale sign of your growth. This is your rebirth. This is the day that this woman you once envisioned is born. Let her free. Embrace her beginning, knowing that she, too, will evolve and grow.

These are growing pains, my love. You have worked endlessly for this. It feels like failure, it feels like brokenness, it feels like the end. It feels as though you have just combusted. Do not fight it. Do not resist it. Let it happen. Embrace the chaos. This is your evolution.

 

Xo,

Leta