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Earlier this year, I lost a fair amount of beer and cheeseburger weight and everyone wanted to know how I did it. I promised thousands of people my story - and by thousands, I mean about eleven - so, here it goes, for the eleven people who care: 

I had been going to the gym a few months prior to the new year, doing a full body routine which advanced into a more detailed bro split every month. (A "split" just means you work different bodyparts on different days, so you can fine tune specific muscles and give them more attention.) I hadn't changed my diet or drinking habits much, because I was still under a lot of pressure, so my weight wasn't going anywhere and my body composition was only marginally better than it was when I first realized I was disgusted with myself. I felt better, though, and I had managed to work the gym into my life, which was the first monumental step. 

Remember that when you start out, everything will not fall into place at once. Weight will not immediately "melt away" the moment you get off your ass. In fact, that is usually the biggest complaint. Why hasn't the scale moved?? Your body is not an abacus. It doesn't tally up your calories and store/dump the fat at midnight. Your body is a living organism performing miracles at the cellular level. It's not aware of your schedule. It has to process everything, cell by cell. Did you know that you exhale the majority of burned fat out of your body? (Of course, this new finding has assholes telling people they can burn fat simply by breathing, but we know better. WE KNOW BETTER.) The conversion and elimination process is complex and it's not going to happen overnight, or on a timetable that is logical to you. The scale not moving (or - GASP! - going up) in the first few months is quite common and unfortunately is an equally common reason why people become disheartened and give up. This is why I advocate incremental, persistent forward momentum, instead of divebombing in and crashing out. 

Anyway, the gym was more or less a habit by the time 2015 rolled in and I was ready to level up, yet still acting noncommittal. So, in January, I signed up for a body transformation contest on bodybuilding.com to motivate me to get serious.  The $80,000 purse was enough to give me permission to put my health first and treat it like a job, instead of a luxury. 

And that's a huge thing. We don't even realize it's a thing, but it is. We all seem to view gym time, sports, running, and any kind of training like it's a trivial extra-curricular activity. As if exercise is a whimsy only afforded to those without a job or any kind of responsibility. It's the first thing to get cut when money needs to be made. As a stay at home mom, I feel it is my job to keep the home, while my husband makes the money. If I'm not bringing money into the house, my personal endeavors (writing, art projects, lifting weights) sometimes feel like a guilty luxury that "ladies who are home all day" get to enjoy, while their husbands bust their asses at work. It's certainly not coming from my husband, who always encourages me to do my thing, but a societal relic from a generation ago that hasn't completely left the building. Like I said before, that old ghost didn't give me permission to prioritize anything that didn't center around my home and children's needs. But the $80,000 did. 

I got down to work. The ubiquitous "toned bikini bod" was my goal, what I thought the judges would be looking for. Not too muscular, but shredded abs were a must.  I started out by doing an Erin Stern program off the site, called "Elite Body Trainer" because the supersets and aesthetics-based exercises were what I needed to jump start the fat burning process and build a showy physique.  It was a fun program, but has to be modified a bit for the gym so you're not hogging a bunch of equipment.

Unfortunately, I finished January lagging a tiny bit from where I wanted to be. So I created my own program and this is when I saw the most dramatic results. I worked out 6 days a week, chest/back, Shoulders/Arms, Legs/Abs, and repeat (with a slightly different exercise list). I added 15-20 minutes of interval training on the elliptical on the days that weren't leg days. Suddenly, I got a lot leaner and my muscles got a bit bigger. Everything was falling into place, except my abs. What was this two lines bullshit? Where were my packs, dammit? 

The last few weeks of March were a killer. I was in contest prep mode and my opinion on contest prep mode is "F*ck that" unless you are actually in a contest. I dialed in my diet to the calorie. I cycled carbs. In the very last week, I went ultra low carb, just to make them pop as much as possible. I did a million crunches and slathered on the self tanning lotion (because I ain't getting skin cancer for no one.) I did two cardio sessions a day, one HIIT or Tabata, then one steady-state. That last week, I was so depleted, I could barely hoist a 60 pound barbell over my head. But, there they were! Abs, finally. 

Then, a funny thing happened on the morning of my photos. My abs were gone! I was so flattened out that they weren't prominent anymore. And either were any of my muscles, really. I looked slim, but... where did all of my work go? I had a minor meltdown, and took my photos anyway. Then, a week or two later, after carb replenishment, I looked like this (of course): 

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I didn't win the money, but as I said before, neither did some truly hot-ass bitches, so it wasn't for poor results. At that point, it didn't matter, because I won something else. (Cue the cheesy triumphant music...) I won my health back. Meal prep is now the norm in my house. Gym time is a given. I take it seriously now and no one has to give me permission. I also learned a lot about my body, my goals, and what I will and won't do for looks. In closing, for you eleven people who care, I will share them: 

1. The program doesn't matter as much as the work you put into the program. Obviously some are centered around strength and some around aesthetics, so you should chose according to your goals, but whether you do my program or Erin Stern's isn't as important as whether or not you go heavier and harder each time and continually challenge yourself to do better. 

2. Fuck low-carb bullshit. And double-fuck low calorie bullshit. 

3. HIIT will do more for you than an hour on the elliptical, popping a fat burner, "lifting weights faster," or slashing carbs and calories ever will. (And bonus: It will make you fitter and healthier!)  

4. NEVER center your goals around your abs. It wrecks the rest of your game. 

5. Get emotionally detached from your body. Take photos  - all different angles. Pose. Flex. Love that bitch - or motherf*cker. Share your before photos with supportive people. It's so incredibly mortifying for five minutes, but after that, this huge weight of having to hide is lifted off of you. You will start looking at your body in a more removed way, like a project,  instead of being emotionally attached and feeling shameful. People I go to the gym with have seen me half-naked on my instagram. So have family members, people I went to high school with, as well as complete strangers from around the world. I look a lot of these people in the eye on a daily basis. I can't tell you how freeing that has been. My body is not something to hide like a dirty secret, it's a badass machine. It's just me. And the best part is.... NO ONE CARES. When you have a good fitfam (internet speak for fitness friends on social media), looking at bodies - fat and thin and everything in between - is a normalized thing. Emancipate yourself from your bodily hangups. 

 If you open a fitness instagram, let me know & I'll follow you! 

6. What I did doesn't have to be what you do. You don't have to enter a contest to take your health seriously. You don't have to spend 6 days in the gym. You don't even have to primarily lift weights (but you should work in resistance training). And I will not suggest anyone starting out do my program that got me results. I don't like beginners jumping into intermediate or advanced bodybuilding programs, as they are so often encouraged to these days. 

When I first stepped into the gym, I was a mess and everything was hard.  I looked sloppy. And for a while, nothing seemed to change. Until everything changed. The only thing you have to do is work your way toward your goals, every day. Two steps forward, one step back is the norm. If you keep on stepping forward, you will wow yourself by next year.