This article was first seen on the Huffington Post. For this installment, we are joined by Jocelyn Shaw.
Let’s start off with a general introduction. How would you describe yourself, what are you all about and how did you get involved in health and fitness?
I would describe myself as a person constantly in search of happiness. Whatever my goals in life at a particular point in time, I am always asking myself “does this bring me happiness? Is this in line with what I want in my life?”
I just want to live a simple life with some purpose, and to feel as though I am helping people along the way to reaching my own happiness. I’m perfectly content with my husband and dogs and don’t need much else!
I got involved with fitness after falling in love with it (more on that below) and turning my life around. Once I separated from the Air Force in 2013 I decided to pursue health and fitness full time. It has been hard taking such a huge cut in pay and having to start from the bottom in terms of my profession, but the struggle has been transformative.
You’ve gone through an incredible transformation, losing over 60 pounds despite having been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan for your work in the military – tell me about your journey.
It’s an ongoing journey, and I think that anyone who considers themselves to be a fitness enthusiast (such as I do) would probably agree with that sentiment.
The beginning of my journey is hard to pinpoint but probably started about the time I joined the military. I had been in the Air Force for about a year and was newly married, at my first duty station, and fell ill; vomiting daily, extreme nausea and fatigue, and sudden weight loss. I saw a number of doctors and had a myriad of (really horrible) tests done, to no avail. Finally one doctor suggested I focus on exercise and eating better to see if my symptoms improved until we could figure out what the issue was.
To this day I still do not know what plagued me, but I can tell you that when I started focusing on eating better and moving more, my symptoms dissipated.
From there things have been constantly evolving; I have gone through periods where I was running a lot and not eating much (and ended up underweight) to periods where I have been purposefully adding muscle, experimenting with Crossfit, competing in Bikini and (later) Figure, and everything in between. My weight has been up and down and everywhere in between, yet my purpose and passion for fitness and my journey are still evolving.
Tell me about binge eating, not everyone might be familiar with what exactly that means, could you explain? And what advice would you have for those who might recognize such behaviour in their own lives?
Binge eating has been an issue in the past, and again more recently popped up after competing for a second time.
I can actually remember the first time I binged, and how odd it was. It was 2005 and I had started working to improve my health for the first time about 6 or 7 months earlier, after my doctor had suggested it.
In that time I had really started restricting my food and had lost a lot of weight. I had not yet learned the right way to diet nor had I any knowledge about calories, macros, or essential fats. I ended up eating mostly tuna and lettuce with low-calorie snacks and cookies for months on end.
One day I went into the pantry for a granola bar, and just kept eating them. I think I ate the entire box and then ate a few more bits of things before I finally snapped out of it and realized what I did. I didn’t feel guilty or ashamed, or worry about what eating those snacks would do to my body, but rather I was amused! I remember telling my then-husband about it because I was so surprised and didn’t really understand that my survival instincts had finally taken over and just put me on auto pilot.
From there I started incorporating a once-monthly “cheat day” in which I would eat from the time I woke from the time I went to bed. I probably consumed 15,000 calories on those days, but since I had “planned” them I didn’t see them as binges. They were just rewards for eating so little the rest of the month.
Over time these binges became more and more frequent and started happening when I had not planned them. My husband and I got divorced and I started drinking and binge eating shortly after. I wasn’t upset about the end of my marriage, but I did feel alone and stressed, and turned to food.
Eventually I ate my way up about 60 pounds to my all-time heaviest.
I couldn’t tell you how I finally got things back under control or when exactly it was; it just happened naturally for me. I started to feel as though I wanted more out of life and slowly the weight just came off.
I have had issues with binge eating on and off over the years and am always very open about it. Most recently, after competing for a second time, I started binge eating regularly again. I have since gotten my head out of my rear (so to speak) but I believe that the extreme amounts of cardio and low calories for months on end just triggered those survival instincts once again.
I believe that for most people with BED (Binge Eating Disorder) it originates from dieting. Not all, but most people seem to binge for the first time after a period of restrictive dieting. There are those who have non-diet-related BED, but they seem to be rare.
If you are suffering from binge eating or think that you may be, seek out help. You may wish to speak with a professional or even just start reading about the subject. One resource that really helped me was the book “Brain Over Binge”. It focuses on the fact that with BED you are in control; you can simply choose NOT to overeat. (That is an oversimplified summary, of course, but the basic premise of the book.) I highly recommend it.
You’ve also suffered from hip issues that led to surgery – what was the road to recovery like?
At one point I had been running quite a lot and began experiencing pain in my right hip. After dealing with the pain for several months and having several tests done, I finally got an MRI which revealed a fracture to the head of my right femur. I had to have surgery 48 hours later in order to insert 3 titanium screws in my femur. It was my first experience with any sort of injury or surgery and I was taken aback by the amount of pain I was in.
Regardless, as soon as I could I started doing pushups and crunches on the floor of my apartment and attending physical therapy for my injury. My Physical Therapist was amazed at how quickly I recovered; I was off of my crutches and cleared for all activity after only 8 weeks. She credited my fitness and my stubborn nature for the fast turn-around!
When your husband, who is in the army, got deployed you threw yourself into school and earned your AS degree in personal training and certifications from ACE and NASM.
How important is continuous education when it comes to your health and where should people start to learn more about how to take care of their own health?
I also earned a second AS Degree in Massage Therapy, and now work as a massage therapist full time! I felt as though massage and personal training went hand in hand, and I’ve found that the combination makes me better in both of my professions.
Continuing to pursue your interests in the form of education is SO important; things are constantly changing in the health and fitness fields, and it’s crucial to stay up on the latest developments. Especially when dealing with people’s bodies, you can never have enough knowledge or experience.
As far as taking care of their own health, I think the best place for people to start to educate themselves is to familiarize themselves with reputable information sources; There are so many myths and misconceptions about nutrition, fitness and basic biology out there that it just blows my mind. People should get their information from peer-reviewed studies, doctors (who practice in the fields they are referencing), and industry leaders with great peer recommendations.
If you are unsure where to start, consider hiring a coach to get you going in the right direction!
Let’s talk a little bit about perfection, many people reading this are striving for that illusive perfect diet, workout or life – what are your thoughts there?
I think most of us fall into the “perfectionist” trap from time to time. To be honest, I recently have been dealing from the fallout from such issues in my own life.
After my first bikini competition I got caught up in the feeling that I needed to compete again. I struggled with preparing for it for a long time, dragging my feet and not fully committing for more than a few weeks at a time. I decided after a while to try my hand at Figure, and just recently competed in that division for the first time.
After that sort of restrictive diet and training regime I again struggled with not looking “perfect” or eating my “perfect” contest diet. Even though I knew that this was a possibility and tried to prepare for it, I have still been dealing with perfectionist thinking over the past few weeks.
A lot of us fall into that habit from time to time.
When it comes to fitness, most of us are in search of the “perfect plan”; the perfect diet, workout or supplement regimen that will get us our desired results NOW.
That plan does not exist!
The perfect plan is the one that you can stick to most of the time and fits into your lifestyle. It’s the one you can keep going forward with and that is realistic for you.
Far too many people spend countless hours finding crazy diets, preparing for them and then only manage to stick with whatever magical cleanse program it is for a few days. Then, because they didn’t do it 100 percent, they throw the baby out with the bathwater by saying “forget it, I failed… I might as well eat a cheesecake”.
Sure, perhaps a less restrictive plan won’t help you to lose a pound per day and isn’t as sexy, but if you can stick to it, over time it will be much more effective than a diet that causes you to yo-yo diet.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about women lifting weight?
I think that women are misinformed about how much weight they need to lift in order to actually start to see changes in the size and shape of their muscles. Lifting those cute little pink rubber dumbbells for 30 repetitions is not going to do ANYTHING for your current fitness levels or body composition.
Think about it; if your purse weighs more than the amount you are lifting at the gym, do you really think you’re doing much good?
You wrote to me that you feel it’s okay to struggle and okay to not have all the answers all the time – how do you deal with those times in your own life?
I am fortunate enough to have a small circle of close friends I can rely on to point me in the right direction. I tend to have a good internal compass but often I get what I like to call “paralysis by analysis”, in which I overthink things to the point of inaction.
Being able to consult with my friends allows me that avenue to talk through my thoughts and feelings, and 80% of the time I end up arriving at the conclusions I had been hovering around.
That other 20% of the time I can trust that they will point me down the right path, and remind me that I don’t have to have all of the answers in order to just get started. The rest will work itself out.
You’re a meticulous planner and use a notebook – how important is planning and how do you stick to your plans?
Planning is crucial, in my opinion. In fact, I just finished planning out my workouts and meals for the coming week! You don’t necessarily have to plan each day, meal and workout to the letter like I do, but having even a loose plan can make all the difference in terms of success.
Too many people tell me that they don’t have time to workout or plan meals, but what they usually mean is that they didn’t MAKE the time. We tend to take on too much and not save time for ourselves, when in reality, a solid workout routine and healthy diet generally makes us happier people!
Stop taking on so much; share responsibilities at home and work, delegate some tasks to your kids or coworkers, and enlist the help of friends or family if you need to. Planning meals and working out doesn’t have to take an insane amount of time.
I know you also started competing – what has that experience been like and what has been the biggest lesson on that new journey this far?
The experience has had it’s ups and downs, to be sure. I competed in the NPC Bikini division in October 2014, and then in the Figure division in November 2016.
I find competition to be incredibly motivating but on the flip side of that, I have come to realize that I don’t really enjoy the process; it stresses me out and makes me overly critical of myself, which I never used to be.
Competing can be done in a way that is enjoyable and healthy, and there are a lot of people that manage to compete and still have a full social life, perfect health and a positive attitude. I am not one of those people! I get cranky and have to do an excessive amount of cardio on low calories and a restrictive diet in order to get stage lean. To me, it just isn’t worth it.
For someone such as myself who has suffered from BED (Binge Eating Disorder) at various times, competition can be too extreme and can trigger those sorts of behaviors again. I highly suggest that anyone who has a history of any type of eating disorder or disordered eating patterns think long and hard about what impact it may have before deciding to compete.
I would have to say that the biggest lesson I have learned is that, even though I love the idea of it, I don’t love the process. I will continue to be a fan and supporter of the sport, but not a participant… at least not for a while.
In an article you wrote you gave two great tips around being your own biggest fan and taking the time to reward yourself – can you share something around that?
I’m a huge believer that any lasting motivation needs to be intrinsic, as opposed to extrinsic. If you rely on other people for your motivation, your goals just don’t mean as much. If you want to lose weight so that you can fit into a wedding dress and feel your best, you’re going to work harder than, say, if your fiancé tells you that he would find you more attractive if you lost 20 pounds… it’s going to mean more to you.
Basically, you have to find your “why”, and harness that. By finding your “why”, and reaching your goals, you’ll likely be incredibly proud of yourself and will want to continue to set goals and to reach them. You’ll start to find more intrinsic motivation and it becomes this perfect circle of motivation, pride, reward, repeat.
I think that feeling good about how you look and feel in your own skin is it’s own reward, but sometimes taking time to reward yourself with something a bit more substantial is a good way to keep yourself motivated. Buying a new gym outfit, going on a vacation, getting a pedicure, doing a photo shoot (or whatever it is you’d like to do or have) can be a great way to keep yourself going on days you’re feeling ho-hum.
Rewards don’t necessarily have to be a motivation tool though! There is nothing wrong with doing a little something for yourself for no reason other than you want to. Not everything has to be “earned” with weight loss or time in the gym. Life is meant to be enjoyed and not every little pleasure needs to be justified.
Where can people go to learn more about you online?
You can stay up to date by following me on Facebook.
Stay tuned for the next interview of Real Talk Real Women!