When does a label turn into your identity? And how do you separate yourself from it?
As kids and teenagers we always find ourselves trying to form an identity. We want to be associate with a title, whether it be popular or sporty or cool, hell even nerdy would suffice, because we just want something to hold on to.
Adulthood sort of surfaces that identity. We find what we like and form deeper associations with our hobbies, interests, political standpoints, food choices, you name it. People start noticing patterns with our behaviour and with that, form a better impression of who we are. Then, just like in high school, the labels come in again.
I always wanted to be the athletic girl. I was always jealous of other girls in high school who could play every sport effortlessly in PE, while I struggled to keep up in Track or failed to dribble a ball between my feet. Coming out of high school I found weightlifting through CrossFit. I grew stronger every week and I felt like it was something I was finally good at. I was (and still am) proud of what my body could achieve and pushed harder in every subsequent session. When I started university, I soon became known as “The CrossFit Girl”; considering very few other girls in my school were doing CrossFit, let alone competing in the sport, I didn’t blame people for labelling me like that.
Soon, however, I started feeling pressured to live up to that label. I felt like I had to compete more and train more, post all my sessions on social media, make sure that I made #gainz so everyone could see. I was pushing myself to the breaking point without even realizing it.
I wish I could say that performance was my only goal, but when is that ever 100% true? I wanted to be lean and ripped as well as freaking strong. So I changed my diet- I ate more protein, cut down on carbs, no sugar, no alcohol, and cheat days were saved only for special occasions or when I was fuelling up for a meet. I tried the Paleo diet… gained weight. Then I tried IIFYM… gained weight. Nutrition template… gained weight. Finally I found great success in following the Zone diet. I was eating Paleo-based, but balancing my protein, carbs and fat ratio at every single meal. There were definitely some odd combinations of food to achieve that, but hey, it worked right? I followed a nutrition plan meant for fat loss for about a year. However, I forgot the most important point- it was for fat loss. There is NO WAY that would have been sustainable for a year.
Obviously my weight loss plateaued, so I thought I would just have to push harder in the gym. By the end of last year I was spending nearly 2.5 hours training up to 6 days per week. I felt guilty if I wasn’t in the gym, so I would walk everywhere just to burn more calories. My diet stayed the same- lean protein, healthy fats and green vegetables with maybe a sprinkling of starchy carbs here and there. Looking at this, you’d think I’d be a lean, green, bad ass machine in the gym, but I was neither very lean nor very strong. I was just kind of… there.
As I was running my body into the ground, it started going into survival mode, i.e. shutting down my reproductive system. Yes, I lost my period. My cycles had actually started dwindling down a few months after I started getting serious about CrossFit, but I attributed it all to the stress of starting university and moving to a new country. While this was probably true to some extent, my training and eating habits probably had a lot to do with it as well.
As of now, I have not had a cycle for two and a half years. Some of the effects of not menstruating for women include: estrogen deficiency (which can lead to bone loss), ovarian cysts, and of course infertility. In short, it is NOT normal and definitely not healthy.
[To be continued…]