Published On: Fri, Apr 12th, 2013

Regaining Health, Fitness, and the Pursuit of Longevity: “It’s never too late!!!!”

tiffani-by Tiffani Bachus, RD

In 2003, I felt like I was on top of the world.  After having worked as a Nutritionist, Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor for most of my life, I was finally ready to take my own fitness to the next level and compete in my first international fitness competition.

Inspired by my good friend and fellow fitness competitor Ilana Artz, I worked extremely hard to get my body into competition shape, which wasn’t easy after having given birth to two children.  I traveled to Las Vegas for my first Fitness America Pageant in 2003, which included a fitness routine, swimsuit round and interview round.  I was so happy just to have made it onto that stage and felt that was accomplishment enough and was thrilled to place eleventh.  I got the itch to compete again the following year and to my surprise I placed in the top 5, finishing up with the fifth overall.

After having had such a fantastic experience at the Fitness America Pageant two years in a row, I was excited to begin training for the 2005 competition when my life took a dramatically different turn.  During a ski trip with my family, I suffered a knee injury which required major reconstruction surgery for a torn ACL and torn Meniscus.  Six weeks following my surgery, I became pregnant with my third child.

tiffani2This was an almost indescribably difficult time in my life as I went from feeling great and being in the best shape of my life to gaining 40 plus pregnancy pounds.  At the same time, I was enduring a slow and painful rehab for my knee which dragged on for more than two years and eventually required a second surgery.  As I struggled with my weight gain and post-partum depression I wondered if I would ever get my body – or my life – back. I felt mentally, emotionally and physically drained. I had lost myself.  I never understood why I could feel this way when I was blessed to have a wonderful family and three healthy beautiful kids.  I loved being a wife, a mom, and taking care of my family so I knew something had to be done.  Now, it was a matter of how, when and what will I do.  I knew to be my best self, I needed to feel good about my self and rebuild my self-confidence.

This was not an easy time, but eventually I realized that there was no one who was going to save me from how I felt.  I had to save myself.  No matter how hard it was or how down I felt, I knew I had to find a way to reach down deep inside of my most innermost self, to that strong central core we all have and need to find when we face life’s most difficult challenges.   Some days I just wanted to run away and give up, but giving up was not an option, I decided to fight.

I began to make small changes to my diet and exercise routine and focused on making slow but steady progress.  I did not put any pressure on myself to get to a certain size or number on the scale.  Instead I focused on feeling good and tapping into my intuitive sense of what my body truly wanted and needed.  Slowly my body started to change and as I began to see results my old motivation kicked in.  I found myself wanting to challenge myself even more.

There were certainly struggles along the way and I went off track a number of times.  But instead of beating myself up on my bad days I recognized that I had the power to make a new choice at anytime.  All was not lost because I had a slice of pizza or didn’t work out for a few days.

I gave myself permission to be human and make mistakes and got back on track as soon as I was able.  I found a way to stick with it and continued moving forward.  After three long years I was finally back in competition shape and was excited to return to compete in the 2008 Fitness America Pageant once again.

As with my first show in 2003, I was thrilled just to be up on stage and realized what an accomplishment that was in itself.  So I was overjoyed to place 3rd overall in the competition knowing how much hard work and determination it had taken to get there.  This kept me motivated to stick with the healthy nutrition and exercise program I had committed to.  Once again I would go off track at times, but I realized I always felt better when I made healthy choices and so I would naturally get back on track.  

I stuck with my program and was able to return for the 2009 Fitness America Pageant.  That year was extra special because my parents, husband, three children and many friends were in the audience to cheer me on.  So, I was thrilled beyond words when to my great surprise, I won the competition!   To win in my late thirties as a mother of three after having endured multiple knee operations was an extremely rewarding experience and meant so much more to me because of the many challenges I had faced. That night will always hold such special memories.

The most important thing I want to share is my belief that the struggles and setbacks I endured in the years prior to my win are universal.  They are struggles that we all face when it comes to transforming any aspect of our lives whether our bodies, our relationships, our professions etc.  Whatever the challenge, we are not victims. We always have the power of choice. We have options.   Every day, every moment of our lives we are choosing who we are going to be and who we are going to become.  The question is, are we making conscious or unconscious choices?  Are we setting out upon a deliberate course of action or are we letting life “happen” to us? 

tiffanicompI have heard it all from clients: “I don’t have time to work out,” “I’m too busy,” “it’s too much trouble to make healthy food” etc.  This is simply not true.  What they really mean to say is “I refuse to make exercise and eating right a priority in my life and have chosen to spend that time in a different way.”  That is a much more honest statement.   Once we recognize that we can empower ourselves to make a different choice at any moment, this mindset falls away and we begin to take responsibility for our choices.  We begin to take ownership over our own lives.  We always have options.  We just need to recognize what those options are.

So, let’s talk about some of the challenges I’ve seen my clients face over the years and how I’ve helped them to overcome them. 

For my “too busy to work out” clients, I ask them if they have 20 minutes a day.  Their answer is of course they do.  Great!   I tell them that this is all they need.  Just setting aside 20 minutes a day for 3-4 days a week is better than nothing.  Something is always better than nothing.  If you can’t get to a gym, then find a quiet place and time to work out at home.  Some simple at home equipment like dumbbells, a jump robe and perhaps a stability ball is all you need.  If you don’t have those, even using cans of soup as weights and a chair for squats is a great place to start.  The point is, there is no excuse not to exercise.  If you hate to exercise alone, I suggest buying one of the hundreds, if not thousands of exercise DVDs that are out there.  Find one that has an exercise you like doing..whether it’s dance, yoga or aerobics.  Buy it and try it!

Other clients seem to work out 24/7 yet see no results.  Our bodies can be overtrained.  Allowing a rest day may be just what you’re their body needs to reap the benefits of their workout.  Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. Or the problem is they are addicted to one type of exercise; all running or biking or swimming.  The truth is your body needs a variety of exercises to keep it challenged.  Being in a workout rut can be as bad as not working out at all.  It is important to continually mix it up and keep your body surprised.

I love to get my clients out of their comfort zone.  If they do all cardio, I throw in some resistance or strength training to help build muscle. Weight training helps build and tone your muscles, helps fight age-related muscle loss and having more muscle mass burns more calories than fat so your body actually burns more calories during your every day routine.

There is one challenge we all seem to face when it comes to diet and exercise, and that is sticking with it over the long term.  We can all commit and stick to changes in the short-term, but the truth is most of us eventually burn out, stop exercising and eating well and go back to our old bad habits.  Why is that?

This is usually because whatever we are doing simply isn’t sustainable over the long haul.  In fact, for years I have seen girls compete on stage and win international bikini competitions only to balloon up to 20 and 30 pounds overweight once the competition is over.  This happens because whatever program they were on simply was not sustainable over the long-term.  To successfully achieve and maintain a healthy body, you must commit to a nutrition and fitness program that fits your lifestyle day in and day out. Setting realistic, achievable goals is critical.  I don’t believe in setting a time frame for weight loss or doing any sort of program that is considered a short-term quick fix.  Instead, I’m all about finding a mix of activities that you enjoy, that keep you motivated and that you *want* to continue doing because they make you feel great!

It’s all about keeping a healthy balance and adding variety whenever possible.  Find a workout buddy or even enlist the help of a personal trainer if you need one.  It’s about finding a mix that works for you, that you can enjoy, commit to and stick with over the long haul.

Here are some of the things I suggest all of my new clients to do:

1).  Set realistic, achievable goals and create a concrete program and plan of action to get there

2).  Develop a workout schedule, write down days for planned exercises and treat it like an appointment you cannot break

3). Keep an exercise log and food journal to record all of your food and exercise.  It also helps to have an “accountability” partner you can show your journal to

4). Evaluate your progress not daily, but weekly and monthly.  Tweak your program as needed.

Most importantly, allow yourself to get off track occasionally.  I still eat pizza and I love chocolate, just not every day or even every week.  Still when I want a slice of pizza, I will eat one and not feel an ounce of guilt.  Don’t let your choices one day impact your choice the following day.  Remember it’s a new day and you have the power of choice..always!  Every day, every moment you have the power to make a different choice.

I’ve shared my story with you so you can know that no matter what your personal health or fitness goals are, we all face similar struggles.  We all have challenges and we all have the power of choice within ourselves to change our lives for the better.  No one is going to save us.  We have to save ourselves.

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