For those of you who don’t follow me on Instagram (FOR SHAME! By the way, it’s @kimlienkendall), I’ve been deeply immersed in the world of competitive Brazilian jiu jitsu which I have to admit, makes very little sense for a 35 year-old, self-employed single mom. Trying to murder people in pajamas, aside from being literally the most fun thing I can think of, plays a pivotal role in my mental health and more importantly, my idea of self worth. Like most women, unfortunately, my “value” has always been measured in inches and pounds and having to compete in a sport with weight classes hasn’t helped. I’ve finally developed a healthy relationship with my body image and I’m here to share my journey with you in hopes that you find some relatable piece of information.
So without further ado, here is my story of all the fucked up things I’ve done to my body in the name of vanity:
This story begins in the late 90s, when 24 inch waists and thigh gaps were fashionable. I tried just about every crash diet there was- master cleanse, atkins, I was even RAW VEGAN (basically I ate rabbit food) for 2 whole years. All I wanted was a skinny body, but all I got was a ton of problems. Not only did my weight fluctuate in an unpredictable fashion, but I was experiencing highs and lows in energy, my hair was falling out, I stopped getting my period and I was pretty much constantly bloated. I was so focused on what NOT to put in my body that I ended up developing an eating disorder. Aside from all that, I wasted SO MUCH money on daily $25 yoga classes and organic vegan food that I would end up barfing into a fancy restaurant bathroom anyway (fun times!).
Then I got knocked up (it happens). All of the focus on my body now shifted from what it looked like to how well it could grow and nourish another human being (which is some crazy ass shit if you really think about it). This was cool for a while until I decided that my body should be more than just an udder. After my maternity leave, I was fortunate to be hired by a facility with a beautiful gym. I worked with some very talented strength coaches (big shout out to Ben Shear aka the angriest thumb I know!) and I started to focus on strength training.
Lifting weights provided a welcome break from this vicious cycle of body dysmorphia. I started to focus on feeling strong and PRs (if you don’t know what that is, do you even lift, bruh?) rather than fitting into jean sizes that I wore in high school. I actually ended up putting on a significant amount of muscle mass (thank goodness for awesome genetics!) and I was able to eventually deadlift almost 2 times my own body weight!
While this seems like a much healthier mentality than obsessing about being thin, this new mindset came with its own set of problems. At the time, Ashley Graham was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and #bodypositivity was the new trend for women’s bodies. Although this campaign should have translated to “your body is perfectly fine the way it is”, that message isn’t as profitable as telling young girls they should look like Kim Kardashian. Yes, this created a shift in the fitness industry and it became more common to see women deadlifting and squatting, but it didn’t free us from the socially imposed norms of what our bodies should look like. It just meant that big butts were in style and that’s what was now being sold to us.
So, in the spirit of being fashionable, I became obsessed with appearing thick. This allowed me to eat as much food as I wanted (#winning!). I had just started training jiu jitsu, so between training, lifting weights and riding my bike, I was putting in 15-18 hours a week of moderate to intense exercise. My appetite was voracious and I was eating whatever I wanted (ice cream for breakfast, anyone?). I stopped routinely weighing myself and taking circumference measurements of my waist and instead measured my ass and tits- you know, the trendy parts. I even wrote a blog post about how I had finally overcome the oppressive body image issues that have become the social norm for women (hurrah!). But alas, this was also a ruse.
The next time I stepped on the scale was before my first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament. I weighed 139 lbs at 5’2”. All of my teammates and other competitors were cutting weight but in my naivety, I thought surely my strength and power would help me overcome my opponent even if she was slightly taller than me. Well… “slightly” ended up being an average of 5 inches for my first few tournaments. It didn’t take me long to realize that all the women in my division were MUCH larger than me, and relying on my strength wasn’t going to cut it if I wanted to continue to compete, which I did.
I knew that adding in MORE activity wasn’t physically possible, so that meant I would have to *sigh* go on a diet. Now, if you’ve ever tried dieting and you like food, you’ve probably noticed that shit doesn’t work. Or if it does, it works for a very limited amount of time. Most of this is because of the evolution of our limbic system; our brains are hardwired to consume as much as possible and preserve as much energy as possible, which is how our species survived. Even the word DIET reminds me of misery and failure. So, what did I do? I procrastinated my weight cut of course! I kept telling myself I would do it the next tournament and I kept losing matches to giants (to be clear- a lot of it was failure in executing proper technique and timing BUT it doesn’t help when you come up to your opponent’s collarbone!)
This went on for a while until, praise the fitness lords, intermittent fasting became a thing. Which meant I didn’t have to change WHAT I ate, just WHEN I ate! I lost 17 lbs in 6 weeks and I entered Masters Worlds 2017 as a featherweight! Don’t rejoice yet, I still lost my first match BUT it was pretty close and the women were definitely my size. This was my new competition weight and I didn’t want to stray too far from it considering how long it took for me to lose the weight and how annoying it was to plan all my “feeding” times.
I wasn’t used to being this size and it felt oddly vulnerable. Although I was much faster at this weight and I hadn’t lost much strength, I had to come to terms with the fact that I am, in fact, a small person. I was also a fitness professional who promoted body positivity and eating what makes you happy… but now I had to keep track of my weight and go on a diet! I felt like a fraud and a hypocrite! It didn’t help that I was going through a lot of major life changes. I guess you could call it an existential crisis of sorts that forced me to really investigate who I am and what my core values are, which ended up being a blessing in disguise.
During this process I realized that there is a fine line between self-care and self-sabotage. I realized that a lot of my attachments to food were emotional and even though I deserved to eat things that I wanted, I didn’t deserve stepping on the scale the next day and hating myself. A lot of the foods I desired weren’t foods that my body needed, but foods that my mind craved. I was rebelling against the idea that in order to be healthy, I had to deprive myself. But what I was missing was balance. There had to be a way to eat enjoyable food, nourish my body with what it needs and still make weight.
So, I did a lot of research (and watched a LOT of Food Network), experimented with recipes and products. With the help of some awesome and smart friends, I found a new love in cooking! I realized that food is nourishment and that what you eat determines how well your body functions (so basically super obvious shit that took me a decade to figure out). Cooking food for yourself is a form of self love. I learned to trust myself more and trust that my body is asking for what it needs. More importantly I learned how to listen to cues my body was giving me. I started picking ingredients that appealed to my senses and taking time to perfect the taste of what I was making. It not only made my food more enjoyable, but more satiating! I was able to taste and smell certain nuances of flavors and over time I didn’t need as much guidance in the process. I didn’t have to eat as much and I was more inclined to make better choices.
I started to feel better a few weeks into this new journey and those effects have lasted. I’m not as achy, I have more energy, I’m not as bloated and my hair, skin and nails are healthier. It has also had a pretty significant impact on my performance and my recovery. I find myself getting sick less and I’m not concerned about when I can have my next “cheat” meal because I don’t feel like I need one. This doesn’t feel like deprivation.
Instead of focusing on eliminating certain foods from my diet, I started focusing on specific nutrients like good fats, B vitamins, calcium rich foods, probiotic foods and quality proteins. By the way, if you believe it’s easier for you to supplement your nutrition, Naked Nutrition has really great products that don’t have any crap in them- just grass fed proteins! It took a lot of experimentation to find a product I actually like- so you’re welcome! I’ve been using their whey protein for shakes and collagen protein for soups and overnight oats. (www.nkdnutrition.com)
Now comes the shameless self promotion part of this blog…
Along this journey I began to document what I ate during weight cuts. I got a lot of inquiries about what I was eating/cooking and what kinds of products and supplements I use. So I decided to write a(nother) book! I am combining forces with a nutritionist (www.laurencadillac.com) and an MMA fighter (follow RoccoGmma on Instagram) to write a guide/ cookbook for athletes who care about how their food tastes but still have to make weight.
The goal is to educate readers about what their bodies need for optimal function and show them how they can find these nutrients in familiar, tasty dishes while honoring their time constraints. Hopefully this will help shift us away from the “diet” era of depriving our bodies and into a mindset where we see food as nourishment.
In conclusion, our time here on earth is limited and we can get so much more out of our bodies than making them look a certain way, but we have to treat our bodies well!
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