By Lacey Cleland
Body image. Gosh, isn’t it just the worst possible thing to think about? There’s always something that you want to change about yourself. Something you wish you had…Something you wish you didn’t have. We get caught up in looking back at pictures or lifestyles that we used to lead and wishing we had stuck to the plan. In some cases, we even go back to that routine wanting to get back to where we used to be. And then, when we finally get to what we think we want, the mind immediately starts concentrating on what’s next. The, “yeah, okay I accomplished my goal, but this could still be better,” along with the jealous dreams of, “why can’t I have (blank) like her/him?”
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the young age of 9 years old, which ignited my need for knowledge of food, macronutrients, and the body’s different integrated systems. I started dancing at the age of 2. Not just any dance, but ballet. I pursed dance all the way through college and graduated from Texas Christian University with a BFA in Ballet. It was a nightmare being a diabetic and existing in the community of, “the skinnier you are, the prettier you are and the prettier you danced.” My mind was skewed to think that the less I ate, the closer I’d be to making my ballerina dreams a full time reality. However, this mindset took a huge toll on my health. My frame is that of a natural athletic build. I put on muscle very easily and had thicker legs than the average ballerina. I’ve always had a bubble butt that I can thank my Dad for, I didn’t have the smallest waist, but it at least it was flat. My teachers always asked if I had been lifting weights because my shoulders and back were more defined than what was desired for the ballet world.
The day that mentality changed was when I showed up early for my work shift at Lifetime Fitness and decided to go upstairs and take a “Zumba” class. A class where women of all sizes and shapes were dancing to some really fun music, a smile on all of their faces, sweat dripping off their noses and chins, and they were “hootin’ and hollerin’” the entire hour. I felt right at home. A place where a bubble butt was EMBRACED and I didn’t have to dance for anyone but myself. I got certified shortly after, and began teaching. The day I graduated from TCU was the last day I wanted to put on tights, a leotard, and ballet shoes, ever again. I never wanted to be judged and compared like that.
I wish I could say that my mentality stuck. I began teaching 12-15 Zumba classes a week, lost a lot of weight, met the man of my dreams, and I thought life was perfect. I received my Personal Training Certification from NASM and was promoted to Master Trainer with 24 Hour Fitness. I could teach others and have them experience what I had with my own journey. Why was I still not satisfied? Why did I still not feel comfortable with how I looked? I was a size 2, 135 pounds at 5’7”, loved my job, loved my boyfriend (who later became my husband), why, why, why? I then decided that I would get breast augmentation. Maybe that would help? Nope. Thus came the challenge of getting my body to its peak physique. I decided that I would compete in a bikini competition.
I wish that when I had made that decision that someone would have taken me by my shoulders and shook me and told me, “No.” (Disclaimer) I am in no way dogging on bikini competitions. However, for someone whose mental health about body image was not there, it was one of my worst and best decisions. I began meal-prepping, counting every calorie, gram of carb, protein, and fat, drinking a gallon of water a day, 2 hours of working out every day, on top of balancing my clients, my fitness classes, and my marriage. I slowly attained the 6 pack abs, the diamonds in my shoulders, the perfect glute-hamstring tie in, a 24-inch waist, and I was 148 pounds at 13% body fat. It still wasn’t good enough.
I woke up 4 weeks out from my competition day and decided, “I’m done.” I knew something was still missing and needed to figure out what it was. I almost lost my marriage completely because I fell into a world of image and body physique. I poured all of my time and attention into it rather than my husband and our life together. No one is going to care if I once HAD a six-pack, or how many trophies I won because I strutted my stuff around on a stage for judges to pick me apart. Fast forward a year later, and the biggest change and what I did need to find is my relationship with Jesus Christ. Finally realizing that I am perfect just the way I am, for Him, and no one else.
I want to encourage you to find your true “why” for your journey to a healthier you. If it is one that involves a competition, please know that no matter how “healthy” your approach is, it is, and will always be, extreme. If it simply involves losing weight or attaining a certain body for yourself, please know that there is a happy-medium. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in comparing yourself to pictures of those on social media.
God created you in His own image. If you sit in front of a mirror and pick yourself apart, you are picking Him apart and telling Him that He made a mistake with how He made you. He didn’t create us to be overweight, addicted to food, and unable to physically live through this life. He calls us to take care of ourselves emotionally and physically. A healthy nutrition and exercise program helps in accomplishing both of those things.
My happy medium now exists from 150-160 pounds at 22-25% body fat. The 10-pound buffer that I give myself is to enjoy vacations, date-nights with my husband, and memories with friends and family, without feeling like I need to beat myself up at the gym the next day. My mental battle is one that I admittedly fight every day. Currently, I am in and out of doctors’ appointments because we are talking about starting a family. I am now suffering the consequences for my extreme lifestyle a year ago. My hormones are completely off the charts in some areas, my nervous system is shot because of strict dieting and over-training, and my reproductive system is a rollercoaster of highs and lows because of my period stopping during my bikini prep from my body fat getting so low.
Healthy looks different on everyone. Find your happy medium: where health and LIFE actually exist.
Lacey Cleland was born in Dallas, TX where she grew up and graduated from Plano West Senior High School. She went on to attend Texas Christian University where received a BFA in Ballet. Lacey now lives in Fort Worth, TX with her husband and three dogs. She specializes in teaching Zumba, Cardio Dance, and Bbarreless group fitness classes at 24 Hour Fitness in Lake Worth, TX. In addition, Lacey is also a certified Master Trainer and enjoys working closely with her clients to accomplish their goals.