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Recently I read a post written by my colleague and Co-Owner of Achieve Fitness in Somerville, MA, Lauren Perrault, entitled “How I Escaped Being a Slave to the Scale”.  Her post inspired me to write this post and to re-iterate her message to readers…

I’m sure we have all been there, woman or man, where we obsess about the number on the scale rather than how physically capable, strong and healthy we are.  As a former ballet dancer I’ve had my fair share of eating issues and body image challenges but there was a time after college that I was sick of being a slave to this unhealthy obsession and I decided to make a change.  Fortunately I am now so far beyond that mentality and time in my life that, at present, it seems like a far distant past to me.  As I write this, (and as some of you read this), it amazes me, (and it will probably surprise you as readers), that I was ever this person… but it’s these experiences that made me as strong and balanced when it comes to diet and exercise, as I am today.

I danced ballet for 23 years of my life – from the age of 4 to 27 and over those 23 years, not only did I experience my own stresses when it came to eating and body image, but I remember watching many of my fellow dance colleagues go through the same thing or even worse obsessions (like completely starving themselves and driving themselves towards death) with the quest to be thin and weigh the least even if it wasn’t a healthy weight.  Being short, curvaceous and muscular I never had the ideal body-type for a ballerina and I felt like I was punished for it not only during training, in that my technique would never measure up because no matter how good I was as a dancer I didn’t have the body type to match;  but also when it came time to audition for performances, often I wasn’t chosen for certain parts because my legs were not long and I had hips and a butt.  I can remember one time when I was 11 years old, (yes, 11 years old);  I was bedridden for 5 days with the stomach flu.  At that time I was attending ballet classes 4-5 times per week.  When I returned to ballet class I had lost weight from being sick and my ballet instructor commented, “Artemis, you’ve lost weight.  You look good, you should keep it off.”  I had lost weight because I was sick with the flu, vomiting for 5 days and I was 11 years old!!!  Her comment is still unbelievable to me.

Over the course of my time as a dancer, I became so disheartened by this aspect of dance, that I made the decision not to pursue a career as a ballerina.  Instead I decided to go on to college and to continue to dance recreationally, because I did truly love to dance.  As I continued to dance recreationally both my brother, a fourth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and my mother, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, encouraged me to take up martial arts.  I resisted (who knows why!) for many years.  Then when I was 27, I moved from Washington, DC (I graduated from The George Washington University and decided to live in DC after I graduated) to New York City and finally attended my first kung fu class with my friend and colleague Ary Nunez.  I fell in love with kung fu after my first class and right then and there I decided to hang up my ballet shoes to study kung fu instead.

I immediately fell in love with kung fu because it encouraged me to focus on the strength and skill and not the “look” of my body or of being thin.  Kung fu, and all martial arts, sends the message to be strong and skilled and healthy in both mind and body.  No one cares if you have hips and a butt – and in fact, of course you’re supposed to have a butt, how else would you hold a mabu (horse stance) for 15 minutes or jump high enough and have a powerful tornado kick unless you had a butt and strong leg muscles!  I did not receive that message from dance.

From then on I focused on being strong, being skilled and pursuing my black belt in kung fu.  I stopped worrying about what the scale read when I got on it and in fact I stopped getting on the scale unless I was at the doctor’s for my annual appointment.  The healthy goals that I set forth at kung fu helped me to reinforce intuitive eating habits, i.e. being aware of when I was hungry and when I was full and what my body craved for fuel.  Thus fueling my body for my kung fu training, and for a healthy life.

Nanquan Form for my Black Belt Test in 2009

I moved back to Washington, DC two years later, when I was 29, and had to find another kung fu school to train at – NYC would have been a long commute ;)… I found an amazing school, the Chinese Martial Arts Institute and started the pursuit of my black belt all over again.   It took me four years to train and study all the skills that I needed to test for my kung fu black belt but I finally received my black belt in August 2009;  I was 33 years old.  It was honestly one of the greatest accomplishments that I have ever achieved and all the while I remained mentally and physically healthy and not once did I starve myself or overanalyze if my legs and butt were too big or worried about what I weighed.  I embraced my strength and welcomed the body changes that I saw as a result of my training.  My strength test for my black belt was as follows:

  • 100 military style push ups in 2 minutes or less
  • 100 v-ups in 2 minutes or less
  • Hold a 15 minute horse stance (mabu) with a cudgel (staff) across my legs during the last minute (or more at the discretion of Sifu)

In order to pass this strength test I needed to be strong and healthy.  Not only did I want to pass this strength test, I wanted to SURPASS it and make my Sifu proud and myself proud for training hard and for being strong.

Shaolin Form for my Black Belt Test in 2009

I don’t remember exactly how long it took me to finish the push-ups and the v-ups but I do remember that both were under 2 minutes and I had plenty of time to spare.  And the mabu… well, the mabu is the mabu.  You just do it but you can’t cram for it, you have to practice your mabu everyday.  After about minute 5 everything goes numb anyway and you just find your mental happy place to ride out the last 10 minutes.

Contemporary Spear Form for my Black Belt Test in 2009

A little over a year before my black belt test (~July 2008) I became a certified kettlebell instructor.  Not Russian Hardstyle but a kettlebell instructor nonetheless and I became obsessed with kettlebell training and with becoming even stronger than I already was.

During the last year before my black belt test, I did not have as much time to train with bells as I wanted to because my main focus was on kung fu training.  However, after I obtained my black belt I started on a new path with kettlebell training.  My next goal was to obtain my Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) Instructor Certification.

When I obtained my RKC Level I Instructor Certification in April 2011 I learned of the Iron Maiden Challenge – a weighted pull-up, a military press and a pistol squat all with a 24kg (~53lbs) kettlebell.  At 5 foot 1 inch and 118lbs at the time, the Challenge fascinated me.  I could do a set of 6 prone grip bodyweight pull-ups, a bodyweight pistol and press the 16kg (~35lbs) kettlebell but could I train to be strong enough to pass the iron Maiden Challenge?  There was only one way to find out.  Train for it.

Now in August 2013, at age 37, two years and four months later, I have all three lifts complete.  I only need to strengthen my press over the next 6 weeks so that I can attempt the Iron Maiden Challenge at the StrongFirst Level II Instructor Certification in Philadelphia, PA on September 27, 2013.  All the while that I have trained for the Iron Maiden Challenge not once did I worry about what I weighed and in fact for the first time in my life I wished that I gained weight so that the press would come easier to me.

I love how strong I have become and how my body has changed as a result.

July 2010

This was me in July 2010 when I was training with kettlebells ~2-3x per week, running & spin classes 4-5x per week.  Sometimes I would even double up on “workouts” within a day – e.g. kettlebells for one hour and then a spin class or 30 min run.

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July 2011

This was me in July 2011 when I was training with kettlebells ~3x per week, running & spin classes 3-4x per week.  Still sometimes doubling up on “workouts” within a day e.g. kettlebells for one hour and then a spin class or 30 min run or 30 min on the Step Mill. 

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July 2012

This was me in July 2012 when I was training with kettlebells ~4x per week, running ~1x per week and kung fu 1x per week.

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July 2013

This is me in July 2013, essentially now.  I train with kettlebells 5x per week and each one of those days includes some serious heavy lifting depending on the movement I am training.  I go to hot vinyasa yoga once per week and take one real rest day per week.  I am stronger and leaner than I have ever been in my life and for the first time in my life I actually like my legs and I enjoy wearing shorts.  I eat healthy, I eat a lot, I do not count calories, nor do I worry about what the scale reads.

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Ironically though all of this heavy lifting, pulling and pushing I have lost weight (now averaging 115lbs instead of 118lbs – not that I care!) and as I mentioned I am leaner and stronger than I have ever been in my life.  More than anything, I love the strength that I have worked so hard to achieve.  I love that I can Turkish Get-up a 30kg (66lbs) kettlebell, which is more than half my bodyweight, (almost 60% more!):

That I can do a pull-up with a 24kg (~53lbs) kettlebell for multiple singles in the same training session:

Swing a 32kg (~71lbs) kettlebell like it’s 16kg (35lbs)

And even overhead press double 22kg (~97lbs – 83% bodyweight) smooth like buttah…

Screw the scale, I don’t care what I weigh because I am strong and per Emily Socolinsky’s most recent awesome post, I could carry my husband out of a burning building if I had to ;)!

Forget the scale ladies, BE STRONG FIRST!