I Am Strong

Warning: gratuitous fitness photos, videos and soap box rants ahead.

It all started with a declaration.

I want to be strong.

On July 22, 2013 – 7 months ago – I made a commitment to myself that I would stop worrying about losing weight and start worrying about gaining strength.  I realized that my body wasn’t made for running, it was made for lifting. As Matt so eloquently helped me understand, “Some people are built to go fast. Some people are built to go far. And some people are built to pick those other people up.”  (t-shirts now available)

What changes when every goal you set out for yourself is achieved

Remember my 45 Day Update and my 100 Day Update? I stuck to my goals: less treats, more super foods, listening to my body and eating when hungry, sleeping more and began adding in StrongMan training. I hoped that I would be able to dead lift 300lbs, farmer’s carry 200lb per hand (400 total) and back squat 250lbs. And I’ve achieved every single one of the fitness goals I set out for myself!

An axle bar is much more difficult to use than a barbell because the hand cannot fully grasp the circumference.

Something happened along the way. I started loving StrongMan. And that goal of wanting to compete in 2014 become wanting to win a competition in 2014. My new goals revolve less around barbells and more around “implements”.

Farmer's Carry at 400lbs by Stacy on PaleoParents

Ironically enough, the barbell stuff I thought I was good with when Crossfitting (clean, press, deadlift) are my weakest movements now that I’m StrongMan training. I excel at tire flips, car deadlifts, farmer’s carry, yoke and atlas stones.

I carried this 460lb yoke 60 feet without any drops on my very first try!

I’ve been training for NOVA’s Strongest Woman competition in March with much gusto; how much weight I can lift became much more of a priority for me than how much my body weighed or what other people thought my body looked like.

Stacy Lifts a Car on PaleoParents

What you do when underwear pictures of yourself are seen by 1/4 million people

Honestly, I’d completely forgotten about ever having body composition goals because the true goal of getting fit and healthy through strength training became my focus. Until a post I wrote in 2012 ended up on the front page of imgur.com earlier this week… and then it became glaringly obvious it was time for an update.

PaleoParents on IMGUR

The interesting thing for me is that with enough focus on finding joy and fat acceptance, I am finally finding it for myself. It’s been nearly 4 years since I started my paleo journey and lost 135lbs (of which I’ve maintained a 100lb+ loss for 3 years). It has taken that long to accept my body, to love my body for what it can do instead of what it looks like. Finding myself, my “old self”, be shared, viewed and read by hundreds of thousands of people on the internet made me really think about how very much I’ve changed since that original post in 2012.

And honestly, over the last year as I focused on doing things like this…

I AM STRONG on PaleoParentsStacy flipped a 625lb tire at Brute Strength Gym in Norfolk, VA

I completely forgot about things like this.

Stacy in 2012 with lots of extra skin after losing and maintaining the loss of over 100lbs

Thankfully, the comments and support from everyone has been overwhelmingly positive. However, the recent comments from these photos going viral surfaced the same ridiculous comments I got the first time. Because, you know… quite a few people think I need to take collagen supplements and just lift weights and the skin will snap back. Or something. Here’s the thing, people. After a lifetime of obesity and 3 c-section babies, the “elastic” is worn out in my skin… collagen can’t undo a lifetime of damage. I drink bone broth EVERY DAY which is an incredibly rich whole foods source of collagen and I lift (very heavy) weights 5 times a week.

And guess what?

My saggy skin is just the same as it was in 2012! You know what has changed?


I now have an epic amount of muscles… under saggy skin.

Womanly Body by StrongMan on PaleoParentsStacy, 2014 after strength training for about a year. And Spanx. At the same weight as 2012 above.

Whatever it is you think I should do, I don’t care. I’m happy with what I’m doing and the results I’m getting. I’ve put an autoimmune disease into remission. I’ve gained health that I wouldn’t have thought possible. My sleep apnea, heartburn, IBS, and incredible joint pain couldn’t have allowed me to walk up the stairs without exhaustion and fatigue years ago. And now look at how far I’ve come! I do not give a sh*t what anyone else thinks about my body, my health or my fitness. I dare the next person who says something negative or derogatory to say it to my face… because those bullies exert their power the only way they are able, hiding behind the safety of their computer.

OK, who am I kidding? I can’t pretend to be tough and threatening. I can’t even flex without giggling to Matt ♥

Self Sacrifice, Self Love & Self Acceptance

Let’s be real for a minute, mmk. Those quads busting out of my leggings? That booty growing daily? Those defined shoulders in the video? I love them. I work hard for them and I’m proud when I see them in the mirror. And despite the recommendation of some internet trolls, I didn’t change my body by supplementing with collagen pills, drinking protein smoothies or bicep curling 10lbs.  I made a commitment to train strong and every day I keep that goal in my mind.

But none of this comes without a cost. There is sacrifice that is constantly made in order for me to achieve my goals. Not the least of which is pain. My bruises, like the remaining skin from drastic weight loss, are my badges of honor from my strength training. Fortunately I don’t usually feel them happening and they often don’t hurt after. But StrongMan is not for the faint of heart. Often I’ll tease the male coaches that “I’m a fragile flower, I can’t do that!” and I can see the look in their eye that says, “You’re going to lift this stone and I don’t wanna ever hear can’t ever again.” In fact… I’ve even heard them tell me that directly.

Strong Woman Problems by PaleoParents

They also told me to stop feeling frustrated when I don’t have my best day ever in the gym, because not every day can be the best ever and some days are made to rest more so that you can push for that PR the next time. This sport has taught me much about balance in my own life and learning to have patience, as well as emotional strength. Some days when training I have to take a moment to step outside and cry. Or I’ll sob in my car after training, in complete amazement at my own abilities and strength. The day I broke the gym record of lifting the 174lb atlas stone (which was 1 time by a female) and I did it 10 times within 3 1-minute windows I couldn’t drive my car I was crying so much. I realized something powerful that day.

The reason I love lifting heavy so much is that it’s the first time in my life my body has been good at doing something productive and positive, rather than being an uncomfortable, embarrassing burden (other than making babies). I’m sure that’s hard to understand if you haven’t been obese your whole life. But I grew up afraid I’d be destined to knee surgeries and be home bound or in a wheelchair, like my grandmother. Instead, I now see a future in front of me filled with strength and power. That’s why I love it. That’s why I talk about it. That’s why it makes me more happy than I know how to express and sometimes end up a blubbering mess.

Stacy lifts over 450lbs worth of stones (130, 155, 174lbs) in under 30 seconds.

MY self love has nothing to do with you, your body and your abilities. My willingness to endure suffering is not a judgement on your willingness to make the same choices. Please don’t perceive my happiness as a judgement on your own. We each have the things we care about and prioritize. And for the first time in nearly a decade, 2013 was the first year I had my body to myself. No tiny humans to grow or nourish. Me. Just me. For the first time since adulthood. The thing I realized I wanted for me: fitness.

No matter what, however, I’m not “perfect”. No one will ever be perfect… EVER. Because there is no such thing as perfect. Everyone has different perceptions of what perfection is, and the only thing you can control is what you perceive and judge. For me, I’ve come to love and accept my body for what it can do. It’s an incredibly powerful and empowering choice. I see pictures and videos of myself working out and the old fleeting thoughts of not liking the way my body looks is quickly reframed to thing, “Wow, look at what I DID. I broke the gym record for women lifting stones. I am powerful. I am woman. Hear me ROAR.”  I’d like to think all those Women’s Studies classes and feminist culture groups in college would be behind me on this one.

Putting on your oxygen mask

You’ll notice this post is all about me. Because that’s what I’ve learned I had to put first. Before I could be any good to anyone else, I needed to be good to myself. In order to not judge or perceive people based on their food consumption or weight, I needed to stop doing that to myself. No more self-hate and guilt. When I make a choice to eat a gluten-free treat, I savor it. I thank myself for the hard work I put in to eat nutrient-dense foods all the rest of the time in order for my body to tolerate occasional treats.

Then I’m able to work on doing the same for others. When I notice people’s bodies changing in the gym and I hear them talk about losing weight or inches I try to go out of my way to compliment their ability to be more agile, to lift heavier things, being flexible or even just noticing that they look healthier in general. Because THAT is the indicator of fitness.

Life is not just about me, me, me though. I have three little ones of my own, a husband I adore spending time with and even currently I am lucky to have my sister, nephew and mother staying with us to keep me busy! But that’s not an excuse for me to justify not taking care of myself, finding my joy and taking time to take care of me. What you’ll notice in a lot of my videos and pictures are little ones in the background. Friends cheering me on. Heck, the boys even love to come and hang out with me in the hopes we’ll let them “get strong” too!

Strong is a Family Affair on PaleoParents

That’s because they are part of my journey. They are my “village” to finding joy, self-love and happiness. Without them I couldn’t live the life I love. And with them I get to love the life I live. The boys understand how important getting strong is to my health, both mental and physical. They beam with pride when they tell people how strong I am. They beg to come with me to the gym, to play on the equipment, to “refuel after” with me, and to watch videos of training days they missed.

The Boys Join In on PaleoParents

As a result, they reap the rewards of my boundless energy, enthusiasm and physical abilities to play with them. Despite the handful of comments I’ve gotten about people’s perception of me being a “bad mother” and spending too much time at the gym instead of with my children, I can guarantee you the boys don’t feel that way. I’m the luckiest lady in the world to have a patient, understanding husband who takes care of himself during the day when the children are in school and as a result doesn’t mind taking care of the boys on the days I workout after work, sometimes barely making it home in time to tuck the boys in to bed. But I’m there for them every morning with conversation and snuggles, so that when I am present I am fully present.

My Personal Paleo Code

Life has changed a lot for me since I started training hard a few months ago. I wrote extensively about the healing I underwent before I allowed myself to take on this physical stress on my review of The Paleo Approach. I also talked about my new found love of “safe starches” as recovery food on The Paleo View with Russ Crandall (The Domestic Man). But I think it’s important to note exactly what’s changed about my diet change, since completely changing my lifestyle. Like Chris Kresser says in Personal Paleo Code, every single person has a different definition of paleo that works for them, and even that varies based on the moment of time in their life.

When I started paleo I did low carb, low fat, high protein. I intermittent fasted. After a year I weighed the least I ever have since fat camp in middle school, but my hair was falling out from nutrient malabsorption. I had an autoimmune flare coupled with adrenal fatigue as I launched our first book and my youngest son weaned. Recovering my health from that has been nothing short of an exhaustive, extensive effort. But in 2013 I did it! I healed myself and began reintroducing foods and even weaned myself off of some supplements with large success.

Then when I introduced heavy training (moving from CrossFit 3 days a week to add in StrongMan and then later move entirely to StrongMan training 5 days a week) my body started having issues again. I was fatiguing easily and felt weak. My muscles weren’t recovering after workouts the way I was used to and overall I could tell something wasn’t right.

Safe Starches for Training on PaleoParents-001

After spending time with Russ and thinking a bit about how to solve my problems I introduced white rice (with the Omega-3 benefits of sushi) or white potatoes on the days I worked out. Holy moly, my improvement in recovery and energy was almost immediate! Despite my body rejecting refined carbohydrates (sweets) with bloating and uncomfortableness before I was actively training, the results of introducing “safe starches” when physically active was drastically different.

Further, both white rice and white potatoes are not autoimmune-friendly, but my body has no problem processing them after all the healing I’ve done. My blood sugar is regulated, able to go 6+ hours between meals, I do not bloat, I perform better in the gym and my body recovers better after I work out.  I’d call that SUCCESS.

Know what else is awesome about eating carbs? It’s helped reduce my sugar cravings! I would’ve thought the opposite, but I feel like my body must be getting the glucose conversion it wanted from a “safe” source so it’s no longer sending signals to my brain to eat sweets & treats. Hence, our fruit-sweetened cookie recipe. It’s more than sweet enough for me!

I’ve found the other biggest influences for me when fueling training sessions are to get broth at least 5 times a week, high Omega 3 (from fish, grass-fed beef and Fermented Cod Liver Oil), increase gelatin consumption as a recovery and easily digestible protein source, and completely stop drinking. Even one drink of alcohol causes performance issues for me up to a week after!

I Am Strong.

I know this post is all over the place, but that only further affirms my point: the journey to achieve and maintain health is not linear. There are many factors that contribute and they change regularly for me.  I’m grateful to have found something I am passionate about, that my family encourages and that makes me feel really great. I’m thankful to have the opportunity, both with time and finances, to commit to this sport and prioritize making time in my life for it and myself. I cannot encourage you all enough to do the same, because there is infinite joy in finding what you love and making time for yourself to enjoy it. Bonus points if it contributes to a healthy lifestyle!

I know this post was long and most of you read like 10% just skimming through the parts I bolded and looking at pictures of me being a beast. But I don’t want you to miss all the important stuff… so here it is in summary:

  1. Find something you love and DO IT.
  2. Set goals and stick with them.
  3. Don’t read the comments when vulnerable pictures of you are posted on imgur.
  4. There is no pill, exercise or magic trick to ever get you “perfect”.
  5. Comparison is the thief of joy.
  6. Learn to love yourself, not just accept yourself.
  7. Don’t be afraid to love yourself more than you love other people.
  8. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to achieve your goals.
  9. Let friends & family join in to support you.
  10. You workout? Don’t be afraid of carbs.


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