The Unhealthy Pursuit of Perfection
It’s a gorgeous September day out here in the Ottawa Valley. I’m currently house sitting for my parents, passing the time (and maintaining sanity no thanks to a shitty internet connection) in their tin roofed gazebo.
Nestled away here in the forest, surrounded by the peacefulness of the trees and chatter of the wildlife that inhabit it, I’m sprawled out on the gazebo floor, foam rolling my back between sips of Tim Horton’s coffee, breathing in the fresh, damp air from last night’s rain.
It doesn’t really get more vegan hippie meathead than this…
In this perfect moment, I’m overcome with a feeling of gratitude. A feeling I don’t allow myself to experience very often or at least not in a while. I have such an appreciation for growing up here now. And I secretly love that I haven’t been able to get on the internet for 19 hours.
In my regular day-to-day life in the city, my existence always feels like one giant “to do” list. If I’m not working, I’m working out. And if I’m not working or working out, I’m thinking about that “to do” list or feeling guilty for not working or working out.
But this weekend, away from civilization and life’s everyday hustle and grind, I’m having a much-needed “me date.”
Last night, I baked some chickpea blondies and ate ALL of them without any regrets. I gave myself a facial and a coconut oil hair treatment. I sat in the gazebo, listened to the rain and I READ an actual BOOK! Then I went to bed at 10:41pm and slept for a solid nine hours. It was the most lame AND fun Saturday night I’ve had in a long time. 🙂
Truthfully, the last few months have been somewhat chaotic for my body, mind and spirit.
I thought I was in a good place (mentally and physically) last spring. My vegan coaching business was going well. I was working out five or six days a week, enjoying new styles of training. I was eating a healthy, balanced diet but not feeling deprived or miserable. I was about 15 lbs. over stage weight (very reasonable for the off-season.) And I was happy to be lifting heavy again.
In April, I went to Vegas with a girlfriend.
And on our last night in Sin City, I met a charming international businessman who swept me off of my five inch stilettos. We had an intense connection right from the beginning and less than a week after I’d been home, I received two dozen roses and a card that said he couldn’t stop thinking about me.
I remember being so overwhelmed with excitement and happiness that I honestly thought I was living a fairy tale. He was everything I was looking for: successful and driven. Tall, dark and handsome. He had presence and dominance. Life experience and intelligence. He seemed so incredibly perfect and as luck would have it, he was as attracted to me as I was to him.
Two weeks later, he flew to Ottawa to see me. We had a great time together. But on the last night of his visit, he said something that should’ve been a HUGE red flag.
He said I was everything he looked for in a woman—kind and compassionate yet strong and quick-witted. A true nurturer who’d make the perfect wife and mother but also a ball-breaking businesswoman with a fierce passion for success and greatness.
The only thing that was apparently “wrong” with me? He wanted me to be competition lean…. All the time.
“I see all these pictures of you as a champion,” he said. “How could any man not want this perfect woman for himself?” He told me I was stunningly beautiful and so well-proportioned that it was a waste for me to not live my life looking my absolute best at all times. And according to him, my “best” meant 12% body fat. He also liked me to wear my hair down, forever adorned in dresses and heels and even bought me new outfits. He just wasn’t into the everyday Sam Shorkey who wore gym clothes and a sweaty ponytail. Instead, he was adamant that I embrace my femininity and even went so far as to say that I shouldn’t train my upper body anymore.
He liked to throw around terms and phrases like how “genetically-blessed” and “well-made” I was or with a little effort, I could look even better than Michelle Lewin. Or my personal favourite: “you’ll be so perfect once we buy you some boobs.”
“Just lose a little bit of weight” he asked me. And even went so far as to say that my off-season body is not what motivates and inspires the people who follow me.
He said he would give me everything I could ever want and hope for in life and all he asked for in return was the version of Sam Shorkey who won the overall bikini title in 2014.
At first, I was livid! I explained to him that in order to look like that, I’d be working out like a maniac (even MORE so than I was already doing), living off of tofu and asparagus (and STARVING 24/7.) I told him that I’d have zero desire to have sex and probably be unable to have children because my body fat would be too low to even produce a menstrual cycle.
His response was that I was being overly dramatic and that it shouldn’t be THAT hard. According to him, all I had to do was eat less food and increase my cardio.
I remember feeling such hurt and anger. How the hell did this guy know ANYTHING about diet and exercise or how MY body responded to either?! But instead of telling him to go eff himself or explain that a healthy and SUSTAINABLE amount of body fat for women is somewhere between 15 and 20% (I’m around 17% in the off-season) I turned into a weak and pathetic loser and begrudgingly obliged.
We had plans to celebrate my birthday together at a tropical resort one month later. So with the countdown on, the competitive athlete inside of me was once again summoned.
Four weeks out. 15 lbs. You can do this, Shorkey.
As I share these personal details, I’m honestly so ashamed and embarrassed to even admit that I let this man and his unrealistic expectations get the best of me. 🙁
But I started running for miles every morning then doing more cardio before bed every night. I tried restricting my calories so much that every night would end in peanut butter binges because I was so tired and depleted that I couldn’t muster up the brain power to write client plans or answer emails.
I was doing the complete opposite of what I suggest to my own clients. I was crash dieting hard and yet, the one thing that was ruining my efforts (and willpower) more than anything was the fact that I was doing it for reasons other than for ME.
As luck would have it, running too much, too soon resulted in my first-ever case of shin splints.
And much like any sport-related injury, recovery from shin splints entails REST! But with my birthday vacation fast approaching and my weight only down 5 lbs. in two weeks, I ignored my body’s signals and pushed through the pain. I was smart enough to stop running but increased my weight training and other forms of cardio. And what a shock—my shin splints got worse! It reached a point where I was literally hobbling out of the gym, in constant pain, and barely eating enough to fuel my workouts. Then I’d get home late at night and have to deal with clients and be so sore and stressed–questioning WTF I was doing–that I’d end up resentfully eating a giant bowl of maple syrup drenched oatmeal or a box of dates dipped into a jar of tahini. Then I’d wake up ridden with guilt and repeat the whole vicious cycle all over again.
The whole time this craziness was going on, of course I knew it was wrong.
I could hear the little voice of reason saying “practice what you preach, Shorkey.” “You know this isn’t healthy.” “Is this really the kind of life you want to live?” “If he really does care about you, he should love and accept you for who you are today.”
I did end up celebrating my birthday with him as planned in a gorgeous, private villa overlooking the ocean.
We had a blast together but alas, upon my return to Canada, I realized that this relationship was an eating disorder or years of psychotherapy just waiting to happen.
So much good and bad have emerged from this short romance. But I always try to come out of every relationship with a positive life lesson or self-reflection that I can apply to the next.
And although my neglected shin splints have now turned into a tibial stress fracture that I’m STILL recovering from three months later, I did get some expensive new clothes and free travel out of it.
And for a brief period of time, I got to experience the glamourous lifestyle that accompanies being the girlfriend equivalent of a “trophy wife” and realize that I have far more to offer this world than a body.
Most importantly, I developed a stronger sense of self. And instead of waking up every morning, running miles for the sole purpose of losing weight, I stretch and I foam roll and I say to myself:
Today, I am believing in myself and not caring what other people think of me.
I will honour my body with healthy and nourishing foods.
I will not obsess over my physical appearance.
I will love and accept myself exactly as I am.
I will be kind and gentle to myself all day long.
And despite this guy making me feel unworthy of the recognition I’m given for past accomplishments simply because I’m not competing anymore or because I’ve put on a healthy amount of weight, he was right about a few things…
I’m not perfect! In fact, NO ONE IS PERFECT. Not me, not him and not the “me” who won a pro card in 2014.
And yes, I AM well-made. And I am forever grateful to my parents for their good genes but mostly for raising me in a loving home, and for teaching me to be a strong & self-sufficient woman who doesn’t need validation from any man, judge or scale to know her worth. ***Cue Destiny’s Child***
And in all seriousness, all money and looks aside… I’d still opt for a relaxing “me date” weekend in this love-filled log home in the bush over an exotic $1,400/night, stress-filled romantic getaway any day. 🙂
-Sam Shorkey, Jacked on the Beanstalk