By Jill Farr
35 year old Erin Rhoades has done a little bit of everything. From days spent in traditional sports like softball, soccer and basketball to fitness-related pursuits like CrossFit, Pilates, kettlebells, powerlifting and bodybuilding.
“I even tried being runner,” Erin says. “I learned very quickly that running wasn’t for me, but that is someone’s thing. I don’t think there is one right when it comes to fitness.”
Erin’s point is well taken, and it’s one she continues to live out, even though most of her focus at the moment is on CrossFit.
“For the past two years I’ve been active in the CrossFit community and compete in a few local competitions each year.” Erin says. “But I still do it all. Even reluctantly run when they (CrossFit coaches) make me and, yes, I complain the whole time. But I say, do whatever you will stick with. If you get bored, switch it up and try something new. There’s no right or wrong in fitness. Just do you and do it with commitment and dedication.”
To look at Erin today and listen to her well-rounded message, you’d never guess that she arrived at this place of balance through a hard-fought battle...against herself.
“I started my journey with little league sports,” Erin explains. “Being a strong girl was something that was always very important to me, but somewhere down the line, my need for strength slowly transitioned into more of a need to be “skinny”, like all of my friends. Or at least, how I perceived them.”
Erin found bodybuilding at age 25, but became focused on achieving a certain “look”, and began an under-eating and over-exercising cycle that created a lot of damage.
“I yo-yo dieted for the greater part of my adult life, and developed a very unhealthy relationship with food, restricting and binging, constantly thinking of my next meal and on a few rare occasions purging after my binges.”
“Four years later I found myself in a state of metabolic damage and adrenal fatigue. Symptoms included no menstrual cycle for four years, brain fog, breaking bones, not sleeping, losing hair and developing cavities.”
Erin finally hit bottom, and heard some hard truths from her doctor.
“It wasn’t until I couldn’t lose weight anymore that I decided I should seek medical help,” Erin says. “After lots of blood tests my doctor told me I had the hormones of a 70 year old woman (at age 29). She said she didn’t even know how I was functioning day to day.”
The initial recovery from that state took three years and included hormone replacement therapy, thyroid medication, and regular, adequate rest and nutrition. That phase took Erin up 90 lbs, and allowed her body to heal.
When she decided to attempt to lose some of that weight, she knew it had to be in a healthy manner, so Erin researched and began building a plan--one that would allow her to reach a good place, physically, in a safe way.
“Three years later,” Erin says, “I had lost 60 lbs without eating under 2300 calories or exercising over an hour a day.”
“I have maintained that for 2 years without really even trying.”
Although she did undertake weight loss again, Erin knows that the practical approach she took to get where she is--and her mental outlook--are completely different.
“If I was sitting at my current weight 6 years ago,” Erin says, “I would have been secretly body shaming myself daily. More than my hormones and metabolism needed healing. My mind has had the biggest transformation of all. I love my body. I love how I look and I love how strong I am. I love having food freedom. What I’m eating no longer controls my thoughts. I have no guilt for eating pizza and chocolate--I only focus on my athletic performance and not how I look in my leggings. My mind feels free and I love every second of it.”
Erin’s story would be inspirational enough, on its own, but her attitude about the years spent chasing an elusive image and punishing herself is that none of it was wasted--the lesson was valuable, and has given her the means to the life she enjoys today.
“If I had to go through it again to be where I am today,” Erin says, “I would.”
The “No Regrets” mindset can be a powerful tool in the battle against negative self-talk; eating disorders often arise from destructive mindsets* and Erin believes that her breakthrough realization that inner strength is the most worthy goal is one that could benefit others going through a similar darkness.
“When I lost my goal of having a strong body,” Erin says, “I lost a part of me.”
“Looking back, I don’t know who that girl was that only focused on her outward appearance. My journey speaks volumes about what can happen when your focus is purely aesthetics. It’s not a healthy place for your body or mind.”
Erin encourages those looking at others for their image goals to give it up, and look inward, instead.
“Living in a constant state of comparison and criticism will do nothing but wreak havoc on your stress levels which in return will hinder your body from the results you COULD have. Going to extremes is not worth it. You only get temporary results that can never be maintained for a long period of time and you are putting your body at risk of a breakdown. I’m so glad it was me that went through what I did. It sucked! But if I can prevent one woman from going through what I went through or if I can hold someone’s hand who is going through it right now, then it was worth it.”
For those starting out, or trying to get out of the comparison game in their own lives--whether it’s looks or other results--Erin encourages perseverance...and patience.
“If you’re just now starting your fitness journey, be patient. Being a part of the CrossFit community, I have seen things flip flop in an interesting way. I don’t hear women say too often, “I wish I looked like her.” Now it’s more, “When will I be as fast or as strong as her?” Truth is, you may never reach their level. But then again, you may surpass them. Being committed and consistent is key. That is when you will see results. It took me over a year before I got my first pull-up and now I can bust out 6-10 at a time. Results take time but you’ll never get them if you don’t put in the work.”
Erin’s message about the transformative power of fitness also includes an acknowledgement that some physical gains are part of the goal--but they shouldn’t come at the expense of your health, whether it’s mental or physical. It also shouldn’t overshadow the power of your individuality.
“Focus on your athletic performances and fueling your body to perform well and the athletic look will follow,” Erin says. “Everyone’s body is different. I don’t look like any of my friends and I should never strive to look like them. Just be the best version of you and wear it well. You are unique and that is the coolest thing about every person walking on this planet.”
“No one can be you, so be you confidently.”
*If you or someone you care about is struggling with an eating disorder, seek help from a medical professional. Consult a doctor before beginning any regimen no matter what your physical and mental state, but especially if you have battled eating disorders. Visit nationaleatingdisorders.org to find help near you.