Disclaimer: I wrote this article due to the fact that over the past few months, there have been many pieces about how one cannot be healthy and lean. I am not saying that lean is the only way to be...to be honest, the only body shape and size of which I am an advocate is the one that makes someone happy.


Lately, there has been a lot of talk about thyroid damage, extreme levels of leanness, and how this is not a healthy way to live. I am not talking about women in everyday life, though. I am talking about those women in the realm of competing.

So, for this specific situation, I have a term for one who is struggling with weight rebound and a crashed thyroid after competing in an event that required excessive caloric restriction and a surplus of cardio. It's called PTSD—post traumatic show disorder. It's a hot topic right now that is prevalent among many competitors and is discussed by only a few who feel comfortable sharing their struggles on a public platform. However, do you know what else is prevalent? Poverty, obesity, and unemployment.

Now, you may be thinking, "What do those things have to do with PTSD, crashed thyroids, and the dangers of extreme leanness?"  Well, I'll tell you. Sometimes these things can be avoided by:

  1. Taking responsibility
  2. Replacing excuses with actions that move yourself forward

Now, I’m not saying that everyone can change these various situations. However, I am saying that we have a choice in life. We can either say that "x, y, and z" are holding us back, or we can decided to find a way to change our situation. In the behavior field of exercise science, there is something called “locus of control.” If you have internal locus of control, you believe that the control over your life resides in your own hands. On the other hand, external locus of control means that you believe the control over your life resides outside of yourself. Thus, when I was talking about avoiding certain things, I was speaking about internal locus of control—the decision to decide that you can control or change any event that comes your way.

While I understand that there are many people out there who may disagree with me (or even worse, be offended by what I say), I hope that you understand that I am just trying to point out that you can attempt to control the things that might be holding you back—as long as you believe you can. Sure, I'll have people come to me with opposing opinions. That's fine. In fact, I welcome them. Also, I’m sure that I'll have supporters in regards to what I am about to say, and that's great too. But let's all keep it real— for the most part, articles are often filled with opinions (I've been guilty of this before) and are laced with scientific studies that only support the author's point. Thus, what I am about to say are only my "against the grain thoughts," which were collected as a result of my no-excuses-I-can-do-anything mentality and my own struggle with issues related to crashed thyroids, weight classes, and other health issues.

So, before I even give you my own background, let me mention some girls I'm associated with. However, these are not just your normal girls. These are girls I consider a part of my wolfpack because they share a similar mindset—that "you can do anything as long as you are okay with swimming upstream with your flippers of consistency" mindset and your beats bumping to the audio book The Tortoise and the Hare.


For starters, there is Marisa Inda. She's one of the top lightweight female powerlifters in the USAPL (meaning she is drug tested), and she's also a women's physique competitor. She has abs all year long, has two kids, eats clean, and starts off most mornings with cardio. In addition to that, she has never made an excuse as to why she couldn't be lean, she never takes a day off, and she admits that she is the only one responsible for those times when she is not as lean as she would like. (Not like that ever really happens because she's always consistent).

Of course, let's not forget that this lady also knows her stuff—she coaches a figure competitor who is very lean as well, despite the fact that this competitor had her thyroid removed before the two began working together. Oh, and did I mention that Marisa never once told her client that she couldn't succeed at being lean and doing a show?


Then there's Charlie Brooke. Everyone says that you can't diet, be lean, and stay strong all at the same time. Well, I think people forgot to tell Charlie because she just did a USAPL meet (drug tested), was in mid-competition prep, and hit a huge bench PR in the 114-pound class. Also, I can't forget to mention that she did all of this at her lowest body fat percent to date (at the time). Charlie is really an amazing girl. She has her health on point, isn't food deprived, and looks show-ready all year long.

There are others in the tribe...but you get my point.


Now let me give you a little background about myself. I am a powerlifter. I compete at 97, 105, and 114 pounds. I have dieted and done things that, in conjunction with my ovarian cysts issues, have led to a complete thyroid crash. At one point in time I even walked around in the 11-percent body fat range for the greater part of a year. Yet, at the height of my crash, I was 30 pounds heavier than my normal weight and frustrated beyond belief.

If you read my log, you know that I hate when people say that they can't be a certain way. In my mind, you decide what you want to be, and you decide what you can and cannot do. In turn, it's you who decides when you give up. You decide at that moment—that moment when your oxygen tank is at two percent and you're a mile from the top of the mountain peak—whether you will keep going or stop and make an excuse as to why you do not reach the top of the mountain. I truly believe you decide your own fate...so long as you believe in taking control.

So, back to my story...

In January of 2012, my thyroid was crashed, my weight was at an all-time high, and I wasn't going to let "metabolic damage and some cysts" force me into the 114-pound weight. I just wasn't going to let it slow me down. However, I'm also not an idiot (stubborn, yes...but dumb, no). I met with the best doctors, I read everything I could about thyroid issues, and best of all, I admitted that my past behaviors (dieting too hard, too much extreme cardio and running, and too many stimulants) had contributed to my current state. It was then and only then that I realized I could get better. However, I knew it was going to be an extremely slow (as in a year or more) process.

From January to June I dropped my weight by 15 pounds. It was a big improvement...but it wasn't fun. Since my thyroid had a T3 level of 0.01 in January, I knew that my calories could never really drop below 1,600; otherwise, my body would work hard to suppress my thyroid even more. By that time, I had already been on thyroid medication for the last few years, so more medication was not the answer. See, my thyroid has always been low, and I was originally prescribed the medication for amenorrhea. (I went three years without having a period, so when I finally hit the big 20-years-old mark, my doctor introduced a low dose of thyroid medication. Thankfully, this helped me return once again to "womanhood"). However, knowing that the body is about homeostasis, and that my TSH was low (when this is low, it means that you are over-medicated despite your thyroid levels being low), my doctor and I decided to actually reduce my dose and see if we could reduce T3 suppression by targeting cortisol. I agreed because in my mind elevated cortisol (a catabolic hormone) for chronic periods of time leads to T3 suppression (T3 is also catabolic) in the body's attempt to maintain anabolic catabolic homeostasis in conjunction with parasympathetic sympathetic homeostasis. (Note: this has not been proven with statistical significance in a study. It's just something I believe).

Cortisol is a frustrating hormone to those who like to train hard. When elevated, it is often a marker of overtraining in strength and physique athletes and is related to sympathic stress. The body needs balance (aka: homeostasis), and if you don't find a way to balance it with parasympathetic activity (sleep, massage, low impact cardio with your heart rate under 130 bpm) and sympathetic activity (lifting heavy, sprinting, traumatic events), then your cortisol will be left elevated and running rampant.

So, with all of this in mind, I knew that I couldn't drop calories too low—so a low-calorie diet was definitely out of the question. Therefore, I had to focus on minimizing cortisol elevation by any means possible, with the exception of backing off training (of course). I had a big meet at the end of June that I was training for, and I wasn't going to back out. That being said, I made a deal with myself and my doctor that I would compete, but I would only do so if my blood work continued to show improvement throughout each month of the prep.

So What Did I Do?

(Preface: This is what worked for me and what was confirmed by my blood work. I'm not saying that it's right for everyone, but it is what worked for me).

For one, my training stayed the same. However, my high-intensity cardio (which my blood work showed to cause greater cortisol levels than low intensity cardio) was eliminated. I prefer HIIT to steady-state, but it had to go if I wanted to improve my bloodwork. For me, HIIT was too stressful combined with the heavy lifting sessions I was doing. I also dropped things like running, boxing, and stadiums and replaced them with light cardio—keeping my heart rate under 130 bpm. Although it was boring and mindless, it worked. In addition, I did light-flush, high-rep workouts 12 hours after my heavy sessions. While it seemed crazy to most, I knew that in order to hold onto my metabolically demanding muscle, I had to constantly stimulate it. In a sense, I was proving its worth for those times when my body was deciding where it was going to reduce its mass—either fat or muscle.

During this time I also never dropped my calories, and when I hit a plateau that lasted for more than two weeks, I just added a bit more walking. In terms of my diet, I did fasted training first thing in the morning followed by a post-workout meal of protein and simple carbs  Fat was basically my wing-man, working against my own lame hormones. As a result, I knew I had to keep it high (with protein) to support my body’s lack of hormone production. My last meals of the day were gluten-free carbs and protein to ensure that I woke up with full glycogen stores for my morning training.


Well, a week from weigh-ins my most recent thyroid tests came back...and they showed that my hormones were starting to look normal—not none existent. My estrogen was still sky-high, but my period actually came back the week before my meet. (When I was back down in the low-teen bodyfat percentage range). All in all, although low, my thyroid was slowly improving.

When the meet came, most people assumed that I was going to compete in the 97-pound class because I looked completely different than when I had competed at 105 pounds in November. So, regardless of meet results, this was my biggest accomplishment. Why? Because when it seemed like there was no way to get back to normal, I still found a way. Sure, I didn't make 97 pounds, but I didn't want to resort to my old tactics—it wasn't healthy. Instead, I managed to drop 15 pounds, improve my thyroid, and step onto the platform as the healthiest version of myself. Sure, I know that it's going to take a long time to get back to the 100-percent-healthy me, and sure, there might have been a better way to go about this...but for me, I'm proud because I'm doing it slow. I'm getting healthier as I get leaner, and I'm proving to myself that it's not actually "being lean" or a contest prep that is unhealthy. Ultimately, it's the manner you go about achieving it.