It’s Been A Long Road Since May 18, 2013

Connie Pretula Headshot

Connie Pretula

Connie Pretula is an inspiring health coach and Menopause Navigator to mature women, using a holistic approach to nutrition and life.

May 24, 2015

May 18th 2015 was the two-year mark since I competed in my first bodybuilding competition.
While preparing for the competition, nothing was going to stop me. I followed my diet to a T, except for the brussels sprouts, just couldn’t eat two cups at a meal, especially for breakfast.

Whenever I felt myself losing focus or starting to doubt myself, I turned to one of the people in my circle to get me back on track mentally.

When my body presented me with a health or mechanical challenge, I worked with either my naturopath, Dr. Seema Kanwal or my rolfer, Vernon Marshall of Skillful Touch to limit my downtime. 

I don’t remember ever being so focused on a goal in my life. By the time I stepped on stage, I knew I had done everything I possibly could and it showed, I won third place; one of the proudest moments of my life.

Here’s my reality of the last two years! I have not shared this with many people other than those very close to me.

I had good intentions of getting back in the gym and preparing for provincials in June 2014.
After completing the bodybuilding competition my body crashed. I woke up one morning two weeks after my competition with pain in both of my hands. Some days I needed two hands to hold a glass, I felt like I had arthritis. I tried to work out, go for a hike or a run and when I did I was exhausted for days after.

My gut was completely messed up, I had no idea how to eat or what to eat to make it happy, my stomach had been affected by the limited diet. Anything I ate caused my stomach to bloat, I felt awful. I didn’t want to go out because after I ate I had such bad stomach gas or diarrhea, I was in pain.

I had fierce sugar/simple carb cravings, my body was so fatigued, it needed carbs to replenish the energy stores. Everyone who I relied on during my competition prep told me, this was normal and my body would adjust.

Then my blood tests revealed my kidneys and liver were struggling. In fact I had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. What had I done? Would I recover? Have I now affected my health for the rest of my life? I was scared, terrified actually.

How could I be in the best shape of my life and looking twenty years younger and feel worse than I had ever felt in my life?

Reality is, my body needed time to heal. I pushed my body hard because I was so determined to reach my goal.

After the competition, I faced the realization that the body I presented on stage was just for that day. I needed to be realistic about my day-to-day body going forward. 

As the weeks went on I had no choice but to slow down and rest and return to a more normal pace, I felt the fatigue and pain set in more each day. I started going through periods of depression. I knew that not being able to work out I would lose my muscle and that really bothered me. I worked so hard to gain the muscle and did it all naturally. My body was swollen and inflamed. No matter what I did, my weight continued to climb. Last summer was the worst, I had now gained 20 pounds. I knew in all logic I had everything to be thankful for, yet all I wanted to do was die. It scared the hell out of me! I was also too scared to reach out to anyone, I was embarrassed I felt that way. Everyone perceived me as being so strong, I could get through anything, how could I let them down. I was afraid I would be judged or people would say “just decide to be happy.” Honestly when someone told me that, I just wanted to slap them!

The only thing I focused on was my mom. I fought through every day of deep scary sadness for her. I could not end my life in selfishness and break her heart.

My depression caused me to seclude myself. I only went for walks after dark. I spent a lot of time alone and journaled to try and get the awful thoughts out of my head.

I was angry! Why did this happen to me? I worked so hard! I ate what I was told to eat during my competition prep! I did all of the workouts I was supposed to do! Wasn’t I supposed to be healthier?

What I didn’t realize was, through the whole process I was actually on a journey. A journey that gave me the confidence to make some major changes in my life. While preparing for my competition I realized I had a passion for nutrition and left the corporate world in August 2013 to return to school.

After my competition, I also connected with Ingrid Barclay of Body Conquest in Geelong Australia. I had found Ingrid’s Facebook site, Figure It Out, one night about 12 weeks before my competition date. I sent her a note as I was very interested in her posts and how she worked with her athletes, something resonated with me.

A year after my competition I hired Ingrid to help me get back in shape. Little did I know it wasn’t just physical, I now had some huge mental blocks. In the end, getting my body back in shape wasn’t going to happen until my mental state changed. The smallest setbacks threw me further into depression and increased my lack of ambition.

One of the best things Ingrid asked me to do was to have my body write a letter to me. You are probably thinking “WHAT?? That’s crazy!” Actually, no it’s not. Ingrid said, “do you think your body would stay with you if it had a choice?”

Sitting down to write the letter at first seemed weird, but after a few sentences, I was amazed at the words I was writing down. My body had a lot to say! The tears flowed as my body wrote the letter. My heart broke because I hadn’t been listening to my body for so many years. It continued to support me no matter what I did or ate but it had finally reached its breaking point. I will be forever grateful for Ingrid and the guidance she gave me during such a difficult time. She is an amazing person with so much wisdom.

Since September 2014, at the age of 53, I have been following my passion and attending the Institute of Holistic Nutrition.

Following my passion gave me new hope, it gave me purpose.

When I started school the very first course was causing lightbulbs go off. With each course I attended, pieces of the puzzle were slowly coming together. Years of stressful relationships and stressful jobs started to affect my health, the competition was the last straw. I now realize I was in adrenal fatigue even before starting my competition, and after the competition probably very close to adrenal collapse. My quest began to start to heal my body. I wanted my health back and I was willing to do whatever I had to do to get it back.

So where is my body at today? I’m happy to say for the first time in two years the pain in my hands is starting to subside. I have more energy and my gut is so much better. I still have healing to do, it is a process. 

I can say with all of my heart and soul, I now realize how important our gut is to our health, not just physically but also mentally. I no longer fall into periods of deep depression because of focusing on healing my gut.

I believe everything I have been through was for a reason. I truly understand and listen with compassion when my clients share their health challenges. What I do know, is if they are willing to make some changes, food can help to heal them as well.

I feel privileged and honoured whenever a client gives me their trust to help them heal their body.

Thank you for reading my words.

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