Embodiment and Empowerment through Exercise and Nutrition

I go to the gym like how many folks go to church. I feel grounded and in my body when I'm working out. - Jessy Hegland

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Ravn Thor

One of the biggest challenges that I have when dealing with bouts of dysphoria is feeling completely disconnected from my body.  To some trans men (but this can refer to all non-binary and trans women too), our bodies are a source of trauma.  A very important and significant way to begin healing this is by doing bodywork—whether it’s weight training, martial arts, yoga, boxing, MMA, tai chi, qi gong, hiking, running, etc—anything that physically exerts you is a great step into feeling more embodied and empowered.  If you decide to start hormone therapy your body is going to grow and change.  As you start to embody the man you have always been it is essential to think about how you want to heal, build, and take care of your body.

I’ve been weight training off and on for the last 3 to 4 years.   I started out very slow and gradually increased my routines.  This was a long process and it took me awhile to find a program that I enjoy and works.  It’s exciting when doing a program and noticing the results—whether it’s in the mirror, how your clothes fit, or in the next week lifting heavier than you ever thought you could!  If you start a workout program and you’re not getting the results you’re looking for, don’t beat yourself up about it. Every body is different and will respond differently to certain kinds of exercises. It’s okay to try on a few routines before you find one or better yet create one that fits you!

Going to the gym, showering, and eating my post-workout meal have become a very mindful ritual for me.  I look forward to the gym. I go to the gym like how many folks go to church.  I feel grounded and in my body when I’m working out.

A crucial factor in all of this is mind-set.  Before, I was exercising out of self-loathing and fear (didn’t want to look feminine, wanted to look super masculine, wanted muscles really bad, etc).  This year, I only go to the gym out of self-love and self-care.  It makes a huge difference.  I also don’t restrict myself as much as I used to.  If I want to eat a cupcake at an event, I will eat the damn cupcake and not hate myself or feel guilty over food.  So many people will eat something, hate themselves and then “punish” themselves at the gym.—I guess if that works for them…but for me it was very mentally detrimental–I was over-exercising, obsessive over food, over-spending on supplements, etc.  I’ve finally found something that really works.  In the next few weeks I intend to add yoga to my regimen—strength without flexibility makes the body incomplete.  It’s like if you only level-up your strength, you won’t be able to dodge or evade attacks unless you level-up your Dexterity and Agility!

As far as nutrition goes  I ebb and flow between vegan, vegetarian, “paleo” and “Mediterranean” diet etc. I eat a lot of testosterone boosting foods as well.

My Food Staples

The Warrior 20 is a list of foods that I found in the book, Warrior Cardio: The Revolutionary Metabolic Training System for Burning Fat, Building Muscle, and Getting Fit, by Martin Rooney.

It’s a very good template to follow to get you started. I added my own descriptions to the list.

The Warrior 20

  1. Whole Eggs:  Whole eggs are filled with healthy fats and protein that’s good for the body and good for the mind.  If you know a local farmer that’s even better.  Try to get your eggs from local farmers if you can, if not, I highly recommend getting USDA free-range humane certified eggs if you can afford it. They tend to have much more nutrition, but if you’re on a budget, regular eggs from the store is better than none at all. Do what you can with what you have available and can afford.
  2. Lean Meats: Chicken breast, turkey, lean cuts of beef, bison, elk, venison, etc All provide protein and complete amino acid profile.
  3. Fatty Fish: A treasure trove of protein and Omega-3s. Wild Caught Alaskan salmon is what I recommend. Tuna is also a very affordable option and so are sardines.
  4. Fermented Soy: high in protein for those of you that are vegetarians, Things like Tempeh(fermented tofu) and Miso(fermented bean paste) are excellent, not just for vegetarians but omnivores as well!
  5. Beans: Black, Pinto, Kidney, Chickpea. Eating beans is a great source of fiber, protein, and antioxidants.
  6. Lentils: Lentils are tasty and amazing. They are also an excellent source of protein. When making tacos, try making it with lentils instead of meat!
  7. Tomatoes: loaded with vitamin C, which will help bones and is also a strong antioxidant.
  8. Spinach: A powerhouse full of vitamins, minerals, and protein. 1 cup of raw spinach has 3g of protein.
  9. Cruciferous Vegetables:broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, dark leafy greens.  These are full of potassium which helps improve muscle growth and regulate fluid levels in the body, as well as the ability to keep you full longer.
  10. Avocados:   Packed with healthy fats and potassium! I eat them plain or mashed with garlic on whole-wheat toast
  11. Citrus:Fruits like oranges and grapefruits are loaded with Vitamin C which help strengthen connective tissues and help with inflammation.
  12. Berries:   Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Cranberries, Goji berries. All the delicious berries! Again, excellent source of important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
  13. Sweet Potatoes and Yams: great source of carbohydrates and vitamin A. These are referred to as “good carbs” because they have a lower glycemic index. This means that they keep your blood sugar more stable and have no spike and crash like there would be after eating a slice of white bread for example.
  14. Quinoa: Quinoa is called a Complete Protein, because it has a complete amino acid profile. One cup of this powerhouse grain is 8g of protein!
  15. Amaranth: Another super grain that contains lots of fiber and also high in protein. Another great alternative to white rice or pastas.
  16. Nuts (Nut butters): Great for Omega-3 fatty acids and mono-saturated fats. Here are a few to get you started; Walnuts, Almonds, Almond butter, Cashews, Pistachios
  17. Seeds: Hemp, Flax, Chia and Pumpkin are all good choices. Good source of fiber, healthy fats, and protein.
  18. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil:high in antioxidants and monosaturated fat. Has great nutritional benefit over just regular olive oil because it is less processed.
  19. Water: Our bodies are 80% water! Be sure to drink 8 glasses a day! Better yet—try the 1 gallon a day water challenge!
  20. Green Tea:Helps lower cortisol (stress hormone), high antioxidant, and a small tiny pit of caffeine to help burn fat and calories.

If you are a person who eats dairy—I highly, highly recommend cottage cheese and greek yogurt.  Cottage cheese makes a fantastic bedtime snack because it’s low carb and high protein.  It’s very versatile and you can have it with fruit or make it savory. I enjoy cottage cheese with oranges or grapefruit. As far as yogurts go, there are a lot of confusing choices.  A good rule to follow is to see if it has more protein than sugar. If there is more sugar than protein in your yogurt you’re pretty much just eating a dessert.

My Supplements

  1. B-Complex Vitamin —energy and metabolism. Helps alleviate brain fog and convert food to energy
  2. Biotin–for hair(I wanna get that beard!)
  3. Vitamin D–Almost every cell in the body has vitamin D receptors and is thus a very important vitamin to get enough of. It supports your brain, heart, regulates metabolism, and aids cell growth and development. Even if you live in a sunny area—take a vitamin D supplement!
  4. Green Tea Extract— contains the substance catechin which  has many benefits, including accelerating exercise-induced fat-loss, such as abdominal fat. Green Tea Extract also contains the amino acid L-Theanine, which is great for mood and focus.
  5. Probiotic–I take a specific one regarding Mood because my doctor recommended that a probiotic and a vitamin D supplement would help not only my guts but also help my anti-depressants/anti-anxiety meds work even better.  This is because in the guts is something called the –Vagus Nerve,  which is very important in regulating mood and feelings–among other very important things.  I was taking it for a month and noticed a significant change–I was able to focus, and I wasn’t easily irritated and in fact much happier.  Once I get paid I plan on buying more.  Your gut brain matters just as much as your brain brain. More information about this connection here! (Since I ran out a few weeks ago, I’ve noticed a shift in my ability to focus and handle stress. It’s not placebo, it’s science).
  6. Protein Powder —for pre and post workouts as well as a scoop before bed to aid in muscle growth and recovery.
  7. Creatine—Muscle growth and gains
  8. Multivitamin –  to fill in the missing gaps
  9. Omega-3 complex –The good fats! You need these! It increases muscle synthesis, reduces soreness and inflammation, helps maintain mood and brain function, prevent weight gain, and speeds up fat loss.

Goal setting is another vital function when you get started because it helps with motivation.  It can be anything from eating more vegetables to promising yourself that you’ll go to the gym at least once during the week.  If you can make it once, then set another goal to make it twice, and so on.  Making and achieving goals will give you great incentive to keep going.

Tracking your progress is another way to motivate yourself.  You can write down where you’re at with your weight and clothing sizes or document by selfies.  Also, writing down the kinds of exercises you’re doing, how much cardio you did that week, the amount of weight lifted, etc is another way of tracking your ‘level-ups’.   Visually seeing all the hard work you are investing into yourself feels amazing.

Caring for my body after so many years of feeling so disconnected from it has been the key for me to truly reconcile with myself.   Fitness and nutrition is an empowering way for me to cope with dysphoria and also maintain good mental and emotional health.  How you feel physically can profoundly impact how you feel mentally and emotionally.  I wish all of you luck in your quest for fitness, health, and healing!

– Jessy Hegland

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