Name: Chrissy Wallis Henry
Occupation: Co-Owner of JAX Strength and Conditioning, Realtor at Watson Realty Group
Chrissy Wallis is co-owner of JAX Strength and Conditioning in Jacksonville, FL. I first met Chrissy a few years ago at a CrossFit Endurance "War Camp"... because where else does one go to meet amazing women who share a passion for lifting heaving and running fast?
My new War Camp buddy and I have kept in touch over the years, through Facebook and CrossFit events. I knew Chrissy as a hardcore CrossFitter, which is why I was surprised one day while scrolling through my FB feed to see photos of her tanned and toned body on stage in a bikini, posing at a Figure Competition.
CrossFit and Figure are as popular as they are polarizing, probably due in part to their extreme programing. I was surprised to see Chrissy competing in Figure only because the training and ideology is completely different from that of CrossFit. In my experience, CrossFit is about training to perform your best. I admit I don't know much about figure, but I always thought it was about training to look a particular way.
When I first asked Chrissy why she wanted to compete in Figure, she simply said, "I wanted to look as fit as I feel."
Hold up. Why, you might ask, wouldn't training to perform your best automatically make you look your best? In my opinion, prior to her figure training, Chrissy was already extremely fit and looked amazing. But that was my opinion of Chrissy, not Chrissy's opinion of Chrissy. Throughout our conversation I was reminded of how subjective beauty is and how hard we are on ourselves. What does "looking fit" even mean?
We are featuring Chrissy this month because while on a mission to look as fit as she feels, her relationship with her body has evolved in many ways. In the interview below Chrissy speaks openly about her experiences with both CrossFit and Figure Competitions, and about her personal struggle with her body image. Her story brings up some very important issues regarding this topic, which I hope will lead to constructive conversation.
Keep in mind that this interview is simply one woman's perspective. I respect anyone who sets out on a journey to improve their fitness, strength, and confidence. I welcome your comments and encourage you to share your experiences with your own training programs and goals.
Q: Why did you decide to enter a Figure Competition?
A: As much as I hate to admit it, the goals of the show(s) were partly superficial. I really felt an incongruence with how I looked & felt in the CrossFit gym. I was fast, but not super strong. I trained daily, but didn’t really “look in shape”. In my OLD opinion, lean shredded muscle, ripped abs, and a clearly defined set of shoulders & back was “fit”.
Q: Chrissy, what did you hope to get out of the experience?
A: The first show I did, I did very quickly. I found a show that was local, (Daytona), a natural, drug free show, and it was about 6 weeks away. I changed up my workouts (did a little more of the globo-style, single modality workouts to try to increase the size of my back and shoulders, and tighten my legs & glutes). The diet was very strict, with exact measurements of protein, carbs & fat, eaten at precise times. Although I was very happy with how my quick training, and short transformation was, I placed 3rd. Being very competitive, I decided that I would train harder, longer, and see how far I could push myself. It became a competition to see how much “better” I could look and place. After placing 3rd again, I wanted to do more/do better/be better. So basically, with each show, the goal was to do better/look better/train harder than before.
Q: Was it what you expected/wanted? Why or why not?
A: All in all, I would say my experience was positive, although I did learn the sport is not for me. My first show was exciting b/c it was all brand new, and my body changed rapidly. The second show was after about 5-6 months of sport specific training, so naturally, the package I brought to stage was an improvement over my last show. Had I have stopped there, I would probably have considered doing another one. Unfortunately, I pushed myself to do a 3rd show two short weeks after the second show, and my body gave out.
For my 2nd & 3rd show, I found a great local coach, who respected my choice to stay paleo, and to continue to CrossFit 3 times a week, plus do her recommended workouts. I had a hard time trying to put on size/bulk up, so with the dramatic increase in food I had to eat, I switched to gluten free oatmeal. I was only able to get my weight up just above 155, (my “normal” walking weight is about 145-149, pre-shows. I only give my weight so you can make sense of the numbers when I talk about the post show weight gain). I felt uncomfortably full throughout day, bloated even, but my lifts were definitely going up during this phase.
About 12 weeks out, we started to cut my food back. The prep for the show coincided with the open, (the show was the week of 13.5), which of course, I thought, even calorie restricted, I could still do. Once my calories were cut, my body basically started shutting down in the gym. I couldn’t move as fast, or lift near as much. I had a huge mental struggle & breakdown because I was failing at movements I was just able to do the week before. But at least I looked really good, right? I had show muscles, but no go muscles. I knew my body would tell me it was time, and in the middle of 13.4, it told me loud and clear.
I had a great time at the early April show and I placed 3rd again. I figured I’d do one more, to prove I could place higher. I had an internal struggle going on, because I knew I looked super lean, which made my muscles look larger on my frame. But I felt I had lost all my “go” in the gym. Pushing myself into the last show was a huge mistake for me. I didn’t allow my body to recover from the food depletion, water depletion, sleep deprivation, or the last few weeks of CrossFit when my nutrition wasn’t prepared for metcons. I physically broke at the last show. I was sick up until the time I got out of my suit, dizziness, stomach “issues”, faint, and flat, (which is the worst thing you could be for a figure show!). I felt terrible, I weighed in at about 132-133lbs for the show in late April. I could see every ab muscle I owed, but I could also see a little rib cage in my chest.
Q: What have you learned about yourself in terms of your relationship with your body?
A: I’ve had a super hard time healing the relationship with my body. The changes happen extremely quickly when you go back to eating “normal”. I had always eaten pretty clean, but not calorie restricted. Every bite of food would show, my thighs started filling back out, my abs softened, and my arms softened. The vein I had shooting down my shoulder for months, disappeared. My face even filled back out. I found myself looking back through pics and asking “why don’t I look like that now?!”
Everyone talks about a “water rebound”. I experienced a moderate one from the first show, maybe 8lbs. No biggie, its water, you can easily lose most of it by Friday after the show, and be back to your normal walking weight. The second show hit me harder, (since I water depleted harder), and I had about a 15lb water rebound. Same thing, no big deal, lost it by about Thursday. The last show was TERRBIBLE. I believe it was about 28lbs. Granted, I was 132 on stage, so I need a little back on. But to put on that much weight in about 2 days is the worst feeling. Mentally, physically, all of the above. I couldn’t wear my rings, I couldn’t make a fist, I wore really loose fitting T shirts, and even wanted to shower with my clothes still on. The water weight did finally come back off, but it took a little longer this time. No amount of reading & talking to girls who have experienced this can prepare you for how you feel when you wake up and weigh 20+ lbs more than the day before.
Its been about four months, and I’d have to say only now is my body image getting back to where it used to be. I saw myself walking around looking leaner, more toned, more muscular than I EVER had before, and it was GONE. I was pretty depressed about it, so I ate all the things I missed. Then as you can imagine, as the ugly cycle goes- I gained a few pounds. More depression, followed by more food. I knew how to diet, so I put myself back on an extremely strict diet again. Though my prep, I didn’t allow myself a single cheat meal for 4 months, which meant no nice dates with my husband at our favorite restaurants. (I actually rarely ate out during prep because it was easier to cook my own food than be a pain at a restaurant). So going back super strict on a diet, caused some tension since I was only “dieting” because I didn’t like the way I looked, it wasn’t for a goal or purpose. I’d fall off that wagon, then feel SUPER guilty, then start all over again.
There are definitely some positives that came out of the dieting plan that I followed, though. I really learned how much food my body needs to feel good & perform well. I learned that I personally like eating more times per day, vs 3 larger meals. I enjoy preparing all my food in advance, and carrying tup-o-wares with me so I’m never without food. I also tried some pretty weird food combos that now I love- ie cinnamon in my eggs! I’ve used a lot of the knowledge to help direct some other women in my gym about smarter ways to eat- encouraging higher protein, and lower simple carbs through out the day. All the women I’ve worked with are looking & feeling better, so I consider that a HUGE success.
Q: Would you do it again? Why or why not?
A: I really can never say never. The workouts were hard in their own right. I spent those 6 months training with a huge emphasis on strength, and that has transferred over well to CrossFit. At this time, I would say I am not interested in doing it again. I feel stronger mentally & physically being able to push through Fran than depriving my body of fat & water.
Q: What are some of the most extreme things you had to do in order to be "stage ready".
A: I was actually pretty lucky in the fact that my prep was easier than a lot of girls. I didn’t have a lot of fat to lose, just had to tighten my body up. For about 4 months, every gym session included “cardio” (most of mine was high intensity interval running), while I was covered in preparation H & saran wrap from my knees to my butt, then again my midsection. I also slathered it on my arms because I wanted the water pulled out of EVERYWHRE. After cardio, I sat in a sauna for 15 minutes, 7 days a week. Once a week, I met a friend at 4:30am or 5:00am to train. This was about a 3:45am wake up call. I’ve drank 2 gallons of water in a day, (and spent most of that day peeing it right back out).
For my first show, my nutrition plan included a day dropping my caloric intake down to 900calories though out the day, with the first meal at about 4pm. I’ve carb rotated. I’ve taken 20 minutes to eat 1 tablespoon of peanut butter because I knew it would be the last spoon I would have for weeks. I cried eating a ribeye because I missed meat and it tasted so damn good. Let’s not even talk about the tan & the suit, which is horribly disgusting. You don’t shower it off for at least 2, sometimes 3 days. No deoderent either. I took a nap in my car because I was too tired to drive home. And this is NOTHING compared to what some of the girls do ;)
Q: Figure and Bikini competitions are closely tied with the health and fitness industry, however, I get the sense that a lot of unhealthy measures are taken in order to look a certain way and do well at these competitions. Can you talk a little about the disconnect here?
A: See above answer for just some of the unhealthy measures! I will say I agree with that statement. Now, that’s not to say the sport isn’t challenging, mentally & physically, because it truly is. I just don’t believe that it is done with “health” as the end goal. I’m not a nutritionist or dietician, but even looking at how I felt during certain times of the prep, I knew it wasn’t healthy. I would forget simple things, have issues sleeping, constipation, bloating and gas. I was constantly tired, had skin breakouts, and headaches. None so bad that I wanted to quit, but just enough to know that my body wasn’t 100% happy with me. And my period stopped about a month before the show.
Q: Did you consider yourself healthy while competing? Do other competitors consider themselves healthy?
A: I really hope answering this question doesn’t cost me friends, but here goes. The “off season” is generally pretty healthy, in my opinion. Most girls are encouraged to work SUPER hard in the gym, eat clean, and indulge in a cheat meal once a week. Pretty balanced. Depending on when the true prep starts for the girl, is when I believe things get pretty unhealthy. The biggest one, is most of the girls aren’t sleeping. The workouts can be long, including hours of cardio, (yes, hours), forcing a lot of the girls to get up before 4am to complete it all before work. I was lucky in that I make my own schedule, and I trained at about 9am most days. I still got my 8 hours of sleep. The closer you get to the show, you can really feel these effects, because most of us get pretty airheaded. Right before the show, for a week you manipulate water- first you overhydrate, then you slowly deplete your body of water, salt and fat. While you’re doing this, you’re taking about 6-10 pills a day- minerals & electrolytes so you don’t cramp or develop kidney stones from pulling all of the water out of your body. Carbs are adjusted (down) to ensure you are losing as much water weight as you can. Anyone who argues this is healthy, needs to just feel how this week feels and you will immediately know there is nothing healthy about this. Then there is the day of the show. Competitors stuff themselves FULL of carbs and sugar so their muscles fill out. I was in disbelief of the super shredded men & women stuffing down candy and absolute crap. There is science to pushing the muscles full of carbs, however, it’s far from healthy. And this is just the “clean” side of the sport. The sport is untested at the amateur and national level, and supplementation is huge in this sport.
Q: What are your health fitness goals now that you have experienced the Figure Competition world?
A: I think I still struggle a little with what I know I can make my body look like vs what it looks like day to day. I’ve been sharing my experiences through my blog, mostly encouraging as I think most of my feelings are pretty normal. I’m focusing more on performance related goals; feeding and training my body to adjust accordingly. That means more carbs, harder training sessions, heavier weights. I’ve stopped stepping on the scale 7 times a day, and only using it to know where I am for weightlifting meets, (since weigh ins are required). I’ve written a new list of goals, and NONE of them have a weight or lululemon size attached to them. I’ve already started hitting a few of them, and when I look in the mirror now, I don’t see a stomach fold that I don’t like- I see a PR Power Clean. I still have my days, but trying to walk around at 140lbs is no longer a priority.
As Fashlete of the Month, Chrissy is receiving a customized sterling silver charm. We hope this necklace reminds Chrissy of everything she learned, and will continue to learn, from her commitment to health and fitness. You are beautiful because you are strong. Strong is not a weight, a size, or a percentage... it is a feeling, an ability, and often invisible until you need it most.
Check out Chrissy's Blog, CWH Fitness, for more!