Jen Comas says beauty lies in strength. It’s a powerful message from an influential woman in the world of fitness. The Co-Founder of Girls Gone Strong says we are each beautifully unique, and have amazing things to offer. Her motto? There is room for all of us at the top! HER Magazine™ caught up with the brown eyed beauty for an interview – she let loose about the world of competitive fitness and dishes on how competing helped her find new purpose in life.
You discovered the gym at 16 years old. What propelled you to the next level. What made you pursue your passion for fitness full time?
Jen: When I first started to exercise, it was because I had to. I was unhealthy and overweight, and needed to get things under control. Once I got over the initial hump, I really started to love it, and I felt better and better everyday. My energy levels sky-rocketed, my confidence improved, and I made a bunch of new friends. The feeling of improved health and happiness was so incredible that I wanted to help other people experience it, too. I’m passionate about helping other people achieve optimal health, and that has drove me to pursue it as my career.
You’ve competed in fitness competitions in the past. What was rewarding and challenging about it at the same time? What were some of the most important lessons you learned along the way?
Jen: Competing in Figure was one of the best and worst things that I’ve ever done. It was incredibly rewarding, because I surprised myself by doing something that seemed unattainable. I proved to myself that I had more resolve than I thought I did. For 18 weeks, I stuck to my diet and my workouts with laser-like focus (minus the mishap where I ate an entire carrot cake). I learned so much about diet, as well as how to alter body composition. I became aware of deeper things, too, such as what triggers my cravings, and which emotions cause me to want to eat, even when I’m not hungry, which, interestingly enough, is when I’m happy! Not when I’m sad! This is valuable information to have, and offers a lot of insight when it comes to habit change regarding food. Unfortunately, there is also a huge downside to competing. The brutally restrictive diet left metabolic repercussions. My thyroid wasn’t functioning like it was supposed to (it only recently normalized!), and my adrenals went haywire. I developed an unhealthy relationship with food, because, as odd as it sounds, I sort of forgot how to eat if it wasn’t a competition diet. My body image was also horribly skewed for quite awhile. It’s extremely challenging to see an abnormally lean, vascular body – which simply is not sustainable for the majority of women – and then watch yourself soften up a bit each week after the competition. While prepping for a show is tough mentally, I believe coming off a show is infinitely more challenging.
There are so many young girls who draw their inspiration from other women on Instagram, and social media sites, who often times post pictures of what appears to be the “perfect” body. Is it an unrealistic ideal? What would tell the young girls who look up to those figure competitors for so-called “fitspiration”?
Jen: This is a tough topic. As social media pervades our lives more and more, it gets really difficult to keep things in perspective, and to avoid falling into the comparison trap. Physique competitors post pics of their visible abs, and super ripped bodies, and then other women wonder why they don’t look like that, when they are working hard in the gym and eating healthy. What most women don’t realize is that competitors require very controlled diets and strategic training for months in order to get that lean, and again, carrying single-digit body fat percentages isn’t sustainable, nor is it healthy, for the majority of the female population. It’s also important to keep in mind that we are all different. Age, training experience, nutrition maturity, hormones, stress levels, sleep quality, etc, all plays a huge part in how we look and feel. Additionally, we are all at different points of our fitness journey! A woman that has been strength training and eating well consistently for the last five years is going to look very different than a woman that has just started – and that is okay! There is a saying that I love: “Don’t compare the beginning of your journey to somebody else’s middle”, and it’s so true. I would tell young girls that they need to stay focused on how they can become their best self, and to concentrate on their own goals, rather than getting caught up in where somebody else is at. I would also remind them of the magic of filters and photo editing.
A lot of women fear weights, and think weight lifting will make them bulky. What do you want to tell women who are hesitant of the weight rack?
Jen: Even though I feel like things are finally shifting, and more women are strength training, it’s still a concern that I hear quite often. Women do not have enough testosterone to become huge and bulky from lifting weights. Additionally, most women will not get big because they simply aren’t strong enough to push/pull the amount of weight for the type of rep/sets that would result in a ton of hypertrophy. Some muscle growth, however, is possible for women if they are eating enough food, and they strength train consistently enough, which is a wonderful thing! Lifting weights adds beautiful shape and definition to our bodies, not to mention all of the health benefits that come along with resistance training. If you are looking to lose body fat, get stronger, and shape your body, than strength training is a must.
There seems to be a new movement emerging: “Love the body you have! Curvy women are sexy too.” Some of these messages may or may not perpetuate obesity in America, but it seems as though women just want to be accepted for who they are and what they look like, without the pressures of being skinny. How can we move away from the message that fitness is about being skinny, and instead share the message that fitness and exercise is about overall health?
Jen: I believe that shifting the emphasis to optimal health, rather than size and aesthetics, starts with ourselves. The more we focus on how amazing we feel and what our bodies are capable of, rather than how we look, the more that message will spread. It’s contagious! Have you ever noticed that if you start moaning to a friend about how fat you feel, they will often chime in with their own body woes? However, if we shift the conversation to how good we are feeling, or changes we can make to become healthier, that is where the energy flows. Next time a friend is talking about size, or wanting to be skinny, let’s help them redirect their focus to health and what our bodies are capable of, and hopefully they will pay that forward.
In one of your blogs you write about not stepping on a scale, and actually breaking up with your scale. Why?
Jen: For the majority of people, the scale doesn’t do anything except trip them up. I’ve had clients that have made outstanding progress – they have improved their eating habits, increased their energy, lost some body fat, they are sleeping better, and they are getting stronger. All incredible stuff! Then, they step on the scale and see that they’ve only lost two pounds, and they are devastated. Rather than being able to appreciate all of the amazing changes that they’ve made, they are blinded by that silly, insignificant number, and it typically derails them. We do not need a piece of machinery to validate our self worth. We are more than a number on the scale, and when we are working towards improved health, progress comes in many forms, and it’s important to be grateful for it all.
You have a motto called “Embrace YES!” What does it mean?
Jen: Embrace YES is something I kicked off at the beginning of this year to encourage people, and myself, to open our minds to opportunities and possibilities. So many people get stuck in a rut, and aren’t willing to try new things, and I firmly believe that new experiences, and getting out of our comfort zones, are vital for growth and personal development. I have done so many things this year that I probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for reminding myself to embrace yes, and I’ve never had as much fun, or grown as much, as I’ve had this year.