What do you value when it comes to your fitness and health?
This can be a hard question to ask yourself. Or it could be a simple one, especially when you exist in black and white. But give the question some context and life experience, and that's when lines become blurred. Suddenly, we want it all without giving up our principles or suffering through the process. We want the beautiful mess of colors without staying within the lines.
I've boiled this question down even more: Do I value aesthetics over performance, and why do I feel that way?
The saying goes that "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." I don't disagree, but I think the word "skinny" should be replaced with "comfortable," "confident" and "strong."
Any or all three of those words are more appropriate. What I mean is, no food is worth being miserable in your own skin.
I've lost weight and I've gained weight. I've learned a lot of valuable lessons throughout the process. At the end of the day, I'm happiest when I'm performing -- I love being challenged physically.
"Then why do I weigh so much," I ask myself. "Or why do I let the number bother me?"
I'm a victim of my own self-scrutiny and criticism. Yet comparing the current version of my body to the past is fruitless.
My body looks very different than it did at this time last year, when I was a few months deep into prepping for a figure competition.
Toward the end of my prep, I weighed at least 20 pounds less than I do now. But I was weak and struggled to find meaning or purpose to my workouts and the endless cardio.
My Olympic lifting had gone down the drain, technique-wise, and my confidence under barbells had waned. My performance in the gym was terrible. I had very little energy and was seriously hangry 90 percent of the time.
I had also developed an unhealthy relationship with food and social outings (at one point I went out with my parents in the city and ordered a bowl of lettuce because I was afraid to eat something that wasn't on my meal plan). Hindsight, right?
And all for what? Even at my lightest weight in years, I wasn't lean. I didn't have abs. Sure, I fit into smaller-sized clothing. But... that was about it.
I was at my weakest, and it felt awful. I realized what I love more than anything is the journey of becoming a strong person, not someone who chases leanness and abs and trophies at figure shows.
Sure, some of those things are nice. But you know what's nicer? Being able to back squat almost 300 pounds. Clean and jerking 200 pounds. Snatching your body weight (I'm getting there). Doing pull-ups, handstands, dips and push-ups without feeling like a whale.
So now I do what I love doing, and I eat with a balanced, healthy approach to fuel and nourish my body, and also to enjoy food every once in a while.
This doesn't mean every day feels awesome. There are certainly times I get down on myself for not being both lighter AND stronger. This process is a journey -- a marathon -- and I'm no sprinter.
I've learned to find balance among my values. I eat to fuel my body, and sometimes for enjoyment. I work out the way I want to because it makes me feel good, and I'm not too bad at it. I try to be positive all the time because life is short.
Is this a perfect formula for happiness every day? No. Are there days I look at myself and start to go down a dark path of self-scrutiny? Yes.
But even on those days, when my mind gym isn't 100 percent and neither is my physical body, I can still look back and learn something. I can see that my values have never really changed, and that's one of the most important consistencies one can have in life.
I will never have six-pack abs or be under 10 percent body fat. Or maybe I will. But those things will come as a result of me trying to achieve more important goals based on performance and nutrition.
Abs might be made in the kitchen, but you don't live LIFE in the kitchen. I chose to value strength, passion and perseverance. Be kind to yourself and respect the journey.
A version of this piece originally appeared on TheMelissaLeon.com.