This interview is part of the Real Talk Real Women interview series, where we bring you the life-changing, heart-warming and inspirational stories behind the most successful women in health and fitness. Make sure to follow us on Instagram for the latest interviews! For this installment, we are joined by Sasha Prince.
Let’s start off with a general introduction. How would you describe yourself?
My name is Sasha, currently living in Los Angeles, CA. I consider myself a passionate, empathetic ambitious and curious person. I am still learning so much about myself, and I believe that finding our way back to our inner child is a lifelong process, and oh how lost I have gotten on the way. On my path to reconnecting with myself I would say I am survivor of many things, a fighter, a dreamer, and tourist. Getting lost was the easy part, letting go and finding yourself… now that is a journey worth remembering.
I have been referred to as the character “Elemental” from the movie “Chronicles of Riddick” and my mom always called me her “Gypsy baby”. I am always just “blowing with the wind”… I suppose I am a very flowy person. I never know who I am going to be when I wake up, or where I am going to end up. I like to think of myself as a Chameleon, blending into its surroundings.
What can you tell us about the correlation between lifting and competing on the one hand and your physical and mental health on the other?
They both can build you and they both can break you.
I began my fitness journey with what I would call “good intentions”. The back story is that I started in a very mentally unhealthy place. Since I was a child I have struggled with debilitating BDD, I began working out to look like the bodies I saw on Pinterest. Not to better myself, but really, to be anyone other than myself.
That is where it all went wrong. My BBD took on other shapes…layering itself with four plus years of eating disorders; anorexia and athletic nervosa. In 2014 I came across bodybuilding and bikini competitors and turned to lifting weights. After running myself into the ground, to a bone, I learned that to build muscle, I would have to eat, I would have to stop running. This sounded like a great way out of the mess I was in. To achieve new goals, I would have to eat, I would have to. Running was my therapy gone wrong. No matter how far I ran, how little I ate, I still saw monsters in the mirror, here was my solution. Right away I hired a coach and began the bulking phase of competing. This gave me purpose, it taught me dedication, resilience, and passion.
Mentally I became stronger. Competing began to break the walls I was hiding behind. But, once again I had found another controlled environment to hide my monsters. Competing became my body and food control, it just looked a little healthier on the outside, but inside I was still drowning. After winning my Pro card with the WNBF I fell in love with competing. Three years of bulking and cutting and binging and tanning, I loved it. However, things fell flat November 2016, my body gave out on me, I knew I had overdone it again, abused my body…again.
I stepped on the NPC Miami national stage regardless of being sick, in my 20s with shingles all over my body, in so much pain and mentally destroyed. It is becoming more commonplace to talk about how the mental/hormonal effects of competing can be life altering. All of my gym sessions leading up to that show I heard my body say no. I was in constant pain, malnourished, and stressed. People in their 20s shouldn’t have shingles. I had to stop competing, but I didn’t want to give up on myself. It’s been almost a year post show and I am just now regaining my strength (mental and physical) and my body is starting to return to homeostasis, having regular menstrual cycles after a year absence.
In the end, lifting made me physically and mentally stronger, competing gave me purpose. But, pushed too far it will break you just as fast as it built you. Our bodies and brains are only that of a human.
You have both been overweight and underweight, you’ve overtrained and dieted to the extreme. What have been your biggest lessons through it all?
I learned that I have a lot of inner work to do. My biggest lessons are the ones I have taught myself through trial and error, failing and succeeding. I learned I’m an extremist and that I am either all in or do nothing at all. I found that I am capable of failing, winning, rising, and falling again. I learned that you can’t do it all on your own, and asking for help is imperative. I learned that no matter how much I changed my physical appearance, it would never undo the inner torment I was suffering from. The problem is not your body, or your face. It is your soul, your mental state, and your demons.
You’ve also struggled with depression and body dysmorphia - this is such a widespread challenge today. What advice do you have for those who are currently going through depression and/or body dysmorphia?
Honestly, it’s tough. I still struggle, daily. But I practice healthy habits daily as well. Awareness is the key to recovery. Being aware of your emotions, your mood, your habits are the some of the most useful tools you can have. Depression and BDD aren’t something that just disappears, it’s not a headache, it doesn’t just go away.
Lifting weights and keeping myself busy are the most helpful tools I have. I recommend being open with the people you trust, seeking a professionals help, and staying off the internet.
Finding a hobby can help to find purpose, allow you to set goals, and show you positive growth, and positive growth is all one can hope for.
BDD requires a lot of awareness and acceptance. Love your difference, love the parts of you that no one else does, because at the end of the day is doesn’t matter. Love yourself so much it’s contagious. The work of healing BDD comes from within, there is not a single external force, compliment or medication that can do this work for you. It is painful, it is exhausting, and it takes years. But damn, it starting to show that it’s worth it.
Stepping out of your comfort zone seems to have been critical to your success - how do you know if you’re “playing too small” and what is the best way to push yourself out of this zone?
I know I am playing it too safe when things become too easy, when I stop being scared. When I become too confident, and complacent. I always try to pursue something that scares me and make me wonder “what if”.
The best way to push yourself out is dealing with the pain of the first step of whatever you choose. Starting is always the hardest part. From there, you become an unstoppable snowball generating more mass as you move. You learn that the feeling of wanting to hide is just a feeling, a feeling you have conquered before, the feeling of proving yourself wrong becomes the reward.
While a lot of focus in the fitness industry is on appearances, you share a lot around healing the mind and finding inner peace - how do you go about this?
I sought therapy, and I enhanced my community (real people, real friends).
Last year I began to do a lot of “me-search” discovering why I am the way I am, trying to make sense of it all. Exploring my reactions, decisions, and feelings. Allowing myself to feel instead of numbing out. I found a great quote by Psychologist Dr. VanDerkoff – “Be a participant, not the patient.”
I’ve always loved psychology and I in fact studied it in college. Attending a therapeutic high school as teenager, the human mind and emotion have always been of interest to me. I knew it was time I started applying what I learned in life and college to my own day to day life. I started spending more time outdoors, reconnecting with the earth and forest. Just being outside is healing for me.
What’s your perspective on the importance of self-care?
Self-care has been crucial to my recovery. It is about adhering to a level of respect for yourself. Eating well, exercising right, and taking space when you need it. Reading a booking, checking in with yourself. You can’t offer love and happiness to the world if you are broken. Self-care allows you to be stronger, wiser and in tune with your wants and needs, when you are in tune with yourself, you can give back.
What are the most unexpected lessons you’ve learned on your health and fitness journey this far?
The fitness industry is not the health industry, and they can’t be confused though often are. I am much more capable of achieving more than I ever imagined and physical greatness is not always a reflection of inner greatness.
If you could only choose one thing, what would you tell your younger self?
I would tell her that all of the pain she’s enduring will become her greatest strengths, to stay present. Because one day she will share her journey, and one day she may help others find the strength to turn and face their own demons.
What are your biggest life goals?
My biggest life goal is learn to live, to be happy. My only aim is positive growth. To look back and know I lived a full life with people I love. To look back and know I tried everything my heart desired and wasn’t afraid of failing.
Where can people go to learn more about you online?
Stay tuned for the next interview of Real Talk Real Women!