[Premium Content] An Interview With Molly Galbraith Of Girls Gone Strong
Girls Gone Strong’s Molly Galbraith’s struggle with weight, body image and fitness is one many of us can identify with, but it’s her courage of conviction that sets a new bar.
Have you always been athletic?
No, absolutely not. In fact, I think I was the poster child for anti-fitness for a long time. Growing up, I was a competitive gymnast, which is hilarious because I’m almost six feet tall and I do not have the body type for gymnastics whatsoever. I did that for five years, and I was a cheerleader in high school for a couple of years, but my diet was always pretty atrocious. Luckily, I was able to out-exercise my nutrition for a long time. I grew up in a household with a single mother and two sisters. My mom started law school a year or two after she and my dad divorced. It was a kind of a fend-for-yourself situation.
Was there an aha moment?
At the end of high school, I got really sedentary and gained a significant amount of weight. It was in February of 2004, almost 13 years ago, when I realized I was unhappy with my body. I was like, I like lots of other things in my life—I’m getting good grades. I have great friends. I like my work. But the one thing that I’m unhappy with is the one thing that I thought I had complete control over, which was what I ate and what I did with my body.Even If We Agree That Men's Body Issues And Women's Body Issues Are Different, We Both Have Body Image Issues. We're Both Held To Unattainable StandardsClick To Tweet
I think that in one way or another we all have felt like that, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity. It’s not how many times you fall down, but how many you get up, right? What was your plan of action?
I decided that I was going to get in shape. But I had no idea what it meant to get in shape. I hired a trainer, but as a broke college student, I couldn’t afford too many sessions. About six to eight months after that I started dating a guy at the gym who was a trainer, which was much more economical. [Laughs] He was into bodybuilding and powerlifting, and the people that he worked with and trained with were all into that. I was thrust into the world of hardcore lifting very quickly, and I did my first meet in 2005.
A year after you started exercising you were already competing?!
Yep. And after that, I competed in figure from 2006 to 2008. For people who aren’t familiar with figure competitions, it’s kind of like a mix between bikini and bodybuilding, so you’re going to be more muscular than someone who does bikini modeling, but less muscular than someone who competes in bodybuilding. I competed three times, and I really pushed my body very hard. That was my goal, and I decided this is what I’m going to do, end of story. I didn’t really care how I felt or that I had brain fog. I didn’t care that my limbs felt like they weighed 700 pounds each.
After pushing yourself so hard for so long, waking up the day after the competition must have been strange?
I rebounded badly and gained a significant amount of weight again. After almost every competition, I gained 15 to 20 pounds in about a two- week period, and it was horrifying. My skin hurt, my body hurt, I had developed this relationship with food that was completely disordered. It was really, really tough. But my body would rebound and in my head, I would think that the only way to get my body back was to do another competition. I did that cycle for the first two competitions, and then I finally decided to get healthy and repair my metabolism—whatever that means. I just wanted to get my body back to functioning the way that it used to. And so, I did. I was looking good, feeling strong and I was lean. Then I decided to compete for a third time in 2008. After that, things were different.
About five months later, I started having a lot of problems. I was physically depressed. I wasn’t so much emotionally depressed, but my body felt like I couldn’t function. I couldn’t get off the couch. All I wanted to do is sleep.
That brings up a very important point: We must listen to our bodies. What did your doctor say?
I was diagnosed with autoimmune thyroid disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome and adrenal dysfunction. My doctor’s theory was that I was predisposed to these things; that the amount of stress that I put my body under pushed me over the edge. It was tough for me for me to hear. I was about five years into my health and fitness journey, and I had spent those last five years getting a lot of praise for how my body looked and for being this crazy fitness girl. My identity had become very wrapped up in being lean and fit and then, all of a sudden, it was taken away from me.
For people who like to workout, that kind of diagnosis can be mentally and physically devastating…
Well, I had to face the fact that I couldn’t control the way that my body looked anymore. I had these health issues that I had to deal with, and they had to be prioritized. So, I decided to get really, really strong and compete in another powerlifting meet. I loved getting strong, loved the idea of focusing on performance, but I realized that I had built a big house of strength on a teeny-tiny foundation that was about to topple over. It was then that I resolved to get back to basics and build my strength from the ground up. I was on a road to building a truly strong foundation and then January 4th, 2012, my dad passed away unexpectedly. A couple of months after that I ended a six-year relationship moved back home with my mom. Basically, my life was falling down around me.
That sounds horrendous.
I ended up gaining quite a bit of weight back—within a pound and a half of where I started in February 2004. My body looked quite different because I had a lot more muscle than I did before, but I started getting criticism from everywhere. People were commenting on YouTube and Facebook, saying things like, “I don’t understand why you’re not as lean as you used to be.” I had a woman in my hometown telling other women not to go to my gym because they might look like me. I had a fellow male fitness professional stand in my gym in my office and insinuate to my staff that I was fat. I’m almost 5′ 11”, and I was 183 pounds at that time, and really solid. Not that that matters at all, but just to give you an idea of what we, as a society, think fitness professionals are supposed to look like.
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