As wonderful as life can be it is often filled with challenges and difficulties beyond measure. In the fitness industry, it’s easy to assume that those nearly perfect looking people we see in all those beautiful pictures had a nice, smooth journey to success. That they were blessed with good fortune all along the way, from great genetics to an abundance of opportunities. That obstacles and struggles were never a part of their world. Quite often, a closer look reveals that just the opposite is true. In many cases, the drive to succeed was born of the necessity to overcome one or more great hurdles. Many people who achieve success first had to find something inside of themselves which allowed them to combat and overcome dire circumstances before they were fully able to bring out their true talents and beauty.
For Kristen Simmons (formerly Maynard) life has been anything but easy. She was forced at a young age into a mental and emotional struggle that threatened to take everything from her, including her existence. Kristen developed an Eating Disorder that took over her life and constantly threatened her health. The often misunderstood silent demons that she battled have taken away more people than we know. It took the sudden and tragic loss of award winning recording artist Karen Carpenter at the age of 32 for mainstream society to even begin to understand how serious this could be.
Kristen is a fighter and through perseverance and determination, combined with the support of a loving family, professional help, and a great deal of faith, she has turned her life from one of potential tragedy into one of growing accomplishments. She is a rising and future fitness star, and has the opportunity to positively affect and inspire a large number of people. Kristen has walked down a dark path and endured an incredible struggle to now find herself standing in a position to really make an impact on how people live their lives and fight through their own challenges. She hopes that through voicing her experiences she can reach and help others who have gone through their own major challenge, whether it was an eating disorder or some other personal struggle.
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Bodysport: Where are you from and how would you describe yourself and your upbringing?
Kristen: I was born in Portland, Oregon, but moved to AZ when I was 2 years old, so I would consider myself an Arizona native. I am the oldest of four siblings with my sister (the second oldest) and I being just 14 months apart. Growing up she and I were inseparable. My mother dressed us in those ridiculous matching outfits and I never really thought of my sister as a “little” sister. We were more twins and had the same friends and did just about everything together.
About 4 ½ years after my sister was born, my brother was born and then 16 months later, the youngest Maynard sibling came along. So it worked out great – two girls and two boys who were pretty close in age.
My parents were, and still are, very hardworking. My mother was the VP of a healthcare consulting firm, and my dad was a CPA turned self-employed contractor (electrician). I remember attending after school Kids Klub and when we were old enough, walking home to start homework. Then my parents would come home and whisk us off to whatever sports practice we had that night. They were (and still are) superhuman!
Bodysport: How did you first become involved with fitness, were you active in sports as a child?
Kristen: I have always been into fitness. As a kid and a teen, I was a bit of a “tom boy”, but not full blown. I played soccer until I was about 12 years old (7th grade), ran track one year, played softball another year, and then played school and club volleyball through my junior year in high school. I liked having a goal and something to improve upon. I loved the team experience and being able to do something that was my own. My sister stuck with basketball after we both quit soccer, so we each had our own “thing”.
Bodysport: When did you first realize you had a problem?
Kristen: In 2002, my sister was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and my whole world changed. Type 1 Diabetes runs in the family on my dad’s side. When she got diagnosed it was the first time I had ever seen my dad cry. He blamed himself a lot and even I found myself crying to God and asking Him why he didn’t give it to me, why did it have to be my little sister?
It was such an emotional time and lots of family and friends were in and out of the house looking after me and my brothers while my parents were away at doctor’s appointments with my sister. Our whole family’s eating habits changed. Serving spoons were replaced with measuring cups and sugars we removed from the house. I remember hanging with friends one day when they decided they wanted to go get ice cream and turning them down because I knew my sister couldn’t go if we did. This only made her mad since she was the type that never wanted to be different. It was a rough time and I found myself going on long walks or bike rides to clear my head. I would be out in the backyard swimming laps for hours on end. I never really got hungry when I was active either.
I remember that fall going into the doctors for my volleyball physical and the scale reading 98lbs. I turned to my mom and thought, “Wow, I don’t know the last time I was under 100!” I remember feeling happy. At 5’6”, my mom has since admitted that she assumed I was going through a growth spurt, but there was so much attention on sister that she didn’t really notice.
I was never “fat”, but I was usually the bottom of the pyramid – you know, the pyramids pre-teen girls would make for fun? Yea that. I remember seeing photos of my thighs or round cheeks and being disgusted with myself. I even remember one classmate telling me that if my thighs didn’t touch then I was overweight. Same girl who told me that sweating too much meant I was overweight too!
I was never the most popular girl either. I had popular friends who got all the boys’ attention. They were skinny and little and I started my period at age 11 and began to change much faster than they did.
But even with all that, I still never went into my disorder deliberately trying to starve myself. In fact I didn’t even think I had a problem! I was happy with myself – happy to see the scale under 100! I didn’t think anything was wrong, until my parents started taking interest in my eating habits after that physical. They were looking over my shoulder, making sure I was eating. It gave me anxiety and caused one too many fights in defiance and resentment. Looking back now, THAT’S when it hit me.
Bodysport: What exactly is an eating disorder, is/was there a particular known cause?
Kristen: An eating disorder is a disordered way of eating in short. It’s an abnormal relationship with food. It’s looking at food as something other than what it is – fuel for your body. In reality, more people than we have record of struggle with some type of disordered eating. Many people aren’t seeking treatment for it because like me, they don’t believe they have a problem. But that right there IS the problem.
Eating disorders are mental diseases. There was/is a little voice in my head telling me not to eat for fear of getting fat. This voice, I have referred to as ED (eating disorder). ED convinced me that if I ate these foods, I would gain weight and fast. He cast fear into my mind. I was completely and entirely obsessed with food. I thought about it all day long. I would drool over cookbooks and recipes. I would watch the food network channel and salivate over the delicious foods, but I would NEVER allow myself to indulge in it. The price was too high to pay if I did.
There isn’t one known cause of eating disorders because they are mental. Some victims develop eating disorders as means to control something when they feel they cannot control other areas of their life. For me, I couldn’t control my sister and her disease. I couldn’t control my parents’ emotions and actions, and I couldn’t control the people in and out of my house all the time. I was stressed out and looking for an escape.
Similarly, some victims will develop eating disorders from some type of abuse – verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, or spiritual. Some people have been led to believe they are less than they are and may not feel worthy of themselves. They pity themselves and allow ED to take over. Once you let ED in, it becomes extremely difficult to get him out.
Bodysport: Can you talk about what it was like dealing with this and ultimately how you became able to turn things around?
Kristen: I was consumed by ED. I spent lots of time alone, withdrawn from friends and family. I knew they were all looking at me and judging me. I had teachers, friends, and family all try to reach out to me, which only made me withdraw more. I didn’t want to be judged or pitied. I wanted to be left alone. I would have to eat breakfast at home under my parent’s watchful eye. I remember spitting out food into napkins when they would look away so I wouldn’t have to eat it. I would take half the food off my plate before my parents could see, mix it around and make it look like more than it was. I would hide food in my lap and throw it away after the meal. I would take my lunch to school and throw it away. When my friends caught on, I would repeat my antics from home at school. I remember loving Lent because I had an excuse to say, “I gave up sugar”.
Apparently, I kept getting thinner because my dad started a ritual where I had to weigh myself every Sunday before breakfast. Every week, we watched my weight decrease. He threatened me and told me he was sending me to a rehab facility. I begged and pleaded and told him I could do it on my own and he agreed to let me try, but that if I got to 90 pounds, he would ship me away to a rehab facility. I knew I was getting low, so I eventually started chugging water every Sunday morning and even resorted to sticking quarters in my pockets and underwear – anything to stay above 90 lbs.
Well the Sunday came that I weighed in below 90 lbs and my dad took me to a local rehab facility. He agreed to do outpatient therapy and I was assigned a therapist and a nutritionist. The first few weeks I was defiant and refused to talk to my therapist. I remember asking her if she had ever had an eating disorder, which she responded that she had not. “Then how can you possibly know what I am feeling?” I spat back. And it went on like that for several weeks.
My nutritionist started me on a very slow reverse diet. My dad created a spreadsheet and every night we would sit in his office and add up my calories for the day. One day I remember being 5 calories off and too afraid to eat anything that might send me over, I chewed on a piece of gum!
But, I was reluctant to change, and even lied about what I ate during the day and especially at school. It was the only time I could hide my food away from my parents!
It had been about 9 months since I had a menstrual cycle. One day, my nutritionist asked me about it. I remember joking and saying that I didn’t miss it. But she then told me that if I continued to not have a cycle, I could become infertile and not be able to carry my own children one day. This was a turning point for me. If there was one thing I knew from a young age, it was that I was going to be a mom and carry my own children. If I couldn’t carry my own children it was not going to be because of something I did! I remember telling my dad that day that I would agree to eat up until I got my period back. That was the ONLY reason I was doing this I said.
Mentally it was the hardest thing I ever had to do – stand up to ED. I had to pray to God and ask Him to remove ED from my head on a continual basis. When the urge got too strong, I had to stop and remind myself why I was doing this – for the future of my unborn children. I wanted so badly to be happy again. I hated myself so much during this time. I wanted it to go away, and I really relied on God to help me.
Eventually I did get my weight back up, got my period back, and seemed to be “out of the woods” so to speak with my dangerous weight loss. But I relapsed in college and started in on a horrendous binge and restrict cycle with food and alcohol. I never came dangerously low with my weight again, so people didn’t notice, but mentally I was in a bad place. I was angry, upset, and hated the world. I hated myself! I had no self-confidence. I was extremely insecure and that led to a series of bad relationships which only exacerbated the issues.
It wasn’t until I met my now husband and we broke up after only 7 months of dating that I realized I was going to lose everything if I continued this way. I knew this was my person and when we did get back together and the issues started again, I realized I was going to lose him forever. I still remember this day – I remember sitting at home (we had moved in together after dating again for about 2 years) after one particularly bad fight. Lots of alcohol was usually involved and I would wake up embarrassed by my actions. After the zillionth time, I made a commitment, a promise to myself, to find my happiness. To find what was going to make ME happy and in turn better my relationships, my career, my future. I had pulled myself out once before, and I knew I could do it again. I was better and stronger than ED. I was and I am going to be the best version of me. And I am the only one who can help me.
Bodysport: What message would you like to relay to people who are struggling with or trying to overcome an obstacle or challenge whether it’s an eating disorder or something else?
Kristen: You are not your thoughts. You are not what your thoughts are leading you to believe. You were given this burden because you can handle it. You CAN rise from this. God does not give us anything we cannot handle. It’s the voice in our head that wants us to believe otherwise. For those who are religious, that voice, that ED, or likewise, is the devil. Do NOT allow him to overpower you and make you believe that you are something that you are not, make you believe you are not deserving, or that you are worthless.
Make a vow to yourself right now to take that first step towards the best version of you. Your LIFE depends on this. Your happiness, your future, your relationships, depend on this. Do not choose the easy route of self-pity and victimization. Stand up to the voice and take back your life. YOU have all the tools already to do so! It’s all in your mind! Believe in YOU!
I realize that this level of thought is extremely difficult to reach, which is why a therapist or psychologist may also help in your recovery. Small affirmations and reminders around your home and workplace are also excellent reminders when you feel your mind shifting away. But start right by believing in YOU. You must be your biggest cheerleader. If you don’t believe in yourself, how is anybody else going to?
Bodysport: You’re on the fast track to accomplishing a lot in the fitness industry. Where would you like to see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
Kristen: I would love to continue to build on my coaching career. I do enjoy the personal training and nutrition coaching I am currently doing! I will say my passion is nutrition as I have studied and shifted my mindset to the power of nutrition and not the fear of it. I personally use nutrition as a holistic approach to so many common (and uncommon) ailments. It’s amazing what so many simply do not know! How a little shift in routine can deliver massive relief!
I have found myself dipping into the mindset sector and have found that friends, family, and clients are benefiting from my mindset coaching. I would like to see my career tilt in this direction as I have an even bigger passion for this realm and get excited just thinking about it!
Bodysport: A lot of people struggle with getting and staying fit. Is there any key advice that you could offer to help them reach their goals?
Kristen: Slow the f down! In this day and age we are all SO busy that we don’t even have time to think anymore. We live each week looking for the weekend. We are constantly in a hurry to get something done so that we can be “done”. But that never happens because as soon as we finish one thing, we move on to the next. So why not SLOW DOWN and enjoy what it is we are doing on a daily basis?? Slow down long enough to have a balanced breakfast. Slow down to sip some water and nourish the body. Slow down to try out that new HIIT class. Slow down enough to recognize what our bodies are trying to tell us.
We are all so reactive and impulsive – mindlessly shoveling whatever we can get our hands on into our mouths all in the name of convenience. What are we in a hurry for, our deaths? Every day we get closer to it, so why are we not enjoying the being alive part?!
Slow down and listen to your body. Slow down and start to shift your mindset, and as a result, your lifestyle. You cannot expect to diet your whole life. If you go “on” a diet, you eventually go “off” a diet. Diets don’t work. Make a pledge to change your lifestyle and you won’t have to struggle to maintain your goals later once you reach them.
Bodysport: People who meet you now could easily assume that you’ve always had a smooth path towards success in fitness and life. What have you learned through your experiences that helped which you can use to help others?
Kristen: I have learned that I am capable of anything I put my mind to. I possess the tools I need to get where I want to go. Easier said than done, but comforting because I already have everything I need. I am not saying I know everything – no, no. But I am saying that if I want something, I have the power to make it happen. I cannot rely on others to do it for me. I can consult others to help teach me what I need to know to get what I want, but I do not rely on others to hold the keys to my goals – my happiness. It’s ok to be your own biggest critic, but you must also be your own biggest cheerleader!
Bodysport: What fitness services do you currently offer and how can someone reach you if they are interested in working with you?
I currently offer personal training, online training, nutrition in the form of meal plans and macros plans, a membership site with blog posts, recipes, and workouts, and I just released my 6-week glute program. Check it out at www.redefineufitness.com or email me directly at email@example.com
Bodysport: As there anyone you’d wish to thank or acknowledge who has helped you through your challenges and supported your journey to becoming who you are now?
Kristen: I definitely have to thank my parents. The amount of realizations I have had in the past few years was really me wrapping my head around what they were teaching me, engraining into my brain growing up! I am forever fortunate to have such amazing role models to teach me that if I want something bad enough, I can get it. I already have the tools.
Most recently I must thank my husband. When we met I was working at US Airways/American Airlines, which I interned for in college and accepted a full-time position upon graduation. I worked there for 4 years in the corporate purchasing department. Although I was good at my job, it was not my passion. I was unhappy. I wanted more. My husband helped me see my strengths and supported me in taking the risk to leave my job and go out on my own. I could and would not have ever imagined being a business owner! I had and still have nights and weeks where I feel like quitting but this man propels me forward, shows me that even when I don’t want to believe in myself, he has never stopped, and THAT fuels me to find my footing and continue building a life I can be proud of!
Lastly, I want thank my sponsor, Rule 1 Proteins. I wasn’t looking for a sponsor when I started conversations with them, but they believed in me enough to make me a part of their team. I could not be more grateful for the opportunities they have given me and the people I have met along this journey because of these opportunities. A truly great company and great group of individuals that I am proud to be affiliated with.
Bodysport: Thank you Kristen!
Kristen is currently working on a book based on her experience of overcoming obstacles and battling mental demons and is available for seminars and speaking engagements! (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
For more information on eating disorders contact: National Eating Disorder Association