Rituals of Bodybuilding and Rituals of Body Modification


“…for the mind is verily restless, O Krishna! It is impetuous, strong and difficult to bend; I deem it as hard to curb as the wind.”
“Without doubt, O mighty-armed, the mind is hard to curb and restless; but it may be curbed by constant practice and by indifference.”
– Arjuna, from the Bhagavad-Gita

However you look at it, pushing yourself physically is hard work. As human beings, we’d much rather be doing something less stressful and less physically involved. Whether it be body piercing, tattoos, weight lifting or running a marathon, we always approach such activities with trepidation. After all, wouldn’t you rather be at home, reading a book? Or watching a movie? Or drinking with your friends?

I have to admit that I have days where the last thing I want to do is go to the gym, where I destroy my muscle fibers for an hour, and then run my ass off for another 30 minutes. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but “off-days” aren’t uncommon. So I wonder what keeps me going. Why I’m even bothering to sweat buckets under hundreds of pounds of weight every day. Maybe you’ve made an appointment to get your first cartilage piercing, and even though you’ve heard disaster stories, you still get to the shop on time and go through with it. What makes us conquer these fears?

Of course, there is no easy answer. While we’ve all overcome some of our fears regarding activities like piercing, tattooing and scarification, this is where bodybuilding and heavy physical exercise differs greatly. For the most part, the formerly-mentioned activities are isolated incidents, something that we do once (or maybe twice), and thoughts of the eventual outcome gets us through the process. In this case, the few moments of pain (and weeks of aftercare) are worth it, because you’re instantly gratified with a shiny new piece of jewelry, or new colours under your skin. While tattoos can take weeks to heal, they are basically very easy to care for and don’t require much effort on a daily basis — you don’t really need to think about it, other than to keep it clean. Once the piece is finished, you can forget about it.

Bodybuilding, on the other hand, has an influence on your life unlike any other activity I can think of. Assuming you are following a basic four-day (weekly) routine, this means that you’ll be spending about 4 to 8 hours in the gym every week. No, it’s not a lot of time, but realize that it’s getting significantly more time dedicated to it than any other body modification activity I can think of. And all of that work in the gym is for naught if you’re not eating well and getting plenty of rest, both of which can consume your life. Ask anybody who’s started a fitness plan recently, and they’ll tell you that it’s all they can think about — everything you do outside of the gym will affect your performance once inside it. Want to go out drinking four nights a week like you did back in college? Forget about it. No more fast food. No more late nights. You’ll always need access to good-quality food and plenty of water. This is hard work.

Who has put more effort into their body modifications?

Left: Heather Darling with Gregg Valentino (photo: bigheatherd.com), Right: BME's Shannon Larratt, 1995.

Left: Heather Darling with Gregg Valentino (photo: bigheatherd.com), Right: BME’s Shannon Larratt, 1995.

So, again, why do I do it? Why does anybody put their body through something traumatic? Is it for the results? Or is it the journey, rather than the destination?

As a professional body piercer, I’ve heard many of my peers talk about the ritual that surrounds such activities as piercing, scarification and body suspension (though interestingly enough, never about tattooing). While I’m still formulating my own ideas about how my job is considered a ritual act, I can’t deny that ritual does play a part in the piercing process. While many of my clients just want their piercing to be over with as quickly as possible, others are more concerned about being as relaxed as possible, and want me to breathe with them as I perform the act, for example. Whatever makes it easier for them, of course, but this is not specific to the bodily arts.

In the gym, with enough time to observe, I can point out the rituals of everybody there. Some people pace around for a few minutes between exercises, others walk to the water fountain (which is different than bringing your own water bottle), others will repeatedly perform very obviously ritualistic movements to “psych” themselves up before lifting a heavy weight. Again, whatever works — whatever it takes for your mind to make the decision that it can, in fact, lift that weight. And it can, of course, but your mind must be in the ‘right place.’ You’ve all experienced this immediately before a body modification — and it’s a very important part of the ritual for many people.

As an athlete since my childhood, it’s been drilled in my head that sport is “ninety percent motivation, ten percent perspiration,” which means exactly what it sounds like — that most of the work to be done is mental, and the physical will follow. Of course, it’s not that simple — we can’t measure something like this. And if this were the case, then all I’d have to do in the gym to get in shape would be to lift weights for a few minutes, and think really hard for the remainder of the hour. If it were only that easy!

But mental state of mind is the biggest factor to influence our physical actions, whether they be bodybuilding or body modification. Those fitness models and athletes in great shape are truly dedicated to what they do. As I said before, it’s not easy lifting all those weights every day, but something keeps these people coming back for more.

It’s been said that visualization is the key to achieving your goals, no matter what they may be, and this can certainly be applied to exercise. To build muscle, you must tear the muscular tissue. This means lifting weights heavier than you’re comfortable with. So how do you make progress? You’ll only make gains if you’re lifting weights that technically you “can’t” lift — if six repetitions at a certain weight is your maximum, you’re going to have to lift eight repetitions to make any gains. Not easy, and something that lies entirely within your mind’s ability to overcome your physical limitations.

In other words, to take control over your own body.

Sound familiar? I’m sure you’ve heard such a phrase in regards to the type of body modification you’re interested in. Piercing, tattooing or scarification (to name a few) are a major mind-fuck for many people. You go into that body art shop knowing that you’re paying somebody to hurt you. Have you ever thought about what kind of conscious effort that takes? It’s certainly very difficult to overcome what you thought were your limitations. Not to take away from the experience (I still get nervous when I get pierced, even after dozens), but people who are serious about bodybuilding feel very similar sensations every single day. Oftentimes it’s only the thought you know, somewhere in your heart, that you’ll live to see another day that gets you through the workout. Or the piercing. Or the suspension.

So for all of you who’ve been asking what bodybuilding has to do with body modification, this is just one example. Both activities take a conscious mental effort to overcome our physical limitations, exercising the mind as well as the body. We’re not so different, after all.

Camille Paglia once said, “Modern bodybuilding is ritual, religion, sport, art, and science, awash in Western chemistry and mathematics. Defying nature, it surpasses it.”


Dustin Sharrow

PS. I’m very happy to report that my partner is now training three times a week at a mixed martial arts and grappling combat gym. While it is very different from my efforts at getting into shape, she’s loving every minute of it, and subsequently health and fitness have taken on a new importance to both of us, and I couldn’t be happier for her.

A Short History of the Body


“Having a pump is like having sex. I train two, sometimes three times a day. Each time I get a pump. It’s great. I feel like I’m coming all day…”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger

By most accounts, the actual sport of aesthetic bodybuilding (different from athletic competition) is unofficially dated back to 11th century India, where athletes lifted carved stone dumbell weights (called Nals) much the same as modern fitness equipment is used to fatigue and tear our 21st century muscles. In fact, gyms in India have been traced back to this same period, and by the 16th century, it is said that bodybuilding was one of their national pastimes. There must be something intrinsically human about changing the human body, because it seems to be a fairly consistent activity throughout all recorded history, regardless of the method.


Though much has been made of the importance of physical fitness in the ancient Greek (and later, Roman) empires, the specific pursuit of bodybuilding did not yet exist. Instead, the athletes were trained in several sports and were expected to be consistent in each. These athletes were professionals in the truest sense of the word, and enjoyed great festivals in their honour at the conclusion of every sporting event. The very early Olympic games were held between cities, which each supported their own stable of elite athletes.

Unfortunately, quite a large gap exists between those early days and the middle of the 19th century, when bodybuilding began in earnest in North America and throughout Europe. At the first modern Olympics in 1896, there were two weightlifting events, variations of which continue today. Many North Americans were first exposed to bodybuilding through the strongman at traveling circus sideshows and carnivals. The man credited with ‘inventing’ many of the contemporary bodybuilding techniques was a German named Eugen Sandow, who, like many other strongmen before (and since), traveled with sideshows until the 1890’s. Before long, however, he came to see his body as a work of art, and began touring to show off his amazing physique during “Muscle Display Performances.” Hired as the personal fitness trainer to King George V, he was able to reach out to the public and advocate the potential of the human body through diet and increased physical activity. He was very influential in starting up a Ministry of Health, among other initiatives. As early as his influence was on bodybuilding, he is still revered as a deserving pioneer in the body building industry — as a tribute, the Mr. Olympia trophy is a gold statue of Sandow.

By the time Sandow died in 1925, bodybuilding had begun to take on some degree of popularity throughout England and Europe. Weightlifting equipment such as barbells and dumbbells were available commercially throughout the world, and a new generation of (mostly) men began lifting weights to create a more ‘masculine’ physique. To give you an example of the popularity of bodybuilding, who hasn’t heard of Charles Atlas? He was in his hey-day in the 1930’s, and he’s still a household name.


The “Golden Age” of bodybuilding is recognized as the years between 1940 and 1970. There were many new magazines devoted to the sport, and international organizations were in charge of hosting competitions for athletes worldwide. Most of us have an internal image, however stereotypical, of big guys lifting weights on the beach — it’s almost archetypal — but that place existed in Santa Monica, California. It has been referred to as Muscle Beach since the 1930’s. It was during this period when the basic ideology of bodybuilding was laid out: ‘train for health, strength, fitness and refined muscular development.’

For many, the bodybuilders of this period represent the height of masculinity. The competitors were huge, but still had some body fat. They were strong, but the average person could relate to them much more easily than anybody can to today’s ultra-chemically-enhanced bodies. Movies such as Tarzan and Spiderman featured bodybuilders-turned-actors in the roles of amazing super-men. Professional bodybuilders such as Lou Ferrigno and (now Governor) Arnold Schwarzenegger continued this trend from the 1970’s, taking us all the way up to today. For a great (if exaggerated) representation of bodybuilding in the 70’s, see the movie Pumping Iron. For many, that film represents the height of bodybuilding, even though those athletes are much less exaggerated than today’s.

Many believe that the sport of competitive bodybuilding has gone a little too far over the past twenty years. Whatever the case, constantly-improving supplements, steroids, and workout routines will ensure that tomorrow’s bodybuilders will be even bigger, leaner, and stronger. And probably more chemically tanned. And although all the right drugs and supplements help to refine the physiques of these athletes, it is undeniable that such an activity still takes an incredible amount of dedication and hard work. And we haven’t even touched on the subject of female bodybuilders! There are a multitude of resources on bodybuilders, bodybuilding and personal transformations on the internet. I generally try to avoid plugging other websites here, but bodybuilding.com is the BME of fitness.


It’s now been four months since I started my training, and it’s still going great. I haven’t missed any sessions (except when I’ve been out of town) and I haven’t let myself give up before an entire workout, even though I’ve felt very, very close to doing so. On occasion, the only thing that keeps me there is the thought that I know that I will recover in time. It is very often tough to push yourself without a workout partner, though I am doing my best. I find it’s easiest if I challenge myself to get the most out of my workouts.

What I’d never really considered before this month is how much the outside world can affect your dedication to consistent training. This has been a very tough month for me in many ways, and as we all know, this has a tendency to affect our bodies. I haven’t let this happen, however, and I am better off for it. I remain dedicated to my physical transformation, and though my goals are still formulating in my mind, I know I’m one step closer with every visit to the gym. I find it much easier to resist all the grossly fattening foods I used to feel so guilty about eating, and when I give in to temptation, I’m no longer riddled with that same feeling. I enjoy eating the occasional “cheat meal,” because as dedicated as I am, I still have to enjoy life. This has even rubbed off on my partner, who is now eating healthier than ever before (and seeing results after just a few weeks!) and enjoying herself at the same time. It just goes to show that you don’t have to starve yourself to lose weight — just a conscious decision to make the change for the better.

I now totally understand why “workout people” hate to miss a session. What one person calls obsession is simply dedication to another. If I miss one date at the gym, it sets me back almost an entire week. At this point I’m going to the gym six times per week: weightlifting is twice with my trainer and twice by myself, in addition to the three sessions of cardiovascular exercise I have recently undertaken. On Mondays and Thursdays I work my back, my shoulders and my arms, and on Tuesday and Friday I work my chest and my legs. Aside from having missed one session due to Thanksgiving and having trouble getting back into the swing of things, this “split routine” is going well. Certain areas of my body are reacting well to it, and others are still lagging behind. The problem with an area that’s not developing well is that it won’t improve if you just add more weight — you need to work out smarter, not harder, or the muscle fibers will not heal.

Unfortunately, on my first “alone” session without the trainer, I pushed myself a little too hard. At the time, I felt great. “Wow, I can push more weight than I thought!” But that led to problems at my next session with the trainer, because I could barely lift any weight at all. The same for the session after that. I had torn my muscles so badly that I hadn’t recovered in a whole week. It set me back and I promised myself I’d never do that again. The idea, as I’ve found out, is to stimulate the muscles into growing, not tear them to shreds so that they take forever to heal (and don’t necessarily gain you any strength or size once they have healed). Muscles get bigger and stronger while outside of the gym, and that’s why it’s important to eat plenty of healthy food and get lots of rest. You can tear the muscles all you want, but you won’t see any gains if you over-do it or fail to get adequate nutrition and sleep.

Statistically, I’m improving constantly, which has become my main motivation.

Former refers to July 14, the date of my first workout.
Current refers to November 7.

Former Body Weight: 175.0 lbs / 79.3 Kg
Current Body Weight: 190.0 lbs / 86.2 Kg

Former Body Fat: 20.7% — 35.2 lbs / 16.0 Kg
Current Body Fat: 15.0% — 27.8 lbs / 12.6.0 Kg

Former Fat-Free Mass: 79.3% — 135.2 lbs / 61.3 Kg
Current Fat-Free Mass: 85.0% — 157.6 lbs / 71.5 Kg

So…. that’s a total gain of 15.0 lbs. Fat loss of 7.4 lbs. Muscle gain of 22.4 lbs.

Again, I keep getting told that my progress has been amazing. Every time I look down at my still-fat ‘gut’, I am reminded that the second phase of my bodybuilding endeavor, the “cutting” phase (losing fat/cardio exercise) is just around the corner. My main priority has been to add muscle to my frame — if I had simply done cardio work from the beginning, I would have lost the fat by now, but I wouldn’t have had any muscle underneath it. And now I do, so I am preparing to start ‘chiselling’ down the fat and working on problem areas. I feel like a science experiment with all this weight gain and weight loss, and it’s only going to get worse, but better at the same time. I am excited to start losing fat, but I still feel like I need to gain a little more muscle (maybe 10lbs) before I do.


Unfortunately, the pictures I took don’t come close to showing the true changes in my body shape. I’ve gained inches everywhere, and muscles are now starting to separate and get bigger at the same time. Hopefully next update will bring a much more improved version of my body!


Dustin Sharrow



“The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings. Let food be your medicine.”
– Hippocrates

As asked many times over, how does one become overweight to the point of obesity? Though I am far from a doctor or scientist, after a little research it becomes clear that this issue is akin to the debate of which came first — the chicken or the egg. Does it come down to a simple matter of control of our eating patterns, or are we prey to companies who create high-fat, high-sugar foods without our knowing it?

We’d all like to think that it takes a profoundly lazy person to be so inactive and eat so poorly that they gain a substantial amount of weight. Of course, for some that is the case, but by and large I believe that people do care about their health. Unfortunately, many of us live in a time where it is difficult to eat healthy meals and get as much exercise as we should be. However, many people consider themselves healthy (or at least not unhealthy) when in fact they quite often are not. It seems that many people are quite content to be a little overweight, and of course they have that right. Many will argue that one does not need to be lean to be healthy, and in certain circumstances I will agree — I have seen it with my own eyes, in the case of a successful middle-aged marathon runner who is more than fifty pounds overweight. But this is the exception to the rule. I had always imagined that I was in better shape than I was. I figured that just because I had gained a few (that turned out to be almost thirty) pounds didn’t mean that I wasn’t in decent shape. I knew there were muscles under there somewhere. Of course, I hadn’t seen them in a few years, and now that I think about it, climbing a couple of sets of stairs was becoming more and more difficult. You know the rest of the story.

To get back on track, we get fat from a combination of lack of proper exercise and terrible eating habits, the latter of which is the topic of this month’s article.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, very close to two-thirds of all American adults are overweight, and nearly half of those who are overweight are obese (“extremely or grossly overweight”), accounting for a full 61.3 million people over the age of twenty.

According the BME Megasurvey, a little over one third of those surveyed describe their weight as being ‘overweight,’ with just 2.3% of those surveyed indicating that they would describe themselves as being “extremely overweight.” I may not be a doctor, and I’m certainly no statistician, but quite simply there seems to be a very wide gap between Americans who think they are overweight (36.8%), and those who actually are overweight (64.5%). To extrapolate, nearly half of overweight people are in denial about being overweight, which is a telling sign of our times. It doesn’t take a leap of faith to figure out that on the whole, we don’t eat nearly as healthy as we should. Overweight and obesity-related illness cost American taxpayers $122.9 billion per year, second only to smoking-related illness. So the next time you ask somebody to ‘butt out,’ don’t be surprised if they ask you skip seconds 😉

But how can we, frankly? Take a look in your cupboards and count how many foodstuffs are processed, preserved, contain added sugars and a trillion other chemicals you can’t pronounce. I am positive that it will outnumber the amount of fresh food you have in your refrigerator. But you’re not unique, of course. Unless you live on a farm and can grow and harvest your own food, you will be consuming food with these additives. It’s just the way it is, and it won’t change anytime soon.

It’s up to you to change.

By purchasing fresh food and produce, you benefit in ways you’d never imagined — from supporting local farmers to sending a message that you won’t tolerate (or at least won’t consume — which means lost income for corporations) the sheer amounts of added sugars, colours, preservatives, and pesticides that come with the food you’re eating. It’s your choice, and ultimately, your health.


The average person’s daily caloric requirement is between 1600 and 2200 calories. I’m not going to bore you with more statistics, but suffice it to say that many of us are not eating a well-balanced diet including choices from all of the food groups. While the Food Guide Pyramid has come under fire recently for various reasons, it’s recommendations are correct supposing that you live a moderately active lifestyle, which it is obvious that most of us don’t. Diet fads have come and gone, and most of you have probably tried one or two yourselves, but unless it is nutritionally balanced, invariably it will not work. Though vegans and vegetarians are stereotyped as being frail and skinny, there is some truth to that. It is very difficult to consume an adequate amount of protein (which helps build muscle) without eating animal products — very difficult, but not impossible*. This is especially true if you hope to lead a very active lifestyle. There are many supplements out there that will help you balance your diet, but they are just supplements, and do not take the place of ‘whole’ foods.

* Editor’s note: I began my exercise program about the same time as Dustin, and in that time period have dropped my body fat level from 23% to 18%, and have also put on 16 pounds of lean muscle mass. I eat a very strict vegan diet (high protein from beans and so on), take no supplements of any kind (including protein drinks), and have had no difficulty in maintaining and gaining mass.

To be more active than your average person (who, as we’ve seen, isn’t very active at all) and not consume animal products takes some serious dedication. In fact, there is a small but growing number of vegetarian and vegan bodybuilders who compete in world-class events such as the Mr. Natural competitions. There are approximately 6000 “natural” amateur bodybuilders in the United States.

I suppose I should talk about the Atkins diet, the eating plan that proposes to cut out carbohydrates and recommends increasing your amount of protein. The short-term numbers indicate that many people have been able to lose significant amounts of weight in this manner. While losing weight is a good start to becoming healthier, it certainly won’t make you healthy. To be healthy you must also exercise at least moderately, and to do that you must take in a certain amount of carbohydrates. It seems that most who are on the Atkins diet are simply attempting to shed a few pounds, but those who believe that they can get fit may be in for a rude awakening. I’m glad to see people on the road to weight-loss, but I’d rather see them on the highway to fitness. The Atkins plan is no easy task — it takes a life-long dedication to watching exactly what you eat, and really affords little room for getting into shape because of the lack of carbohydrate intake. On the other hand, if you were to eat a well-balanced diet (including the odd piece of cake) and exercise just three days per week, you’d be in much better physical shape, though you may not lose as much weight (partially because muscle weighs significantly more than fat). Several professional fitness experts I’ve spoken to have referred to the Atkins diet as the Fatkins diet, and now you know why.

In my first meeting with my personal trainer, he informed me that I needed to increase my caloric intake from roughly 2000 calories per day to 3000. In other words, eat 50% more food. Which actually sounded pretty good to me, until I had to eat that much for more than just a couple of days. After figuring out how much protein I’d have to consume (one gram for every pound of lean muscle; about 135), I decided to purchase and start drinking protein powder shakes. I looked around until I found the powder with the highest concentration of protein, and started drinking one or two shakes per day, depending on the day of the week and how I feel about drinking the most disgusting liquid I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting. I can be very picky about the textures of foods (I will never, ever eat or drink anything with pineapple or avocado), and this stuff is near the top of the list of worst to consume. It’s worth the sacrifice, however, since the 60g of protein I get from one shake (500ml with skim milk) means two less cans of tuna or two less portions of chicken per day, which really helps. I’m still working the kinks out of my diet, and am hoping to get some variety in there somewhere. Unfortunately, eggs don’t agree with me in numerous ways, so my consumption of them has to be limited.

Here is a sample from my food log from the first week of my training. Keep in mind that I am not a giant (I’m barely even short) and this amount of food requires some serious effort:

8:30am: half cup oatmeal, 500ml protein shake in skim milk with banana and three strawberries
12:30pm: BBQ hamburger with small garden salad, 350ml iced tea
5:00pm: Half turkey and ham sub on wholewheat bread with cheese and mayo and veggies, 500ml chocolate milk
8:00pm: Other half of sub sandwich, 250ml water
10:30pm: Chicken breast with hot peppers, green peas, 250ml protein shake with a half banana and three strawberries

This is in addition to the normal two liters of water daily. At first that part was difficult because of water retention, but is now quite easy, and as a side effect I don’t need to drink nearly as much water during my workouts because I am already hydrated. I am also beginning to lose some of that ‘water weight,’ though that will take some time.

At this point, I will soon be attempting to cut down the fat in my diet (without sacrificing protein) to shed some pounds. On the counter at my gym sits a yellow-orange squishy lump, which I was told today was one pound of (simulated) fat. I immediately thought of the 30 or so pounds of that stuff dispersed under my skin. If you saw that lump, you’d be at the gym with me tomorrow morning.

Arnold Schwarzenegger posting at age sixteen, as seen in his 1977 book The Education of a Body Builder

Arnold Schwarzenegger posting at age sixteen, as seen in his 1977 book The Education of a Body Builder.


In the weeks since my first official day of training, July 14, my overall strength has increased by 79.28%. I can bench press 62% more weight, I can ‘calf raise’ twice as much as when I started, and I can squat 244% more weight than in my first week. I’ve always been one for numbers, and these help, but beyond all of that I feel outstanding. I’m sure you’ll read that line every time I write a new column.

My measurements have also increased, in some cases substantially:

Thigh: increased 2.75″ to 24″
Calf: increased 3″ to 17.5″
Chest: increased 4.5″ to 41.5″
Waist: increased 1″ to 37″ (not so good, but lower back muscles are developing)
Bicep: now at 14″ (previous measurement long-forgotten)

That’s a total (not including biceps) gain of 11.25″ in just six weeks.

At this point, I have completed approximately seventeen one-hour sessions with my trainer, and this Wednesday I will be signing up for thirty more. Over the coming months we will see each other less and less while I spend more and more time getting fit at the gym. When we both agree on a time, I will start training four days per week (two days upper body, two days lower) instead of the current three, where I am performing a full-body workout. In recent weeks, as the intensity increases, I am able to exercise for longer periods of time, but each workout takes a lot out of me, to the point where I have come very close to throwing up. By splitting up the routines into upper and lower body I should be able to focus more on some areas than others, and give attention to the spots that really need it. Every week I am learning more and more about what I’m doing — including how to work smarter instead of harder — and my body is becoming accustomed to the routine. Every day I am better able to isolate certain muscles, and at the end of every week I can easily see the development of certain areas, which for me is a great motivator.

Before I sign off I’d like to propose a challenge to everybody reading this: For the next week, I challenge you to stop eating before you feel full at every meal. In some Eastern cultures it is customary to stop eating when you feel “80% full”. If everybody did this, we’d certainly not be seeing the problems with obesity that we do. I guarantee you’ll feel much better by the end of the week, and you just may be inspired enough to get outside and play.

You can thank me later.


Dustin Sharrow

Next month I’ll take a look at the history of bodybuilding.

The Dreaded Before


“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger

Not a day has gone by in the past year that I haven’t been grossed out by my physical appearance. It’s one thing to be a short man in this world… it’s entirely another to be a short, fat man, and I felt like I was on a sinking ship. My sedentary lifestyle, combined with my eating habits and busy schedule had taken their toll on my body, and I decided this spring that I would make no more excuses and get into shape. This was no longer a matter of desire to look and feel better, but a need to change my lifestyle. As many of you can appreciate, feeling uncomfortable in your own skin is one of the worst feelings you can have.

In my last column, I declared my intention for this series of articles — partly to document my own progress and process of physical training. This column will concern itself with giving you my background (why I’m doing what I’m doing), and lay bare my semi-nude soul, complete with measurements, in hopes that the pictures and numbers will improve in the coming months.

It wasn’t until the past two years that I noticed how much weight I was gaining. To be more precise, it wasn’t the weight, but rather how out of shape I felt. I played various sports at the competitive level from the ages of eleven to eighteen — at age sixteen, before anybody knew that I had stopped growing, I had try-outs for two Major League Baseball teams in Canada and the US. As with baseball, I also played hockey, often in international tournaments on a competitive team. Believe it or not, I was even a captain of my high school football team. And though I couldn’t have been farther in ideology from the stereotypical jock, I was proud of my physique. Athleticism and competition came easy to me.

That was, of course, until I left for university. For the past four years, my only physical activity has been skateboarding on an occasional basis. This, combined with my new-found love for food (I’d previously thought of food as simply fuel for my body) allowed me to become out of shape and overweight to the point where it started to affect my self-esteem. I couldn’t fit into several of my favorite pairs of pants and I had trouble with physical activities that had never previously given me any trouble. In some ways I can understand how overweight people continue to gain weight — it’s easier to take the elevator than the stairs, and the more you take the elevator, the less of a choice you have — it’s more difficult for somebody thirty or more pounds overweight to climb several sets of stairs, or even do simple things like take out the trash or play with their children. To use that tired cliche, it’s a destructive cycle, to say the least.

I must admit that one of my prime motivators to get back into shape is my appearance. It’s difficult to express exactly how or why I feel that this is important to me. While clothed, I do not appear out of shape any more than the next person. But like many men, I carry my weight around my stomach, and in the past two years I’ve really noticed a growing bulge when I looked down (my stomach, silly!). Leaning against the front counter in the lobby of the body art studio where I worked reminded me of this: my stomach was the first thing to hit the counter as I leaned forward, and it always felt bloated, an external extension of my “real” body.

Well, it’s time to lay bare the nitty-gritty, no matter how embarrassing some of it may be. Welcome to “Dustin: Before!”

At this point, I’ve completed my first week of training with Will, my personal trainer at a large fitness centre in downtown Toronto. Will has trained several fitness and body-building champions throughout Ontario, and at his hourly rate, I’m fairly certain that I’m in good hands. I think it’s fairly important to remark here that I was greeted with a warm smile by everybody I met on my first visit to this club. This isn’t to advertise for this company (I’m not going to give away the name), but this made me feel much more comfortable than I had anticipated. I expected a bunch of steroid junkies and anorexic women, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. This situation is similar to visiting a new body modification studio: your first question to yourself should be do I feel comfortable? I certainly did.

[Editor’s note: In my own case, I held off going to the gym for so long because I was embarrassed to be so out of shape. I was deathly afraid to parade my shame in front of people who I knew would be in dramatically better shape… I was surprised to find out that the people I met at the gym, no matter how fit they were, never judged me or treated me with disdain — the worse shape I appeared to be in, the happier they were to see me there, knowing what a wonderful positive adventure I was beginning. If you are holding off on making this change in your life for this reason, don’t let it stop you!]

Ten minutes after meeting Will for the first time, he had me jump through some hoops (figuratively) to figure out my “before” measurements. I stood on this space age-looking machine, which told me I weighed twenty pounds more than I thought I did! I knew that I was in for a rough ride. I even had the nerve to tell Will that I thought the scale was wrong. The last time I had weighed myself was when I was in shape at 145 pounds. Because of a semi-sedentary lifestyle since then, and because I don’t actually have a second or third chin, I had imagined my weight hovering near 155 lbs. Boy was I wrong! After this, Will took a tape measure to my body and wrote it all down. I was then given a print-out from the space age machine which confirmed just how out of shape I was:

Height: 5′ 6″
Age: 23
Clothed: Yes

Current Body Weight: 175.0 lbs / 79.3 Kg1
Total Body Fat: 20.7%2 35.2 lbs / 16.0 Kg
Fat-Free Mass: 79.3% 135.2 lbs / 61.3 Kg
Total Body Water: 60.5%3 46.8 ltr
Body Mass Index: 274

Your target weight range is 151.4 to 159.5 lbs.

1 approximately 20 lbs overweight
2 average male body fat is 10% to 20%
3 this number is very low, indicative of excessive body fat
4 does not take into account muscle vs. fat weight

While I have no idea how many calories I’d normally consume in a day, a normal range for me should be approximately 2000 calories. I was told that I was going to have to up my caloric intake to 3000 calories per day in order to build muscle with the level of activity I was about to undertake with Will every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. The most difficult part of the past two weeks has been eating as much as I’m supposed to. Even though I am overweight, I almost always eat very well and try not to over-eat. Fortunately, I was accustomed to eating several smaller meals throughout the day, but now because of my increased caloric intake, I find myself eating much more than I used to. The increased intake is so that I can gain muscle while working out, instead of using my existing muscle to fuel my workouts. Breakfast is still something that I’m getting used to, and because of the foods and protein that I’m eating so early in the morning, my stomach often puts up a good fight — but I haven’t lost yet.

My before measurements are as follows:

Chest: 37″
Waist: 36″ (wow!)
Thigh: 21.25″
Calf: 14.5″

It goes without saying that I won’t be winning any body building championships anytime soon… as you can see here:


With that out of the way, we started a 45-minute fitness assessment, which involved me sweating my brains out while trying to do the simplest of activities such as push-ups and sit-ups. The last time I did these exercises I didn’t have nearly this much trouble! I grunted and sweated and grunted some more throughout the short session. My body felt like it should have given up long ago, but I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the day — I may be woefully out of shape, but at least I was taking control and doing something about it! I felt on top of the world. Invincible.

That is, until I had to shower. I couldn’t take my shirt off! The sheer amount of sweat had adhered my shirt to my swollen body, and I could barely move my arms. This part wasn’t so much fun. I spent the next day trying to make up for my lack of stretching, but it didn’t do much good. I’ve since learned my lesson and always spend at least ten minutes stretching after each session.

I have had only five sessions since that fateful day, and I can say without hesitation that I am already stronger than I was last week. I have figured out a stretching routine and I look forward to going to the gym to see if I can better last session’s results. I have always been competitive, so competing with my previous self, in order to see progress, is not a difficult thing to do. Sure, I get disappointed when I can’t lift as much weight or do as many push-ups as the last time I worked out. But I don’t get discouraged because at least I’m doing something! More than anything, it’s great to actually feel alive again. Far from being a chore or a punishment, my workouts have already helped improve my confidence, my energy level and my spirits. My posture is better, and I no longer have any bouts of hypoglycemia. My skin has even cleared up!

In conclusion, I cannot stress enough how much I love the feeling of being alive again and taking part in life rather than letting it pass by. I realize that I sound like a cheerleader, and that’s fine. I have decided to make physical fitness and activity a permanent part of my life, not something to do in order to shed a few pounds while writing an article for an e-zine. The results are already showing, and I can’t wait to give you an update next month!


Dustin Sharrow

Next month’s column will give you an update about my progress, as well as discussing proper nutrition.

Your Body as Temple?


“I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life a champion.”
– Muhammad Ali

One of the oldest and most commonly used justifications for body modification is the ‘temple’ metaphor — “Your body is a temple. Have you ever seen an unadorned temple?”

If the body truly is a temple, then why are so many people abusing it and letting it fall apart? I am not referring to the act of piercing or tattooing or to any other skin-deep modification. I am talking about how most of us abuse our bodies through inactivity, improper nutrition, lack of rest, and elevated levels of stress. If it’s true that we’ve become the fattest generation of people the world has ever seen, then it also holds true that we in fact have very little control over our bodies, something that each and every one of us claims to have gained through our body modification endeavours. If we care so much about our personal temples, exactly how do we let ourselves become twenty pounds overweight? Fifty? One hundred?

David Patchell-Evans, champion rower and the successful entrepreneur of The Good Life Fitness Clubs, brings physical fitness into the ‘temple’ equation:

"Imagine yourself as a house. Your fit body is your foundation. An unfit body is an unstable foundation. If your intellect and emotions are the walls, and your foundation is fit, those walls stay up straight and help you hold your treasures inside. If the walls are vulnerable because your foundation is shaky, the house could fall apart. Think of your soul as the roof. To be truly self-actualized, everything below the roof needs to be in good working order. Everything works together to make the dwelling place that is you."

Over the past three years working in the body modification industry, I have noticed two things. The first is that as a portion of the general population, we’re some of the kindest, most generous people out there. We’ve all had to deal with the insults and snickers behind our backs, and for many of us these acts of prejudice have made us mentally tougher. My second observation is that many of us are out of shape, and even obese. While I’m sure that this reflects the physical status of the general population, it strikes me as peculiar that the very people who choose to adorn themselves with jewelry and markings on their skin manage to neglect the fitness of their body as a whole.

I say this not to be mean or cruel, but because I’m right there with you. After four years of intense schooling and working simultaneously in this industry, my fitness level has decreased significantly, while my waistline has grown to reflect this. (I’ve even heard reference to something called a “tattooist’s gut.”) While I’ve never been thin, and perhaps never will be, I was in great shape as a teenager. I played baseball internationally, was the captain of my high school football team, and played competitive hockey, to name a few activities that were an integral part of my adolescence. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way I decided to prioritize school and money over my physical fitness, and now I find myself desperately trying to get back into shape and lose the weight I’ve put on over the past four years.

The concept of this series of articles is to chronicle my physical transformation from David into Goliath. Well, maybe a five foot six inch Goliath, but you get the point. Over the next several months I will be documenting my physical (fitness) transformation via photos, statistics and stories. I have joined a reputable fitness club and hired their best personal trainer to push me harder than I can on my own — with your body, there are no quick fixes or short cuts. I am motivated and ready to see the changes I will be making to my body in the weeks and months to come. While I have not yet set out goals on paper, my plan is to change not only my overall fitness level, but the entire shape of my body. I do not wish to become the next Arnold or Incredible Hulk, but any gain in lean muscle at this point is a step forward in matching my imagined self with my real self. Maybe once I am happy with the shape and fitness of my body, I can once again concentrate on adorning it through traditional body modification methods.

I realize that this is just the beginning; that I have very much to learn and even more to look forward to. And while I haven’t hashed out exactly the subjects of each column, there are several areas which I will bring to you in hopes that you too will be inspired by my transformation to become more physically active. As you’ll see, it is a long road ahead, but I am intent on reclaiming control over my body, just as many of you claim to do when getting pierced or tattooed. Perhaps when I have control again, I can use the ‘temple’ metaphor to refer to something more than just skin deep.

Until next time,
Dustin Sharrow

Next week’s column will offer a perspective on why having a healthy body is important to each and every one of us. I will also offer up my before personal statistics and photos, as well as my thoughts about having completed my first week of training after three years of inactivity!