The two-time Ms. Figure Olympia believes that each of us are the best in the world at one thing. Here, she looks back on the obstacles that helped her find her true calling—and offers advice for how you can find yours.
BY SJ McSHANE
ROBERT IRVINE MAGAZINE: First off, congratulations on your new cookbook Bodybuilder’s Kitchen. Can you tell us what inspired you to write this book and what people can expect from it?
ERIN STERN: I wanted to share my favorite recipes for getting lean and staying lean. Many people have the idea that healthy food has to be bland and boring, and that meal prep is only for “meatheads”. The book contains 100 recipes for main dishes, sides, snacks, and healthy indulgences. Most recipes use around five ingredients, but are combined in unique ways or use cooking techniques that people might not be familiar with. Dishes are easy to prepare, taste good, and take a short amount of time to cook. There are also comprehensive meal plans and shopping lists, which make getting in shape a lot easier.
What are some of your favorite recipes from the book?
I love the Meatza recipes and the Choco-cado Mousse. The Meatza recipe uses lean ground meat for the pizza base and is easily customized to adapt to any meal plan. The Choco-cado mousse contains dark cocoa powder and avocado and blends into a dreamy, creamy delicious indulgence that’s actually healthy and satisfying.
“Helping you find your greatness” is a tagline you use in your Instagram bio. Can you explain what you mean by that, and how you are able help others find their greatness?
I believe that every one of us is the best in the world at something. We’re all born with a gift. The gift can’t be found by imitating others or by trying to fit in. Each one of us must dig deep and find our purpose, or our “why”. I hope that by sharing my life, story, workouts, and by asking questions, that it will help others find their own unique qualities – to find the strength and beauty that lies within them. I think that a lot of social media posts can make people feel worse about themselves. People tend to focus on what others have (and what they don’t), even though they’re basically looking at a mirage. I hope to promote the real, and to provide solutions that make people feel great!
(You can order the book on Amazon by clicking HERE.)
You’re a two-time Ms. Figure Olympia, no retired. Do you miss it at all? Or does your body feel better now that you’ve adapted a more year-round sustainable approach?
I really miss competing. But, the division has changed to a more muscular look that I don’t consider my ideal physique. So, it didn’t make sense to try and continue to train for something that I couldn’t achieve…and didn’t aspire to look like! Dieting for competitions creates a pendulum effect. Competitors must deprive themselves for weeks on end, and usually face weeks of trying to get cravings and metabolism back to normal. There’s also a psychological effect of dieting as competitors get used to seeing their shredded, spray-tanned physiques as normal. So, a healthy weight can seem “fat” after a show. It took about a year for my body to find equilibrium, and it does feel better. I have a much healthier relationship with food, and keep an even weight year-round. It definitely took work to get back to that equilibrium, both physically and mentally. I think it comes down to really appreciating our strengths and not beating ourselves up for our weaknesses. We must be kind to ourselves, always. That takes daily effort until it becomes a habit!
You’ve been called “One of the greatest figure icons in bodybuilding history.” If the teenage version of yourself who was just learning about fitness could hear that, what would she say? What would she think of your Olympia wins? Your magazine covers? Your book?
I think she would see me as someone to aspire to be like, and hopefully a reason to start lifting weights. I think she would see all that’s possible through hard work. I was once that teenage girl, and those magazine covers showed me that strength is beautiful. A woman can lift weights and have strong curves, not bulk. She can gain strength in all other intangible aspects of her life—just by facing and conquering the tangible challenges in the gym.
Name one setback that seemed like a major failure at the time but you’re grateful for now.
Before I started competing in figure, I faced setbacks in all aspects of my life. I failed at business, relationships, and failed personally. I had a real estate company, and the market tanked. I had just built a brand new house, and I couldn’t afford to pay the electric bill or furnish it. I often sat in the dark. I drove a Mercedes that ran on fumes all the time. I was in an abusive relationship that ended with me getting a restraining order and seeking safety at a women’s shelter. I overate and was out of shape. All of these setbacks happened at once. I hit the bottom. I only had my family and I had the gym. I started going again every day. It was my sanctuary. I gained strength, inside and out, and vowed to be the best in the world at something. And I did, by winning Olympia twice! Without that dark time, I wouldn’t be here now.
What is the best advice you can give someone who doesn’t know how to get started on a health and fitness regimen? Or someone who seems to keep getting stuck along the way?
The basics are a great way to get started on a regimen. Divide meals into portions rather than counting calories. Focus on whole food options like chicken, eggs, sweet potatoes, veggies and fruits. In the gym, focus on compound movements where more than one joint is working during an exercise. Examples include squats, bench press, pull-ups, military press, rows, and deadlifts. There are thousands of variations of these lifts and they can be performed with free weights, on machines or with cables. By simplifying meal plans and training programs, everything becomes less tedious. If someone is stuck, they need to switch up their training program and/or meal plan. People often stall while on a weight loss journey because they don’t eat enough. Make sure you’re pushing yourself and fueling yourself properly!
What’s your favorite body part to train?
I love training legs. There’s such a rush in being able to move a lot of weight! It’s also great stress relief.
What’s your favorite training method?
I have a hybrid style of training that I love. It’s a combination of athletic, powerful movements for maintaining strength and isolation movements for developing an aesthetic physique. I call it “20/20 training”. For the first 20 minutes, I focus on compound movements, Olympic lifts, heavy weights, and lower reps. For the next 20 minutes, I focus on aesthetic movements, isolation lifts, and really sculpting the body. This allows me to continue to train for power and speed and build the physique that I want.
What’s your biggest goal for the future?
Wow, there are so many goals for the future! I really want to create an online community that offers workouts, recipes, and support for people looking to get into the best shape of their lives—and make it a lifestyle. I’m not sure what type of platform it will be on. I just want to reach and help as many people as possible.
You’ve accomplished a lot in many different arenas. What’s the common thread in all your success?
Perseverance. I clung to every goal and pushed myself to see it through. If you want something badly enough, I believe you must persevere through all conditions. There will be setbacks, there will be naysayers, and there will be massive obstacles. But, on the other side of that is victory. If you know you can accomplish something and it’s your calling, nothing can stop you—except you!