Photography by David Mullis

While you may remember her from season 6 of Ink Master, Marisa LaRen is far more than just a reality television contestant. She’s a dedicated athlete whose journey to achieving her fitness goals has been anything but a smooth ride. However, through sickness and health, she’s never given up on the gym. We sat down with LaRen to learn more about the challenges she’s experienced along the way and what advice she would give to people looking to get into the best shape of their lives.

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Take us through your fitness story and how you transformed both physically and emotionally. 

I grew up playing sports my whole life and was always extremely active. I played varsity softball and golf all through high school and was snowboarding every free day I had. My first year of college, I decided not to play sports and ended up partying and eating far too much. I was a bit of an overachiever so instead of the freshman 15, I did the freshman 55. I gained 55 pounds in the first three months of college and I was depressed and unhealthy. After that, I decided to start eating better and get into lifting weights for the first time. I fell in love with weightlifting and it brought a new drive and focus into my life. I decided to start bodybuilding shortly after and started training for my first bikini show in 2014. I ended up taking third in my first show and nationally qualifying. I didn’t get to compete again after that because sometimes life throws you curveballs. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs since then, but the gym has always been a constant for me, no matter what. There aren’t a lot of things in life that we have control over, but the gym gives me that. In the gym, I get to shut the world out for a bit and focus on one thing. Weight lifting helped me become not only physically stronger, but mentally as well. The gym is unsympathetic. In the gym, no one can do the work for you, no one can lift your weight, or lose your weight. It’s all up to you and how much you want it. You get to control how much work you put in. I have dealt with injury after injury and sickness after sickness, but my one constant has always been the gym.

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What was the most difficult part of your fitness journey?

The most difficult part of my fitness journey is a toss up between almost breaking my back and ending up with disc and structural problems or when I got really sick a few years ago. Honestly, knowing exactly what’s wrong is far better than not, so I would say the most difficult part of my fitness journey was a couple years ago. I ended up getting really sick out of nowhere and wasn’t able to get diagnosed for a year and a half. I was unable to keep down solid food for a year. Everything I ate, I threw up. I lost weight, couldn’t work out, I couldn’t even sweep the floor of the tattoo shop without almost passing out from over exertion. I saw doctor after doctor without any answers. I got blood work done three times, had an endoscopy and no one could give me answers. I later found out that my stomach had stopped producing stomach acid and wasn’t able to break down any of the food I was consuming and then recently, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune disease that attacks your thyroid. One of the side effects is decreased stomach acid. I did not know it at the time but that had been the root of my problems and no one could give me answers for over a year and a half. Since I went without help for so long, I developed a bunch of food intolerances, stomach issues, high cholesterol and hormone issues. It’s incredibly hard for me to lose fat and build muscle now but I do what I can, however I can. I never believe in giving up just because things aren’t easy. My journey has never been easy, but that just means I have to work a lot harder.

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What’s your current fitness and nutrition routine?

My current fitness routine is weight training usually 4-5 times a week and I do kickboxing 2-3 times a week. I try to focus on how my body feels a lot more now. I started doing intermittent fasting after I got sick and I really enjoy it. After I got sick, my stomach and body doesn’t work the same as it used to, so I eat smaller portions and stick to eating around 3-4 meals in an 8 hour window and then I fast for 16. I am currently doing a high fat, low carb, low protein diet. This is what I have to do with Hashimoto’s and it has definitely helped me feel a lot better.

How does social media play both a positive and negative role in the world of fitness? 

Social media can be extremely toxic if you use it incorrectly. Everything we see is an edited highlight reel. There are a ton of people nowadays who are either surgically enhancing or digitally enhancing their bodies and giving people false expectations. When we see these “perfect” looking people, it’s easy to fall into the negative mindset of “why don’t I look like them?” Unfortunately, they don’t even look like them. It is so imperative that we don’t compare our bodies and our lives to other people. We are not them and we are only setting ourselves up for failure and an unhealthy mindset. There are so many positive, informative and inspirational people out there. I think it is really important to be picky about who and what you follow online. We spend so much time on social media nowadays that the wrong stuff can poison our minds and have us feeling worse about ourselves. I think if you clean out who you follow and don’t get sucked into the falsity that social media can be super helpful and positive. It’s all about taking control and filtering out the bad.

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What do you wish people knew about your health and fitness journey?

I think a lot of people assume that if you look good now that you have always looked good and honestly that is not the case for me. I have been heavier, skinnier, stronger and weaker. I have struggled with a compressed spine, bulging and herniated discs, dislocations and torn muscles. I have nerve pain and sciatica and also hormone and stomach issues. My journey has never been easy. I have cried through workouts, I have been sick and broken. I have had to start over and over again. It has never been easy for me, but it has always been possible and I want people to know that so they can do it too.

How has fitness impacted your work as a tattoo artist?

Tattooing is a hard job on our bodies. We are either sitting or standing for long periods of time, hunched over. It’s terrible on our bodies. I know a ton of tattooers who suffer from neck, back and hip problems from working. Fitness allows me to counteract the tightness, muscle and skeletal problems I get from tattooing. I do a lot of stretching and mobility work to help with being hunched over all day.

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