A Woman of Iron : Bodybuilding: Champion Carrie Deysher does more than indulge her interest in staying fit. The registered nurse also uses her knowledge of exercise and diet to help heart patients.


Carrie Deysher’s patients probably wouldn’t recognize her at the gym.

A registered nurse in the post-cardiac care unit at Encino Hospital, Deysher, 36, of Encino won the 1990 Mixed Pairs National Bodybuilders Competition and went on to represent the United States last year in the World Games in Mexico City, placing third.

Deysher spends a few hours a day bench-pressing her weight--118 pounds--and giving a rotating set of muscle groups a steady workout. She loves it. She also said she likes the idea that her bodybuilding breaks the stereotype she feels many people have of nurses--that most aren’t fit or muscular.


She also enjoys the process itself. “I think it’s kind of a meditation, just thinking, looking down at your muscle, flexing, relaxing, flexing. As a care giver, you can never stop to think of yourself. In bodybuilding, you can think about yourself for an hour or more at a time,” she said.

Deysher reflects what many say is a growing interest among women in bodybuilding. At Gold’s Gym in North Hollywood, where Deysher works out, more than 2,000 bodybuilders use the gym regularly and 35% to 40% are women, according to Angel Banos Jr., gym president.

“Bodybuilding has come out of the closet,” he said, “and for a $300-a-year investment, you’ve got a hobby.”

Carol Ann Weber, a writer for Flex magazine and Women’s Physique World, said the number of women in bodybuilding has tripled in the past five years. She says bodybuilding is a feminist issue because “women are wearing their power, saying without apology, ‘We’re strong.’ ”

But Deysher says she’s not a feminist. She has always been interested in fitness, but it wasn’t until 1987 that she started in bodybuilding. She got into competition when a fellow female bodybuilder at the gym suggested she should “get on the stage,” said Deysher, and she thought the competition of shows would be fun. And it is fun, she said, although she gets nervous before she performs.

Not all the comments she gets are positive. “I’m in a sport that isn’t accepted by everyone. Some people don’t like muscles on women. People ask me, ‘Why do you want to look like a man?’ There’s been a set look on how women should look for a long time, and maybe that’s changing,” she said.


Deysher has tapped her nursing knowledge to help build a winning diet and exercise plan. Poring over the anatomy, physiology and nutrition books she used over 10 years ago as a student at Valley College’s nursing department, Deysher relearned the basics of how muscles work and how fat is used by the body.

She created a 1,500-calorie-a-day, low-fat, high-protein, high-carbohydrate diet for herself, incorporating five meals a day. The proper diet, she said, is essential to winning a competition, because if she can’t get down to less than 7% or 8% body fat, her muscles just won’t show properly. Only occasionally does she go off her strict diet, and then it’s for ice cream--the low-fat variety.

It’s her knowledge of low-fat diets and how to incorporate exercise and lifestyle changes into her daily routine that she says is most important in her work with heart patients. “Patients are usually crushed when they find out they have to eat low-fat, low-salt diets. So I tell them that I do it--by choice--and I offer them ways I use to make the food more palatable,” she said. “I try to convince them that the diet isn’t punishment, it’s a treat for their bodies.”

She also finds her bodybuilding a boon in lifting and moving patients. “I don’t get tired as easily as I would if I didn’t have this endurance, and I understand body mechanics, so even though I’m short--5 feet tall--I can use my strength effectively,” she said.

Deysher helps other professionals and friends--even some celebrities she meets at the gym--create low-fat diets to use in conjunction with bodybuilding. Alice Marlis, 42, of Encino, a pharmacist at AMI Medical Center of North Hollywood, is working with Deysher to burn off fat around her hips. “For the first time I can feel the muscles in my thighs,” she said, “and Carrie has been such an enthusiastic teacher.”

Sharon Guthrie, assistant professor in the physical education department at Cal State Long Beach, is finishing a pilot study on female bodybuilders. She said she is finding that as women watch their bodies grow and change, their self-esteem becomes more unwavering--less affected by the comments of others--and they develop a sense of control and independence.

Deysher agrees. She says bodybuilding has changed her emotionally, making her more outgoing and confident than before.

She also feels more in control of things, something she felt she really needed. In 1975, her father and sister were killed in a car accident, and her mother was seriously injured. Deysher, at 20, found herself instantly head of the family, with only her younger brother and convalescing mother left. Since that trauma, Deysher said, she has tried to get as much control of her life as she can because she realizes that there’s so much she can’t dictate.

“You can control what you eat and how you exercise,” she said. “And then you realize that you can create muscles, you can create anything you want.”

Gray is a regular contributor to Valley View.