January 3, 2013 | Comments: 25 Comments
Categories: Motivation, Nutrition, Science, Wellness
This is the longest blog post I have ever written, but it’s important.
Everybody screws up once in a while and sometimes it takes a while to realize there was a screw up. It took me almost four years to realize that I was making the same mistake every day. Every freaking day. I was starving myself.
I wasn’t not eating, but I was eating 1200 to 1400 calories per day and that just isn’t enough for me. I am only 5’2″, so I don’t need a ton of calories, but I am a personal trainer who moves almost all day, every day and I do need to eat enough to fuel that activity. I started eating 1200 to 1400 calories per day after I had a shoulder injury that prevented me from moving my arm at all for about six weeks. In that six weeks, I gained eight pounds. Not a lot, but not an inconsequential amount on a small frame like mine. I help other people get fit for a living, so walking around with the extra pounds was not acceptable to me. I already knew how to train, but I wanted more help with how much I should be eating. I entered some numbers into an online calculator and it told me to eat 1200 calories on days I didn’t train and 1400 on days I did. I trained most every day, so I ate mostly 1400. I lost the eight pounds in four weeks. I was actually kind of astonished. I didn’t think that I would lose the weight that fast.
Even though I had lost the weight, I still wasn’t happy with the way I looked. I didn’t have the muscle definition that I felt I should have considering my training schedule. I thought that if I lost a bit more fat, my awesome muscles would show through, so I kept eating 1400 calories. And didn’t raise it for three years. I ate more on days when I was really hungry, but I always came back to that little number. Always eating as organic and homemade as much as possible. Healthy eating became almost an obsession. In three years, I did not get rid of that last couple of pounds and I didn’t gain any more muscle. I was tired most of the time, cold all of the time, didn’t sleep well, rarely broke a sweat, even while leading group BOSU classes, and I was often cranky. I was too busy helping other people to notice that I wasn’t reaching my goals.
What I did notice and found to be bothersome was being tired constantly. I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I had anemia or hypothyroidism or adrenal fatigue and was looking to make appointments to get myself checked out when I had a brief conversation with my husband. About five months ago, he looked at me and said, “You don’t look like what I think someone should look like who works out as much as you do.” After a couple of seconds thought I replied, “You’re right.” This two-sentence exchange sent me into a tailspin, though I didn’t realize it at the time because the badness didn’t happen until about two weeks later, when the full force of what he said sunk in. I had been working my ass off in the gym lifting weights or doing HIIT five to six days a week and I still looked the same and my body fat percentage wasn’t changing. I started to stress and when I get this kind of stressed, I stop eating because eating makes me want puke and I hate puking. This lasted for a little over a month.
At this point, I wasn’t even eating 1000 calories per day because I just couldn’t and I still wasn’t losing weight. Then two things happened that changed everything. First, my husband took me out to dinner. Second, I read a blog post.
The dinner was a tipping point for me emotionally because when he told me where he made reservations, an awesome Italian restaurant, my initial reaction was to freak out. Why would he make a reservation at a pasta place?!? He knows I don’t eat pasta anymore! Fortunately, he knew this was going to be my reaction. We talked about it and I decided that I was no longer “almost” obsessed with “healthy” food, I was completely obsessed and should calm myself down and eat the pasta. I did and it was brilliant. I even had a glass of wine. And dessert. AND THE WORLD DIDN’T END. In fact, I felt much better than I had in a long while and was happy to have been able to eat food. Yay, food!
I read blogs from other fitness professionals all of the time, but most of them are not overly useful and I file them away in the recesses of my brain so that I will know what my clients are talking about when they ask me about The Warrior Diet or whatever is the hot thing that month. This blog post from Amber of GoKaleo was not like the others. It was like a Dwarven war hammer to the side of the head. It really was that heavy. (I’m a geek like that.) In it, she writes about when to eat for weight loss and when to eat for body recomposition. Eating for recomp means that you eat more food to fuel the building of muscle versus eating for weight loss where you want to restrict calories a bit. Her first two tips are that you should eat for recomp when, “You’re at, or close to, a healthy weight, even if it’s higher than you wish,” and, “Your weight loss has stalled and simply won’t budge no matter what you do.” I thought to myself, “Holy crap! That’s me!” Then I sat and wondered about what I had been doing to myself and I got pissed. Even while I was starving myself, I was helping other people lose weight and build muscle. I was doing right by them, but I was treating myself like a weight loss client instead of a body recomposition client. At 115 pounds, my weight was just fine. What was wrong with my brain and why did it take reading the same information I have given to clients in someone else’s blog for it to apply to me? At this point, I got really mad at myself because I know exactly why: I come from an overweight family and I was terrified that if I let my guard down, I would become obese overnight. My mom is 5’3 and was 225 pounds at her heaviest. My grandmother was 400 pounds when she died and at that weight, it doesn’t even matter how tall she was. Most of my maternal aunts and cousins are overweight, too. My mom has always struggled with her weight and I internalized every one of her negative cues about food and size. This sounds like I’m blaming my mom. I’m not. She didn’t force me to become obsessive about food and my weight, I did that all on my own.
These two events, the dinner and the blog post, happened about three months ago and everything has changed since then. I visited a different calorie calculator and got a pretty good estimate of how much I should be eating to gain muscle. I became my own science experiment. I raised my calorie intake by 100 calories week until I reached 1800 calories. Because this was for science, I didn’t change anything else. During the month of not eating, I dropped my workouts to four times per week, so I kept that schedule. I ate the same foods, just more. I lost two pounds and 3% body fat in no time. I am headed for that muscle definition I’ve always wanted. It’s pretty awesome to get to eat so much food and look the way I think I should. I’ve noticed other changes, too. I sweat during workouts. I’m not so cold anymore, not even my nose! I’m not tired all of the time. I sleep restful sleep and getting up in the morning isn’t so hard. I’m a lot less cranky. At least I think so, my clients may have other things to say.
I was on my way to 1900 calories when, thanks to my dog and a mud puddle, I injured my shoulder again. When that is healed up and I can get back to lifting heavy weights, I’ll give 1900 a go. Based on the calorie calculator, I’m guessing my best muscle building intake will be around 2050, but that is just a guess and I’m excited to do the science and find out!
TL;DR – Don’t starve yourself. Learn from my mistakes. Eat real food. Unless you have a medical condition, there is no reason to not eat any particular type of food, even pasta stuffed with mascarpone cheese and lobster then covered in a butter sauce. For real.