Monday, February 25, 2008

God Put the Smack Down on Me

Well, I am in week...something...of this adventure, and I'm one week down in my diet challenge. My first week of eating more went pretty well. It was difficult to fight the temptation to cut my calories after gaining a few pounds, but I feel like I have found a happy place and I'm already feeling lighter and just generally healthier. It might be a placebo effect, or there might be some kind of actual change brewing. We'll find out soon enough.

My first big test was the weekend: a birthday party, then the urge to overindulge at dinner Saturday night, and on Sunday, friends over for lunch. But as much as I psyched myself up to resist the temptation, I didn't find it as hard as I expected. I know my former habits weren't getting me anywhere, and I am done with them. It was refreshing and calming to be back in control. For maybe the fourth time in my entire life, I relaxed. I know that for some of you, the idea of relaxation as a byproduct of hyperactive control might be an oxymoron, but those of you who know me well know that it's just how I am. Relaxation is foreign to me, and sometimes the only way I can get there is by knowing that I am in complete control of my surroundings. It's how I roll.

But maybe what really churned me on was something I read in my new favorite book. I have spent a good amount of time complaining about my slow metabolism, fat-hoarding genetics, and the general bad hand of cards I was dealt in regards to my overall physique. Basically, a bunch of griping about how unfair it was that while I worked out twice as hard as the person next to me, I had half of the results. I'll admit it: I was bitter. I joked that when I died, I was going to have a little one-on-one time with God and ask whether there was some kind of mix-up to explain why I had been given size medium bones and size large skin. But I wasn't really kidding. Call me shallow, but I was ticked.

I always felt that I could overcome the genetics and fight nature to get the results that I craved. That's why I was intrigued by this tidbit of information courtesy of author Lou Schuler: he tells us that when it comes to our diet and workouts, the results we see are only 40% determined by our genetics, and the other 60% is what we put in. Now, I'm paraphrasing, these ratios are estimates, and everyone is different, but it gives me hope that I can erase what I once thought was carved in stone.

So I've been using this bit of knowledge to motivate myself to run a little faster, do a couple more intervals, reach for the heavier weights, and pass on the birthday cake. I would just love to show up at the pearly gates and stick it to God and His Master Plan. (You thought I was going to be pudgy? Think again, sucka!)

And then God smited me. Okay, I probably had a little something to do with it, too. I've been trying to ignore the subtle throbbing in my knees after my workouts, and the slight feeling that I was doing something very, very bad to myself in my morning runs. I just turned up the music and hit the pavement, pushing aside the little voice in my head reminding me of the risks of high-impact sports. I am an endorphin junkie, and I needed my fix. But this week, I couldn't ignore it.

I'm at a crossroads. The warrior in me wants to suck it up and keep going, dealing with the consequences later when I'm old and I don't care about my abs anymore. But I know the truth. I'll always care about my abs.

This morning I walked. It sucked. I felt lame. I didn't even sweat. I don't know what I will do next, but one thing is certain - I learned my lesson about smack-talk with God.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Old Habits Diet Hard

I hate it when I'm right.

I've been on my "increased calorie plan" for a week now and I have gained three pounds. My pants are tighter, my belt more snug, and my monthly body fat measurement did not tell me happy things. I am not a happy camper.

My first instinct was to throw up my hands and say, "I can't work with this!" But then I took a deep breath and did some critical thinking about my habits over the past month. Was this really a case of gaining weight purely because I increased my calories? Or because I increased my intake of chips and Guinness? A little voice told me it was the latter.

I confess: I haven't exactly been a model student. While during the week I have been the picture of health, the weekends have been a different story. Two weekends I was out of town, and who goes to Mardi Gras without a little king cake? Okay, a lot of king cake. Then out of town again for almost a whole week on a business trip, where the hotel gym was crummy and I regretted not packing my own ice chest of food and shoving it into the overhead bin. My weekly Saturday splurge of filet mignon and dessert became accompanied by a bottle of wine, crackers and cheese, then chips and salsa, and finally cinnamon rolls for breakfast Sunday morning. And who can forget Valentine's Day? I convinced myself that since my transgressions were condensed into one 24-hour period, they could be ignored. But when that 24-hour period repeats itself in a constant 7-day loop, well, the calories start adding up. My wake-up call was loud and obnoxious, and there was no snooze button.

I'm ticked off at myself because I took two steps back, and because I knew better. But as I roamed around and moaned to my friends about how sorry they should feel for me, I didn't get any sympathy. They told me that I am in the best shape of my life, that at least I caught myself early and know how to turn it around, and that even with this small setback, I am still in better health than this time last year. They're right. I hate it when they're right.

I nursed my wounds for a while, and then I knew what I had to do: brush myself off and get back to it. My first instinct was to cut my calories back to my comfort zone and forget this silly experiment. I had already done enough damage and didn't want to risk losing any more ground. But curiosity won out. After all, I knew that my weight gain didn't have anything to do with one measley week of a new plan. I've done it my way for a long time and it hasn't gotten me where I want to be. I'm just curious - and crazy - enough to turn myself into a laboratory for one more month just to prove myself wrong.

So I went back to the gym with a vengeance. My focus is renewed and I will no longer be distracted by merlot and fancy cheese. I'm going to do this honestly, so when I finish this month and see the results, I will know that there are no sheepish excuses to pull out in my defense. It is me versus science.

A friend asked me what I think will happen, and whether if I go into this thinking I am going to gain weight and be proven right, maybe I will subconciously sabotage myself to ensure that is what happens. I told her, I honestly don't know. I'm trying to keep an open mind and not prejudice myself about the outcome. I hope I lose fat and don't take another step back, but my instinct is saying, "been there, done that."

Man, I hope I am wrong.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Girl's Gotta Eat

In my last post, I related the process of creating a new and improved eating plan and made a pledge to stick to it for a month, no matter what. What I didn't tell you is why that was such a big deal for me. After all, new diets are old hat to women; we're always trying the latest and greatest diet gimmick to get a bikini bod, flatter abs, or toned arms just in time for summer. But, we also know in the back of our heads that those gimmicks won't work - eating a healthy, balanced diet is boring, unsexy, and at times bland and monotonous, but that, consistent exercise, and the genetic makeup of Gisele B√ľndchen are only real way to have a rocking body. Sorry. Deal with it.

So eating healthfully is not new for me. I typically eat a very clean diet full of all-natural whole foods (and the occasional slice of pizza or frosted brownie because, after all, I am a woman). Refined sugar is no longer a staple in my life, along with processed stuff and most packaged food. I get an adrenaline rush from keeping my eating close to nature and enjoy the challenge of reading labels and finding clean, healthy products that don't taste like cardboard. It's fun for me, and while there have definitely been periods (and Saturdays) in my life when I have strayed from this philosophy, it is something I truly enjoy and am committed to for the rest of my life.

What doesn't come as easily is actually eating. As a woman with more than my share of food issues, eating enough is truly a struggle. I often feel like a hypocrite, telling others why they should eat more than I would ever consider in a day. Without going into a litany of whiny reasons of why this is the case, I'll just leave it here - eating more than 1,500 calories per day on a regular basis is an emotional hurdle that I need to get over.

I've struggled with my weight for my entire life and even after I started working out regularly, I've always had to aggressively keep the pounds at bay. Those are the cards I've been dealt, and I accepted it a long time ago. I was probably 12 or 13 when I decided to try Weight Watchers with my mom. The first night she put an ounce of cheese on my plate and told me that was a serving of dairy. I looked at that tiny wedge of cheese and thought, "are you kidding me?" But since that time, it seems I have always been on some strategy to maintain my weight. Some have been successful, others a disaster. I've learned a lot along the way.

When I started weight training around 16 years old, I knew it meant I could (and should) eat more. I read fitness magazines and listened to the muscleheads at the gym who told me to eat at least 1,600 or 1,700 calories a day. And I tried...but each time I ventured out of my comfort zone, I packed on the pounds. It just seemed like science was working against me. Finally, in my twenties, I had my metabolism tested and had the validation of seeing that it was, in fact, on the slow side. I felt relief at knowing it wasn't all me, but frustration with the realization that counting calories was going to be a full-time, permanent job.

Well, a few years have passed since then, and I'm still at square three. Sure, I'm in good shape, my cardiovascular fitness is good and I can lift heavy things. But for the amount of effort I put in, I want to see better results. To be more specific, I want to see abs. Let's just talk turkey here - I want to have a kick-ass body and I'm not afraid to say it.

And in order to get there, I am willing to consider that maybe...just maybe...I was wrong. Maybe. There is a lot of science out there, and lot of people more educated than I who insist that more food is the key to getting to success. I know they are right in theory, and I want to believe they are right for me. So, I've decided that I can sacrifice a month. For the next month, I am committing myself to eating more. At least 2,000 calories a day, to be exact. I'm prepared to end the month heavier and seriously pissed off, but I truly hope I am wrong. It will be a mental and physical challenge for me, but as I said in my last post, this isn't about being right; its about being the best I can be.

Now hand me a protein shake; I'm hungry.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Straighten Up and Fly Right

I've thought of something: I have stretch marks.

I'm a modern woman; I'm not afraid to admit it. I've gained weight, lost weight, had a baby...and as a result my body has battle scars that while I am not ashamed of them, I'd rather not display to the world. A couple of weeks ago when endorphins and an overly-confident competitive streak were making the bulk of my decisions, these little badges of honor didn't even occur to me. But since then, I've become a little more educated about my competition, and I've noticed something that they all have in common: they don't have stretch marks.

In this fifth week of my training, I decided it was time to fine-tune my diet and make sure I wasn't wasting any nutrition. So I did some innocent Googling and came upon a website showcasing the profiles of women who compete in fitness competitions. I began to read their stories, curious to see how I stacked up. As I read, I quickly realized that these women were not like me. They run marathons. They started gymnastics at age three, dance lessons at age four. They are fitness models, semi-professional athletes, personal trainers, and professional cheerleaders. I work for a non-profit organization, wear glasses, and have stretch marks. I'm a nerd, straight up.

So the next day I showed up at the gym and announced to my trainer: "I have stretch marks." He laughed and said not to worry, the self-tanner covers them up, and the cooking spray will help, too. Yes, you read that correctly. I am going to lather up with self-tanner and then spray Pam on myself so after my competition, you can put me on the Thanksgiving table and debate who looks more like the turkey.

I know that a lot of these competitions are about smoke and mirrors, but I also know that these other women are in much better shape than I am. They're the girls I hated in high school - I was envious of their athleticism and fast metabolisms, and it turns out that they didn't all get fat after graduation like they were supposed to.

A friend tried to comfort me: "Those photos are Photoshopped. They don't really look like that." So as long as I can submit Photoshopped photos of myself onstage instead of the real me, I should be fine. Do you think they would notice a cardboard cut-out? Or a sign around my neck announcing that stretch marks may appear larger than they actually are?

As I pondered the source of all this self-doubt and negative talk, I knew right away where my weakness was - my diet was obviously not up to snuff, and I needed to change it. Diet is a big issue for me, and it is difficult for me to admit or even consider that the carefully-arranged plan I have created might not be the best for me. But this isn't about being right, it is about being the best I can be. To get there, I need to swallow my pride.

And I think I can get there, to a place where I don't have to be Photoshopped and Pammed and airbrushed with self-tanner to look good on stage. So I went old-school: I sat down with pen and paper and mapped out an all-new-and-improved food plan. It was beautiful - the perfect ratio of protein to carbohydrates to fat, gorgeous whole foods, nothing artificial. It was the diet that God himself would have designed had He been trying to lose His spare tire and c-section flab. I paused for a moment to admire my work and listened to the angels singing "The Hallelujia Chorus" in my head. Then I faced reality. I'd try it for a month, and see what happened. If I didn't have a larger than average fat loss after a month, I was throwing a first-class hissy fit.

Because after all, this is a journey, and that means I have to be willing to take the scenic route once in a while, even if it might be a little longer, and even if it means I want to make a u-turn by the end of it. I might not ever lose my stretch marks, but I hopefully I can lose the "my way or the highway" attitude. We'll see.