I didn't lose much in the way of pounds this week. We're talking about four ounces, but at least the trend is staying downward.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, these past few weeks have been full of "self-experimentation days." At Precision Nutrition they do not believe in a "perfect diets." The emphasis is on healthy habits and nutritious whole foods. Which foods you choose depend on your preferences and your body's unique needs. Some of us don't really know what that diet is, so we spent days experimenting with different ways of eating to see how they work for us. We had a plant-based day, an ancestral day, and a fat-free (or as close as we can get) day.
Our of all of the different dietary experiments, the fat-free day was the hardest. I thought the plant-based day would be the tough one, but on that day I ate a salad topped with guacamole then I fried my chickpea-spinach-coconut-flour cutlets in oil (I can't remember if it was olive or coconut). Then I topped them with a cashew gravy. I was pretty satisfied physically (although emotionally I missed the animal products). On the fat-free day I was not well satisfied at all. I was hungry an hour or two after meals. When I came home I really wanted a snack, but my usual snacks in the house were not fat free. I couldn't just have a nibble or cheese or a handful of nuts as I usually do. I ended up with my hand in a box of bland cereal. It was spectacularly unsatisfying, so I kept going back for more.
It helps me understand why the fad diet gurus love high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets. Fat is very physically satiating. If you cut back your fat too much, you will gorge yourself on starches and sugar to compensate. Empty carbohydrates are really easy to eat too many of. No wonder carbohydrates have been so demonized in the past two decades.
I feel as if I am at a crossroads with this program. I have done well in many respects. I have lost a decent amount of body fat. My arms and legs are rock solid. I love looking at a photo from my San Francisco trip where I am really rocking the skinny jeans. I am still not satisfied with how I'm doing overall. My weight and girth loss is much smaller than I expected it to be. I still have noticeable amounts of fat on my midriff. I was rather distressed at my last progress photo that showed a rather prominent fat roll above my hips.
Right now I am asking myself, "How much further can I expect to go?" I had a very definite idea of what I wanted to achieve with this program when I started. I spent way too much time dwelling on "fitspo" memes. I believed that this would be the program that would tighten up my stomach, make my legs look less like tree trunks, and make my arms not look like slabs. I know by the time I finish this program I will be at a healthier weight and bodyfat level than I was when I started, but chances are I won't have the smokin' hot body I dreamed of.
I don't want to be defeatist and say I'm a slave to genetics, but when you consider my body type and my love of eating, there may be only so far I can go. I won't use the word troll anymore, but I can certainly use the word endomorph. I have a body type that's built for comfort and not for speed. I'm not athletic and have to fight tooth and nail for every fitness gain I make.* It takes me years to accomplish what a leaner, more athletic woman can accomplish in months. It always feel like a failure when I hear some woman talk about her 300 pound deadlift when I have taken years to be able to do more than 100 pounds and can only do a handful of reps. I struggle to lose every pound and can gain it back just by breathing more air than usual. My body loves its fat and has no desire to part with it.
In the past week or two I really started thinking about adjusting my expectations. What do I hope to accomplish and what can I expect to accomplish? When I started this program I was overweight, overfat, and had a less-than-appealing physical display. Right now I am still overweight, but less so than when I started, and my bodyfat percentage is in a more acceptable range. I'm physically smaller than I was. In the next four and a half months I can change my body fat, measurements, and weight to a level that would be considered healthy. I will still not be where I had hoped I would be. I will be in a better place, but certainly not in the place I fantasized about. I suspect that fat roll that distresses me in my photos will still be there in December.
Why have I come to believe that I won't achieve my fantasy body? It's because I often feel I don't want to work that hard for it. I will do my workouts faithfully. I just don't want to stop eating.
Some time ago a skinny friend of mine said to me, "Just stop loving food so much." As I said, my friend is skinny. She has never been passionate about food. She eats to live and doesn't live to eat. Most importantly, she dislikes fried and greasy food, too-sweet sweets and sodas, and spicy, heavy ethnic cuisines. Once in response to an elaborate dinner party post I made on Facebook she said, "I like boring plain food." I don't want to eat plain food. I love going to fancy restaurants with Kevin. I love finding little hole-in-the-wall greasy spoons. I love trying new ethnic cuisines. I love afternoon tea with homemade desserts (or at least desserts from really good bakeries). I love going for ice cream at the Bellvale Creamery where the ice cream comes from the cows at the Bellvale Dairy Farm. I love cooking. I love going to the farmer's market and finding ways to cook up the bounty. I love giving dinner parties. I can't just turn that off. To give up my foodieism would suck much of the joy out of life. Yes, I have other joys in life, but that doesn't make good eating any less a part of me.
My coach always says that we should aim for consistency and not perfection. I know all too well that perfection is the only way to make serious changes in my body. If I eat 100% clean and keep portions size precisely measured, I will see results. If I eat a bit more, if I have a sugary afternoon treat or dessert after dinner, if I eat a piece of chicken with the skin on or eat a cut of meat that's not one of the leanest, or if I have a sandwich instead of a salad for lunch, my results will be less than optimal. After all, I have been pretty consistent on this program. Being "mostly good" doesn't do much to change my body.
I found myself at a crossroads. What do I want for these next few months. Do I want to be "mostly good" and bring myself to a healthy weight and bodyfat level but not have that striking transformation to the lean body I envisioned? Am I willing to make more food sacrifices, knowing that I will be bringing myself closer to the kind of body I hoped to achieve when I started the program? I began to think that the former option was the best I could do.
This week everything changed. My beliefs were challenged once again.
Remember those self-experimentation days I mentioned in this post? This week I went through the toughest one of all. I had to fast for a day.
I don't fast. I don't even like missing meals. I am hungry so often, even when eating regular meals, that I have had coworkers accuse me of being pregnant or having a parasite (although I suppose those two things are kind of the same). How was I supposed to go the whole day without food? I tease my Jewish husband constantly about Yom Kippur and how much I like being a gentile.** I thought the fat free day was difficult, but it would be a small challenge compared to not eating at all.
I was determine to do it though. The LE coaches are always stressing how you have to get out of your comfort zone to make a change. If losing weight were easy, I would have done it by now. If I could fast for a whole day, then other challenges should be a bit easier.
Fasting teaches us to learn how to deal with hunger. Our bodies can handle not eating at regular intervals. Chances are pretty good that our prehistoric ancestors didn't eat regular meals and may have gone a day without eating if the hunting and foraging was unsuccessful that day. The patterns of eating humans have adopted make sense, but they aren't necessary to survival. Ordinary hunger is something we can all deal with. We can survive a growling stomach for a few hours. As long as we take in good quality nutrition when we do eat, and maintain the same mindfulness about how much we eat, there is no reason to eat our meals within the confines of certain meal times. We should eat when we have nutritious food available. We should not eat just because it's the standard meal time or because we need some kind of occupation or because there just happens to be food available.
I had my last meal on Wednesday night. Thursday morning I got up and went to the gym and did my usual weight workout. I was famished when I was finished, but I rode it out and went to work. I spent the entire morning thinking about food. I must have craved about ten different meals just off the top of my head. At lunch time I took a walk. I had been meaning to find Greenacre Park, which is a bit of a hike from my office, but with no need to procure and eat food, I had the time to walk over there. I had a very pleasant and peaceful lunch, although it was tough with all of the people eating lunch in the park around me. On my walk to and from the park I had to deal with scores of restaurants, cafes, and food carts tempting me at every turn. I said no to all of it. I rode out the afternoon. I decided to take a later train home, stopping to do a little food shopping for the coming days. When I arrived home, I even cooked a frittata to have for breakfast in the morning, and ate none of it myself. Kevin came home with a takeout dinner. I went to bed early, securing my sleep with an Ambien.
The next morning I went to the gym and finally ate again. My breakfast felt like Heaven.
What did I learn from the experiment? First I learned I can tolerate hunger. It's not pleasant, but it's not the worst feeling in the world. I shouldn't feel compelled to eat something that's not nutritious just because I'm hungry. I can wait until something healthful is available. Second, I learned that if I put my mind to it, I can resist temptation. I had plenty of opportunities to eat any number of delicious foods on fast day, but I said no to all of them. Is there any reason why I can tolerate hunger on fast day but not on regular days?
I am tempted to experiment more with fasting. Perhaps a well-regulated fast day would be a good counter-balance to a day when I overeat (such as next week when my brother is having a pig roast). Fasting is a great way to practice both hunger tolerance and resistance to temptation. The key to breaking a fast is to make sure that other good habits are in place. Once you start eating again, you can't just wolf down a plate of food. Portion size, eating slowly, and watching for fullness cues still apply.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is something of a fad in the fitness world now. Many fitness professionals and enthusiasts swear by it. There are athletes who fast at regular intervals, going as long as 16 hours eating nothing and then having an 8 hour window for eating. IF enthusiasts claim it torches bodyfat, improves performance, and gives them boundless energy. That's a road I don't want to travel down though. For one thing it seems to work for better for men than it does for women. It also seems that part of the joy of IF is the sense of control and power the faster has over his or her body. The language seems to mirror that of women with eating disorders.
The main takeaway I gained from fasting day is that I'm capable of more than I think I am. Perhaps my expectations of just going "good enough" are aiming too low. Maybe I can really push myself to a truly lean body. Maybe I won't be fitness-model fit, but I can be fitter than average.
I have also been emailing my coach about how I feel about my current expectations. She seems to feel a bit differently about my willingness to simply accept my limitations. Maybe there are ways I can enjoy my foodie-ness and still manage to cut back here and there. The program is about doing "a little more, a little better" each day. Even with just a few months left, she thinks I have what it takes to do something extraordinary.
In the coming weeks I have to repeat the habit of only eating the right types of carbohydrates. I really want to concentrate on that, as well as eating slowly and being mindful of satiety. I will continue to understand hunger tolerance and resistance to temptation. I may even make good on that idea of fasting for 24 hours after the pig roast (where I know I will slip off track with both eating bad carbs and overeating and I'll probably love every minute of it). I have an awful lot of tools in my toolbox. It's time to start using them.
*This is for anyone who is curious about starting up a new activity and immediately dismissed the notion saying, "I'm too unathletic. I'm too klutzy. I'm too out of shape." Taking up a new sport of physical activity is scary and intimidating and it will involve a fair amount of falling down and/or making a fool of yourself. Do it anyway. Yes, you will have to work very hard at it, but you might just find yourself having fun. I have no natural physical gifts for either riding or dance. I took lessons for years, busted my butt, and did it anyway. I'm not brilliant at either, but I'm reasonably competent and I'm loving every minute of it. Stop making excuses to try new activities and just try them. Don't do them to be good at them. Do them because they're fun and because challenging your brain and body will yield far more results than constantly exercising in your comfort zone.
**Yes, I know the religion in which I was raised requires fasting periods during Lent. It's a good thing I turned to hardcore agnosticism and rejected a belief in a particular God before such things became necessary.