Saturday, August 24, 2013

Week 32 - Slowly Making Progress and Some Thoughts About Carbohydrates

Gained a tiny amout of weight this week, but it probably has something to do with eating Chinese food last night (water weight city).  My measurements are back on the downward trend.  I'm happy about that.

I am still reaping the benefits of the lessons I learned during the fast day as well as during the self-experiment days.  I can live with hunger if it means waiting until I can eat a proper, nutritious meal or snack.  I can also go back to eating without bingeing.  I can spend a day without animal products.  I can even spend a day without fat (joyless as it may be).  I feel encouraged.  Even though I learned to accept I probably won't make my goals by the time the program is over, I am not going to stop trying.

This week the team is revisiting the habit of eating the right types of carbohydrates.  This time around we're on our own about which carbohydrates are the "right" type.  We had an ancestral diet day already, so we know what it's like to be grain free, but it's time to decide just how grains, legumes, and tubers fit into our diets every day.  It's obvious we are supposed to keep refined grains to a minimum, but what about intact grains, tubers and legumes?  Do we eat them?  How much?  What about fruit?  Carbohydrates are an important energy food. They are a very quick and easily-digested source of energy.  If you're going to be active, you need carbohydrates.  The general suggestion from the coach is that we should adjust carbohydrate levels according to activity levels.

For this habit, I have decided to be really strict.  I am aiming for 90% compliance (I will have at least one exception day, which I will elaborate on later in this post) and compliance for me is to avoid all grains, legumes, and tubers (I'm not such a huge fan of potatoes anyway) and keep my carbohydrates to just fruits.  How much fruit I eat corresponds with how hard I work out in a given day.  For example, I had a pretty lame workout this morning due to equipment malfunction so I'm avoiding fruit altogether today.  Yesterday after a tough weight session at the gym, I reveled in a large amount of watermelon.  I don't think I need to say that I'm avoiding all refined sugars. 

I noticed something important this week.  You don't realize just how surrounded you are by refined carbohydrates until you are not allowed to eat them.  I take a lunchtime walk and find myself surrounded by refined flour products: pizza, bakeries, sandwiches, and pasta.  Right next to a Le Pain Quotidien is a shop that specializes in Indian Naan and there is a Banh Mi shop two doors down.  Within two blocks I can find three places that sell pizza for $1 a slice.

All of this food is really tempting.  Other posts have dealt with the fact that combinations of sugar/starch, salt, and fat can hit the sweet spot in our brains and make us want to eat more long after we're physically satiated.  Even the though of eating some of these foods when I'm hungry triggers an intense desire in my brain.  I have to really concentrate hard on resisting.

While I don't agree with the reasoning of most low-carb fanatics, I do see that they do draw the right conclusions.  Our society eats too many carbohydrates.

It seems contradictory to refute the importance of carbohydrates in our diets.  Breads, rice, and pasta have been dietary staples in many cultures for centuries.  If they were bad for us, the human race would have died out from obesity-related diseases a long time ago.  We're still here and we're only seeing the effects of carbohydrates very recently relative to human history.  What gives?

Starchy carbohydrates would have been an important part of human diets for centuries because once humans developed agriculture, grains because an easy and cheap source of calories.  If you spent your days toiling in fields and factories or other manual labor jobs, you need those cheap, easily-digested source of energy.  Bread, pasta, and rice were the fuel that drove the engine of human activity. 

In the past century work has gone from the fields and factories to the cubicle.  We sit around all day.  We don't need that kind of intense energy anymore.  We simply can't burn it off.  The problem is that industrial farming practices (as well as government subsidies to the grain industry) have made these foods cheap and universally available.  A century ago a sandwich was a convenient way to pack a meal because it made your meat, cheeses, and vegetables very portable and the bread helped extend the more expensive ingredients a bit.  Plus the bread gave you the quick accessible energy you needed to do physical labor.  Now we go to high-end sandwich shops where the bread is still a way to extend the more expensive ingredients so they can use less of them and have a huge profit margin on the bread.  The consumer then eats the sandwich and consumes 400 calories worth of bread that can't be burned off very easily sitting behind a computer. 

People speak of grain-free diets as "paleo" but I think the issue at hand is that our lifestyle has simply evolved away from eating grains. 

I'm scrapping my smart carb habit today since my brother is having a pig roast.  I'm making homemade baked beans for the occasion.  I'm sure there will be many other tasty grain-based dishes.  For one day I think I can handle it.  I have other habits in place to make up for it.  I can eat slowly, watch for fullness cues, and remember to only eat the foods that I really want. 

Who knows?  Maybe tomorrow I'll do another fast.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Week 31: Lessons Learned. Expecations Adjusted (and then readjusted)

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.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Week 30 - Do I or Don't I? And Exercise Is Not the Solution

I am down to my pre-vacation weight this week.  I am actually 2 ounces below my pre-vacation weight.  Once again I am at the lowest weight I have been since I started this program.  My measurements are still all over the place.  My waist, which is my worst feature, shrank three inches in the early days of this program, but it stubbornly staying at one size for the past few months.  I am finally seeing some shrinkage in my calves and arms though.  There is even a bit of muscle definition in my arms now.  They look less slab-like.

Right now I am in a pickle.  Even though being fit and athletic has always been a struggle for me, I have always liked climbing on rocks and jungle gyms and swingsets.  I have always liked jumping over things. I have always liked obstacle courses.  As this year and this program has brought me new challenges, I decided this year I should challenge myself to a mud run.  I am strong enough to do a big girl's obstacle course, right?

I had really wanted to do this with a friend.  I wanted someone to cheer me on, someone I could swap war stories with.  I have plenty of fitness-minded friends.  I was sure someone would volunteer to do it with me.  I was surprised that no one offered.

Then a friend I hadn't seen in a while PM'd me on Facebook and said she was doing a race this summer with some friends and would I like to join her.  I enthusiastically told her yes and hoped I would hear more from her closer to the race or that she might keep me updated on developments with the race as they happened.  I never heard anything more about it until she began posting her results and photos on Facebook.  She had completely forgotten that she had invited me to do this with her.

Feeling rather piqued I decided that if I was going to do something like this, I would have to just bite the bullet and do it myself.  I signed up for the Spartan Race at Mountain Creek in September.

It seems that different mud runs can have various levels of difficulty.  Some you can do non-competitively just for fun, taking the pressure to be timed off of you and allowing you to do the obstacles you choose at your own pace. This is not the Spartan Race.  This is a race where I will have no choice but to race.  I also have to do every obstacle.  If I choose not to do an obstacle, I have to do a set of burpees instead.

A coworker of mine said he did a race earlier this summer.  He said it was really difficult and included such tasks as climbing a rope and ringing a bell.  I can't climb a rope.  My upper body strength is not strong enough to support my lower body yet.  I am still using an assist band for pull-ups and I can barely do 10 reps when I do them.  I have not trained at all for this race.  I now receive daily workouts in my email.  Although they contain similar exercises to what I am already doing,  they are doing them in ways that are meant to achieve a different goal.  There is also a lot of running involved.  Have I mentioned how much I hate running?  I believe strongly that we need to stop making running the gold standard of fitness (I will eventually be posting about this).

So now I'm thinking of bailing.  I just don't think I'm ready for this.  I'm also right back to where I started at the beginning of the year when I said I wanted a friend to do this with.  I don't want to do this alone.  If I had a friend with me, we could just laugh together about not doing obstacles or doing them badly.  We could make it an outing. As it is I will be alone in a sea of strangers who don't care if I finish this race or not.

Unfortunately, there are no refunds.  I will have to eat the cost of this race if I bail.

Well, we know I'm good at burpees.

So stay tuned and see if I will actually go through with this.

This week's lesson revisited an old bit of wisdom that I touch on here often.  No matter how hard I exercise, I can't out-train a bad diet.  I have been devoted to the gym for twenty years in addition to riding and dance (and two years of capoeira classes to boot).  That hasn't stopped me from gaining about 20 pounds since college graduation.  Exercise has kept me from outright obesity, but it hasn't stopped me from being overweight.  I think my constant desire to be thinner and thus trying to eat more vegetables and fruits and have a nutritious diet overall has been more of a factor in why I'm not even heavier.

Studies have shown that unfortunately for some, exercise is an appetite stimulant.  I was so happy to read that.  For years I would read in fitness magazines or have friends or relatives tell me, that exercise was supposed to suppress appetite and make you not feel hungry.  This was never true for me.  Exercise might help me ignore hunger for a little while, but once I stopped exercising, hunger would return in a mighty tsunami of empty-stomachedness.  People like me tend to think that post-workout hunger is a sign we really burned it off and thus need to eat anything and everything to compensate.

Now I know I'm just one of those unlucky people for whom exercise stimulates appetite and hunger.  It seems so unfair.  I feel as if the deck is stacked against me in every way possible.  I was stuck with this endomorphic figure that seems to utterly resist any form of fat loss, and I can't even do what it takes to keep it maintained without feeling hungrier.   I would guess my workouts burn between 300 and 400 calories per workout.  That's one moderately-sized meal.  I'm not burning off anything. All I can do is be extremely conscious of what I eat and what I'm feeling after a workout. 

I'm doing really well this week revisiting the 80% rule.  I am noticing more now when I really have had enough to eat.  I need to keep this feeling going.

Today I have declared that I will never let my weight go into the 130s again.  I am going to stay below 130 for the rest of my life.  Today marks a new era of weight management.  I am in the 120s and I will stay there or as far below as I can get.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fitspo. Does It Help or Hurt?

Earlier this year I started my first Pinterest board.  I started it mostly to keep track of clothes I have wanted (or hoped) to add to my wardrobe this year and get some inspiration to build new looks.  While I was at it, I decided it was a smart idea to use it to archive interesting recipes I found online, so I started a board for that.  Finally, I decided to start a board with archives of my favorite common-sense health and fitness advice, including the occasional “fitspiration” photo.  (Yes, I realize that these two boards can sometimes be at cross purposes.)

I lost the momentum for keeping up those boards after just a couple months, so I forget what’s on them sometimes.  The recent wave of criticism against fistpiration made me revisit them.  I find myself asking myself, “What does fitspiration mean to you, and why do you need it?  Is it helping or hurting?”
 
“Thinspiration” or “thinspo” has long been a staple of pro-anorexia sites (or women like this who swear they are just heavily into dieting and truly prefer being as skinny as possible – but they’re not anorexic – really).  It was never my cup of tea.  You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether or not it’s healthy to pursue an extreme body type, but taking away the health aspect, a skinny aesthetic is not something I aspire to or find attractive. 

I look at “thinspo” photos and just feel a sense of pity.  These women look so delicate and so weak.  I feel even sorrier for the women who pursue this look.  Yes, it’s hard to achieve such a thin body.  I just don’t see it as much of an accomplishment.  So you ate nothing but salads, clear broth, and skinless chicken breasts for a year to achieve that body?  Big deal!  If you wrote a novel, hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, danced the lead role in Swan Lake, ran for office and won, finished a PhD, had a winning season in your sport of choice, made a real effort to feed the hungry, or successfully campaigned to further human rights, then I will be impressed.  I will not admire Kate Moss, who chain smokes and has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, just because she has remained skinny throughout the past two decades.  I’ll save my admiration for women like Hillary Clinton, Jane Goodall, Margaret Atwood, or Sarah MacLachlan.
 
Now we have a new version of body inspiration.  We have “Fitspiration” or “fitspo”.  This is supposed to be the healthy answer to thinspo.  Fitspo is filled with all kinds of inspirational messages about health, fitness, working hard, and taking pride in your achievements.  Fitspo doesn’t treat being thin as an accomplishment in itself.  Fitspo is taking pride in healthy hard work.  Anyone can just go to the gym and put on muscle.  Yes, you can do it too.  The message seems powerful.
 
How do I feel when I see these images?  Often my first thought is, “What a beautiful body that woman has.”  The next thought is, “I would like a body like hers,” followed by “I am going to have a body like hers someday.”  For a few moments I do feel as if I can achieve this.  Then some time after seeing the photo, my thoughts crash.  I see my arms that still look like slabs of meat, my soft and poochy belly, and my tree trunk thighs.  I search for signs that the lean, defined muscles exist somewhere on my body and I just don’t see it.  I find myself resenting those photos.  “They’re ridiculous.  That body is as unattainable as looking like twig-legged a runway model.”
 
There are pro-fitspo bloggers out there who would beg to differ with me.  There are those who believe that anyone can achieve a fitspo body if they’re willing to work for it.  Do you think a body like that is unattainable?  Of course you do, you fat slob.  You’re not eating healthfully.  You’re not working out.  You don’t dare sit on the couch and watch TV with an entire cake and then complain about how unattainable a fitness model body type is.  If you’re overweight, you’re obviously doing everything wrong.  Stop complaining and go to the gym.
 
The assumption the pro-fitspo crowd makes is that anyone who doesn’t like her body isn’t doing anything about it.  If you’re fat, you’re clearly not fit. 

I think I need to disabuse anyone who feels that way of that notion.  
 
I’m far from fitness-model fit.  That is true.  I would also like to point out that this week I did three difficult strength training workouts, two interval cardio workouts, and a Zumba class.  I went horseback riding twice.  This is a typical week for me in terms of exercise.  There is no junk food in my house.  You will not find chips, cookies, white bread, doughnuts, pastries, or ice cream in my kitchen.  If you do see baked goods in the house now and then, it’s because I baked them myself and gave most of them away.  I would say that fruits and vegetables are present in at least 18 of the 21 meals along with the snacks I eat in a given week.  My main beverage is water.  I don’t drink soda or juice habitually and I drink very moderate amounts of alcohol. 
 
I’m not perfect.  I don’t eat 100% clean 100% of the time.  There is a reason why I am not at an ideal weight and bodyfat level.  I am something of a “foodie.”  I do love to eat.  While I restrict what I have in the house, I can sometimes go a little crazy when I’m out of the house.  Parties are my downfall.  Family dinners are tough.  During my recent vacation I ate, without reservation, a Belgian waffle, French toast sticks, a hot fudge sundae, chicken fried steak, fried chicken, a cheeseburger, a couple of cheese-laden sandwiches, cream puffs, and a chocolate cake (I shared those last two with my husband).  I gained five pounds that week.  I lost four of them in a few days, but I could still stand to lose another twenty.  I'm working on it. 

Anyone who thinks that anyone can look like a fitspo image needs a real wakeup call.  The women featured in these images are fitness models.  Do you have what it takes to be a fitness model?  A fitness model makes her body her full-time job.  We are talking about extremely disciplined diets which become even more extreme and disciplined right before the photo shoot or figure competition. In fact, I'd say it's the same kind of diet our friend Skinny Gurl*  mentioned above would approve of.   Dehydration is standard practice.  Then of course you have the standard tricks like posing, lighting, tanning, and photo retouching. Many models have resorted to surgery.  This is in addition to working out at least two hours daily.  Again, for a fitness model this is her job.  She is paid to eat and train this way.  If you are not a fitness model and have another full-time job, a partner, kids,  other hobbies, or all of the above, you may have a few problems living the fitness model lifestyle.

So maybe when you consider the extremes, fitspiration is just thinspiration with more muscle.  The images are telling us over and over again that it's more important to be healthy than it is to be skinny, but I question how healthy these women truly are.  Many of us (well, except for Skinny Gurl and her ilk and the pro-ana crowd) look at a super-skinny model, whom we know had to resort to some very extreme eating patterns to be that thin, and think, "That woman looks way too thin to be healthy." Then we will look at a fitness model and assume that just because she has muscles that she must be doing everything right.  Her body came just from the gym.  We deny what really happened behind that image.

The other aspect of fitspo images that no one wants to talk about is that for the  most part, the women featured are quite young.  They are in their teens and twenties.  They haven't had kids.  They still have young metabolisms.  I'm 43.  I think I look pretty good for my age.  I attribute my relative youthfulness to a healthy lifestyle.  I've never smoked.  I don't intentionally tan.  I have been dedicated to exercise for over twenty years.  I eat my vegetables.  I keep caffeine and alcohol to a minimum.  I have never had kids.  Still, Father Time creeps up on us no matter how hard we try to fight him off.  I can reach my ideal weight and body fat percentage and still have saggy bits and wrinkly bits because that's just how 43-year-olds look. 

When I look at a fitspo photo, I see what is possible.  I don't see what is probable.  I am doing a decent job of transforming my body.  I know I can do better.  I also have to accept that age and a lack of willingness to forever shun treats is going to keep me from looking like a fitspo photo.  To eat like a fitness model would suck all of the joy out of life and I'm not going to go that far.  I still know that I can do better than I'm doing.  Seeing fitness models does remind me what the human body is capable of if you're willing to put in the work. 

Is fitspo inherently harmful?  Should women always ignore it?  I would say that if it inspires you to do a little better, to be the best you can be, then by all means continue to Pin it and share it on Facebook.  If you set your expectations by it, then perhaps you need to back off and not go down that road. 
 
 *I have to say I hate the spelling of girl as "gurl".  Is that supposed to be some kind of hipster thing?  Maybe she's eaten so little it has affected her brain and she can't spell properly.

Weeks 28 and 29. Vacation and Recovery

I really didn't have any time to make a post last week to discuss how I survived vacation.  I always go away with the best of intentions, but somehow things do tend to fall apart when I'm away.

The bad news is I gained five pounds last week.  It's no surprise.  While I was in Chincoteague I ate all of the following:

Belgian waffle
Turkey and brie sandwich
Roast beef, Gruyere, and caramelized onion sandwich
Chicken fried steak
Fried chicken
Pulled Pork and corn fritters
Ice cream
Hot fudge sundae
Cheeseburger
Caramel cream puff (split with husband, so not so bad)
Giant piece of chocolate layer cake (Husband ordered with the intention of not sharing.  It was so huge he had no choice but to give me - and everyone else at the table - a few bites.)

So yes, it's no surprise that I would gain weight.  I did do many things right though.  I ordered all of the food on the list, but I am much better at knowing when to stop eating it.  I took all of my supplements each day.

I also did my strength training workouts.  My hotel used to have a really poorly-equipped gym, but recently they added free weights, so doing my workouts exactly as prescribed was much easier than I expected it to be.  There were only two exercises I had to modify due to having the wrong equipment.

I didn't work out as hard as I had hoped on non-strength days.  I took a long bike ride around the nature trails one day.  I also tried to get in as much swimming as possible, but the water at the beach was crazy cold all week until my very last day.  I had been looking forward to a round of paddle boarding like the one I did last year, but the outfitter moved off island and I didn't know where else to go.  (I should have just booked a kayak instead, but I was lazy.)

Since the last habit was to eat a protein and a vegetable at every meal, I made a real effort to make sure that there were vegetables among some of the junk I ate.  That included going to the farmer's market and buying some tomatoes so that I could have a vegetable at breakfast.
 
Yes I know tomatoes are a fruit.  They count as a vegetable in LE land, okay?

My coach was very understanding about the food choices and was pleased I managed to do so much while away.  I feel a bit better about it all. 

This month  LE has been issuing the team various personal challenges, both for food and exercise.  Last week we had to do a vegan day.  That's a tough one for me.  It was particularly tough in Chincoteague, where it is almost impossible to do this if you're not preparing all of your own meals.  That's why I waited until this week to do it.  This week's challenge was an ancestral diet challenge.  In other words I had to eat a paleo diet for a day.  This challenge was much easier as I tend to eat that way anyway.  It did remind me to stay off the sugar though.  I think both challenges helped me take off  4 of the 5 pounds I gained.  We were also supposed to try to make a healthy pizza.  I admit I haven't done this one yet.  I plan to do it next week.

The physical challenge was the most fun though.  I did a burpee challenge.  One day 1 I did 1 burpee.  Then each day I had to add one more, eventually adding up to 25.  I wasn't required to do them consecutively, but I did.

I wanted to prove that I had completed the challenge, so I took video.  Here I am doing all 25 in a row.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TwD7j3gesw

As I mentioned before, I'm down 4 pounds this week, which means I'm still down just 11 pounds total.  I haven't done my measurements for today yet.  Since I just finished another workout phase, I have to take photos again.  This was not a particularly transformative phase of LE for me, but I can still move forward.  I need to commit to making the coming weeks better.  Bring on the new exercise phase!