Friday, July 4, 2014

Six Months Later: How Am I Doing

Six months ago I finished the Lean Eating program and posted my final photos and stats.  During the time I was on the program I was surprised at the number of people who told me they were following my recorded journey.  I was also a bit surprised at the end that I had such a lack of reaction to the results.  No one congratulated me or said, "good job" or "you really look great".  I felt sort of let down.  I wondered if I hadn't really accomplished much and that no one was really impressed at the end.

Then I took the more realistic view that people really didn't care that much.  I'm not accusing my friends of being shallow or uncaring. I'm merely saying that in the grand scheme of others' lives, my body composition accomplishments are not really a high priority.  Friends and family have far more important events and issues to worry about.  Life goes on and so must I.

Still, I feel as if I should give an update - not just about my progress, but also about where I am mentally since the program ended and what I hope to accomplish in the future.  One of the reasons I so thoroughly documented my body recomp journey was that I hoped to guide and inspire other women (and men really). Sometimes we just need to know there is something out there that works.  To that end, I feel I should have some follow up and say what has and hasn't happened since I finished.

I have gained back about 4-7 pounds.  I have never been able to maintain my weight at its all-time low.  I gained about 4 pounds back initially and just keep losing and regaining two or three pounds.  I'm pleased that I have only gained back a few pounds and haven't gained back the full amount.  I am doing something right.  Some of my habits have stuck.  I have obviously made some permanent moderations to my eating habits.  

How have I been maintaining?  I stay on top of workouts.  I look for programs that are similar to the ones I did with LE.  Recently I bought the book The New Rules of Lifting for Women.  The workouts are tough and the book contains about six months worth of workouts.  I am set for a while with gym guidance.  I continue indulging in other activities like riding and dance.  I do some interval cardio workouts once or twice a week on the bike or rowing machine.  I still do Zumba. 

My other mainstay of weight maintenance is cooking.  I believe that the most important fat loss tool everyone has is a kitchen.  The more you prepare your own meals, the better you will do.  When other people prepare your meals, you can't control anything.  I do try to make health-conscious meals, but most of the time I don't obsess over ingredients.  Over the past few weeks I have made chicken piccata and chicken parmigiana.  I have made mango turkey chili, and cinnamon chicken and chicken with brown butter and sage.   I have had dinner parties where I made show-stopping dishes like cassoulet and pork shoulder ragu`.  The idea is that if you cook delicious, homemade food with the best ingredients possible, you will be more easily satisfied.  I believe one of the reasons I have managed to keep the weight off is that I don't overeat the way I used to.  I keep my intake lower by being able to really savor foods I enjoy and by not eating foods that were engineered in a factory to make me want more.

The scale isn't the only measure of success though.  My measurements have stayed mostly the same.  My waist and hips are the same size since the program ended.  My arms are even a bit smaller than they were 6 months ago and don't seem as slab-like as they used to be.  My thighs are also still the same size and I don't compare them to tree trunks anymore.  Visually I sometimes think that my back and stomach look a bit more defined than they used to.  As for bodyfat percentage, I haven't tested it at all since the program ended, so I don't know if I have any less or more.

Sometimes I don't feel as if I look any different at all.  I was recently watching a video of myself and saw a poochy belly, thick legs, and thick arms.  I was very discouraged that I hadn't made any progress at all.  But what I can't see sometimes other people do see.  In recent months I ran into people I haven't seen in a while and they all expressed surprise over my weight loss.  It's so hard not to judge yourself.

Even though I still feel unable to be happy with my body as is, I have allowed myself to take some pride in my accomplishments.  I no longer want to perpetually participate in the big women's insecurity fest.  I'm fit. I'm strong.  I'm going to tell the world about it.  Yes, I will brag about how many burpee pushups I can do or how much I can squat.  I'll wear short skirts to show off my leg muscles and skinny jeans because I can.  I'll flex in the mirror and run my hands over my muscles just for the pleasure of feeling their firmness.  I'll be in the gym and I'll catch sight of my butt in the mirrors and look an extra few seconds thinking,  "Hello there Gorgeous Booty."  My body might not be perfect, but whatever is good about it, I worked for it and I'm proud of it.

I am also more acutely aware these days of how I perceive others.  It's not as if I have ever been keen on public fat shaming (or skinny shaming) or concern trolling.  I am just far more aware now of the observations I make in private.  I don't know what causes any of us to gain or lose more weight than we should. 

I certainly know that my own weight gain was due to my own negligence.  I spent the last twenty years faithfully going to the gym and eating my vegetables.  Still I overindulged at parties or special occasions.  I told myself, "Just this once," too many times when I was presented with  a snack or dessert that contained less-than-optimal nutrition.  The weight didn't come on all at once.  It came on gradually.  I tried a few different methods of taking it off, but it took twenty years to find the program that would take off a significant portion of it and make that weight loss stick. 

The world is filled with men and women who are exactly in my position and put on weight slowly despite exercise and a nutritious diet because they let their weight creep up and never found the right method to keep it off.  The world is also filled with people who are on medications, who have hormonal issues, or who are in deep pain and depression.  There are men and women with serious physical illnesses and eating disorders.  I can't know how anyone arrived at the body she is currently in.  It's not my business unless that person chooses to tell me.  My eyes are on my own progress and my own needs and issues.

So where do I go from here, if anywhere.  I'd like to lose another 18 pounds and another inch or three off my waist, hips, and thighs and another percentage point or two of bodyfat.  The question is why do I want to and do I really need to?

The first question I have to ask is if my weight is a healthy weight.  Currently I am a few pounds above optimal BMI.  At my lowest weight I was within BMI limitations, but just barely.  Even at my highest weight I appeared to be perfectly healthy.  All indicators showed I was not at risk for any major conditions.  Who knows if this will change over time if I don't keep my weight and bodyfat down.  My grandmother was diabetic and my own risks for diabetes are always in the back of my mind.  There is very little cancer in my family and no heart disease (and the cancer victims were all smokers), but that doesn't exempt me from the possibility that I could end up with either one if I don't take care of myself.  I can't ward off every disease, but I can reduce the risk.  How lean must my body be to guarantee that it will be healthy?  Can I accept that there are no guarantees?

Is my desire to be leaner really about health?  Of course it isn't.  I have sold out to our society's beauty ideals as much as any other woman.  I don't aspire to look like a model or Hollywood actress.  I don't want to be super skinny.  I do aspire to be lean and muscular.  I might not want to look like a high fashion model, but I do want very much to look like one of the models in the Title 9 catalog (and those models are not full time professional models according to the bios in the catalog).  My desires are purely aesthetic.  I want to be lean because I want to look lean.  I love the appearance of lean muscle.  Am I crazy to want to pursue this ideal?  Who am I doing it for?  My husband finds me beautiful just as I am.  I haven't been the victim of harsh critique of my appearance since middle school.  I seem to want to look a certain way only due to my own insecurities, or my own concepts of what beauty is.

The next question is if I truly want to lose another 18 pounds, am I willing to do what it takes?  I accept that permanent fat loss takes a long time.  It took me a year to make the progress that I made.  I believe the slow, sometimes backwards, progress is what's helping me maintain that progress now.  Am I willing to take another year of my life to keep working on this?  I believe that I really need accountability to keep going.  I feel the main reason LE worked so well for me is that every day I had to tell someone if I practiced my habits.  I thought I could keep going if someone removed that kind of structure, but I don't think I can yet.  I also have to take into account my own willingness to continue to make changes in my diet.  How much do I want to restrict?  How precise to I need to be with food measurement and monitoring of fat grams and counting the number of vegetables I eat daily. How willing am I to say no to treats by narrowing my definition of what treats I consider worth the indulgence?  How much less butter do I want to use?  Do I know and understand what I need to do to achieve that level of leanness I aspire to?

I believe the fitness industry does try to fool us into thinking that we can achieve a level of leanness with normal gym activity and a easy diet formula.  I don't think any of us really know or understand just how much exercise and what types of food sacrifices are required to achieve a desired body shape.  Some women are lucky and are naturally athletic and just seem to have a natural distaste for sweets and fatty foods.  I'm not one of those women.  I have to fight tooth and nail to lose just a pound of fat.  I'm a natural klutz with no physical gifts and the progress I make at any sport I currently do - horseback riding, dance, or weight lifting - is far slower than many of my more athletic peers.  I have to work twice as hard to make half as much progress.  This puts me at a large disadvantage when it comes to trying to be leaner.  Still, the advertising and fitness industries are telling me that it's doable. 

I am learning that no one is exempt from these pressures and that many fitness professionals are putting up a front.  They feel the pressure and cave to extremism fare more than they care to admit.  It seems that recently many fitness bloggers are saying we need to stop embracing diet demons and understand that we're better off being self-accepting and understanding the importance of nutrition and fitness in our lives, without it becoming the focus of our lives. 

My favorite example is my long-time idol, Krista Scott-Dixon of Stumptuous.  That site was a pioneer for women's weight training.  Scott-Dixon was telling women to lift hard and heavy when it was still fashionable for women to lift tiny weights for hundreds of reps and pile on the cardio (and sadly that's still fashionable in some circles).  She really paved the way for sites like Go Kaleo and Girls Gone Strong.  To me she seemed like the perfect role model.  Like me she is a short woman with bad genetics who felt trapped by her own body type.  She discovered weight lifting and began to refocus her diet.  She posted a whole album of photos on her site showing her bangin' body. She had nice muscular legs, lots of definition in her arms, and the most incredible abs. 

Over the years she talked of her shunning of grains and sugar and love of vegetables (with an almost unnatural love for kale).   Alternating between the voice of a drill instructor and the voice of a best friend,  she told her readers how we could do it too.  We couldn't be pussies.  We couldn't slack off.  We could do it if we just made up our minds to do so.  I could look at strong, confident, Krista and think that anything was possible.  It wouldn't even be that difficult if I just made up my mind to do it and stuck to the program.  Krista shunned extremism.  She believed in sensible nutrition and steady workouts with lots of variety (she participated in boxing, Brazilian Jujitsu, belly dance and who knows what else).  Krista could make me ashamed of my lack of progress, but in the best way possible. 

Over the past few years I have grown tired of helping oil companies make more money and I have begun to expand my desire to do something good in the world.  I have strong interests in fitness, nutrition, and social justice and I have wondered just how I can make a career move that will fit in those areas when I have no practical experience in any of them.  About a year ago Krista posted on her FB page that she was looking for someone to help her with marketing and PR for her website.  She would offer nutrition counseling for free in exchange.  No one was making her any offers.  I have no real experience, particularly not in digital marketing, but I do have a PR degree, so I decided to make her an offer and see where it went.  It seemed like a step in the direction I want to go.  Despite my not knowing much about marketing online, I have a good grasp of how social media work (I certainly spend enough time on them) and came up with some ideas of how to draw more attention to her site.  She liked some of my ideas.  I gave her some ideas of campaigns that could drive more traffic.  She seemed to lose interest.

I don't take it personally.  It's not me.  It's her.  She had told me that she wanted to change the focus of her site.  She no longer wanted it to be about fitness, but about "living the best life through fitness".  She used this post as an example.  I asked her to define her mission statement a bit more clearly and pick out some specific goals.  She still hasn't done that for me, but I'm okay with that.  I am not sure she needed someone to pimp her site as much as she needed someone to point out what she needed to do and how she needed to define it.  At the moment, I don't think she has done that, but that's something she will need to work on herself.   If I want to keep losing bodyfat, I don't think it's going to be on the back of Krista's free nutrition counseling.

From what I can see on that site, the subtle changes in focus seem to come from a very personal place of pain and denial.  Krista made it sound easy.  She made it seem like if we couldn't do what she did, we were lazy or truly unwilling to do what it takes to make changes.  She wouldn't be wrong.  I don't think she really conveyed that what it takes is harder than we think it is - even for her.  She made blog posts about losing mojo, about her failure to maintain a level of fitness due to injury, and about dealing with early menopause.  Her most startling confession dealt with her experience with intermittent fasting, which became an obsession that sounded an awful lot like an eating disorder.  She said after her recent 40th birthday: "Instead of adding 20 lbs to my deadlift, I add it to my ass."
Instead of adding 20 lb to my deadlift, I added it to my ass. OK, no problem. Bodyweight coefficient. Moar muscle. Right?
Ha.
- See more at: http://www.stumptuous.com/rant-69-the-winter-of-our-content#sthash.e4hz73uk.dpuf
It was one of those cases where we see our heroes' falliability - and we love them all the more for it. 

The takeaway from all of this was that super-leanness takes an enormous amount of work for most of us and it can take a huge toll on both our mental and physical health.  Fitness enthusiasts who tell you it's not a struggle, who say it's not extremely difficult, are either not being honest with you, or not being honest with themselves.  Is it worth it just so I can like the way I look in a bathing suit?  I don't wear a bathing suit to look good.  I wear it to swim. 

I think the only way to know if I can keep going - or even if I want to for that matter - is to try.  I do believe at some point I may try a structure program.  I will not do Lean Eating again.  I liked Lean Eating and what it did for me, but it's an expensive commitment.  When you sign up, you're in it for a year.  I think some of the habits were pointless.  I do not want to have to bother with required photo shoots again (a shameless way of making you pay for their marketing since they own the photos you submit to them).  Also I feel the teams are too large and it stretches the resources of the coaches.  Other fitness pros are out there making similar programs.  Sean Flanagan does a 1-on-1 coaching program that seems similar LE.  It only requires a 3-month commitment and that's what I am looking for.  I just want 3-6 months to fine tune my habits and freshen up my workouts.  I won't be doing that any time soon though.  My finances won't allow it.  I think it will be a helpful project for 2015 though. 

Right now I am just going to keep chugging along, doing the best I can, and remind myself that I made tremendous progress, am capable of doing more than I thought, and have an amazingly fit body no matter what it looks like.

I suppose the moral of the story is the program may be over, but the journey never ends.
Instead of adding 20 lb to my deadlift, I added it to my ass. OK, no problem. Bodyweight coefficient. Moar muscle. Right?
Ha.
- See more at: http://www.stumptuous.com/rant-69-the-winter-of-our-content#sthash.e4hz73uk.dpuf

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