I have been conscious of my weight for as long as I can remember. I’ve always liked to eat, and I’m really good at it. But my favorite hobby comes with a price – one that has sent me into the arms of the latest diet fad over and over. Fat. I’ve been fat or scared of being fat my entire life. There have been times (too many to count) when I didn’t want to get dressed because I was afraid that my clothes would no longer fit. I valued myself by my pant size and truly believed that anything I did well was tainted because I was fat.
My diet history could read like a resume:
My diet-hopping continued until I joined Weight Watchers in the early 2000s. The Points system was new, and it worked well for me. Under the entertaining guidance of my Weight Watchers leader, Rosie, I learned how to squeeze the most out of every Point. Rosie, like me, liked quantity over quality. I learned how to make choices – for example, if I wanted a cookie then I would have to forfeit the ice cream. I also learned the art of starting over. One of Rosie’s favorite quips was “Count it as a vegetable and move on.” (And sometimes I still do.)
Weight Watchers was my diet of choice for many years. I would lose the weight, go off plan, gain back the weight and go back to the meetings. I always had success, but each time I returned I weighed a bit more and I lost a bit less.
And then I found CrossFit.
I had remembered seeing a Jazzercise not too far from where I lived. I was at my heaviest weight ever, and I wasn’t even thinking about what new diet I was going to try. I just wanted to get moving, to get sweating. I just wanted to feel like I was doing something.
My heart sank when I saw Jazzercise was no longer there. It had been replaced with something called CrossFit. That night when I got home, I Googled “CrossFit” and for the first time in a long time I didn’t feel quite so lost. I signed up for the trial period, ordered some XXL mesh capri pants, and counted down the days until I would start.
But a shiny new exercise endeavor is not complete without a new diet. This time I decided to do a meal replacement program. I ate four frozen meals a day, none of which exceeded 300 calories.
In the first few months of CrossFit, I lost 30 lbs. I was getting lean and strong, but I wanted more. I wanted to eat the best way possible to support all the hard work I was putting in at the box. This way of thinking was a complete turnaround for me. I started to cringe at the word “diet.” My body deserved to be fed, not deprived.
I had heard of Paleo (of course), and started researching it. I practically inhaled Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution. Everything I was reading went against the grain of my dieting experience. I had been successful on low-fat, low calorie plans. Could a diet of good fat, quality food, and no calorie-counting work for me? I still wanted to lose about 20 lbs. I decided to do the Whole30 and for the next 30 days I lived and breathed the program.
And it didn’t work. Not for me. I never achieved the tiger’s blood. I didn’t drop the weight. I felt tired, sluggish. My performance at CrossFit didn’t improve.
If you read the Whole30 reviews or visit the Whole30 Facebook page, you’ll see that my results are the minority. In fact, when I asked for support (which was readily available), I was advised to double check the ingredients I was consuming (done) and make sure I was eating enough (did I mention I’m really good at eating?). And I got the feeling that the folks at Whole30 were more convinced I was doing something wrong rather than it was possible their program simply didn’t work for me.
But there are a few things I did take away from my disappointing Whole30. I now eat whole foods. No more low-fat, sugar-free, 100 calorie packs for me. I choose foods with minimal ingredients that I can pronounce. I’m not afraid of butter. Basically, I quit “dieting.” I also quit losing weight…but I didn’t gain any either.
I stayed in this odd sort of limbo for quite awhile. I was happy with my strength gains at the gym, but I was getting restless about the remainder of the weight I wanted to lose. I no longer desired to be skinny, but I knew that pull ups would be easier if I was lighter. Handstand push ups would be easier if I was lighter. In order to be better at the sport I loved, I needed to start thinking about food…again.
Where to begin? I knew I had been successful with the low-fat, calorie counting approach. But everything I had read about nutrition in the last few months condemned that line of thinking. Should I throw out the wheat or eat whole grains? Could I keep my avocado or should I trade it in for some lite mayo? I was ready, but I had no idea what I should do.
Enter Jamie Free at Max Muscle Cool Springs. A friend of mine had recently gone to Jamie for a general consultation on nutrition and supplements. Her focus was on building muscle, and she was impressed at the easy tweaks Jamie had made to her current Paleo diet. I quickly contacted Jamie for a consultation of my own. My goals were different than my friend’s, and I was certainly over the Paleo thing, but maybe Jamie could help me sort these things out.
I liked Jamie immediately. I liked that his store was clean and well-organized. I liked that he paused to straighten a tub of protein powder as he was leading me back to his office. I liked that he was a fellow CrossFitter (a 2013 Regionals athlete, in fact), and I liked that he didn’t think I was a hopeless case (and I liked that if he thought I was a bit neurotic, he didn’t show it).
Once introductions were over, I began talking about my goals. Jamie asked about my current diet. I had pretty much cut out snacking so I was eating three meals a day. “And nothing before you work out?” He asked? Nope. “And sometimes you don’t eat dinner until 10pm?” Uh, yeah. I may have sat a little lower in my chair as I realized these things were bad. I didn’t even mention my reading on Intermittent Fasting.
Then Jamie did something that made my heart swell with joy – he started calculating calories. “You need to eat more. You need to keep your metabolism up.” I’d heard that before. But the changes Jamie made were subtle, and completely doable! He added some berries to breakfast, a mid-morning snack, added some kale, pre-workout protein, and lowered the carbs at dinner. I asked him about the pre-workout protein, and he suggested the Triple Whey. I left Max Muscle happy and optimistic. A girl with a plan (and a really cool five lbs jug of protein. Roar.).
I began my new program that week. And noticed an increase in energy immediately. My endurance was better at CrossFit (not miraculously better, but noticeable improvement). And after about a week I started to see my muscles showing a bit more. I was slowly shedding some fat. And I wasn’t miserable doing it. My suspicions that my new nutrition plan was working were confirmed when my husband told me, “Your shoulders are looking really good.” And then he verified that I did indeed have a 2.5 pack emerging on my stomach.
I’ve come a long way with my relationship with food. It’s complicated and emotional, but it’s also simple: I love to eat. I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving food. But I also love my body.
I read articles about the benefits of eating well. It’s like telling me that quitting smoking is good. Everyone knows that a focus on good nutrition is healthier than a drive thru diet. It’s easy to say “eat better and you’ll feel better, perform better, achieve your ideal weight.” But often the “how” is neglected. We need to find the “how.” We need to know how to change the way we view food. We need to believe in our own experiences – successes and failures. Before I met Jamie Free, I knew that being mindful of calories works for me. I knew I needed to eat carbs.
We need to dig deep for our own answers. They’re in there.