To Cheat Or Not To Cheat

I have found myself struggling with this question for years now–when I am following a strict diet plan is it better for me to follow that plan ALL of the time or to incorporate cheat meals once a week like many bodybuilders? After years of testing, failing, and trying again, my final conclusion is that it all depends on YOU and what gives you greater peace of mind.

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I used to use cheat meals as an excuse to binge-eat after months of extreme dieting. I would feel so run down and deprived, but I would not want to break my strict diet, so I would allow for one meal that was “outside of the plan.” However, of course this backfired because rather than alleviating the struggle feeling deprived most of the day, I would proceed to go on an all out eating frenzy that would continue anywhere from a single night to a few months of being unable to regain control.

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I am in a much different place now. Monday was my birthday (22!) and as part of my new training plan I am allowed one “free meal” per week where I can eat whatever I want as long as I don’t eat to the point of discomfort. My family took me out to eat at the Oyster Club, a high end and scrumptious restaurant on the CT shoreline for my birthday dinner. I looked forward to it all weekend, prepped my normal meals for the trip, and replaced one of them with this meal out to eat. I ate warm, sweet cornbread (YUM), a light summer salad of tomatoes, peaches, and ricotta (yes I chose this over pasta hehe), fluke with white beans and had my very own dessert–a warm almond cake with whipped cream! This meal was satisfying in every way, but the highlight of it was the glaring sign of ED recovery–I did not have any urge to binge afterwards, as I often would when I was younger, calorie deprived, and feeling out of control. (It might sound weird that I would want to binge after a full meal but it’s actually quite common–once you break down the wall keeping you from eating a little you end up wanting to tear the whole thing down). Rather, I simply decided I did not need the last meal I had planned for the day. I went on to enjoy a great night’s sleep and was energized for my workout the next day.

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Despite these up-sides, I still decided that I think I will save these decadent “free meals” for rare occasions like my birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. While the extra calories energized me for my workout the next day, I personally don’t like feeling bloated from the extra salt and gluten (which I don’t usually consume) and I realize that my weight loss goals are more important to me than a pleasureful meal each week. I rank my consistent progress over that meal, and I find that sometimes when I focus on the meal ahead too much it is a little too close to my old disordered-eating mind for my liking. For some people, however, this is exactly the meal they need to keep them on pointe throughout the week! Maybe one day I will get to that place, but for now I’ll stick with a piece of fish, veggies, and a complex carb on my weekly(ish) meal out to dinner 🙂

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When the Gym Becomes the Playground

The first few weeks of an exercise routine are always rough. Maybe you’re out of shape, maybe you have been inconsistent with your training, maybe you’re starting a completely new program and the exercises as foreign to you as that language you always wished you spoke. Whatever the case, the excruciatingly sore muscles are never fun, nor is wandering around the gym like a freshman on their first day of college, trying to make out the miniscule directions on the exercise machines without anyone noticing, or dimming your phone so no one can make out the “How to do a deadlift” YouTube tutorial you are analyzing. Your workouts are a chore, a necessary part of your day that you can’t wait to get over with. You’re not seeing results anyways, so what’s the point?

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Hold out because there comes a shift. It is mainly a mental shift, but of course your mental state and physical state are always closely intertwined. Let me explain: in the beginning, going to the gym always seems to negate time from my day. Then, one morning I wake up and it has transformed into an enhancement of my day. I look forward to it. I view the gym as a playground. I will look down at my phone at the end of my workout session, shocked at the fact that 2 hours had gone by?!? I was just enjoying myself. Testing my body. Exploring my limits. Exhausting every fiber of my being. So what changed?

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I think part of it has to do with the fact that after a month of following a consistent workout and meal plan, you start to see definite changes in your body. This is empowering. You realize you have autonomy over your life! You can reshape your body all through your habits! And of course this makes every day seem worth it. Once you have lost enough body fat, you begin to see the previous day’s hard work taking shape every morning you open your eyes and see your new reflection staring back at you. These are real, tangible, visible results that drive you to put more effort in each and every day. And suddenly you are reframing (a positive psychology technique!!) — and the gym becomes a playscape.

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Photos: Pixabay.com

Intuitive Thriving

Reshaping your body can be a funny process. One night you are totally down on yourself, caught up in the details, afraid of the days you won’t be able to count your macros if the progress is THIS SLOW when you are counting every gram. Imagining how long it is going to take if your stupid-efficient metabolism only lets you lose one pound per week. Doubting if you are really taking the rights steps towards change. But doubt does not lead to progress.

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You are forgetting one thing. Those long, hard hours you are putting in at the gym are not manually burning calories anymore like the hours slaved away on the elliptical did. That iron you are lifting is RESHAPING your entire body, day and night. Revving your metabolism for years to come. Building lean, long curves and cuts in your muscles that magazines have always promised you with 30 knee-push-ups a day. You are replacing fat cells with muscle cells! An amazing biological feat!

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Thought it may not always seem like it, the beauty of it is that you do not suddenly wake up one day and see all of the progress you have made. What we forget at the very beginning of our journey is that if you are putting the hard, consistent work in, after about a month you will have AT LEAST one distinct moment each week when you think: “Wow, I can actually start to see my jawline,” or “Okay, running doesn’t feel like such a chore anymore,” or “Oh my gosh, those jean shorts just slid right on…when did that happen?” And that is the beauty of this long, slow process. These little pick-me-up moments are like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. That is what makes it somewhat of an addiction.

Dedication does not equal deprivation. You are eating enough so that you can still enjoy your food, yet your food never hinders your performance, mood, or distends your tummy into a state of distress. This is you THRIVING. And this is what people mean when they say to enjoy the process. If it happened overnight, it would not be a lifestyle.

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Once it becomes a lifestyle you no longer start to worry so much about the gram by gram daily differences in your calories, especially if something throws off your routine–travel, a special event, a bout of sickness. You have developed a whole new shiny frame of mind in which you only want to fuel your body with the best. You already feel great, and you just want to continue thriving. You don’t want to let that feeling go ever again. So yes, you stay strict with your workouts and your eating habits and your drinking habits. People look at you weird, like a freak of nature, but you continue on. Because you know yourself and your potential to thrive best. But you no longer have to micromanage the journey to the point of toting your food scale all over the world. It will eventually become intuitive. Intuitive thriving.

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The Weight of Words

One time, when I was in the best shape of my life, I had a new friend tell me that I was lucky because I was naturally lean. She had to work so hard to lose weight. This was laughable to me because it could not be further from the truth. I had been pretty chubby as a child until I realized I would not succeed in skating unless I had a lean and svelt body, leading to years of dieting and an obsession with weight loss.

This REALLY made me realize how you never really know what is going on in a person’s life–you know nothing about their relationship with food, exercise, and health in general, therefore it is impossible to make such assumptions.

The truth was, although I was finally feeling great in my skin at the time this comment was made, it had taken me 10+ years of extremely restrictive eating habits, tons of cardio, endless weight loss plateaus, and binge eating behaviors to finally lead me to a stable grounds and allow me to really lean out. Getting to that point was anything but easy and I still had very restrictive eating habits (which later lead to larger problems with binge eating).

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The point is, next time you have something to say about someone else’s body, really think it over first. Not only is giving them feedback none of your business, but food and body image is unfortunately an extremely touchy subject (stemming from insecurities) and it’s really easy for what you are trying to say to get distorted in someone’s head. For example, I used to think “buff” meant “bulky.” Little did I know, when someone was calling me buff it meant I appeared lean, chiseled, and in shape to them! All this time a simple word made the difference between a compliment and an insult, a simple miscommunication ruling the way I viewed my body. How silly, in a dark and twisted way…

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It is not your place to judge the journey of another. Air on the side of caution when making a comment about someone else’s eating habits or body shape, especially to young girls. Unfortunately, your comments hold more weight than you may think.

 

Operation Taste My Food Again

If I’m being honest with myself, I have an addiction. And that addiction is artificial sweeteners. It has been a long time coming for me to finally quit. The other day I read an article saying that they are more addictive than cocaine, and that same day I listened to a podcast by Mind Pump Media exaggerating how problematic artificial sweeteners can be. Not only do they claim to enhance weight loss, but Stevia is 200-400 times sweeter than sugar, and Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sugar! Of COURSE they are addictive! They are manufactured to make us want more of it.

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I already know this will be an uphill battle for me. I know I have chronically overused these little packets of evil for at least ten years, dumping Truvia, Splenda, Equal, Stevia, Purevia, into my coffee, fruit, oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, cottage cheese, smoothies, etc. Multiple times throughout the day and between meals I would consume. I did not discriminate. I tore open any little packet I could get my hands on, hoarding them in the cupboards, my car, my purse. The gum addiction is a whole other story. While in Denmark, it is much more difficult to find these chemicals (classic Denmark always doing it right), so I even had my mom bring a dozen packs of my favorite gum brand (Five Peppermint).

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The irony is, I felt so much better when I wasn’t having these sweeteners. And whenever I tried to limit my consumption, it would steadily increase to an obscene amount–again pointing to their addictive properties. I knew I was making a mistake every time I bought a new massive box of this poison, but I couldn’t stop, even when I had terrible side effects such as bloating and gas, etc. that I knew was caused directly by this fake sweetness.

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Until now. When I heard these sweeteners can cause Metabolic Syndrome, Insulin Resistance, and even Type 2 Diabetes I felt sick to my stomach. No wonder I can’t lose weight when I eat 1200 calories and workout 1+ hours every day. I promptly dumped everything artificial sweetener anything into the trash–crystal light powder, gum, stevia. Stevia doesn’t have a bad rap yet, but the FDA states that “stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts are not considered GRAS and do not have FDA approval for use in food”– meaning that they are not generally recognized as safe. It seems to me that the FDA is covering their bases just in case stevia ends up causing cancer in the long run. I’m not going to take my chances anymore.

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Stay tuned for an update on the changes I notice in my body with this lifestyle change! 🙂

 

To Think Or Not To Think

Do you guys ever wake up feeling like a lump of trash? Groggy, sore, and possibly sick? Well that was me this morning. There was really no explanation for it besides going to bed too late and training legs really hard yesterday. 

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Not sure what I was doing at the Colosseum but I definitely wasn’t as distressed as it appears in the photo…

But then I recalled thinking to myself yesterday, “Wow, I haven’t been sick in a long time!” And it occurred to me—our brains are WAY more connected to our bodies than we think, so I probably brought this upon myself.

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I always feel like my mind and body are in synch at the beach. Especially Barcelona beaches!!

Of course, lack of sleep and overtraining can weaken the immune system but I’m convinced that our thoughts can too. After all, stress is directly connected to our nervous system and can even cause terrible digestive issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, along with tons of other health problems.

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A castle in Lisbon, Portugal

If that is true, what’s to stop us from thinking our thought patterns can’t predict our physical health? In the wise words of my mother (When telling her about the sickness coincidence), “Don’t think about it in the future.”

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Trevi Fountain, Rome. Definitely not thinking about sickness here!

 

Should I Track My Food?

There are two types of people:

  1. Those who thrive with spontaneous food choices
  2. Those who thrive when they plan their food ahead of time

These two types of people are like the difference between introverts and extroverts. Extroverts will never fully understand introverts and vice versa. I was sitting at the dinner table with some family recently and they wanted to know how I eat. I was not eating the layered (and delicious smelling) chicken, mozzarella, with tomatoes everyone else was having for a few reasons, one being that I don’t eat meat and the second being that I am working with my trainer to figure out the ideal macros for my body right now. I tried to explain to them that that takes utmost consistency because if you are not consistent you will never figure out what works. The variables need to be held constant, just like in 8th grade science class.

I then realized, based on their reactions, that what I was saying was probably relatable to one person at the table, and totally foreign to the other two. One was the intuitive eating type (something I greatly admire) and one was the social, pleasure eating type. Of course, I wish I could be the pleasure eating kind of person. I would save so much time, thought, and effort that could be invested elsewhere in my life. However, I have become some kind of expert when it comes to accepting and handling the fact that my body does not work that way. Usually when I relax on the food tracking my body fat percentage skyrockets from the hidden oils, dressings, etc. This is one reason I developed such an interest in health and fitness. It was out of necessity, but soon became a passion. I was spending so much time manipulating the foods that I ate that it became more and more interesting when I would see results.

It all boils down to your values. Because I grew up as a figure skater, I spent my childhood in a body in great physical condition. I really believe that your physical health and satisfaction with your shell is a huge part of the foundation to your happiness. That is why when people undergo a large weight loss transformation they are often happier with a whole new and positive demeanor. When I started gaining weight in college my body did not feel like my own anymore. I despised this feeling, especially because it deterred me from doing what I love–figure skating. I came to the realization that when I go out to eat with friends or pass a fast food restaurant I no longer WANT to eat the unhealthy food. I don’t crave it or desire it because I know that it will make me feel terrible 23.5 hours out of the day. It is not a matter of willpower. It’s a matter of being honest with yourself. However, that is so very hard to explain to someone who doesn’t share the same past and experiences. It can come off like you’re talking down to them when you really just have true intentions. What I have come to realize is that food is a personal choice and you know yourself best. If one of your friends passes up an ice cream cone don’t take it personally, or compare your choices to theirs. They may just be thinking prioritizing their next 12 hours of the day over their next 12 minutes of pleasure because that makes them the happiest. But that doesn’t mean skipping the ice cream cone will maximize your personal happiness too!
Here is a photo of my pre-workout smoothie with banana and almond butter! Yummy!

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