Weight Bait

barbell

It was 1 degree Celcius outside, and there I was in a sports bra and booty shorts, striking a pose in front of a metal container in a deserted shipping yard. “I don’t want you to lean against it; it’s too cold,” the photographer told me.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I have plenty of insulation!”

“Actually, you don’t,” she replied. “I know you still feel like it’s there, but it’s not. It takes longer to get rid of the weight in your head than it does to shed it from your body.”

HLXU-container2

She was right. And you know, I know the weight is gone. I do. I mean, that’s why I was there – I booked that photo shoot for a bunch of reasons, but one is that I reached my goal weight. The weight I was at when I finished high school. The weight where I promised myself I’d stop the weight loss mindfuckery and just learn to maintain.

Except…except that since that photo shoot I’ve dropped five pounds. I didn’t do it on purpose; in fact since CPU Westerns (the first week of September) I have put zero effort into losing weight. I stopped tracking, I stopped weighing myself regularly, I stopped being careful about what I was putting into my mouth…I just, you know, kept on eating the same way I was used to eating, and training the way I was used to training. And the other day I was driving home from the gym and pondering life, and a strange thought hit me:

I could try and drop to the next (powerlifting) weight class down. It’s not that far away.

NOPE, I told myself. I’m not playing that game anymore.

mug_on_wood

See, I’ve been either dieting or letting my weight spiral out of control since I was 13 years old. The last four months of paying zero attention and maintaining have been a major anomaly, although if I’m honest I have to confess that the last year or so of tracking macros and training hard has been a labour of love. I actually enjoyed the process – it wasn’t about control and self-loathing anymore. It wasn’t punishment for letting myself go; I was driven purely by my big-ass crush on strength sports.

But there’s always the next goal. The next opportunity for improvement. The next mountain peak….actually fuck mountain climbing. The next set of plates on the bar! That’s how I roll, yo.

So the real question is, how do you learn to trust yourself after 25+ years of bungee-cord dieting?

bungee-jumping-victoria-falls-zimbabwe

We are the sum of our habits – how we live dictates who we are. And if the outside of us doesn’t match what’s inside, you’ve got a great recipe for shame and unhappiness brewing.

Because weight loss is never just about carrying around less fat. The number on the scale, while it can seem all-encompassing when it doesn’t jive with how we see ourselves, doesn’t matter – not really. The real battleground is inside our braincase – whether you think have 5lbs to lose or 50lbs to lose, the feelings are the same when you look in the mirror and think, “ugh.”

pinkamena___ugh_face_by_skitt_less-d5kkvbt

Every weight loss program out there teaches you (in whatever roundabout way) to eat less calories, but a big piece of the puzzle that most of them miss is that you have to learn to stop defining yourself as an overweight person and start thinking like the person you want to become. Otherwise, no matter how much success you have on whatever plan you’re using, that phantom flesh hangs on and keeps messing with you – and if you ask me, THAT is the reason why most people fail at weight loss. That’s certainly why I failed, over and over and over again – it took a massive shift in how I saw myself to lose the weight and keep it off…and I clearly still have work to do in that department.

women-think-they-are-fat

I might still have work to do in the weight loss department, too. Because do I stop here? I could. For the first time in my life I feel at home in my body; like my meat suit reflects what I value, and the past few months have taught me that that I actually can trust myself to maintain; at least over the short term. Or I could keep pushing for a few more months and see what happens. Either way we’re in uncharted territory.

Advertisements

One Weird Trick – Seriously

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You work out, you eat right – mostly – and you just. Arent. Seeing. Results.

Probably you also have a job that takes up some time. And maybe family that needs a lot of your attention. Hobbies. Email. A home that needs looking after. Candy Crush.

Yvonne* has been training with a colleague of mine for a few weeks now, and despite her best efforts she is just not seeing the results she’s working so hard for in the gym. She’s training three times a week with her trainer, she’s doing an hour of cardio on the off days and tracking what she’s eating. Her trainer asked me to sit down with her to discuss her nutrition because she’s starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with her…

But after talking to her for a few minutes I realized that the missing link had nothing to do with her workout program, or her nutrition. Sure, there’s room for improvement – there ALWAYS is – but neither factor was the deal breaker.

See, Yvonne works full time. She has two busy teenage kids. She and her husband just sold their house and are moving in two weeks. They have dogs that need walking morning and night.

Most nights she’s up until midnight, catching up on work email so that she can put her mind at rest before she goes to sleep…and then she’s up at 5:30am to do it all again.

Any guesses what the missing puzzle piece here is?

Yup, y’all were right: the missing link that is holding her back is…(drumroll please) SLEEP.

Because nobody can do it all on five and a half hours’ sleep at night.

gothefucktosleep

Yvonne’s story is not unusual – we all tend to put sleep last on our list of priorities, especially when life gets stressful. Here’s the problem though: life IS stressful, and that pattern of putting sleep last on the priority list can become a habit. Often we don’t even notice it at first. When that happens and we slowly but surely start to burn out, we start eating absentmindedly, we develop digestive issues (heartburn, anyone?), we crave sugar, the number on the scale starts creeping up, we work out harder and try harder to control calories…and the cycle continues until we burn out.

Does this pattern sound familiar? Forgive me if I need to get on my soapbox here and lecture through my bullhorn: if you are not getting adequate sleep, you will not see the results you are looking for. Think of your overall health and wellness as a triangle: on one side there’s exercise, on the other side there’s nutrition, and on the bottom – the base of the whole operation – there’s sleep. Your body needs adequate rest and recovery for your muscles to grow, for your brain to process information, for all your systems to recover and find some balance again. When that doesn’t happen, the wheels start to fall off.

But don’t just take my word for it: the National Institute of Health recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep at night. Everybody’s a little different but for most people 7 hours is the bare minimum before serious health problems start to manifest. “She’s full of it,” you might be thinking right now, “I get by just fine on six hours a night. Besides, I don’t have time for more sleep; I have too much to do – so much that I can’t even remember what’s next on my to-do list.” If that’s you, do yourself a favour: take off your martyr hat and go take a nap – you’ll have an easier time remembering stuff when you wake up.

tiredtocare

Sleep loss is linked to all sorts of health nastiness that I could go on about for days – memory problems, brain fog, speech problems (ever feel tongue-tied on Friday afternoons? I know I do) but that might get long and boring and put people to sleep…so we’ll focus on most people’s primary goals in the gym: muscle gain and fat loss.

So you’ve been busting your ass in the gym in order to get bigger muscles – a noble pursuit! But it’s not the hours in the gym that are going to give you sick guns or delts that look like the great pumpkin; it’s the hours you spend sleeping. Why? Because when you work out you are actually causing damage to your muscles.  When you’re sleeping, your body produces growth hormone, prompting your body to repair that damage and lay down more muscle tissue. If you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t grow.

tiredlion

Ever get really tired? Stupid question, I know – but think back to the last time you were freaking exhausted but you were at work or doing something where just going to sleep wasn’t an option. How did you feel? Hungry, right? That’s because sleep loss increases ghrelin production – the hormone that stimulates hunger and prompts us to reduce our energy expenditure. Basically what happens is that when we get tired and don’t have the energy to keep going, our bodies crave sugar – gotta get energy from somewhere! Being short on sleep also decreases leptin production, the hormone that tells us to stop eating when we’re full, making it easy to overeat.

But the biggest factor – the one that shoots most people in the foot – is that sleepiness makes it really hard to give a fuck about fitness goals. When was the last time you had a “fuck it” moment at 9am and ate a bunch of stuff you know you shouldn’t? Probably hard to remember, because at that time of day we’re focused. We’re rested, on our best behaviour, and ready to kick some ass! At 9pm, though – that’s a different story. Put the cheezies down and go to bed!

tiredcat

Getting Started

IMG_1470 (1)

I was cleaning some stuff up this morning (hey, it happens sometimes) when I came across a pile of dumbells and little interchangeable plates. I pulled them all out from their hiding place in the dark recesses under my desk and looked at them, sitting there in the sunlight. My husband turned from what he was doing and saw them sitting on the floor. “Wow,” he said. “Remember when you bought those? I bet the you from back then wouldn’t even recognize you today.”

He’s right.

Because what I found under my desk was my very first set of weights. I bought them from Canadian Tire in 1998, along with a workout video on strength training. I bought them because even though I detested exercise, part of me knew that I needed to get stronger if I was going to be able to live with myself – see, at that point I was 21 years old, dangerously obese, and slowly but surely losing my mind because of back pain. At that point I was also investigating the possibility of breast reduction surgery because clearly that was the only permanent solution to the consistent ache between my shoulder blades.

So I did the first 15-minute section of that workout video a couple of times. I was doing 1-arm dumbbell rows with a 6lb dumbbell (for context I use ten times that today) and it was hard work. It temporarily relieved the pain in my back, but it made me feel weak and angry and my muscles hurt for days afterward…so I stopped. Fuck that shit; it wasn’t fun. I was just not an exercise girl.

Here’s the thing though: exercise is a skill. Getting better at it takes patience and practice and time. It’s uncomfortable and it sucks sometimes…but a big part of why it sucks is that we have this idea that we *should* be able to just do it (because who’s heard that slogan before?). But consider this: nobody ever air-dropped into the Kalahari and was suddenly fluent in Khoisan. Nobody ever picked up a trumpet and was able to play it well the first time. When you learn a new skill, you have to start at the beginning. You have to suck for a little while; that’s what makes getting better worth the effort – if you started out awesome then you’d never see progress and how fun would that be?

Start where you are. Adjust your expectations. Learn. Play. And most importantly, don’t quit.