Rant 48 August 2008: You’re lying to yourself

Hi everybody! It’s OMGBFF A here, and I will be your guest ranter this month. It’s been a busy time in KristaLand, what with her new coaching business and all, so I figured I could buy her some time by talking about myself and providing the August 2008 Rant of the Month.

Before After
Here’s a shot of me at my chiropractor’s office. Eek. And the new me with my coach Elliott and my sponsor Riccardo!

I have been trying to diet off and on for, god, nine years. I would lose weight after working hard at dieting (at one point I got as low as 165 lbs), but then I would put it back on. Then somebody would ask me about fitness and I would think, “but I’m doing everything right! I don’t know why I’m not losing weight!”

You know the story. You’re skipping meals, so how could you be losing weight? You had a small breakfast, right? Just an omelette? There’s no WAY you ate more than 1500 calories yesterday! Your three weight training sessions every week are plenty exercise, aren’t they? You don’t need to weigh yourself – you have been doing pretty well recently.

A little over one year ago I got on the scale and the doctor told me I was 208 lbs, seconds after I told him I thought I was 170. When that 50 lb weight slid across the scale one more spot, I was like, ah NUTS.

That was my epiphany. The moment I realized I needed to smarten up. Crossing the 200 lb barrier at the speed of lard was enough to kick my brain into action.

The thing I had to admit to myself is that… I am a great liar. (Actually, I am usually a terrible liar, but I am an exceptional liar when I am lying to myself.) I’m sure that nutritionists and coaches who are less understanding than Krista roll their eyes when they hear people like me. For example, she would ask me what my diet was like:

My delusion: “I am eating very well. Mostly vegetables and chicken, occasionally some beef, and I have one cheat day a week.”

The reality: Except for the chocolate bar and bag of chips I bought on the way home on Wednesday. And I had to eat the leftover ground beef by making spaghetti sauce, which of course requires spaghetti to be truly enjoyed. Then the cheat day, that’s only one day: the super-indulgent Friday night with pizza and chips. Oh, plus dinner with friends on Saturday night because “a day” is a 24-hour period. And I had dinner with friends, so certainly brunch at the cafe on Sunday is fine. And the big dinner Sunday night to get ready for the week because, you know, I’m dieting, so I might as well stock up on calories for the week. And then there’s the Monday business lunch and Tuesday’s visit to the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet on the way in to work. But next week, I’m going to eat right again, so it will be fine.

Before After
With Krista during our home renovation phase Being “attacked” by Stumptuous #2 after we did the finals of an absolute division 🙂

Here’s the truth:

You’re lying to yourself.

I lied to myself. If today’s me were to talk to 2006 me, she would say these things:

  1. You do not have a biochemical malfunction that makes you put on weight when everybody else can eat anything they want.
  2. You are unable to “eyeball” portions.
  3. Your natural set point is not 180 lbs. You are 5’6″, not 6’2″.
  4. You’re not going to be “skinny”. There is a big difference between the 135 lbs of an athletic, ripped person who can swing a kettlebell for 150 reps and do a 20-minute jiu-jitsu match and the 135 lbs of a fashion-model-can’t-lift-a-soup-can person.
  5. Non-athletic, out-of-shape people are not qualified to lecture you on what is reasonable or healthy, and they’re probably doing it because they feel that your success is their failure. Don’t listen to them.
  6. Do, however, listen to your doctor. She’s an athlete herself.
  7. You CAN give up bread and pasta.
  8. You are not muscular. You are fat, and you have to acknowledge that you are not one of those people who are naturally lean.
  9. You are not capitulating to the patriarchy if you take care of yourself.
  10. While I admire your enthusiasm and commitment to living “outside the box”, your body is unable to violate the laws of physics, and must either use the energy your food provides or store up for winter in fat cells.
  11. You are not exercising enough.
  12. You are eating too much.
  13. You’re full of shit when you say “I’ll do better next week”.

Over the last few months I have been talking to more and more people who see that I have transformed my body. They ask me how I did it, so I tell them I am on the “eat less and exercise more” diet. There’s nothing magic about it: I eat good food and I exercise regularly. Period. To lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories than you are burning every day. Simple.

Almost inevitably, these people come up with all of the reasons they can’t get leaner themselves, or how they’re just fine now. “I’m not fat! I’m fluffy!” (Which is cute until “fluffy” becomes “diabetic and enjoys visits from the Cardiac Arrest Fairy”, you know?) Some of them say the same things that I said to myself. Like me, they are able to accomplish the impressive feat of mental gymnastics required to ignore the fact that they have pastries with their Starbucks cappuccino every morning. Or to pretend that late night snacks don’t count. Or to think that two
weeks of consistency in the gym this past April is enough to say, “I train regularly” even though the people at the gym have forgotten what you look like. You swear you will get back there next week, and that treadmill is gonna be your bitch! Well, maybe the week after next, because next week is really busy at work.

Do any of these hit home? If so, don’t get freaked out.

The reason I tell you this is not to pass judgment on your behaviour. There is no judgment. I swear. I’ve been there. I tell you these things because I feel that we need to know it’s normal to have these denial mechanisms. But the thing is, folks, you don’t need them. They are not useful at all. In fact, they are actively damaging your health and your quality of life. Don’t feel down on yourself. You are not a bad person for getting to where you are now. Plus, you can fix it.

The ability to be honest with yourself is a great starting point – for me, it was the most critical step on the path to health. Think about how much better your life can be with some changes in your diet and activity. Think about what it would be like to climb stairs without getting winded, or to have feet that don’t hurt constantly, or to not have to fall back on food for emotional support. It’s liberating. Trust me.

I can tell you that, with where I am now (which isn’t even where I want to end up), I have never felt better. People who have done their own body recomposition used to say that to me all of the time, but now I really understand it. I am so much more tuned in to my body than I used to be. Why? Because I am committed to feeling good. I know how it feels to be in great shape, and I know how it feels to be in bad shape. I don’t want to go back to bad shape. Before I started taking care of myself, I thought I was fine, but I wasn’t – and it took fixing the problem to understand exactly how big the problem was.

Now, when I go to the athletic therapist and say, “my hips are a bit tight”, I mean that they are 3.85% tighter than normal and the therapist says, “yes, they are, but how did you even notice that?” I feel sluggish and out of sorts the day after I have eaten a high-starch meal, and that bothers me because I know how much better I feel when I don’t eat that crap. Every little thing makes me sit up and pay attention – I see my body as a part of me and a source of joy, rather than a burden to bear, and I want to take care of it.

Before After
Probably the bagpiping was at least as unappealing as the squishiness Bustin’ out some pullups with the gals at a women’s open mat at Fightworks in Sterling, VA!

The mental battle required to tell denial to mind its own business is a tough one. I don’t think you ever win it. A little over a month ago I fought at a tournament at 140 lbs, after cutting from 145. After the tournament I thought, “my next competition isn’t until October, so I’ll just eat whatever I want for a week and then get back to healthy eating.” Which is what I did. I ate whatever I wanted. A lot of it, probably.

I wasn’t feeling great, but I chalked it up to stress and my new training program. I knew I was eating some high-calorie meals but I thought I was doing so well otherwise that they wouldn’t matter. Krista added one heavy workout, two conditioning workouts and two interval workouts to my training schedule. I should have been burning more calories than ever before.

Then, a week and a half ago, my resume for a pro division was accepted. AND I decided to do the world championships, which were two and three weeks away, respectively. It took me another week to work up the courage to get on the scale. This past Monday I weighed myself at 155, and I had the same “ah NUTS” feeling I had when the doctor told me I was 208 lbs.

(By the way, I had sworn to myself that I would never get above 150 again, and had originally planned to cut down to 135 lbs so I could be as lean as Liz. I saw her at Grapplers Quest in May and I thought “I GOTTA get me some of those abs!”)

Now it’s three days later and I’m under 150 again. A lot of it was fluid retention from eating higher-carb and higher-sodium foods, but the reality is that I have put on a good three to five pounds of chunky stuff in just about a month. After only four weeks on the new program, I doubt it’s any appreciable amount of muscle. This change in my workout schedule has made me famished, which has made me eat too much and gain weight. No, I am not capable of remembering what I have eaten and estimating how many more calories I can consume. And yes, that after-class bag of peanut M&Ms DOES count as part of my daily caloric total, even though I have just worked out.

A year ago I acknowledged to myself that I was in terrible shape, and showed myself that I could do something about it. What this most recent experience has illustrated is that I can’t trust my appetite to make good decisions for me. This time I didn’t have to go through the angst of feeling badly about how I had stopped taking care of myself – I recognized the problem, knew that all I needed was willpower, and jumped right in with both feet (as I always do) to fix it.

Yep, three days later and I already feel oodles better. Three days. Seriously, the difference is huge in only three days. I don’t feel bloated and slow, and I’m not emotionally wigged out. I am on my protein-fat-and-veggies diet with intermittent fasting (which seems to work great, by the way – my doctor told me that my blood lipid profile was so good that it couldn’t get any better without drugs).

Tonight, before writing this rant, I was talking about to Krista about my experience. She told me that she goes through the same thing. Fitness and health progress is never a linear progression: it happens in fits and starts. You get better and then you backslide a bit. It’s normal.

Here’s the cool thing, though: my experience has taught me that I can make a change if I want to. All I needed to do was understand that I was lying to myself, and then do something about it.

I will be blogging regularly on Krista’s site, talking about my experience of going from lazy slob to competitive semi-professional athlete. I’m going to be honest: when I screw up, I will acknowledge it, and share my experience with you. How can I ask you to be honest with yourself if I am not being honest with myself?

You can do it.

Before After
At my biggest but still in a boxing ring. Look at that blubber fly! With Ainslie on the winner’s podium at the Salvosa BJJ tournament