Who is she? And why should you care?
Growing up and well into my 20s food had never interested me or played a major role in my life. I had no interest in analyzing what I ate or in getting involved in the process of making meals. It was something that was done by my mother and I looked upon the task of preparing food as a service rendered to other people, as a duty rather than pleasure. I did not realize it could be both. Occasionally I’d get involved, my mother would be cooking, I’d be prepping things for her, mostly out of boredom or need for company rather than real interest. I did end up learning a few things in the process but I didn’t care too much about it.
I had a love-hate relationship with gym class as far as I can remember. I liked it, as did everybody else, for the fact that it was a break from all the other subjects in school. You could relax during gym class and not worry about tests, evaluations, projects etc. I also felt like it was something that I could exceed at if I made an effort. No idea why I had this feeling, but things came easy to me in gym class. The hate kicked in every times we were to engage in group activities, when coordination with others was necessary and I no longer was able to count on my own abilities but be hindered by others. And, of course, gym was not my choice of activity that day off the month when all girls just want curl up and die.
I didn’t do anything fitness related of my own volition. Gym class in high school that I had to attend as part of school curriculum was the only physical activity I participated in. I considered myself pretty fit as it was, so why bother – was my attitude then.
Not that long ago….
Fast forward to the year 2000 and things had started turning sour, but I did not realize it until it was too late and by “too late” I mean when the extra weight crept in out of nowhere. Well, not exactly out of nowhere. Let me explain: prior to coming to North America I did not care for or count macronutrient composition of food consumed including calories and I looked like this:
Back then food was not by any means scarce or of low caloric value, low-fat or low-carb. Quite the contrary, there was a lot of potatoes, meat and fats. We were fed well and I don’t recall ever going hungry. But there were a few things that differed from the way people eat in North America. We, or at least my family, did not know much about convenience foods. There was never a time that my mother would bring home a meal in a plastic container that she would then pop in the microwave to reheat or in the oven “to cook”. To be perfectly honest, we did not even own a microwave back then. We also never ate out. I remember one time when we all went out to a pizzeria. It’s so memorable because we just did not do it. It did not make sense financially to go out, pay through the roof for one meal for 5 people and then have nothing to show for in the fridge.
Now, back to 2000… when I came to North America and within about a year made it my home. Remember that I had never had to worry about food, so my impression of what I saw of convenience foods and how some people went about nourishing their bodies was somewhat naive if not eschewed. I started doing groceries like probably most North Americans, I went to the grocery store once a week or every two weeks and loaded my cart to the brim with “easy” things. I’d purchase things I was able to put in the oven at 415F and go on about my business until it was ready. Mind you, in the beginning of my life in Canada I was not a busy person, I did not need all this time on my hands while my dinner cooked. It was so much easier that way, I could relax, watch TV, twiddle my thumbs, you name it. Then came the baby and next came University, so I felt like I had an excuse to buy a frozen lasagna, jambalaya, pizza etc. because now I was busy with other things. Then came pints of ice cream, caramel popcorn, cookies and pastries because they were all so accessible and cheap and convenient and I simply did not have a clue. I did not know any better, because I had had sweets before with no consequence. And I had no reason to suspect there was anything wrong with eating frozen dinners. Ignorance was my demise. But it caught up with me very quickly:
This picture really deserves a full blog post, because it changed everything. It was by far my lowest point. The day I saw this picture I cried. No, I didn’t put on all the weight overnight. But somehow from day to day I just didn’t see it. I knew I needed larger clothes, hence the flowy top to disguise my larger size but I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself. Until I saw this photo that is. Seeing myself on a piece of shiny paper somehow made it real. I could not recognize the girl staring back at me. I realized that I was hiding in my clothes, but once I saw the chubby girl, I could no longer pretend that this was OK. I became very uncomfortable in my own body. Something had to give.
So, when I saw my chubby picture, which was my “aha” moment I knew something had to be done. I started my research. Trying to find a way to lose the poundage. And I have to admit, that I instinctively turned to food. I did not even consider exercise at that point. I was looking for a fix and initially I did find it in the form of tracking the Glycemic Index of food. This fix was called the Michel Montignac Diet. Long story short, it worked by removing the refined carbohydrates from one’s diet and increasing lean protein sources. The carbohydrates that are consumed on this diet are closely monitored. There is a division of carbohydrates into how big of an insulin spike they provoke: low, medium and high GI. The low GI crabs is what participants are encouraged to consume the most, because they will not affect the blood sugar levels to the same degree as high GI foods. This of course is a very simplistic way of explaining it and I encourage anybody who is interested to research the topic further.
This is what happened after about a year of no white flour, white rice, pasta, sugar and an addition of some home Pilates and Yoga, it did marvels for me:
I was certainly more comfortable with myself, but my demons were still there, just hiding behind a slimmer look. I could still hear then and as a teenager my mother and my grandmother’s voices telling me that I should eat, because I looked too skinny and sickly. I’m convinced that, had they been living with me in my chubby phase, they would have finally complemented me on my… yes, on what? On having gorged on sugar the way I did? No, they probably wouldn’t have analyzed how I got there. They would just notice that my face is not as skinny as it used to be, that it’s round and full. Yes, I have a skinny face which along with long hair, makes me look a tad skinny. But the roundness of my face in the chubby pictures comes at a very high price. One that I am not willing to pay anymore.
You are right if you are thinking that the story isn’t quite over yet. As it happens for many dieters (people who subscribe to the idea that diet is a limited time only undertaking) I did rebound and I rebounded hard. I didn’t think that no matter what I ate the weight was going to stay away, I just simply gave up. I found it difficult to be so careful with food. I got in a big, ugly rut and I thought to myself “Ah what the heck, one piece ain’t gonna kill me!”… If I recall correctly it was a time when I was not very happy with myself as it was, I either didn’t have a job or not a very good one and I just did not see the point of it. It started with overindulging for Christmas which that year started sometime in October. I’d get this craving for liquor filled chocolates and buy a bag way before Christmas under the pretext that it was for Christmas holidays. But, Christmas was still such a long time away, so the chocolates somehow vanished and I had to replenish them. And this went on for a while until Christmas…
I was getting this oh-so-familiar-feeling of being very uncomfortable in my own body, but I ignored it. I ignored it way too long. And then one day, feeling fed up with being in the rut I knew I had to do something to get out of it. I knew it was all in my head and I was the only person that was going to be able to do something about it. So, in order to kick myself in the behind (which literally it was really what I needed) I took out a tripod and set up my SLR in the hallway. I stripped down to my underwear, I set the timer and waited on the other side of the lens. And then I took another one and another one, one from each angle. And then I transferred them onto my computer and here I’m supposed to show you what I saw, but I’m not ready. One thing I can assure you of is that It’s not pretty and that’s the only reason why I’m not going to (yet) share those pictures. The problem was that unless I stripped to my underwear you couldn’t quite tell, but to me it was quite obvious. Especially once I saw the pictures. This post was long time coming and even though it’s been written for quite some time I’ve been putting it off because I was not 100% sold on baring myself. After all, up to the writing of this post even Randy had not seen these pictures.
Now…. The philosophy behind the madness
Today I still love food, but I’m putting it to good use: building muscle rather than fat. In order to do that I’ve incorporated daily visits to the gym to lift some heavy weights and occasionally jump on the Stair Master machine and a stationary bike. Now, I’d be lying if I said that nothing changed to my food, content-wise. Even though back in 2005 when I first investigated the way I ate I had eliminated all processed foods from my diet, I clearly slipped way too much in the aftermath of getting skinny. Today, not only is the processed food gone, but I’m mainly consuming vegetables, lean meats such as chicken and turkey, tons of fish, eggs, nuts and oats and supplement with high quality of protein powders (whey, vegetarian such as pea, rice, hemp, casein – I’ll certainly develop this subject in future posts). You think it’s boring? I beg to differ and I have this blog to prove it. I did say I still love food, so I try to schedule my treats once a month, they coincide with a heavy day at the gym, like leg day. They are not always perfect, but I do my best. These monthly treats keep me sane. You might think it’s not often enough, but I know myself and I can’t indulge every single day, because that’s when it gets out of control and I’m not about to spend hours in the gym to only sabotage myself in the kitchen.
I’ve integrated what’s called calorie/carb cycling in my nutritional protocol. What this means in a nut shell is that I cycle between low carbohydrate days, moderate carbohydrate days and high carbohydrate days. This teaches the body to use up the carbohydrates in the body on low-carb days rather then seek energy from consumed carbs. The low-c days are also the ones that have higher fat content, but I also try to keep them on the low end of calorific cost. And of course days that I consume higher carbs are lower in fat and higher in calories and I schedule them around heavier lifts at the gym. All this cycling is helping my body respond positively to my training. I know from experience that my body does pretty well on a ketogenic diet (low carb-high fat), but my objective is not to just become skinny again, I want to maintain a healthy level of natural muscle and to build muscle we do need to consume carbohydrates. And that part is easy, we all enjoy carbohydrates. The higher carb days will include oats or cream of rice for breakfast, starchy vegetable (mostly sweet potato) or brown rice for lunch and supper, pancakes, rice cakes, etc.
I don’t have a final picture of how fit or lean I’ve gotten to show you, because there will never be a final me. I’m not trying to look a certain way, I just want to never go back to the dark side and to do it I need to work on it. I do have progress pictures that I’m going to show you. That’s how I will make sure there is never an end. If there is an end to this, that would simply mean that I no longer need to try to maintain this way of being and will certainly give up.