UN-Podcast 019: UNtimed

Moon-Silhouette

[source] I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating (again and again, since it seems to surprise me every time): our paths are inexplicably intertwined with the paths of those who need to be a part of our … Continue reading 

Fitness Friday: Heavy Lifting Shouldn’t Be Taken Lightly

most-interesting-man-i-dont-always-lift-heavy-weights-just-kidding

Today’s post comes from a place of…uncertainty. Doubt. Acceptance. I’m writing it because I am not above the very mindset about which I’m railing against. Because I’m not immune to marketing messages, and I’m a lifelong perfectionist. Because I still … Continue reading 

A Day in the Life of Calories In < Calories Out

A typical day of “calories in < calories out:”

"I am on a 30 day diet. So far I have lost 10 days."

Is this any way to live?

  • Wake up at 4:30 am after about 5-6 hours of sleep. Raises my ghrelin (the hunger stimulating hormone) and lowers my leptin (the satiety stimulating hormone). Lower leptin means lower endorphins. 
  • Coffee with artificial low-fat creamer. Raises my cortisol, stimulates insulin response. 
  • Get to the gym by 5 am. Take an hour long spin class. Physical stress of intense endurance workout raises my cortisol, artificially increases my endorphins. 
  • Down a protein shake (dairy proteins, lactose, and artificial sugar). Stimulate insulin response with lactose and artificial sugar, irritate gut with dairy proteins. 
  • Get to my job, which stresses me out (because I hate my job, because I have a big project on deadline, because I hate my coworkers/my boss/my direct reports, whatever). Cortisol stays raised. 
  • Stomach starts growling at 10 am. Have a Greek yogurt with berries on the bottom. Stimulates another insulin spike, more dairy proteins for the gut.
  • Starving by noon. Have a big salad with tofu, low-fat dressing, and a piece of whole grain bread. Snack on a banana. More gut irritation from soy (lectins and phytates and phytoestrogens, oh my!), bread (gluten, wheat germ agglutinin, etc. Another insulin spike from influx of glucose and fructose from both the low-fat dressing (added sugars to make up for the lack of fat, for taste purposes) and the banana. Promote hormone dysregulation with phytoestrogens in soy. 
  • Start yawning around 1 pm. Desperate to stay awake. Another cup of coffee. Cortisol stays raised, body/mind still physically exhausted. 
  • Starving again by 3 pm. Forage in purse of 100-calorie pack of cookies with goji berries. They’re gluten-free and low calorie so they must be healthy. Also, some doctor on the Today show said that one of the ingredients was a superfood. Superfoods are good for me, so I’ll eat more of them. Feeding my gut processed foods, feeding my liver glucose. More insulin.
  • Leave work and head back to the gym because I am feeling guilty for “not working out hard enough” this morning. Another hour of weights should do it. Drink a Gatorade throughout, to replenish electrolytes. More cortisol, more glucose. Liver is pumping insulin like it’s nobody’s business. Body isn’t hurting for electrolytes, but someone tweeted an article that said I needed them, so…
  • Get home and make dinner. It’s Meatless Monday, so, after weighing and measuring all my portions, it’s gluten-free pasta with soy-meatballs and beans for extra protein and canned spaghetti sauce. Pasta is gluten-free and therefore, in my mind, a weight loss food. Two helpings! More soy. Beans are primarily carbohydrate; proteins are incomplete. Also contain anti-nutrients called “phytates.” Canned spaghetti sauce has added sugar. Gluten-free pasta is still densely packed with carbohydrates, which will be broken down into sugar (glucose) in the body. 
  • Still hungry. Need dessert. Start foraging for anything sugary to take mind off of hunger. Cereal it is: one bowl–okay, two–with fat-free milk. If it’s low fat, it’s okay to have the extra bowl….right? More carbs and sugars, sugars and carbs. Nighttime binge courtesy of leptin resistance and one last wonderful spike/drop in insulin from the sugar eaten for dinner. 
  • Spend about 45 minutes logging all my food and exercise with an online calorie counter. Have used it every day for the last 6 months, so I already know exactly how many calories I’ve eaten, but I’m doing it anyway because I feel guilty if I don’t. May or may not have fudged the pasta and cereal amounts. Secretly hate myself because I know how much I really ate. Not a big enough deficit. Negative self talk as a result of using a calorie counter. “Staying accountable” to my disorder (and who says I have a disorder, huh?) makes me feel like I have a sense of power, even though I’ve actually just lost the last 45 minutes of my life to pointless worrying. 
  • Off to bed. Hating myself for the second bowl of cereal, thinking about chocolate cake. Guess I’ll have to go to the gym twice tomorrow to make up for it. Feeling depressed about it. Stay up late reading on my tablet–shut down around 11 or 12 and then toss and turn before falling into a light and fitful sleep. Cortisol levels kept unnaturally high by the afternoon coffee mean that sleep is going to be disrupted. Blue-white glow from the tablet screen disrupts melatonin production, which helps the body to fall asleep. Melatonin production also thrown off by disruption of natural circadian rhythm (staying up too late, getting up too early). Lack of sleep also promotes leptin resistance and stimulates ghrelin. Excessive exercise (stress) can contribute to depletion of serotonin, which leads to depression. Depression from lack of serotonin can lead to insomnia, which contributes to further serotonin depletion. (Vicious cycle.) 
Mom's logic junk food vs. balanced meal

The wisdom behind the standard American diet…

Okay. So remind me again why this lifestyle is considered healthy? Remind me why we “love” exercising and having to snack all day? Remind me why people get upset when anyone suggests that it’s not dedication but obsession?

If you’re a slave to the foods you eat or the amount of exercise you do because you believe that you’re benefitting from it, ask yourself if that’s helped you lose weight, get fit, or enjoy your life at all.

Eat Good Look Good Feel Good Fitspo

Can we just strike the middle one from our list of priorities? If you’re doing the first and third, then the second just comes naturally.

And if you’ve taken it to the “eat clean” orthorexic extreme (as I most assuredly did), then you’re definitely in the camp that believes that extreme measures are needed to stay healthy. And while I commend you for eliminating the 100-calorie packs of cookies, you’re in the same boat if you’re snacking on homemade gluten free cookies with dried goji berries instead. You’re in the same boat if you believe that you have to down a protein shake or some concoction made with egg whites and fake sugar. You’re in the same boat if you already know in advance how many calories you ate and burned because you’ve used the calorie counter for so long that it’s no longer even a necessary tool (especially if you have the mobile app on your phone because you want to log every morsel of every meal the second you eat it, so you won’t forget).

But we’ve been taught to eat less and move more for so long, that it’s sometimes hard to imagine that there could be another way.

I’ll post next about some of the changes I made this summer, but I’m interested in hearing what you guys have to say. Does any of this sound familiar to you? What does your day look like?

- K.

“But You Still Have To Go To The Gym”

This commercial makes me so angry–it embodies pretty much everything that’s wrong with the state of fitness and nutrition in our country today. There are so many things wrong with commercial that it’s almost hard to find a place to start. So I’ll do my best to focus on the main reason why this seemingly innocuous Cheerios commercial makes my blood boil.

Looking past the fact that I no longer agree with the contention that the whole grains in Cheerios are part of a “heart healthy breakfast,” the majority of my ire today comes from the last line: “But you still have to go to the gym.”+

Now, as a certified personal trainer and an incurable gym rat, I’m happy that General Mills is suggesting that fitness is an important part of anyone’s “heart health” and “weight loss” regime; however there’s a more insidious message behind the commercial, and it contains that ugly, 7-letter “C-word.”

Calories.

(If I never have to hear the word again, it will be too soon.)

The crux of this commercial’s message is: no matter how healthily you eat, if you don’t burn it off, you’ll get fat. (And Cheerios carries disordered food messages throughout much of its marketing strategy. Dr. Deah Schwartz, a Health At Every Size blogger, did a great post on the disordered implications of its “more whole grains, less you” message on Peanut Butter Cheerios boxes).

More Grains, Less You: negative body image from Cheerios Ad

This is disgusting to me on so many levels.

Here’s the thing: calories in vs. calories out does work. But only for so long.

It goes something like this: I start eating well and working out. I eliminate processed foods but don’t change my portion sizes. I buy a pair of running shoes and go for a 12+ minute mile jog 3-4 times a week. I lose weight. And then, all of a sudden, I plateau. So:

I lessen my portion sizes slightly and keep up with my running. I lose weight and then plateau. I get a personal trainer and lift weights several times a week in addition to the running. I lose weight and then plateau. I read some broscience forums and realize that I need to tighten up my diet. I eliminate fats (because fats make me fat amirite?*) and start working out 6 days a week. I lose weight and then plateau. Fine. Now my choices are to either make my portions even smaller or eat nothing but egg whites and tuna with steamed broccoli. I do both just in case. My metabolism slows. I become leptin resistant. I am hungry all of the time. I need to work out more. I go to the gym twice a day or do more than an hour of steady-state cardio every day, because who needs rest days?**

And in order to maintain, I have to continue manipulating my food or my workouts in an ever lessening/increasing ratio.

Exercise should be about rewarding the body with endorphins and strength, not about punishing your body for what you've eaten

FACT.

WHY. Why would anyone–anyone–do this to him or herself? What’s the point of spending your entire life worrying about how small, bland, and tasteless you can make your portions or how long, bland, and exhausting you can make your exercise? For some aesthetic goal? (Because it’s certainly not for health, despite what the fitspo images are assuring you. If you were healthy, you’d be able to go to a restaurant without freaking out when they cook your chicken breast in oil, or stay out late without worrying about whether or not you’ll be able to wake up in time to do an hour on the elliptical before work.)

Sorry to be absolutely blunt here, folks, but calories in/calories out is a really tragic*** way to live.

But what’s the alternative?

Well, let’s start at the beginning.

- K.

+And I can guarantee you’ve all seen this couple at the gym, too–you know, the woman sweating it out on the treadmill for an hour, lifting a light dumbbell awkwardly while reading a magazine, the man sitting on the pec-deck machine for an hour, doing endless sets of chest flyes with his neck jutting forward and taking 20 minute breaks between sets to chat with his friends…

*No.

**Everyone

***I was going to use a different word here, but I figure I’ve maxed out my curse word allotment for this post by using the “c” word again.

Forgetting Fitspiration

A quick thought before I go back into the science and history of the calories in/calories out myth: 

 

My physical therapist wants me to start going to the gym again. And I am utterly terrified.

 

I know it’s silly, especially since I’m hoping to make a career of fitness and nutrition, but I can’t help it.

 

The gym has always been both a haven and a prison. It is where I saw some of my greatest triumphs and my hardest falls. It is where I learned to love my body and hate it, to gain muscle and lose my mind.

 

Yoga is one thing, but going back to the gym is definitely another.

 

I just find this very relevant now, as I start to understand the myths that fueled my ED and exercise bulimia–as I start to explore why calories in/calories out is a fallacy, and how obsession is fueled by the false advertising of the fitness and health industries.

 

I’m not sure how to reconcile the fact that my PT wants me to start doing 5 minutes of steady state cardio with my former impulses to do hours of the same. I’m not sure how to reconcile 3 sets of ten light-weight negative calf raises on the leg press with the desire to deadlift 100+ pounds on the first day.

 

Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated, fitspiration

So said the voices in my head. But sometimes, obsession is really just obsession.

I’m terrified of finding myself listening to the voices that once upon a time told me the lies that led to my pain.

 

That being said, I feel a little bit better about the fact that I know that the voices tell lies. That I know that ED is always going to be waiting for me to start listening again. That I know how to tune the voices out–that I want to tune them out.

 

It’s funny: I was listening to the most recent Paleo Solution Podcast, and someone wrote in with a question regarding the Health at Every Size movement. It seemed strange–Robb Wolf, of The Paleo Solution Diet fame, is all about nutrition and strength training; HAES is more about body image and mental health/perspective. The question seemed out of place, being answered by a man who doesn’t struggle with an eating disorder and really hasn’t focused on Paleo or strength training as a method for coping with overweight or obesity in his own life. And something in the question stuck out at me: it was sent in by a personal trainer who noticed that the several of his overweight/overfat clients who had made significant gains in their health and vitality were the ones who were more likely to be upset when they didn’t see the same results reflected in belly or underarm fat.

 

What is so striking to me is that those people–people whose health has dramatically improved, whose lives have become infinitely better, whose chances at surviving to live a long and happy life have just increased–were unhappy because they aren’t physically “perfect” (whatever that word means).

 

All of that to say that I don’t understand why we spend so much time trying to equate health and fitness with aesthetic ideals.

 

I don’t understand–even though I’ve lived through it–why we have to equate flat abs with health and First Lady arms with longevity.

 

You know what? I no longer have completely flat abs. My triceps don’t pop anymore. I can’t deadlift or do a pull up (or ten) like I used to.

 

But you know what I’m more concerned about? The fact that I can’t run up a flight of stairs–or even walk it without getting winded. I’m more concerned about the fact that my gut health is still affecting my skin. I’m more concerned about the fact that walking my dog isn’t easy.

 

And because I’m spending more time worried about my lack of physical fitness, I’m spending less time worrying about my lack of a six pack. Funny how priorities change. (Would I like a six pack? Sure. But if it means having to starve myself or eat tuna and egg whites six times a day, then it’s not worth it.)

Me with flat abs after Muscle and Fitness Hers Challenge

In order to take this picture, I starved myself, ate nothing but tuna, egg whites, and protein powder, had no friends, went to the gym 7 days a week, and cried a lot. NOT WORTH IT.

 

So maybe I will be okay to go back to the gym. Maybe I finally have the perspective that I was missing when I was spending hours on the elliptical, hoping for the “perfect” body (whatever that is). All I want now is the perfect body for me, where I am today. One that will keep me healthy, happy, and living a good, long life.

But that’s just me. More soon,

Love,

K.

The “C” Word

I have added a new “bad” word to my vocabulary. Forget the f-word, forget the four-letter c-word: this is a 7-letter c-word, and it’s the most heinous, stupid, useless wastes of breath I think I have ever wasted time uttering:

“Calorie.”

In fact, I am sick of hearing that word used, because I think we, as a culture, completely abuse it without having any actual understanding of what it actually means.

Over the course of the next few posts, I’m going to explain how potentially ruinous the “calories-in/calories-out” mindset is, so prepare to have your minds blown (and your sanity restored):

From the moment I met ED, I had a niggling suspicion in the back of my mind that part of my miraculous weight loss was due not just to the fact that I was eating less, but also to the fact that I was exercising more.

The summer between 8th and 9th grade was spent not only eating soy-free (a.k.a. apples and peanut butter), but also biking back and forth to the gym every day, spending an hour doing some asinine combination of light weights and cardio, and then doing “toning” and “core” exercises on my bedroom floor each night. And, for a long time, that formula worked.

Skinny Bat Mitzvah Picture at age 16

At my sister’s Bat Mitzvah, the thinnest I would be in high school

After my 9th grade knee surgery, I started increasing my caloric intake while sitting on my rear and healing, so I, of course, gained weight. As soon as my knee would allow it, I joined the cross country team and began doing long, slow (very slow) endurance runs. As my competitive nature kicked in and my leg grew stronger, I started running longer and faster, even on the weekends. By the time I became cross country team captain in 11th grade, I was going for a second run every night after dinner, even if I’d already run long and hard at practice that day.

Of course, the more I ran, the hungrier I got. And all of the conventional wisdom at the time pointed toward carb-loading, so I made sure to have extra helpings of french bread and spaghetti between my after school practice and my nightly training. I also made sure to down a Clif Bar before cross country every day, even though I had eaten a large lunch and a packet of peanut M&M’s less than 2 hours beforehand.

I thought it didn’t matter, because conventional wisdom also said that my exercise (calories out) was burning off the huge amounts of food I was eating (calories in). As long as I went for that second run each night, I was golden.

Wearing school uniform in the school gym, at my heaviest weight

At my heaviest in high school, hiding behind a size-too-large uniform shirt.

And yet, two years later in New York, while I was dieting and cleansing and generally miserable, I was vastly under-eating (probably about 800-1000 calories a day while cleansing, if I had to hazard a guess) plus going to the gym every morning and doing an hour of some asinine combination of light weights and cardio–and I was gaining weight.

It didn’t make sense. But yo-yo diets aren’t supposed to make sense; they’re simply supposed to continue to fuel our negative self-talk, self-hate, and confusion. If anything, we’re doing ED a favor by focusing on eating less and exercising more until our bodies are so exhausted that we can’t fight back.

By the time I started bodybuilding, I got my starvation (*ahem* sorry, eating clean) and exercise down to an art, so I started dropping weight again. By this point, even though the “transformation” I was following didn’t recommend massive amounts of cardio, I still threw in an hour on the elliptical or the rotating stairs, even after a 45 minute workout with heavy weights. The fitness models I followed on Facebook and Twitter all talked about doing fasted cardio* in the morning (which I started doing) followed immediately by weights and then a second workout in the evening (which I technically did by biking up and downtown between my two jobs while I lived in NYC). I wanted to make sure that I was burning calories all day, whenever I had the chance. The more I limited my diet, the more I exercised, the thinner I was going to be.

Calories in calories out scale

Seems right…but it’s not that simple.

By the time I moved to Florida, I was absolutely exhausted. I worked out fasted in the morning and made sure to drink my protein within the 15 minute post-workout window, and then went home and collapsed onto the couch for the rest of the day (with minimal movement allotted for meal times). By this time, I was about 110 lbs. I was also incredibly depressed. If I didn’t work out, the depression went from awful but bearable to absolutely monstrous (cue: depleted neurotransmitters and fatigued adrenal glands lecture here). If I didn’t work out, I would spend the day sobbing, brooding, scowling, snapping or some combination thereof.

Worse yet, I found that, even though my diet wasn’t changing, I had to do more exercise, harder exercise, to get the same weight-loss and mood-altering affects. It wasn’t fair–but I was addicted. I was ED’s willing prisoner, and so I didn’t care.

- K.

*Cardio on an empty stomach

Arguing Semantics With Myself: What Shape Did You Mean?

There’s something I’ve been struggling with lately–struggling to live with and struggling to put into words.

 

It wasn’t until I started reading Caroline Knapp’s Appetite: Why Women Want that I started to formulate a way to express it:

 

She writes: “[a]ppetites for sex, for beautiful things, for physical pleasure–all of these can be baffling, and all of them can leave a woman confused about the most ordinary daily decisions. Are you eating that second helping because you’re hungry or because you’re sad? If you work out for an extra thirty minutes, are you heeding the call of health and well-being or engaging in a bout of self-punishment?[...] Where are the lines between satisfaction and excess, between restraint and indulgence, between pleasure and self-destruction? And why are they so hard to find…?”

 

I’ve been trying to navigate the borderline of the narrow crevasse between pleasure and self-destruction, and it is a particularly fraught balancing act because I am so invested in health and nutrition from an aspiration-ally professional perspective.

 

When I posted a picture of my National Academy of Sports Medicine personal trainer recertification on instagram, I had at least two people ask me if wanting to be a personal trainer was a good idea for someone like me.

NASM, National Academy of Sports Medicine, Personal Trainer, Certification, Recertification

I’ve had multiple people ask if this blog isn’t just another way of trying to justify disordered behavior, as well as if my current way of eating isn’t just as restrictive or disordered as any I’ve tried before.

 

As friends, family, and concerned licensed mental health professionals, they’re not wrong to ask those questions. But I don’t think they need to worry.

 

This morning, I had a thought: I can’t wait to get my cast off so I can get back in shape. 

 

And then I stopped myself and asked myself, what shape are you talking about? Because I realized that I don’t really care about what shape I’m in. I care about being fit and healthy. The terminology I’ve been using is wrong. I want to be able to squat and deadlift or finally do some pull ups again. While fitting into my old jeans is nice, I’m not particularly freaked out about the size of my thighs or if my abs are visible anymore.

 

But it occurred to me, while I was arguing semantics with myself, that even though I know where the line is, won’t I always run the risk of crossing it? Will I ever be able to fully disengage from the voices of ED all around me–including the parts of my own vocabulary that I have yet to change?

 

I really do want, more than anything, to be involved in the health and fitness community. I really do want to be able to go to the gym and train clients–but not because I want to help them reach some aesthetic goal. I want to help people learn how to love their bodies and make them stronger. I want to help people understand nutrition from a scientific, individualized perspective–so that they can make choices that keep them alive and disease-free for as long as possible. And while I think that fitness models are beautiful, I know that the way they live isn’t sustainable for real people. And I’m a real person.

 

I know that I’m very new to this journey toward self-love and acceptance, and I know that ED and I have only been separated for a relatively short time. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to go back to how I was. That doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to put in the work and learn a new vocabulary.

 

That doesn’t mean that I’m going to go back to “trying to get in shape.”

 

Library Book, Cast, Ankle Injury

The only chronic overexercise I’m doing these days is for my mind…

I think that I can make a difference as a fitness professional because, even though I may be surrounded by people who live in their own personal disorders, surrounded by broscience and eating clean and low-fat high-protein supplement-and-protein-shake nonsense, I think I’m becoming fluent in the true meaning of fitness and health.

 

It’s going to be hard, yes, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t do it. Especially because I have this forum here, and all of you out there who will keep me honest.

 

It’s a challenge, but I think I’m up to it. My outlook, my mindset…they’re already starting to get in shape. And I think that’s pretty damn beautiful.

 

- K.

No Pain, No Gain

Physical pain is a funny thing.

In essence, it’s a biological reaction to anything that is thrown physiologically off-balance–a signal from the body that something shouldn’t be. The unrelenting spasms from a herniated disc. The stinging of air touching the torn skin from a paper cut. You know: pain.

Psychologically and emotionally, however, physical pain can take on different meanings depending on the person and the situation.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “No pain, no gain”? For the people who believe and live by this maxim, pain is an obstacle to be overcome or even a form of positive reinforcement. These are the people who thrive on increasing doses of hormetic stressors,* for whom the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” rings perpetually true. (These are also the people who are also prone to overuse injuries, because they can’t differentiate between delayed onset muscle soreness and a torn rotator cuff–or just can’t bear the thought of taking the day off to let an injury heal.)

For these people, pain is seen as weakness, as surrender. And for people who try to control every aspect of their lives, surrender is not an option.

I was one of these people.

I did not want to stop working out, so I figured that I’d have to heal myself as quickly as possible. Before taking myself to an orthopedist, however, I spent a little time diagnosing my symptoms on “Dr. Google.”**

A picture that convinced me I was “too fat” to stop working out.

According to the internet, all of the symptoms pointed to a possible stress fracture…but for the fact that the fracture would have been in the fibula and above the ankle. A brief anatomy lesson should explain why that was pretty much improbable: The fibula is not a weight bearing bone, and I experienced no direct (so far as I could recall) trauma to my ankle. A trip to the orthopedist pretty much confirmed my un-diagnosis: according to the X-ray, there was no detectable stress fracture (which wasn’t really an argument against having a stress fracture, since they are usually undetectable until after they start to heal) and there was good reason to be skeptical for the anatomical reasons described above.

In other words, I needed to suck it up and stop whining.

The doctor did give me a pair of crutches to use if I needed them, and he sent me back out into the world to do some serious damage to myself.

So I did:

I used the crutches for a few days, but using them while working in retail (and in the most crowded and fact-paced store in the mall) was nearly impossible. I found myself stuck in a customer service role, confined to a stool near the back of the store–which only added to my emotional stress, because I was trying to work toward a promotion in a sales role. So now, not only was my ankle impeding my ability to work out, but it was impeding my ability to get a raise.

Dinner with the family…on crutches.

I combatted my frustration by going to the gym and sitting on the stationary bike for an hour every morning before work.

One day while I was busy helping some customers get familiar with their technology, my  right knee started to hurt. It was a strange pain, a burning, itching sensation that seemed to sit directly over my kneecap.

By the middle of my shift, there was a red, raised bump that seemed to be growing, swelling in size and making it difficult to properly bend my knee.

By the time my lunch hit, my knee was bright red. I was scared, in pain, and starting to seriously freak out. I found myself dissolved in tears at the Starbucks kiosk, crutches now doubly necessary.

By the time I clocked back in, I had some seriously concerned coworkers who were ready to wheel me out of the mall in a wheelchair. So I left early and drove to the hospital.

After many hours of sitting alone in a hospital room, waiting and waiting and waiting for anyone to bother to check on me, a doctor came in and told me I had a bursitis. Nothing. Just a little random, unexplained swelling. Go home and stop whining.

Injury photobomb?

I went home and I waited for the little red spot to go away. And instead, it got much, much worse.

But at least I wasn’t thinking about my ankle anymore.

No pain, no gain.

-K.

*Defined, hormetic stress is the introduction of a stressor into the system that, while dangerous or destructive in large doses, actually creates positive biological responses in low doses.

In the context of fitness: when you lift a weight, your muscle tears slightly. Now, tearing a muscle is not generally looked on as positive–if you’ve ever ripped a bicep while doing a chest press, you know what I’m talking about. But in low doses–i.e. lifting manageable weights in a controlled manor–these tears are actually beneficial. Once your muscle has come to rest, it begins to repair itself–stronger than it was before. Hormetic stress is the simple explanation for how muscles grow.

In another context: getting a chicken pox shot is a hormetic stress on the body, because even though you might have a small negative reaction to the introduction of a virus, your body actually builds up an immunity and can then fend off large scale attacks of the virus later on.

**A phrase stolen from the inimitable Robb Wolf.

One Rep Max

Before I get started with the (red) meat of today’s post, I just wanted to thank those of you who have reached out to me about your own struggles with ED, food, and body image. I know how difficult it can be to tell others about your struggles or to ask for help, and, frankly, I’m amazed by how many of us are out there. 

It’s funny: when we suffer from ED, we see ourselves imprisoned in this horrible, dark, windowless tower, hidden from rescue, alone and miserable. But in reality, those metaphorical towers are all lined up, one next to the other–windowless, perhaps, but not impervious to sound. 

So if you find yourself alone, allowing your jailor ED to make you waste–your body, your life–away, call out. Chances are, someone else–someone just one tower to the right or left–will hear you. And you will know that you are not alone. Together, you have hope. 

(And please, if you ever need to call out, my tower isn’t that far away. In fact, I’ve started carving windows into it, and I can see that there is light outside. Don’t hesitate to call, text, facebook message, comment, tweet…just reach out. I’m here.) 

Ask any truly knowledgable fitness professional about lifting your one rep max, and they’ll probably advise that you don’t attempt it too often. It’s something you aim to increase and improve, sure, but not a feat you seek to pull off every day. It’s an extreme act, meant to be performed in moderation.

In a way, my life had become a poorly executed one rep max: extreme and ultimately unsustainable in the long term.

My nightly excursions to hear the MT’s band play or to sing karaoke with my coworkers–often followed by all nighters and a nine-hour shift at work–were beginning to take their toll on me. Moreover, I had been promoted to full time at work (and given a semi-promotion that involved the same amount of pay for more responsibilities and a ton of extra stress), and I was no longer working out. My diet consisted mainly of apples, egg whites and protein powders laced with acesulfame-K. (Okay, I also ate a lot of peanut and almond butter and deliberately turned a blind eye while I over-measured the 2 tbsp portions).

I started putting on weight. My pants were getting tighter and tighter, and I felt uncomfortable in my own body. I needed new motivation to get back into the gym and get skinny again.

Karaoke night at the Dubliner (and singing, ironically*, No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs”)
*And I mean “ironically” in the Morissette-ian sense, better defined as “unexpectedly coincidental”.

ED suggested that I revisit my bikini-body dreams. So I hired an IFBB pro to train me.

Darrem Charles was one of the trainers at my gym. He had worked with amazing competitors like Erin Stern, and we had struck up conversation after he noticed me doing my daily squats/deadlifts/plyos before my back injury.

My first training session left me with DOMS* like I will never forget: I was in so much pain that I spent both of my fifteens at work and my hour-long lunch in the service hallway, attempting to loosen my knotted muscles with a tennis ball. I didn’t let that faze me though. I was thrilled to be working with Darrem, eagerly anticipating the body that we were going to build together. ED was nearly jumping out of my skin with excitement.

And then my mother moved to California.

Mind you, I was living with her rent-free while I tried to rebuild my life with retail, so when she moved, it forced me to go back into the real world and start to fend for myself like an adult.

World of Beer with my amazing coworkers

Fortunately (or so I thought), I had become incredibly close with two of the guys at work. I considered them my best friends, and they were both also in need of a new place to live. We three found what can only be described as a dream house, and decided to move in together.

The only downside that I could see was that I had to give up my training sessions if I wanted to pay the rent.

I signed up at a new gym close to the dream house, and I prepared to take matters into my own hands. I was going to shape myself into a bikini competitor if it killed me.

Things were looking up, and I was going to hit a new PR. What I didn’t realize was that I had already passed my one rep max, and things were about to change drastically.

-K.

*Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness