This week I wanted to talk about another mindset the plagues the fitness world. Calorie restriction.
I’ve been in the fitness industry for a while now and when you spend any amount of time around fitness related businesses you start to notice the different mindsets people adopt throughout their fitness journey. My last two posts discussed one of the biggest mindsets people adopt, the low-carb mindset for weight loss. Today I am going to talk about the dramatic calorie cutting mindset for weight loss. While I have always been aware of the calorie cutting mindset throughout my life this idea did not become shockingly realistic until I did my first fitness competition.
In May of last year I jumped on to a stage in a tiny fitness competition bikini after working my BUTT off for 12 weeks to prep. This was my first fitness competition and was held at the gym I worked at during that time, so it was an amateur competition. For the most part I had a ton of fun, I really enjoyed getting to know and work alongside many of the amazing, strong, dedicated members. In the end I had the time of my life getting out of my comfort zone and getting up on stage to show off all the hard work I had put in. I was the only vegan competitor so most of my dietary training was done by myself and I participated in one training session a week. Throughout the entire program I didn’t have any drastic calorie restriction until the last two weeks. Which in my opinion were the hell weeks that set me up for so much damage later on down the road.
I started off the training for the competition with only a little bit of body fat to lose. My instructions for the majority of the training were to “maintain” weight. At the time my body fat percentage was about 16% so this was a good place to be. As the last few weeks to show time approached I began wondering when would be the right time to start ‘cutting’ fat in order to get lean enough for show time. Despite consistent questioning of the head trainer when I should start cutting I was assured it would be better to wait a little longer. Three weeks out from the show approached and apparently this became the ‘right’ time to cut… calories. At this time I was instructed to cut 300 calories from my current set point for one week and the last two weeks before the show my caloric intake was cut to 1200 calories! While I knew beyond any doubt in my mind this was not the best or healthiest way to cut weight before a show I submitted because, did I mention? I was TWO WEEKS away from show time and I surely wanted to be ready.
During this two weeks of 1200 calorie consumptions I felt tired and a little weak but mostly just tried to consume a shit ton of water to help with the hunger pangs. I also considered myself lucky because despite my low caloric intake I was still consuming my normal diet (just a little cleaner) and I was still pooping. I know TMI right?! But, this is real! Many of the other competitors were eating fewer calories, as little as 900, that mostly consisted of grilled chicken and plain ass steamed broccoli. And, let me tell you they were feeling the pressure…. of NOT POOPING! The discussions of constipation were a bit funny at first but after some time I really began to feel bad for them. Mostly because constipation is not only uncomfortable it’s dangerous!
Speed up time a little bit and we come to the day of the show. Our instructions for this time were NO WATER, NO FOOD the day of show. OK… While I did submit to the bullshit 1200 calories for two weeks I was not having this. Without much discussion of my intentions I ensured I ate my normal breakfast the morning of the show, I kept hydrated as I normally would, and I even brought healthy snacks for later during the day to keep myself from being hungry. As show time approached I did get so nervous to the point I didn’t really have an appetite but otherwise I kept hydrated. About 2 hours before we were to get on stage one of the employees brought in “snacks” in case some of the competitors were getting weak or nauseous in order to get them through to show time. These snacks consisted of ice cubes (as not to hydrate too much), Rolos, Snickers, suckers, Jolly Ranchers, and other processed mini chocolates. OK, let’s pause for a moment…. WTF!! I know you have got to be thinking it too! Instead of being instructed to bring healthy snacks and water incase these starved, weak, tired competitors got hungry they were given JUNK! Not to mention most of these women (and some men) had been on obscenely ‘clean’, calorie restricted diets for weeks then were essentially given crack at the last moment to ‘sustain’. Can you imagine what this would do to a person in the days following the competition?
Competition day came and went; although I did not place I was so happy with the fact that I took a giant step out of my comfort zone and did something I had never done before. However, the effects of my “hell weeks” started to become so evident. If you have ever been on a calorie restricted diet you begin to notice your metabolism begins to slow because of it. Before the show I essentially ate whenever I wanted when I felt hungry and ate mostly healthy foods while also satisfying my cravings for sweets, beer, and other treats when I felt the urge (couple times a week) while maintaining a weight I was happy with and felt healthy at. After the show I wanted to return to my normal eating habits, so I did. I also went on a bit of a beer drinking bender too! Not excessive but enough to add some extra weight and make my clothes fit a little tighter.
At the beginning of the process I really began to feel frustrated. I had worked so hard to get to where I was and for what? One day on stage? No, my progress should not be something to achieve for a short time then let go after that peak is reached. If I am not able to maintain this progress then surely I cannot maintain this lifestyle. I began to think about the effects this process had on my body and would have if I continued to compete in the future. For a while, I have to admit I figured this competition was my one and done its time to move on. Then I began to wonder what can I accomplish if I started discovering what my body can do on MY OWN terms?
During this time when I put on a little weight I began to appreciate my body just the way it was. I knew that in order to get back on the wagon and sustain what I had before the competition I had to release these defeating thoughts. I found I felt negative about my body and as if all the work I had put in for years had somehow dissipated. These thoughts were not only detrimental to my mood and self-worth they were not helping me with my motivation to eat healthy or get my workouts in. This experience is where the post Self Love Every Day stemmed from. Although some people may say the idea of self-love every day is bogus, they are wrong. Yes, we may wake up in the morning look in the mirror and be frustrated, unhappy, or nitpicky about the person staring back at us but we CAN choose to change the mindset in order to have a healthier state of mind and state of being. After all, choosing things to hate about yourself today is the exact same thing as COMPLAINING! We all do it, but what does complaining do for us? Nothing, that’s what. Complaining leaves us in a bad mood, dampers the mood of those around us, is defeating and worthless. We complain when instead we should consider “How can I change the situation?” sometimes your situation is out of your reach and you just have to find change the way to look and experience it. However, most times you can do SOMETHING about the situation. This is always true when it comes to self-esteem and your fitness journey. You can think “Gosh my hair is a damn mess today!” and continue your day feeling un-kept or worse ugly or you can say “Right, my hair is a mess I’ll enjoy this unique twist for the day” or “Sweet! Maybe more people will avoid mindless chit chat because I look like a crazy person! I can get so much done today!” ha ha see you can take it as near or far as you’d like! Now, how about your body? You can wake up and say “Ugh, all my clothes feel tight, I feel so fat I wish I could just wear a huge shirt and warm ups!” and you can hide yourself and feel crappy all day or you can say “Yes, my clothes feel tight, I sure enjoyed some awesome times with friends and food to get here (or awesome cake), today I am going to choose a healthy breakfast and do an extra set at the gym.”. Whatever it may be, STOP COMPLAINING, and start changing your situation and perspective. This is exactly what I did. I have come farther and accomplished more than I ever would have done if I would have felt disappointed in myself and kept hating where I was in my journey.
Alright, back to the main point of this post, calorie restriction. While most people will say the only way to lose weight is to consider basic math. If the calorie input is less than calorie output, you will lose weight. Ever been there? Wondering why you work your butt off in the gym and restrict your calories only to find you don’t lose a single pound so you go on a binge thinking “F this what’s the point in it if I don’t even lose weight?!”. I HAVE! For many years I was right there. If this is, or has been you, then let’s stop the cycle today. Instead of changing how much you put in your body let’s change how your body uses it. Instead of jumping on the treadmill for hours on end try picking up a few weights. Building muscle will actually speed up your metabolism! A body with more muscle burns more calories at rest then does a body with little muscle. As you start to put a little more muscle on your body you will not only burn fat and be more TONED, you will be able to consume more healthy foods during the day to sustain yourself. You can actually get back to eating a healthier amount of calories daily. That 1500 calorie diet you have been trying to maintain for years won’t suffice anymore and with your new strength you will begin to crave foods that fuel your body well instead of junk.
In this post I used my experience with a fitness competition to display the mindset that plagues the fitness world. But, you know as well as I do intense training for a competition is not the only place this mindset exists. I’ve seen numerous trainers in many different places use this ‘technique’ to make people lose weight, but when left to their own devices (without a trainer checking their weight weekly) the potential for a client to rebound is great. There are other options. Options where you re-define your body’s set point in order to not only lose weight, but better sustain weight loss. Step away from this mindset today there is a happier, healthier place waiting for you on the other side!
Has this mindset plagued you before? How did you get out of it? If you haven’t gotten out of the mindset what is something you can do today to get where you want to be?
I hope my experience was helpful in your journey! I hope you can find encouragement as well that you don’t always have to feel hungry to lose weight. Have a beautiful day! Smile, laugh, eat well, and be well!
Lots of love,
Andrea B Fit