Iron: My Fitness Journey

My Fitness Journey

There was a period of time when I first ventured to lose weight after having my boys that I decided to become a runner.  I would get to work at 5:00 a.m. and run as best I could, never improving, hating ever step of it.  It hurt every inch of my body, it burned my lungs.  I HATED IT! I trained for a 5K, did all the things you would naturally do as you are starting to become a runner.  But my friends who were runners, the ones who loved it so much?  Quite frankly, I love them, but they are a special breed of CRAZY (queue the angry comments)!  I finally put that obsession aside when my chiropractor told me to do something that was a lower impact sport to avoid putting too much stress on my body (scoliosis, flat feet, etc), and I was left grasping at straws to find some sort of physical activity that I could do and enjoy.

Almost five years ago I stumbled upon a very useful, but dangerous weapon I affectionately refer to as Pinterest.  When my account was in its wee infancy, I stumbled upon something so revolutionary, it completely changed the way I thought about healthy.  It was Jamie Eason’s Live Fit Trainer on Bodybuilding.com.

While Jamie is an avid proponent of clean eating, her trainer guided me through the basics of bodybuilding.  And over the years, I have developed an arsenal of knowledge that if I applied properly, would make me a pretty hot little mama who should be pretty gosh darn healthy by now!  The image of a healthy woman, with a body fat percentage between 15-23%, is an illusive goal that I strive to attain.  Her trainer is something that I return to from time to time to reset back to the basics of weight training fundamentals.  It’s just a great program all around.

Spinning My Wheels

Well, back to Pinterest.  I had pinned a number of pins with little workout routines that were pretty to look at, but were just sitting in the cloud staring back at me, comfy on my couch with my ice cream and fat and laziness.  But then, I came upon Jamie Eason’s LiveFit Trainer, and my husband and I decided to implement it.  We had a gym set up in our basement in the Rocky Mountains, at the time, with a bench press and some free weights.  We went through the program and saw progress.  My brother, who was 16 or 17 at the time, had also started down his own bodybuilding path.  He had committed to getting healthy after our dad had a heart attack a few years earlier.

Right before I began this process, I lost a significant amount of weight on the HcG diet.  DON’T DO IT!!!  I gained it all back, and then some.  I began researching like a crazy woman, jumping from one person’s “science” to another.  I ended up trying to fit heavy lifting with excessive calorie restriction.  The results?  I lost a ton of weight and looked better than I had in a very long time!

While bodybuilding.com features content that is scientifically-based, such as Jamie’s program, there are several websites and trainers out there that do not pose healthy approaches to fitness.  Just in case you have never heard this before, don’t believe everything you read on the internet! While Jamie’s program provides sound guidance to training, there are many trainers out there that either do not know what they are talking about, know enough to make them dangerous, or really just care about self-advertising and making money.  

Even though I have never ventured down the path of competition, I became so obsessed with some of the cutting tactics that trainers used, that I quickly worked myself into another eating disorder, over-training, over-taxed nervous system, and an overall wreck.  A sound program, such as Jamie’s, will advocate keeping your calories as high as possible to support a healthy metabolism.  Even while cutting, this should be a calculate approach to find a deficit that will allow you to lose fat at a rate that will minimize muscle loss.  That means while you can probably find a plan that helps you lose 30 pounds in four weeks, it is most likely an unhealthy approach to fat loss.

The internet is such a useful tool, but it can also be very dangerous in the hands of someone who is looking for a “get-thin-quick” scheme.  I was the person who is using WebMD to misdiagnose myself, and I was very gullible to the gimmicks.   So I decided that since the lowest recommended daily caloric intake was 1,200 calories, I would eat that bare minimum, while lifting heavy and doing additional cardio to get thin.  But I couldn’t ever sustain this.  I was too stressed, too exhausted, I just wanted that ICE CREAM too much!

So I would lose the weight, burn myself out, and gain that back and more.  Or I wouldn’t see results quickly enough, because if I am truly honest, I was not consistent, and I did not comply with the program.  I mean, really, I was the example of why we, as Americans, are always on a “diet”, yet continue to be overweight.  Mentally, not being able to comply with a program, should have signaled me that something else was nullifying my efforts… my mind!

I wound up in the hospital with an overtaxed nervous system and an anxiety disorder. Oh goody!  I stopped lifting, started eating everything I wanted and craved, which was usually sweets and treats to handle the stress, and I started gaining significant amounts of body fat.  I was absolutely shocked, because I had fat in places I never had fat before, even at my heaviest weight 225 pounds. My back, my belly, my arms.  I usually just held the weight in my hips and thighs.  I got depressed.  We moved, and I stopped lifting.  Kept gaining fat.  In the picture below, I had lost almost 100 pounds.

I love to lift

Back to My True Love

But even with all of my failures, I knew, in my heart of hearts, that strength training was the way to go, and I was not about to give up!  In part because the actual science made sense.  In part because I saw changes in my body composition that was undeniable.  And in part because I FELL IN LOVE with IRON!  My husband, like you, future readers, is blissfully unaware of this little blogging project.  But one day, he may read this post and think, “Bah!  That woman and her diets and workouts!”  He would shake his fist at my virtual presence.  And he would be right.  I’ve tried too many plans to exercise and lose weight to count on both hands.  God bless him, he endured quite a bit of ridiculous nonsense from me, and he continues to do so.  

My Philosophy

Lift heavy weights!  Find a weight that you can complete 8-10 repetitions with good form.  If you can do more than 10 with good form, you need to increase the weight.  Do compound movements, do isolation movements, do pyramid training, drop sets, super sets, circuits.  Do it all.  But based on the research that I have done, and the changes that I have seen in my body, heavy lifting is the way to go.  That said, please do this with proper form.  Don’t do a movement that is going to harm your body.  Know your limitations.  There are some movements that I know I need to do using a lower weight, just because of my form.  Seek out a professional.  Find out how to do an exercise properly.  Bodybuilding.com is an excellent resource if you just want to find out how to do an exercise.  They have an extensive database that I use frequently.

Don’t do hours of cardio.  Weight lifting keeps your metabolism high by supporting and building your lean muscle mass.  Please don’t get me wrong.  While I honestly dislike traditional cardio (hence the running comment earlier), I love keeping my weight lifting routines cardiovascular in order to keep my heart healthy.   I incorporate cardio in a variety of ways.  I might do 10 minutes of HIIT cardio on the bike or other cardio machine.  I might do some active rests in between lifting sets, such as jumping jacks, jump squats, high knees, mountain climbers, etc.  Anything to get my heart rate up.  I might decrease my rest times during my workouts, incorporate circuits, drop the weight and increase the reps, etc.  I might do some kettlebell swings in between sets.  

Do what you will do.  Weight training is not for everyone.  But just like I dislike traditional cardio the most, but still incorporate it into my exercise routine for the benefits, so should you also incorporate weight lifting for its benefits.  Just two days a week is more beneficial than none.  And if you are going to train only one or two days a week, find a good full-body routine.  You won’t regret it!

Is Your Diet Too Restrictive?

On A Diet

Is your diet too restrictive?  Are you stuck yo-yo dieting?  Then keep reading!  But first, if this is your first time visiting, please take the time to get to know me a little better!  And before you go much further into this post, please read my disclaimer first.

What is Flexible Dieting/IIFYM according to me?

Now that we’ve met, and you are well-informed about what this blog is about, let’s move on to discuss the very controversial flexible dieting/IIFYM.  Flexible dieting, or if it fits your macros, is an alternative eating plan that can be modified to fit your goals.  Are you working hard to gain muscle, lose fat, maintain your current weight?  IIFYM might be for you!

The overall goal is to have a way of eating that you can sustain over the long-term.  This eating philosophy does not mean that you get to eat junk food all of the time, as some might believe. But it does mean that if you can fit ice cream, for example, into your daily eating plan, you are “allowed” to do so.  The reality is that you can lose, gain, or maintain your weight while eating the foods you enjoy.

If you are trying to lose fat, you will still need to be at a caloric deficit to accomplish your results, as opposed to trying to build muscle, which will allow you more calories, and thus more food options.  As long as it fits within your prescribed macronutrients, it is allowed.  With flexible dieting, as long as you stay within your caloric goal and target specific macronutrients (more on that later), you can create a flexible eating plan that fits within those numbers.

If you want to know more about IIFYM, here are some resources that I recommend:

IIFYM.com

Dr. Layne Norton

IIFYM Article by Dr. Layne Norton

Why did I decide to try IIFYM?

This is a question that I get from people frequently.  The short answer is that I don’t have to worry about breaking the rules and dealing with the “punishment” that goes with it.  What I mean by that is that when I have followed almost every other type of “diet”, I had a group of “off-limits” foods or behaviors.

Let me repeat what I stated earlier:  if you can fit ice cream, for example, into your daily eating plan, you are “allowed” to do so.  The main point that I want to convey is that by removing the rules, you are mentally able to handle your weight loss better than you would be able to with a very restrictive plan.  You will see me repeat this over and over in my posts:

To change your lifestyle, you must change your mindset

I could stop the post right here and rest my case, but I will continue…

What are Macros?

Macronutrients, in my simplified definition, are the primary elements that you get from food that you need to sustain your body.  The macronutrients that IIFYM focuses on include: protein, carbohydrates (and fiber), and fats.  Now, what makes IIFYM controversial is that there are a lot of people who follow the protocol who love to tweet, post on Facebook and Instagram, and show to the world that they can eat something like a pop tart (the poster child of IIFYM) and still lose weight.  And naturally, after seeing such a photo on social media, the world believes that people who follow IIFYM live off of pop tarts.  But before you jump on the band wagon wondering about this “bad food” free-for-all diet, let me provide some clarification and insight into the flexible dieting world.

If you do a little research, you will find that most people who are successful with flexible dieting promote eating mostly veggies, fruits, protein, and high-fiber, low GI foods.  Plus, of course, healthy fats.  But they also include “bad foods” in their diet as well in moderation.  Some tout different percentages with regards to their “good food”/”bad food” split, such as 80/20, or 90/10, etc.  The bottom line is that the goal is to hit your macronutrient goals (again, protein, carbs, and fats), and also focus on getting the proper micronutrients (from veggies, fruit, etc).  If you have room for “bad food” (chocolate, ice cream, cake, pop tarts, chips, burgers, etc), go for it.  The reality is that when you are cutting, or trying to lose fat, you are going to have less room for these treats as someone whose goal is to bulk, or add muscle.

Also, know that IIFYM is customizable.  Again, depending on your goals and your health, your diet might not be as “flexible” as someone who has reverse dieted up to the point of being able to maintain on 4,000 per day.  And, like me, you may have some additional dietary requirements that won’t allow you to be as “flexible” as someone who can fit a package of Oreos into their macros.  More on this later, but I have to be very cautious with fat, healthy or otherwise, and most inflammatory foods including gluten, caffeine, alcohol, sugar, etc. (all the fun foods).

Not to go off on a tangent, but I also am a crazy supporter of green juice and eating lots of fruits and vegetables.  God gave us these foods to heal our bodies!  And with our lifestyles, friends, we need these now more than ever!  It is so important to ensure that you are eating enough protein for muscle creation, enough fiber and low GI foods to control insulin, and enough healthy fats to get your EFA’s (essential fatty acids) for fat burning and hormone regulation.

Where did I start?

I first discovered IIFYM/flexible dieting from Dr. Layne Norton.  During my process of yo-yo dieting, I burned out my metabolism completely.  When I would visit the doctor and tell them that I couldn’t lose weight unless I ate less than 1,200 calories, they started talking to me about getting older (I am turning 30 this December, folks—um hello!?!)!  I couldn’t find a doctor or trainer who would even give that idea the time of day, so I went out in search of it myself, using my best friend, Google, and quickly found that I was not alone.

From there, I discovered that my concept of “good foods”, “bad foods”, “clean foods”, “dirty foods”, etc. was messing with me so much mentally.  The IIFYM basis is calories in, calories out.  It creates freedom, and removes “off-limits” items, and ultimately, the inevitable binge.

I did some additional research, and discovered a couple of pretty awesome chicks.  I first discovered Nicole Capurso on Facebook through another page that I follow.  It might have even been from Dr. Layne Norton.  She posted a pretty great blog post about switching to IIFYM when trying to get lean for Crossfit, which not only got her leaner, but also helped her to realize gains in the gym.  Pretty sweet, if you ask me.  And after reading a bit more about her, Nicole seems to be someone who is very admirable, and who seems to have a great heart to add to her athletic abilities.

From Nicole’s blog, I discovered Krissy Mae Cagney, from whom I purchased an e-book to get me started.  I decided to calculate my maintenance calories and macros, and as suggested, monitor that for a few weeks to see if my calculation was correct.  Once I established my maintenance level calories, I determined the calories and macros for my cut.  I worked with a flexible dieting coach online for a few weeks to get me started.  At first, I didn’t lost any weight, but I lost inches.  I use IIFYM in addition to heavy lifting, with some HIIT cardio.  I highly recommend that if you consider starting flexible dieting, mentally prepare for a slower loss than what you would see with other “diet plans”.  And use your scale as a secondary measure.  Take measurements of all sorts.  Body fat (I recommend using a caliper or a scale that has the body fat measurement as well for a high-level idea of where you are.  You can also have this done professionally.), inches (waist, hips, shoulders, arms, forearms, thighs, calves, bust/chest, etc.), pictures (try to be consistent with what you wear, time of day, and lighting for a good compare).

My approach is to also try to keep my calories as high as I can, keep my micronutrients up up up, while also seeing changes in my body composition.  My goal is to lose fat, not muscle.  I also want to support muscle growth and strength gains in the gym, while doing only a reasonable amount of HIIT cardio for fat loss and heart health.

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