This “one-a-week” posting makes me feel as though I’m neglecting you. But, needs must when you have bills to pay. Today, we’re going to talk about fitness and well being. This isn’t a “tips,” “tricks,” or “diet” post. Perish the thought. This is sharing what works for me and how I found it. Think of this post as motivation to find what will work for you. I hate to tell you this, but not everyone is the same. Yes, Dave, people do think that.
Pause for slow blink or over-dramatic eye roll. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Done? Okay, cool. Let’s get to it!
The Struggle is Real
When I was trying to lose weight years ago, my mom would always tell me, “Don’t go on a diet. Change your diet.” I didn’t really take that to heart at the time, because I was a young, fat girl and that is a sin in this society and I had to lose weight now, no, not now, right now! I was 262 lbs. at my heaviest. By the way, I’m 6’ and built like a linebacker and yes, when I was young, some people thought I was a boy. I had short hair at the time. Don’t judge me.
Anyway, I did the whole Jenny Craig thing. That worked pretty well—I got down to about 220 lbs. Then I joined an MMA-gym for five months and got down to about 190 lbs. Then I became super poor for several months and subsisted on discontinued M&M’s I bought from work for $.11/pack. That got me down to 175 lbs. I don’t recommend that. I also ate cheap Ramen noodles for a week and I was pretty sure my veins were turning to cardboard. Definitely don’t recommend that. Finally, my finances smoothed out—and I often shopped at the grocery store that is “mom and dad’s fridge”—and I could eat normal people food. I maintained 180 lbs. for about a year and a half. For me, that’s a good weight.
Then, about a year and a half ago, I blew the fuck up! I got back up to about 215 lbs. I couldn’t go to the gym. I was at the doctor—a lot of doctors—a lot of the time for a back injury. It was a rough time. I went to physical therapy for a third time and hit the jackpot with the all-star team at Eskridge and White. I got better. A lot better. Two months ago, I got back into the gym. And God, is it good.
So, this little intro might not help everyone, but I wanted to include it because “fitness” does not come easily for many people.
Putting in the Work
When I started back at the gym during my physical therapy, I was pretty limited. I started easy with PT-approved exercises and spent time on the rowing machine and stationary bike. I started to jog, then got bursitis in my left knee and had to take two weeks off. When I got back to the gym after those two weeks, I had new PT exercises to incorporate for knee strength. About three weeks ago, I finally got to the point where I could mix in non-PT exercises. So, I started hitting the weights hard and doing a mix of full-body and isolation moves. It was two weeks ago that I found my favorite thing to do at the gym: supersets with supersets in between, working from top to bottom throughout the week. That sounds kind of weird, so I’ll break it down:
- Monday: Three shoulder/chest supersets with three core supersets between
- Tuesday: Three bicep/tricep supersets with three core supersets between
- Wednesday: Three back supersets with three core supersets between
- Thursday: Three hip/glute supersets with three core supersets between
- Friday: Three leg supersets with three core supersets between
I never do the same core work twice in a week, and all the core work I do incorporates elements of the muscle group/s I’m working that day. The reason I combine two different types of supersets is because it works for me. There is little to no rest time, which keeps my heart rate up. When I’m dripping sweat less than half way through the workout, I know I’m on the right track. Once I started this specific workout regimen, sleep came so much easier. I’m the kind of person who has to take sleep aids—NuQuil—so this is a big step up for me. I’m getting more, and better quality, sleep. I’m also less tired during the day and in a much better mood.
So, here’s the thing: Before I found this regimen, I had a lot of misses. I tried a bunch of different workouts I’d found online and nothing stuck. Nothing felt right. It was only when I mashed a bunch of things together that I started seeing and feeling results. And, a lot of what I mashed together stemmed from PT exercises. My advice? Try as many things as you can until you can build a routine that works for you. Mix it up, mash it together, and if something doesn’t work, toss it.
Back to that diet thing, huh? Yes, Dave, back to the diet thing. Around the time I was figuring out my fitness regimen, I was changing my diet. That includes when to eat as much as what. The “what” to eat part wasn’t hard. Having an Aldi near my house makes it even easier—because it’s affordable. This change was more accidental than anything else. One week, I only had about $10 to spend on groceries to last me the week. So, I bought a bag of white rice, a cucumber, guacamole, and a dozen eggs. Mix all that together and chill it, and that was my lunch and dinner for the week. I’ll get to the lack of breakfast—the “when” to eat— thing in a moment.
I built my dietary change around those four staples. From there, I added smoked salmon and imitation crab—because I started making a lot of poke—as well as onions, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, strawberries, blueberries, and yogurt. That doesn’t sound like much of a variety, but I can tell you that when you get creative, you can make many dishes out of those few ingredients.
I stuck with this ingredient combination because it met my taste bud needs as well as my cravings. Yes, I will totally have a bag of Sour Cream & Onion chips and Jack Link’s beef jerky on cheat days—which happen once per week and only last for one meal. By cravings, I don’t mean “Man, I really want some ice cream.” By cravings, I mean when you’ve gone without a fruit or vegetable for “x” about of time and your body goes into need mode. I don’t know if that happens to everyone. If I go without broccoli for a certain amount of time, it’s like going without heroin—come on, man, mama needs her broccoli, just one stalk is all, come on.
Here we go. I’m going to give you my advice again. Find your staples. Find your main carb source, main fat source, main protein source, and main vegetable (or fruit) and build from there. No, Dave, pasta, butter, beef, and mashed potatoes are not the right path. Think healthy thoughts.
This will probably be my favorite talking point, as it calls back to another article/blog I wrote, which you can find here or here. The article talks about caloric restriction (CR), which is all kinds of good for your brain. You love your brain, right? It’s no secret that CR is a good tool in weight loss, but in terms of brain health, it’s the spacing out of meals that’s the kicker. There’s an eating schedule that capitalizes on the brain and body benefits of CR—intermittent fasting (IF). There are multiple variations of IF, one of the most common of which is 16/8. The 16/8 eating schedule—sometimes called Leangains—has you fasting for 16 hours and eating during the other eight.
I’ve tried doing the 16/8 before, eating from 7:00a to 3:00p, but it didn’t last. Part of this is because breakfast is a hassle and I’m a night eater. I have always eaten more toward the last half of the day. This schedule was never going to work for me. I picked this eight-hour eating window because I work out in the mornings, and everything you read talks about making sure to get in a post-workout meal (unless you’ve eaten pre-workout). Damn you, Google! I thought I could trust you!
Here’s the thing. For me, IF is not only not impossible, it’s easy. It even comes naturally. I just had the wrong eating window. For the past two weeks, I’ve been back on IF with my eating window from noon to 8:00p. That means exercising fasted, then continuing to fast for another five hours. In the hard-core fitness world, this is frowned upon for all kinds of reasons: you’ll lose muscle mass, you won’t see any gains, you’ll be sore longer, blah blah blah. Is that true for some people? Well, sure, but not for me.
Since combining my me-designed exercise regimen with my me-designed change of diet and IF schedule, things have happened:
- Better, longer sleep
- Better mood
- Slimming and toning
- Increase in strength
My scale says the same thing it said two weeks ago. My clothes fit a bit looser as my thighs, waist, back, and arms have slimmed. My arms and thighs feel much more solid—not that I go around occasionally poking them or anything. I’m lifting 10-15 lbs. heavier depending on the workout. I don’t get as sore or for as long, even after I’ve worked to failure and can barely get my coffee mug close enough to my mouth to drink—or lift my arms high enough to wash my hair. When these things combine—don’t make a Captain Planet joke, don’t make a Captain Planet joke—they tell me that the post-workout meal isn’t necessary. At least, currently, not for me.
Find What Works for You
You probably hear/read this a lot. It’s great advice. I’ve gotten more results from the past two weeks of doing what’s right for me than I did during two months of personal training and one-on-one Pilates. I’m not saying either of those things are bad. I loved my Pilates trainer and would happily go back. Many people can—and do—benefit from personal training. That combination, at that time, didn’t work for me. What does work is physical therapy-based workouts, a dietary change revolving around frugality, and an eating schedule that is convenient. That creates a sustainable lifestyle change.
So, wash your hands—and eyes—of all the absolutes you find in fitness articles and only focus on the bit that says, “Find what’s right for you.”