GIRLS CAN LIFT

A Dainty Diary of Lifting


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The Basics of a Powerlifting Meet

My first powerlifting meet is fast approaching. There are less than 24 hours until I compete and we’re about to head of town for the meet. I’ve been trying to explain all of the finer points of powerlifting to my mom, and I’m going to have to send some description of what’s going on to my grandfather when the meet is done (Hi Paddy!), so I thought it would be a good idea to provide a brief and very basic overview of how a competition works for the uninitiated.

First things first: what is powerlifting?

Powerlifting consists of 3 compound lifts: the squat, the bench press and the deadlift.

What is a squat?

Most people understand the basic premise of a squat. You slap a heavy weight on your back, squat down and stand back up, using your magnificent and powerful hip thrust. In order for your lift to count, you must respect the commands of the judges, who tell you to when to squat and when to re-rack. Most importantly, a squat is only valid in competition if you hit parrallel: your hip crease must be slightly below the line of your knees. If you train in a commercial gym, you’ll notice that most gym-goers do not reach the depth necessary for a powerlifting squat when they step into the rack.

Hitting Depth on the squat. Image courtesy of 70sBig.com

What is the Bench Press?

Anybody who has ever been to a gym has seen bros benching. I’m pretty sure there were cavemen who bench pressed rocks and had disproportionate upper bodies. To bench: you lay on your back under the bar, unrack the weight, bring it down to your chest and then push it straight back up. In a powerlifting bench, it’s important to engage your entire body, so lifters rely on the leg drive to help push their lift. For this reason, a powerlifting bench has a distinct arch in the back and looks slightly different from the flat-backed body building bench. The competition bench is also more challenging than the touch ‘n go bench seen in the gym: lifters must respect the press command of the judge, which forces them to pause with the bar on their chest. An uneven lock-out at the top is one of the reasons a bench might be red-lighted, but jumping the commands for bench is my biggest fear as a budding lifter.

And you thought meat heads were inflexible.

And the last lift, the deadlift?

The most badass of all the lifts and my personal favourite. The weight is on the floor and you must pick it up. There are two types of deadlift seen in competition – the sumo deadlift, which has a very wide stance, and the conventional deadlift which has a more narrow stance. I’ll be pulling conventional. You must be able to lockout the deadlift at the top of the lift, and you have to get it up without hitching the bar on your legs.

So how is the winner decided?

There are multiple “winners” in a competition. You compete directly against people of the same sex and weight class. I’ll be lifting in the women’s 72kg category. Whoever lifts the most in a class wins. If two competitors tie, then the person with the lowest body weight wins. Each person gets three attempts at each of the lifts and their total is the sum of their best lifts. There is also an overall winner determined by wilks score – a formula which takes into account a lifter’s weight, gender, age and total.

Who decides the weight of each attempt? How come everyone starts at different weights?

A lifter is responsible for submitting each of their first attempts to the judges before the competition begins. You have one minute after your lifts to submit your next attempt. The first lift is usually an attempt that the lifter knows they can hit even on a bad day, whereas they may be aiming for a new personal best on their final lift.

What happens if you miss a lift?

If you miss a lift, you can reattempt at the same weight or increase the weight of your next attempt as long as it is not your third and final lift. If you miss your 3rd lift, your highest successful lift is counted towards your total.

I understand the idea of weight classes but what’s the deal with these “Open” and “Junior” categories?

Lifters are also divided by age. This will be my last year competing as a Junior. Next year, I’ll turn 24 and compete with the adults in the Open Category. The age categories are factored into the wilks score, but otherwise don’t play a huge role in competition; I’ll still be competing against other women who are 72kg but older or younger than me. The age distinctions become important in ranking lifters’ levels of competitiveness. For example, I am trying to qualify to compete at the Provincial championships. The Open total required to qualify is 277.5 kg, whereas a Junior only needs a total of 237.5 kg to compete in the same competition.

Who organizes all of this?

Powerlifters compete in different federations. I am a member of the Canadian Powerlifting Union and more specifically, the Ontario Powerlifting Association. The CPU is the Canadian affiliate of the International Powerlifting Federation. Although powerlifting is not an Olympic sport, the IPF is still recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

Are you taking steroids?

No, mom. I’m not. I compete raw (without the assistance of equipment) and in a tested federation. If they catch you cheating, they publish your ban on the internet for everyone to see. I think I would rather die of embarrassment than have my name published on the net for steroid abuse. Besides, I’m strong like an ox without an extra help, thank you very much.

Be careful not to hurt yourself.

This is not a question, but I want to address it, anyway. As with any sport, there is always a risk of injury. Luckily, I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself on how to best execute  lifts and I have a pretty good handle on my level of strength, so I’ve done what I can to minimize my risk of injury. I’m not about to attempt a 55lb PR on my bench press, for example. There are also spotters present to assist you if you mess up a lift and can’t get out from under the bar. I do have some form issues, like any new lifter, and they become more apparent as I approach my maxes. I’m constantly working to improve my form and I never place myself in a situation where I feel that I am taking a risk that I’m not comfortable with. And if I never took any risks at all, life would be terribly boring; I would rather take the risk of getting injured doing something love than never experience my life.

There are some other nuances that go along with a competition, but I think that hits the highlights. Since this is my first meet, I expect that I will learn a lot in addition to the basics I’ve already outlined here.

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Attack of the Bloat & Last Minute Meet Prep

For the first time since BTFC began, I missed posting something for the day. It was not because I fell off the wagon, but rather because the scale seemed to think I had. I started my period of Wednesday and on Thursday morning I was beyond bloated and emotional. I had a terrible weigh-in and then barely made it through the day. A friend and I were scouring the google to try and find the best course of action.

So first of all, let’s cover the list of things that I’m not going to do. For starters, I am not about to take an ice bath, which is one of the articles that was sent to me. That’s some Tim Ferriss-level pseudo science. If this method actually worked, I would not be panicking right now because I sit in an office with no heating all day, shivering but not actually losing weight. Funny enough, I’ve actually read the exact opposite advice for losing weight. Becky Rich, for example, talks about how she would take scalding hot baths before a meet in order to make weight, when she didn’t have access to a sauna. Becky Rich is an elite-level powerlifter and Tim Ferriss has written a book about a diet that requires minimal effort and has produced no results for anyone, ever. Who are you going to listen to?

Luckily, I also found this article which was very helpful: “A Powerlifter’s Guide to Making Weight” for several reasons, chief among them being the fact that he explicitly tells the reader not to get over-eager and do dumb stuff like sit in a sauna. In addition to some concrete and helpful guidelines, like cutting off your water 12 hours before weigh-in,  I think being told not to panic and kill all of my strength was the most important thing that I needed to hear, since I know this is bloat weight. Unfortunately, I’d already had a total meltdown by the time I read this.

So what did I decide to do about it to get back in control of the situation? For one thing, I downed so much psyllium husk fiber (Metamucil) that I gave myself brain freeze. I was backed up and that issues seems to have resolved itself now, thankfully. A friend also recommended dandelion root tea to help with the PMS bloating, and sent me a link to this article, which I’d already ready but which was worth re-reading.

I cut out most of my carbs today. I did have some oats with my lunch, but no flour or fruit. Then, I went out and got some dandelion root tea and am about to drink my fourth cup of the day. All day, I’ve been guzzling water like a Hummer drinks gasoline. I am planning to cut off my water at 7:00 pm tomorrow, and I’ll continue water-loading until then. I’m also planning to fast tomorrow until 6:30. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll take 1/2 a scoop of BCAAs and some greens+ with my cup of coffee. I’ll repeat the same thing mid-afternoon, and then eat my “meal” in the evening. I haven’t decided yet what my meal will be – I’m leaning towards a jar of peanut butter or 1/2 a container of the whey isolate cereal that I love. If I have a decent weigh-in tomorrow morning, I may adjust my feeding window to follow my regular eating protocol, but I’ll have to play that by ear.

My weight was even higher this morning, but at least I had my plan of action to reassure me and I managed to avoid the emotional roller coaster today. And to further deepen my Om, I went to my Friday yoga. Richard, the instructor, said to me at one point, “This is a contraction movement, like… have you ever lifted weights?” I laughed in his face.

I think at this point I’ve accepted that my meet prep is essentially complete. I’ve built my base of strength and worked on getting my weight down for the past 5 months, and I can’t change anything that’s happening in those areas before the meet. I need to force myself to rest now, find my inner zen and focus on building my strength of character.

And I really need to pack.


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Helping Women Conquer the Weight Room

My former running partner has decided she wants to start lifting now that we’ve run our 5K race and retired from our running careers. I have tried to lift with her a few times, but the dynamic doesn’t seem to work very well: I end up coaching her instead of focusing on my own workout, and we spend about 50% of our workout just swapping plates. I’ve still been encouraging her to get on a program and take up lifting on her own, and so armed with Jamie Eason’s LiveFit program she has ventured forth into the weight room.

From what I can tell, she is progressing well thus far. I know she is sticking to her routine because every time she goes to lift, I get inundated with a series of text messages. “Where do I do this exercise?” “I can’t find this machine.” “I squatted 75lbs (including the weight of the bar).” Generally, I am entertained for an hour and do my best to coach her from afar, but inevitably the hour always ends with the same text message: “I still feel very lost.”

She is not alone in this sentiment. In fact, I dare say that most women are intimidated in some way or another by the weight section in the gym. I’ve read and responded to enough of these threads on reddit to know that there are women who run for hours on the treadmill each week, but they shirk away from the mere thought of some serious strength training. To demonstrate my point, I’ll pull one of these rabbits out of my top hat:

And if you enjoyed that act, I will be happy to repeat my trick ad nauseum for your entertainment and a small fee of $5. There’s a nearly infinite supply of similar posts floating around on the internet. I know there is because I experienced all of these feelings of doubt when I first started lifting and there are like 3.5 billion women out there who are just like me. Somewhere in the archives of the internet there is a message from myself to my future strength coach: “I read the book you gave me. I am still hesitant to start lifting. I feel scared. I don’t really know what I’m doing and I think I’m just going to look and feel like a circus elephant. I can’t do it.”

And now it’s 9 months later and I can deadlift more than twice my bodyweight. What the hell happened?

It’s easy for me to scoff at women who are afraid of the gym, because I see the gym as something harmless. Fear of iron is on par with being afraid of the dark: totally and completely irrational. But at some point someone had to say to me: “You’re being ridiculous. Whats the worst that could happen? ” I could be eaten by the monsters under my bed if I go to sleep. The worst that could happen in the gym is positively tame in comparison. You could show up and look like you have no clue what you’re doing. Guys might approach you and try to tell you how to improve. More likely: You will go to the gym and it will be totally anti-climactic. You will pick some shit up. You will realize how pathetically weak you are. You will return home and wake up sore the next day. Congratulations, you’ve successfully lifted weights. And survived.

I keep telling the baby lifter that I’m nurturing that the feeling of being lost in the weight room will fade as she continues going back to the gym. Exploring the weight room is a lot like moving into a new neighbourhood: the longer you live there, the more familiar your surroundings become until you feel like you’re at home. When you first start lifting, you’ll have all these questions about how much weight to use and whether your elbows should stick out and whether or not your hands should be shoulder width apart, but you’ll answer these questions as you progress down the path of becoming a certifiable beast.

Now, it is possible that when you start squatting the bar (or less) with atrocious form for the first time, some dude might feel the need to rescue a damsel in distress. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, ladies: most of the guys in the weight room of a commercial gym have no idea what they’re doing. They’re probably just doing what their buddies said they should do, which is usually a case of the blind leading the blinder. Or they do know what they’re doing and they’re too self-involved to notice anyone else. Or they’re a nice guy who has insightful advice that will produce immediate results, although this case is rare in my experience. Please excuse my casual sexism (which is nonetheless true).

I would be a blatant liar if I said that at some point I became oblivious to the fact that I am usually the only woman in the weight room. I’m often conscious of the fact that I’ve got the only pair of boobs but the smallest rack in a room full of jacked dudes. The difference is that I’m no longer intimidated by this fact; I’m too busy focusing on how badass I am. There is this funny correlation that I’ve noticed: working to improve my physical strength has also increased my confidence and mental strength. Initially, I just had to buck up and force myself to confront my fears. Looking back, I realize that even though the weight area seemed terrifying, stepping inside was a very low risk move with some of the biggest payoff I’ve ever received: now I’m smaller, stronger, hotter and simply happier than I’ve ever been and who doesn’t want that?

So what’s stopping you from conquering your fear of the weight room? We’re women: we’re mentally and physically strong. Channel that strength into your first act of strength training: step outside of your comfort zone and overcome the first hurdle on the path towards true hotness.


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Monday marks the start of meet prep & other thoughts on training

Apparently I had a good weekend: new squat and deadlift PRs on Saturday, followed by a 31:46 finish during my first 5K run on Sunday. I need to start giving myself some credit; I seriously underestimated my ability in both areas. I’m hoping that as I become more fit, I get a better handle on my abilities so that I’m not always so shocked with myself. But it was a nice feeling for the time being. And I will confess that I’ve watched the videos of myself deadlifting over and over again because I like watching all of the muscles in my arms. On a scale of 1 to Zyzz, I’m ‘mirin.

And the icing on the cake is that all of this awesomeness produced a good weigh-in this morning. I was beginning to think that my scale was broken because it has read 157.3 every time I’ve stepped on it for the past 6 days.

Since I’m less than a week out from my first meet, I need to focus on preparation this week. Luckily I will not have to do a water cut, so my first priority is to get lots of rest. I’m going lifting today, but I’ll only work up to about 185 lbs, which I’m still planning as my squat opener. I want to practice squatting belted again, too. I’m going to throw in some bogus accessory work and then go to swimming lessons. I’ll do a few deadlifts on Wednesday and some benching, and then hopefully I’ll be ready to rock and roll on Sunday morning. It’s all the stuff that I need to do outside of the gym that’s really going to count: I need to book a hotel out of town, re-read the rule book, make sure my singlet fits and pack up everything I’ll need in my gym bag.

Since I’m right on the edge of weight classes, part of my preparation is going to involve keeping a handle on my diet. I have absolutely zero room to screw up this week. Speaking of my diet, check out my lunch, which is totally the highlight of my day:

I am having my deconstructed cabbage roll for supper tonight, which is a pretty filling meal for relatively few calories. As a result, I was able to make a MASSIVE lunch today and still come out at 1200 calories. The photo above is proof that feeding windows are totally the way to go because you end up eating like a Queen and don’t feel deprived.

So what’s in my lunchbox? In the main container I have a babybel cheese, some peas, a pepperoni and a cup of berry applesauce. The green container is full of grapes, almonds, raisins and a box of smarties. On the side, I have a mandarin orange, some pickles and some chili lime crackers, which are positively delicious. The thing that looks the least appetizing is some cottage cheese with a spoonful of peanut butter and some cocoa powder, which is going to be a heavenly little snack right before I work out. Food is amazing. Maybe my scale isn’t broken and I’m just fat because I love to eat.

Since I am trying to force myself to rest this week, I’m currently researching 10K training programs, since I’m apparently going to continue running despite giving myself permission to stop. And if I can’t be at the gym, I need to planning my future visits to the gym, which may be indicative of a problem. Regardless, I need a distance focused program, so I’m leaning towards this breakdown:

In any case, I’m not about to start running again until after all of this meet garbage is out of the way. I want to continue swimming and focusing on lifting, so I might wait until December to increase my running distance, while working on getting my 5K time down until then. I’ve also been researching powerlifting/bodybuilding hybrid routines, so that I can focus more on aesthetics until the New Year. My training schedule is going to continue to be overloaded unless I drop Yoga, which I’m considering.

I’ve been going to a somatics class and a Yin Yoga class for a couple of weeks. I was hoping to restore some of my mobility since lifting has obliterated any flexibility I once had. It seems like both classes are very hard on my shoulders and I end up being more sore coming out than when I go in. And I like my “yang practices”. I like being hardcore at the gym. I may skip yoga this week in order to insure maximum badassery at my meet. But whatever I do, I need to keep researching training programs that will never come to fruition because otherwise I’m going to start thinking about competing and barf.

Five more sleeps.


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Race Day: Army Run 5K

After months of grueling preparation, I finally achieved one of my major de-fat goals: I ran in a 5K race.

How did I get myself into this mess?

For the past year, I’ve been forcing myself to try new things with a friend, Danielle. Neither of us were particularly fit a year ago, and we decided that training for a 5 K race would be a good goal to keep us motivated and improve our running. In May, we signed up for the Ottawa 5K Army Run and made a pact to finish in under 35 minutes. Then we went to the gym and tried to run.

The first day we ran together, we could barely jog for 30 seconds and after 30 minutes of  mostly walking, we both needed to sit down and pray for death. At this point I felt kind of hopeless. Fat people are not built to run ergonomically. Sitting on the couch and stuffing my face with junk had not built up the right kind of endurance.  Running evokes terrible memories of high school phys ed: grungy uniforms and a 12 minute cooper run that I mostly spent trying to avoid by hiding in the bathroom. Nobody likes running on the treadmill. I can’t even say I enjoy running outside because it’s literally the most boring activity known to mankind – and I’m part of a generation of smartphone users that never have to feel bored. Oh, and after 5 minutes of running, I am easily mistaken for the world’s sweatiest tomato and it is just so unattractive.

Ugh. Running.

I’ve spent the past 4 months regretting signing up for this race and slacking off on training. I would aim to run 3 times a week and then finish the week with only a single run completed. But I still feel that 5K is a baseline of fitness that most adults should be able to wake-up and bang out, and sometimes adults need to suck it up and do what’s good for them, even if it’s kind of boring. In a lot of ways running is a lot like eating your vegetables.

The Course

The Race

For some strange reason, I failed to realize that the start time of this race was at 8:00 am. On Sunday mornings I like to sleep in. I do not like waking up early to run 5K. I had picked up my bib and race kit on Friday, so at 6:30 this morning, I stumbled out of bed and got ready to race. I decided against breakfast, but downed a couple mouthfuls of coffee and a glass of water while standing over the kitchen sink, and then I met Danielle at the start line at 7:30.

I think part of the reason people hate running is because they force themselves to get out of bed at an ungodly hour and run when they could be back in bed, where it is warm. I wore pants because it was chilly today, but standing out in a t-shirt before the race started, I was freezing and I just wanted the race to start so that we could get it over with.

Finally, at 8:00 the cannon fired and we were off. I turned on my iPod and my Runkeeper app  before stepping through the gate so that I would have a good idea of my pace, even when the pace bunny got lost in the crowd. I was surprised when the race started: I knew I was running too fast, because I was nice and sweaty despite the cold, but I also had the Runkeeper lady telling me that our pace was 10:02 after 2 miles. The thing is, I felt great. The dynamic of running with 14 000 people is certainly different from jogging alone. I was worried I would get trapped in the crowd and be forced to run at a pace set by someone else. Instead, chasing long-legged dudes, passing a group of women, and constantly trying to weave through the crowd made the whole experience a lot more interesting – and when I felt like I was sucking for air, I reminded myself that I didn’t want anyone to see me walking, so I kept on trucking along.

The hardest part of the race was the 4 – 5 km stretch. I kept expecting to see the finish line, but it felt like a long time coming. In the end, I set a personal best of 31:46, although my running partner did finish about 30 seconds ahead of me. We both finished in the top 50% of our category. “Not bad for a couple of couch potatoes,” to quote Danielle. I’m pretty happy now tat it’s over. And it was maybe just a little bit fun to run with a crowd. Am I experiencing a runner’s high or am I just delusional from waking up so early?

At the finish line

What next?

I told myself that after this race, I’m going to give myself permission to stop running. I do a lot of active things in my life and it seems pointless to force myself to run when I can’t stand it. But this race was kind of fun. I need to decide if all those boring hours of training alone make the race worth it. I’m going to take some “time off from running”, which really does not mean much in terms of altering my schedule. I think that next year we might attempt some fun runs that don’t really count as races, starting with The Spartan Race next spring. The funny thing is, I’m debating doing a 10K as part of the Ottawa Marathon and this morning’s race strengthened my desire to do so, which I did not expect. Maybe I won’t ditch the treadmill just yet.


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Heavy singles and meet prep

I went to the gym with coach Caitlin again, today. I had planned to do my bench and squat worksets on Greyskull and then throw in some bogus accessory work. Instead, Caitlin ended up giving me commands and I practiced some heavy singles in preparation for my first meet, which is one week from tomorrow. I am going to force myself to deload this coming week, so this was my last chance to see what I’ve got under my belt and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable after this session.

Squat

I decided to try squatting belted for the first time ever today. I had tried body weight squats with the belt at home and it just felt off. Once I tried it with some heavy sets, it made my unracking feel a lot more stable, so I will be squatting belted in competition I think. I was also surprised because I hit 235lbs today, which is a 10lb PR and I am not even sure it’s my max. I thought my squat max had decreased in the past month since I’ve dropped some body weight and made very little progress on GSLP, but that is clearly not the case.

I think my squat attempts will be 90/102.5/110 (since I have to submit my attempts in kg).

Bench

The only video I have here is of me failing 110lb, which I still haven’t even managed touch ‘n go, so that’s no surprise. I did put up 105lbs on my second attempt, and it was with the pause. I will be okay on bench as long as I take the time to set up properly and remember to push up with my chest. Attempts I’m planning are 42.5/47.5/50 but I’ll be shocked if I actually make the 50.

Deadlift

I was not planning to pull at all today but my max seems to be a lot higher than I anticipated, so this was a good decision. I’m going to go with my original plan of opening with 117.5. But I attempted 280lbs today, it went up easy and instead of making that my third attempt, I will make 127.5 kg my second attempt:

So, with that under my belt I attempted a 3 plate deadlift. I had tried for this a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t even get off the ground but today I think I got it. I was worried I didn’t lock out, but from this angle it looks fine. The bigger issue in the video is that there’s a bit of a hitch/jump which makes me wonder whether this would count in competition.

I’m going to try for 137.5 on my third attempt and I’ll find if it counts. That’s not a PR but I don’t think I can go any higher, but since this will be the last lift I make at the end of a long day – and I’m not even sure it counted here, I think this is the best choice. If I’m really killing it, I might attempt 140.

So, as long as I total, I will have my Junior qualifying total and I can compete in Emeryville in November. Assuming I make all of my second attempts, which I will, I will have my qualifying total for Provincials in January. Then the third lifts will just be gravy. I’ve got this. And now I can spend the rest of the week worrying about wearing my sexy singlet in public.


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Why is weight loss so hard for women?

I’m having one of those days where I just want to open myself up and poke around to find out what’s going on, because I have no insight from my current perspective. Tomorrow is my second BTFC check-in and after a very strong start, I feel like I’ve already hit a wall. Given the amount of calories that I’ve eaten and my activity level, I feel a little bit shocked that I haven’t lost weight this week. Even with a bit of eating entertainment on Sunday and Monday, I’ve still been running a pretty steep caloric deficit overall.

One of my friends suggested that hormones were coming into play this week and initially I discounted the possibility. Then I started reading “5 myths about your ideal weight” and when I read the last piece of advice, I got a little misty eyed. If tearing up over the most trivial and insignificant things is not a sign of being hormonal, I don’t know what is.

Of course I know, in my head and in my heart that being happy is not just a number on the scale. I have a hard time accepting anything told to me from a women’s health magazine, which tend to be bastions of misinformation, but I’d agree with this sentiment no matter where I found it because this wisdom is entirely self-evident.

The problem is that even when I try to focus on what I’m doing right, there are all of these other voices competing for my attention, and sometimes they are more successful in grabbing my attention and raising doubt in my mind. Lately it feels like the scale has been yelling the loudest and I just can’t escape the number screaming back at me. It’s like a bad relationship and I just need to delete the scale from my Facebook and hit the gym.

This whole week has me thinking about the differences in men and women when it comes to weight loss. It seems like time and time again, I see transformations of chubby guys who hit the gym for 90 days, knock back a couple of protein shakes and get absolutely shredded. Meanwhile, women who post pictures of themselves after doing p90x religiously and overhauling their diets seem to achieve only mediocre progress. Sure, their waists are a bit thinner or their stomach is flatter, but their transformation is never as dramatic as the guy who went from fat to fit. Why does this happen?

I can speculate on a number of reasons. First, men are not subject to the same hormonal fluctuations as women. No guy sat at their desk yesterday and PMSed while craving poutine, doughnuts and cake. I realize that guys get hungry when they run a caloric deficit. But the intensity of hunger during one month of the week is much greater both mentally and physically during one week of the month, for me. Guys never have to worry about that extra-gruelling week. Ant that’s to say nothing about the fat-storage properties of increased hormone levels during a certain time of the month, because even when if I exercise the willpower of a Saint, I can never seem to lose weight during that time frame. Ryan and Stewart (1995) summarize the issue of weight loss for women pretty succinctly, noting that “Female sex hormones, particularly progesterone, adversely influence food intake and energy expenditure, and the menstrual cycle and exogenous hormones for contraception or symptoms of menopause may adversely affect weight. […] Psychologic factors may also play a role. The American culture’s excessive drive for female slimness may promote excessive restrictive eating patterns, which can then trigger binges of overeating.”

There are also physiological differences which come into play: men are able to achieve and maintain lower levels of body fat percentages overall, which better allows them to show off just how jacked they are. They also tend to have a larger base of strength and greater potential for strength. Add in some testosterone and muscle-building – the dreaded “bulking” that so many women fear – becomes a breeze for gentlemen. The end result would naturally be better progress in a shorter time frame.

The problem I have is that everything I’ve said comes down to subjective observations, and while some of these things may seem intuitively true, attempts to quantify these differences seem to disagree. Ballor and Peohlman (1994) conducted a meta-analysis and found that men and women “did not differ with respect to either the amount of body weight lost (mean = -10 +/- 1.4 kg) or fat mass lost (mean = -8 +/- 1.1 kg).” Likewise, Flechtner-Mors et al. (2000) found “no gender differences in percentage weight loss” during a 4-year weight loss study conducted using meal replacements. More recently, Evans et al. (2012) compared weight loss in men and women over a 1 year period and found that both groups lost similar amounts of weight, although it is interesting to note that men lost more body fat in their abdominal area than women.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether boys vs. girls holds up true or not. I can’t worry about anyone else’s weight apart from my own, and then I’m left feeling like the hamster that’s been spinning her wheel without progress all week. I’ve been to the gym and killed it all week. I lifted. I swam. I ran. I danced. I did yoga. I ate within my calorie goal for most of the week, and when I went out with friends for supper, I ate a salad. When I ate a piece of cake, I stuck to a single piece and not the whole cake. Overall, I feel like I’ve done all that I can do to get myself closer to my goal this week, even if the scale’s verdict disagrees. So maybe what I need to do is exactly what Women’s Health says I should do: stop obsessing over my weight.