GIRLS CAN LIFT

A Dainty Diary of Lifting


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My first body fat measurement

As I’m winding down on my first week in my year of Lean Eating, I wanted to document what I’m sure will be the first of many huge milestones along my journal. Today was our first day of measurements and as part of this process, I had to get my body fat percentage measured.

So, first off, I recognize that getting one’s body fat measured isn’t exactly fun. It’s not like I wake up and said, “I want my body composition measured right after I grab a latte.” In fact, knowing that I would need a 7-point skinfold measurement, I made an appointment with a reputable trainer here in town and told him what I was looking for. When I mentioned to a couple of coworkers that I was going to get this done, they all just kind of scrunched up their noses and said, “Ew! Why would you want to do that!” One of my friends commented, “It’s so invasive!”

I do sort of understand. I was worried I would have to undress with some stranger who would pinch me in awkward places. Plus, I don’t exactly have the greatest self-image when it comes to my body to begin with. But I knew I was going to a trainer who has probably measured lots of people of various shapes and sizes, and that he’d be supportive of me wanting to progress. And with the help of my coach, I reminded myself that this is just a baseline. It’s not a judgement; it’s a way to track my progress.

So, I accepted I was going to this and I’ve now completed my first set of measurements. The trainer I went to was so friendly that feeling uncomfortable never even crossed my mind. And he estimated my body fat to be around 22 or 23%. Can you believe it? I sure can’t.

Depending on who you ask, that percentage is considered normal or even fit for women. Using the mirror, I’ve been estimating my body fat to be between 35 and 40% for the past couple of years. So, now I’m pretty sure I have body dismorphia.

One of my friends asked me how it went and when I told her all of this, she said, “Why did you think you were 40%!?” I’ve been asking myself the same question, and I couldn’t figure out the answer. That is, until I weighed myself. Stepping on the scale, I remembered exactly why I think I’m a whale: my BMI is still quite firmly obese. I am obese.

Now, I know there is this mantra on the internet that says that BMI doesn’t really mean anything if you lift. The problem is that, I sometimes feel like the people who take that message to heart miss the fact that they could benefit the most from strict weight loss. Besides, I’m not even sure I have a lot of muscle because I can never see it. But I can definitely see how fat I am every time I look in the mirror, It’s like, I see my reflection and I’m not a hardbody, so I must just be fat.

Except, based on my body fat measurement, I’m pretty normal. I have muscle. In fact, hiding somewhere under this layer of blubber, there is quite a lot of muscle. I’m even wondering if my end goal of 132lbs is realistic, given that this current estimate puts me at 129lb of lean  mass. Even given the margin of error that accompanies caliper measurements, getting my weight down will probably necessitate muscle loss at this point.

So in a lot of ways, this number hasn’t felt like a judgement hanging over my head. Quite the opposite, in fact. Maybe the reason I’ve been struggling to lose the same 10 or 20lbs over the past year is because I really don’t need to lose that weight. Sure, I’d like to look leaner but my body is actually functional, and I daresay healthy. And metabolic function isn’t looking in the mirror, so maybe I should cut myself some slack and stop feeling so guilty over my weight, which is truly just a number on the scale.

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Intro to Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating

Today is Day 3 of my lean eating adventure. I’ve received some questions and comments both in real life and online about what exactly this adventure is, and I thought I’d address them here.

 You see, when I tell people that I started doing Lean Eating, they tend to ask, “So what is the diet? What are you eating?” When I explain that is no meal plan, then they think I’m crazy for paying for nutrition coaching. There are so many free diets on the internet! I could just follow any of those and “get healthy”.

 Except, I know that! I’ve done keto and Paleo. I’ve done low carb, no carb, carb backloading and carb pre-loading. Most of the time I’m just carb overloading. I’ve counted the calories I eat and with the BodyMedia Fit, I was even counting calories burned. I’ve tried a PSMF, which is genuinely an eating disorder by any other name. I’ve done variations of LeanGains and Intermittent Fasting. I have a cupboard overflowing with half-consumed supplements that are supposed to be taken pre-, post- and intra-workout.

In short, I have been around the block when it comes to dieting. You name it, and I’ve probably done it.  I’m certainly not proud of that fact, but it’s a reality. Yet here, I am: I’m still fat. I’m sick and tired of dieting. I have no idea how to feed myself and worst of all, I still really, really hate my body.

So, I’m giving Lean Eating a try. There is no meal plan. There is no calorie counting. I have tried enough of those to know by now that they are not what I need for long term success. If you aren’t familiar with Precision Nutrition’s Calorie Control Guide, you should check it out. They have a system for eyeballing appropriate portion sizes, without neurosis or restriction, and I think it gives a pretty good overview of how reasonable they are as a company.

I’ve been trying to follow their portion control guide loosely on my own since before the program started. Right now it has not been introduced as part of the LE program – in fact, I’m on my third day of a diet program and no one has given me any dietary guidelines. A part of me is panicking, but on the whole, I feel very at peace because I know that I will continuing forward with small steps for the rest of the year.

 The actual program itself has three main components: First, I log in each day and read a short lesson. Part of the reason I agreed to this journey is because I know it will promote critical self reflection, education and growth. Those things are integral for my happiness as a person, but they are often lacking in other diets and workout plans.

Second, I do an assigned “habit” each day. Right now I’m supposed to be taking fish oil every morning. It sounds simple, but fish oil is one of the supplements I already had in my cabinet and I never remembered to take it consistently. In a couple of weeks, when I’ve mastered this habit, I’ll move on to something else that will be equally simple. I don’t know what the next habit will be, and I don’t need to think about it yet, which is a bit of a shift in thinking for me.

I am the type of person who tends to set a goal and then right off the bat, I try to do a long-jump and land as close to the goal as possible. Sometimes this approach works, but more often than not, I need to stop and re-evaluate because I’ve missed the mark and done a faceplant. I need a navigator to help map out the directions to reach my goal – all of the stuff that comes in between now and the end. I never stop to ask myself, “How will I get there?” I only ask, “Where am I going?” So in a lot of ways, the coaches at PN are handing me driving instructions. I am still the driver and I will get there in the end, but maybe I won’t accidentally take a detour to Mexico and get lost along the way.

The final part of the program is an exercise routine. There is a strength training component, though the rests are much shorter and the sets much longer than I’m used to. The first phase is also very focused on mobility work. On paper, the routines look simple. I’ve squatted 305lbs! I should be able to handle some body weight split squats!

In reality, I have a long-standing hip issue that needs rehab and it’s basically getting a crash course in hip flexor and adductor strengthening. Lateral squats? I can only do them on one side of my body, which is a sure sign of a problem. Although I’m still young, I have a feeling that’s the type of thing that haunts a person into their old-age, which might be why I was able to give myself permission to step back from my squat goals for a while. I can go back to squatting when my hip is fixed.

One other aspect of the program that I should mention is that I have access to a coach and a team of women who are all undertaking the same journey. My coach, Denise, is really great. Not only can I ask for help when I need it, but I have someone e-mailing me daily to say, “You’re doing great. Focus on doing what you can do today.” That’s always a nice message to wake-up to, and very reassuring. For the first time ever, I feel like I’m doing really well and I feel relieved that someone finally removed the burden of the future.

And when I explain to people like that, they all seem to agree that I’m not crazy for doing this – and it certainly beats calorie counting!


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General update on life and the start of Lean Eating

I have officially committed to my year of Lean Eating.

Registration for Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating program was yesterday and I guess I signed up. I even filled out my introductory questionnaire last night and downloaded the initial 6-week workout cycle, so I really am taking the first steps in the journey. I feel like I’m going back to my roots in a way, by revisiting some of the fundamentals I was introduced to in New Rules of Lifting for Women.  That will start on Monday, and until then I feel impatient and nervous to start. I feel like I’m ready to jump in 110% but since that approach hasn’t worked for me in the past, I keep telling myself to sit tight.

In the meantime, my diet does seem to have gone off the deep end. It is like eleventy million degrees outside, and even hotter in my top-floor apartment with no air conditioning. I think I’m melting. My stomach is always upset and I can’t bring myself to turn on the oven or even microwave leftovers. So basically I have some ice cream or I don’t eat after I get home from work. Then I turn around and stuff my face at breakfast, go out for lunch and repeat the cycle. I know that’s a disordered schedule and although I haven’t been tracking my calories, my protein consumption is basically nonexistent.

I did finally step on the scale last night. It had been a while. It wasn’t anywhere as bad as I’d expected. It wasn’t great – I’m not 148lbs like I was when I pulled 370 – but I do seem to have stabilized right where I was last August and last December. I can live with where I am right now, especially given everything else that’s happened since I graduated and knowing that I’m about to embark on a pretty serious journey to fix not only my diet but myself.

Oh, and I’ve officially been on an antidepressant for a month now. That means I’ve survived my first bout of PMS while on taking an SSRI. I’m still 99.9% certain that I have PMDD. I once had a coworker who lost her smartphone and then said to me in a state of panic, “I need that thing! It’s my life! What am I supposed to do? I don’t even know when I get my period without an app!”

As much as I have an attachment to my iPhone, I have never needed an app to track my cycle. The whole idea is rather unfathomable to me, really. I always knew exactly where I was based on how out of control I felt . Even when went to the doctor, all I could say in my fit of blubbering was, “I just can’t stop crying! I know it’s hormonal because I’m a week out from my period! I’m sorry!”

Well, for the first time ever, I think was able to cope with my PMS. I mean, I’m still myself. I have been a bit moody and a bit restless and I kind of want to explode out of my skin. But I think I’ve gone 30 days without weeping at an inappropriate place like the coffee shop or the city bus or my desk at work and that’s got to be a new personal best. I am congratulating myself on being a functional human being.

So right now is actually a great time for me to be starting the Lean Eating program. Even though I know there are some aspects of my life that need to change, I finally feel like I am at least in a position to manage those things. I’ve cleaned my apartment! I’ve made a budget! I’ve been going to the gym regularly! I’ve read a novel!  And now I have the mental capacity to take responsibility for my health.

At the gym, I tried doing some Greatist WODs. They have a prescribed warm-up that I’ve been forcing myself to do every time. My hips feel great! They are also programmed with sets of 15 reps, which I knew I’d be seeing in the LE workouts and I wanted to prepare myself for what is coming. I have no illusions: the mentality that I am a powerlifter who only works in low rep ranges has done nothing for my endurance. #thisiswhyimfat

The very first WOD I did, I even revisited one of my favourite moments from NRL4W: the part where my workout ends, and then I just lay down on the bench in the locker room, waiting for my legs to stop trembling so I can walk home. The first few days were brutal, but after a week of high rep training, I’m already feeling more optimistic.

For one thing, I’m pretty sure that even following a lifting program will preserve the base of strength I’ve built, even if I’m not focusing on 1RMs for the time being. And trying out new lifts has been fun, which was something that was lacking from training over the past few months. I don’t dread going to the gym anymore and maybe I’ve crawled out of my training rut. I’ve even found that after these workouts, I come home completely wiped, and then I sleep through the night, which has been a much-needed change. Most importantly: sets of 15 produce a sick pump. I look so jacked!

On the subject of lifting: this weekend is the annual Ottawa Open Powerlifting meet. Although I withdrew from the list of lifters, I have a friend who will be doing her first meet. I have been trying to support her as much as possible. This is the chick who got me into lifting and hence totally changed my life! How could I think she is anything less than awesome? Plus, I remember all of the feelings of excitement and nervousness that a lifter experiences in the days leading up to her first meet. I am eternally grateful to the person who helped me get through my first experience on the platform, and I can only hope to be half as helpful in an attempt to pay the favour forward.

So life has been keeping me busy and I’ll be even busier once I start Lean Eating on Monday.  And then? Who knows. I’ve kind of been thinking that coaching people is fun – which is practically a confession of sociability coming from me! Maybe after this journey, I’ll feel lean enough and confident enough to help coach others. But that’s a lofty goal and I’m happy to be taking things one day at a time right now.


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General Update on Life and Lifting

Hello to everyone who reads my blog, or rather everyone who would read my blog if I ever bothered to update it.

Simply put, I don’t have much to say about lifting and certainly nothing worth putting down on paper. I am lifting three days every week but it’s always on autopilot: I just go in, lift a moderately heavy weight and get on with my life. I’m nowhere near PRing but nowhere near failure, either. I’m just showing up and clocking in for my workouts, basically.

I’ve been doing some roller derby, although my Crash Course is finished in a couple of weeks and I’m not sure that I want to continue down that path. On the one hand, I’ve really liked some of the girls I’ve met and it’s a fun activity. But we were informed that joining the league includes mandatory off-ice training. I am not interested in doing a bodyweight bootcamp twice a week, especially with instructors who say things like, “The best way to get a bowling ball butt is to do lots of squats and go really low.” Not my jam.

And I will never commit to a bootcamp class, I cancelled my gym membership, yesterday. This was actually a really big deal to me, because I’d been lifting at the Downtown YMCA here in Ottawa for almost 2 years and it was my first  real gym membership. Unfortunately, over the past few months I’ve been annoyed with the fact that the washroom is always dirty when I’m there. The staff are not very friendly. They don’t acknowledge me or say goodbye when I’m leaving. And ever since I started lifting, I’ve felt that some of the younger guys at the gym cannot deal with a woman in the weight room. Typically it was just subtle things, like saying hello to every guy in the weight room but avoiding eye contact with me. I could live with that, and either way the situation improved somewhat when I befriended Gary.

Unfortunately, Gary has skipped town for greener pastures (Toronto). Only a couple of days after he left, I was involved in a confrontation with one of the other members. While I admit that I could have handled the situation in a more professional manner, I maintain that no one requires the use of 3 separate barbells to bench, especially when other people are waiting to use the equipment. The next time I returned to the gym, the same guy was back and no matter where I went in the gym, I had to listen to his breathing. Apparently even tricep kickbacks require such intensely laboured inhalations that everyone in the building thinks you are having a sustained heart attack for two hours straight. Congratulations bro, you fucked up breathing. Anyway, I did get a bit of petty revenge by refusing to share the platform with this guy, but when he got into a huff and stormed off, I decided it was finally time for a change of scenery.

After I cancelled my YMCA membership, I did have a bit of an anxiety attack. Being without a gym membership is almost akin to being homeless! Where would I go if I needed an emergency pump?

Luckily, within hours I had rectified the situation and I am now a member of Trueform. It’s a smaller independent gym in my neighborhood that I’d lifted at once before. The locker rooms are clean and the staff and clientele seem a lot friendlier. I deadlifted there yesterday and I really feel like this is a good change for me. I feel very calm and at peace – unlike some of the other shifts in my life recently, which have been somewhat disorienting.

Anyway, now that I’ve signed up for a new gym, I’ve decided to take a step back from powerlifting, retroactively beginning from the point when school ended a couple of months ago and I lost control of my life. And yes, you read that correctly: signing up for a new gym was part of my plan to put lifting on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

I mentioned in one of my posts a few weeks back that I was considering doing Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program. If you’re not familiar with Lean Eating, the short version is that it’s a fat loss coaching program. They provide suggested workouts, nutrition education and habit-based strategies for eating. There is no strict diet protocol, but working with a group of peers and an online coach, you’re supposed to be able to learn long-term, sustainable eating habits – something I’ve really struggled to do on my own.

When I originally mentioned doing the program, I also stated that I had some reservations. The marketing material these guys have put together for this program is intense. It’s hard to know what’s smoke and mirrors and what’s legitimate. Undoubtedly, I have a lot of respect for the people involved, such as Krista Scott-Dixon, and I realize that these guys are trying to compete with programs that promise dramatic results, fast. When given the choice between a year-long program of small changes and P90X, I feel like most people in my life would opt for P90x. So I went out of my way to try and find some reviews from dissatisfied customers – and they do exist.

While PN does a great job of showcasing their success stories, there are people who have achieved more moderate results, or who didn’t quite get what they were bargaining for. In reading these critiques, I began to question whether I really wanted to commit myself to endeavour for an entire year. After all, I’ve been failing to lose weight for the past year; why should this program be any different? And what if I don’t lean out and I lose all of my strength? I’m terrified. And I still want to give it a shot.

Reading the more negative reviews gave me the insight that in order to succeed, I need to commit myself fully. I admit that I am lacking some crucial tool to implement a successful action plan on my own, so I should just trust the experts fully! For me, this will include doing the recommended exercise routine, which includes stuff like mobility work and cardio. I won’t be giving up strength training entirely, but my focus will be shifting in a big way as I work to correct some other weaknesses. I’m actually kind of glad that I’ll finally have a kick in the pants to do those things, since those are precisely the things I know I should be doing.

Having just switched gyms, I really am giving myself a totally fresh start for the program which begins in 12 days. Those past failures are in the past and hopefully a year from now I will feel glad that I threw myself into this adventure. Maybe then I’ll feel more comfortable with myself and I can think about doing a PL meet or a bikini contest. Who knows. A year is a long time.