GIRLS CAN LIFT

A Dainty Diary of Lifting


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A few thoughts on food at fieldcamp

There has been a radio silence on my blog for the past few days because I was up in Northern Ontario to conduct fieldwork and I was without internet access. I wasn’t lifting or formally working out, but I did a lot of canoeing and hiking and swimming. While I was away I learned a lot about plants and freshwater biogeochemistry, but I also found myself making a lot of observations about other people’s eating habits.

During our trip, we stayed in cabins of 8 people, all of them my peers. On the first day we went grocery shopping together and decided that everyone would be responsible for one group dinner and we would otherwise fend for ourselves during breakfast and lunch. I say this not in a judgmental way, but rather as an observation that I found highly interesting and revealing: everyone’s diets suck.

Sometimes I read Yoni Freedhoff’s Weighty Matters blog and I think to myself, “Who the hell still buys fruit juice?” Well, no less than 10 jugs of fruit juice passed through our fridge this week, and it was considered perfectly normal behaviour to drink orange juice with breakfast. Meanwhile, I found it almost jarring the first morning, when I found one of my cabin-mates eating a bowl of Chex and a glass of sucralose-sweetened grapefruit juice.

I was amazed at the guy in our cabin who ate 8 packs of maple-flavoured bacon this week.

I found it funny when the 4 boys in our cabin would wander in at 9 pm and say, “No one fed me dinner so I haven’t eaten in 9 hours. I’m starving!” Meanwhile they’d make themselves hourly sandwiches of bread and ham.

Of the 45 people at fieldcamp, only three were sober for the week and I made the decision to be one of them. Although I’ve never been a heavy drinker, I’ve been avoiding alcohol for a few reasons. First, it does nothing to improve my mental health, which was admittedly shaky for a while there. But more importantly, alcohol metabolism takes priority in the liver and since I want to be leaner, I am focusing on my own priorities. But that didn’t stop a girl drinking her third beer of the evening from informing me that Diet Coke was basically poison and I shouldn’t be drinking it.

Towards the end of our stay, two of the girls in our cabin complained that they had nothing to eat and suggested that in order to use up leftovers, I could eat toast instead of eggs. I said a carb was not an equivalent substitute for a protein, and she said, “But the toast is still part of a complete breakfast.”

I was involved in more than one debate about whether or not peanut butter is a source of protein.

The dinner I planned and cooked for everyone was wildly successful. We made a simple green salad, pork sausages and potatoes with garlic and cilantro. Everyone raved about how good it was and no one else was able to recreate such a well-received meal, despite the fact that others endeavored to make highly complex, gourmet meals. I never thought I’d say this, but cooking good food is easy. The secret is in knowing how to keep it simple.

I lived for 10 days with one of my close friends, who has decided that she is gluten intolerant. She ate gluten-free bread all week. She ate spaghetti while drinking beer.

The phrase “But nuts are full of healthy fats!” was repeated ad nauseum while a kilo of pistachios was demolished during a late night study session.

I opted out of a communal meal that consisted of spaghetti and tomato sauce. Or rather, I grilled up a chicken breast and ate it with spaghetti sauce, but then I had to justify this choice to everyone in my cabin. Every guy in the cabin told me, “Carbs aren’t bad. Just go for a run to work it off.”

At first I was annoyed. These are university-educated people! They are all interested in sustainable food production and should be able to grasp the basic concepts of nutrition! But then I realized that maybe this conclusion was drawn in haste. While no one made exclusively healthy choices all week, I was by far the most overweight person in the entire camp. I was the only girl who didn’t don a bikini. Maybe it’s more fair to say that everyone’s conception of a healthy diet is a matter of individual habits and preferences.

But then there’s the whole group mentality. I caught a lot of flack for eating slowly, for eating small portions, for turning down chips, for choosing not to snack at every opportunity. I was eating enough that I was certain I had gained weight, but it was still subject to social scrutiny. Quite frankly, social attitudes towards food are kind of weird, given that everyone eats so differently to begin with.

Funnily enough, I came home yesterday only to find a quote from Mike Roussell that I’d wish I’d had in advance:

 Getting lean and staying lean requires a change in your mindset. You will eat differently from most people.You will say ‘no’ to food much more than the people around you (when was the last time you heard someone refuse food – it rarely happens). Your behaviors will be different.

I was different than everybody else, but in the end I’m rather proud of myself. I had >80% compliance on my Lean Eating habit while I was away. I lost 8lbs. And mostly importantly, I stuck to my values. I was able to decline in the face of peer pressure because I would ask myself whether I was hungry or not, whether I wanted to eat spaghetti or not. For the first time ever, I feel like I’ve used my strength of character to reach my nutrition goals, without feeling deprived. And I’m relieved that there’s proof I’m slowly changing for the better. Being different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

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Hara Hachi Bu, Food Waste, and Anxiety

This week, I was introduced to the Japanese concept of hara hachi bu or eating until the stomach is 80% full. As part of the Lean Eating program, I’ve been trying to introduce this practice into my life. While the idea may seem simple, this is without a doubt one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

I’ve said before that that I no longer have hunger signals. Instead, I’ve been clinging to myfitnesspal and calorie counting to tell me how much I can eat. The good news is that my body does still work like it should, and if I pay close attention then I do know when I’m hungry and when I’m not. The bad news is that I’ve perfected the art of ignoring these signals until they’ve reached the levels of a national alert – which is how I end up clutching my stomach, curled up in the foetal position and moaning because I’ve eaten too many chocolate covered pretzels yet again.

While I try not to eat myself into a stomach ache at every meal, I am still guilty of overeating in general, as evidenced by the fact that I can’t get my weight down to where I’d like it. In theory, if my hunger signals do still exist somewhere in my body, then eating less should be easy if I just start obeying them. Unfortunately, the reality is a lot more complex and it turns out that when I try to eat less, I run head first into a giant emotional minefield.

Like most people in my generation, I’ve been taught to lick the plate clean. I have very distinct memories of being dropped off at the babysitter’s house each morning when I was younger. Before school, we’d sit around her table for breakfast and she’d slide a Costco –sized bran muffin in front of each of us. We weren’t allowed to leave the table until our plates were empty.

A part of me knows that this behaviour is totally irrational. For starters, I still shudder internally at the thought of store-bought bran muffins; they are simply revolting and nutritionally void. Can’t every human being see that no five year-old needs to eat an entire processed cake larger than their own head for breakfast every morning? I could see this all quite plainly even when I was in kindergarten!

I harbored such resentment over having to eat those jumbo muffins.  I would often sit at the breakfast table for upwards of 40 minutes, aimlessly picking at the crumbs, unable to swallow despite the fact that lunch was hours away. These were clear indications that I was not physically hungry. Yet there I was, scolded if I didn’t finish the entire thing, even as my own body protested.

This attitude of ignoring my body’s physical hunger has permeated the rest of my eating habits. If I go to a restaurant, I try to finish what’s put in front of me. Never mind that restaurants plonk down an outrageously gargantuan portion size and a never-ending bread bowl, I strive to lick my plate clean. It tastes so good! And if I enjoy it and can fit it all in my belly, why shouldn’t I? I’ve paid for my heaping portion of food and I wouldn’t want the leftovers or my money to go to waste.

The same thing happens at home: my goal is always to finish eating supper, and the natural conclusion of a meal occurs is when the plate has been emptied. This endpoint is intuitively flawed because it doesn’t take into account how much food is on the plate to begin with, nor does it consider my own level of hunger. And defining the clean plate as the capstone of a meal is even worse when I consider that I am the child of two parents who are morbidly obese: they couldn’t instill a foundation of reasonable portion sizes in their children when they were chronic overeaters themselves.

So here I am: I’m 80% full. I am physically satiated and my stomach feels a bit uncomfortable if I pause to think about it. I’ve experienced and enjoyed all of the flavours of my meal. I have no reason to continue eating! Except that the remains of my dinner are left on my plate, consuming me with feelings of guilt and anxiety as they stare back at me.

I’m wasting mouthfuls of perfectly good food that would taste delicious! I could fit them in my stomach and continue to enjoy the taste if I tried. But instead, I am literally throwing my own money into the garbage can. There are poor starving children who could eat that food in Africa and they would be grateful for it. I try to remind myself that I am not responsible for all of the failings of our current global food distribution system. There may be enough food to feed the world’s population, but a whole host of conspiring factors brought a particular serving of rice to my table.

When the environmentalist in me balks because finite resources were required to grow, harvest and transport this food, I try to assuage my conscious by reminding myself that I live the most environmentally conscious lifestyle possible within my means. Food waste is biodegreable and I minimize my footprint by buying sustainably from the start.

Most importantly, I need to be healthy to address these issues that I care about, and overeating doesn’t support my body, my mind or anyone else. Maybe it does help whichever corporation sold me the food, but I’ve already given them my money and in that sense the action in irrevocable, whether I choose to eat those last three bites or not.

Still my mother’s voice niggles at the back of my mind, when I’m staring at the last pieces of food on my plate. I should finish my portion in case I’m hungry later. At 8 am, lunch feels like it is mere eons away, and I’ll inevitably choose something less healthy three hours from now if I don’t finish my meal. Forgetting of course that I am an adult who can make a healthy choice at any time of day, it’s at this point that I’m grateful to have the accountability of Precision Nutrition. I have to trust them when they say that 80% is enough, if for no reason other than to get my checkmark for the day.

The funny thing is, every time that I stop to ask myself whether I’m really hungry between meals, I find that the answer is still “No” – or when I start to get hungry, I can wait until the next meal. It’s been a revelation to find that eating less can still mean eating enough to keep me fuelled, focused and present in my life. I am starting to hope that at some point I will be able to quell my desire to finish everything that’s put in front of me, simply because it’s there. It might take some time to undo all of the damage inflicted by all of those god awful bran muffins, but I have faith that I can start enjoying the food that I both want and need to truly nourish myself.


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A Product Review, a Lean Eating Update and Kimchi

1) OMG YOU TOTALLY NEED TO BUY BARLEAN’S OMEGA SWIRL RIGHT THIS INSTANT

When I started Lean Eating, I remarked on the fact that I have a cupboard full of supplements that I consistently neglect. Well, for the past three weeks, I’ve been taking my fish oil every morning and I want to high five myself for this small accomplishment.

While I finished off the capsules that I already had in my pantry, Precision Nutrition recommended taking liquid fish oil, simply because a smaller serving yields a larger dose. So I went out and bought liquid fish oil and I was swallowing my daily spoonful before work and everything was going swimmingly – that is, until I dropped the entire bottle of fish oil and it shattered all over my kitchen floor. What a giant mess that was!

Luckily, my misfortune turned out to be a happy accident because I went to the health food store and discovered Barlean’s Omega Swirl.

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Hands down this stuff is the best fish oil that I have ever tasted. I bought the key lime variety, though I did sample all of the flavours in store and I could have purchased any of them. When my current bottle is finished, I will probably try another variety. I expected a fishy after taste or undertones and they were nonexistent! This stuff seriously has to be the work of a sorcerer, brewed in Snape’s dungeon or something. My mind is boggled.

Do you want proof it’s magical? For the first time ever, I have enjoyed a week without fish oil burps! The ingredients actually list the types of fish used to extract the oil, which I take to be an indication of quality. It is one of the brands that was recommended by Precision Nutrition, which I discovered quite happily after buying it. I had read that some people feel that brands that list only “fish oil” on their ingredients tend to be lower quality, using the leftover parts of the fish. I was skeptical, but I must say that I’m totally converted. Just wow.

2) Remember when I was a Powerlifter? Well, I totally don’t miss it.

The fact that I’m taking fish oil is hopefully be an indication that my Lean Eating journey is on track. Honestly, it’s kind of underwhelming, and I mean that in the best way possible. I said I wanted to learn how to eat, and that’s not something I can learn overnight after a lifetime of overeating, crash dieting and generally bad habits. So I am working on one small step at a time, which is kind of boring but it’s also totally working. Even with a few simple changes, I feel much more in control of my diet.

I am still doing the prescribed workouts and I’ve had a few people make comments jokingly implying that I am no longer a powerlifter. A part of me balks at these jokes. Even if I’m not training for strength at the moment, I still consider myself to be a powerlifter. I value physical strength in men and women, and that’s a fundamental part of my identity that will outlive my gap year in strength training. Plus, I’m still lifting, my work capacity is through the roof and someone commented on the fact that my biceps were looking huge this week. I was happier than a bench bro on chest day.

I admit that it’s been very freeing for me to go into the gym, challenge myself for an hour and then walk out without having worried about whether or not I could deadlift 370lbs. And I look back and I keep asking myself why I was so dissatisfied with that number. It was a great lift! But my attitude just made me feel so weak and unfocused, which in turn hampered my progress. In the end, I know the bar will be waiting for me when I’m ready to return and I think figuring out where lifting fits into my life, finding balance and being at peace with myself will make me a better lifter in the long run.

On the food front, I’ve been focused on eating slowly and without distractions. Instead of inhaling my food as fast as I can, without even stopping to chew, I have been forced to focus on what I’m eating. I am suddenly so aware of my diet! There are foods that I eat fairly regularly, and for the first time in my life, I’ve stopped to reflect on how they taste.

I had a bit of an earth-shattering moment last Sunday: I’d gone to Starbucks with a book, to enjoy a coffee and scone. I took the first bite of the scone and I was sitting there chewing it and all I could think about was how bland and dry this blueberry scone tasted. I’ve eaten approximately 1736 blueberry scones at Starbucks and I always thought they tasted so good! But now I can’t help but think that my usual breakfast – half a sprouted grain English muffin with almond butter – is a whole lot tastier. The only thing that’s changed is how quickly I it my food, but that makes it a whole lot easier to pass up the pastries at coffee every morning, and I wish I could share this revelation with everyone. Instead, I just sat at Starbucks, sipping my coffee and reading a novel.

3) Even though I am no longer doing the whole Caveman thing, I think it taught me how to fend for myself in the kitchen.

My love affair with Sauerkraut is still going strong, and I decided to be adventurous and buy a bottle of Kimchi or asian style sauerkraut. Unfortunately, I am a white girl and I have a white girl mouth. I tried to eat it raw – much to the delight of one of my coworkers –  but it was just too spicy for me to handle.

Then on Monday night, I went out for Korean food with a couple of friends. I ordered fried p ork with Kimchi and tofu. It was so delicious! Although I admit that I ate it a bit faster than I should have, and I overate. Mea culpa. But I also had a flash of inspiration: I could fry my own kimchi with shredded chicken and serve it over rice!

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I fried the kimchi and chicken in coconut oil, and seasoned it with seaweed flakes and sesame seeds. I served the meat and veggies over basmati rice and the result is this dish, which is totally the bomb. The kimchi is still flavourful, but the spiciness is milder and mediated by the rice. Even though I’m sure Asian people do this all of the time, I am seriously impressed with my own culinary genius.

The second or third time I made this meal, I was eating it and thought about the fact that I had thrown together a bunch of ingredients without a recipe or worry in the world – and the end result was successfully palatable. There was a time pre-Paleo when I avoided the kitchen as much as possible. But I think that it might be time for me to cautiously admit that I am no longer a person who refuses to cook.


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General Update on Life and Lifting: Lean Eating Update

Hi. Someone told me to update my blog and I am highly suggestible, so I thought I’d do a check-in. I feel like I don’t have much to say, but in reality I feel like everything is changing inside of me and around me. I am still doing the Lean Eating Program and I am still on an anti-depressant, and both of these are slowly leading to some shifts in my life. Allow me to elaborate.

First, around the time that I started taking an SSRI, I noticed that my sleep habits were totally out of whack. I would be wide awake at 2 am, mindlessly browsing Reddit and then I’d be falling asleep at my desk the next morning. Once I started making a conscious effort to get a full night’s sleep I noticed that I felt more stable, even if I’m not always satisfied with my life. There is still room for improvement, but I’m getting six hours of sleep every night instead of three. I know this totally makes me sound like a little old lady, but being sleep deprived was undoubtedly making me miserable and fat.  

With all of this energy that I have now, I am relieved to say that I have once again settled into a gym routine. I may have mentioned that in my last update, but taking a step back and doing a less intensive-routine has been incredibly refreshing. I don’t care if I’m not “hardcore” enough for most powerlifters; I will be in the gym forever so I might as well enjoy it. And I suddenly understand why programs recommend periodic deloads, which I never bothered to take.

I will admit that I am still a little bit bummed by how light I have to go when working in sets of 15. I woke up one morning last week to the thought that all of this light weight, high-volume work might cause muscle-loss. I’ve been gripped with fear ever since.

Fortunately, while flexing in the bathroom mirror at work, I noticed that my formerly nonexistent triceps have suddenly made an appearance. I think that it would only be appropriate to thank all of the the 1-armed dumbbell incline bench presses I’ve been doing for their growth,  which is way more reassuring than it should be.  

So with regards to the exercise portion of Lean Eating, I certainly can’t complain. It’s giving me exactly what I need, whether I wanted it or not. On the diet side of things, I am not sure I can say things are going quite as smoothly.

Everything was going swimmingly until I was told that I should eat mindfully while hormonal. Apparently my interpretation of mindful eating is: Don’t mind while I eat an entire pint of ice cream in a calm and controlled manner.

In all seriousness though I know I am finally headed in the right direction, even if I haven’t put all of the pieces together quite yet. I said I was doing the year of Lean Eating because I needed some help learning how to listen to my hunger signals after too many crazy diets.  I can safely say that I am progressing towards that goal – but only one day at a time. Take Monday for example. I had a huge revelation on Monday: I do not chew my food. I just swallow it as I’m stuffing the next bite into my face. Unfortunately, coming to that realization is only the first step in trying to fix the problem. After years of inhaling my food, the effort required to overcome that impulse seems nearly insurmountable as I’m staring down a plate of food.

Which brings me around to another reflection that I’ve been mulling over lately: I used to feel irritated with all of the fitness-related messaging that’s out there and I couldn’t pinpoint why. Sure, I felt weak and inadequate every time someone said that getting fit was just a matter of working hard and “eating clean” is just a matter of willpower. But I’m now at a point where I can recognize that a lot of that messaging amount to nothing more than self-righteous bullshit. It doesn’t for a second take into account the compassion and support necessary for living a healthy and balanced life.

Oh and one other thing. I’ve gone on a couple of dates. I know: I’m shocked, too. And even though dating is not exactly the most weight-loss friendly activity in the whole wide world, I am at least in a frame of mind that I recognize that all of the habits I’m trying to implement one step at a time have to fit into my life – and my life is more than just than the gym and the diet of the moment. It seems somewhat funny to me that for the first time in a very long while, I feel like I will be successful in reaching my goals – to lose weight, to deadlift 405 one day – and at the same time I feel like I don’t need to be hung up on my fitness-related goals. They will come when everything else falls into place.