GIRLS CAN LIFT

A Dainty Diary of Lifting

Waste-free weekend

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Sunday Dinner: Mustard chicken thighs, garden salad and cauli-rice

Sunday Dinner: Mustard chicken thighs, garden salad and cauli-rice

If you’ve been following my Lean Eating journey, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a little hung up on food waste. That’s probably not a coincidence. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that apart from being a lifter, I’m also a bit of a hippie. As an example: I’ll be moving in a few months and it was a non-negotiable requirement of mine that my new apartment offer composting services. I’m the type of person who believes that the dietary warfare between vegetarians and the Paleo crowd is simply a waste of energy, since both diets are rooted in a philosophy of sustainable food practices.

When presented with my latest Lean Eating habit, to eat 5 servings of veggies everyday, I scoffed. I was a vegetarian for 12 years! I thought I could just go about my life, knowing that I eat my veggies and sleep easy at night, knowing I’ve got my diet on lock. Except… I signed up for Lean Eating because I don’t have my diet keyed in, and my mother used to joke that I was a vegetarian who didn’t eat veggies. Apparently not much has changed because the day that I was presented with this habit, I only counted 3 measly servings of veggies in everything I ate. Oops.

An old standby: A piece of toast with almond butter and eggs jazzed up with extra veggies

An old standby: A piece of toast with almond butter and eggs jazzed up with extra veggies

In many ways, this habit has been revealing for me. What I think I am doing and I what I am actually doing are two different things. A couple of slices of cucumber on my lunch-time sandwich everyday doesn’t add a whole of nutritional value to my diet. And saying that I eat a lot of veggies is meaningless without a quantifiable measurement of what “a lot” is. It’s like all of those anti-dieting gurus who tell women to eat sweets in moderation. While I appreciate and agree with the sentiment, if you’ve never eaten “in moderation” then that advice essentially boils down to permission to eat things like cookies.

Luckily, while attempting to increase my vegetable intake, I received my monthly Good Food Box. Since it’s peak harvesting season, I knew I’d get some good local veggies and it turned out to be a steal this month. For $15, I received:

  • 2lbs Onions
  • 3lbs Carrots
  • 2 Ears of corn on the cob (*Technically a grain, not a vegetable)
  • 2 bunches of Swiss chard
  • 1 Head of Romaine lettuce
  • 1 Head of cauliflower
  • 1 Head of celery
  • 2 Red peppers
  • 1 Squash
  • 1 Cucumber
  • 1 Tomato
  • 6 Bananas
  • 4 Apples
  • 3 Oranges
  • 2 Nectarines

That’s a lot of produce, especially for someone who has recently come to the realization that they don’t eat many veggies. My natural response was to buy into Precision Nutrition’s appropriately timed “game”: eliminate all produce waste by finding ways to incorporate more veggies into my meals. I really committed to this idea. It’s entirely do-able, it saves me money and I always say that I hate wasting food, but while giving away a case of Diet Dr Pepper caused me an anxiety attack, throwing away the moldy cauliflower and the wilted greens in the bottom of my fridge have always seemed like a natural part of life. How backwards is that?

Afternoon snack: Cottage cheese with cocoa powder and veggies with hummus (and a cup of tea!)

Afternoon snack: Cottage cheese with cocoa powder and veggies with hummus (and a cup of tea!)

Anyway, the good news in this entire story is that it’s actually very easy to eat five servings of veggies once you make a conscious effort. Precision Nutrition came up with a list of ways for me to eat my veggies and I said, “I can do that.” and made some small adjustments to my existing meal rotation. In fact, this transition seems to have happened so naturally that when I stopped to ask myself what I’d replaced in my diet by eating more vegetables, I struggled to come up with an answer.

First, I’ve lost the piece of toast that I used to eat at breakfast. I’ve started drinking a smoothie for breakfast in the mornings, which I never thought I’d find satisfying. When I was really overweight, I could down an extra-large Booster Juice smoothie as a snack and feel hungry 15 minutes later; all they added to my diet was additional sugar and calories. And after my Paleo stint, I really felt like I wanted to eat “real food” instead of protein powder. But lately, I’ve been scrambling around in the mornings and I’ve discovered that throwing all of that real food – including fruit, vegetables and a healthy fat – into a blender with some whey, actually makes for a great meal that requires only minimal effort in the morning. I guess I’m not quite a fully-converted chef just yet.

I’ve improved my afternoon snack. Not too long ago, Lifterly made the remark that her food quality had suffered as a result of calorie counting. I could really relate to that sentiment. When I was calorie counting, I considered a bag of m&ms to be an acceptable afternoon snack, as long as I stayed within my calorie budget. Instead, I’ve been eating a nectarine and a slice of beef jerky or veggies and hummus with cottage cheese and cocoa powder. As a side note: I bought organic, fair trade cocoa powder and when compared to the no name stuff I was using before…. well, there is no comparison really. Cocoa powder is my new go-to-example of where quality matters. I can’t say I’m missing the m&ms.

Finally, my meat consumption has been drastically reduced and the tree-hugger in me is pretty pleased with this result. I have a “Vegetarian Before Six” thing that’s happened unintentionally. While I’m still eating a serving of lean protein at every meal, including eggs, cottage cheese and whey, there seems to be a lot less sausage in my diet. I think maybe I’ve become a flexitarian?

What’s really weird about all of this is that I don’t miss what I’ve lost. To be honest, I’m having a lot of fun playing this produce game. I’m so focused on how to incorporate more vegetables into my meals that I don’t feel like anything is missing. But something is missing: it’s all of those wilted vegetables in the bottom of my fridge. Most of my Good Food Box is gone. When I did my grocery shopping for the week, I realized I needed to buy more produce because all I had left was a squash. Everything else went straight into my belly, and not into the garbage. Maybe the compost bin at my new apartment will be seeing a lot less action than I’d thought.

Trying a new veggie: Sauteed Swiss Chard with corn on the cob and buffalo chicken

Trying a new veggie: Sauteed Swiss Chard with corn on the cob and buffalo chicken

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Kitchen Makeover, Veggies and Junk Food

My September Good Food Box Just in time for my kitchen makeover and veggie habit!

My September Good Food Box
Just in time for my kitchen makeover and veggie habit!

When I first signed up for Lean Eating, one of the first things my coach told her team was that the year ahead would involve doing things that were hard. This warning has stayed in the back of my brain. I keep asking myself: Am I uncomfortable? Am I challenging my established way of thinking? Honestly, all in all, it has been smooth sailing until Thursday of last week when I encountered my first major challenge: I had to clean out my pantry.

Remember about a month ago when I talked about eating to 80% full and revoking my membership to the Clean Plate Club? Well, I’m at a point where I can pitch three bites of my turkey sandwich into the trash because I am physically satisfied and I don’t feel guilty. But when asked to throw out all of the “red light foods” in my kitchen, I only wanted to rebel.

The good news is that my pantry is pretty “Lean Eating friendly” already. The bad news is that I poured alcohol down the drain and donated a bottle canola oil and two cases of diet soda because they needed to go. I threw out my stash of waffle fries because they contained too many ingredients. Even the condiments in my fridge have been thinned out.

Food waste stresses me out, and getting rid of a garbage bag of stuff from my fridge and freezer almost caused me a full-blown anxiety attack. This whole exercise was really hard, to the point where I considered skipping it entirely. Except that Precision Nutrition always knows what to say, and I was given pause when I read the following advice:

Don’t feel badly about “wasting food”. Most of what you’ll throw out as “red-light foods” and “yellow-light foods” aren’t actually foods.

Listen, I can’t make the argument that Diet Coke is food any more than I can argue that the Earth is flat. So I won’t even try. As challenging as it was, I just had to let it go. The results surprised me.

First, in place of my aspartame habit, I’ve taken up drinking tea. A lot of tea. I’ve never been a big tea drinker but while I was in the field this summer, everyone was drinking tea and the habit rubbed off on me.in terms of flavour, quite frankly tea is a lot more interesting than Diet Coke, and I don’t care if that’s a betrayal. I’ve noticed without all of that artificial sweetness, I find myself craving other sweets less often and enjoying the taste of other foods even more.

But secondly, cleaning out my pantry has meant restocking it with “green-light foods”. I’m supposed to be eating simple, whole foods with only a few, recognizable ingredients. I am aiming to eat a serving of lean protein every time I eat and 5 servings of veggies each day. My grocery bill is astoundingly low, which is a huge relief because I’m about to be unemployed again.

And even though it was stressful to throw out all of my junk, I was relieved to come home to the safety  and sanity of my kitchen on Sunday. I’d been out of town this weekend, attendeding the Belle River Open Powerlifting Meet. Even though I was only a spectator, I engaged in some serious calorie-loading. I have patchy memories that consist only of a haze of donuts, tacos, margaritas, fro yo, chocolate covered pretzels, pastries, cheese biscuits, McDonald’s and lots and lots of shortbread cookies. Honestly, as much as I fell off the wagon and landed in a pile of carbs and self-loathing, I felt fat and physically ill.

So that’s where I am now. On Friday morning before I left, I was feeling pretty good about my body. On Monday morning when I returned, I was feeling downright awful. But it was easy to pick up where I left off:  with some spinach smoothies for breakfast and stir fry for dinner, as though I’d never fallen off the wagon in the first place. I’m hoping that a three day bender hasn’t undone 9 weeks worth of progress, but even if it has, there was no way I could continue down that path in my current environment.

Meanwhile, the meet I attended was a good experience for me emotionally.  You know when you spend time with people that you care about and are just left with a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction? Well, it had been a long time since I felt that way but I sure felt it on Saturday. I needed to see some of my friends and know that I have real friendships that aren’t just faceless voices on the internet.

Plus, I felt that urge in the bottom of my soul to pick up a barbell, which is a feeling that went missing for a while. And now I just miss strength training! And I was reminded of that fact over the weekend when a few of the other lifters told me I was talented and asked when I’d do my next meet. It’s  funny – as much as powerlifting can be a solitary sport, it does have an overwhelming sense of community.

I am finding it challenging to do circuit workouts and I have discovered that one-armed dumbbell bench presses are about the most amazing accessory lift on the planet (right after one-legged RDLs). I am still lifting and performing the fundamental movements. But I want to strength train for strength! Goblet squatting with a 20lb dumbbell only makes me feel weak, not empowered. I want to rip a heavy barbell off the floor! I want to stand on the platform, with 405lbs at my feet and then pick that baby up.

I confessed to Gary over brunch that I missed lifting heavy. I know I’ll eventually go back and run a 5×5, but Gary chastised me for the time being. As much as I believe in the value of sticking to a program, in practice I’m always ready to bail and move on to the next program. Why should my “bodybuilding” routine be any different?

The thing is, the powerlifting community will always be there for me – next year, when my relationship with food is more stable then I can allow myself to enter a meet. In the meantime, I am considering volunteering at a meet here in November so that I can remain active in the community. And at the end of the day, I am still lifting. I am mobilizing with every workout. I am doing cardio regularly and noticing improvements in my conditioning. I am working my core and my triceps which will make me a better lifter long-term.

I guess that means for now I’m stuck with this routine and wholesome eating – veggies and protein and tea. No one said this would be easy, but I know I can do it.


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Reflections after another week of Lean Eating

I’ve been finding it helpful to sit down on a semi-regular basis and document what’s been happening in my Lean Eating journey. I am not sure it’s terribly interesting for anyone else and it’s by no means a requirement of the program, but writing has always been a great way for me to parse everything that I’m dealing with. And it’s funny, because on the one hand I feel like nothing is ever happening on my program, and on the other hand, I feel like I am experiencing a dramatic and fundamental shift in my relationship with food. And that’s a big freakin’ deal.

This week, I’ve been focusing on eating protein with every meal. After being a powerlifter for a couple of years, knowing what foods are protein-dense and incorporating them into meals has actually been incredibly easy. I felt like I was having a great week in terms of progress, but then when I had my measurement day this morning, I felt a bit disappointed. Again, I feel like things move so slowly on this program! I know that’s what I signed up for but sometimes I start to feel very impatient.

I stopped and asked me why I’ve been feeling so good about this week if there wasn’t a change on the scale. It actually has nothing to do with my weight, and only a little to do with my eating habits, which have generally been on track. I found out early this week that I would be moving on November 1st. I have no idea where I’ll be moving to. My job future is a little uncertain at the moment, which complicates the decision. But I helped someone move last week and she had a lot of stuff.

Now that I’m faced with the prospect of my own move, I’ve made it my goal to unload at least one of my own possessions every day. I’ve been throwing away stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day since my last move. I sold my breadmaker because I don’t even really eat bread anymore. In short, I am simplifying my life and learning to live with less. It’s a huge weight off my back, regardless of whether the scale disagrees.

It’s interesting: I’ve told a few people about my endeavor to ditch as many of my belongings as possible and all of them have acted as though this is some sort of sacrifice. It isn’t. It feels great. All of that junk was just taking up a ton of unnecessary space in my life and now I don’t have to carry it with me when I move. While I could probably pen a lengthy diatribe on the subject of how our society equates material possessions with the illusions of success and happiness, the reactions I’ve received this week have also made me realize something else: Simple and easy are not the same thing, and I’m often guilty of confounding the two.

It’s simple to live with less, but it’s not necessarily easy to give it all up.

It was simple to admit that my eating habits were disordered, but never easy to fix them.

The idea of eating less is very simple, but man, it’s really easy to overeat.

You know what else seemed really simple? Almost too simple? The second phase of Lean Eating workouts. I looked at the prescribed regimen, scoffed to myself and waltzed to the gym. I was thinking to myself, “This program really is designed for exercise n00bs.” Ha. It was not easy. In fact, it was very difficult.

After collapsing into a puddle of sweat on the floor after about an hour, I had DOMS in my triceps for 5 days. I couldn’t even get my sports bra off the next time I went to the gym. I was dreading my workout by the time I got to the gym on Friday because I knew exactly what was waiting for me: a very simple workout.

I’ve been able to complete my workouts, no matter how brutal they seem. Maybe when I lost interest in lifting a few months ago, it was because I was doing lengthy, complicated and demanding workouts every time I went into the gym. That’s really not necessary, and just like simplifying my life is bringing me immense satisfaction, so are simpler workouts.

I had a further realization yesterday: when I started trying to listen to only my internal hunger cues and ignoring all of the external noise, I felt totally overwhelmed. It’s a simple idea that lean individuals eat when they are truly hungry. They don’t necessarily eat everything on their plate. They don’t snack just because everyone else is eating chips around them. But in my case, I’d never listened to those signals and I didn’t even know what they sounded like.

Then yesterday at coffee, my boss remarked, “I noticed Andy didn’t have a muffin or a cookie at our team meeting this morning. He’s so health-conscious! And you, too! What was that about?” Honestly, I hadn’t even noticed that we were the only ones skipping out on free doughnuts. I’d poured myself a cup of coffee, looked at the doughnuts and asked myself if I was hungry. When I wasn’t hungry, I walked away without giving the matter another thought.  And that’s exactly what I told my boss later in the day, “I’d already eaten breakfast. I wasn’t hungry.” 6 weeks ago, that entire scenario was rather unfathomable to me: normally I’d just eat the cookie and call it a cheat because free cookies are always irresistibly delicious.

And this evening? I’m going for tacos with a friend. We go out together on a regular basis and I sent her an e-mail this week saying we were not only overdue for dinner, but that for the first time in my life I wasn’t on a crazy restrictive diet. I am going out to eat and feeling so calm. Normally I stress out for days in advance, worried that I will overeat and blow my progress for the week. All of a sudden, I know that I can eat just like I do at home: eat mindfully, enjoy the food I do eat and stop when my body says it’s full – not when it says it’s overfull.

So maybe I’m making progress towards happiness in my life, but not all of that progress can be measured by the scale.


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Lean Eating Update: Phase 2, Food Diary and PMDD

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80% Full: 2 eggs, steamed greans and a slice of toast with almond butter

I am six weeks into Lean Eating and have officially completed the first phase. As someone with chronic dieter’s ADHD, that has to be a new world record and personal best in terms of consistency. I haven’t been perfect by any means – I ate an entire bag of chocolate covered almonds in the field, and I had an ice cream cone larger than my head at the Laurentian Dairy. But my adherence has been >80% across the board, which is what I’ve always been aiming for but never quite achieved. I seriously want to pat myself on the back for this accomplishment.

The first phase has focused primarily on eating mindfully. One thing that really grates on me is that a lot of fitspo and lifting blogs talk about eating in moderation and eating mindfully, but they never define what that means or how it’s done. If all you’ve ever known are disordered eating habits, then you need more than a vague mantra to carry you to your goals. Well, I’ve finally been implementing the instruction manual myself, eating until 80% full at meals, and I’ve been documenting what that looks like. Turns out, I don’t need a lot of food to feel satisfied – but I still feel satisfied!

Seeing myself consistently eating so little but feeling satiated, I’m also beginning to see just how out of whack restaurant serving sizes are, and it’s worse than I ever imagined. I feel like I’ve awoken to some sort of secret knowledge. No wonder we are being faced with an epidemic.

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80% Full: Shake ‘n Bake Chicken with buttered green beans and waffle fries

To finish off the first stage, I had to take 6-week progress pictures. I don’t see a huge difference, honestly. Actually, I don’t see any difference at all. It seems ironic to me that the only place I see evidence of physical progress is on my scale that I’m always told to ignore. The only visible change I can distinguish is that I picked up a tan while I out in the field. Tanning apparently makes my legs look much firmer. I wanted to say I’m looking more toned, which is basically every girl’s dream (or so I’m told) but I still have too much junk in the trunk to make that claim with any sort of credibility.

And I am seeing progress. Maybe I haven’t had a drastic physical change overnight, but that’s not what I signed up for. I have noticed a very real change in my attitude towards food. It’s like how the Whole 30 challenge promises to heal my relationship with food but then cuts me off from most types of food? Well, everyday I see proof of the healing that’s happening within my body and my mind, without having cut myself off from reality.

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80% Full: Two egg breakfast sandwich with greens and avocado

Now I’m on to Phase 2 of the program, which begins to focus more what I should actually be eating. The first step is to eat protein consistently. I don’t know if I’m going to stumble here, or not. All joking about theoretical gainz aside, I sometimes don’t know how women can love steak so much. I like a good steak. But I’ll take an english muffin with peanut butter over meat, any day. I often joke that I am a recovering vegetarian, and my protein intake is where a lot of cracks start to show in that regard. Certainly my failing relationship with protein is not news to me.

I’ve also started the second stage of workouts. I went this morning and performed the first routine. Although I was excited to see that the number of reps decreases, everything is supersetted without rest. Basically, fuck strength. Let’s do cardio! I didn’t move a lot of weight today, but I was nonetheless gassed by the end. And somewhere along the line I picked up a sick tricep pump, which is not something I’ll ever complain about.

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80% Full: Sandwich with Hummus, turkey & cuke, baby carrots and avocado

Part of the reason that I have been able to comply with the Lean Eating protocols is simply because they’re providing me with mental support for my diet and my life. I feel like the nutrition and exercise routine that I’ve settled into is keeping my head stable, too. Just like I don’t have to tackle every little problem in my diet today, I don’t need to tackle every problem in my life at this particular moment. Just because I can do anything doesn’t mean I have to do everything. It’s been incredibly freeing to reassure myself that my life is good enough as it is for right now.

That said, I arrived home from fieldcamp to find that my SSRI prescription had run out. I considered stopping the meds cold turkey, but even I could see what a stupid idea that would be. So I went to a doctor who finally discussed the possibility of PMDD with me. He adjusted my medication and ordered a twice daily dose of 600 mg of Ca, with the goal of eventually coming off the meds. I googled “PMDD and Calcium” when I got home. This is actually a thing. My fingers are crossed that if I maintain this level of consistency in my diet and supplement properly, then then I can come off the meds in a few months time – and not just because my new prescription cost me an arm and a leg to refill. (I was unwilling to surrender my right arm, because it definitely had the better pump.)

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80% Full: Organic Maple Breakfast Sausage with steamed greens and a slice of toast with almond-hazelnut butter