Find a Lifestyle, not a Diet
Let me begin by saying that the following stories are not in any way, shape, or form telling you that macros, paleo, or any other nutrition plan you may choose to follow in your life is evil. They are not trying to scare you away or tell you that you are doing something wrong. They are simply sharing the stories of three individuals who have some experiences that they wanted to share with you. This is meant as a reminder that there is more than one way to skin a cat, if a method works for someone else but not you, then it does not make you a failure. If these stories resonate with you in any way, I hope you feel the sense that you are not alone and know that the community is always there for you as a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen, and a hand to walk forward with.
The Macros of Life
Being a lady in the competitive CrossFit world can be super challenging for me. Not because of the hours of work I have to put in to compete, not because of the large and growing number of really talented and strong women out there, and not because I miss spending Friday nights going out on the town instead of going to bed at 10:00pm (I never really did that…). The biggest challenge for me is overcoming the insecurities I have about my own body while competing alongside women who are baring it all and looking gorgeous while doing it.
I have struggled for years with body image issues and at times have taken it to the extreme ends of an eating disorder. I was lucky enough to have loving and watchful friends and family who asked me time and again if I needed help. Eventually, I found the strength to grab hold of that lifeline. I may be in a far better place than I once was, but those demons are never too far away. Just a quick skim of Instagram or a less than flattering look at myself in the mirror can send my demons soaring to the forefront of my mind. That is why my friends and family were a bit hesitant to dole out support for me when I told them I was going to try counting macros. This new diet regimen would have me weighing and measuring everything that I put into my body and checking my progress monthly with a scale and skin calipers. In the darkest moments of my eating disorder, I was weighing myself at least 5 times a day and a big part of my recovery was throwing my scale away, finally letting that number be a mystery. I understood why people were concerned, but I was determined to give it a shot.
I lasted about 6 weeks sticking 100% to the plan before giving up. I am not one to quit easily and because of that I am all the more proud of myself for stepping away. Too much of what I was doing was triggering my demons and putting me back into bad habits. I know many people who have had a great deal of success with this style of eating so I gave it a shot, but it just did not work for me.
And that is the point in all of this. Nutrition is a critical part of our health and performance in the gym. But at the end of the day, it is our happiness that matters most. It has taken me a long time, but I am truly starting to discover lifestyle that works best for me.
I train hard, sleep a lot, and mostly eat whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and meats. I practice yoga to find more peace of mind, to take care of my incredible body (yours is incredible too), and to remind myself that every single day I am enough just by being me. Today, I have found the space in my life to enjoy a beer or two (or many more) on special occasions, to take rest days when my body needs them, to step on the scale only once in a blue moon (usually at a doctor’s office), and actually enjoy the cake at my own birthday party (and everyone else’s birthday party for that matter…).
I spend less time looking in the mirror and more time looking at the weight on my barbell and the times on my workouts. Instead of weighing, measuring, counting, and obsessing over my food, I see it as fuel to get me through long days of training. I no longer call cupcakes, ice cream, and pizza “cheat meals.” I have let go of making myself feel guilty any time that I enjoy one of those things with friends or after a long day or just because I am totally in the mood for it. Above all, I have stopped using the size and shape of my body to determine my self worth.
I used to believe that I had to look like the girls I was competing against with chiseled abs and bulging biceps to be happy. After a journey through darkness and back, I have come to realize that 150# Anna is far happier and healthier than 130# Anna and her abs could ever have been.
Food as Fuel:
I was 11-years-old the first time I intentionally skipped a meal, that was only the beginning of the extremes I would try in an attempt to take control over the shape of my body. In the 20 years since, I have hit almost every aspect of the eating disorder spectrum – anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating – and have been both unhealthily thin and disgustingly overweight. My relationship with food and body image is complex, to say the least.
Food has always been the enemy, a crutch, something I could control, something that controlled me. But after starting CrossFit, food has become fuel, powering me to do the things I do. I can’t lift heavy weights without fuel. I can’t run long distances without fuel. I can’t do muscle ups…oh wait, I can’t do those with or without fuel.
I do appreciate that CrossFit is helping shift the perception of what a body “should” look like (strong is sexy, y’all). But there’s also nonstop dialogue about dieting and what everyone is eating. Paleo, macros and other diets generally boil down to the same basic concept: Just eat healthy. But there’s nothing simple about that for me. Every day I battle serious cognitive dissonance in my eating disordered mind. For example, let’s say I’ve got a big workout later and my stomach is growling but I woke up feeling fat and gross. If you view food as fuel, you eat – no questions asked. But if you view food as an enemy, things get tricky. I know I’ve performed shitty the times I’ve worked out on an empty stomach or after throwing up, but all logic goes out the window when you’re dealing with this.
I stopped weighing myself a long time ago because it’s not healthy for me. I get obsessed with the number and it’s never low enough to make me feel good about myself. During a paleo challenge I did awhile back, we were weighed at the beginning and the end. Despite losing 8 pounds and 2.5 inches in my waist in one month, I was fighting back tears at the final weigh in because the number was still disappointingly high.
CrossFit has given me other goals besides the number on the scale, which is good. I try to focus on how strong I feel, what numbers I’m hitting on my lift and how fast my last run was. But I’m still navigating the balance between appreciating my body for what it allows me to do and hating my body because it will never be what I want.
I recently saw this Instagram post by crossfitter Alexis Johnson and it made me cry. She started CrossFit weighing 88 pounds and battling severe anorexia. She realized she liked CrossFit and wanted to get stronger. But that meant gaining weight. And gaining weight meant eating food. And eating food meant accepting that her body would change. She credits crossfit for saving her life and she’s now sitting in first place in the South Central Region (at the time I wrote this post) and likely heading to the 2016 CrossFit Games (as of today, she is a Games veteran).
I am “better” now but recovery, like most things, is a journey. There are days when every bite feels like a betrayal. There are days when I binge and purge. There are days (…every day…) when I stand in front of the mirror disappointed in my reflection. I don’t know that there’s an easy answer to any of this or if I will ever be free from these thoughts. But I’m working to be better about celebrating what I can do because of my body and giving it the proper fuel it needs to do those things.
Be Your Best Self:
I’ve always been thin. Call it a gift or a curse, I’m not sure… but it’s just how my cards were laid out. I’ve spent years feilding comments about my body and how “perfect” it is, and how “lucky” I should feel for being thin. #whitepeople #firstworldproblems , I know, but being constantly reminded of how grateful I should be for something I don’t really have control over can have its own pitfalls.
Starting as a teenager, I began to internalize all these comments about how great my body was as the symbol of my self-worth. It suddenly became more important to be skinny than anything else. I didn’t develop an eating disorder until college, however I spent the latter part of my high school career seeking the attention from boys and flaunting what I had in any way I could in order to find the love and acceptance I felt I only deserved physically. When my lack of self love transpired into an eating disorder, I started a life long journey with my body image.
Fast forward after college I had found yoga and just got into this CrossFit thing. I was feeling fitter and better than ever and finally not concerned (too much) with my weight. I met the dreamiest man on the planet, and luckily for me he eventually put a ring on it! We moved to Indy, opened a CrossFit gym and started doing this “new” diet called Paleo. In the stretch of time between college and moving to Indianapolis I rehabilitated my body image and my eating habits. I started to eat because it felt good instead of not eating because I liked hearing how bone thin I looked. I started eating to get stronger and lift heavier. I started eating to perform and not eating (or rather NOT eating at all) to live.
So once we started doing Paleo I became, once again, much more tuned into my food intake. There was a brief period where my demons popped up again. I was back to looking gaunt and back to being obsessed with my physical appearance as my calling card for self love. I began weighing myself again and shooting for that 95lb bench mark I worked for in college. It was my yoga practice and yoga teacher training that enabled me to reel it in before it became a self-sustained epidemic. I’m so grateful for my yoga practice bringing me mindfulness and awareness enough to catch the problem before it really spiraled out of control, and my CrossFit regimen for keeping me strong (physically and mentally!).
What does all of this have to do with macros? Well, for starters you CANNOT outwork a bad diet. I say this to clients daily. The Macro Diet has proven to be a genuinely awesome nutrition system for those who can handle measuring and acutely tuning into their diet without becoming a maniac about it. Unfortunately, I don’t live in that category. I do however, love my body and myself enough to pay attention to what I eat.
If you have read through my article and my experience has struck a cord (or written out your high school/ college/ eating disorder playbook) then I recommend you steer clear of a defined “diet”. Instead, learn what works for you. Does dairy make you feel sick? Does eating grains make you feel energized? Can you lift heavier when you have a protein smoothie? Start to experiment with different types of diets and find a blend and balance that works for you and becomes automatic. If you have to calculate and measure every move you make, and you are the type that gets in your head about it, I fear it will take you down a dark path once again.
This does not mean that you should not do your research, meet with experts like Jessie Dale or try new things- I’m simply cautioning you for jumping down the rabbit hole if you’ve already travelled down it.. If you are the type of person that thrives off of structure and you feel better about yourself when you are monitoring your food intake, by all means try Macros or Paleo or Whole 30 or Zone. I deeply encourage an awareness based nutrition program. My recommendation would be, however, if you struggle with body image to not get caught up in the minutia and simply eat to perform.
Find someone you can set healthy goals with as well as have an accountability buddy. Structure your food goals around your performance goals, and allow wiggle room. There will be rough days, there will be TOTAL cheat days and there will be days where you blow it out of the water. Account for all of them. Above all, give yourself some grace and just work to be the healthiest version of yourself possible!