I have seen a trend lately in my healthy blogger life about women who just can’t get it figured out.. and I don’t understand it. These are women who work out consistently, and have tried the paleo diet, or cutting out processed foods, and probably a number of other diets. Maybe because I have never had a problem with my weight (thank you, Dad’s genes), so I cannot really empathize with those who struggle there. But as far as finding out what works best for people, I do not know why it is so hard to just find a balance.
I have not always lived a clean and healthy lifestyle, but like everything else – it is a process. I am up 15lbs since I started lifting about 15 months ago, and I’m okay if I gain a few more. It was a journey to get to where I am today as far as my eating habits, but maybe it takes longer for it to just “click” for some people. I thought it would be fun to share my history of how my eating habits have evolved into where they are at today.
The Meat and Potatoes Period (1982-2004)
As a kid, my mother always had dinner on the table ready for when my dad got home from work. We always sat at the dinner table as a family and ate dinner and we each would talk about our day. My brother would provide some sort of useless triva facts, I would talk about the latest test I got an “A” on; my sisters would talk about whatever it is they were doing at the time. Dinner always had some form meat, with a side of potatoes (fries, mashed, boiled, scalloped), some veggie (which they never made me eat), and then bread or rolls.
For school lunches, I remember Mom used to make us a lot of sandwiches. Always cut into cute little shapes, and corners cut off. Once I got a bit older, I was able to make my food decisions, and often got hot lunch in the cafeteria in high school. Notable meals were chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes, french fries and nacho cheese, and pepperoni rolls. My friends and I would often go to a local diner where my favorite “meal” was a salad (healthy, you know, smothered in Ranch), and a side of hash browns.
The Grown-Up Period (2004-2012)
Once I moved out of my parents’ house at the ripe age of 22, it was time to get serious about food. My mom never taught me the way around the kitchen, so I was on my own to feed me and my other half at that time. We worked different shifts, so I only had to plan for myself so variety and creativity was not really considered. I perfected a chicken and pasta recipe and would eat this about 4-5x a week (Super secret recipe: olive oil and garlic, lots of mozzarella). I would stock up on pasta when it went on sale for $1 a box and it would last me maybe three meals. When I wasn’t feeling the fancy chicken and pasta, I’d dine on Macaroni ‘n Cheese or Ramen Noodles.
Growing up, we always ate a lot of cereal, and I continued that into my adult years. Cereal was a perfect treat for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, bedtime snack, whatever! (Side note.. my mother’s pantry is still stocked like she has 4 kids living at home; it is just her and my 22-year-old sister).
At one of my jobs, I would eat at the cafeteria quite frequently and get hash browns smothered in cheese for breakfast; for lunches, we would often go to Wendy’s or Einstein Bagel’s (Cheesy-Garlic-Pizza-Bagel.. YUM!!!).
When I started a new job working in Downtown Detroit, it was not as easy to run to McDonalds or Wendy’s for lunch, so my new routine consisted of Salsarita’s and Rice Bowl. I would eat chips and queso or Chinese food 3-4x a week. On days I was not feeling like stuffing my face, I would eat Velveeta Shells and Cheese single servings. Yum.
The “Healthy” Age (2011-2012)
As I got a bit older, my weight still was not fluctuating, but I was training for a 5k so wanted to take some control over my health. I started to swap out my Golden Grahams and Cap’n Crunch for Special K Cereal, and cereal bars. I would eat oatmeal for breakfast (topped with gobs of brown sugar or peanut butter). The fast food was scaled back for lunches, and replaced with Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice frozen meals, with Subway as an alternate choice.
Dinner was not much different from it had been in the past. It wasn’t unusual to go to a steakhouse and eat the whole basket of bread. I’d go to Chili’s and devour tortilla chips and queso like it was going out of style. I still rarely touched vegetables other than potatoes and corn.
When I started lifting in early 2012, I loosely followed the NROLFW suggested diet, which suggested eating a lot more calories than I was used to, but still fully supported whole grains, fruits, veggies. My boyfriend of the time was playing around with paleo, and as he was doing it, it didn’t fully make much sense to me (but he was following on more what not to eat, rather than focusing on what to eat). Towards the end of the program, I played around a bit with the paleo idea and started to make small changes to eliminate most breads and pasta, but still indulged occasionally. But the physical changes from significantly reducing the gluten were eye-opening.
The “Aha” Period (Late 2012-2013)
I continued heavy lifting after NROLFW and became even more engrossed in the Paleo lifestyle, yet was still only following it about 75%. I could never give up oatmeal and cereal and pasta and bread baskets. I completed a Whole30 (probably the strictest form of a paleo challenge you can do) in September which was a big eye-opener as far as checking labels and learning about your body. I had zero cheats, not even using protein powder or taking my vitamins that had some unapproved ingredient. I learned that eating paleo was more than just cutting out grains, dairy, and sugar. It was embracing a lifestyle change eating foods that make you feel good and not eating foods that don’t!
Immediately after, I went back to my 75/25 life, eating a considerable amount of food, yet splurging on wine and cheese. Often. However, eating dinners home became the norm. The Whole30 life exposed me to so many new recipes and ways of eating.
In November, I started Crossfit 2x a week and heard the whole paleo talk all over again, so considered tightening it up a bit more, meal prepping and planning and packing lunches everyday in my “lunch suitcase” as it has been called.
Since the beginning of 2013 up until very recently, I had been eating fairly strict paleo Monday thru Friday (with the exception of plain Fage Greek Yogurt and protein shakes), and then letting myself have whatever I want on the weekends; cheese, wine, pancakes, buns, whatever! This post gives a good summary of my eating habits three months ago.
But then I had a Crossfit competition and made a conscious effort to go a full week leading up to it without any cheats on the weekend, and completely eliminating dairy and wine. After the competition, I had one glass of wine, and in two months since it, I have had only two more glasses at a “Crossfit Prom” event that we had.
From a glass of wine nearly every night to less than one a month, it is an adjustment I never thought would happen. I replaced nightly wine with broccoli.. hehe. Seriously, I cook up a pound or so and could easily devour it all; it is something I have not been able to prep ahead as I eat the whole batch! In the past year, I’ve added sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, and cauliflower to my diet. You could never get me to to eat those before!
The Monday – Friday strict works for me quite well, but the more I do it and the more competitive I try to be at Crossfit, the less I want to cheat on the weekends. So typically, it’s one or two cheat meals but not a whole cheat weekend as I may have done in the past. The only thing I take that I would not consider “clean” during the week is protein powder, and occasionally, a pre-workout.
“Eat All the Things” Phase
As of two weeks ago, I have started to become obsessed with Eat to Perform. I am still continuing to tweak my diet but the logic behind this concept makes so much sense to me. I want to become a better Crossfitter. I want better endurance and I want to lift heavier. Hit PRs, crush WODs, not come in last..
The basis is eat clean, but for your performance goals, not aesthetic goals. By eating for optimal performance, your body will become more efficient and gain or maintain muscle, while burning fat, leading to an ideal body image. They clearly state this may not be 10% bodyfat for everyone; it may be 20% bodyfat or whatever. You may gain weight; you may lose weight. But you will be at your strongest, and your body will adjust and morph into the body shape that is ideal for you, and likely become a fat burning machine.
If you want to lift heavy or do Crossfit, paleo may work for many but most do not consume enough carbs, and even more do not get enough overall calories (as an example, I’m at a 2400 daily calorie goal on my 5’7″, 133# self). ETP somewhat combines Carb Back Loading with common sense on how to fuel your workouts and maximize recovery. I have started to add rice back into my diet after a hard workout, and I feel better already. I’ll write-up some more as I continue to experiment with myself, but I finally think I am at a sustainable phase that fits perfectly with my clean-eating lifestyle without being very restrictive. And there are proven results from the program.
My point of this long post is that you need to keep adapting and making changes until you find that sweet spot that works for you. I cannot find the quote, but there is something along the lines of what you put into your body will either make you healthier or unhealthier. Think about it. There is a true correlation between making smart food choices and athletic performance or body composition. If you choose to indulge often, I can understand that. “Everything in moderation”, or ” I cannot be happy without..”
But do not tell me in the same breath that you are trying to lose weight or your workouts are suffering. When you are ready for the change, you, too, will adapt and begin to eat for your goals. Do not diet; but make changes for a better lifestyle.
Is there a food you think you would never be able to give up?
Do you follow a diet, or a lifestyle?
Do you think a healthy lifestyle has to be an all or nothing approach?