Pedaling backwards..

by ~jenniferlynn on August 9, 2013

in Food, Skinny Girl Problems

Do as I say, not as I do.

I thought about that last night as our substitute coach pushed us through a 1000m row and tortured us with a 21-15-9 WOD of wall-balls and sit-ups with DUs between each round; and a 400m run on either side of the WOD. All while eating a freshly made flurry with custard, Oreos, and Butterfinger bits. As a certified coach and someone who consistently RXs WODs, who am I to judge what he eats? He looks good, feels good. Froning, fittest man in the world, drinks whole milk and downs peanut butter daily (neither are paleo). Neal Maddox, 9th in the world, enjoys his donuts and ice cream.

The “World Class Fitness” rules dictate:

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.

So while there are clearly exceptions to the rule, I would never choose to eat as those guys do, and I tend to judge others who make poor food choices that don’t have some high athleticism to back it up. I think there is some paleo elitism in my mind. Skip the sweets. Ditch the pop. Put that PB away. Avoid soy, dairy, gluten. Stop the processed nonsense. Did you read those ingredients? Low-fat? Low-carb? Gluten-free? Chemical s***-storm?

Eat real food.

Watching other people struggle, I have suggested to a handful of people at my box that they need to eat more. And eat more carbs without fear. And not stress out about the number on the scale and just eat. It seems so logical to me: why is so hard for people to just get it?

Newsflash: I don’t have it figured out myself.

When I had my BodPod test done, it confirmed I should eat around 2600 calories a day. Fine. I’m okay with that. I have zero concern about gaining weight and eating more. Combined with my discovery of Eat to Perform, I think I have found the answer to my performance issues. Eat more, do more. And rather than filling the void with just anything, I choose to eat more clean calories. Avocados, chicken thighs, beef, coconut oil, anything on some sort of paleo-approved checklist, I’m golden.

Yet I find myself logging calories into MFP every once in a while and consistently coming up short on carbs. And my paleo-induced mindset has me hesitant to eat anything with a pinch of soy, dairy, grains (I’ll eat rice now), and even resistant to multiple servings of fruit. This approach is not working for me. While I am getting near my required calories, I’m still struggling in WODs and always at the bottom of the whiteboard.

But aside from looking in the mirror sometimes and feeling like I’m having a “skinny-day” (like girls have fat-days, you know), I like the way I look.


A friend commented to me yesterday, “You definitely look like you are leaning out a lot. Do you feel okay?”

It’s one thing for someone to notice I am getting stronger or comment on my shoulders/back being muscular (love those comments!), but commenting about me being lean, even though she meant it well and followed up with “You look great!”, was almost insulting. I don’t want to be skinny yet I am somehow scared of gaining body fat or losing muscle or losing the strength and endurance I have worked so hard to build. As someone who has never ever had any sort of eating disorder or body image issues, this is something I am so unfamiliar with and cannot explain why it is so hard for me to loosen up my mindset. It’s not like I am an elite athlete or figure competitor at her peak. I am average, if that, and not near the performance level I wish I was at.


Most people need the paleo-ideals drilled into their head. They can’t give up beer, or pasta, or bread, or McDonald’s. I have no issues giving those up. I sacrifice the junk food for better workouts, or at least I think that’s what I am doing. Someone yesterday was just about going to pay me to eat ice cream, just for the amusement of watching me consume something outside of my norm. I snacked on my apple and protein shake.

I hate when people say, “Everything in moderation.” No, commit to something and do it.

Yet I also hate when people say, “All or nothing.” Because you do need to leave some wiggle room.

In my defense that I am not completely obsessive about eating, I will eat Qdoba nachos probably once every other week. And Saturday morning post-WOD breakfast at Granny’s, I may have pancakes or french toast. If I’m really hungry at work, I’ll eat a Nature Valley Granola bar from the vending machine. Last weekend post-WOD, I had an English muffin and hash browns. On vacation, I disregarded everything (including workouts) and ate bagels, donuts, and muffins from Tim Horton’s daily. But in the normal Monday-Friday world, other than protein powder, it’s 95-100% strict. And while I think that is a great and disciplined and all, is it healthy mentally?

I see both sides almost equally. If you want to commit to a healthy lifestyle, commit. I think making excuses to eat cake and donuts and binge drink is silly and like self-sabotage.. But on the other hand, doing what I am doing is not working the way it should, so I think I need to re-evaluate my thoughts and take the 80/20 approach a bit looser.

I’m still conflicted. I’m still trying to figure it out. I have sought suggestions on the ETP forum, from people who work with the amazing Elizabeth Akinwale, for example, and they are encouraging me to rethink my relationship with “bad” carbs. Eat oatmeal. Eat super-ripe bananas, and even eat jam. Eat cereal. WHAT?! Stop analyzing every ingredient. Fit your macros. Eat to perform.

I have come such a far way from how I used to eat daily, eliminating the pasta and cutting out nearly all cheese and wine. Now it almost seems as if I am supposed to pedal backwards to have a healthier mentality and even better performance. All I can do is keep tweaking until I find what works best for me. Always a work in progress.

I was told more than once yesterday, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Twitter: bluetamarai
August 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I think tweaking makes good sense. As well as recognizing that every one of us is different. I realize Crossfit and paleo are bosom buddies, but that doesn’t mean eating that way is necessarily ideal for everyone. Plus: oatmeal is awesome! 😉 (All IMO, of course!)

This person isn’t in your exact situation, but I still think it’d be a worthwhile read for you:
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:12 am

Loved this article, thank you for sharing!

Twitter: bluetamarai
August 12, 2013 at 9:28 am

As soon as I read your post, I thought of that one. Glad you enjoyed it!
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Twitter: JackiRHayes
August 9, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I’m struggling with food as well. For me, if I choose to eat 100% paleo I end up enormously under on calories (if I take the random moment to check on them). I don’t feel hungry that day, but I am not making the fitness gains I want to make either. However, I feel bloated and crappy and tired when dairy, gluten, and sugar are in my system.

So this week I added small portions of quinoa and brown rice back into my life. I’ve added them post WOD, but given that I go to the box at 5:15 am fasted, I’m thinking I may start adding them to dinner the night before, with the magic sweet potato as my post WOD reward.

I know this isn’t enough, but it is my first step. The next will likely be a small coconut milk smoothie on active days. Hopefully those two changes will do the trick, as well as curb the carb cravings.
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:13 am

I know you would understand! The struggles of a skinny girl.. lol.

Have you looked into Eat to Perform at all? They encourage rice/potatoes for paleo folks. Basically start with 1 g of protein for bodyweight, 100g of fat, then fill the rest with carbs. 35g pre-workout; 75g post-workout, and then whatever else in the day.

It makes so much sense.. but just need to put it into practice… hard to break old habits!

Joanna Broadbent August 9, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I won’t pretend to know anything about Paleo, because I don’t 😛 But I do know that everyone is different and need different macro set ups. It is a science I am still learning. I know you will get it figured out, because you rock!!!! You look awesome by the way!!!! xoxo
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:15 am

Thanks, Joanna!

Paleo or not.. similar concept.. we get so wrapped up in what is “good” or “bad”! You seem to have an awesome balance though! I know once you get closer to competition, it will get a bit tougher, but you definitely eat to perform plus eat to enjoy! 🙂

Cori August 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I think you are doing a great job!

I’ve found a diet that “works” for me but yet I’m still constantly tweaking it. Our body, our fitness program, our life doesn’t stand still so neither should our diet.

At points being strict to Paleo or whatever diet you follow is important. You learn how it affects you and can accurately judge the results it will give you. But then you need to try to start to make adjustments based on how you feel.

I generally do carb cycling now…This is after a year of super low carb. But I still have weeks where I go back to low carb and weeks were I eat tons of carbs.

I think the best thing we can do for ourselves is to stop worrying about numbers or diets and start paying attention to how we feel.

If you feel good, stick with it. If you aren’t feeling great, experiment. Make slow changes.

I mean…Isn’t the most important thing to feel good?

And whats the worst that can happen? You gain a few pounds and then go back to what worked and try something new? 🙂
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:17 am

Thanks, Cori!

Yeah.. the whole weight gain thing doesn’t scare me, though I have recently found some abs and naturally don’t want to lose them.. BUT summer is just about over so what does it really matter? that’s all aesthetic and not performance based.. I see big gains in the future! Once I figure this out..

Twitter: mast2mar
August 9, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Tinkering to find your optimal diet to perform is a great step toward finding what works best for you! You know me, I love carbs but as certain cereals (low in sugar), oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa. As for bread, I haven’t purchased a loaf of bread since, I can’t remember lol.

For breakfast, I love cooking steel cut oats with banana (adding sliced bananas during last 2min of cooking to release sugars and give natural sweetness). Once done, I mix in a dollop of almond butter! I usually eat carbs early in the day to fuel energy expenditure and as the day wears on I eat more veggies, fruits, protein and fewer carbs.

Hopefully after some experimentation and gradual implementation of more complex carbs, you will feel a difference in your WODs!
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:23 am

Oatmeal with banana and almond butter sounds yummy!

Bexx August 10, 2013 at 5:23 am

Great blog! Nutrition is such a mine-field. Personally, I don’t find that strict Paleo works for me, and a lot of people in the CrossFit community follow this blindly without thinking about what their body actually needs. Everyone is different. Some people function great when eating oatmeal for breakfast, others can’t process it. It’s all about experimenting and finding out what works best… I wouldn’t look at it as pedalling backwards – you’re in a good position because you’ve cut everything that Paleo says is “bad” out… You can now start introducing things in isolation and understanding the effect that they have on your body and performance in WODs. Good luck – look forward to reading more 🙂

~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:27 am

Thanks, Bexx!

Yeah, I somewhat see it as not that I am eating “bad” things because I have no self-control; it’s more than I need to eat those things to survive! lol

Kimberly @ Healthy Strides August 10, 2013 at 7:36 am

I really enjoyed this post, even as someone who doesn’t eat Paleo or participate in CrossFit. It’s a struggle to eat the way we need to for performance when we are, in part, conditioned to eat some distorted view of healthy. For me, I have issues eating enough on long runs during marathon training because I hate logging 500 calories of energy gels into MFP. I’d tell anyone else it’s stupid yet I restrict and my runs suffer. Hmph. A work in progress, I am.
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:29 am

I can imagine marathon training can really change perception in food! You burn so much and your body is under so much stress, it must be hard to balance!

I think listening to your body has to be the most important thing!

Cindy August 10, 2013 at 7:51 am

There are about a million different versions of Paleo out there. Everyone I “know” that is on it, has a different philosophy. Some still have dairy. Some eat all the fruit with no regrets. Some have a cheat meal weekly of pizza and beer. Does that make them any less Paleo? I don’t think so. When it comes down to it in the end, it’s no one’s business what you put into your mouth. That’s your decision. And if that means having oh let’s say ice cream once a week, the only person that you have to hold yourself accountable is you.

I think that the super regimented people out there don’t help, especially as you try to learn the ropes. I read something online about doing a Whole30 and how if you can’t have coffee without milk/cream/coconut milk then give it up. That right away had me twitching to tell them to F off. I also read you aren’t supposed to count calories on Whole30. So for 2 days I ate Whole30 compliant (but logged calories to see) and I ate WAY over what I needed. Not counting wouldn’t work for me right now b/c I have to be meticulous and count everything to lose a tenth of a pound!

I think that everyone should eat for themselves and eat to perform their individual best. That’s going to be vastly different from person obviously. It’s always going to be a work in progress because we are forever changing.
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:31 am

In a way.. I agree with the Whole30 concept; my issue was I under-ate! I think it’s a super disciplined way to cut out bad habits and really learn how food effects you. Dive in head first.. and maybe trust it and try more than 2 days.. 🙂 (my judgmental paleo elitist person talking here..)

But. Yes.. eat for what makes you feel your best and work your best!

Cindy August 12, 2013 at 9:59 am

I am still considering it. It will have to be October when/if I do it as I don’t get my loan money until mid September (unless I did mid month to mid month- but then that means no ice cream cake on my birthday. That’s an issue LOL!). Luckily my flatmate still has money so she can buy food, but I can’t ask her to pay for the increase in produce costs! (Produce is SO expensive here it’s kind of crazy!) I just have a hard time with rules; telling me that if I can’t drink coffee black then don’t drink coffee was a big turn off.
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 10:44 am

lol about the coffee..

Black coffee is wonderful.. 🙂

Whole30 is more about changing your relationship with food, on top of putting things into a “do” or “don’t” category.

It’s the mindset of I “CAN’T” do this or that which leads people to unhealthy relationships with food which could cause issues. The coffee thing is like saying if you can’t go to McDonalds without ordering a salad, don’t go there. If you can’t have tea without a biscuit, don’t drink tea. It’s about breaking old habits and seeing food in a different light.

One of the big changes I had with it was they suggest eating your three meals unplugged. Don’t eat at your desk; don’t eat in front of the TV. (I have since reverted back to breakfast and lunch at my desk..) but still do dinner at the table. It’s just healthy habits.

I am not trying to tell you at all what to do.. I promise. I know you have your own struggles and don’t need me scolding you.. 🙂

But.. at the same time, I wouldn’t totally write it off if you do have any sort of food issues or dietary problems or just need a good reset!

Gabby @ Gabby's Gluten-Free August 10, 2013 at 10:17 am

I TOTALLY understand where you are coming from. In an effort to get more carbs I eat rice & potatoes pretty frequently and will do “cheats” with sugar, grains, etc. It’s tough to get out of the “super clean” mindset at some point though, expending so much mental energy on being “perfect” becomes counter productive. Willpower is an exhaustible resource so I’ve found it’s all about finding something that works FOR YOU and is easy to maintain. 🙂
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:33 am

Girl, I should take all the advice from you. 🙂

You seem to have the diet part figured out.. balancing healthy, clean eating with performance-based eating! Can’t wait to be making progress like you!!

Gabby @ Gabby's Gluten-Free August 12, 2013 at 10:08 am

LOL trust me, I’m far from having it all figured out (does anyone really ever have it all figured out??). Your progress has been AWESOME – can’t wait to hear about your competition in the next few weeks!
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 10:48 am

Thanks Gabby!! 🙂

Mandy @ fatgirlgonehealthy
Twitter: fatgirlhealthy
August 10, 2013 at 2:53 pm

As someone who has a horrendous relationship with food, I can tell you that you don’t want to go down the path of obsessing over your food. You are doing the right thing in constantly tweaking things to figure out what works for you. I constantly struggle. Sometimes when I find something that works, it doesn’t always keep working. I guess variety really is the spice of life : ) My best piece of advice is don’t let the process run your life. Enjoy you!
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:34 am

Yes.. i’m working on it!!

Renee @BendifulBlog August 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Food is hard for me too! I know I feel better when I eat healthier which for me means more along the lines of Whole30 but I know I can’t maintain that 100% of the time. My life often gets in the way no matter how much I plan. And I think its OK. I’m finding a good 85%-15% works for me. I can still have ice cream with my kids once in a while but I skip the pastas and other foods that make me feel like crap.

Tweaking is the right thing to do. Find YOUR HAPPY! 🙂
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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:35 am

Find your happy.. awesome quote!

Melissa August 10, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Why not consider non-paleo foods that aren’t junk foods? Like cheese, potatoes, yogurt, some good ice cream sometimes? Healthy eating doesn’t have to be a particular diet.

~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:37 am

I know, Melissa.. and it sounds strange..

There is a book called “It Starts with Food.” An awesome, informative guide to why eating paleo is the “right” way.. and how so many “healthy” foods really have adverse effects. It was like I cannot unlearn things I read..

BUT. Everyone is different.. so need to remember to do what works best for my body.

Melissa August 12, 2013 at 10:48 am

Maybe try reading some opposing books like The China Study? They have just as much “science” on why meat is “bad.”

I don’t agree with either, I think if you think you have a legitimate sensitivity to something like dairy you should see a doctor and get the hydrogen breath test and/or do a real elimination diet.

The reality is that the vast majority of people can eat a variety of foods, even those demonized by diet books. Sensitivities should be legitimately diagnosed and might not always be permanent if you can get stress levels down, which is going to be hard given that It Starts with Food has made you anxious about food.

~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 11:01 am

Interesting about reading other books.. I tell people that no matter what you believe or follow, you can find “science” to back it all up.
I will say that eating the way I do, I feel great, sleep great, but performance is lacking. So just need to find the right balance!

Thanks for the comments, Melissa 🙂

Laura P August 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I found this one hard to read because I *don’t* eat in a clean/paleo/primal/whatever way, and I find it hard to stick to my decision to do this when I read food-related posts on fitness blogs. I also have a “before” body (as I like to call it!) and love it, although – like everyone – I have my down days.

Food is hard for me too, even though I practise body acceptance, intuitive eating and all that stuff. I think food is hard for EVERYONE. That guy eating ice-cream? I bet even he has days where he thinks he’s doing it wrong.

I like the idea of eating to perform, btw. My boyfriend & I have talked about how, when we move in together and are more settled, we can spend Sunday doing food prep (I have no time to do it at the moment, Sundays are usually spent doing DIY, travelling to & from his & my places etc!). I’m pretty excited about this, as it means I can *plan* meals and prep in advance! I might look into ETP then. Just as long as I can still have my ice-cream and dairy 🙂

~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 9:38 am

Sunday food prep is awesome!! I love it and find it quite therapeutic.. planning, shopping, cooking..

And yes.. ETP DOES even encourage ice cream! 😉

Kaila aka @MissSkinnyGenes August 12, 2013 at 10:40 am

Hey there, Twitter friend!

It’s so funny to read your post, because I feel like it’s something I’ve been hearing a lot lately from my friends in the Paleo-and-related-lifestyles-sphere. Here we are, eating healthily, making gains (or losses), and finally understanding how the foods we eat affect us on the cellular level.

But there’s a downside: all of this awareness can drive us crazy. We’re so aware that as soon as we deviate from the things we know are best, that little voice in the back of our heads starts nitpicking.

The problem is, so much of who we are as “fit” people who exercise and eat “healthily” is tied up in aesthetics. No matter how much we try to deny it. I’m healthier than I’ve been in my entire adult life–including the years when I was bodybuilding–and the fact that I don’t LOOK the way I expect I should still bothers me on a daily basis. But it’s something I’m working on–something that I’m finally starting to make peace with.

It’s especially hard when you’re around people who are extreme one way or the other. If they aren’t making you feel bad (ie you aren’t allowing yourself to feel bad) for not eating 100% (oh my gosh, someone take a picture–she’s eating ice cream!), they’re making you feel bad for eating 100% (oh my gosh, just eat the ice cream already!).

But the fact that you’re open about your struggle, the fact that you want to make sense of it…I think that’s pedaling forward, however slight the progress may feel. People like you are opening up the conversation and helping others change the way they look at and speak about health. Which I think is pretty darn powerful. You may never be fully free of the struggle to make sense of how much is too much–and where the line in the sand between health, fitness, aesthetics, “perfect” nutrition, etc. may be–but you’ll get closer, day by day.

Keep moving along your path. The answers will come, the detours will happen–but stay in the saddle, no matter how bumpy the trail gets. You got this.

Stay hungry,

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~jenniferlynn August 12, 2013 at 10:59 am

Thanks for the great feedback, Kaila!

My sister has done the, “Ooh.. I’m taking a picture of you eating that xxx and sending to to all your Crossfit friends..” And then my Crossfit friends who know I’m all disciplined, are like eat the ice cream.. In one sense I think it makes both parties feel better about their own habits.

I absolutely agree about the aesthetics part. Eating paleo has leaned me out quite a bit.. not that I ever had weight to lose, but I am seeing muscles more clearly than ever before. Sure they are growing more now that I upped my workouts and intensity, but same with the bodybuilder mentality, there is always going to be the part that wants to LOOK the part..

I need to do the everything in moderation not only for my mental health, but also I think physically I will see positive changes in both body and on the barbell.

Alex @ Alex Tries it Out
Twitter: alex_j_meyer
August 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I hope you figure out what you need! I’ve bounced around a lot in the last year, but in general, I do what makes me feel good. Cutting out/down on sugar & breads helped me realize what good was, so now I’m more self-aware.

My biggest focus, I’d say, is on the “eat real food” principal. A lot of other things seem to take care of themselves I think. I do cheat on that, but conciously, which I think is the key to success when it comes to health.
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~jenniferlynn August 15, 2013 at 9:52 am

Plus beer. 😉

And yeah, I think I need to shift the focus from this is bad, this is good, to eating real food, regardless of what it is..

Ashton August 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Love this post…it’s so true, and I think it’s something that a lot of paleo converts struggle with (in different ways). I know I do! Finding that balance between eating “right” and not freaking out when you cheat / eat “wrong” is tough…sometimes I think it makes for an even rockier relationship with food (one which I never had before). Crazy how everything – even healthy things – can be taken to an extreme.

Interesting that you mentioned self-sabotage…I actually wrote a post about various forms of that a few days back. I think a lot of times mine is the food. DAMN YOU COOKIES.

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