A text that turned into a thread of texts that turned into a phone call on the drive home got me thinking: when we’re concerned with our health how do we draw the line? How do we determine when tracking is reasonable and helpful versus determining if it’s masking a greater issue.
In the beginning
For me, tracking in some way has always been helpful for my progress. In the beginning, I counted calories because at over 240 pounds it was clear that to start I needed to decrease consumption. My senior year of college this is what an average days food consumption would look like:
Breakfast – 2 or 3 whole eggs with a bagel and cream cheese or waffles and eggs in the cafeteria or pancakes with bacon and sausage and eggs in the cafeteria
Lunch – a cheeseburger with mayo, lettuce and tomato in the cafeteria with a side of fries, salad of sorts and soda or pizza.
Dinner – 3 or 4 slices of buffalo chicken pizza or pepperoni pizza in the cafeteria or a crispy chicken wrap at the sandwich station with fries in the cafeteria or chicken with a whole bag of Knorrs pasta sides (7F/84C/18P for the whole bag) at home.
Dessert – cookie or ice cream that was at the dessert station.
Drinks – grande caramel macchiato at the campus Starbucks, a few beers or a few glass of wine, soda (not diet)
Snacks – Oreos, fruit, ice cream, Ramen noodles, Taco Bell #6 (2 beef baja style chalupas and a soft shell beef taco; 50F/79C/36P)
Ok, so the Taco Bell meal I had to look up because I knew what it was, but I didn’t remember the number, but from what you can see, calorie counting in the beginning was a savior.
New goals, new methods
I’ve said it a number of times, but as my goals changed so did my eating habits. Over the years I went from calorie counting to paleo (no tracking) to macro counting with a clean focus to macro counting flexibly. These methods were at different points of my journey when I was experiencing the need to change it up because either a goal had been accomplished or I was hitting a plateau in my progress, which meant I needed to change it up. At these times, I also changed up my training and added new goals to the list such as running a 5K (I have now run 5) or hiking a local mountains steep trails to bodybuilding and bikini competing. As my goals became more focused and structured so did my nutrition and training. That makes sense because different goals require different methods.
A marathoner who is adding many miles to their shoes in a week may need to consume more food than someone who is training for just a 5K. The training is more rigorous as far as distance covered, which translates into more calories burned. Someone who is just starting there weightloss journey may have the weight “fall off” faster and more consistently in the beginning than someone who has been working at it for a few years. This was something that I noticed in my own journey. As I became smaller, I was burning less calories in the gym doing cardio and needed to figure out the balance of workouts and nutrition to continue losing and progressing in the direction I wanted to.
53 months into my journey
If we fast forward to today, I’ve been told I’m organized because I plan my meals ahead of time, I write them down, but I believe my history of having a lack of structure has lead me to desire as much structure as possible. I like meal planning because it helps take guess work out of dinner when I come home after a long day and an hour commute, it also helps me when I travel. However, as someone who used to binge regularly, lately I have been frustrated.
Meal planning had turned into a game at some point, counting and tracking – being creative in the kitchen, which is something I do love to do, but it has me thinking about food all the time. This makes me ask the question: since I’m done losing will I ever truly feel comfortable and trust myself to not track in some way. Will I ever feel the ability to be spontaneous on a Monday night to say “hell with chicken, I’m taking myself to dinner instead!” I’m hoping the answer is eventually.
My mental challenges
I thought losing weight was hard. I thought figuring out my why and goals was hard. I was fooled. Adjusting to change and trusting yourself to make good decisions is hard. My reverse has been pretty awesome. I am more interested in science now than when I was in school. If they taught health class this way, I would’ve paid attention a lot more! However, I’ve posted about it on Instagram before, and I know I’ve written posts too, looking at myself in the mirror and acknowledging my body in its current state is the hardest part. Physically seeing the change is a step, but mentally acknowledging that I am fit and thin and capable of maintaining what I have accomplished is a struggle I never thought I would endure.
There have been times the past few weeks that I have found myself stressed (I’m telling you, I have been doing a lot of coloring) and wanting to binge. My binges come from stress. I haven’t caved, but aside from coloring books, I believe it’s because I’m concerned that the ramifications of the action would leave me feeling guilty and unhappy with myself. I think this is valid. After a binge in the past, I have been upset with myself. I have questioned why I couldn’t find something else to do with my time to get the energy out. So I have been coloring a lot. Watching a lot of Netflix and may have put myself to bed early a night or two in the past month.
The conversation that made me want to write this post…
As the conversation on the drive home continued, I found myself saying that tracking my macros has helped me greatly. I can see the nutritional benefits of foods I’m eating, but there have been times like I said that I think to myself I can’t wait for the day when I’m slightly less paranoid about over-eating. I’m over here getting my cupcake on and I think that is my balance. A cupcake a week keeps the doctor away right? Well, maybe not quite, but I am trying to enjoy food as what it has been presented as: sometimes fuel, sometimes healing agent and sometimes just an experience to enjoy something that tastes amazing.
I think, for myself at least, that the paranoia comes from forgetting that I’m not the 240+ pound girl I was four years ago. Forgetting that I’m growing my body and that this goal, this phase of the journey is very different than the last. I’ve said it before that I’m not perfect and maybe part of my flexible approach is to band-aid my binging, but I also think that it’s forced me to learn how to balance and realize what I’m feeling when I have that urge. Looking at a day in life of college senior Cristina is no where near what a binge from Cristina today is. Some may call it stress eating, but that’s down playing an issue that has more mental aspects than can be spoken. I am probably more in tune with how my body feels in reaction to certain events than ever before.
During the texting portion of our conversation, my friend said that she used to restrict and that there have been times when she’s found herself cycling restricting and binging. Today she found herself having anxiety attack or something that felt close to one when she was at the gym. She said she had a good workout regardless, but all of a sudden this wave of emotion flooded her. She didn’t know what triggered it or how she was feeling before it happen, but it kind of freaked her out. She said it reminded her of the feeling she would get when she was restricting her diet heavily. She mentioned that she has been sick and not eating a lot because she’s not up to it, her diet has been mostly ice cream since she has a sore throat too. We talked about how the body burns calories when it’s sick, that’s usually what results in the fever – your body fighting off whatever illness you have. I also said if she’s mostly eating ice cream and not much else, her body is probably using it as fuel. When you’re sick it’s hard to eat well and ice cream may not be the best option, but it’s not something she does all the time, so she shouldn’t beat herself up. I know, that’s easier said than done.
It makes me sad that her and I understand each other so much because we have both felt the same way for similar and different reasons. We agreed that some days are great and others can be a battle. You joke about what peanut butter to eat because there are so many options, but some days even when it fits your macros you question your consumption.
We discussed body dysmorphia and how she had changed her goals to incorporate lifting when she did hit her goal weight. You can tell that she finds it empowering and challenging because there’s always something new to accomplish. Lifting is forever evolving. But like myself, she finds herself having to give herself pep talks and remind herself that she is fitter now, smarter about what food can do for her body now and the goals are different. These are things I need to remind myself of too.
New struggles as I move forward with surgery and recovery
I have two more workouts until my surgery. Many have asked if I’m scared of surgery -nope, I’m not. What I am scared of is the forced 10 day recovery of not getting up at 5 am for the gym. I’m scared of not having my routine. I’m scared that this is the first time I will not be going to the gym consistently in over four years. What if I’m bad at sitting still? What if I wake up every morning wanting to get out of bed? I want to be healthy, and the gym is my “me time”, but maybe this recovery is also what I need to take a break from the physical aspects of this journey.
Alaina and I talked about what recovery could mean for me as far as food and yes, I have loosely planned that out. Mostly because while I’m scared of reverting back to old habits and becoming fat Cristina again, I think I’m more scared of losing more weight in recovery. So to help out my boyfriend I have written down somethings that will fit my macros and that I would like to eat during recovery. This will help take some guess work out for him, but he will also be able to make whatever else he sees fit for us. So I guess in a way by trusting him slightly with my menu options, I’m taking a quick break from hardcore tracking.
Maybe this will help me evaluate my next steps because I will be competing this fall – I hope (as long as recovery goes well), but I also want to make sure that mentally I’m loving the body I’ve created and will finally get to meet in June (after some swelling subsides). One day I won’t have to pinch myself to understand what progress I have made, looking in the mirror will be enough. Maybe after I’ve learned how to maintain my weight I won’t be as fearful as I am right now, in this moment of this new challenge. Right now, I’m trying to trust my coach, trust my boyfriend and trust myself that I am making the best decisions I possibly can in this moment.