I’ve been contemplating starting a blog for some time. The last few weeks have been particularly chaotic for me, but as I sit here, I’m finding some calm in putting ‘pen to paper.’ So, what better time to launch my new blog, Live Lift Flourish! A forum for me to share my passion for fitness. Seeing as I can probably count my readers on one hand, I’ll go ahead and say hello to both of you. Hi mom! Hi Matt (my husband and Chief Technology Officer of Live Lift Flourish)! Aaaaaaand, that’s everyone! Hopefully not for long. So there it is!
It’s fall (although today it didn’t feel like it), and like the elephant in the room, there is something on my mind. The Ross Valley Crossfit fall nutrition challenge is around the corner. How fitting for the topic of nutrition to be the kickoff for my blog! So much of who I am today is a result of actions set into motion via my first nutrition challenge three years ago.
Although I often credit ‘Crossfit’ as having changed my life, in fact it was the focus on nutrition and change to my diet, which often (but not always) comes along with Crossfit, that really moved the needle for me in terms of the physical changes to my body. Many in the fitness world will focus on exercise as the primary factor in fat loss, yet I am a firm believer in the saying ‘abs are made in the kitchen.’
So let’s rewind back to 2013. I had reached an inflection point in my life. With a family established (2 children under the age of 3), I had left my job in the corporate world to pursue independent consulting engagements, in search of more balance and joy in my life. I had also decided to shake up my boring fitness routine and was a few months into my Crossfit tenure, when my gym, Ross Valley Crossfit, announced its fall nutrition challenge: 6 weeks of sticking to a nutrition plan of your choosing (‘cut the crap’, Paleo or Zone).
I was apprehensive, but I signed up. Six weeks isn’t so long. It would go by in a flash. Or so I thought. I chose the Paleo diet – one that is based on eating meat, fish and eggs, vegetables, some fruit, nuts and seeds and healthy oils – and eliminates dairy, grains and refined sugar or sugar substitutes.
Let me stop here for a minute. What I’m about share is not easy for me. At the time, I was 26% body fat, weighing 161 lbs (for reference I’m 5’5″). Certainly not obese, but on the heavier side of average, and definitely carrying more fat than I needed. [Did you see that? I didn’t JUST look my body weight. Body composition – the percentage of your body that is made up of fat vs. bone, water and muscle – is really a critical concept to be aware of when you are looking to ‘lose weight.’ But more on that another time.] Going into this challenge, I had what I considered to be a ‘moderately healthy’ diet, avoiding refined carbs, sugar and saturated fats, but didn’t pay a lot of attention. I had had varied success with attempts to ‘diet’ in the past, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t have some miracle number in my head that would define success for me this time around – I just really wanted to change my behavior.
As it turned out, sticking to a Paleo diet for 6 weeks was not easy, especially when it came to eating out, dinner parties and weekends in general. But day to day, it wasn’t as hard as I expected. The worst part was the change up to my coffee. No cream. No Splenda. What??! By the end of the six weeks, I had lost 7 lbs of fat and gained 1 lb of lean body mass – a net change of 3.5% body fat. Wow! I considered that a success! Over the next year, I stuck to a Paleo diet roughly 90% of the time, leaving room for a few drinks and maybe 1 dessert per month. By October 2014, I had lost about 15 lbs of body fat and gained about 5 lbs of lean body mass (putting me at 17% body fat, at 151 lbs) in total.
During the next fall nutrition challenge (2014), I layered on the Zone Diet (weighing and measuring foods and eating prescribed amounts of carbs, fat and protein at each meal). During that 6 week challenge, I lost an additional 5 lbs of fat and with it lost only 0.25 lbs of lean body mass, leaving me at 14.5% body fat and 146 lbs.
Since the end of 2014, my body composition has fluctuated between 10-14% body fat and 138-144 lbs. All said and done, I’ve lost over 20 lbs of fat, and put on about 5 lbs of lean mass. I’ve dabbled with various approaches to diet and nutrition: strict macros, loose macros, macros with specific nutrient timing. I definitely indulge from time to time. Sometimes I’m very strict and measure, weigh and log my foods, but most of the time, I listen to my body and feed it what it is telling me it needs. The pictures to the right (yikes!!) demonstrate how the body composition impacted the shape of my body. These pictures evoke many emotions in me and I have so much to say on this topic, but will save that for another post!
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned in the last few years of experimenting with nutrition for fat loss:
- If you have never done it before, log your food intake for at least one week. If you don’t measure it, you can’t change it. Download the MyFitnessPal app for your mobile phone (so you can log on the go). Play around with it – it is very intuitive. You can find almost any food you eat, and ingredient you can imagine in their database of foods (for each food they list the key nutritional elements – the ones I look at most closely are grams of carbs, fat, protein, fiber, sugar and calories). This is a really good tool to bring awareness to what you are putting in your body, both in terms of the big picture (how much protein am I getting?) and small things that add up, like habitual eating.
- It is all an experiment! Different nutrition plans will work at different times of your life. You will probably have to tinker with various aspects of any plan to find something that works for you! For example, when I started Paleo – the one thing I found I really couldn’t live without was cream in my coffee. Six weeks without it was ‘doable’ but that is the one thing I added back immediately and saw NO change in my body composition or performance. So I added it back and kept everything else pretty much the same. You do not get extra ‘purity’ points for being more restrictive than you need to be.
- If you have a lot of fat to lose, Paleo is a good way to kick start that process. If you have a sugar addiction (and many people do), you will most likely kick it. One of the best things to come out of my year of Paleo was giving up sugar and/or sugar substitutes in my drinks. No Splenda, no diet drinks. I just don’t drink that stuff anymore. Back to Paleo… one thing to be aware of: for someone who has less fat to lose, it is very easy to overeat fat (the macronutrient) on a Paleo diet, which will definitely slow down the fat loss.
- If you are trying to lose that last 2-5% body fat or have been eating pretty well (whole foods, minimal refined sugars for at least 3-4 months – most likely longer – the Zone Diet is a great exercise in understanding macronutrient balance and portion control. The calculus is a little intense for the long haul, but for a period of 6 weeks, it really helps imprint some good habits. For me that means with every meal, making sure I consume protein.
- Six weeks is a perfect amount of time to achieve significant change, and instill some really good habits (and get rid of bad ones!). Some people can make a change to their diet and never look back. If you are not one of these people, fear not! The idea isn’t necessarily that you perfectly adhere to any plan forever. If you change one small thing about your diet as a result of your challenge, that is a win!
So here I am, about to start another nutrition challenge. This time around, my goals are twofold: I have about 5-7 lbs of fat I’d like to part with, while maintaining (or increasing) my lean body mass (this can be difficult). What is more important to me, especially as we head into winter and holiday season, is establishing some new, good eating habits and eliminating the bad habits I slip into when I’m not 100% committed and focused. Thanks to these nutrition challenges, I know what works for my body – what I need to do to feel good, and perform well. The challenge is to stick with it!
For those of you still reading, thanks for stopping by! I will keep you posted on how the challenge goes! Here are some of the topics I expect to cover in the next few posts: food prep, competing and a few of my favorite workouts and how to approach them.