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Flipping the mental switch

I want to start this blog out by saying that this is not an attack on people who do not lift.  I am simply going to share my experience with lifting and how it changed my mind set.  I realize not everyone sees things the way I did.

When I joined MFP I followed the typical new member cycle.  I set my calorie goal to lose two pounds per week, was given 1200 calories and realized if I wanted to not feel hungry I was going to have to do some work.  I really didn’t know much about weight loss when I started.  Thanks to magazines I was under the impression that I had to eat the right foods and do lots of cardio with a few special exercises to fight the fat in my trouble zones.  The idea of “right foods” was daunting, so I opted for restriction in the form of only eating fruits, vegetables and meat (mostly chicken and egg white).

Like many people I simply cannot function with restriction.  I would do well for four or five days, then I would binge eat for a few days.  These wild eating sessions ended with guilt.  How could I eat junk food again when I was finally detoxing my body from all the crap I had been eating?!?  I also felt like I had undone all the cardio from the week PLUS I had dug myself into a hole that required even more cardio.

The week after a binge would be filled with even more cardio.  The binge that weekend would result in more cardio the next week.  This was a bad cycle. 

Thankfully I lurked in the boards for long enough to learn the first key to fixing the negative cycle.  Despite having 70 pounds to lose I was going to be more successful setting my goal to lose one pound per week and include foods I love.  One pound per week was a pound more than what I was losing through extreme restriction and binge eating.

The second key to fixing the negative cycle was lifting.  One day I arrived at the gym and I was completely sick of the treadmill.  There was no way I was going to get on that thing and waste another 30 minutes hating life.  I walked over to the closest machine that looked self explanatory and started using my muscles.  Several months later I walked in armed with a print out from Bodybuilding.com and started following a program (thankfully they provided videos for all the exercises as well).

I can’t always stick to my calorie goal.  I’m not as concerned with how much work I need to do to make up for it.  Those extra calories?  Fuel for my next workout.  On a lifting day?  Just feeding my muscles.  It’s not an excuse for exceeding my calorie goal daily.  It’s recognizing that going over is not taking a step back, I’m taking a step in a different direction.

TL;DR

If you can find a way to change exercise from punishment to reward it will take you far.  Also, don’t forget that Calories aren’t just evil things that keep us fat, they are fuel and you shouldn’t feel guilt for eating.

Why your progress isn't dramatic

Most people have seen transformation pictures where the before and after don't look like the same person.  The jaw dropping difference of 50, 100, 200+ pounds lost.  We look forward to the day that our bodies look completely different, just like those pictures.

Unfortunately that is not going to happen for you.

Before you come after me with torches and pitch forks let me explain.  You look in the mirror after you get dress, as you brush your teeth or do your hair, when you wash your hands, when you pass a mirror.  I know at my heaviest I avoided mirrors and only looked into my eyes or at my nose, but you still see the rest of you.

As you lose weight you look at yourself multiple times a day.  Those tiny changes in your body don't really register.  They are there, but the changes are slow enough that your view of your body adjusts with your weight.  Only when muscles, ribs, cheek bones, etc. start showing can we see the true impact of the fat loss.  

When we reach our goal we look the same as we did yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.  Our view of ourselves has slowly changed from the beginning, so we really don't see the difference.  Our before and after pictures show stunning results, but our brains have adjusted to every tiny change.  This is why we tell people to take pictures and measurements.

The same thing happens when we bulk.

We add small amounts of muscle and fat.  Over time we just look like slightly bigger and fatter versions of how we looked before the bulk.  Even worse, adding fat hides the striations and the definition.  Now we just look fluffy.  Part of me expected dramatic results from my bulk (blog to come when I am done cutting), but now I realize I am just going to end up a slightly bigger version of what I looked like before.  I'm definitely not the beefy version of me I was hoping for since that is going to take many more years of barely noticeable changes.

Don't throw in the towel just because you don't "see" the changes.  They are happening. 

Five Years and Counting

I generally try to share some wisdom here, but I don't really have any today.  Today I just want to tell more of my story.

Five years ago this month I finished my active duty time in the Marine Corps.  I was fat when I got out, but I had been trying to gain control of it for a few years.  I was finally free of the obligation to exercise as someone else demanded and free of the pressure to lose weight as fast as possible.  This was a huge weight off my shoulders.  I could do things my way and I didn't have to starve myself to meet a deadline.

I think the quote that has made the most impact on my life since then is,

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” -Earl Nightingale

It has been five years, but I am not where I want to be.  I have accomplished a lot and am thankful for all the goals I have met along the way.  I'm still working on the inside as well as the outside.

There are days where I don't want to go to the gym and I wonder why I work so hard for a goal to make very little progress.  I remind myself that the time is going to pass anyway, so why not work towards the goal.  There is no deadline.  I might get there in a year or in five years.  Every workout, every diary completion, every piece of positive feedback I give myself is progress.  

Sometimes I take a few steps back.  There are times where I don't feel like I make progress.  I keep counting.  I keep lifting.  I keep working at the goal even when I feel like I will never get there.

I have been counting calories in some form or another for five years.  I will continue counting or tracking food for a very long time.  The time will pass anyway, so I might as well keep working towards some goals.

Relationships

I share a lot on here.  Everything from binge eating to my flaws to struggles that are more common than you think.  That is pretty easy.  I don't mind saying those things because I know I'm not alone in it.

Today I want to talk about relationships.

We have some sort of relationship with everyone we interact with on a regular basis. Our significant other, siblings, children, friends and even co-workers.  Most of these people care about us.  They also tune into our habits and do things for us to improve our happiness or quality of life.

Sometimes that means that they bake us a tray of cookies.

The first few months of developing a new lifestyle are very tough.  There are the physiological changes, such as learning hunger cues and adjusting to a lower calorie intake.  There are psychological changes, such as building impulse control and developing positive habits.  

There are also changes that happen in our relationships. The loving acts of those around us no longer fit the habits we are trying to develop.  That tray of cookies feels like a deliberate attempt to derail our progress.  It's easy to jump to the conclusion that it is sabotage because in the midst of all our personal changes those around us are carrying on as though we are staying the same.  We are still learning the tools we need to be willing and able to balance a healthy lifestyle with enjoying those treats.

What can we do from the beginning to help those around us transition with us?

Communication.  Let the people around you know your plans to develop new healthy habits.  Let your significant other know what changes you are planning on making and how they can help you.  Get the people around you involved in the process.  Don't take it personally when someone continues on as though you are not making changes.  Thank them when they do something helpful, because everyone likes for their effort to be appreciated.

These conversations may have to take place over and over again.  Eventually they will adjust to your new habits.  My only caution is: just because you are making changes doesn't mean others have to.  Don't go throw away all the chips and cookies in the house and demand the others follow your lead.  They have to make the choice for themselves or it will cause resentment. 

Valentine's Day 2011

This is not a sappy love story.

February 2011 I had been actively trying to lose weight for about a year.  At this point I still didn't know much about fat loss and was just following all the things that I had seen in magazines.  I had been tracking calories on paper, but I hadn't lost much weight.  Due to my limited knowledge (as well as lying to myself about how much I was actually eating) I just knew I had to join a gym to lose weight.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Joining a gym changed my life.  I know now it wasn't necessary to lose weight, but there are so many other benefits.

In January I started looking into gyms in the area.  Trying to find one that had low dues, childcare and wasn't far from my home.  If it hadn't been for Facebook I would probably still be looking at the information on local gyms.  Thankfully one of the guys I went to high school with posted that he was working at a gym and would hook his friends up with a great rate.  I sent him a text and we set an appointment for me to check out the gym on February 14th.

I was terrified.  Here I was, over 200 pounds, going to a gym where people were going to judge me for being fat.  It took me hours to pick out what to wear just to sign the paperwork.  I spent a few days looking through gym selfies of heavier people trying to figure out what to wear when I actually went to exercise.  When I actually got there to sign the paperwork nobody really stared, much less looked in my direction.  

I was given a week's worth of daycare for free, so there was incentive to actually go.  I figured that if I went when the daycare first opened most of the really fit morning people would be gone and all the in shape stay at home wives would be in the Zumba class.  The first month I darted into the gym, dropped the boys off, picked the treadmill in the corner and left as fast as possible.  It took months to warm up to the gym and realize people didn't even pay attention to me.

Four years later and I am in amazing shape.  It's strange for me to remember how terrifying the gym was and how little I knew when I started.  The gym has done more for me than just assist in physical changes.  I'm glad I took that first step, no matter how terrifying it was.

Honor, Courage, Commitment

In Marine Corps recruit training we are taught core values and upon finishing our final test we are given a card with them printed on it.  These are characteristics that are expected of us from the day we join until the day we die.  During the 13 weeks of training we go through before earning the title of United States Marine our character is tested to determine is we hold these core values.

Honor

This is our code of personal integrity.  It's doing what is right when no one is looking.  Those who possess honor are held in honor.  It is a belief that is exibited in our actions.  Honor is holding yourself to the highest standards.

Courage

Courage is the guardian of our values.  It is standing up against fear and in the face of adversity.  It helps us make the difficult decisions.  It is physical, mental and ethical strength.  Courage is our backbone.

Commitment

Commitment is the spirit of determination.  It is what keeps us going when  others quit.  You cannot fake or break commitment.  It is the measure and proof of our desire, dedication and faithfulness.

 

The Marine Corps select those as their core values.  The standards to which they hold us and the measure of our character.  These traits are not exclusive to the Marine Corps.  Every one of us has the ability to develop these.  These traits can help you reach any goal.

 

Honor is being honest with yourself during the process.  It is logging accurately and admitting when you fail or struggle.

Courage is making the difficult decisions.  It's braving the cold to get a workout in.  It's saying no to food that isn't going to fit your goals for the day.  It is admitting when you need help.

Commitment is doing it on days you don't want to.   It is doing it after weeks of seeing no progress.  It is continuing to learn and apply things that are going to get you to your goal.

It's been a week...

Why am I not skinny yet?!?

We see this question on the boards pretty frequently.  Even veterans to the weight loss process have this thought cross their minds.  When we finally decide it's time to get rid of the fat we want it gone yesterday!

What you do today only makes a small impact on tomorrow and the next day.  It's a gradual building process.  We've all heard the saying that we didn't get fat overnight and we can't expect to lose it overnight.  The problem with that is that it took no real effort to gain and it takes constant effort to lose.  It's just not fair!

I had this thought come to me as I was baking the other day.  

Imagine you have a large pitcher that you need to fill with 50 cups of water.  All you have is a tablespoon to transport water in.  That's a very daunting task!  Each trip is only going to add a tiny amount to the pitcher and sometimes you'll spill a bit on the way.  There might be times where your knock your pitcher over and spill a bit.  If you keep working at it you'll eventually fill the pitcher up.

Each day we eat appropriately and add in extra activity we improve just a little bit.  Unlike the pitcher we have to deal with weight fluctuations from water retention and food volume.  Even if the scale doesn't move you are doing things to improve your overall health.  Take pictures, weigh, measure and get blood work done.  Track all that information to get a better overall picture of the improvements and realize that there is more to health than the scale. 

 

*Just wanted to add:  Even those of us who have lost weight think the same thing as many of the newer people.  We know better and we understand the process better.  We still wish for more than a pound a week. 

What's your excuse?

Another one of these pictures is making the rounds.  A woman who has had children showing off a great body and asking what others excuses are for not having an amazing body.

*The following is my opinion.  You are more than welcome to disagree.*

Maybe this will mean a bit more coming from a woman with kids who has achieved a great body.  Nobody needs an excuse.  We don't have the same goals, the same starting points, the same responsibilites in life, the same free time or the same priorities.  There is ZERO shame in saying that having an amazing body is not your top priority.

Sometimes I talk about the odds stacked against me.  Single mom, full time job, long commute, going to school.  I am very lucky that I have a company that allows me a flexible lunch hour.  I come in a bit early and that gives me enough time to go lift during lunch.  I also control all the meals.  No husband saying he wants to go out to eat and my kids are okay with having a different dinner than I have.

Honestly, in some ways I have it pretty easy. 

People shouldn't try to make others feel bad for having different priorities.  We make the most of what we have and pursue the things that are important to us.  Do what you can for your health and weight loss.  Try to find a way to make it part of your every day life.  

Don't feel guilty for not working out for hours on end or twice a day.  

 

  • Got 15 minutes in? Great!  
  • Hit your calories and macros today?  Awesome!
Love yourself for who you are and be proud of your accomplishments in every area of life. 

 

There is more than one way

I remember when I decided that I had to lose weight no matter what.  The first thing I did was to start some research.  Unfortunately there was tons of information out there and so many articles from doctors, dieticians, personal trainers and weight loss experts contradicted each other.  How can anyone lose weight when a dozen articles will tell you that the methods suggested in the other articles don't work?

Even here on MFP you will find successful people who completely disagree with each other.  If you don't believe me check out a clean eating thread, a sugar thread or even a cardio versus weight lifting thread.  There are successful people on both sides of the issue. 

If you look through the success stories you'll see that everyone uses a slightly different method and gets slightly different results.  This is great news for you!  It means that the method for weight loss that works best will depend on you.  Forget "optimal" weight loss because all you need is to experiment and find what you can stick to that gives you results.

There is also a second important factor.  What sort of results you want.  If you really just need to drop some weight to improve your health then the methods don't matter as much.  If you aim to be able to run then you would look into how runners train and eat.  If you want to diet down to low levels of body fat and look more like a fitness model then you're going to have to lift and fuel appropriately.  If you need to improve specific health markers then what you eat is going to be very important.

If I were to sum up the things I think are important to being successful it would be:

 

  • Read as much as you can about diet and fitness
  • Have an open mind (you may find something that will make your life easier)
  • Read supporting information for things you disagree with (sometimes we are mistaken on what the other side actually believes)
  • Leave your comfort zone (try it all out!)
  • Find something sustainable (it isn't over when you reach your goal)
  • If someone is trying to sell you something be suspicious of their claims

Confidence

Yesterday I opened up a discussion with my friends about why some of them haven't done a race or competition of some sort.  Before I get started I wanted to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to race or compete.  It doesn't matter what your reason for not wanting to do them is, you are perfectly fine as is and I'm not going to tell you that your life is incomplete because you don't race or compete.  This blog is for those who have thought about it, would like to, yet have not taken a step towards it.

The top reasons listed for why my friends have not done a race or competition are:

  1. Money
  2. Schedule/Availability
  3.  Training
  4. Confidence.
I understand the struggles of money, scheduling, and availability.  I'm a single mom and it's tough to find the funds for everything.  It's tough to get away from my kids to make it to these things.  Sometimes it's tough to get the training in.  The things I would like to do aren't really available in my area.  To a degree all of these things are out of our hands.  I do make some sacrifices to be able to afford them.  I also rely on sitters or family to watch the boys while I race or compete.
 
As far as training goes, there are a few concerns with completing training and avoiding injury.  Many of us have chronic issues that cause training problems.  I have knee problems, my hips cause issues from time to time, my elbows get flare ups and I manage to hurt myself fairly often.  My best advice to overcome this is to start training far enough out that you don't feel rushed and you have flexibility in case something happens.
 
Finally, we reach the number one reason why people don't sign up for races and competitions: Confidence.  I'm going to share a few tricks to help with confidence.
 
 
5k, 10k, Half marathon, Full marathon, Triathlon
When you sign up for a distance or endurance race the chances are you will not win, even for your age group.  You may walk.  You may walk all of it.  You won't be the only one.  You may finish far behind small children and people almost three times your age.  You aren't there to beat them, you are there to complete it and set a time to beat during your next one.  Find a fun run like the color runs or costume races or one for a charity.  More people join those simply to get active.  If the thought of standing around alone before and after the race terrify you, invite a friend and plan on walking it.
 
Obstacle Course Races
Once again, you probably are not going to finish at the head of the pack.  These types of races are a personal challenge and meant to be fun.  There is a team of veterans that do these races together.  Most of them are missing limbs and they come together to help each other over obstacles.  Invite a friend or two and set out to simply complete the race (even if you have to walk around an obstacle or two).  People will walk the entire thing and skip multiple obstacles.  Do your best and come back the next year determined to do just a little bit better.  Above all they are meant to be fun!
 
Powerlifting meets
"If you wait until you are 'strong enough' you will never compete."  I'm not saying to compete a couple of months after you start lifting, but if you've been lifting for a few years and you want to compete just do it.  Almost nobody sets a state, national or world record their first year.  There are people who have been competing for 10+ years that don't hold a record.  Pick a small local meet and set out to hit a PR because that's what powerlifting meets are all about.  Afraid of failing a lift?  One of my friends failed all three attempts at bench at Olympia.  Most lifters fail at least one lift at a meet.  You're supposed to pick a third attempt that scares you slightly.  If you don't fail a lift you may be left wondering if you could have done 5, 10, 20 pounds more.
 
Bodybuilding competitions
As a binge eater I didn't think this would be possible.  Having a trainer or a coach for accountability makes a huge difference.  Not everyone is cut out to do this, but you can work towards one and decide it isn't for you.  The keys to success?  Don't set an ultimate deadline, give yourself plenty of time, realize that it's okay to struggle with it because it's not easy.  I wish I could give more help on this, but bodybuilding is one of the few competitions where you need either the confidence or the burning desire.
 
I may have left a few out, but these were the main ones that come to mind.  Most of us who have raced or competed in something went in terrified.  Even if you grew up watching others do them or have friends who do them it's a different story when you are the one putting in the effort.  Even if you aren't ready to tackle something like these today remember that the time will pass anyway, so you might as well start training for something you would like to do today.  No matter how good or bad you do, you'll be proud that you set a goal to race or compete and you accomplished it! 

 

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