Consistency and Cutting

Warning: this entry contains pictures of me in my pants. Sorry about that.

I started this year sober and motivated, with the lofty goal of attending the gym consistently. Gaz’s generous gift of a year’s gym membership for my birthday in early January was going to be the catalyst for improvement in my strength and physical fitness, and the motivation I needed to re-introduce deadlifts and finally start bench pressing.

True to my word, I started attending the gym 3 days a week. I went twice in the period between Christmas and New Year, smashing out a new back squat PB of 102.5kg 1RM @ ~77kg bodyweight. Unfortunately in February my knees started playing up (after niggly pain on and off for some time) necessitating some time off and a drop in squat weight to less than half of my new PB. Sad face. I later discovered, after much research and reading, that this was potentially caused by a quad dominance. I have not had any problems since I incorporated more work on my hamstrings to balance out my legs. Another gym break occurred in May/June because of the house move, but aside from that I have attended the gym consistently: week in, week out.

As well as working out religiously, I started documenting my lifts consistently. Rather than turning up and winging it — doing what I felt like that day — I came up with a plan that targeted different muscle groups on different days, with accessory lifts and a range of low rep/high weight and high rep/low weight stuff. (I was very much aided in the draft of a plan by lifting insta-friends and Google.) Documenting reps and weights meant that each week I was able to increase one or the other: progressively overloading my muscles to encourage growth and increase strength.

Sobriety and this new-found consistency meant that I started to drop some weight early on in the year. I lost 10lbs without really trying. Although I was confident and happy at that weight, I was particularly liking the increase in muscle definition that losing 10lbs had given me and I decided to lean out a little more. I wanted to make the results of all my efforts visible.

Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple. My attempts at furthering my losses didn’t seem to make much difference; I was bouncing back and forth between 150-160lbs (68-72kg). Not only that, but I was feeling weaker and I would often stand up and get a ‘head rush’/low blood sugar feeling. I was concerned I was under-eating despite being in ♥ with food, because I didn’t know how to properly fuel the work I was putting in to both my lifts and my other fitness exploits (running, taekwon-do, pole dancing etc). I was eating like a sedentary person, rather than an “athlete” (for lack of a better word).

In June, I finally decided to seek help, and ordered a fat loss template from Renaissance Periodization. Now, you may recall that I’d ordered a diet plan from a “personal trainer” back in December. This original plan left me underwhelmed, which I think reflected in my previous entry on the subject, but I decided to modify it and stick it out for a bit. However, within days of posting that entry, I’d queried some bits in the template and got back an answer that could be summed up as “because I said so”. I don’t do anything in life on the basis of “because I said so” and especially not when it comes to something as important (and full of bro science) as nutrition, so I chucked it in as a bad idea.

Anyway, back to the template from RP… like the original plan I’d ordered, it broke down macros into 5 or 6 meals across the day. However, it did so according to training or non training days and workout intensity, and crucially (unlike the other plan) everything was backed up by references to scientific studies. The plans themselves are written by a team of doctors, dietitians etc: all with actual qualifications and everything. I felt more comfortable with the template (which in itself was non-restrictive and flexible) which straight away gave me the confidence I needed to fit it into my intensely busy schedule.

RP recommend a 12 week cut maximum, followed by 12 weeks minimum at maintenance. This gives your metabolism time to recover and beds in your new metabolic set point (the body weight set point is a theory in nutritional science that suggests we have a “comfortable weight” and that the body will use various signals and hormones to get us back to that point despite increases and decreases in calorie intake; it has its critics but has been observed in animals). Resetting this metabolic “set point” helps prevent bouncing back to your old weight, which is a common problem in a lot of diet programs and weight loss systems.

Within a couple of days of starting the new template, the dizziness and side effects from low blood sugar were gone. I was eating HUGE amounts of food compared to what I was used to. ALL THE CARBS! Holy macaroni. Not only that, but the weight loss started easily and immediately: I’ve lost over 10lbs in just shy of 8 weeks. Losing weight while eating all the foods? Winning!

weight loss progress over the course of 6-7 months
I have lost significant amounts of fat from my stomach, hips, back, chest and face. Also boobs. Bye bye boobies :(

Perhaps even more importantly than losing this weight, I have smashed out some fucking EPIC lifts. Yesterday, after struggling with my squats since my knee problems, I did sets of 5 at 40, 50, 60 and 70kg. 3 and 2 reps at 80kg then 1 each at 90kg and 100kg. I am within touching distance of my Christmas squat PB and I weigh 10kg less. I finally incorporated the deadlift back into my program and am already doing reps at 80kg, which thrashes one of my new year goals “deadlift my bodyweight” without even really trying. This morning I benched 40kg for a handful of reps (bench is my weakest lift by far) after starting the year barely able to lift the bar for all 5 sets. Add this to running PBs at my 5k and half marathon distances (and a couple of 10km races coming up to thrash those too) and finally completing my long-held goal of completing a pull-up (albeit with dodgy AF form)…

& I am just buzzing! If I maintain the consistency (including trialling a 4 day split over summer), and see the cut through the final month, what else can I achieve? A double bodyweight squat, 100kg deadlift and 50kg bench seem like good goals to be going on with. Fingers crossed!

Baring All

I plonked my wibbly wobbly stretch-marked belly (maybe NSFW, features underboob) on Instagram last night. It came off the back of a conversation with a gorgeous, sexy friend who mentioned that she had issues with her tummy. It’s a common one, especially for mums.

I spent a long time hung up on my stomach. I’ve had stretch marks (all over) for as long as I can remember but during pregnancy they multiplied by the dozen. I have weird bits of skin from where it was stretched to the obscene and didn’t quite recover. I have some lines that look as wide as they are long. I’d been with Gaz for close to two years before I stopped flinching every time his hand brushed past my stomach; before I stopped pushing it away, swallowing hard and holding my breath until he was out of the ‘danger zone’.

It’s so easy to look down at myself and see this ‘mess’ and then compare it to instagram models and “just bounced back” celebs and wonder where I went wrong. But comparison is the thief of joy (according to Theodore Roosevelt) and although he probably wasn’t talking about bellies, I can see his point. When we compare our untouched naked skin to the Photoshopped elite we stop seeing the things these soft, squishy, wondrous tummies have done for us. For those of us who are lucky enough to have been able to grow babies, they have protected new life, shielding it from the elements, giving it space to grow.

When I had my little self-love epiphany after my gallbladder issues, I promised myself that come what may I would not slip back into the habit of negative self-talk, of filtering out my flaws and avoiding the scars and marks that cover my skin. I told myself that I would use my platform & my confidence & my ‘fuck you’ attitude to normalise the wobbles and bulges, dips and bumps and lines. Despite this, despite finding comfort in my jiggles, I still hesitated before sharing. That familiar deep breath, hard swallow. Why is it hard? It shouldn’t be hard.

There is beauty in imperfection, in vulnerability, in accepting who we are and how we got there. If that means baring all and shouting “I LOVE MYSELF” from the rooftops so as to reiterate that and encourage other people to do the same? So be it.

Radical Self Love

I posted this picture to instagram at the end of May:

The general gist of the caption was that, while I don’t agree on everything my mum says & does, I did appreciate her “don’t give a fuck” attitude growing up and it helped me develop a similar approach to society’s pressures to look a certain way.

Of course, this wasn’t the full story (because seriously, nobody wants to read a blog post in an insta caption).

While that is mostly true, as I said on instagram, I have poked at wobbly bits with an element of self-doubt. In the depths of PMDD-fuelled anxiety I have questioned whether my own husband could truly love me with all my scars and stretch marks. I liked myself most of the time, but I’m not “perfect”, and I knew it, but I accepted who I was.

When I got sick in early May, and a week of excruciating gallbladder pain stopped me from eating, I dropped ~10lbs quite quickly. Any other time this would be cause for celebration, but I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise the person looking back at me. My skin looked pale, my stomach was shrivelled up like a weird dry prune and I felt myself shrinking: the opposite of what I want to achieve. I looked like shit, and it terrified me.

I hated it. I hated how I looked, I hated feeling weak, and I hated being less ‘me’.

As I got better, I had what can only be described as an epiphany. It hit me: when I’m not ill I can run, I can lift heavy weights, I can kick arse in the dojang, and I am strong, capable and confident. Weighing 10lbs less didn’t give me superpowers, it didn’t make me suddenly more attractive or physically fit (quite the opposite in this instance).

And so I realised that if I hated myself like that, I had no choice but to love myself when I’m 10lbs heavier, when I’ve not shaved my legs in a fortnight, when I’m bloated to all hell because I’m due on, when my brain is telling me I suck because my hormones are going haywire. Merely accepting myself wasn’t enough. I accept bills, and taxes, and having to get up at 7am to get the kids ready for school and those things all SUCK. And so that caption also said something quite radical: I think I love myself.

I gave myself permission to enjoy the comedy of the wobbly belly, to celebrate the origins of the stretch marks, to find mystery in my scars. I gave myself permission to say fuck yeah, I actually look pretty good. And I’m cool with that.

Not Giving Up (The Reality of Losing Weight)

A month ago I posted about my muddy run in London and noticing some bodily side effects:

it all adds up to a shit ton of alcohol, far too much junk food and not enough veg which ultimately means I have a lingering cold [..] and me going distinctly soft around the middle again.

Despite realising I wasn’t being kind to myself it wasn’t until last week that I a) finally got off my arse and made an effort to work out and b) stopped drinking. So a month of continued over-eating, little to no weight lifting and — I realised the other day — minimal activity of any kind as I’m not doing the school run every day. In fact, check out the disparity between June/July step counts and August (ignore May, I only got my Garmin half way through):

step-count-timeline

You don’t have to be a fitness guru to work out what the combined effects of more food and less exercise is going to be:

weight-progress

Two steps forward, one step back?

But this isn’t the end. I don’t want to just resign myself to being “a bit fatter” now. If I dwell on what I have done wrong, it’s going to drive me mad and madness brings comfort eating and binge drinking. I need to focus on, sure… I have put weight back on since March, but I am not the ‘me’ from July 2014. I can still squeeze into my size 12 jeans.

This is… no, this HAS to be motivation to try a little harder. Because there is no way in hell I’m going back to where I was before. Weight loss isn’t a one time thing where you put in some effort and bob’s your uncle. This battle is the rest of my life.