So a few months ago, I wrote about a 30 day boot camp challenge I signed up for. It dangled the dream of losing 15lbs in front of me and I happily chomped on the bait. Note: whether I did or didn’t need to lose 15lbs was actually irrelevant because that picture of Shakira on a beach that’s been stuck up on my ‘vision board’ (it’s otherwise empty) since 2012 was finally coming into fruition!
For years I convinced myself every new diet fad was the real deal. Low carb, no carb, no fat, no sugar, vegetarianism, protein shakes, fasted cardio, strength training, and feasting on small children or the crushed egos and broken hearts of men…I did it all. For better or for worse, the issue was never discipline. I was never afraid of working hard or pushing my body to unhealthy limits yet I never saw real results. When I did, it felt like I was working three times as hard to squint and see microscopic results. This could have been because if I do lose a few lbs, I celebrate by thanking the diet gods with a ritual of eating fresh loaves of bread and cheese and wine. It could also have been, as I had suspected for a while, that there was actually something wrong with me.
A few years ago my theory was half confirmed by an endocrinologist who suspected I may have PCOS. For those who don’t know PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a hormonal disorder often linked to diabetes and infertility. The causes are still a mystery and the symptoms can include a whole range of things spanning acne, depression, weight gain, infertility, excessive body hair, thinning hair, and irregular periods. There is a huge lack of information about it. For every legitimate medical source that discusses the syndrome, there’s 10 forums of women of all ages, with different symptoms sharing experiences and holistic solutions. I know all this because I spent most of 2013 down a google-sized rabbit hole of self-diagnosis.
I won’t go into my experiences in detail, but in short, I came on and off medication (and on and off again). My symptoms were far less severe than most and in all honesty, the biggest driver for taking medication was to help me gain control over my weight.
The danger, for me, was that having a never-properly- confirmed PCOS label attached to pre-existing body image issues gave me more ammunition to feel bigger and more out of control of my body than ever before. The more I read the horror stories on these forums of women who had very visible and aggressive symptoms, the more I began to look for them in myself. The story of how I wrapped myself up in half a diagnosis and ditched medication for holistic approaches and superfoods is perhaps best saved for another time. I barely think about whether or not I have the syndrome these days because I am trying to make a more conscious effort on reflecting on my relationship towards food, rather than solely what’s in it. After years of misinformation, it’s an ongoing struggle. I am still guilty for going weak at the knees over the word ‘superfood.’ Describe a chicken nugget in fancy words like dairy-free and I’ll probably pay you a tenner for it.
So back to this bootcamp. The point was to educate myself about food and exercise and have this education tailored to me and my personal needs. It was about letting the experts take the wheel and stepping away from the search bar and click bait headlines. I’m not going to go into details of what the program entailed because, in my experience, often people think talking about food and exercise struggles gives them a free pass to tell me what I need to do. And sorry but having a great BMI or losing 10lbs makes you as much of a nutritionist or personal trainer as watching Making A Murderer has earned me a law degree.
TEAM WORK: Being the one man wolf pack that I am, I never thought I would say this, but the ‘we’re all in this together’ aspect of the program really helped me out. You start the program as a group and check in every day to let each other know how you’re doing. It is important to note that we didn’t come together over mutual self loathing of our bodies but instead over the highs and lows that came with the program. Like during that first week when you feel like the tin man because your limbs are all seized up and you want to oil them with the grease from all the food you’re NOT allowed to eat. Or when you shock your body with squats at 6am, you’re going to want to tell the world about it. 6am. I woke up at 6 am. I rose with the sun itself! Nothing brings people together like a mutual hatred for something and/or craving for carbs. I realized this at 6am when I was up and working out. 6am yeah.
I won’t lie here, the teamwork aspect also fueled my competitive spirit and yes hearing people confess they sipped on Jesus juice over Thanksgiving or nibbled on a cookie spurred me on like nothing else. I’m sorry, I know life is not a competition but I just like to win at stuff.
Accountability also helped. I’m a secret geek, actually I’m not even secret about it, so the thought of having to show off my progress put a fire in my soon-to-be-shrunk belly like nothing else.
NOT STEPPING ON THE SCALES: I have weighed myself, almost instinctively, and almost daily for as long as I can remember. Even when I’m not on a diet or past caring – I hop on and realize I’m staring at a number before I’ve even realized what I’m doing. It’s not a torturous morning routine that I pay much attention to. It sparks an eye roll at best just like removing my make up at night only to wake up with streaks of black still around my eyes every morning.
Anyway, part of the program involved not weighing yourself for 30 days. The rationale behind this is so that you don’t get disheartened by fluctuations or not seeing the number shoot down as quickly as you’d like.
However, inevitably if you’re working your arse off like never before – you want to see results. You want to check it’s all worth it. If I’m eating tofu on Thanksgiving, I want the reassurance that I’m not already knee deep in fucking pecan pie for a solid reason.
So, being the stickler for following things exactly to plan as I am, I did break up with the scales (this is only true until around day 24) and instead I started tracking results by my endurance. Today I’m aching less, today I’m doing a higher rep, or a heavier weight. Today I’m not choking on my own sweat or pausing to breathe whenever the trainer looks elsewhere.
As women, I feel as though we spend very little time assessing our bodies on what they can do. Unless you actively play sports or are training for something, it’s usually always about how we look. Why do I know how many lbs my friends have or haven’t lost over the years but not how fast they can run or how much they can lift? For the first time, I wasn’t even worried about my waist size. I felt good about what I was putting into my body and what I was accomplishing every time I stepped into the gym. I was getting my high from physical activity itself rather than the number on the scales that came after it. It wasn’t about having an ass that doesn’t quit, it was about the fact that it was the second or third week in and I still hadn’t quit!
Prior to this challenge my relationship towards exercise had basically been listening to aggressive rap lyrics and adopting an angry alter ego. I can briskly walk 3 mile on a good day, I can run 5 when I’m angry. But on some level it was always about weight loss and waist size and calories burned and going faster and harder than whatever poor soul chose the treadmill next to me. I never listened to my body or focused on what it could do. I just went through bouts of beating it up a bit in the gym as a form of punishment and then giving up a few months later and justifying a third bowl of honey nut cheerios as a political act against the objectification of women.
Anything that involves giving up hot sauce is not sustainable. So there’s that.
But the really bad? I think I was like a month away from using the hashtag #eatcleantraindirty and instagramming steamed tilapia. It was a close call. Snapchatting pictures of empty punchbags on a Friday night is an actual thing I did because I thought everyone should know I was at the gym and not drinking my calories like the rest of you basics.
I was well and truly on my high horse. It wasn’t that I was judging people for not going to the gym or drinking a gallon of water a day. It was more that I felt the need to educate everyone on how much sugar their ‘orange juice’ contained and the perks of omega-3. I’m going to attempt to justify my behavior by saying that I was spilling over with fun facts from ted talks and Netflix food documentaries and I really needed to tell everyone about it before I remembered what cheesecake tasted like and packed it all in.
After 30 days of calculating portions and preparing my meals, it became almost an obsession. After 30 days when I ventured back out into the real world where I was no longer accountable to others, I had no idea how to eat ‘normally’ any more than I did before. In defense of the program, the idea was to reset for 30 days. It was never meant to be sustainable. It was a month of putting your diet and nutrition above all else, even if that meant taking a bag of nuts along to a happy hour like a total idiot. The idea was then to maintain your fitness and diet. The issue, however, was that whilst I stopped craving certain foods and had a taste of feeling good about my body’s capabilities under a different set of criteria, I began to fear ‘bad’ food and lost all perspective of what was normal. Going out to eat became stressful because every menu was just a series of alarm bells and pitfalls.
It took me a long time to realize that eating an entire pack of Pringles doesn’t make me feel happy but neither does sitting at a restaurant with a side salad in total panic that a few french fries might banish me to a lifetime of morbid obesity. That might sound completely warped and a lackluster revelation, but after years of swimming with the tide of various health fads and seeing food as either an enemy or a wild love affair….it was a step in the right direction.
NOTE: Eve has already touched on the damaging effects phrases like ‘eating clean’ can have which you can read here.
Spoiler alert: I never lost the 15lbs.