It's been a few weeks since I completed my temporary diet and exercise change and I wanted to share my experience. I hesitated sharing these photos because I want to keep this space somewhat professional! But I also think it's important to show all sides of the story--that along with eating the occasional dessert is having a balanced diet as well as a healthy exercise regimen. A lot of hard work and sacrifice (of sweets!) went into getting to where I am today. It was not a walk in the park, but it can be done! Before I start, I have to mention that I am not a health professional and everything I'm sharing is from my own personal experience! Everyone is different. Every body is different, and what works for me might not work for you. It's important to find a knowledgeable professional to guide you. In my case, it was my boyfriend/personal trainer, Gary. I was essentially his guinea pig, only telling him what my goals were: a flat stomach, visible abs (but not scary bumpy), and tighter, "toned" arms and legs.
First, I'll start with the diet. After consistently exercising 3 times a week for a month, I wasn't seeing the dramatic results I'd hoped for. Gary suggested I alter my diet and guaranteed that I'd see immediate change. It wasn't easy, friends. I decided to cut sugar completely, including honey, and maple syrup, and limited my fruit intake to about 1 - 1 1/2 pieces a day. In addition, I greatly reduced the amount of starchy carbohydrates I consumed (which I will refer to simply as carbs, even though I know fruits and vegetables are made up of carbohydrates). Finally, I upped my protein and leafy green vegetables. My diet was rather strict, especially in comparison to how I was eating before. The idea is to consume fat and protein throughout the day, except for after work outs, which is then mostly protein and carbs. I believe the term is carb cycling or ketogenic diet. Whatever the case is, it worked for me.
Here is an example of my diet:
Sometimes I would have another snack after dinner if I was still hungry. During meals, if I still felt hungry I'd just eat more vegetables. In the example above, I would have gone to the gym before dinner, probably around 4 or 5 PM. That way my meal right after includes starchy carbs and is lower in fat.
After about 3 weeks of this diet I began to slowly change things to more my liking. I began eating less meat because it's my preference from an environmentally friendly standpoint. Sometimes I'd forgo eggs in the morning and just have a protein shake using Garden of Life Raw protein powder, or I'd have it as a snack if I had a more veggie heavy lunch. I also started eating more tinned sardines because they add a lot of flavor, fats, is a good source of protein, and are more sustainable option than chicken or beef.
The biggest lesson I learned is that I wasn't eating enough vegetables and way too many grains/carbohydrates. I used to fill my plate with edamame and corn, thinking I was getting an adequate amount of vegetables. Nope! Edamame is a bean and corn is a grain. Half my plate used to be rice, pasta, bread, quinoa, etc. While these things aren't necessarily bad for you, I learned that I probably shouldn't have more than 1/2 cup at a time.
That being said, I noticed I wasn't feeling as well and started getting grumpy due my reduced intake of carbs. I started adding back more carbs at night, but still in limited quantities. Even having one glorious slice of Ezekiel bread did wonders for my attitude!
Next is Exercise. I do not like cardio. At all. I loathe running, being on the elliptical, or generally just being out of breath! With that in mind, my exercise regimen consisted of a lot of weight training. I don't mean adding 5 lb dumbbells while taking a brisk walk, I mean deadlifts, pushing a 75 lb sled, and overall using heavy weights. I know that this intimidates lots of women. Weight rooms are generally dominated by men that might gawk or even laugh at your attempts. In addition, there is a large misconception that it'll make you bulky or look like a man. Be honest with me, do I look like a man? Do I look bulky? If anything, I am slimmer and "toned" overall!
Which brings me to my next point: being "toned". I hear this term a lot. "I don't want muscles, I just want to tone up." Ladies, that's what "toned" is: muscle. You're going to have to build muscle in order to get that tight look around your arms, legs, and midsection. Most of the time, those "bulky" women that lift weights have a poor diet. You can build the muscle all you want, but unless you lose the fat covering it, it'll just look "thick". Which leads me to another point: there is no way you can change your body to create long lean limbs. Don't believe that yoga, pilates, and the like are going to turn you into a slim and slender ballerina. You still have to work with the body you were born with! Muscles have a fixed origin and insertion point, and the only way to ‘lengthen’ them would be to surgically detach and reattach it. I'm not saying yoga and pilates are bad, in fact I'd like to start adding this to my workout as well, but that long, lean feeling you're getting most likely better posture.
Here is an example of one of my workouts:
At first, lifting heavy made me feel weird. I was self conscious that guys would make fun of me. But guess what? They usually don't know what the hell they're doing, or they're doing it wrong! I learned to just focus on myself and stop caring about what other people thought. The most important part is to have a knowledgeable trainer that will tell you what to do. I've never been an athletic person and the gym is definitely out of my comfort zone, but I fully trusted Gary that everything he was making me do was all working towards my goals.
One of the best parts of weight training is being stronger! I recently went to IKEA by myself and had to lug all my purchases to the car. It was easily 45 lbs and bulky, and without exercising I know I wouldn't have been able to lift them off the ground, especially without pulling my back! Even the security guard looked surprised I could handle it.
Finally, the question I've been getting a lot: Was it worth it? Yes! The hardest part of my diet wasn't giving up sweets, it was all the glorious carbs! I missed eating my granola. I wanted corn bread. I missed the feeling of being stuffed on carbs! All it took was a change in habit. Now I get stuffed on veggies instead! I stopped my strict diet after 6 weeks, but I am a lot more conscious of the portions I eat. I don't weigh or measure my food anymore, but I know that 2 cups of granola isn't healthy, even if its sprouted, gluten free, and vegan.
I'll be honest, it was not cheap. There are many people who have no problem popping pills and protein bars and powders, but it's not something I'm personally comfortable with. I believe in organic, local, sustainable, and ethically raised foods. That means $7/dozen organic, pasture raised eggs, all organic vegetables, pasture raised chickens, and grass fed beef. I believe in getting the majority of my nutrients from quality food. It might cost more, but it's also what I think is best for my body and the environment. (This is the philosophy I follow in regards to the rest of my life too, not just food.)
In just 2 months I've gotten into the best shape I've ever been. Never in my life did I think I'd have visible abs. While I've never been ashamed of my body, I've never been proud of it either. Now when I look in the mirror, I know that I worked hard for it and I am proud. I feel the healthiest inside and out more than ever.
This post became a lot longer than I anticipated, so if I missed anything feel free to leave any questions in the comments. Better yet, you can ask Gary on his facebook page and follow him on instagram for helpful exercise tips.