Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Bean Counter Within....

About 5 years ago (wow time flies…) that I met a woman I worked with who was a big body builder. She wasn’t the big hulky kind you’d instantly think of, but a much more svelte “fitness” model type of builder. At the time I had been working off some relational weight, and was looking to do more than just an occasional run at South Mountain, so she took me under her wing.

I was introduced to Mr. Senior Universe, who after flatteringly guessing my weight was about 20 lbs less than what I was carrying around, agreed to train me. I worked with him for an hour 3 days a week, and also did cardio 5 days a week. At this point, because I was still having hip issues, I did most of my “running” on an elliptical machine.

Working with Mr. Universe was great. He was positive, he pushed me, he laughed with me, and he was willing to get up at the obscene hour of 3am to train me. He also fixed my hip – and even now it doesn’t cause me any problems. Part of his program however was a specific diet sheet which I was expected to follow to the letter (of course he let me substitute chicken for salmon, and pork chops for steak, and red potatoes for sweet potatoes… and carrots for bean sprouts… etc.) Initially, the diet sheet worked well. I was following it to the letter, because I trusted Mr. Universe, and I was seeing results. When I say to the letter, I mean actually weighing my chicken, counting out pretzels, packaging exactly a ½ cup of brown rice. I even counted out the number of almonds that I would put in my snack pack. I became the Bean Counter.

At some point during my training – about 6 months in – I hit a plateau. I sat at 144 lbs for weeks and weeks, and it got so frustrating that even Mr. Universe was getting frustrated. At first he started questioning my dieting. Then he said do cardio for 6 days a week. Then he mentioned cutting my caloric intake a little more. Finally he said that as long as my body fat percentage was continuing to change (which it was) than my weight didn’t matter, and he stopped weighing me all together. The scale won.

Unfortunately I had learned my lessons too well. I had cut my caloric intake to about 1,000 calories a day, and I was starting to feel the effects. I was starting to get shaky and dizzy whenever I tried to do anything other than sleep.

I eventually went to the doctor because I had a sore throat. It felt the same as a bad ear infection (I’ve had so many ear infections in my life that I can’t feel them until they spread to my throat) so I asked the doc for antibiotics to clear it up. She said that she saw some redness, but not infection, and thought I might have allergies – which I vehemently disagreed with. Two weeks later, I was back at the doc, this time because my throat was so swollen that I was having a hard time breathing, and there were little white flecks on my throat. They took a streppe test that came back negative, and then they took a mono test that turned out positive. The consensus? I had worked myself into the ground – the doc said it was the worst case she had ever seen. As she was explaining to me that I needed to sleep – not just rest, but SLEEP, for 4 – 6 weeks, and that she would support me actually filing a short term disability request from my work, my head started to spin. The first question I asked?

Well I can keep working out right?

She looked at me like I had just grown three heads. She ignored my question, filled out the paperwork, sent me home, and told me to come see her in 4 weeks. It took 8 weeks before I could get out of bed. I missed the entire months of November and December.

The end result? I worked out hard and dieted hard for almost a year. During that time I lost 40 lbs, 15% of my body fat, and eventually my endurance and my health. At the end of the 8 weeks of sleep, I had gained all of the weight back (thanks to Love’s icecream concoctions to try to get some calories down my swollen throat) and just getting to the mailbox and back required about 3 hours of recovery sleep. It took me two years to be able to get back into the gym consistently, and another two years to develop a program that would keep me from getting sick by pushing myself too hard. I have never recovered my natural vitality from what I did to myself.

Over the last five years I have found a way to make it work – to work out, to get adequate sleep, to actively recover. There is one piece that I have refused to look at, however, and that is the nutrition. I blame the lack of caloric intake on my demise. My memories of that time are mostly of feeling hungry, exhausted, dizzy, and shaky. I also remember being a clock-watcher 24 hours a day – and hating myself for it. “15 minutes until my cardio is done”, “10 minutes until I can eat a snack”, “1 hour until dinner”. I hated that feeling of constantly being hungry. So I’ve refused to even look at what I’m eating in any way other than enjoying the fact that I’m not hungry, and that my food tastes good.

I’m getting to a point in my training, however, where potato chips and oreo’s are just not going to be adequate fuel for me to get through the 90+ minute workouts. I’m risking injury by not giving my body the right (or enough) nutrients to keep me going. Plus, I can’t help but notice that I’m doing hard workouts, and the weight is staying right where it is. After a long talk with Love about my long term goals and desires as a triathlete, I’ve decided to start compiling a food log, so that in a month or so, I can work with a nutritionalist on determining how I can effectively fuel my body.

This is not a diet. My goal is not to be a size 4. I am not looking to be skinnier. I am not going to start weighing my chicken, and obsessively counting every calorie that I eat.

My goal is to continue to be healthy, happy, and fit. I want to be capable of finishing my workouts strong. I want to continue to enjoy the process of training. I want to present a nutritionalist with accurate information on who I am, and in an effort to maximize my training, not my measurements.

Am I afraid that I’m going to fall into the obsessive bean counter role? Absolutely. But I know that I’ve tried this and failed miserably before, and I survived it. I have no need to fear the possibility of success. I am not afraid of my goals, as long as I keep my focus on the right reasons to do this. I will continue to strive to achieve MY goals, and not succumb to internal or external pressures.

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