Hi! My name is Rachel and I used to have an eating disorder.
So, that kind of ruined dieting for me. I mean, just like every other young female, runner, athlete, consumer of pop-culture whatever, muddling along in mainstream America, I’m affected by the desire to be thin. But even though my thoughts occasionally wander back to that place, my body never will. I go from zero to hangry in no time flat. Trying to fall asleep with an empty belly makes my palms sweat and my head swim. When I cut calories – intentional or unintentional – I catch every cold and flu within a 10-mile radius, and end up in bed until the equilibrium is restored. I think my metabolism has PTSD.
On the other hand, I love the feeling of being lean, strong, and fast. After college, I took 6 months off of running to heal a femoral stress fracture. During that time, I strove to correct all my nutritional deficiencies, to make sure my healing body had enough resources to work with. And of course, once the healing was complete, I felt kinda chubby. I also started working as a nurse, pulling 12-hour shifts and working overnight. Between healing and working, I felt like I was making a lot of lifestyle-adjustments. Learning to adjust – that’s life. Ironically, the thing about eating disorders is that they’re coping mechanisms. When things are busy and all you want is to just get things right, it’s easy fall back into the trap of craving weight-loss, to believe that how you lose weight doesn’t matter
The purpose of this post is to celebrate the navigation of change without using food as a crutch. I also want to both share and make fun of my dietary experiments in the quest for a return to a lean-mean-physique, and address in all solemnity the reality of weight management for athletes. Hell if I’m the only athlete who’s ever wanted to lose a bit of weight without messing with her health! The wonderful and frustrating part of this whole experience is that as I’ve already burned the bridge to restriction/starvation, that was never an option. Nope nope nope.
First off, ye struggling runner, getcher blood-work done. D is for deficient, According to my doctor, most North Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, a hormone synthesized by the skin during sun exposure. Unfortunately, peak exposure times are between 10 am and 2 pm, when most of us are inside workin.’ If you can, take outside for lunch, and talk to your doctor about supplementing with dietary D3. Vitamin D3, alias cholecalciferol, is vital to calcium absorption, immune function, and a bunch of other important metabolic processes. The takeaway: without enough D, your body is achy, sluggish, sickly, and generally don’t work good.
Second, the quick fix is a LIE!!! None ‘o this “Lose 10 Pounds in 2 Weeks,” “Eat This Food to Shrink Belly Fat,” “10 Pounds in 10 Days” bullshit. Instead, be sneaky. Small changes that you can build upon and sustain are the way to go. Anything that your body perceives as chonically stressful will only jack up your cortisol and cause your body to become stingy with its energy reserves. Note: this is account is a specifically female experience. I’m a healthy young woman quibbling about 5-10 pounds. It is my understanding that larger weight-loss goals sometimes can sustain more drastic interventions. Similarly, dudes have it different. They aren’t programmed to pad up the boobs and butt, or grow babies. They lose weight easier and quicker. It ain’t fair, and that’s that. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
If you are vegetarian, evaluate your reasons for being one, as it takes a bit of work to avoid deficiencies. Not impossible, and not easy. I operate better as an omnivore, partly because I’ve spent enough time meal-planning and calorie-counting to last the rest of my life. That’s just me. There was also a thrilling moment at the doctor’s office when I was told to stop taking my iron supplements because I was already in the high end of normal. That never happened as a vegetarian. I think one of the reasons weight-conscious people go vegetarian is because it’s generally associated with lower calorie options. Keep in mind that cutting out entire food groups can narrow the nutrient profile of your diet, and that deficiencies cause lethargy and slowed metabolism. I’m able to eat ‘healthier’ as an omnivore, especially when I eat a lot of veggies with my meat. Call me a meat-eating vegetarian.
Every thought about trying paleo/HFLC (high-fat-low-carb) just for the hell of it because you haven’t yet and it might help you get fitter/healthier/thinner? I did!
What do you know, eating more protein and fat than carbohydrate suppresses sugar cravings, although when taken to something of an extreme, it makes working out pretty unpleasant. The first couple of days felt pretty funky: light-headed, not exactly painful or unpleasant, although the GI issues I could have done without. I only did this for about a month, but I think it helped me become more aware of what a balanced diet looks like, in the long run. My diet has been disproportionately grain-based in the past, and this helped me realize that I can live off things that aren’t bread, rice, or pasta. I’ve also really started appreciating the satiety value of animal protein/fat. Vegetarianism is great for people who enjoy eating more food, but I’d rather just feel full already so I can move on with my day. Being vegetarian, I was hungry more often – probably because I was chronically short on some vitamin or mineral, or just calories in general – and yet I never lost those “last 5 pounds.”
I’ve had more success thinking in terms of nutrient profiles instead of calorie counts. For example, I’ve noticeably cut down on is flour, not because it’s a carb, but because the bleaching/refining/enriching process comes up pretty shady in my book. Even whole-wheat flour goes through the genetic monoculture and industrial-processing wringer. Nothing to avoid like the plague, just to ingest in moderation. I eat more fat than I used to, because as a high-energy expender, I’ve come to see it a nutritious condiment, and not the devil. I mean, a serving of cheese is up to 30% of your daily calcium!
Speaking of mineral jackpots, 1/4 cup of canned clams have upwards of 20% of your iron requirement, and 15+ grams of protein. That’s way more efficient than all the rice and beans you’d have to eat! By the way, clams are sustainable little sea-morsels, and can be mixed with soups and meat-sauces pretty discretely.
That pretty much sums up my revolutionary approach to dieting, which is to say, eat to amend deficiencies. If you aren’t deficient or overweight, then you’re doing it right. Aside from keeping the processed food in check, eat what looks good to you. Let it be rich in color and flavor.
Weight loss, of course, is more than a matter of just eating well. I spent months trying to cultivate a slight calorie deficit – and my workouts sure felt like I was doing it – but nothing changed about the way I looked. You know what did work? Yoga. Calming down. Taking an entire hour to follow my breathing, let go of anxieties, and exist in peace. Writing. Getting wrapped up in the joy of exploring my own ideas, instead of stressing about what to have for lunch. I started telling myself: “live like you only have 5 years left to live.” It’s so liberating. It gives me permission to let go of the little things. To free up space for the things that I truly care about. And as a pleasant side-effect, I don’t spend so much time thinking about food. I’ve lost a couple of pounds, but that isn’t really the point.
I am not a doctor, or a dietician. I am a registered nurse, a certified personal trainer, and a yoga teacher. I speak to own my experiences, recognizing that they are by no means universal, and offering them anyway to the ridicule of social media.