There’s a known psychological phenomenon called the Confirmation Bias. Basically it means that you tend to look for evidence to support what you already believe, and ignore things that contradict your beliefs. The more strongly held the belief, the less you’ll look for contradiction.
So why am I telling you this? Because it’s time I came out. This is a pretty tricky blog post to write, and it’s been going round and round in my head in various ways for a while. Apologies if I ramble, and for those of you who are used to my brevity you may want to go and make a cup of tea, but here goes.
I was wrong. There, I said it. I was wrong but now I know better and I’m changing.
I lost 28kg last year and the year before by restricting my calories to 1200 per day and exercising most days. It worked. My body shrank, I went from a non-exerciser to running a half marathon and doing triathlons, I fitted into a size 12 most days and a 10 on a good day, and my body fat percentage decreased massively.
People kept saying to me “you must feel so much better!” I’d smile and nod and say “yes, I do!” But you know what? That was actually bullshit. I felt the same. No, I felt sluggish. I did my workouts and then went home and slept. My hair fell out, my nails got spotty and my skin got dry. I was fuzzy in the head and just didn’t want to most of the time. But I had LOST WEIGHT! I felt awesome, didn’t I? I dunno, if this was what it was supposed to feel like it just all felt wrong.
I’d stopped losing weight. My solution to that was to try harder. Eat the “right” 1200 calories and exercise the “right” way and my body would continue to drop weight, right? Obviously I was doing it all wrong. I was still only at the upper end of my healthy BMI.
And the restriction! Low fat this, sugar free that. Saturated fats and sugar are the devil incarnate, and if they don’t kill you you still shouldn’t eat them because they take up too many of your precious precious 1200 daily calories.
So one day I was randomly cruising the internet, researching nutritional information as you do. Did I mention a large part of my waking non-working non-studying mental time was spent thinking about what I had eaten, what I was going to eat and what I “couldn’t” eat? Yeah, fun. And I found GoKaleo. Actually, you know what? I found it when I was searching for the perfect “Green Smoothie”, which for the uninitiated is a particularly tasteless and bitter concoction of blended green vegetables, intended to give you a concentrated hit of nutrients without using too many of the precious precious calories.
I read. And I read. And I read more. Initially with skepticism – eat my total daily energy expenditure to maintain my metabolism? Yeah, right. Obviously this chick didn’t realise that my TDEE was usually over 3000 calories a day. Obviously I’m the exception to that rule.
And stop exercising while your body “heals” from massive undernutrition? Pigs bum.
And what was this shit about eating disorders? I eat healthy. Quite clearly Amber, the page’s author, was a particular version of insane.
But something started to niggle, and I did more research, and I found my thinking gradually but quite clearly swinging in a very different direction.
So here’s what I’ve learned. In a nutshell.
- Restricting your intake to less than the amount needed to keep a comatose 18 year old girl alive does not do your metabolism any favours.
- When you exercise you need to fuel your body. The more exercise, the more fuel. Exercise isn’t a punishment for eating the “wrong” foods, it’s a way to maintain your body’s health.
- Eating less than your basal metabolic rate will destroy your metabolism. Your body will shut down and stop losing. Then when you eat more, it will hang onto Every. Little. Bit. that you give it. It’s in full on panic mode! It doesn’t know when you’re going to feed it properly again. That’s why 95-98% of people (depending on which study you read) who lose weight regain it within 2 years.
- There are no bad foods. There are foods that nourish and nurture your body better than others. But eating “bad” foods? No such thing.
- Exercise is supposed to be something that you enjoy and that makes you feel good. Don’t do weights/cardio/Crossfit/swimming/yoga/whatever because it’s the latest and greatest, do it because you LOVE it!
So here’s what I’m doing now. I’m eating the food! And lifting the things, and running and swimming and cycling. The net result so far is I am HEALING! My metabolism is running faster than it ever has, and I know this because I feel healthier than I ever have. Ever. Oh, and there’s the little issue of an appropriate amount of fat and calories leading to hormonal stabilisation, which apparently is good for the libido. Or so I’ve found…
Right now, I’m in healing mode. I’m pretty sure I’m nearly done with that, and I will be able to start getting rid of my excess fat that’s still attached to my hips. But how I will do that will be to build muscle by lifting heavy shit and EATING (are we seeing a pattern yet?), and by eating a slight restriction of 300-500 calories a day under my TDEE, which means I will still be eating 2500 – 2800 calories a day. Unless I do a really big workout, like a 100km bike ride or something, in which case I’ll eat MORE FOOD! Sacrilege, I know. I’ve put on weight. I’m 10kg heavier than my restricted lowest weight, and that’s now stopped, which hopefully means my metabolism has healed and I’m maintaining, and now I can work with what I’ve got.
As a poster child for calorie restricted weight loss coming out like this is difficult. I was wrong, and by definition I’m saying most of my friends are wrong. I’m never going to come over all evangelical, this blog is the one outlet where I’ll actually talk about this, and in real life I’ll just do what I need to. But I will no longer hide what I’m doing.
My clothes are a bit tight, but I can eat icecream, my hair is glossy and thick and I have energy to do things! I feel as awesome as I should have felt when I lost weight. Now I’m working on creating the best body I can. I went a bit FINGER UP FUCK YOU UNIVERSE initially, and did the whole shebang, including a dose of KFC. Bad idea as it turns out. Apparently even in the “I can eat anything I want!” universe, my body doesn’t like KFC. But now I know that for sure and I’m not just restricting it to prove a point.
Oh, and the “I don’t have an eating disorder” thing? Yeah, according to the DSM-IV, I put on weight initially due to a binge eating disorder, and lost it with a bad case of orthorexia. And judgementalism, for which I apologise profusely.
Amber’s Facebook group is here. Feel free to come and hang out if you like.