What’s on the guilt-free menu tonight!?

I have been following a flexible dieting approach to my diet for about 18 months and it’s never going to change!  After years and years of battling with food, self-esteem issues because of my weight and constantly losing and regaining weight, I have found my magic bullet.  And it is anything but that in reality…it’s really about the consistency with which I have applied it.

I have checked into My Fitness Pal every day for 585 days in a row and probably tracked for 580 of those days.  Yup, there has been the occasional day when I haven’t recorded the minutia of my daily intake and I am totally relaxed about that.  Unlike people may think I am not obsessed with my food tracking, it is simply something that I do to keep me from overeating and slipping back into my old habits when it comes to my diet.

This DOES NOT mean that I have been on a diet for 585 days.  After losing about 30 kgs over the course of about a year I decided to carry on tracking my food in order to keep  myself accountable when it comes to how much I eat.  The reason being that even at a much lower bodyweight I really do still want to eat…A LOT!  I feel like I am always hungry and in order to not go back to my starting weight of 101kgs,  I use calorie counting as a way of being accountable to myself and yet giving myself some semblance of freedom in which to nourish my body.

At the moment I am wanting to lose a few kilograms and because of that I am going to be focusing on a deficit intake of 1,600 calories/day, probably with one or two days at 2,000 calories.  I have an event in November that I want to look kick ass for, but since January I have eaten more at my maintenance calories than I have at a deficit.  So just because I am tracking my calories and macros doesn’t mean that I am dieting.  I LOVE food and we eat lots of it.  And the the upside of calorie counting is that the eating I do is GUILT-FREE eating.  Something which I NEVER imagined could ever be possible, especially in this lifetime.

I adhere to the idea that 80% of the food that I eat is nutrient-dense; whole food with lots of salads, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats and lean meats.  I have made really good friends with the trusty potato (who I feel has been given a very bad wrap over the years) and love all sorts of food which I would previously have seen as bad and not to be put into my body.  I eat homemade pizza on a regular basis because all the ingredients are weighed and measured and I can control the calories by knowing what’s going onto my plate and into my mouth!

Because the majority of the food that I eat is whole food, cooked in my very own kitchen, there is space for some of the other stuff so many people consider to be bad and unhealthy.  How can the bliss that a couple of squares of dark chocolate or a few fruit pastilles be considered bad for me!?  I mean if I count it as part of my daily intake and don’t overdo it, whats the harm!?  Of course I am not eating 2,000 calories worth of high-calorie, low-nutrient food, but I am giving myself the space to enjoy it here and there rather than NEVER being allowed to consider the dessert menu.

Spending years on deprivation diets and not being allowed to eat so may things was much worse for me.  This “absolutely-not-allowed-under-any-circumstances” approach to food and certain food groups led to a really nasty food addiction and a tendency to regain all the weight that I had lost the minute I was off the latest diet that I had been on.  Not one professional I worked with ever got me to look at my relationship with myself and the way that I used food, and I was too deep in the denial to believe that food was in any way masking my unease with who I was.  It really wasn’t about how healthy or unhealthy the food choice was, but rather the emotions and reasons behind the eating that were toxic for my body and my mind.

Working with a coach who really got me to understand what food is all about was revolutionary to me.  Food is not evil!  Carbs are not the devil!  Chocolate is not bad for me!  Burgers don’t need to be on the banned list!  What I did need to learn was that it’s a complex interplay between myself and the world around me.  It’s not about eating the chocolate brownie as much as it’s about why I am eating the chocolate brownie.  I have learned to nourish my body through the food that we buy, cook and eat.  I no longer punish myself by depriving myself of bad food and pushing unwanted, but oh-so-healthy food down my throat.  Who in their right mind actually enjoys rubbery egg-white omelettes and endless lunched of steamed chicken and broccoli!?

I don’t cry about the boring food I am forced to eat when I am dieting anymore!  I do give a lot of thought to what to eat and how to best prepare our food in a way that doesn’t turn it into a calorie bomb.  I guess some people may consider calorie counting for so many days a little excessive, but for the first time since I was 13 I am able to enjoy food and not live in fear of the supermarket, kitchen and dinner table.  More than that I am able to eat out and not feel the need to choose the healthy option off the menu, because I understand that going slightly over on my calories on the odd occasion really isn’t the end of the world.  I guess I have cultivated a growth mindset of abundance when it comes to food.  Rather than depriving myself at every turn to stay at my “ideal” weight I have come to understand that one big, un-tracked meal in a restaurant or a friend’s dinner party is not going to be the nutritional undoing of me.

So I approach food with a far more joyful attitude these days.  I don’t dread eating out or going away for a few days, because I know that tomorrow is another day and that means I can tighten my eating plan and calories up a little if needed and not let things get out of hand.  That was my problem over so many years – the idea that I was either “on or off my diet”.  Being on a diet meant feeling deprived, miserable and pissed off.  While the opposite was to eat whatever I felt like whenever I felt like it, and still feeling miserable and pissed off with myself because of my lack of self-control and -discipline. Now I am far more responsible towards myself and approach food and meals from a present and grounded place.  I’d say I am responsive towards food rather than reactive.

I am not angry about what I should or shouldn’t eat.  If I really want to eat that delicious piece of cheesecake at the end of the meal (or instead of the meal), it’s my choice and I don’t feel like my choices are being forced onto me.  If I have a day when I eat too much then I simply balance it out with a day of lower caloric intake.  I never spend time and effort chastising myself for something  that I ate, especially since I probably really enjoyed it.  What’s the point!?  I know how to eat now and I know how to do it in a way that is sustainable and works for me.  Like I said the magic bullet…of consistency!

I’m not saying my way is the right way or the only way.  What I do know was that understanding what food is about has help me immensely in losing weight and keeping it off.  The minute I tell myself no, I seem to rebel against myself and go to the extreme.  So by giving myself choice and variety when it comes to food I am so much happier.  I have learned to respond so much better than ever before.  And it’s not just about food, but a lot of other areas where I used to be so much more reactive and self-defeating.  It’s a much healthier place for me to be than the place where I am constantly telling myself don’t, can’t, mustn’t, shouldn’t!

This place is more about me checking in with myself and finding out if it’s what I really want and need.  It’s about knowing and trusting that I have the skills and the tools to take care of myself.  It’s about being comfortable with colouring outside the lines when it comes to my eating and knowing that I won’t bounce back into my size 42 jeans in a weekend if I stay conscious and aware .

imagesI am writing this from a B&B in Calrens where I am spending a couple of days and I have enjoyed the delicious food that the little town in the Free State has to offer without worrying about whether or not I should be eating this or that.  It’s so freeing after years of feeling bad about eating the dessert or having a second cappuccino for the day.  I feel like I am getting to fully experience life without the crazy ideas I carried around about myself and food.  I am happier, healthier, stronger and more balanced than ever and that’s because of how I feel about myself and how I treat my body with kindness, love and allow myself to have a little fun when it comes to the food I eat.  So tonight I am going to enjoy my dinner and when I get back to Johannesburg tomorrow I’ll decide what needs to be done moving forward to the weekend.  I’m thinking before I start my deficit there’s going to be at least one pizza meal and maybe a piece of cheesecake at my favourite little bistro in Norwood.

 

Some Days I’d Rather Gargle Scorpions!

So I have been on my transformation journey for about 18 months, most of them spent working with Alex and there are some things that I have learned along the way.  I’ve started to master some of the basic concepts of sustainable weight- and fat-loss and strength training, and seen some nice changes in my body.  I have done things in the gym that I would never have imagined doing, like squats and dead lifts, and all sorts of hip thrust variations.  I’ve had good days, great days, bad days and positively crap days when it comes to my eating and training, and I have kept going forward.

I am sitting at home this morning nursing a slightly bruised body after falling down a small flight of stairs on Friday morning.  More like tumbling down them in a heap and smashing my phone in the process.  Ego and knees slightly bruised, body feeling sore and tender, and of course there were plenty of people around to witness it.  I never act out my clumsy in quiet streets or hallways, always saving this sort of thing for an concerned audience.  But that’s not what this post is about.  This post is about what it has really taken to get me to where I am in my process and how I deal with the little setbacks.

I really did have that feeling of wanting to be in the gym this weekend.  It’s when I get to have a training partner and share the time with someone which helps to motivate me and keep me accountable.  It’s that weekly dose of fitness connection that keeps me going through the week, focusing on the advice and information I have gained from working out with someone who is a lot more experienced and knowledgeable than I am.  It’s tricky for me to keep my motivation up when it comes to getting to the gym on a regular basis…even after more than a year I am still just going through the motions on certain days to get to the point where I am handing over my access card to the receptionist.  Wake up…drink coffee…check emails…put on gym clothes…make and pack lunch…remove self from house…get into car…drive to gym…hand over access card. Phew, I made it!!

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And then once in the space, I start to feel a trickle of motivation which builds as I move through my programme.   ACTION…MOTIVATION…INSPIRATION.  I keep thinking that maybe one day I’ll wake up and not be able to contain my excitement at the thought of going to the gym to do my workout.  But those days only strike occasionally.  The thing is that once I get to the gym then I am normally happy to be there, excited about my workout and willing to push myself to get the best out of the time I possibly can.  It’s just about getting there!  Okay, there is that occasional day when my energy is low and my body feels weak that I’d rather be chewing glass and gargling scorpions than attempting a set of RDLs, but those don’t happen to often, and are normally about stress and lack of sleep. I just find it so confounding that I still can’t simply get up, no mess, no fuss, and take myself to the gym.

ACTION…MOTIVATION…INSPIRATION. So instead of beating myself up about this resistance I have, I am trying to understand what it’s about.  The truth is that I am really happy with the way my body is starting to look.  I thought I wouldn’t like having a more muscly, toned body, but I do.  I like the feeling of being stronger and I definitely like being leaner.  So what is it about?  Maybe it’s just so many years of bad habits and fixed mindset that I just need to keep doing what I do?  Or perhaps it’s about reprogramming the way that I have felt about diet and exercise for thirty years!?  That instead of it being something loving and nourishing for my body, mind and spirit, I have seen it as punishment for overeating and being lazy.  A way of reprimanding myself for what I had done wrong when it came to food and exercise.

Eaten too much?  That’s 60 minutes on the treadmill!  Missed a workout?  That’s an extra 10 lengths of the pool!  Low energy workout on Saturday?  Double reps on Sunday!

I suppose I can hardly blame my brain for being a little adverse to the idea of going to the gym on a regular basis.  There are just not enough positive neural pathways associated with being there.  And then of course there are all those crazy autobiographical memories, associations and perceptions around food and how I used to punish myself mentally, emotionally and physically when I did something wrong!

Even as I write this post I am getting a better understanding on how many layers and years of negative behaviour, memory, habits, perceptions and associations I still have to cut through.  Of course I am constantly laying new neural pathways that are grounded in positive, self-loving actions, but I guess that it might take a little longer than just a year to get me to where I am bouncing out of bed in the semi-light of dawn to skip off to the gym.  What I am asking myself right now is how I can make it more of a fun experience so that there is more reward associated with the action?  Maybe it’s time for a couple of new workout tops so that I feel a little sexier when I get to the gym, rather than the raggedy old, far-too-big, tops I am wearing at the moment.  I am tracking my movement on a daily basis and that’s something that makes me feel accomplished and motivated, but there needs to be more positive associations.

So, maybe something as simple as a couple of new shirts and a decent workout bra will make me feel a little more inclined to take the actions that I take in the morning to get me there!?  The truth be told, I feel a little shopping coming on…and I’ll see how that makes me feel when I am getting ready to go and lift heavy stuff in the mornings.  I’ll let you know how it goes!  ACTION…MOTIVATION…INSPIRATION! 

 

The five most important lessons I have learned…from my food addiction.

0 (1)Looking at myself in the mirror or glancing down at my legs I hardly recognise myself at times, which is a weird experience.  Sometimes when I look at my jeans I wonder how I am ever going to get into that size 12 rather than the former size 16/18 I was wearing this time last year.  And even the 12s are getting a little big!?

Sometimes when I browse through the clothes stores (no shopping at the moment) I will look at a dress or outfit and wonder if they’ll have it in my size or if I’ll fit into it…and then remember that my body has shed almost sixty 500g blocks of butter in the past year, and of course I will!  Shopping has always been a horror experience for me, taking a range of clothes to the change room only to discover that even the size 18 is a little small in some part.  Avoiding full eye contact with my reflection because I was embarrassed by my own self…thinking that I was lazy and useless to not have been able to stick to yet another diet plan and lose the weight that had crept on over the previous 12 months or so.

One of my biggest realisations over the course of my process has been that a big part of my inability to successfully complete a programme comprised of a couple of elements:

  1. The diet was restrictive and unsustainable, eliminating whole food groups which I love (insert carbs here).
  2. The expectations I placed on myself about the results I was going to achieve and the time frame I was going to achieve them in were completely unrealistic.
  3. The mindset I had around nutrition and exercise where fixed, which resulted in seeing every little slip, scale gain and  plateau as a failure and a chance to give up.
  4.  I did not know how to create accountability around my process, because if I couldn’t get it “right” that must mean I was lazy and incapable.
  5. I just didn’t love myself enough to see it through to the end!

Nothing earth shattering there! And what a load of complete and utter BS!  I have come from the school of dieting that is all about getting on a diet and sticking to a diet until you have achieved the required results.  No erring!  No mistakes!  No excuses!  If you are following the plan/programme, sticking to the instructions and eating the food you are supposed to you WILL LOSE WEIGHT.  So if I was doing all that and wasn’t getting the required outcomes then I  must have been doing something wrong.

Often after a great start of weight loss, I would quickly plateau in my scale losses.  I would become disheartened and frustrated that nothing was changing, and when I would ask the programme leader, dietitian, nurse or facilitator I was working with what was going on they’d always answer with a raised eyebrow and something about “Sticking to the programme!”  These comments and attitudes would leave me feeling uncertain and then I would start to question myself…my will power…my inability to do it right…my frustration at feeling deprived and unhappy…and sure as anything I would  be throwing in the towel and back to my old ways!

My old ways included self-deprecation for being so useless, criticising myself for not being focused and motivated enough, considering myself a loser because I just couldn’t see anything through.  And back I’d go to eating for all the wrong reasons.  The problem with any sort of dysfunctional eating behaviour, is that abstinence is not an option!  Unlike substance abuse, we can’t simply give up eating.  So, I would abuse food in the same way that I abused alcohol.

Depriving myself of anything nourishing or healthy when it came to what I put in my body.  Hiding my eating habits from my family and friends, which included chronic binges that left me feeling sick, guilty and ashamed (not unlike the way I would abuse alcohol in my twenties and early thirties).  The Friday evening shopping ritual was like a visit to the bottle store, piling my trolley with the most highly palatable food I could find and the I’d isolate over the weekends and eat, to the point of physical sickness.  I wasn’t bulimic because it didn’t happen every weekend, and like with drinking I could go for days without being dysfunctional.  But then the urge would strike!

This usually happened when I had nothing planned for the weekend, and I was feeling lonely or excluded, I had not been taking care of my stress, or I was just feeling I needed a reward for a long, hard week.  I’d get home and unpack all the food onto my kitchen counter and plan how I was going to eat it.   How I would have a little of this and one of those, maybe a small bowl of ice cream and just a few of the potato chips.  And it would start of well enough, just like the first couple of drinks in the years gone by.  But then something would happen and my brain would take over, and I would be lost in a hopeless cycle.  I would tell myself that I was only going to have one more brownie and leave the rest for tomorrow, only to end up eating the whole pack and then feeling immensely weak and out of control.  And so it would go until the food was finished or it was all in the bottom of the toilet.

This pattern of eating really got intense over the last few years leading up to when I started to identify that I was actually dealing with a cross-addiction in my life.  As a coach working in the field of addiction recovery, it was an extremely difficult realisation to own that I was abusing food in the same way I had abused alcohol years previously.  I was no longer eating for enjoyment, nourishment or reward, I was eating to punish myself, to hide away and to release negative emotions.  The similarities were difficult to ignore and the consequences were just as negative.  Feelings of self-loathing, isolation, emotions ranging from helplessness to rage, guilt, shame and a tattered self-esteem.

Ever move I made I was conscious of how I hated my body.  I was unable to walk into a room without feeling like everyone was judging me for being fat and lazy, because I was unable to control myself and stick to a diet, lose some weight and get myself into a gym.  Every week I promised myself that I was going to make changes, only to end up slipping off to the kitchen to eat slices of cheese behind the half-closed fridge door!  Not that there was anyone to see me doing it.  It all felt so dark and secretive, so damaging and yet even with a set of tools and practices, I felt powerless to do anything about it.

The challenge with certain addictions though is that the only option is moderation management.  Learning a way of reducing the harm that I was doing to my body, mind and soul through this destructive behaviour, was going to be my only way out of it.  Learning a new set of habits, skills and behaviours that were supportive of change; long-term, sustainable change.  And then I reached out…and like with any recovery that was the beginning of finding my way forward.  I didn’t get the right support for me off the bat, but I did start to make changes.  But what I did get right is that I started to get honest!  I stopped talking about the food and I started addressing my intentions and underlying motivations around the way I used food.  Making changes to my narrative was an essential part of the process, and learning to listen to the quiet, gentle inner voice rather than the angry, destructive critical one became a turning point for me.

In September 2016 I had a real breakthrough with my personal coach when I started to explore how I spoke to myself, and it was there that the real change started to happen.  I wrote about this in my blog post “How Do You Speak to Yourself?” and that was the day that I realised that the only way I was going to move forward was to do something new and different.  Something that I hadn’t tried before…  And so began my real recovery into finding and loving myself.

And after 12 months what I have learned is this:

  1. An eating plan can be as inclusive and exciting as I choose it to be, with all the food groups, and yet healthy and sustainable.  Thank you Flexible Dieting!!
  2. The expectations I place on myself are controlled by me, and need to be realistic, achievable and self-loving; only then can I expect to achieve them.
  3. That if I embrace a growth mindset in my life, then everything becomes a learning and an opportunity for growth and development, and there is no beginning or end just the process I chose to follow.
  4. I have created accountability and support through allowing myself to be vulnerable and reach out, because there is no right or wrong, just finding a way that works for me.
  5. And my biggest learning has been that I am deserving of the love and attention that I give to myself.  That the choices I make are ones that nourish and fulfill my bod, mind and soul, and I am worthy of making those choices and loving myself!

My name is Leigh-Anne and I am a recovering food addict and a flexible dieting convert…

Stop Hating Carbs!

This blog was inspired by Zoe Nicholson’s recent article “Things to Consider When Giving Dietary Advice”.  In the post, she emphasises the idea that we are constantly being advised to stop eating certain foods and food types, in order to manage weight (as if it’s as easy as that!).  Sugar, bread or carbs in general are normally seen as the main culprits.  What is overlooked here is that we are not machines and to be physically healthy, we also need to be mentally and emotionally healthy.

She points out that if you have been advised to simply stop eating carbohydrates, this is really what is being said:

  • You can never eat out again freely or normally.
  • You can never travel overseas and taste the local cuisine.
  • You can’t celebrate special occasions that include certain foods like cake on birthdays and chocolate at Easter.
  • You are being asked to not fully partake in your life, while forsaking two basic human needs – the need for food and human connection.

Zoe continues to discuss the vital importance of human connection and socialisation that takes place around world.  She does end the post by acknowledging that there are individuals that suffer from true food allergies, Coeliac Disease and other conditions that do require complete avoidance of certain foods.  This is not the same as being advised to cut out a certain food or food group for reasons of weight loss.

Carrying on from here I’d like to say that if you’ve been given this advice, approach it with some serious critical thinking and cautious scepticism.  The reason for this is that we are constantly being exposed to marketing hype, exaggerations, half-truths, out-of-context information and even fabricated evidence, lies and complete bullshit!  Attention-seeking, influential celebrities with ulterior motives and mixed agendas should not be taken as the definitive word on the subject either.

Fear mongering makes headlines and the media are always delighted to be able to write about how something or other is killing us or making us fat!  Talking about eating less calories in order to lose weight is just not sensational enough.  We need to recognise this when we watch food documentaries, read articles or seek out information, which holds true for any topic, not just nutrition.

In the past, I fell for every new fad, book and documentary, and convincing celebrity expert or doctor, promising an amazing new approach to weight- or fat-loss and muscle gain.  Over the years I have excluded a variety of foods and food groups. I tried a number of restrictive diets and given up food that I love with the same outcome every time…I was more miserable, neurotic and paranoid about food, diet and nutrition than ever.  Without getting the results i was looking for.  Because as hard as I tried to get it “right” there was always someone coming up with new idea as to how I was going to gain weight, loss muscle, get sick and inevitably end up killing myself because of the food I was choosing to eat.  And that is how I ended up in a restaurant eating cauliflower base pizza…

However, there is hope!  There exists an objective, credible community of nutrition experts and scientists, that adhere to the rigors of scientific methodology.  A place where claims and evidence are checked and cross-checked.  A place where nothing is accepted at face value and everything about diet and nutrition is constantly being scrutinised in order to present solid, scientific information.  

They are not attention-seeking dietary zealots who preach fanatical nutritional ideologies.  They don’t endorse any single nutritional diet camp and could even be seen as nutritional agnostics, not preaching about the” miracles” of low carb, low GI, high protein, low fat, Atkins, Banting, Keto, etc.  They are only interested in the evidence that is uncovered by scientific research, and are not swayed by personal anecdote or cherry-picked studies.  

The science of nutrition can be extremely complicated and that’s why you need to rely on credible, objective sources that can filter the information for you.  I have been exploring the research for many years, from reliable and respected industry leaders and experts such as Drs John Beradi and Christa Scott-Dixon (Precision Nutrition), Eric Helms, Alan Aragon, Georgie Fear and Martin McDonald (Mac Nutrition), amongst others.  Here are a couple of links that are lists of the nutrition sources that you can trust and the ones that you should avoid!

ScienceAs a result of this I am able to support and assist my clients through my coaching, nutrition education and training experience, to achieve sustainable fat loss and/or muscle gain without resorting to quick fixes, fads and empty promises.