MY LIFESTYLE IS NOT MY DIET: HOW I FOUND FOOD FREEDOM & A STROLL THROUGH MY INSTAGRAM
My diet was certainly not nutritious pre-Tone It Up.
To recap: Pastries. Chicken strips and fries. Tacos and pizza and sushi with extra spicy mayo. Dessert every night. I felt lethargic. My digestion was wack. And I certainly was not happy with the way I moved or looked. Constantly I would tell myself that I had: tomorrow, Monday, next week, next month, this year… someday. I’d start running. I’d start working out.
I tried Advocare. I lost weight. I stopped drinking meal replacement shakes and the weight came back. I lost weight from stress and anxiety. I kept it off for my wedding. My habits didn’t change and the weight came back. But again… tomorrow, Monday, next week.
Then, I found Tone It Up. I became a Nutrition Plan member in February of 2016. I bought a bunch of ingredients that were unfamiliar to me and I tried to meal plan by myself. I failed miserably. However, I kept seeing announcements about the Tone It Up Bikini Series. A group challenge with ways to stay accountable?
April 2016: Following a Meal Plan
Count me in. The Tone It Up Bikini Series sounded like exactly what I needed. I made my @kp_tiu_Instagram account, found some buddies, and documented everything I ate and exactly how I moved my body. My diet quickly became very nutrient-dense. I immediately lost 9 pounds in the first week of Tone It Up – however Science KP emerged at this point because I said in my Instagram post, “Going to add a little more fuel into my day but I think most of that is water weight.” Good job, KP.
I followed the Nutrition Plan almost exactly as written for seven months. I did my Tone It Up Bootycall (aka a fasted morning workout) and ate some lean protein and carbohydrates afterward. I became obsessed with protein pancakes. I had “M2” through “M4” as directed by the Nutrition Plan, and I kept it “Lean, Clean, & Green” for dinner. I avoided starches at dinner. I ate small, frequent meals because I was told that would increase my metabolism. I tried new foods. I experimented with new recipes. And I found that eating fresh, whole foods could be extremely delicious.
While my diet was very nutrient-dense while following the Nutrition Plan, it certainly was not calorie-dense. I swapped as many treats for “TIU-approved” substitutes. I packed five frozen Perfect Fit waffles and six grapefruits in my carry-on to a conference in Dallas so I could attempt the 7 Day Slimdown. Plot twist: I just ate super clean and meal prepped for a work trip. Lulz
I turned 26 and I made Perfect Fit birthday cupcakes. I shared them with my family and their reaction?
“This is not a cupcake. Dude, it’s your birthday.”
Truth be told… they were pretty gross. And definitely not a cupcake. This pancake was not a cupcake either.
I later went a little overboard on bread and ice cream cake because the first bite of it was like the flood gates opening up. Binges happened here and there during that seven months. I attended a coworker’s bridal shower and while I had great plans to keep my intake “TIU-approved,” I ended up eating and snacking during the entire shower… and then drove home and got a drive-thru cheeseburger and fries for dinner. I said, “F*** it. Today’s ruined anyway.” The deprivation led to a binge. The next day, I jumped back into my TIU routine but certainly felt awful from the quantity and quality of food I had eaten.
October 2016: Tracking Macros and Eating Only “Good Foods”
I began experimenting with my own recipes and somewhere along the line thought, “Huh. I wonder if I’m getting enough protein to recover from all these workouts.” I thought back to what I had learned in my undergrad about nutrition and decided that maybe I should apply some of that to myself. I started incorporating protein into all of my meals and snacks. Then I started independently tracking protein, and I noticed results. I was getting lean. I was making progress in my workouts. I was able to increase the weights I was using in the Tone It Up videos. I was still following the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan though, because I thought that I would only feel good if I were eating “Lean, Clean, & Green” 24/7, 365. I made Thanksgiving for my family. My menu? Turkey, cauliflower-parsnip mash, Tone It Up sweet potato casserole, and roasted green beans. It was awesome. But where the heck was the mashed potatoes?!
Moving along… not only did my gym offer some pretty awesome personal trainers, but also an on-site Registered Dietitian (both were not included in my gym membership, I’m going to point out). I started seeing Eric the Dietitian and I told him that I wanted to gain muscle. He looked at the intake that I had been tracking for about a month and was impressed with the quality of foods that I was eating. We decided that tracking macros would be an easy, objective, evidence-based method of fueling my training and helping me achieve my goals. My weight was hovering around 146 pounds at that point in time (an all-time low for me!). We decided that I would try to drop to 140 pounds and then focus solely on muscle gain with a goal of reaching a lean 150 pounds, the “ideal weight” for my 5’9” frame. I repeat: the initial goal was to drop about six pounds. Eric the Dietitian set an initial daily calorie goal of about 200 calories more than what I had been eating.
I was skeptical, but I also wasn’t going to turn down eating more food. I would see how it worked for a week and go from there. A week passed. I lost weight. It took me around a month to lose those six pounds. Once that happened, Eric the Dietitian made regular increases to my macros. It was definitely an adjustment period as my body acclimated to eating more food. I quickly learned that I needed to consider how much fiber I was eating in order to be kind to my digestive system.
Over the next few months, I continued to lose weight. My body was loving the extra fuel and my metabolism skyrocketed. By January 2016, I hit an all-time low weight of 136 pounds. I felt very skinny and I knew I wanted to grow some curves.
Over the next several months, my food intake increased by 1,300 calories per day. I meticulously tracked my macros and hit my numbers by the exact gram, even if it meant having 87 grams of blueberries and 23 grams of avocado. I continued to generally follow the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan guidelines, but I began to learn that a lot of it was bro science. For example,
- You can eat carbs after lunchtime (Katayose et al., 2009; Sofer et al., 2011, 2013; Sofer, Eliraz, Madar, & Froy, 2015)
- Fasted workouts have no significant benefit over non-fasted workouts (B. Schoenfeld, 2017; B. J. Schoenfeld, Aragon, Wilborn, Krieger, & Sonmez, 2014; Vilaca-Alves et al., 2018)
- More frequent meals do not increase your metabolism (La Bounty et al., 2011)
- Whey protein is not bad for you (Bergia, Hudson, & Campbell, 2018; Miller, Alexander, & Perez, 2014; Swiatecka, Zlotkowska, Markiewicz, Szyc, & Wroblewska, 2017; Wirunsawanya, Upala, Jaruvongvanich, & Sanguankeo, 2018)
- Excessive restriction and deprivation can lead to more frequent binges (Andres & Saldana, 2014; Holmes, Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, Skouteris, & Broadbent, 2014; Polivy, 1996)
That being said, I still spent a great deal of time every single night doing “food math,” pre-planning my meals, calculating my macros for the next day, and then packing at least four meals/snacks to get me through the workday. The time that I was no longer spending working out was spent trying to reinvent the wheel every day and prevent boredom with my meals. I was having fun with my food while I was eating and cooking, but I was a little stressed planning my meals because I felt that I needed to eat only certain foods that I considered to be “healthy.” I wasn’t going out to eat and when I did, it was only because I had a very good idea of the macronutrient composition of the foods that I was eating (aka I brought a travel scale with me so I knew exactly how much sashimi was on my plate). And yet, I would justify my choices with #balance because I felt like I would get judged for my decisions despite knowing that the food “fit” within my day.
Pre-planning all of my meals allowed me to be consistent with my results in my aesthetic and performance goals. I was gaining muscle and continuing to lose fat. I was ecstatic in the moment. I had no reason to stop what I was doing because it was working for me. The entire time, my methods were being praised by people on Instagram. People were astounded by my “discipline” and how I was working so hard to achieve my goals.
But I was definitely challenged. In summer of 2017, I had several trips planned. I couldn’t have control over my intake. I knew this would be an exercise in my ability to be flexible.
Summer 2017: Finding Food Freedom
In June of 2017, I celebrated my best friend’s bachelorette party in Chicago. I knew protein would be hard to hit. I brought lots of “TIU-approved” snacks, but told myself that I could enjoy an occasional treat or two. Yet, I binged hard. Hard. I drank my fair share of alcohol, which for this non-partier, was a big deal. I left Chicago feeling awful, but I got back to my routine once I returned home.
In July of 2017, I spent a week in Charleston, South Carolina while completing my first learning intensive of my PhD program. I was set on not repeating Chicago. I didn’t want to binge on anything. I wanted to find a happy place where I could enjoy an assortment of food. I debated my options:
- Live in a hotel for a week and wing it
- Reserve a room in an extended stay hotel and cook all of my meals
- Find a meal prep service and microwave all of my meals
- Order the modified version of every meal to keep it as “clean” as possible
Smart KP took over here. Pre-Tone It Up, my favorite part of traveling was experiencing the culture of a new city through food. I choose to live life with minimal regret. Option A was my only choice. While I could have easily ordered grilled chicken or fish, steamed vegetables, or “plain, no oil” everything at every restaurant I visited in Charleston, that would have been a whole lot of “no fun.” Regret would have been seeing the amazing cuisine that Charleston has to offer, being right on the ocean, and choosing to avoid it.
Did I track? Heck yes. My reason behind tracking macros had always revolved around my gym performance and results. Was I lifting while in Charleston? Absolutely. And I had plans to test my 1RMs at the end of that program so fuel was very important. Here’s how I found a happy place with nutrition while in Charleston:
- I tracked breakfast and lunch, since I prepared these in my hotel room with groceries that I bought to save money
- I tracked whatever snacks I decided to have that day
- I tracked my post-workout recovery smoothies that I whipped up using an immersion blender (still think this was one of my greatest ideas for my post-workout recovery)
- I allowed myself to enjoy “fun food” at dinner, including the occasional treat
- I did not have dessert every day, but I did not avoid treats either. I had gelato one day. Ice cream one night. Two alcoholic drinks throughout the entire week. If I didn’t want a treat, I didn’t have a treat. I didn’t binge. I didn’t go nuts. I listened to my body and my cravings.
I left Charleston feeling proud that I had found a happy place with nutrition. I still felt energized (although that might have been the high of beginning my PhD program). I felt less stressed about date nights, girls’ nights, family dinners, and spontaneous meals out-of-the-house. I later traveled to Tampa in August of 2017 and felt the same “happy place” in my nutrition in wedding cake, Butterbeer, vegetables and salads, and egg white oats in the microwave. And yes, I was still lifting. But I was also having a lot of fun.
“But wait. How did increased flexibility and less precision impact your performance and aesthetic goals? And KP, what do you mean by “happy place?”
First question: It didn’t. I am holistically healthier because I am not limiting myself or considering foods “good” or “bad.” I’m not demonizing foods. If I want a bowl of soup, I’m going to eat a bowl of soup (even if I have no concept of the serving size or ingredients). If I want to go on an ice cream date with my husband, I’m going on an ice cream date with my husband (and I’m getting a pup cup for Duke, too!). If I don’t want to track or if I don’t hit my numbers, it’s fine. I don’t do cheat days and I don’t restrict myself from things that I enjoy. Performance-wise? I lift some big numbers the day after a bowl of froyo or after a day with “clean ingredients.” And I still have muscle and feel confident in my skin.
Happy place. Population: KP. My happy place is:
- Eating carbs whenever the hell I want
- Knowing that I don’t have to be depleted of energy during a workout by training fasted
- Collaborating on a pizza at my favorite restaurant – and eating it (Marquee Pizzeria: June 2018)!
- Knowing that cauliflower is not the same thing as mashed potatoes and cauliflower pizza is not the same as actual, doughy pizza
- Not having to make every single meal at home because what PhD student actually has time for that every. single. day?!
- Not packing meals to bring to family dinners and enjoying my dad’s home cookin’
- Having a treat every single day, if I want it. Also not wanting a treat and honoring that
- Knowing that there are no “good foods” and no “bad foods” – and eating foods that certain lifestyles deem as “bad” does not make me a bad person
- Realizing that there is no morality behind food
- Not feeling obligated to keep up with a lifestyle that does not support my happiness, performance, and goals
- Knowing that if my day isn’t “perfect” nutritionally, I will be okay and I won’t gain 55 pounds back immediately
- Eating foods that make me feel good and avoiding foods that make me feel shitty and that is how I decide what to eat, not whether foods are inherently “good” or “bad”
- Tracking my day as I go, pre-planning my day if I have a big lift, or saying f*** it and not tracking at all – each option is okay!
- Not spending hours trying to “perfect” my macros with zero carbs, fats, and protein remaining at the end of the day while being creative with my meals at the same time
- Understanding that right now I am tracking macros still and eating for gym performance – and that this is still technically a diet – but my diet is not my entire lifestyle anymore
- Understanding that tracking macros is not something that I want to do forever but is currently the place where I know my digestion is on point, my lifts are smooth, I feel hella strong, and I’m happy
I’m sure I will learn a hell of a lot more along the way. But this is my story. This is what I’ve learned. This is much more sustainable than eating a protein cupcake on my birthday. If it’s my birthday, I’m going to have cake and eat it too.
For more articles by KP be sure to head over to her website and check out her blogs HERE. For the complete list of references and sources used in the article click HERE to be redirected to the original post.
If you enjoyed this ambassador article then also check out our ambassador Sabine's blog on Feed Your Fuel.