Okay, disclaimer- this is a topic that I could go on and on about, so I will try my best to keep this concise (edited to add- I lied. This is not concise.)
I want to get more into my personal experience, but I feel like I should give a little “101” level intro first for anyone who’s interested….So this may need to be broken into a couple of posts. (Sorry if you hate this kind of stuff!! Feel free to skip over…I do find this fascinating though! I think in my next life I might actually love a career in the fitness/nutrition realm.)
So, in 2015, I worked with an online trainer for about 6 months. Meaning, I paid for weekly workout routines (which I then did alone in the gym) and personalized nutrition guidance.
She was originally a registered nurse (woot woot!), a mom to a 5 year old (same age as Asher was approximately at the time, so she totally understood busy mom life), and also a personal trainer/nutrition certified with many years of experience. Oh, and by the way, she was also an IFBB bikini pro competitor. !!
Anyway, I was not exactly trying to “lose weight”, but I wasn’t 100% happy with my body, either. I had a few areas that I wanted to improve on. (In fitness world terms, I wanted to improve my body’s composition. i.e.- stay approximately around same weight, but with less fat/ more muscle. i.e. look better.)
A) Workouts: The workouts were 4-5 strength routines, split up by body part. Most took no more than about 45 minutes. She included links to instructional videos for anything I wasn’t familiar with.
Interestingly, she did NOT prescribe much, or any, cardio at first (besides light walking, for general activity and heart health). This may surprise some people, but endless cardio is actually not necessary to lose weight! (*gasp from the gym treadmill bunnies*.) She told me my main focus for exercise needed to be strength training, hands down, no ifs ands or buts about it.
I’d been more into running at the time, and she actually told me to limit runs to 2x/ week, no more than a few miles each. (Running makes you: a) hungry, causing some people to overeat as a result b) can burn off your muscle/ detract from your strength gains c) doesn’t actually burn that many calories, anyway, so not very efficient or effective for fat loss.)
*SIDE NOTE- I know there are some hard core runners who read this blog. I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t run! If you love running, and it makes you feel good, by all means RUN to your heart’s content!! I’m just sharing what she told me.*
I’d been consistently lifting weights on my own for a year or so by then.
(Another note- I learned a lot of what I know by watching YouTube videos, reading (quality) Instagram posts + books+ blog posts about strength training and listening to fitness podcasts. I ended up following/ connecting with some amazing qualified trainers and (PhD level) exercise scientists who were a true wealth of knowledge. I basically researched the heck out of this- I wasn’t born knowing how to lift weights, either.)
Overall I was on the right track there, but my nutrition was definitely holding me back from really seeing full results from my efforts in the gym.
B) Nutrition: Namely, I was eating WAY too many carbs/ sugar/ processed foods, my protein intake was pathetic and my calorie intake was all over the place. Protein is soooooooo important for muscle growth (or even just retention, if you’re not actively trying to gain muscle.)
I needed some help learning how to eat properly to fuel my goals. Even more than that, I needed the accountability of someone monitoring me. (upholder turned obliger?? 🤔)
My trainer set me up with personalized “macros” (macronutrients).
This just means a prescribed amount of protein, fat and carbohydrate grams to eat each day. (Macros naturally make up all foods. Everything you eat has macronutrients- everything contains some combination of those three things. Check out a nutrition label and you’ll see this.)
The macronutrients then ultimately equal the calorie total of that food.
- carbs= 4 calories/ gram
- protein= 4 calories/gram
- fat= 9 calories/gram
Using my 150 calorie “Simply Nature- Oats and Flax” oatmeal packet as an example, it has:
- 29 g carbs = (29 g x 4 calories =116 calories)
- 4 g protein= (4 g x 4 calories= 16 calories
- 2 g fat= (2 g x 9 calories= 18 calories)
- TOTAL = 116 + 16 + 18 = 150
There you have it. If you know the macros in something, you can figure out how many calories it contains. It’s really all very simple- just math.
(This whole concept/ “dieting plan” is also known as IIFYM, or If It Fits Your Macros. The main idea is that you can eat whatever you want! No food is off limits- so long as it fits your macros for the day. Read more here. Many people love the freedom and flexibility it allows. Also, it’s essentially guaranteed to work- it’s literally just a scientific formula. Our bodies are very complex, but they are still just mostly a machine. They can be manipulated pretty manner-of-factly, with the right knowledge (and consistency). It’s just science.)
In order to lose fat, you usually have to be in a caloric deficit. At least for a little while. (Caloric deficit= consuming fewer calories than your body expends.)
Important distinction- I hate the term “lose weight”. No one actually cares how much they weigh, per se; what people really want is to lose FAT. Yes, if you’re overweight and you lose fat, you’ll typically lose weight too. But simply losing “weight” should not be the goal. I mean, we could cut off your arm and you’d lose a bunch of weight, but pretty sure that’s not the look you’re going for, right? 😆
BUT. An important but: While in a caloric deficit, you also need to try to simultaneously retain your muscle mass!! (This is where protein and strength training come into play.)
Because if you don’t, what will happen? Your sneaky body will do what it loves to do….it will go after your muscle first. Fat is a stubborn little devil.
So then, you will “lose weight” on the scale, look in the mirror and think- “Huh. Why do I still not look that great?”
And this will be because you still have a lot of your fat, and you’ve simply lost “weight” from either water and/or your muscle mass. And maybe a little bit of fat along for the ride.
So, my trainer put me on customized “macros” that equaled 1,500 calories, in hopes that that would put me in a caloric deficit. (Again, my goal really wasn’t to lose weight, but in order to attack these “trouble spots”, I needed be in a deficit at least for a little while, to go after the fat.)
We didn’t know exactly what my maintenance calories were, because I hadn’t been tracking my calories previously. We guesstimated based on what I reported my typical days of meals looked like. 1,500 definitely seemed like it would create a deficit for me as a starting point, at my height and weight.
My prescribed macros were:
- 127 grams protein
- 134 grams carbs
- 50 grams fat
- (Fiber 28 grams. Not as essential to track, but trying to meet a daily fiber goal ensures that your carb choices are high quality. Getting all your carbs from rice krispie treats might be okay to meet your carb goal, but 0 fiber there. Choose an apple instead for same amount of carbs, but a few grams of fiber. Fiber is also good because it makes food harder for your body to digest, so you burn more calories naturally. Plus a ton of other benefits- too much to get into here! Google it. ;))
*These vary person to person! Never try to base your body’s needs on someone else’s.
- drank 1 gallon of water per day
- took BCAAs (amino acids) mixed in my water for workouts (yummy, these taste good. They also help with muscle growth, decrease soreness/ aid in recovery from workout fatigue.)
- took 2 fish oil capsules a day
- took a multivitamin (which I normally do not)
- took a small amount of creatine supplement on my lifting days, also to aid with muscle growth and recovery
*None of the above, minus the water, is essential. These were just recommendations, to help optimize the process.
My results were shocking. I lost weight/fat at a steady, consistent rate, my measurements all dropped, but at the same time, I looked and felt stronger than ever. By doing all of the above, I was getting rid of pesky fat, but holding onto and even building more muscle. This made me look lean and toned.
Argh, okay, I need to stop. This is getting WAY too long!! I knew I wouldn’t be able to explain this all briefly. I suck at keeping things short and to the point. SORRY!!! 😫 Guess this is why I’m a nurse and not a professional blogger. LOL!
I could honestly write a whole book on this topic……and I really want to share more about my personal experiences with this- specifically how I felt while eating and training this way. (hint- amazing!) And some other takeaways. And some sample days of meals! (Another hint- 1,500-1,700 calories of the right foods is SO MUCH FOOD!!!!! I swear, I was constantly eating. And literally never hungry. Yet still making so much progress!) Makes me question, now, why the heck I ever stopped living this way, when it made me feel so good. I blame nachos.
More tomorrow?? Gotta run! Have a great day.
I am grateful for a huge grocery haul yesterday morning. All this recent reflecting on my diet/ eating habits prompted me to STOCK UP on a ton of good stuff.
If you’re anything like me, it’s oddly fun and fascinating to look at other people’s groceries. So, for any other fellow weirdos, here you go: