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What I’ve Learned About Food

At CrossFit Texas, the trainers stress that nutrition is more important than the WOD (CrossFit speak for Workout Of the Day).  If you don’t fuel your body the appropriate way, you aren’t going to get the results you want, even if you are killing yourself in the gym everyday.  They recommend both the Paleo and Zone diets, or a combination of the two.  Paleo focuses more on the type and quality of the food, where Zone focuses more on quantity.

When I started, I decided to try following the Paleo diet because I thought I ate pretty good and didn’t want to be hungry all the time by limiting how much I could eat.  I cut out all grains, dairy and anything processed and forced myself to eat more fruits and vegetables.  I ate whenever I was hungry.  I lost 7 pounds in the first two weeks.  I read Robb Wolf‘s book, The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet (in two days) and, having a degree in biochemisty, it made complete sense to me.  Especially the part where he goes into detail about grains and why they are bad:

Grains, particularly the gluten-containing grains, contain molecules that fit into the opiate receptors in our brain.  You know, the same receptors that work with heroine, morphine, and Vicodin?

Throughout his book he challenges people to try it for a month and see how your body reacts.  What happens when you add stuff back in?  Hi, my name is Wendy and I’m a grain addict!  I don’t have allergic reactions to grains, no gluten sensitivity, only the nagging feeling that I need more.  If there is bread, crackers, cookies, pretzels (even the gluten-free variety) in the house and I know about it…you can be pretty sure that I will eat it, as quickly as I can sneak it, and I will be thinking about how to get my next fix for the rest of the day.  I had no idea!  I now limit myself to the occasional corn tortilla at a Mexican restaurant, and maybe some rice here and there, but never at home.

Another thing I did was to start tracking my meals on dailyburn.com.  It’s a free website that allows you to track your nutrition, body (weight and other measurements), workouts and sleep.  It’s amazing what you can learn from your own body when you start paying attention.  I started playing around with my macronutrient (carb/protein/fat) ratios to see what works best for me.  I followed a Paleo version of the Zone diet for a month or two.  It’s a 40-30-30 diet, which means 40% of your calories come from carbs, 30% from protein and 30% from fat.  You can view the CrossFit Journal’s Zone Issue here for a more detailed explanation.  I followed the 11 block plan.  It was a little more calorie-restrictive than I like, so I would be strict during the week and eat whatever I wanted, while still staying Paleo, on the weekends.  It worked really well, but as my weight went down and my workout intensity got higher, I wasn’t getting enough fuel and was having trouble getting through a workout.

While doing some research, I looked more into the Primal way of eating, via marksdailyapple.com.  Mark Sisson suggests keeping your protein to .5-1.0g of protein (or more depending on your level of activity) per pound of lean body mass per day, carbs to 100-150g per day, and the rest of your calories from fat…the good kind, that is.  For me, that means a 20-25-55 diet.  That’s right, 55% of my calories come from fat.  Even with these numbers, I still eat less than 2000 calories per day (on average).  Fat is NOT a 4-letter word, people!  Robb Wolf says in his book:

A few enlightened folks recognize that fat is important as a fuel and is a building block for many of our cell membranes and hormones.  However, the reality is that fat is far more than just fuel or raw materials.  It is us.  Our brains are mainly fat, most of our nerves are fat.  Reproductive hormones, yep, fat.  Now there are different types of fat, and we will look at those sub-types because, if you can believe it, there are even essential fats.  Fats that if you do not get enough of, or the right ratios, you will become sick or die.

A low-fat diet can be dangerous.  For me, it caused my gall-bladder, whose main function is the digestion of fats, to become inefficient.  Over the years, I developed gall-stones, which eventually caused gall-bladder attacks, which led to the surgical removal of my gall-bladder.  Now I’m not saying that that is the only reason my gall-bladder had to be removed, as both my parents had gall-stones, but I did not start to have problems until I started increasing the fat in my diet.  Side note: Some people continue to have issues digesting fat after gall-bladder removal.  Fortunately, I am not one of them.  Fat digestion is no longer a problem for me.

People have asked me what kinds of snacks I eat.  Honestly, I don’t really feel the need to snack anymore.  I do keep a Larabar in my purse on the occasion that I can’t get home in time for a meal, but I rarely find the need to eat it.  I have found that if I eat a good breakfast of mostly protein and fat, I don’t need to eat until lunch.  My afternoon ‘snack’ is Advocare Spark, a sugar-free energy drink that helps with that afternoon lull.  Protein and fat are what keep you feeling full.  Keeping carbs to a minimum keeps the hunger away.  I also try to eat at approximately the same time every day and at home.  I know that is not possible for everyone, but it works for me.

Fruits and vegetables are carbs!  Did you know that?  Would you believe that 2 1/2 cups of steamed broccoli has the same number of carbs as 1 slice of bread…just 1.  I’m sorry, but 2 1/2 cups of steamed broccoli is gonna fill me up a lot more than one slice of bread!  Can you eat just one slice of bread?  I know I can’t…grain addict here, remember?  For those of you concerned with fiber and think you have to have your whole grains to get enough fiber…try eating more fruits and vegetables!  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Do I ever cheat?  Of course I do.  I’m human and I have a sweet tooth, although it’s not near as big as it used to be.  You have to be able to enjoy life and food, otherwise you’ll be miserable.  You will find, as I have, that once you change the way you eat, your tastes will change, too.  Some of the foods that I used to crave or have trouble staying away from no longer appeal to me.  I try to only ‘cheat’ once a week.  Whether it is a whole meal, or just adding a yummy dessert to a regular meal.  Recently, Jeff and I have started using a ‘cheat window.’  Every Saturday night from 8-10pm, all bets are off.  We make a special run to the store to get whatever cheat food we desire.  Ice cream, cookies, brownies…anything we want…as much as we want.  But you know what?  I used to be able to eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting, no problem.  Now, I can barely get through 1/3 of a pint before I start to feel sick.  Jeff has found he has to stay away from the gluten.  Oh yeah…at 10pm anything that is left gets trashed.

What matters is how your body responds to the food you eat.  Do you really want to make yourself feel sick just because something looks or sounds good?  Honestly, those sweets just don’t taste the same as they used to.   So my advice to you is to pay attention to your body, find what works for you and change your life.  It’s a lifestyle change…not a diet…and it’s a lot easier than you think.  Try it for a month and see what happens!

So, let’s recap:

1.  Food is fuel.  The better the fuel, the better the body works.

2.  I’m an addict.  You can’t NOT eat, but you can make the conscious decision not to eat certain things.

3.  Find what works for you.  Pay attention to your body.

4.  Fat does not make you fat.

5.  Carbs are not just breads and pastas.  Fruits and vegetables are carbs, too.

6.  Nobody’s perfect.  Cheat meals are OK every once in a while.

7.  If you’re not sure about something…ask.  I’m willing to help in any way I can.

 

Disclaimer: The logic behind the Paleo and Primal diets talks a lot about how our ancestors ate and how we have evolved over time.  Being a Christian, I am not advocating evolution, I am advocating a way of clean and healthy eating that works for me.

How CrossFit Changed My Life

For those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you’ve seen this before (if you bothered to read it).  Bear with me, there’s more to this post below.  This was in January of 2011, 4 months after starting CrossFit:

I must be doing something right…I was recently asked to share my CrossFit testimonial at the Free Saturday boot camp at CrossFit Texas.  Since speaking isn’t one of my strengths, I know I left a lot of stuff out.  I decided to write it down, so that I could share it with more people.

A little fitness background first.  I grew up playing soccer, played competitively through high school (club and school teams), recreationally in college and for a few years after until I had my second knee surgery.  I got back into the gym a year or so later, trying to lose a few pounds before a trip to Jamaica and then became pregnant with my son, Cooper (now 4).  When Cooper was 6 months old, I hit the gym pretty much every day, spending an hour or so on the elliptical and adding in some circuit training when  I had time.  I hit a plateau and took a shot at running.  I worked my way up to a half-marathon and another plateau.  Took some time off running and tried P90X…got about half way through and became pregnant with my daughter, Skyler (now 7 months).

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I first heard about CrossFit from my brother-in-law, Robert.  He had been talking it up quite a bit, trying to get Jeff to try it.  Jeff considered himself in decent shape (he had completed the Austin Marathon, ran the Texas Independence Relay, etc.) just needed to work on his portion control.  He decided to give it a try in May, looking to drop some weight before the next marathon season started.  He took it seriously and even stuck to the nutrition guidelines (Paleo/The Zone).  The weight melted off of him and his overall physique improved tremendously.   He was hooked.  I was still quite skeptical.  I didn’t think I could physically do the workouts, and I was afraid of changing the way I ate while trying to breastfeed Skyler.

Needless to say, I was only able to breastfeed for about two months and the ‘baby weight’ stopped coming off with about 30 more pounds to go.  I had to do something…I started going for long walks with the kids, but until Cooper was back in school, I couldn’t really use the jogging stroller I had borrowed from a friend.  In August, Jeff was invited to participate in the Texas Throwdown, a CrossFit competition in Dallas, with the teams from CrossFit Texas.  I spent the day watching them compete in team WODs (workouts) and the individual competition.  Have you ever had to sit on the sidelines due to an injury and watch your team play, all the while dying to get out on the field?  That’s how I felt sitting there watching.

It took a couple of weeks to figure out how I was going to make it to the classes due to the kids and Jeff’s schedule, so in the meantime, I tried Paleo.  I cut out breads, dairy and anything processed, forced myself to eat more fruits and vegetables, and ate only all natural foods.  I dropped 7 pounds in the first two weeks.  I stuck with it and started going to CrossFit Texas twice a week and the free Saturday boot camp.  The thing I like most about CrossFit is that it is totally scalable.  If you can’t do something, there is a way to modify it so that you can, and you just keep working at it until you don’t have to modify it anymore.  I also don’t have to worry about trying to figure out what I’m going to do at the gym.  There is a set workout every day…the WOD: workout of the day; and it’s different every day.  I have yet to do a single workout more than once.  It didn’t take long before I was hooked as well.  By November, I was going 4-5 times a week.

In the last 4 months, I have dropped 30 pounds and 4% body fat.  I just reached my pre-pregnancy weight, but my pre-pregnancy clothes are too big!  My 1 mile run time dropped from 11:10 to 8:22, doing only CrossFit.  I still can’t do a pull-up, but I have gone from jumping pull-ups to kipping with the medium band (I really need to try the small band).  I am no longer doing push-ups on my knees.  50 sit-ups…no problem…how many rounds?  I can deadlift 185 pounds, front squat 130 pounds, bench press 85 pounds (in high school, I was lucky to bench press the 45 pound bar).  I can feel myself getting stronger every day.  I feel great and have tons of energy to play with my kids.  I have yet to hit a plateau.

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I can’t say enough about the trainers at CrossFit Texas!  They are all super nice, extremely knowledgeable, and they push you just enough, without going overboard.  They know how to motivate you to do your best and make the most out of your workout.  The CrossFit Texas community is the same way.  Everyone is friendly and encouraging and they don’t mind that I bring my kids with me to workout.  It is a family friendly environment that I’m proud to be a part of.

Since then (approximately 6 more months), I have dropped another 10 pounds and 6% body fat (in all 40 pounds and 10% body fat).  I now wear a size 2 (in high school, I was a tight size 4).  My one mile run time has dropped to 7:30, I can do kipping pullups, 2 consecutive strict pullups, I can do hand stand push-ups, I can dead lift 200 pounds, front squat 150 pounds, and back squat 175 pounds, and do most workouts as Rx (prescribed weight).  I’ve made so much progress in such a short time that Brannon, the owner/coach of CrossFit Texas, asked me if I want to compete next year (which is just plain crazy)!

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After running the 3M Half Marathon in 2009, I knew one day I would want to attempt a full marathon.  Thanks to CrossFit, I’m in the best shape of my life, so…why not now!?!  I am registered to run the Austin Marathon in February, 2012.  I am also competing in two CrossFit events this fall:  the Life AsRX US Tour in Dallas on August 12-13 and Fight Gone Bad 6 (a fundraiser) on September 17.  I have created a training log to keep myself accountable.  You can follow it by clicking on the Training tab at the top of merys.net or on the month on the Training Log menu to the right.

For those of you who want to know more about how I eat (paleo/primal), I’ll get into that later.

Want to know more about CrossFit?  Check out these videos:

What is CrossFit

My Gym is Different

CrossFit Texas Promo Video – my CrossFit family :-)