Over brunch this morning, I was describing to my best friends Lacy and Adam my struggles with finding balance. Just when you think you've licked a challenge, it comes back to bug you again.
Before I write about my current quest for balance, I should explain more about my wellness and fitness journey so you have some context.
I've always been what you would call "curvy." At times I've been overweight, other times I've been pretty close to average, and like most adult women, my body size and shape have fluctuated over the years. However, I've always been short, reasonably athletic, and curvy. And not euphemistically "curvy" either - I have a fairly hourglass silhouette from the front.
In any case, a couple years ago, I started playing roller derby. Ladies of all body compositions play roller derby, and that's rad. Because of roller derby, I began to see what my body could do; I saw my body's utility, in relation to other ladies' bodies. My muscular, curvy bottom can stop a small jammer and move her across the track. I'm built to block. It was neat!
And to support my body and allow it to do more, I started training at a CrossFit gym. CrossFit is awesome. I know there are a lot of detractors, just like there are for any sport. But I love it. My box has really fantastic, knowledgable trainers who encouraged me to slowly and thoughtfully build my strength, both mental and physical. I became a lot more focused, aware, and strong. My derby hits were stronger and more targeted. I had better endurance, skill, and speed. It was all working together pretty well.
I learned about Paleo and decided to give that a try. I should mention straight off that at that point, my exposure to diets was middling. I'd done South Beach off and on to get ready for my wedding, but I'd never done anything as strict as Paleo. It wasn't hard for me unless I was traveling. I lost some weight and saw some more muscle tone, and further, I felt pretty great. In February of 2013 I decided to try a Whole30 challenge.
Whole30 is really strict: just vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, meat (if you eat it) and a small amount of fruit. No dairy, sugar, legumes, grains, or processed food. It was intense. I learned some stuff: that I have no real food allergies, but that a lot of dairy and a lot of legumes set my stomach on fire. That sugar early in the morning sets me on a crazy fluctuating energy path all day. That processed foods are as addictive as scientists say.
But I also learned that I have a pretty strong tendency to categorize food as "good" or "bad". I default to cycles of feast and famine. I strongly believe that I have very little self control, and will fall off the deep end into a box of Wheat Thins if left to my own devices.
It didn't help that I lost about 10 lbs on Whole30 and everyone was telling me I looked really good. That positive reinforcement set off a cycle of mini Whole30 attempts for months. I did a couple of Whole14s successfully, but when it came to doing another 30 days of that restrictive eating regime, I'd always fail.
I was so desperate for answers at that point, to solve this feast vs. famine pendulum, that I signed up for a year of Precision Nutrition coaching in their Lean Eating program. Precision Nutrition gives you a lesson to read, a food habit to do, and a workout every day. You also get a coach assigned to you, to answer questions and make sure you stay on target. The idea is that you'll be successful if you're accountable.
To be fair, it kinda worked. Just not the way I thought it would.
Having to think about what I was eating and how I was exercising every day did serve to make me more mindful about those things, although I was pretty mindful already. I spent a lot of the program realizing they couldn't teach me stuff I already knew.
One really good thing about PN though is that I realized, finally, that dramatic physical change comes from pretty dramatic life change.
It sounds simple, but it's not. I was crying to my coach in February that I'd done all this work - I'd been going to CrossFit religiously ~3x a week, been getting in at least 2 solid days of cardio beyond that, been eating clean, with the exception of some dairy and the occasional night out, and been trying to get enough rest and active recovery.
I'd been doing everything right, but I hadn't yet seen the physical change I'd wanted to see so badly. She looked at my diet and told me to remove the ounce of cheese I eat in a veggie omelet every weekday. I remember feeling so flummoxed by that, because to me it represented that in the quest to lose weight and get lean, there is no real moderation. You have to watch everything. If an ounce of cheese can throw you off, well, that's maybe not a diet I want to embrace.
Most of the time, I eat pretty "clean". I don't eat a lot of processed food or sugar, or even many grains or legumes. The only time I really eat these things is if I'm mega-hormonal and want to claw my way through the snack aisle at Berkeley Bowl. Sometimes I indulge when we're celebrating too, because life is more than just your diet. Life is not only about work, but also about play, about enjoyment, about creativity, about celebration. And not having a piece of your own birthday cake that your friend made for you? Well, that kind of makes you an asshole.
My point is this: it became really clear to me that I'd already leveled up, in a sense. I'd already made a dramatic change by eating a mostly whole foods diet (I do eat some dairy, still. Veggie omelets are way better with a little cheese - makes the whole thing bearable), committing to a regular CrossFit routine, starting a yoga habit, getting enough sleep, and meditating. That was already a lot of work to do.
In order to see much more dramatic change, I'd have to drastically change my life even further: watch everything I eat, drink more protein isolates, work out harder and for more time... and the list goes on.
I'm pretty certain I don't want to go that far. I like how well-rounded my life is. I have time for a solid workout habit, but also friends, family, and other hobbies and projects and pursuits I love. I'm not sure I'm so single-minded that spending 2+ hours at the gym every day would be the right fit for me.
As for food, I already plan and prep much of my food for the week on Sundays. And as a trend, like I say, I mostly eat a whole foods blueprint. Honestly, if I cared less about food, it would be a lot easier, but I love food. I really do. I'm a total foodie, and a big part of my life is eating inventive meals in both my kitchen and in the amazing restaurants of the Bay Area. I know from restrictive food challenges that I would greatly miss that creativity in my life. Food is my art.
So what are we left with?
I have some idea, but I don't know quite yet. That's why I'm here.