The Marriage of Nutrition & Fitness

I biked up mountains over and over that summer. I spent two hours a day, at least four days a week in the gym lifting weights. I even hiked for 12 hours to the summit of Mount Timpanogos. Yet I was at my heaviest weight ever — outside of pregnancy. I know fitness — I would even consider myself a fitness connoisseur but somehow I couldn’t keep the fat off. My diet wasn’t perfect, but I wasn’t gorging myself on fast food everyday. Something was wrong with this picture.

In my early 20’s when thin was easy.

Let’s back this story up, I’ve always been thin and honestly had very little issues with weight. {Insert your hatred and eye rolls here}. I know, I know..I’m that person. However this particular summer I was into my 30’s with two kids and had some accidents that derailed my normal fitness routines slightly. This sent my body into a downward spiral that I did not know how to get out of.

One day this particular summer I decided to climb a couple of mountains on my bike, and then meet my family for a hike. I hiked a couple of miles and after we decided to go play on an inflatable obstacle course at a local lake. I was tired but having so much fun! Then, I decided to follow my 15 year old nephew across the obstacle course, and my body reminded me that I’m twice his age. My foot slipped and my knee gave out. It hurt but I got myself together and kept playing the rest of the afternoon.

That night I couldn’t sleep the pain was so intense. I hobbled my way to the car and off to the E.R. I found out I had a partial tear of the MCL in my right knee. No surgery but it took almost a year to completely heal. I couldn’t bike for about three weeks, but then once the pain subsided enough my doctor actually encouraged biking. The movement allowed blood flow to heal the ligaments and being a non-weight bearing exercise there was little chance of further damage.

I remember the day I finally felt like I could do a little biking again. I went out with a compression sleeve on my knee to ease the pain and planned on just a slow spin. Unfortunately, just a few miles into my ride on the local bike path a young couple on a tandem bike lost control and we collided. I knew immediately that my hand was broken. Sure enough I get to the ER and the x-rays confirmed, I had a broken hand.

After my bike crash — yes I did rock the pink cast.

Here I am in the heart of the summer with a right knee that can move but not without pain and definitely can’t handle weights. On my left hand I have a cast from my fingertips to halfway down my arm. If you knew me you wouldn’t be surprised to know that I still attempted to go to the gym and lift weights. I used only my healthy arm and did single leg work with only my healthy leg. What can I say, I’m a beast.

There were no gains to be made so that didn’t last long. However over the next couple of weeks my knee was healthy enough to do some hiking. I was good as long as I wore a compression sleeve and babied it with heat and ice after my hikes. So I set out to the mountains hiking with one arm in a cast and one leg angry at me. It was around late July, early August at this point, and I hiked three or four hours several times a week. In September I finally had my cast off, so my sister and I decided to try and reach the summit of a local mountain. This is a 12-hour very uphill hike including a scary rocky path up to the summit. I felt so strong and quite proud of myself for this accomplishment. The only thing that really bothered me was despite all of this exercise I was at my heaviest weight yet. And it was not muscle.

At my heaviest weight, but feeling quite bad-ass at the top of Timp.

I came to a turning point in my life. I knew that I was physically fit, but my body didn’t reflect it. After my husband offered his full support, I decided to take the plunge a see a nutritionist. I will honestly say I went in expecting to eat nothing but greek yogurt, vegetables, quinoa, and flavorless chicken. I just tried to psych myself up and say, “well this is how skinny people eat, so I’ll do it.” I prepared myself to not enjoy eating again, but dang it I would look good!

I was shocked to see the weight melt off — 22 lbs in 20 weeks — as soon as my food was planned and the macronutrients were all correct. I also was beyond excited to see that I could still have food that tasted good! I didn’t have to eat greek yogurt or quinoa if I didn’t want to. {Side note: I didn’t.} I ate food that tasted good, and I ate often. I didn’t have to be hungry, and I never had to eat food that I didn’t like. My muscle mass was growing while the fat was shrinking. Perfection.

When I finished my nutrition program I felt like I had discovered the Holy Grail. I now knew the big secret of maintaining my ideal physique…it wasn’t just eating healthy food and exercising. It’s about combining them like two partners in a marriage. That’s insanely corny, but it’s the best description of how weight loss works.

Post-weight loss

I think of it this way, my body is the engine that has to run 24/7, and the food I eat is the fuel. If I’m exercising like crazy, that engine has to run at a high level most of the time. This means I need a lot of fuel and of course the right kind of fuel. Applying this scenario to my life before weight loss, my engine was running, but I was attempting to fill it with several different types of fuel. Sometimes there was too much and sometimes there was too little and sometimes it was nutritious quality foods and sometimes it was sugar laden or grease soaked food — my body was confused. However, after my weight loss I knew exactly the right fuel to use, and how much I needed to fill up my tank.

The most important lesson from becoming overweight and then losing the weight was this: even an enormous amount of cardio and strength training can not override an inaccurate diet. I use the term inaccurate diet as opposed to bad diet because even if you are eating good foods you may still gain weight. You have to be eating the correct number of calories, the correct kinds of calories (ratio of protein, fat, carbs), AND eat healthy foods. Knowing numbers like your BMR and TDEE help you to set a clear and concise path for losing fat without sacrificing muscle.

I guess there is another lesson to this story, and I really hate to admit this because I gave it credit for what was happening to my body for many years. That lesson is — and this may or may not be true for you — I can not blame gaining weight on having kids, being on antidepressants, or being on birth control. Despite my marvelous collection of excuses, I did lose fat and got pretty dang close to my pre-baby weight. During that time I was still on antidepressants and for most of the time I was on birth control and yet, I still lost weight.

There are some permanent changes due to having kids such as stretch marks and wider hips, but unfortunately I can’t blame my kids for making me overweight. However, I can give some credit to Little Debbie. Oh, how I miss you Star Crunch!

My diet still isn’t perfect, and I have time periods where I gain fat and need to get everything back in check. I believe strongly in making my diet sustainable and real. I eat out occasionally, I have treats once or twice a week, and I eat popcorn at the movies. However, I do not let my food choices get out of control and take me back to a place I never want to visit again (aka, Fat Hollyland).

I know the Holy Grail of the Weight Loss Universe — the great not-so-secret secret — food and exercise cannot be separated. They are not two independent parts of weight loss, but one couple working together to produce optimal results.

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Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !

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