rEvolution. (A not-so-short story in which I tell a secret and inexplicably use a metric ton of quotation marks.)

So I’ve been keeping a little (okay, big) secret from you, and it’s time to have an open and honest conversation about food and my new philosophy. And the meaning of life. (haha, just kidding. That was my last post.)

Without further ado, here is my shocking reveal:

I stopped giving a crap about what I eat about three months ago.

Gasp!!

Here’s another one that might make your head spin:

Not giving a crap about what I eat is one of the best things I’ve done in a long time.

I appreciate that this may be quite scandalous to you. You may have a case of the vapors over it. I’ll give you a moment, and then I’ll explain.

(Insert telephone hold music for 30 seconds; I’ll eat a piece of cheese, or maybe a chocolate, while I wait.)

First of all, lemme backtrack for a sec. I may have exaggerated a teensy bit for shock value when I said I didn’t give a crap about what I ate anymore. (I understand that the thought of me exaggerating may also be a shock to you. Please recover from this shock quickly so we can continue moving forward.)

What actually happened three months(ish) ago is that I reached a critical point in my journey, a turning point. I have been evolving steadily for the last two years, in my body and my mindset, and this turning point, I think, is one of the most important ones I’ve experienced thus far.

The end-all be-all of this journey for me when I started was LOOKING the part of a badass…having people know, by looking at me, that I was a strong, fit person.

Hell, I’ll say it outright, I wanted to be thin and look jacked. I wanted to be a size 6 again, and until I was, there was no good reason for me to buy any nice clothes, to really spend time trying to look good or feel good about myself, because I wouldn’t until I met those goals. THEN, I was REALLY going to be awesome.

So to achieve this awesomeness-through-looking-thin-and-jacked goal, I set out on a strict clean-eating regime, eating clean 100% of the time for a full 2 months. After that initial super strict period, I scheduled one splurge meal a week. Sometimes, when schedules got busy, I would have more than 1 splurge but I stayed on track with these eating habits for several months.

While doing this, I missed a lot. I turned down a few invitations and I missed several social events at my work (pizza truck, ice cream sundae truck…why do delicious treat foods come on trucks? I digress…)

At the time, I was okay with missing these things. I felt that I was making a choice to prioritize my long term goals over what I wanted in the moment. They were the right choices for me at the time.

I could have gone to these events and just avoided the pizza/cake, and I fully acknowledge that I made the conscious choice NOT to do this. I was so embroiled in managing my food, and I didn’t trust myself enough to abstain from “bad” foods, so I chose to miss the entire experience instead.

At that time, I felt awesome about these choices. I also felt–and I am somewhat ashamed to admit this–a little bit smug and superior to all those people who were down there snarfing pizza and ice cream while I worked at my computer and chastely snacked on carrots and almonds.

As for my progress, I was doing ok. I was “losing weight” as they say. People were saying nice things to me, I was generally kicking ass in my progress.

And then some evolution happened. LIFE happened.

In November, I went on a splendiferous vacation where I happily overindulged every meal, every day, and halfway through the vacation was so backed up and bloated that I couldn’t button my triumphantly purchased one-size-down jean shorts. I still enjoyed every minute, and every bite, of that vacation. (Thank you, drawstring sweat shorts, for being there for me on the best vacation ever.)

After that vacation, through the holidays, through to mid February I struggled mightily to “get back on track.” I would go a few days of clean eating, then I would binge. I would try again. I was determined, as always, not to give up. To fall down 80 times and stand up 81.

At the same time, I started to gain steam with some heavy lifting in my training. I was loving the lifting, but suddenly I started to feel weak and tired. I wasn’t excited about my workouts anymore. I felt like I had lost my mojo, especially since I was freaking obsessed with getting my fat ass back “on the wagon,” but just couldn’t seem to do it.

I am sure some poor food choices were responsible for some of my fatigue, but as I did some reading and I talked to my trainers,  I ultimately concluded that I was overtraining and not eating well enough to support my training.

I was pushing too hard on too little fuel, and it was hitting me hard.

Now, you might think that this would launch me back into another bout of holier-than-thou clean eating. But, given my yo-yo patterns of the last few months, I decided to try something different, since I was looking for different results besides the super-clean-eating-alternating-with-super-awful-binges pattern I had recently gotten into.

I took a long hard look at my goals and my life, and this was my catharsis (pay attention! It’s exciting!):

Although my journey is not over–and won’t be until my heart stops beating–I am a badass RIGHT. NOW. Without “losing any more weight” or fitting into a certain size or bypassing every pizza party or slice of cake. Before I reach my squat goal or have a day where I feel like pull-ups haven’t completely defeated me (does that day exist?), I am STRAIGHT UP AWESOME, TODAY.

I am strong and fit. I am kind. I am funny. I make people happy. I love fiercely (no matter who makes fun of me for saying so), and I give a lot, in a lot of different ways. In my own small way, I make the world a better place. And what I eat, weigh or look like has no bearing whatsoever on any of that.

I decided that day I didn’t want my life to be about logging food choices and keeping to a breakneck workout schedule that exhausted me for all the other great things I wanted to do.

I didn’t want my life to be about measuring every ounce of food that passes my lips, and I REFUSE to measure myself and my worth by what I ate, looked like, or what the stupid ass scale or measuring tape said.

I realized that food had continued to control my life. Sure, it was clean food, but it was controlling me nonetheless. And I’d had enough. I had too much living to do to let food control me anymore.

From that day on, I stopped paying attention to what I eat. No food log, no measuring cup. And to my shock, I have not gone on a no-holds-barred indulgence spree. Quite the opposite, actually.

Here’s the thing, peeps: three years of being an “off and on” clean eater, and I know what it means to eat clean. I know how to gauge my body’s response to food and I now prefer to eat real, whole foods. They make me feel good. Fast food and processed foods continue to straight up gross me out, so I don’t touch them and probably won’t anytime soon.

But dairy is delicious and good for me, and it doesn’t bother my stomach, so every day I eat my Fage yogurt with raisins and almonds, or banana almond granola, or sometimes with cocoa powder, and sometimes with Justin’s Vanilla Almond Butter (amazeballs).

I eat steak and chicken and barbecue pork. I eat peppers and squash and spinach. I eat a crap ton of bacon (mostly turkey bacon from Trader Joe’s. It is magical.)

I also eat chips and pasta and cheesecake when I have a mind to, and at least twice a week I eat a grilled cheese for lunch when I work from home, because it’s delicious. I take the kids out for ice cream when I feel like it. I drink good beer and sweet iced tea sometimes. Last week, I attended this year’s pizza truck gathering and I ate 5 a-mah-zing slices, thankyouverymuch. And enjoyed the hilarious company of one of my favorite co-workers while doing so.

On average, I would say I am “splurging” or “cheating” about the same percentage, possibly a little more (it’s hard to say) than I was with my yo-yo habits of before.

Here’s a major difference though: I’m not calling them “cheats” or even “splurges” anymore. I am calling them “food.” I am calling it “eating.” Because that’s what the hell it is.

The general sum up is that I am much of the time eating whole, unprocessed foods without too much sugar. That’s basically what I eat because of the habits I’ve formed over the last couple of years, so I needed to go through those strict times to create those preferences. And I’m grateful for that.

What I am ditching are two very specific “rules” I once held myself to:

1) that there are certain “off limits” foods that must be avoided until a pre-determined “splurge” period

2) that I need to carefully monitor ever single ever-loving thing I put in my mouth, and keep my calories lower so I can “lose weight”

As a former anorexic and bulimic, I am no stranger to food rules, and they are dangerous and toxic. So they can get the hell out of my life.

And without the food rules, I feel free. I trust myself, and I feel amazing. I feel strong in my workouts (which I have cut back to 4, maybe 5 a week depending upon how I feel) and I am listening to my body…what it wants and needs to be fueled properly, and how I need to balance work and rest to continue to get stronger.

I could give two craps about “losing weight.” Or what the “right” foods are before and after training, or on the days I don’t train, or if I should eat dairy, or if there are too many grams of sugar in something. I check labels for HFCS or any gross chemicals that are not good for me and my family, and I buy organic produce most of the time.

Other than that, I eat. I eat because I’m hungry, I eat because my body needs fuel, I eat because I enjoy it. Sometimes, I forget to eat when I’m busy and sometimes, I eat too much and my belly lets me know…and it’s all good. I haven’t weighed or measured myself recently and have no plans to, but I can tell you all my clothes fit just fine, and I continue to be awesome in general, and to kick ass and make major strength gains at my workouts. My guess is that my body will continue to change over time, and that’s cool, too.

Food is good, and so is life. Eat, people.

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A squishy belly miracle.

Sometimes, when it’s been awhile since I posted, it’s because my life gets insane on me. I love writing this blog, but it’s always the first thing to get dropped when I have too much on my plate.

Sometimes, though, I don’t post because I’m just not sure what to say.

A lot of times, a dry spell means some combination of the above two factors. Which happens to be the case in regard to the last two weeks of blog-less-ness.

A lot of stuff has been swirling around in this noggin of mine, and I’m trying hard to wade through the chaff and get at the hard little nuggets of wheat and wisdom. No easy chore.

Sometimes, I catch myself asking, “When will things slow down? When will I have a chance to catch my breath?” And then I remember my favorite quote (which I’ve posted before but will surely post again):

  • “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” — Fr. Alfred D’Souza

So that’s the thing. This IS my life. The life that I’ve created. The harried madness that I call my day to day existence. And I like it; it’s a good life, but I’m always wondering how to not miss it. How to keep from letting it all rush past like a subway train while I am left, swaying on my feet, in its wake.

I look at my kids and see that they are, inconceivably, 6 and (almost) 11. BIG kids. School kids. My son can rightly be called a pre-teen, and that is fairly astounding news to me. I’m not quite sure how that happened, and I’m even less sure how to–if not slow it down–make sure I don’t wake up one day to an empty nest and say, WTF just happened?

Maybe that’s an inevitable part of parenting.

But this post wasn’t supposed to be about parenting, per se.

The thing is this…I love those kids beyond reason but, by God, am I doing this right? Am I present for them? How much of my time is the right amount to give them when I’m trying to balance it with everything else I want? With myself? What about my husband? My job? My friends and extended family?

This feels a lot like the last post I wrote, but it’s different somehow in my head, and I’m not sure I’m explaining it right.

I guess what I’m struggling with is how to balance this at times fun and at times excruciating fitness journey with the rest of my life. Because while I am on a fitness journey, I don’t want the fitness journey to define me, my life, or my family’s life.

I am not a trainer. I am not a fitness or nutrition expert. I don’t have an overwhelming desire to make any of those my profession in the future.

But I do want to be a fit person, and LOOK like a fit person, and promote and encourage fitness and healthful living with my family.

I want to send a message to my daughter that a woman’s body can be strong and powerful.

Mine is.

But society tells me that my strong and powerful body is not pretty or ideal, and I agree. I hate on it. Wish it to be different. Think things like, “Life will be better when I’m not fat.” (I recognize the objective ridiculousness of this statement, and yet I still believe it applies to my life.)

So what message am I sending my six year old daughter by my constant and open struggles to change how my strong and powerful body looks?

It’s a question that keeps me up at night, because I’m pretty sure what I’m teaching her is that how a body LOOKS is far more important than what a body can do.

Luckily, she doesn’t believe this yet.

Just this morning, she came to me as I getting dressed, and lovingly cupped my belly in her hands. “I love you, Mommy,” she said. “When I’m a Mommy am I going to have a squishy belly like yours?”

She looked up at me with bright, eager eyes that said, “I hope so!”

In that moment, I felt the pure and uncapped love of a six year old for her mother.

She was completely unaware of the shame I felt about my “squishy belly.” Blissfully ignorant of the ways in which that shame claimed so much of my daily mental real estate.

To her, it just meant it was me. No inherent judgment, just love for me as I am.

It was kind of a miracle.

In that moment, I wondered what the hell I was doing with my life. What was it all for, this concentrated dedication to making my body LOOK strong and powerful instead of having it just be enough that it IS strong and powerful?

Don’t mistake me…I love working out and the way it makes me feel. I know that clean foods make me feel and perform better, and I have no plans to abandon them any time soon. Our eating habits as a family have changed in a radical and sustainable way in the last year and a half, and that’s been a very, very good thing.

What I’m talking about is the intense energy and focus I’ve expended on which foods to eat, and how much, and how often, and which are “good” and which are “bad” and which give me gas and which ones so-and-so says I should eat and which ones so-and-so says I shouldn’t eat and which ones make me poop often enough and which ones trigger a binge and which ones fill me up the most and which ones to eat directly after a workout and which ones NEVER to eat on a rest day…it just all gets to be too effing much sometimes.

Sometimes it feels just as disordered to me as my days of gagging myself over the toilet bowl, or chewing every bite of a carrot 100 times to make it last the entire lunch period.

If I stopped thinking about food so much, maybe I’d be showing my daughter that food does not have to rule her life like it’s ruled mine.

If I stopped thinking about food so much, maybe my life wouldn’t feel so harried and stressful sometimes.

If I stopped thinking about food so much, maybe I’d have more mental energy to focus on my family, those people who obviously love me more than I love myself, before this part of my life slips through my fingers.

Because in the end, life is good right now. It’s not without it’s challenges and obstacles, but despite my squishy belly, at this moment, my life is lovely and wonderful…and that should be enough.

Hey Steph, What is Clean Eating?

Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist or a personal trainer. I am only sharing the practices I am adopting at the advice of nutritionists and trainers to lose fat, become more fit, and feel healthy, and it’s working. Do your own research and consult your own peeps if you want to undertake a similar journey.

Disclaimer #2: What I write below is what I am aim to eat MOST OF THE TIME. It is not easy, and I struggle with it just about every friggin day. I don’t always get it right, but I keep coming back to it because, when I stick with it, it works for me.

So, I’ve written a few posts and talked a lot about clean eating but never really explained it. I’m sure there is a fancy pants explanation for it somewhere, but I’m going to give it to you in Steph-Talk. Clean eating is not eating crap: not processed crap, not sugary crap, not fake-food crap. Eating real friggin’ foods. Something that grew from the ground or used to make noises like “moo” or “cluck” or “glub” (that’s a FISH, for Pete’s sake! Don’t judge my animal noises!!!)

My diet consists of mainly lean, high quality meats (I shop largely at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and buy meats without antibiotics, hormones, etc.), fresh fruits and veggies (organic and/or local whenever possible), legumes, and whole grains.These shopping choices support both my nutritional and environmental goals.

I am fairly judicious about my grains: I hardly ever eat pasta, even the whole wheat kind, which is very sad, but ultimately more doable than I imagined it would be. I eat sprouted grain bread (the brand name is Ezekiel bread), quinoa, and whole grain rice.

I don’t eat a whole lot of dairy, with the exception of Fage 2% greek yogurt, which I eat every day mixed with peanut butter.

CUT THE SUGAR, PEOPLE!!! By and large, sugar is the root of all diet evil. Read labels–so many things have sugar that you would not even expect. I don’t use or add sugar to anything, and I only eat 1 fruit per day because, even though fruit is delicious and packed with vitamins, it still contains sugar. Since I still have much fat to lose, I choose to cut my sugar down to the bare minimum. I don’t use sugar in my coffee. I don’t eat “no fat” foods because there is always something chemical-y added in to make up for the taste, and lots of times it’s sugar…which is FAR worse than fat. Lollipops are fat free, dammit, and we sure as hell shouldn’t be eating those!!!

I have two different “phases” of clean eating. Sometimes–especially after a week like this–I will go super strict for a week or two. No alcohol, no cheese, no splurges whatsoever. It hurts for a day or two, but it’s worth it to kick my sorry ass back into clean eating shape. Generally speaking, though, I allow myself a beer or glass of wine twice a week, and I have an itty-bitty serving of cheese twice a week.

But cheese is technically clean, Steph! Yes, I know it is, as long as it’s not one of the not-of-this-earth low-fat or fat-free varieties. However, cheese is also calorie dense and happens to be one of the most delicious foods ever to get in my gut. This presents a huge problem for me, because I will go cheese-crazy if given the opportunity. So, not only do I try to limit it to keep my cals in check, but I limit it because I know my weaknesses.

I also aim for one splurge meal a week, which (when I’m on my best behavior), I plan in advance and try to coordinate with birthdays, celebrations, other food-eating extravaganzas that appear on my calendar. In this meal, I eat pretty much anything I want. And then I’m done. Theoretically speaking.

Sometimes, the calendar screws with me and I have to make choices. Will I splurge at this party or that one? Sometimes, I fall of the wagon completely. As you know if you’ve read any other blogs or if you’ve read about me, you know I believe that it’s not the falling down but the staying down that makes us fail. So I keep climbing back on.

I haven’t mentioned portions yet, and I should because they’ll get ya every time. I have been amazed at how small I can make my portions and still feel satisfied. Note: I did not say “feel full”–I said, “feel satisfied.” This is a key difference, because I think many of us have gotten very used to feeling that we’re not done eating until we’re “full.” Not true. Eat enough to not feel hungry anymore. You have to do it to know the difference.

So, I usually start with about a 1 cup serving–no need to go crazy measuring, but measure once so you get a good idea of what a cup serving looks like in your bowl or on your plate and can eyeball it from there–and then I wait a few minutes. I drink some water. I wait a little longer. 90% of the time, I’m fine. But sometimes, when I’ve worked out very hard and my metabolism is firing like crazy, I’ll need another half cup or so to feel satisfied. I realize that in the past, even when I was eating clean foods, I was eating about twice as much as my body actually needed.

Here’s a sample daily menu:

Breakfast:

  • Ezekiel bread with peanut butter (natural, no sugar or other crap added…ingredients only read “peanuts, salt”) and 1/2 sliced banana

Mid-morning snack:

  • 2% Fage greek yogurt (about 3/4c) with one tbsp dollop peanut butter mixed in

Lunch

  • 1 cup serving leftover chicken sausage, beans, and broccoli rabe

Afternoon Snack

  • raw carrots
  • about 1/4c raw organic almonds

Dinner

  • marinated grilled chicken breast with grilled veggies and a baked sweet potato

Regarding Beverages:

  • So many people drink their calories without even realizing it. Make sure you’re not unwittingly doing this. When there’s whipped cream, chocolate sauce, or vanilla syrup in it, it doesn’t STOP being full of sugar because it’s a drink! You might as well be eating a big honkin’ piece of red velvet cake.
  • I aim to drink a gallon of water or more a day. The rule of thumb I’ve heard from my trainers is to drink at least half your weight in ounces of water a day.
  • I also drink coffee with half and half in it, and nothing else. And I’m a girl who used to muck up her coffee with FIVE SPLENDA PACKETS (really!). So don’t go saying, “I could NEVER have my coffee with no sugar!” Because you could, if you decided you wanted to. And if you do want to, I suggest gradually cutting back the sugar, one teaspoon or packetful a week. It took me a little over a month to go from that much sweetener to none.
  • Sometimes I’ll have unsweetened iced green tea with dinner, or get myself an unsweetened iced passion tea from Starbuck’s. SOOOO good.

It’s a pretty common sense approach to eating. No measuring, no counting points or calories, no weird food combinations or whatever. Just eating real food in small portions to fuel your body right. Of all people, I know it’s easier said than done, but my point is that it’s not knowing what to eat that’s difficult; it’s actually eating that stuff–and that stuff only–most of the time.

Dear Me, Stop Eating Crap.

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Oh look, it’s been like a month since my last post. Here’s the deal:

I. Am. An. Idiot.

There are no excuses. I was too busy to post for the first three weeks, and I was too ashamed to post last week. Because I’ve been eating like crap. One splurge led to another, then to another…until it was a complete free for all.

I stumbled at first, and then I pitched head long over the cliff. And now, I’m sick as a dog. Fever, chills, achy-ness all through my body, and it is 100% my fault.

A little more than midway through my eating spree this week, I started feeling lethargic and miserable. Tired, cranky, and so not awesome. I complained to my husband, who said, very simply and reasonably, “It’s your food, babe. We know that. It’s always the food.” I wanted to slap him, because I knew he was right. But let’s face it, I really wanted to slap myself.

Eating clean is hard. Eating clean forever is harder. Sometimes it feels really easy, but when there’s picnic after picnic, get togethers with friends, work-provided lunches and ice cream and cake, and everyone else is eating the good stuff, it gets easy to tell myself that it’s no big deal if I splurge (AGAIN. and AGAIN. and AGAIN.) And that’s just exactly what happened.

When I look back on the last week and what drove me to this most excruciating form of self-sabotage, I do realize that there was some stress with a few personal things happening, but nothing major. It came to this: I was 12 weeks in, feeling great, fitting into smaller clothes and realizing I could no longer wear other clothes that were ridiculously too big, BUT NO ONE WAS NOTICING!

I’ll tell you what people were noticing: my husband. Now, let me  give him his due. He looks AMAZING. He’s getting super jacked, and since he only had a few pounds of fat to lose before leaning up, it’s more immediately noticeable. Rationally, I understand this. I have far more fat to lose so it is not as obvious. I got fat, and he didn’t.

But on an emotional level, I feel like it is so much harder for me given my relationship with food, and so easy for him. And when I know that I’ve lost much more than him, but his victories are so much more obvious.

Whine, whine, whine. Why is the validation of others so important to me? Well, it just is. It’s a nice reward for hard work, but I should know better than to let that control my actions. But I did.

I got discouraged. I got angry. I turned into a big, fat, stupid baby and fell back into my old “screw it” mentality. Screw it! I’ll eat some nachos. Screw it! I’ll eat some cheese. And some more cheese. Screw it! Here come the chips. Screw it! Now it’s the cookies.

I told you I’m an idiot.

And here’s the funny thing: just as I did this, during my week of disgusting loathesomeness, I had two genuine compliments come in from friends I really respect. One friend, who came into a 6am workout class behind me said that she barely recognized me from behind. She said that I looked amazing and like a completely different person. The second came from another friend who pulled me aside after my workout and told me I looked great and that it was obvious my hard work was paying off.

I felt like such an ass. Let’s face it, I am an ass.

So here I am. I fell off, and now it’s time to get back on. I’m sick, I’m tired, I’m miserable and I’m hating myself, and it’s all because of crappy food.

How many times do I have to learn this lesson? How many times am I going to let stupid excuses and feelings get in my way? It is my fault I look like this, and no amount of rationalizations is going to change that. Even when it feels like everyone else is going to 10 parties a week, and eating whatever they want, I know I can’t get away with that. I feel like crap when I do–it actually makes my physiologically sick–and I know what it feels like to be eating clean and firing on all cylinders, and I love it.

Today, I move on. Today, I stop the vicious misery cycle I’ve been on for a week (loathe self, eat, loathe self more, eat more, loathe self to a disgusting level, eat to a disgusting level….you get it) and keep pushing forward.