Why I am happy weighing more

It sounds weird and it took me some time to wrap my head around this concept; I am happy weighing more.  That does not mean I am happier at a heavier weight (more fat) I am happy weighing more at a lower body fat.   How does that happen, how do you weigh more with when you continue to lower your body fat?  Muscle weighs more than fat; I repeat muscle weighs more than fat!

fat vs. muscle
yellow is fat, red is muscle

Now I have known this fact for most of my life, and I said it a lot when people were shocked at how much I weighed, today it is 184.  I said it to myself when my BMI (28) would label me overweight when I was a competitive athlete throughout my childhood and early twenties.  Though I said it, I did not internalize it; I did not actually think about how the number on the scale does not correlate with the body I see in the mirror.

265
2014

At my heaviest in the fall of 2014, I weighed 265 pounds.  I was unhealthy, unhappy, and physically weak.  My muscles from my athletic career had atrophied; my physical exercise was walking two to five miles a few times a week.  I was also eating excessively and impulsively, using food to cope with stress, loneliness, and depression.  I made life changing decisions, took my health in my own hands, and have been on a different trajectory ever since.

For a year I lived and died by what my scale told me, I was happy when it when down and sad when I would plateau.  Yes, my clothes were fitting better and I was happy with the changes I could see in my face and body.  However, as the weight came off I was disenchanted with what I saw in the mirror.  I guess I fell into “magic thinking,” I thought the fat would melt away and the muscle I thought was there would start to “pop” out.  It did not. I started to get loose skin on the underside of my arms, I had sagging skin on my back, and on my legs.  My butt was flat, and pancake-like.

scott's wedding
July 2015

I did my research and knew that to help tighten my skin I needed to lift; I needed to build my muscles.  If my muscles were bigger under my skin, my skin would be tauter, it would not appear as loose.  To make my muscles “pop” out I had to make them bigger.  It had been so long since I could see them because of my weight I was unaware of how much muscle mass I had lost over the years.  It has been over two years now and I can see a huge difference in my arms, my whole body.

summer 2017
June 2017

Looking at the two pictures above in which one do I weigh less?  It is a trick question.  I weigh about the same in both, 185.  Over the last year, I have gone down three pant sizes, but have maintained my weight… Ironically, I now size up because of my butt and legs continue to get bigger, as in, very muscular. Until recently this was really messing with my head, I thought I was gaining fat back when I saw the scale move up.

During this transformation, I continued to see my doctor and have regular blood work and I want to share with you some of the results.   In the fall of 2014, my doctor warned me that if I did not get my nutrition squared away I would be pre-diabetic soon.  That was unacceptable for me, I want to have children, and I want to do everything in my power to have a low-risk pregnancy.  I knew if I had gestational diabetes or type II diabetes it would limit my delivery and labor plan options.

The last time I had my blood work done (spring 2017), my non-fasting blood sugar (less than two hours after a meal) was under 100 mg/dl.  My doctor was impressed.  He sees many people who are fighting the bulge and/or obesity but  he had never seen a turnaround like mine.  He called it the ultimate 180.  He does not have another patient that keeps a rigous workout schedule like I do.   I do maintain a low sugar, low carb diet (less than 100 grams of carbs a day).  However, I think my muscle mass, and my gains over the last two years are the biggest contributor to my low sugar levels.   Here is why:

Insulin helps your body turn blood sugar (glucose) into energy.  Your body releases insulin after a meal, when your blood sugar has become elevated to help lower your glucose level.  Your muscles can also store the blood sugar, called glycogen, for energy.  Muscles can store up to 500 g, or 2,000 calories worth of glycogen.  Your muscles are acting like sponges; they are absorbing the access sugar.  “The more muscle mass you have, the more glucose you can dispose of in response to insulin.” (Bose, 2011)

This is the first step for anyone that wants to improve his or her insulin sensitivity. The better your sensitivity, the better you can influence your weight through diet and exercise.  The more muscle you have, the more demand for blood sugar, this will also increase the proteins and enzymes involved in insulin signaling and glycogen storage.  “For each 10% increase in the skeletal muscle index (ratio of muscle to total body weight), there is an 11% reduction in insulin resistance and a 12% reduction in pre-diabetes.” (Mann, 2011)

Hitting the gym can be the best thing for you, not the treadmill, the free weights.  The bigger your muscle now the more they can help drive the negative feedback loop of insulin tomrrow.  Another tool I recommend is looking at the foods you eat.  You want to focus on foods with a low glycemic index (GI), and these foods can make losing weight easier.  Low glycemic foods are grouped into one of two broad classes: no carb foods and good carb foods.  The below table is not an exhaustive list, it is a good jumping off point.  If you follow a low carb, low sugar diet you will start to recognize high GI foods as soon as you put them in your mouth.  After a year on a low sugar diet, I could not stand the super sweet taste of most candy, pop tarts, or soda.  It feels as if the sugar burns the inside of my mouth.

No Carb Good Carb
Meat, poultry, fish Barley, Rice, Bulgur, Quinoa
Eggs, Tofu Ezekiel Bread, corn tortilla
Cheese Lentils, Legumes, Beans
Nuts and seeds Greek Yogurt
Many vegetables (not cooked carrots, sweet corn, or most  potatoes) Milk
Oils and fats Fruits (not dried, most berries and citrus)

I do think there is a balancing point when you are trying to build muscle and eat low sugar. The summer of 2016, I was tired a lot, had some confusion, and dizziness on multiple occasions.  All are symptoms of low blood sugar.  I had to start eating for my workouts, making sure I was eating foods with a higher glycemic index so I could make it through workouts and not feel so tired.  I try to eat higher GI foods two hours before my workouts.   It has helped a lot and kept me on the gain train!  Listening to your body is key!

This is just one reason I will lift heavy weights my whole life and will probably get a little heavier in the process.  Muscle helps control blood sugar.  More muscle means you will be less likely to develop insulin resistance, become pre-diabetic, or develop type II diabetes.  You will be able to manage your weight/physique and diet better for life! All the while, eating more food because muscle needs energy to work and grow.

One Body, One Life. Make It Count!

@ripsterchick

want curves? eat and lift!

Yesterday, I dove deep and shared with you some of the mental hurdles I had to face when I started my weight-loss and lifting journey.  I believe that conquering your inner negativity is a big step forward in making your outside match your inside; finding harmony as a beautiful, strong, whole person.  I want to share some of the food tips and my basic workout philosophy for weightlifting.   I follow my own advice everyday and it helped me lose 100 pounds but more importantly it keeps me on the path of success now.

margaret thatcher quote
food for thought

So many times when I made bad food choices in my early twenties it was because I lacked a plan.  I made quick decisions that impacted my daily calorie intake.  Combining that with poor exercise and I gained weight.  When you have a plan, when you have go-to foods, you start to make habits with your food choices.  Eating and making good choices with a disciplined diet become easier over time.  You will even develop a preference for different foods once your actions become habits… making that strong, beautiful body your destiny!

Make a Plan

You have to pick a diet you will stick to, if you are a meat eater do not go vegan.  If you are a vegan, you can try high protein, low carb (kudos) but you might have a hard time finding foods you can eat.  Try to be easy on yourself.  I did not start off on a gluten-free, dairy free, paelo, vegan, raw diet (still will not and do not).  Baby steps.

  1. I figured out how much I was actually eating.  You have to track the amount of calories you are putting in  your body each day. Write it down or use an app, I like my fitness pal.  Just this trick made me eat less. I realized quickly that I had become a zombie eater- a person that is mindlessly eating when they are not hungry.  I was eating out of boredom or stress, not because my body needed it.
  2. Once you know how much you are currently eating see what happens when you start to reduce your caloric intake.  If you realize you are eating over 3,000 calories daily, what does your body and mind feel like when you eat 2,500?  Do you get hungry more often, dizzy, thirsty?
  3. Drink more water.  Once I started to listen to my body I realized that many times when I went to grab food I was actually thirsty.  Drinking water keeps your digestive track lubricated and happy.  It helps your whole body perform the multitude of functions it needs to do everyday to keep us human.
  4. Once you have started to cut your calories down and noticing how your body is reacting to certain foods chose a diet that works for you. I started out with a very high protein, low carb, low sugar, low-fat diet when I was in my losing weight stage. Now maintaining and building muscles I eat a mix of protein, carbs/fruits, and veggies.  During both stages (weight-loss and maintaining) I eat 80 to 100 grams of protein a day, it is a lot, but I also find that the more protein I eat the less hungry I am.  I notice that it does three things for me.
    • One, it increases my satiety, I am satisfied with the food I eat for longer periods of time.
    • Two, I have higher energy expenditures when I eat high protein, this means I am getting more out of each calorie that I consume, there is less waste, and less that will turn into fat.
    • Finally, it helps me keep and build more muscle while boosting my metabolism.

go-to foods

I have a list of foods I know I can eat no matter what. If you had told me two years ago that there would be days it is hard for me to eat, I would have laughed in your face.  But it is true, some days, after a hard workout, or if I am dehydrated, I do not feel like eating.  I have to force food down to take care of my body and muscles.  You should create a list of easy-to-eat foods that can be snacks, breakfasts, post-workout energy boosts. I am not sponsored by the brands I will mention in this post.  They are just personally what works best for me.

protein bar

  • Pure Protein Bars Chocolate Deluxe are my favorite snack.  I eat at least three a day. They have 21 grams of protein per a bar, 3 grams of sugar and are 180 calories.  I have one for breakfast with my morning coffee.  I also have been known to eat them in my sleep. (I will save that story for another post)
    oikos triple zero
  • I also started eating Greek yogurt: Dannon Oikos Triple Zero, has 15 grams of protein and no added sugar. This is great for the days it really is hard to eat, when you just wish you could drink your calories or eat a pill.  Never felt like that?  Well everyone is different I guess, but believe me this stuff is filling and really easy to eat.  beans
  • Beans are amazing!  They are full of protein and fiber, both nutritional building blocks are great for your digestive track, keeping you full, and building muscles. There are so many different types to choose from.  I enjoy making homemade humus and chilis. I love black beans on wraps.  I like to make lentil soups.  They really are a very diverse food, and again, they are full of fiber!

colon cleanse

  • Fiber is your best friend!  You should try to get as much in as you can through the foods you eat.  I found it hard to get as much as I needed when doing a high protein, low carb diet.  I was not eating a lot of fruit at the time, there is so much fiber packed into the skin of many fruits.  So I picked up a habit I learned from my husband. I take three spoonful every night of Original Colon Cleanse; a powder made of psyllium husks.  It is hard to get down, make sure to drink a lot of water with it.  I started with one spoonful a day and worked my way up to three through experimenting with what works best for my body. Again, everyone is different and will have individual timelines for adjusting to the boost in fiber intake.

Workout Philosophy

When I was 265 pounds I did a lot of walking.  I walked my butt off, literally.  I have lost 100 pounds and a part of that success was cardiovascular activity.  I had to burn more calories than I ate and I did a good job of that.  Once I started to get down to my goal weight I noticed the loose skin.  I missed my curves.  I realized that what I was missing was the muscles I once took for granted when I was a teenager.

On our first date in May 2015, my husband put his hand on my lower back.  He then looked me in the eyes and asked when had I injured my back?  I was shocked!  How did he know?  He told me simply, “you do not have any muscles, no definition from your knees to your lower back.”  Everything had atrophied.

july 5 post workout
post workout booty shot July 2017

I have four herniated discs in my lower back.  I was injured in college in a weight room accident during my career as a NCAA Division I swimmer.  I had lived with moderate to severe back pain for almost a decade and it was the largest motivator for my weight-loss. Within weeks of meeting my husband he had me on a reverse hyper machine, a weight machine designed to strengthen your posterior chain.  He also stressed perfect weight lifting technique.  As you can see from the picture above, proper technique and heavy lifting have made a world of difference for my posterior!

If you do not have a weightlifting coach or have access to a gym I do not recommend doing barbell or dumbbell lifting by yourself.  You should always lift with a partner, and you should seek out individuals that know what they are doing.  My husband is a powerlifter and so it was an easy transition for me to go from machine/moderate lifting to heavy lifting.  I had been one of the strongest girls on my college team and it felt good to get the anaerobic burn back in my muscles.

How do you know if you are lifting heavy?  That is the number one question I get from new lifters.  I compare it to an arm full of groceries… that feeling of burning when you decided to do the whole load in one trip, and even a few minutes later you can feel it in your arm. That is heavy.  If you can do more than 10 reps without breaking form or it is still easy you need to be lifting more weight.

This is called myofibrillar hypertrophy, it builds muscle.  You want to use a weight that is heavy enough for you to do between 2 to 8 reps.  The more weight and the less reps increases both the quantity and size of the muscle fibers, giving you more lean body mass.  You want to push yourself till it the weight is too heavy to lift easily.  This causes microtrauma to the muscle fibers.  These are small tears that your body will repair and replace with stronger and larger tissue.

The simple reasons I lift now are:  I love my curves, I like being able to eat more because muscles need more calories (revving your metabolism), and being strong makes me more self-assured in every facet of my life.  I truly enjoy going into the gym, picking up a set of 35 pound dumbbells and noting the reaction of others as I pump iron.  That feeling is priceless, and the confidence boost enormous! It empowers me to aim high and reach for my goals with renewed tenacity.

With the right fuel and training, anything is possible!

One Body, One Life. Make it Count!

@ripsterchick

 

 

the paradox of the female athlete

I am a muscular woman.  I want to believe that it is good genetics and a very active, athletic childhood that made me predisposed to build muscle.  However, I also know that there have been many roadblocks to my success along the way.  I want to dive into some of the personal struggles that I have had to overcome to achieve my goal: to sculpt the beautiful body I want.  I am on this crazy journey called life just like the rest of us, and I appreciate any insight I glean from others.  I hope this post lets you know that you are not alone, the struggle is real, and there are things we can do to work towards the body and health we want.

Like I said I have been a muscular person my whole life.  Recently I was cleaning out a spare bedroom and found pictures from my childhood.  The picture below is from a dance recital when I was five years old.

dance
May 1992, age 5

Yes, I was a giant kid! Once you get over that shock notice my quads, they were strong. I was no “shrinking violet.” I am not sure if it was my gender or just my mom’s family but my muscles were not viewed positively.  I was “bulky” or “thick” as my mother would explain to me.  My body shapes were not described in positive, or feminine ways, they were not encouraged.  When I looked at the picture as a young person, I saw a chubby little girl looking back at me.  I did not like the way I looked.  I did not like the “fat” on my frame.

In that environment, with those words of “encouragement,” I embraced the diet my mother put me on in elementary school.  I tried my best to eat low-fat, many veggies, and fruits. When we went school clothes shopping, I became frustrated when the legs of the pants would not fit correctly and I had to size up. I would get upset when the clothes I wanted to wear were, “made for skinny girls, not girls with tummies and thick legs.”  I started to hate my body, hate how it looked.  Most importantly, I hated how it made my mother disappointed in me.  To me it felt like my body was betraying me, making it hard for my mother to love and accept me.

On the flip side, I was a star athlete. I learned to swim before I could walk and started on a swim team at the age of three.  I started setting records at the age of seven; pool, age group, and league, several of them still stand, twenty years later.  I was one of the fastest swimmers in the state of Ohio throughout my childhood; I went three years never losing a race.  I made it to states each year of high school.  My junior year I was the state champion in the 100-yard breaststroke, set the state record, as well as being the runner-up in the 100 yard butterfly.

high school state meet 2004
High School State Championships 2004

My family could not have been prouder.  My mother made it to every meet, became a swimming official, and paid for me to train and compete throughout the Mid-west.  During my illustrious swimming career, she was there supporting me, giving herself the title of my nutritionist. At the same time, she was telling me I weighed too much, the number on the scale was too high for a girl.  I started Weight Watchers at the age of twelve to make the number on the scale go down.  I would get discouraged when the number would not move, no matter how much I used the weightlfiting machines and upped my cardio. There was never a correlation in my head, or surrounding support system between my muscles, my athletic ability, and my weight. Muscle weighs more than fat, muscular people weigh more than sedentary people of the same height and frame size.

My personal story I hope highlights the catch-22 that women face when trying to build muscle, gain strength, and be top athletes.  From an early age, the ideal, feminine form that was constructed by others for me and by me was thin, lithe, and most importantly weighed as little as possible.  Think ballerina, runner, or yogi. It did not take into consideration my frame, my genetics, my talents, or my goals. My culture, my gender, and my mother ingrained in my head what my body should look like.  The beautiful, biological machine that made my swimming achievements possible was never celebrated; it was unattractive, unfeminine, and unwanted.

I think that this feminine construct, this beauty ideal is why so many women have a hard time losing weight, working out, and lifting free weights. Women in some cultures are to diet only to lose weight, maybe incorporate light cardiovascular activity, but not lift weights.  I lost 80 pounds before I started to lift heavy (my first reason was to combat loose skin). When I started to show physical improvements through weight training, my mother said in a concerned voice, “it’s great you are losing the weight and lifting, but be careful.  Don’t get too bulky, you don’t want to look like a man.”  What does that even mean?  You do not want to look like you can open your own doors? You do not want to look like you can take care of yourself?

I am an amazing athlete, tragically I starved myself for most of my twenty-year swimming career.  What could I have done if I had been feeding my metabolism and my muscles correctly?  What can I do now? What can you do?

You have to discount the outside voices, societal beauty standards, even your own family.   You have to be true to yourself, find your own beauty and fitness ideal.  What do you think is beautiful?  What do you want to look like?  What do you want your body to be able to do or what fitness goals do you have?

Asking questions like that are going to help you get your head in the game and better frame your ideal body.  I do not want anyone to feel ashamed about his or her appearance or body.  I want them to be able to do everything they want to achieve in the body they have.  It is not about what your body looks like, but what it can do.  I want to do handstand push-ups unassisted, I want six-pack abs (vanity), and I want to have amazing arms in my sixties.  I think all of those things are possible and will make me beautiful to myself.

When I look at the dance picture from above now, I see a little girl with strong arms, and defined legs.  When I look at my swimming pictures, I see a determined athlete, a badass teenager who refused to quit.  When I look in the mirror now I see a woman who is learning to love herself no matter what the number on the scale says.  The weights/numbers that matter now are the ones I put on the bar in the gym.  I am proud of the bulky, veiny arms that help me do push-ups and pull-ups.  I love my muscular calves and legs.  I have a butt because I lift, not because I starve myself thin.

stay strong
post workout in my garage gym July 2017

Someday, when I have a daughter, and she has to size up in jeans because of her swole legs… I will just smile and say, “gains, baby girl, gains!”

One Body, One Life.  Make it Count!

@ripsterchick

One Body, One Life. Make it Count!

In the summer of 2014 I went to a conference in Burlington, Vermont for professional development.  It was a great week and I learned a lot but the major takeaway for me wasn’t the content.  It was something a guest speaker said.  He said, “I don’t want to know your five year plan, I am sure it’s great… I want to hear about what you want to do when you are eighty.”  He went on to tell the audience that both his grandfather and father had died in their mid-fifties and never got to meet their grandchildren. The keynote speaker’s own eighty year plan included daily exercise, a loving marriage, a retirement account, and a fishing camp in Maine.  He envisioned being surround by his children, grandchildren, and hopefully his great-grandchildren.  It was as pretty as a painting, it also made my heart hurt.  I realized then I wasn’t living an eighty year plan, hell I was barely living for a five year plan.  I was twenty-seven years old.

I had not been to a doctor in five years, I had not even had my teeth cleaned since college.  I was burning the candle from both ends and it was starting to show.  I was very overweight, alway tired, lonely, and depressed.  I had a master’s degree and a solid career but not much else.   At the end of the lunch session I went outside on a grassy knoll and called all of my doctors to make appointments.  I needed to change my life, I needed to own my actions, my health, and my future.

nov 2014
November 2014

That day changed the trajectory of my life.  Since that day in July 2014 I regained my strength, wrestled control over my diet, lost over 100 pounds, found an amazing partner and gained the confidence I did not even know I was lacking.  I want to share some of the insight, tips, and habits I have learned and developed during this amazing journey.  I want to pass forward the gift that, Todd, the keynote speaker, gave to me that day back in 2014.  I want to promote positivity, inner strength, and the power of the human spirit. Nothing is out of reach if you dedicate passion and energy to your goals.   Fix your objective in your mind’s eye and reach for the stars.

sarah in bowtie
Today

I hope you visit again.  Feel free to ask me questions about my life, my diet, my training, anything really.  I want to be a resource for others to achieve their full potential.

One Body, One Life.  Make it Count!

@ripsterchick