Where I think about how I got here.
After 40 minutes of pedaling, I was a sweaty mess thinking “I can’t believe I used to do this all the time.”
See, I haven’t been doing much in the way of cardio lately. Heck, I’ve barely been doing any cardio. But, it was a Monday, my legs were sore, I had over an hour to kill between work & symphony, and taking myself out to dinner that entire time would have meant over-eating (because I don’t trust myself with spare time on my hands), so I chose to try some relatively-light cardio to see if it might alleviate the ache in my legs (it did, somewhat, but that’s not what this post is about).
It used to be that I’d head to the gym, do a 30 minute “isolation” circuit: 10 stations of muscle isolation “station” exercises for a minute apiece, 10 stations of stair running for a minute per station, 10 minutes of rest (broken up into 20, 30 second intervals between the machines and the step) before sitting at an exercise cycle or elliptical machine for whatever time I had remaining, making myself good & sweaty.
I was telling myself, in my sweaty state, that, well, “if I only knew then, what I know now, I’d have done everything differently.”
But, well, that was wrong. Because I don’t think I’d have had any success if I had been doing what I do now, back when I started getting serious.
In January 2013, I weighed over 250 pounds (and wouldn’t even look at the body fat reading on my bathroom scale) and joined a weight-loss challenge. I lost weight – a fairly drastic amount, if I’m honest, by logging everything I ate (I’d turn it into a game by logging what I planned to eat before I ate it). By cutting caloric intake and doing a lot of cardio, I created a sizable calorie deficit; I dropped weight.
And the scale showed it. There was near-instantaneous feedback . . . every week, on Wednesday, I’d step on the scale and it would show a number lower than the previous Wednesday. And I was happy. And I continued.
But the mind and the body have a funny way of playing together as you work toward a goal. As the weight stopped dropping as quickly, I was feeling “skinny fat.” Simply, there was less of me, but I wasn’t feeling all that much better (though, well, I was able to climb the steps while carrying both children without getting winded . . . so I should have felt better than I did before I started – but it’s easy to look past stuff like that when you’re caught in the now). However, I knew I wasn’t following a sustainable plan. My days were getting busier and busier (funny how kids and a job do that), and I had already had to cut cardio from 4-5 hours a week to less than 2 hours/week. I was still logging my food – but I wasn’t eating at a deficit . . . I was getting hungry more often, and when you factor in the reduced amount of time that I was doing cardio, well, I stopped losing weight . . . and there were times that I started adding weight.
So I started research to see how I could make my working out more efficient – and it looked like strength training was the answer. So, I left that circuit behind and learned how to squat. Suddenly, instead of having to carve out, at least, an hour for the gym, to make it worth it, a gym session that lasted a full hour, even when combined with a shower, was the exception. My weight . . . it stayed right where it was. But I started to get stronger. It appeared that my body was more than happy to burn fat and build muscle.
And then I started karate with CJ.
And with that, I read a little about Bruce Lee, and his workout philosophy, and his diet, and how he eschewed refined flour & sugar, well before the term “paleo diet” was even a gleam in a young marketer’s eye, because their calories were empty. I thought I’d try kicking refined flours and sugar for a little while (well, I’ll allow myself a glass of wine most nights . . . so I’ll have some sugar), just to see what happened.
Over the past three months, I’ve stepped onto my scale every morning — this is a scale that sends an electronic pulse through your body to try to determine your body fat percentage. Over these past three months, I’ve seen my body fat percentage, according to this device1, drop from 17% to 13%. All along, the times that I actively feel “hungry”? Well, that’s happening far less often than when I was dealing with a strict calorie deficit.
The hardest part of this change has been trying to ignore the amount of fat I’m ingesting . . . living in a “low fat/no fat” world, it’s difficult to wrap your brain around “eating fats doesn’t necessarily make you fat”.
My fitness plan, at present, is as such: focus on strength training and only do cardio (and light cardio, at that) if I have time on my hands2. Worry about the quality of calories, as opposed to the volume of calories (though I continue to log everything). Avoid processed foods as much as possible, making whatever I can (just to ensure that I know what’s in it; besides, I enjoy cooking).
And a big part of me wishes I had been following this plan since January 2, 2013.
But, with this plan? The weight shown by my scale? Well, I don’t worry about it nearly as much. That drop in body fat percentage? 4% over 3 months, if that’s accurate, that’s a fairly sizable jump in a relatively short amount of time — but on a week by week basis, there would, barely, have been movement. And with the finicky nature of my scale, there are weeks that it’d show in the wrong direction because of Chinese take-out the night before, or something, despite a mostly on-target week. If I were following my current plan, when I first started, the lack of immediate results would have discouraged me to no end; I would have quit..
It’s easy for me to say “what I’m doing now is better than what I was doing yesterday . . . but if I hadn’t done what I was doing yesterday, I’d have never gotten where I am. I know that . . . and, it’s entirely possible that, tomorrow, I’ll find something that works, even better, for me.
TL;DR;: do what works for you, adjust accordingly. Accept that others are doing what works for them, unless you happen to know where they happen to be on this fitness journey.