A couple of weeks ago, I decided to make a positive change in my nutrition, health and fitness. Oh, side note: this post will probably be very loooong. Anyway…
I recently spiraled out of control with food. I wasn’t eating a TON of it, but I was eating ALL meals that weren’t really that sustainable or whole. Pancakes, greasy bacon, tons of starchy carbs without and protein to keep me going…I just got into a bad place with it.
I realized that it was not only affecting how I look (which I did not care for), but that it was also affecting my running.
And just like that, I decided that enough was enough.
Let me give you a little back story. I was very, very, VERY thin my entire life. I maintained the same weight in high school and ate chicken nuggets from McD’s every damn day. That continued into college, and into adulthood, and into marriage.
When I decided I wanted to carry a child, I was pretty certain that I’d have no trouble morphing right back into the photo above. I was wrong. Why? Because I did nothing to keep myself in shape. I was skinny. That isn’t the same as in shape, and they should not be interchangeable. The girl in the photo above never took the stairs, never did a push up or a crunch, and sat still all day. She also used to say if she had to run for her life, she would just die.
I gained 53 pounds carrying Gracie and continue to sit on the couch. After she was born, I hung out and took selfies just waiting for baby weight to fall off like I was so sure it would. I did jack shit, otherwise.
It was then that I decided to run. And if you have followed my blog or social accounts for a while, you know a lot about my journey – so I won’t discus all of it in this post. While the weight started to come off, it was more than that. I realized that I had to do more than run, and that was a struggle for me. I needed to eat right, and it was new territory. I was used to eating whatever I wanted, and I guess those days were over.
I knew absolutely nothing about eating plans or nutrition or diets (because why would I?), so I decided to try the following – and fail miserably at all of them – since 2014:
- BeachBody’s Crapology & the 21 Day Fix. Also known as “you nee to limit the amount of vegetables you eat and replace meals with powder for just at least 100 dollars a month.”
- Calorie counting and MyFitnessPal. I was eating 800. Eight. Freaking. Hundred. One day I pulled over by train tracks near my house and ate a whole package of chocolate malt balls because I felt like I’d die if I didn’t eat.
- Low carb/High protein. I was good for about 48 hours, and then I was hit with the “low carb flu.” I felt like I got run over by a train, ate a loaf of bread shortly thereafter, and failed yet again.
From then on, I was sort of in a slump. I felt like I tried everything that worked for everyone else (supposedly), and that I just couldn’t get where I wanted to be. I weighed myself 8 times a day sometimes, and that’s a sure fire way to get very pissed off. I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to carry extra weight and deal with it.
Then, I remembered what kind of person I am. I’m a leader, but also very teachable. I love to learn. I decided I would learn all I could about nutrition for endurance athletes who run races like half marathons and marathons. When I learned the truth about some things, and when I redefined “healthy,” that’s when things began to change.
Since then, I have put myself on a self-created nutrition plan to help tone, tighten, strengthen, and build endurance. My results are not based on weight; I do not own a scale (well, the one I do own is broken to the point that it isn’t usable, and I am not buying a new one). The only time I weigh myself is at doctor appointments where it’s a standard part of the visit.
People have been telling me that I must have some kind of secret, and I don’t think that’s the case. Here is my tell-all.
You cannot get around some form of cardio as part of your workout routine. I hate to break it to you so bluntly, but I have seen so many gimmick type workouts that are aimed at “you don’t need to do cardio or break a sweat!” FALSE. You do need to do cardio, and you absolutely need to break a sweat. You need to be working out at 60% of your max heart rate, consistently. This is fat burning territory. Here is an example of my typical week:
- MONDAY: FitnessBlender Quiet Cardio + FitnessBlender Abs
- TUESDAY: Run @ 60% MHR for 30 minutes
- WEDNESDAY: FitnessBlender Abs (8 mins or less)
- THURSDAY: Run @ 60% MHR + speed intervals (fartlek style) @ 80% MHR
- FRIDAY (OPTIONAL): Fitness Blender Abs (8 mins or less)
- SATURDAY: Intense Cardio & Abs (HIIT)
- SUNDAY: Long Run (5+ miles) @60% MHR
As you can see, I run a lot. That’s part of it. When you run, your core is engaged (as it everything else). However, not everyone enjoys running or is able to force body weight + more on their knees over and over again. Cardio is essential, but you can totally swing it with low impact/no-bounce/no jump workouts.
Ahhh yes – abs really are made in the kitchen. That doesn’t mean you have to eat bland food and be miserable, though. Here is my typical list of foods I eat each week as well as a very length explanation below of how to pull all of this off:
- Whole grain waffles
- Natural, unsweetened peanut butter (homemade if you can swing it!)
- Fresh apples
- Fresh pairs
- Plan sunflower seeds
- Quick-cook steel cut oats
- Homemade egg muffins with fresh greens
- Ground turkey
- Whole grain pastas
- Spinach or whole wheat wraps
- Ezekiel Bread
- Fresh vegetables of any kind
- Fresh potatoes (regular or sweet)
- Homemade broths, like Run Fast Eat Slow’s mineral broth
- Garlic (lots of it)
- Hot sauce
- Sea Salt
- Silk French Vanilla creamer**
- Unsweetened almond milk
- Vega All-In-One protein shake in Mocha
- Frozen bananas
- Homemade pasta sauce
- Homemade meatballs
- Whole wheat breads
- Eggs, eggs, eggs
- Brown rices
- La Croix sparkling water
- NUUN hydration
- Energy gels for long runs
- Turkey Bacon (and sometimes regular bacon)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Non-fat plain Greek yogurt
**I’m human, and I am not giving up soy creamer – it’s that simple.
The above mentioned is meant to be suggestions and give you a list of foods I typically eat on this nutrition plan. They shouldn’t serve as a list of “approved foods” by any means, and I am sure I am forgetting some.
And now, this is a list of foods you absolutely want to stay away from. The foods below will not sustain you, will tac on extra calories, will make you feel bloated. Every time you eat one, a kitten whimpers (too far?):
- Boxed breakfast cereals
- Pre-packaged oatmeal
- Anything with added sugar
- Pre-packaged fruit juices
- Pre-packaged lunch meats (if you’re going to eat them, get them from the deli fresh cut as they are likely free of nitrates)
- Sweetened or flavored milks, both dairy and non-dairy
- White bread (sorry ya’ll)
- ANYTHING with artificial sweeteners! Note: Stevia is not an artificial sweetener.
- Man-made oils, such as canola oil
- Fried foods (bake them instead, and do it yourself)
- Artificial “spreads” in place of butter
- Cheese “product”
- Anything that includes a spice packet, because it’s all MSG, preservatives, high sodium
And there you have it. I avoid the above like the plague. It’s important to learn to read what is in the food that you are eating. That’s why eating whole foods is more efficient than you think – there is no label on a fresh bunch of parsley, a handful of celery stalks, or a bag of fresh apples.
I don’t track my calories. I eat when I am hungry, as long as it’s something whole that my body will thank me for. Heck, sometimes I eat when I am bored – as long as it’s something like baby cut carrots instead of chips. Counting calories is a way to fail. You don’t need to eat LESS of them; you need to replace the empty ones with ones that will sustain.
Here are some tips for sticking to something like this:
Tip #1: Learn to love cooking, and learn to love it with fresh ingredients. There are two types of cooking: boiling something from a box that includes a spice packet full of MSG, or using whole foods to make your own meals from scratch. The latter is often deemed a pain in the ass, but the former is definitely a pound in the ass.
There is something rewarding about cooking with whole ingredients. You put so much effort into cutting, chopping, measuring, peeling, boiling…your meals almost become a work of art and with that comes a sense of accomplishment. You don’t need to be a top chef to earn the rewards that come with cooking beautiful meals. To get in shape, you need to eat and cook with whole foods – there is no way around it.
Tip #2: Understand your lifestyle and meal prep according to it. Are you a person who is always on the go? Do you get one lunch break and find no other time to snack? Are you on your feet all day? Do you sit at a desk? Knowing your lifestyle will help you figure out what works for you when it comes to meal prepping. Meal prepping is non-negotiable, by the way, regardless of what your lifestyle is.
Why? Because if you follow tip #1, you don’t hack your masterpiece to order wings + celery and ranch. You put so much effort into cooking when you start from scratch that you aren’t going to say “well screw that” if it’s already done. Prep your meals. Make sure there’s enough food for you to eat throughout the day. Prep your snacks. Prep it all. I don’t prep a week at a time, but I do prep about three days at a time. Never once have I prepped a healthy meal from scratch, all on my own, and threw it away for junk food. Bitch, please – I spend hours cooking! And while I enjoy it, it requires effort. I would feel like like a jerk if I threw away what I worked hard on.
Tip #3: You can’t skip cardio and expect to get lean and in shape. Cardio is an essential part of working out. I’m sorry. Cardio will help you build endurance for your strength training.
So, where do you find a wealth of cardio workouts? You could run like me, of course! But I also use FitnessBlender on YouTube. These workouts are FREE and come in low impact, high impact, and a bunch of other options.
Tip #4: The exercise has to be fun for you; if it isn’t fun, you are wasting your time and will not stick to it. I hate Group Ex classes. I hate everything about them. I hate almost bumping into people while I am trying to work out, and I don’t like being at the mercy of some woman with a 1984 headset. Just me.
What I DO love is running, either alone or with a cool group. I love Sunday long runs up all of the hills of Youngstown and Mill Creek Park. For some of you, that statement made you cringe, and you may be on your way to a group ex class in an hour! Just you.
So, the point is…find exercise that you LOVE. Try different types of cardio and strength training until you find one that fits. PS: If you want to safely start running…#callme.
Most of all, love your body and treat it right – and it will love you back.
Questions? Shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are all wonderful, and thanks for reading. Look for more updates soon!