Struggle with Over Consumption
When I started training with serious commitment in the gym, I decided that my main goal was to put on muscle. Since my main focus was gains in strength and size, I didn't feel the need to track my meals with much accuracy. I ate what I wanted which was mostly homemade food and "healthy", but there was no structure to it. Overall, it worked fine for bulking up and gaining some muscle. After doing this for about 8 months, I became dissatisfied with how I was looking and feeling. I could see my muscles growing and the strength gains in the numbers that I was lifting, but I didn't feel that great. More days than not, I felt bloated and sluggish. I also wanted to see what was underneath that fat and be able to look at my gains in more clarity.
I decided to start tracking all my meals and learn about manipulating my macros in order to accomplish a aesthetic or performance goal. I used the macro calculator on Muscle for Life (a trusted information source) to determine my numbers. I adjusted those numbers so that I would be in a caloric deficit that was enough to make a dent but not too much that I would lose my precious gains. The approach I embarked on was a "cut diet", which aims to reduce body fat in order to show more body definition and muscle.
At the start of my cut diet I weighed in at 150lb. Since the beginning of training, I had definitely put on some size. Some of this was muscle and some of it was gained fat. At this point, I'd been training steadily for about 8 months. My diet was primarily Vegetarian and filled with whole foods. I'm not a junk food eater, but during my first 8 months I did eat a fair amount of Quest bars, Clif bars, and Fit Crunch bars. I also ate out at least 1-2 a week and treated myself with things when I wanted them. The only macro that I focused on was protein, trying to increase my intake from what it had previously been.
At the time of writing this post, I am currently doing a 3 Week Cut to Lean Program that I developed myself to further my nutrition experience and physique. At the start of this phase of my cut diet, I am down 8 lbs and almost all of that was excess body fat. I'm happy with that number because I am taking this nice and slow in order to preserve muscle. I feel much better than prior to starting this new phase. I am much less bloated and feeling more energetic. To learn more about the specifics of this program, click here.
My Relationship with Consumption
I've always had a little bit of an issue with overconsumption of consumables. I can remember overeating in a big way at 8-9 years old. It was no big feat for me to have 3 plates at dinner or eat a whole row of Oreos. I could eat a lot. Having a few big bowls of cereal wouldn't even phase me. As a result, I put on weight as a kid and got kind of sluggish. To take that weight off, I got very restrictive and controlling on my calories.
In 5th grade, I became a Vegetarian but not in a very healthy way. There was a summer where my goal was to only eat 500 calories a day. There would be mornings where I would walk out into the heat and see spots, becoming dizzy and faint just trying to walk. I kept it up though, I wanted control of my body weight and to be thin. Much of this plays in my gender dysphoria, but I wouldn't be able to connect the dots until years later. I used this method along with obsessive home exercise routines to eventually drop to 104 lbs. At 5' 6", this wasn't healthy for me and the routine couldn't sustain itself much longer anyways.
I'm not sure why I stopped, but I eventually did. My Vegetarianism started to have a healthy effect in High School when it forced me to learn how to cook. I started actually preparing my own meals and purchased my first cookbook. Reading about food and preparing it became an interest of mine and led me to do more research. I started to dive deep into books such as, "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser and "Omnivore's Dilema" by Michael Pollen. This research hit a cord with me and made me realize that food involves so much more than your taste buds. What you choose to eat has ethical, health, environmental, and political effects.
Still, even with all the research and changes, I had issues. Food was still a go to for me when it came to pleasure seeking and filling boredom. Plus, it was all over my house. My Grandma came from the depression era and I think it played a role in how food was served in our house. Growing up, I was always offered food. When we went to the grocery store I could pick out whatever I wanted and this often included mostly prepackaged quick food items. I would eat Lunchables as snacks, following that up with some mini microwaveable hot dogs. Cookies were always waiting in a jar nearby and dessert was served with every dinner. Over the years, a habit is engrained in you with this type of surrounding. My brain was trained to always think about food.
After High School, I moved into my first apartment in Downtown Milwaukee. This was my first time being on my own and where I suddenly had the role of choosing all my own meals. I began a regular exercise and food routine during this first year. That routine kept me feeling comforted and safe amidst so much newness. I ate pretty healthy and overall felt pretty good. It was nice to have that time to cook dinner and relax alone, knowing that I was the one that was taking care of myself. I was in charge.
My safe and comfortable routine swiftly changed when I started to love getting drunk. Once I felt the feeling of getting drunk for the first time at around 19 years old, there was no turning back for me. Why would anyone not want to get drunk, I thought. I felt on fire when I was drunk, completely alive. My social anxieties slipped away and I felt a version of myself that had laid dormant arrive and take over. I liked that person, they were funny and charismatic. That version of me was the party and I was glad to be invited.
At first, my use of alcohol was easy to control. I would get sloppy sure, but the rest of my life stayed in order. Over time though this shifted. It started to take over more and more of my nights and days. My early 20's were a booze filled escape of parties, late nights, and wild abandon. I loved it and a low key life just didn't hold a candle to this excess. Suddenly, my school life started to slip away. I began to start to experience anxiety and depression in a way that I hadn't felt since I was about 16. Only this time, it was much worse. It is a vicious circle to be caught in when you discover the cure to anxiety and then the cause of it are the same thing.
My use of alcohol only continued to deepen in my mid twenties, only now it was paired with drug use as well. This is also the time period when the hangovers came into play and they came in hard. During this time, if I wasn't planning on drinking that day/night, I was hungover. It was almost an even 50/50 split. On hangover days, I turned to my ol' pal in getting me out of feeling crappy... food. It was the last ditch effort to feel a burst of happiness or pleasure, shoving a huge amount of Chinese food or Pizza down my throat. Since it worked in the past, my mind told me it would work now. "This will make everything feel better" my mind would repeat in it's own language of whispers to me, only that was a lie. This cycle of binge drink, crash, binge eat, and crash would only make me feel so much worse. I was a stagnant anchor with a mind that was constantly in the clouds.
It took me many years to finally reach my bottom when it came to this unhealthy cycle. When my life spiraled and hit the lowest that I wanted to go at age 27, I knew I needed to drastically change my life. It was at this age that I got sober from alcohol and drugs, entering a state of recovery and renewal of my spirit. Once I started making healthy decisions, they kept unveiling more opportunities for healthy decisions. I began to heal and care for myself. It wasn't overnight but I eventually arrived at a point of wanting to really love myself. Part of authentically caring for my soul and body was being conscious of what I was consuming. This eventually led me to eating with mindfulness and being present regarding my thoughts/feelings while eating or making food choices.
In March of 2016 I came to a real sense of clarity regarding my gender identity and I was able to sew a thread through my life that connected so many disjointed memories. With this realization came behavioral changes even greater than before. I really started to honor myself and be present with my body. This is what led me to body building and eventually to tracking my macros / eating for the purpose of training.
What I've Learned by Tracking
Tracking macros and meals requires a certain amount of dedication and time. By putting aside this time, you are deciding that the action is important and of value. This alone is a great mindset to be in and makes you present for your meals. I've learned several important things from tracking macros...
- I was overeating. With no tracking, there was no record and it was very easy to over consume.
- My carbohydrate intake was way too high. It's easy to over consume carbs, especially when you are eating a lot of veggies and fruit. Whole grain items also prove to be a trap because I justified eating these things but didn't pay attention to the amount closely enough.
- Overeating makes me feel sluggish. Digestion takes work and with the body constantly overtaxed by breaking down food, energy is depleted.
- Many foods deemed "healthy" are caloric bombs. Items such as condiments, sauces, and twists on old favorites can seem healthy if they are made at home but they usually contain many hidden calorie high ingredients.
- My body can do a lot on less. Although somedays my strength isn't firing at max rate, I'm still able to train just as hard as I did before tracking my meals.
- I saved money by sticking to a lower number of choices. Reducing the amount of choices means less ingredients and the need to buy less items.
- I mentally got a break from thinking about food. This takes awhile, but I noticed that after about 8-9 weeks I started to care less about "pleasure seeking" foods. Restaurants and grab and go items started to lose their allure and instead I saw those food items for their nutritional value.
- I started to feel the effects of an unhealthy meal. Once I started eating really clean, I physically felt the toll of unhealthy food. If I were to go off plan and cheat, I would often get a food hangover and feel sick the next morning. No joke, this happened to me multiple times.
Why Simple Meals = Freedom
As someone who has struggled with overeating and binge drinking, I find a lot of help in simple meals. Without so many choices, my mind is free to focus on other things. Also, my pleasure in food doesn't strictly revolve around the taste and the physical act of eating. It now has more to do with the feeling of having earned my meal and feeling my body be nourished by the food. I can see how tracking may seem obsessive or even unhealthy, but I have to disagree with that. When tracking from a place of self love and positive goal seeking, it is a great tool for mindfulness and awareness while eating.
Any act of consumption can quickly turn into a way to shove down feelings, anxieties, and fears. Whether it's a case of beer or a case of donuts, items that we consume can quickly turn into sources of go-to gratification. Gaining a sense a why you're over consuming is step number one, but a great tool in exerting mindfulness over this is tracking. I'd highly recommend that anyone who struggles with issues relating to over consumption (or negative food habits) seek help. These issues are often emotional and it takes a deeper look into them than just changing a dietary habit. Once someone has some grounding on why they are struggling, the addition of healthy habits is the next step. I have found a lot of freedom in learning to love taking care of myself through healthy habits and consistency.
This post is an honest sharing of my personal story and is not meant to be taken as medical advice. If you are struggling from an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, or substance abuse please seek help. As someone who has been through all of the above, I know what a great help professional help can be. To find a therapist in your area, click here.