What Does Normal Bloating Look Like?

I recorded a video for my YouTube channel yesterday (I’ll post it below) that I thought would translate pretty well into a blog as well (plus, I’m going to add some bonus pictures that aren’t in the video just for my awesome blog readers). For those who would rather watch vs. read (or watch and read), here is the video:

Now…let’s talk about bloating.

This experiment was inspired by one of my favorite YouTubers, Natacha Océane, who recorded what a normal day of bloating and scale fluctuations look like for her. Now, there are a few differences between Natacha and myself…

Natacha and Me

…have you spotted them?

I’ll give you a minute.

Just in case you can’t tell from this photo, Natacha is in her 20s, has never been obese, and has never had a child — three pretty big differences between the two of us!

I loved her honest portrayal so much, though, that I wanted to provide my own showing my different body type. So, that’s what I did!

Now, if you watch the video, you’ll hear all about how difficult this day wound up being for me. I struggle pretty hard with watching the scale and my body fluctuate. I am hoping that this experiment will help to remind me that these are very fickle things that fluctuate wildly, and there’s no need or reason to change anything just because of minor fluctuations like this.

Now, the experiment…

Method!

I “measured” as soon as I woke up, after my run, after lunch, before bed, and when I woke up again this morning.

I took two sets of photos/video: my abs relaxed vs. my abs flexed (not that you can see them, haha).

I also weighed myself.

What I Ate

Pre-run: espresso with some creamer

Breakfast: protein pancakes w/ extra protein powder, peanut butter chips, coffee w/ creamer

Lunch: half of a buffalo ranch salad kit with a beef pattie on top, sweet potato chips, sour gummies

Dinner: a bowl of cereal with 2% milk, blueberries, and a yogurt

Snacks: lunch meat (turkey), crackers, pickles, protein bar, decaf coffee with creamer

How I Worked Out

5-mile short run

Results!

Here are the weights:

I was 140.2 when I woke up, 138.8 after my 5-mile run, 140.8 after lunch, and 140.8 before bed.

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I woke up at 139.6 this morning.

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Abs Relaxed Photos

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This morning:

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Abs Flexed Photos!

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This morning:

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Conclusion!

Bloat is normal, the scale fluctuates a lot throughout the day and day-to-day, and these things are not something to worry about. I thought, at first, that I bloat up “bigger” than others because of the elasticity in my stomach area, but I’m honestly not sure that’s true now. I think I’m just much more critical of myself!

Also, on a personal note, yes, I have legitimately gained a couple pounds in the last couple of months. I actually had lost about 4-5 pounds when I went on a short-term, idiotic diet, but my body composition test told me that all I’d managed to do was lose muscle & water & freak my body out so that it was holding onto fat for dear life. So, I stopped dieting, got back on the intuitive eating train, and re-gained the weight within 3 weeks. My next body composition test is next week, and I’m hoping to see that I have my muscle (water) back.

Personal Note

This was a really hard experiment for me, and I am feeling all sorts of anxious about putting it out there. I’m definitely struggling with body image a lot these days – more, I think, than I was even before I started exercising.

That said, the exercise is going amazingly well! I continue to see gains in my strength and endurance, and I want that to be all that matters — I at least want it to matter more than a stupid number on a scale. I hope, some day, this is true for me.

 

So, I Started a YouTube Channel…

I’m kind of hesitant/reluctant to share this here, because writing is definitely “my language,” but I’ve decided to start a YouTube channel. Actually, I used to vlog back in college, so this isn’t an entirely new medium for me, but, in any case… this is just a very short entry to say “hey…if you’ve ever wondered what I sound like…now you can know…”

The channel is going to be quite similar to this blog. I want to be open and honest about my previous weight loss journey, eating disorder recovery, intuitive eating, mental health, and fitness journey. I’m always open to suggestions on what to film; there are a few little videos up right now. I’ll post one below! Side note: right now, I am just filming with my phone until I decide if this is something I see myself doing long-term. Right now, I’m just dipping my toe into this new hobby.

Fuck Thin; I Choose Fat

I know I just wrote a post days ago about how well following my hunger was going, but now I need to come here and be real with you.

 
I’ve been down on myself since my surgery last week because it meant having to stop exercising and then having to limit my exercise for a period of time. 

I have been very hungry, and I have eaten…and not always the most nutritious foods. I got hooked on the scale a bit again, watched it jump up overnight, and panicked.

I jumped back into the gym before my doctor wanted me to, I pushed too hard, and I insulted myself internally when my body failed to perform.
I have felt out of control. I started fretting about calories again. I looked in the mirror over and over and over trying to see if I was bigger. 

I am full of anxiety, panic, fear. Fear that I’m gaining fat. Fear that I am out of control and cannot regain it. Fear that I am no longer good at being hungry and not eating.

I do not want to live this way. This isn’t a way to live. And, I am so angry.
I’m angry that I can’t control my thoughts and fears. I’m angry that this…THIS…is what’s taking up all of my energy and brain space.

Fuck. This.

Fuck This picture of my fat loss
Fuck this picture of my body composition history.
And ESPECIALLY Fuck This picture that went viral of my eating disorder weightloss
Do you know what happens when you die?

You leave your body behind.

Your thin body, your fat body, your firm body, your squishy body… it doesn’t matter how thin, fat, or muscular it is — your body stays behind, and it’s buried in the ground. And the body you leave behind is no comfort to those who love you, because it becomes vividly clear at the moment of death that you are not your body.

I have had the honor at being at both of my grandmothers’ passings, and I can tell you that there is a very distinct moment when a person becomes a body.

I know that is morbid — maybe too morbid for this medium. Well, I’m not sorry.

We (myself included) spend so much time, energy, effort, and money on the one part of ourselves that we ultimately leave behind. I’m not saying to completely ignore it; I’m just saying that what it looks like really does. not. matter. It just doesn’t. And I, personally, have invested a lifetime’s worth of anxiety into that bit.

So, here’s the deal.

I’m going to let myself get fat.

I’m going to keep eating when I am hungry.

I am going to keep having dessert and peppermint mochas and kettle-cooked potato chips with my white-bread sandwiches.

I’m going to keep lifting weights and running, because I love how it makes me feel. I am going to pursue a half marathon, a marathon, and who knows what else, because it excites me. But, I am also going to rest more when my body needs it.

And, I am going to let my body get fat if that is what doing all of this makes happen.

And, if you look at my fatter body and feel a little bit of smug pride in yourself for being thinner, then good! I am glad that I could in any way contribute to you feeling good about yourself for even a moment.

If you think I’ve gotten lazy, am making poor choices, am giving up, weak, or ruining something, then why are you still here? It sounds like we wouldn’t make great friends. I’m ok with that.

I don’t need you to approve of my body. I don’t always approve of it either, and I still get through the day.

No-Track November Results

At the beginning of November, I made a commitment to stop tracking my macros for the entire month. I wanted to see what exactly would happen if I, someone who has previously been obese but lost a lot of weight via tracking, stopped tracking those macros. It is now December, so it is time to report on those results. To really capture the breadth of the results, I’m going to break this down into a few categories.

1 – The Mental Impact

To be completely honest, it took me a couple of weeks to really fully let go. For the first couple of weeks, I wasn’t using MyFitnessPal or weighing/measuring my food, but I was still “tracking in my head” using “guesstimates.” The first phase was highly stressful; I was hungry and wanting to eat more food, but I was so scared to do so.

Somewhere around the midpoint, my nutritionist challenged me to really let go and just eat to my hunger and see what would happen. I realized that the only way I’m going to really know if this works for me is to force myself to “just do it” even while my fear and anxiety kicked and screamed in my head.

So, I began specifically challenging myself: I bought foods for which I could not guesstimate nutrition information; I swapped my low-calorie bread for regular bread; I drank a little eggnog…and even a little alcohol; I had snacks that went over my previously assumed “safe calorie limit.” The more that I did these things and seen nothing terrible happen, the easier it got.

Thanksgiving was great – I trusted my hunger even on that day, which meant eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus snacks and not just hoarding calories for some big huge meal. I still struggled emotionally over the leftovers and had lots of reflection over how I used to binge and be stuffed for weeks on Thanksgiving leftovers in the past. The thing is, I now cook turkey and potatoes, etc. all year long, so there is really no desire to gorge on these things. I can and do have them whenever I want them. In fact, on Thanksgiving itself, I wound up mostly eating shrimp cocktail and veggies with dip because it was what I wanted more than turkey, which I eat all the time.

Then…last week, I had to have minor surgery, which meant I had to take a break from exercise.

Holy anxiety hell.

First, I had to fast for the surgery, which was hugely difficult for me after all of this unrestricted eating. Second, I had to eat without exercising, which just was really scary. Thank god I had a meeting with my nutritionist a couple of days after surgery so she could help me screw my head back on straight. I realized that eating to my hunger has to mean eating to my hunger no matter what other circumstances are going on. And…that the only way I can know if I can trust my body AND my hunger is to listen to it even when my routines have to change.

Damn that ED and its ability to create new rules with literally anything! Breaking routines — ALL routines — and working on my flexibility is an area I still need to work on.

The good news is – I did it. I ate even when not exercising. I ate carbs, cheese, ice cream, peanut butter… Aside from one or two instances, I did not hold back and force myself to be hungry. I did wimp out and avoid eating out, I admit, but I will get there.

Obviously, the mental aspect of all of this is the area that needs the most work.

2 – The Social Impact

I cannot tell you how many times I have avoided, dreaded, or cancelled social gatherings/outings because of food and calories. The absolute best part of letting go of tracking is being able to let go of this need to “reserve calories” for social situations.

Probably the best thing that’s starting to come back is my desire and ability to go out to eat with coworkers. My entire team went out to eat at a local restaurant I’d been dying to try, and I thoroughly enjoyed having some appetizers, a main dish, AND a dessert. It was a really great outing — something I really miss doing.

Another event I got to attend and may previously have avoided because of the ED is taking my daughter to a breakfast with Santa! Yes, they had donuts and fast food as the only options. But did I die? Nope. And, we had a great time!

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3 – The Physical Impact

Ultimately, my weight actually went down a tiny bit and then remained steady for the entire month of November. Honestly, scale-wise, if I really look at it – I am exactly the same weight I was months and months ago…before ever starting exercising. I don’t look exactly the same, because my body composition has changed, but a standard scale reads the same number.

My performance did increase some! I finally broke 30 minutes on my 5k and joked that it was the Thanksgiving stuffing having finally made it to my glycogen stores 😉 Overall, I have felt better, stronger, more energized, and even warmer (I am usually freezing all the time, but my cold tolerance is much better than it’s ever been).

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Ultimate Takeaways and Next Steps

Something that this has all definitely shown me is that I have wasted SO much time agonizing over tiny food decisions when my body can clearly handle so much more than I thought. I used to beat myself up so hard over an extra piece of bread or a few extra bites of ice cream, because that is what Weight Watchers taught me was the “slippery slope” that had made me obese to begin with.

But, I realize now that I wasn’t listening to my hunger any better when I was obese than I am/was when I was too thin. I’m also realizing that maybe I really can trust my body to tell me what it needs. That hunger isn’t something to fight against or embrace or fear: hunger is my body telling me it needs food, and it is OK to listen to that. My body and my hunger know a little something about what they are doing. Also, apparently my body can handle (or maybe even needs) a whole lot more food than I thought… so, there’s that.

So, it is now December, and I am still not tracking and have no intention of returning to doing so. For December, I plan to fully embrace following my hunger to again see what happens and where my hunger will lead me.

I also need to push myself to challenge ALL of my food and even exercise routines: rigidity is my ED’s thing, and it does not benefit my life, mind, or body.

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Keep Your Diet Away From My Holidays

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I’ve been reflecting a lot about past holidays. I remember sitting in Weight Watchers meetings around this time of year hearing the leaders talk about how to portion out your plate and comparing the different Points values for each of the traditional side dishes. If I remember correctly, Weight Watchers even had an interactive web page where you could build a Thanksgiving plate of food and see how many Points you would be using. Most of us hoarded our “extra weekly points” for this meal, and there was a lot of anxiety over leftovers as well.

I also remember always worrying about what my family would think of however I might look that year. I’ve been a lot of shapes and sizes, and I almost never look the same from one Thanksgiving to the next (and this year is no exception). I’d change outfits a half a dozen times trying to find the right combination of flattering and comfortable.

During my binge eating days, I remember sneaking a lot of food during and around the meal when I thought people were not looking. I remember eating until I was in pain and then doing it again and again with leftovers in the days that would follow Thanksgiving. I felt out of control around those leftovers and, to this day, Thanksgiving leftovers cause me a lot of anxiety, which is why I have always tried to “forget” my leftovers box when we leave my mother’s house (hi, mom! I know you’re reading…)

During my restrictive days, I have some pretty dark memories of how I handled the food during holidays – the details of which I’m too ashamed to share. There was also one Thanksgiving during which I used veganism to avoid eating pretty much anything. Instead, I brought along my own box of “safe” foods so that I could at least appear to be eating something.

Reflecting back on all of these holiday memories really makes me sad: why are so many of my holiday memories about food and weight anxieties? I LOVE the holidays…or, at least, I thought I did.

This Thanksgiving is going to be different. This Thanksgiving, I will not be tracking my food or calories; I will not be weighing or measuring my food; I won’t even be weighing myself. There’s not a single food I will avoid; in fact, if the little voice in my head says to avoid a certain food, I’m challenging myself to eat the thing its telling me not to eat — even if it’s just one bite.

This Thanksgiving, I will not starve all day to “reserve calories” for this one meal. I will eat when I am hungry, and I will eat until I am full. I will trust my body AND my hunger to guide me in how much I should consume. This is the challenge my nutritionist and I have agreed upon: I am to follow my hunger so that we can see what happens. So far, nothing catastrophic.

This Thanksgiving, I will happily and, with gratitude, take those leftovers home and actually eat them. Yes, even the stuffing and pecan pie.

And, when Christmas comes, I will have Christmas cookies, Christmas brunch, Christmas Eve AND Christmas dinners. I might eat past fullness — overeat, you might say. I might gain a little weight. The world will not end.

I’m talking as if this is all easy; it isn’t. But, I’m setting the intention anyways. I’m tired of worrying about calories during the holidays (and every other day too); I’m tired of centering my life around food and body shape. I thought that my life would no longer be all about food when I finally got thinner, but the opposite was actually true.

Food, diets, weightloss, “lifestyle changes” to be thinner, eating disorders, whatever you want to call it…have robbed me of enough time. They are not welcome at my holiday celebrations this year.

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No-Track November

I’ve been bouncing around the idea of trying out intuitive eating (or at least not tracking my food) for some time now. I’m not sure I can convey the anxiety this concept causes me, but let me try:

Imagine everything in your life that matters to you: everyone you love, everyone who loves you, all you have accomplished, all of your hopes and dreams for yourself and your loved ones.

Now, imagine all of those things only exist in your life for as long as you remain in firm control of your caloric intake, body shape, and the number on the scale.

If you’ve been able to conjure up the feeling of life-ending anxiety and pressure that entails, then you now know what every single moment of my life feels like for me. And, you’ll understand a little better the magnitude of this decision.

I am doing this for a few reasons:

1. I’m honestly curious what will happen. Can someone who was previously obese, lost the weight, and maintained that loss for years actually give up tracking food and NOT gain everything back? I don’t know. And, I don’t know how else to find out except to experiment.

2. There’s some scary shit beneath the surface of this eating disorder. If I’m not obsessing over calories and macros, what is going to come up? What will fill my mind? I want to tackle the deeper layer now. I can only do that if I am not numbing myself with restriction and food obsession.

3. I realized recently that both mine and my family’s diets are rather limited. I do all of the cooking, and I tend to cook the same “safe foods” repeatedly. I also often eat something entirely different from the rest of my family. This is not how I want to raise my daughter. Also, it’s not how I want to live. I LOVE cooking…or, at least, I used to…

So, here we go.

There’s no other way to do this but to just do it — and it needs to be for long enough that I can really truly see “what happens.” We’ll start with a month.

Eat Less, Weigh Less: A Woman’s Mantra

43117043_10102349786336293_6428486540736856064_nMy whole life, I have always thought there was only one way to “be” as a woman: eat less, weigh less.

That’s how you get thin; that’s how you stay thin. And, women should be thin.

After years of trying and failing to commit to eating less, somehow, I finally got a grip on that chain, and I’ve been toeing that line for a decade.

It’s exhausting. There’s a reason that all of the studies show that most people who lose weight will gain it back. (Even my nutritionist tells me that I’m the first person she’s ever met who is part of the National Weight Control Registry.) I have spent years living in fear that I will gain it all back too. To combat that fear, I clung to this truth: “If I eat less, it can’t happen.”

Starvation is a full-time job. There are no breaks when you turn restriction into a lifestyle. When every calorie matters, food becomes an obsession: the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night. It even invades your dreams. You learn to live at a low level of hunger at all times.

I am so tired of being hungry.

Three months ago, I stumbled into a local gym that provides personal training and specializes in educating their clients about all things health-related. During my consultation, I told the owner that I had nutrition down but was ready to learn about exercise.

For the first couple of months, I continued to do what I’ve always done: eat less. I asked even more of my body, and I was so angry at it when it “failed me.” In frustration, I did, again, what I’ve always done: I doubled down on my commitment. I decided that I would eat even less, I would work out even more. That has always been the answer: eat less, move more. Right?

And then, about a month ago, after literally crying outside of the gym after a particularly bad day in which I felt weak and like I had regressed in my strength training, I found this video by a female fitness (and especially strength training) guru, Natacha Océane. In the video, she halved her caloric intake for a week (dropping from her normal 2,500-2,800 to just 1,400 calories per day, which was about what I was eating at the time) but continued her typical exercise routine. Suddenly, she couldn’t lift nearly as much weight, she was exhausted, and every time she ate, she just felt more hungry.

I felt like I was watching myself from that morning at the gym – unable to lift what I’d just been able to lift a couple of weeks before.

And something clicked. And I watched more videos, read more articles, scoured the internet world of female strength training and…holy…crap.

There is an entirely different world out there.

There is a world of women who are eating more, gaining muscle (which means, yes, gaining weight on a scale), and yet somehow being leaner and stronger and a million times more alive than my starving self.

There are countless women showing how they moved from an “eat less, weigh less” lifestyle to an “eat more, f#@% the scale” strength training lifestyle and are now actually a few dress sizes smaller despite a higher number on the standard scale.

But, more than that, there are women who have said “f#@% the scale, f#@% my appearance, I want to be strong. I want to be able to do pull-ups. I want to run a Spartan race. I want to deadlift double my weight. And that is what is going to fulfill me.”

At first, I was thinking “well of course it’s OK for you, super fit women, to eat more; but, not me. I’m not allowed to eat that much.”

What sealed the deal for me, though, was my trainer very bluntly telling all of us that he sees so many of his female clients come in eating next to nothing and desperately trying to lose weight, and that his goal for us was to see us eating more, getting stronger, and focusing on performance goals.

That told me “Yes, you…specifically you…who are not super fit or lean like the women in those YouTube videos, you who still have a lot of body fat…even you are allowed to eat more. NEED to eat more. This will work even for you.”

And, so I am.

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Slowly, and with a lot of fear and trepidation, but also with trust and just as much stubbornness and willpower as it took to restrict, I am increasing my intake. I am changing my goals.

I am no longer trying to eat less to weigh less; I am trying to eat more to get stronger and to develop a lifestyle in which I am thriving – doing so much more than trying to stay thin.

And, it’s working.

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I went from never running a mile straight to being able to run a 5k in a matter of weeks. (Aiming for my first 10k on Thanksgiving day!)

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If you follow me on Instagram (@saladflambe), you’ll have already seen this, but I gained a pound this month, and it was all muscle; plus, I still lost some fat. All while eating more, not less.

I want to shout it from the rooftops… every time I see someone talking about how little they are eating, I want to take their face in my hands, look them in the eye and say “you don’t have to do that! There is another way to live! And to really, truly be alive!”

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Yes, even for you.