My 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.
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.
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!)
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!”
Yes, even for you.