Looking back over the last 10 years of diet and exercise disasters, I couldn’t help but laugh. Hard.
I have crashed and burned more times than I can count. Picture my gigantic lumbering lug of a dog hurling himself straight into a gleaming glass door in a well-intentioned, excited attempt to reach the backyard. Now picture me doing that same thing, but in the direction of some perfect body mirage. Yup. Ouch.
So, in an attempt to give myself a failed-fad enema, I’m going to dump (sorry, bad joke) this retrospective on you, dear reader.
Phase One – High School
The low-fat calorie pack – While participating in intense sports negated the need for a brain when it came to intelligent exercise, at some point an evil dye-job blondie planted the seed of self-loathing in my mind and I went for anything and everything with a low calorie-count. En masse. Fifty-six 150-calorie mini Froot Loop boxes? Check! And skim milk doesn’t have calories. (Or inflammatory properties). The take-home here is never eating ANYTHING with so much as an ounce of fat. This means EVERYTHING must come in a package – how else would you affix a nutrition label?
Phase Two – College
The first and most important thing to remember when entering University is that the three blocks you walk every day to class and then to the bar is precisely equivalent to the hours of field hockey practice and the metabolism of your pre-teen heyday.
The Atkins Diet – I was generally successful at peeling the cheese off six slices of pizza; scooping the salty innards from a Goodcents sandwich; ordering three chicken Caesar salads and drenching them in three cups of dressing; and basically eating anything with less than 3 grams of “Net Carbs.” This included Atkins bars, drinks, and the myriad of supplements one “needs” when eating grain-fed mystery meat from the Tyson Compressed Chicken Parts Factory. Now that I think about it, they should make a new diet called “The Omega-6 Diet” and just serve up some O-6′s with a side of Bleu Cheese. Side note: Beer is not a carb.
The Elliptical Machine Regimen – This regimen lasted 2 weeks in the fall semester of freshman year, and then I lost my gym pass.
The I Hate Myself Collage – Simple and artistic! Cut out photos from the Victoria’s Secret Catalogue and paste to your food journal.
The 45 Minute OK! Regmen – This sophomore-year regimen consisted of spending 45 minutes on a recumbent bike with an OK! Magazine filled with photos of skinny celebrities. Preferably followed by some Adductor work. If you can figure out how to set the calorie goal on the bike, BONUS! Deduct 30 minutes of bike time. First, however, you must put a $600 Globo Gym membership on your credit card.
The Bean Soup and Toast with Cheese + Sleep Diet – In short, keep some chicken broth in the mini-fridge at your sorority, prepare one serving of freeze-dried vegan bean soup and one slice of low-carb wheat toast with one slice of American Cheese. Consume, then go back to sleep. (Not only do you avoid eating, but you avoid that pesky day of classes!)
Weight Watchers – OK, I never really tried WW; but I did borrow the “Points” book from a friend. Looking back, any program that assigns someone a daily calorie value based on weight alone, then gives them a book that assigns point values to Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is…FINE BY ME! Really, I just found out how many McDonald’s soft-serve ice cream cones fit within my skinny friend’s WW designation; then proceeded to add precisely that many cones to my diet. (Update: Sounds like WW has finally started recognizing Quality Foods! Extra WW points for them.)
Shakes, Bars, and Cardio – pretty self-explanatory. I ate the protein bars like candy and the shakes like pop, so that way when I DID eat candy and pop I could make up for it by spending an hour on the treadmill. This is logical. Note – this requires putting a $500 membership to an all-female gym on your credit card.
Phase Three – Post-College (Professional)
This is where things start moving pretty fast.
Year one, months 1-6 - The Perfect Body Diet Book. I never read it.
Year one, months 7-12 - The Blood Type Diet Book. I never read it.
Year two, months 1-3 – The Mediterranean Diet Book. I never read it. But I did learn to like Olive Oil. Which, I also learned, is not good for frying chicken fingers.
Year two, months 4-6 – Intermittently reading magazines about Jennifer Aniston and thinking about starting the Zone diet. Paraphrasing Robb Wolf, once this book is read, food starts falling from the sky in perfect 40-30-30 ratios.
Year two, months 7-10 – The Two Spin Classes Per Day regimen + Buying Dax Moy’s “Cleanse” PDF online. I read it. Never did it.
Year two, months 11-12 – Tom Venuto’s E-Book. 40 bucks and hours of blog-style testimonials later, I began believing that vanity lifting plus two HIIT/Cardio sessions per day would do it for me. Anything less than 5-6 meals per day would turn disastrous (This is straight from the perfectly symmetrical, oiled-up horse’s mouth). While I was semi-successful with calorie restriction as I graze-ate and spent 2 hours in the gym daily, my intuition that bodybuilding and general vanity did not equal health led me to conclude that Tommy V. wasn’t the guy for me. Somewhere in there was another e-book from some Joey guy that guaranteed a cellulite-free booty if you did a bunch of body-weight exercises and ate cans of green beans with olive oil. I think I requested a refund on that one.
Year three – After a full four years of English Major courses in college and a slew of Amazon.com purchases in the years following, I finally read a book: The New Rules of Lifting For Women by Cassandra Forsythe. For the first time, I saw a woman encouraging chicks to LIFT. (Gwyneth Paltrow can SUCK IT.) I decided Cassandra’s strength was something to emulate. I needed something different…but it still wasn’t quite right. The strength ideals were great, but the solo free-weight trek to fitness wasn’t right for me. I needed community. After all, I’d stuck with spin class for years because my dear friend Layna and I slaved through it together. (See my tribute to Layna at Strong Is Beautiful.)
After much encouragement from then-CaveFeyonce, I decided to drop the dough for a membership to Coach Rut’s Bootcamp-style, Crossfit-driven program. Feyonce was into CrossFit, and our long-distance relationship afforded plenty of time for me to work on getting myself healthy, both for myself and the health of my relationship. (Awww, swoon!) Through Rut’s program I was introduced to smart programming and met-con fundamentals; functional strength; HARD WORK and MENTAL TOUGHNESS; and intelligent nutrition (and the associated performance gains, body and skin health, and resolution of some gnarly self-worth issues). Now-CaveHusband and I relocated to South Jersey and I found Tribe, where I strengthened my foundation in the Olympic lifts and “moving heavy things” with an equally amazing sense of support, community, and smart programming. In short – In the span of two years, I’ve accomplished more and better things than I ever thought possible in the aimlessness of the above-described years one through eight.
So, my three readers (Hi Mom! Hi Gramma! Hi Justin Bieber!), I conclude with this: The moment when things finally fell into place was when I articulated to myself what was truly important to me – being strong and healthy, emotionally and physically. The process has been a pure joy ever since. Everything else – the years of crashing and disappointment – didn’t yield results because the foundation was shaky from the get-go.