Working in the fitness industry, you worth or quality as a trainer is often judged by your appearance, namely the size of your biceps or how defined your abs are. Unfortunately for those looking for a coach, appearance can be a very poor indicator of knowledge and the ability to help someone reach their goal. Knowing that I am being judged has never been a motivator for me to change who I am or how I look. Abs are made in the kitchen after all and not in the weight room, which has always been my challenge. I like to eat! Now how does this apply to the level 2 cert? It is fairly easy to comprehend that pull-ups would easier if you had less weight to pull. In theory, if one has a certification coming up where they needed to do a lot of pull ups and other bodyweight movements it would be helpful to shed any unwanted weight. If we adopt the common calories in-calories out approach, there are two paths to take – 1) workout more 2) eat less (or better, you get the idea). The quality of my trainer has never been in question; diet is where my obstacles lie. The challenge is one of consistency, for consistently eating a healthy diet is quite challenging for me. It is not for a lack of knowledge. I have been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since 2007 and have read countless books, articles and the like about nutrition and what is considered ‘healthy’ eating. I have taken courses in exercise physiology, anatomy and nutrition and know the importance of eating healthy, especially for athletes and those that exercise often. As in most things though, knowledge counts for little unless it is put into action.
My biggest foe in this battle is my sweet tooth, and I have a massive one! I was fortunate to grow up with a wonderful mother who wrote cook books and was constantly testing delicious comfort food recipes. I would come home to three cakes sitting out on the counter and would have to determine which was best (this didn’t happen that often to be honest, but we were always very well fed). For the most part we ate fairly healthy Canadian fare, but when the weekend came it was the time when we were allowed to indulge and have some chips and pop or maybe order a pizza on a Friday night. It was a reward for the whole family of us after a long week in school or at work. Even as a child, my sweet tooth knew no limits. I remember my parents looking at me with a puzzled stare after discovering I had eaten 3 popsicles in a row or drank three cans of pop on a Saturday afternoon. One night I even ate an entire bottle of Flintstone vitamins when they weren’t looking (luckily it was a non-toxic dose – these were basically like candy anyways).
The habits I developed as a youth have carried into adulthood and have persisted as I began to work as a trainer and help people to lead healthier lives. My sweet tooth and battle with diet has always been my dirty little secret though. Knowing I am trainer, people expect me to only eat broccoli and protein shakes; people also seem to automatically feel judged if they eat sweets or indulgent food around me. Oh little do they know I have my own guilty pleasures! My brother in law actually revels in the fact that while I may eat extra servings of vegetables during Sunday dinner, if someone brought a cake or dessert he knows my eyes will light up and seconds will be had. He gets to see me be normal too. I don’t pretend that I am perfect and have to remind people that I am a human being living in our sugar frosted society too. I don’t really care either that I am being constantly judged by my appearance. If a client will only work with me solely based on how I look, this person is not going to be a good fit to work with me anyways. I do however wish to dedicate myself and my life’s work to the service of others, assisting and inspiring others on their journey to become actualized and live the healthiest and happiest life possible. In this regard I try to serve as an example for others and know that my often unhealthy eating habits (and what lies behind them) is not in line with what I wish to represent as an example to follow.
What lies behind the sweet tooth is my perfect storm of dietary habits – emotionally driven eating in the form of reward eating and stress eating. If I am tired or stressed out at night, I will look for comfort from chocolate, ice cream or whatever else is around and mindlessly have at it. After a long week working hard to train myself and others, it is easy to feel like you have ‘earned’ a Saturday night watching movies, take the night off from cooking and order a pizza, stuff your face with some popcorn and follow it up with a pint of ben and jerry’s. Try to find a time in your life when you are either not stressed out or happy and feel like a ‘treat’. You see my problem now? If things are going well in life – reward eating! Times are tough – comfort eating! Even when I am disciplined and make it through the week resisting temptation, by the end of week I am tired, my defenses are down and the flood gates open.
As the date of the level 2 certification continues to get closer and closer, it is easy to look back at how my weight has changed over the past six months. In October 2016, at the Kettlebell competition in Toronto I weighed in just over 188 lbs. This morning I am tipping the scales at 203. Some of this additional 15 lbs is muscle from all the training I have been doing, but the reality is that while I am getting bigger, I have not gotten much leaner. Now some of you may be surprised by a weight gain like this, however my dietary patterns and metabolism have always made it easy for me to gain and lose weight. The X factor is always how consistent I am in terms of eating a diet void of sugar and indulgences. If I consistent, I can easily lose fat and lean up within the span of a month or two. In 2013, I lost 16 lbs in 9 weeks working at a sports camp in the Swiss Alps. I was training every day and also eating everything in sight. The key is that I was consistent in my habits, we ate all out meals at the camp (including dessert after lunch and dinner most days) but I didn’t eat after dinner and it was hearty whole foods being served daily, not processed crap. Training for my first kettlebell competition a year later I also lost close to 15 lbs and had to go out and buy a new wardrobe as everything was too big. Now I have a closet full of pants I can’t fit into. Heavy squats, kettlebell training and barbell hip thrusters are partly to blame. While it might sound nice to be able to lose weight easily, the reality is that yo-yoing on the scale and binging on pro-inflammatory foods can wreak havoc on your system and does not set you up for success in terms of performance or recovery. If you want to get better, stronger, faster, recovery should be a priority.
To try and get myself on track, a few months ago I was referred to to Tune In Nutrition, led my senior Agatsu Instructor Paluna Santamaria. The premise is relatively simple – track everything that you eat in myfitnesspal, and on Fridays send a check in email with some metrics and answer a few questions and log your progress over the course of the week. Every week Paluna and her Tune In partner Lovedeep provide guidance and changes to focus on for the week to come. I am currently in my 12th week of working with the program. Originally I viewed it simply as a mechanism to increase my accountability and have someone to answer to. Many lessons have been learned thus far though. Junk food issues aside, I have always felt that I know what I should putting into my body to remain healthy and fuel my training, but it is always good to have a coach or expert look at our habits and provide insight. The early changes were to start to increase the amount of protein I was eating (being a vegetarian, this is a bit more challenging without making a purposeful effort), for on non-training days I wasn’t always eating enough food or enough protein to sustain my efforts. The trainer life always has me on the go and it is easy to sometimes eat a Spartan lunch of fruit and nuts, but this does not always provide us what we need. We next looked to increase my vegetable and greens intake to ensure I was getting enough minerals. We have also adjusted the macro’s at each meal to try and balance my blood sugar and ensure I am fueled for both workouts and efficient recovery. Food prep has also been a big focus, to ensure the quality food is there when I need it.
Overall the process has been very positive, although not always easy. There was a time when I was doing very long workouts and started to feel drained halfway through and even had to stop a few times. After developing a consistent meal plan, I feel much better overall in terms of energy levels and knowing what to eat at the correct times. This has certainly helped to support my training as I move towards the cert and testing in less than 3 weeks. Beyond simply relaying my story in this post, I also wanted to highlight the importance of nutrition in supporting both your workouts and recovery. Despite all of the progress I have made on the nutrition front over the course of working with Tune-In, I have been far from perfect when it comes to avoiding sugary foods. While I had originally hoped to lean up for the cert, I have not gotten there yet, but I know I will. Paluna and Lovedeep have helped me to confront my issues surrounding emotional eating and develop strategies to overcome them. The battle is not over, but will be won. By finally developing a consistent eating pattern I have also been able to more clearly see the relationship between what I put in my body, my performance and my recovery. If I indulge on a Saturday night and go to train the next day, I feel lethargic, slow, and lack energy and strength. It has amazed me a few times at how much of an effect can be felt. This in turn provides additional motivation to fuel positive change and engrain healthy eating habits that support my goals, lifestyle and embody the example I strive to demonstrate for others. Diet and nutrition are certainly areas where it is not about achieving perfecting, but rather striving to improve and make the best choices possible. I continue to try and do this daily.
This post is a few weeks in the making and I hope that it has provides some motivation for others that may share a similar struggle with food. It is not easier to discuss these issues, especially as a trainer. Even if your diet game is strong, I hope it serves as a reminder of how diet and training are intimately related and at its heart a physical practice is little without the habits that surround it. It is almost two weeks to the level 2 cert. I have not posted as much as I would have liked over the past six months but will try and get another couple of posts in before the cert to share some final thoughts for those preparing this year or in years to come. Hang in there, keep training, keep grinding good people!