When I first started this blog, I was a total newbie to healthy eating and living. I’d come out of a really sucky time in my life and was just plain frustrated with being weak and tired all the time.
A couple of years before that, I had been broke, overweight, and very unhealthy. Fast forward a few years later and I was hovering at a BMI of 18.5. My knees knocked against each other when I slept in a fetal position, my hair was falling out and the most upsetting thing was that I still didn’t look like a model. Haha. I didn’t look fat on the outside but because I wasn’t eating enough I was your typical skinny fat girl. When I walked, I wobbled.
So in the beginning of this year (wow! This blog is 1+ years old already!) I decided to get serious with my health and do
‘healthy things’ like EXERCISE! and EAT CLEAN! and whatever living healthily entailed.
For a start, I decided to ‘invest in myself’ and purchase a personal training package because I didn’t
know a single thing about weight training or going to the gym. Below is my ‘starting point’ based on a Body Composition Analysis machine (therefore, take with a pinch of salt). You can see that I was barely clinging on to the 18.5 BMI and my muscle mass was barely 20kg. I huffed and puffed up the stairs but hey, I could fit into a size s skirt -.-
I’m not sure if you remember but some time during this year I took a huge break from blogging and any form of social media because in my quest to get healthier I totally derailed and got even unhealthier. I needed the break to really reevaluate my perspective on healthy living.
To cut the long story short, here are a couple of things that happened to me and what I’ve learnt from them:
1. I got stronger
With the introduction of the Personal Training sessions, there was no question that I would get fitter and stronger. I was SO PROUD of myself. My personal trainer was honestly pretty fantastic and had a ton of knowledge on fat burning and whatnot. With my Polar FT4 heart rate monitor, we torched almost 600 calories each HIIT session. At the peak of my training I was at the gym four times a week and blazing through my routines of multiples sets of burpess, lunges, hurdles, squats, planks pushups etc. For someone who couldn’t even do one modified push up, I was ecstatic with my ‘progress’. I looked forward to the day I would be able to do a pullup or 20x real pushups.
2. I started becoming obsessed with numbers and ‘healthy’ eating.
I was working so hard at the gym that I didn’t want to ruin it. I didn’t weigh myself at all nor count calories so I didn’t see anything wrong with myself or see myself as obsessive. But in reality, I looked forward to the next session to do one more rep, run a longer distance, get fitter and I saw myself as a ‘not giving my all’ if I slipped up. My phone started to fill with pictures of my heart rate monitor tracking the number of calories I’d burnt after each session, exercise logs, meal logs etc. In order to get to the gym on time and handle my insane workload, I didn’t have time to make my usual lunchboxes so I ate yong tau foo after each training session. I was SO careful to stay away from wheat, grain or anything like that. A typical meal after a 700 calorie burning session looked like that:
Did it occur to me then that it might be too little? Probably. But the thing about mental disorders is that you just can’t see it for yourself then, so blinded are you with your own little obsessions. I even got a little worried about the fishpaste in the toufu because.. perhaps it’s only flour? Unbeknownst to me, I was slowly falling into the abyss of orthorexia. And why couldn’t I eat sugar or flour or whatever not? What was inherently bad with these food? Was it because someone, some book or something told me I shouldn’t be eating it? Or did it really adversely affect me? I didn’t bother thinking about all these or the signals that my body was sending to me. All I wanted to do was to follow the rules of ‘healthy living’ and that meant exercise to be stronger and fitter and clean eating!
3. I binged ate
This was a no brainer. With the strain I was placing on my body, and the little I was eating during the day, I was constantly scarfing down food at night. At first I didn’t really notice. In the beginning it was perhaps maybe a pack of biscuits. Then it became a sandwich. Several weeks in and I was shovelling down instant noodles, packaged frozen food and cereal at 2am in the morning because I. Just. Could. Not. Sleep. Without. Food.
Let’s pause here and talk about two things.
Firstly, exercise IS A STRAIN. You stress your body which is good because some stress keeps your heard pumping, blood circulating and bones strong. But INTENSE exercise needs to be matched with INTENSE rest and INTENSE eating.
I didn’t understand this for the longest time. I constantly thought that 1200+ calories was enough for a person because that’s what all these health and fitness books told me. Just don’t go below 1200, they warned. 1200 was the magic number. I figured that I’d be ‘wasting’ my effort if I ate more than 1200. After all, wasn’t the main point of exercise and eating healthier to lose some flab? ( No, no, no, no!)
Think of a person who has intense activity in their lives. Let’s not talk about exercise. Let’s talk about a caveman whose job is to get the woolly mammoth home for dinner. He jabs, ducks, crawls, pokes, spears, whatever till he gets the woolly mammoth and then he feasts on the woolly mammoth and rests till he has to go out and get another woolly mammoth again. Such a cycle produces bulk and muscular growth. This is why there are huge proponents of intermittent fasting, high fat & protein and high intensity exercise for men/ women to gain muscles mass.
BUT I DON’T HAVE A WOOLLY MAMMOTH TO CATCH IN MY LIFE!
I am not a personal trainer, neither is fitness my life. Neither am I a full time health blogger. I’m not. I am a regular girl with a regular job and a regular life and I blog for fun. It is not sustainable for me at all to track my protein consumption everyday, to count my macros or my calories or to worry about all these little numbers. I just want to not huff and puff the stairs and I don’t want muscle wastage in my later years in life. That’s all!
Secondly, if you have a background of binge eating/ comfort eating, long term intense exercise is the LAST thing you should do till you right that problem (or possibly never).
For a person who comforts eats when stressed, how is it that I totally missed out on the fact that exercise/ restrictive eating = STRESS. And for a comfort eater, ANY form of stress triggers the need to turn to your comfort food (lucky you if your comfort food is broccoli, but mine is a McSpicy Burger, thanks)
Also, I would call it binging because I was mindlessly shoving food in but I would like to point out that this was food my body needed. I have a lot of people struggling with eating disorders who follow me on this blog and they are constantly worried that they are swinging from Anorexia to Binge Eating Disorder in their recovery phase. I am highly doubtful that is happening. More likely, the ‘binging’ is simply your body’s way of making up for all the years of restriction.
4. Aches, pains and weight gain
My knee started to hurt insanely but professionals in the field all assured me that as long as I continued to ‘work out’ and ‘strengthen the thigh muscles, the knee problem would go away’. I ignored all the signs of my body breaking down. From everyone I asked, the answer was always to keep at what I was doing because exercise is good! And hey, check out that 3 consecutive push ups I could now do! I thrived on my personal trainer’s praise of me and felt really really awful when I let him down. There were days I just felt SO sore after and couldn’t bring myself to go for another PT session so I’d cancel last minute. At the next session, my trainer would tell me very gently and concernedly that ‘not being consistent’ wouldn’t allow me to see ‘results’. Suddenly this health game became nothing about me but about meeting other people’s expectations. I didn’t even know what results I was working for anymore!
At monthly weigh ins when the needle moved east, I thought I was doing well because hey, that gotta be some muscles growing! I couldn’t fit into my pants anymore but with all the squats I was doing, my butt must be nicely filling out (or so I thought) Deep down though, I knew something was wrong. My stomach was SO BLOATED. I knew it had to be the late night binge eating and the STRESS/ cortisol (from over analysing, exercise etc) causing me to pack on belly fat.
Things came to a hilt when I was at the gym but I just couldn’t bring myself to go for another session. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and didn’t even recognise myself at all. I honestly just looked really worn and dare I say this.. bloated and fat.
In order to motivate myself, I decided to take another Body Composition Scan and here were the results:
After all that I did to myself, I had only put on 0.7g of muscle mass and 4.2kg of fat.
Was I surprised? Not really. I knew the signs. I just blatantly ignored them.
**NOTE: I am not saying that exercise and healthy eating is bad or doesn’t work. IT DOES. But the type of exercise and eating must be suited to you and your lifestyle! Weight gain is not bad either but weight should be gained from muscles (if you need them) and fat (if you need them). In my case, it wasn’t the exercise that made me unhealthy. It was the way I was doing it, and the unsustainable, stressful way that caused me to return to unhealthy binging habits that did me in.
That day I decided that HIIT wasn’t for me and I wanted to lose the 4.2kg of fat quickly so despite knowing everything about health and nutrition and having a blog on health and nutrition, I decided to try out being vegan, vegetarian, pure protein, the dukan, whatever. I even tried being a fruitarian. BUT IT WAS ALL SO AWFUL. I knew in essence what I was doing was just punishing myself. I had fallen into the same dark pit I tried to warn so many other girls not to do.
Then I just decided to stop abusing myself.
If you follow me on instagram, you would likely have seen this picture I posted about 2.5 months back:
The first thing I did was go right back to how I used to eat. I no longer ‘packed in the protein’ or cut the carbs. Neither did I go low carb. I ate everything in balance and moderation. I ate first for my nutritional needs, then for whatever else I wanted. I learnt to really really listen to my body. If it was hungry at night, I knew I must have missed out on some nutritional component that day. I wanted something sustainable and suited to my lifestyle. I thought about how I’d like to be when I grew up and I knew that I wanted to have healthy bones, be as free from aches and joint pain as possible with a healthy heart. That meant a couple of hours a week of light cardiovascular exercise (mall walking = shopping!), lots of stretching for a supple spine and joints and light toning like body weight exercises. I can see myself doing walks, light stretches and toning exercises now at the age of 26 and I can see myself doing it as well at 89. I can see myself eating bread, rice, meat, fruit and other yummy things now and at 99 too without having to obsess over it and spend time away from truly living life. That, to me, is true consistency and sustainability.
I haven’t been back at the gym for 2 months now but my body has recently been calling for some activity. So I went for a long brisk walk and it was good and my body enjoyed it. Now I know how exercise should really make you feel. It should be invigorating, mood lifting. After a quick brisk walk enjoying the morning breeze and scenery, I returned home refreshed and ready to work. Pre enlightenment, I would return home thoroughly exhausted and go through the day like a zombie ( I would feel really good after a workout but quickly become fatigued and sleepy) using whatever willpower I had to prevent myself from inhaling the nearest box of chocolate.
I now understand that even with NO exercise at all, the body needs to be fueled with proper substantial, healthy meals. And with any form of stress like exercise, the body needs MORE nourishment, MORE rest. The moment I allowed myself to rest, the better I felt about myself and the unhealthy habits stopped. Your diet and fitness routine should at never, at any point, make you feel upset or a failure. Honestly, if you ask me now if you should go to the gym after a long day of work for a quick HIIT workout or go for an hour long massage + eat a light dinner after, I would totally recommend the massage. Haha.
Sometimes I feel a little stupid thinking back about the kind of money I’ve spent and how it led me further away from health but I realise now that it hasn’t. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have understood and known of all these and most importantly, I wouldn’t have learnt how to listen to my body and give it what it really needs- plenty of rest, nutrition and lots of love.
These days all I aim for is to have slept well, ate well and had some sort of activity i.e. some form of stretching to recuperate my super stiff and abused body. I’ve learnt that all activity is a kind of exercise and following a meal or exercise plan to the T is just outsourcing my own health and ignoring the opportunity to understand my body better.
So today I really want to encourage you to listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Does your neck ache after work? Do you get frequent migraines? Are you constantly hungry at night? Can you not sleep? Does your hair fall out? Do you huff and puff up the stairs? Do you see stars when you stand up abruptly? Do you have acne, bumps on the back of your arms, feel cold easily, poor digestion, bloatedness, constipation, feel lethargic all the time? Do you ignore them, suppress them with drugs, food or alcohol? Do you use exercise to compensate for ‘naughty’ days? Are you so strict (or lax) on yourself that you do whatever without heed to the signals your body is trying to tell you? Have you ever ignored the signals your body tried to give you? How would you treat your body like your best friend?
Have a good day everyone and remember! Listen to your body! Give it what it needs!