One Day Out (+ all you got was this novel)

One day out.

People keep asking me if I'm nervous.

I halfway want to respond that I only think about being nervous when they ask me if I'm nervous.

The truth is, I'm trying to focus on being as prepared as I can be so I don't have to feel any kind of nervous.  I've been spending most of my extra time - and then some - figuring out what I plan to eat these last couple days and on the day of the competition.  I've also been spending about 2-3 hours in the gym each day doing similar, though slightly less intense, workouts to what I have been (yes, that includes the 3+ classes I'm teaching per week!)

Right now, I'm at about 12-13% body fat, which is bikini-body ready as far as I'm concerned, especially since what I do have is no where near my abs.  Thank goodness.  It may be "all about that base"... but right now it's only my abs I'm worried about!

Anyway I was thinking some of you might rather know a little more about how I've been structuring my diet and workouts?  Want to know my secrets?  

Ha.  Secrets.  More like trial-and-errors!  Still, unlike your Italian grandma's secret bolognese recipe, I won't hold anything back.  (Careful what you wish for though... I may be writing you a novel!)

I'll be honest.  When I started, I only had the rudimentary outline of what I would need to do to succeed in a 3-month muscle-building and fat-loss program.  First of all, I am a certified personal trainer, and I'm well informed on nutritional basics.  I understand the tenets of many different workout programs and diets.  I have lost and kept off roughly 15 pounds of excess body fat since high school - back when I thought running a mile was a good monthly workout and scarfing cereal as a snack was "healthy."  

But applying what I knew to a solid goal with a real time line was not something I'd had to do before.  Slow, steady, and maintainable weight loss had been my only approach for myself and others up until that point.  Once I decided to take on this challenge, it became apparent that I would need to tighten up the reins on this deal and pick up a few new strategies along the way.

After sticking a toe into the ocean that is Google Search, I decided to jump feet first into some of the most popular competition-prep trends that had bubbled to the surface.  At first, it seemed everyone who went the way of the bikini competitor did the 6-small-meals-a-day plan, trained twice a day, several days a week, and ate only about 3-4 foods ALL the time.  It seemed a little over-the-top... but I was gung-ho at this point, and, wanting to lose weight and do as the bikini competitors did, I ran right out and bought a plethora of asparagus, sweet potatoes, and chicken.  

For the first, maybe, three weeks, I tried - half-heartedly at best - to do that stinkin' meal prep on Sundays with all my items pre-measured and portioned into a million little boxes for the week.  I'd usually end up with just a huge batch of chicken and a couple sweet potatoes cooked.  

I was working outside the house during the day at this time, so NOT finishing my prep made getting out the door every morning a big holy arm-flinging affliction.  So, yes, I could see the benefit of thinking ahead, but I couldn't stand the monotony of the meals.  Other things to do on Sundays came up specifically to get in the way of my boring meal prep.  

Ultimately,  I think the real reason I rebelled against this plan is that I don't like eating what I'm told to eat.  I like eating what I feel like eating.

I know.  Right now, you're thinking, Helloooo! That's what a diet is!  Eating what you're told rather than what you want! 

Well, yeah, but wouldn't you stick to a diet better if you were happy to eat what you were eating?  What a concept!  That's when, right about week four, I decided that my struggle with specificity was a losing battle, I turned to IIFYM.  

No - not some tropical-voodoo-balm to banish fat.  "If it fits your macros," is the style of eating that seems to work best for many free-minded, creative, foodie, and/or anti-rule types, such as myself.  It basically just means you can eat any food you like as long as, by the end of the day, your macros (carbs, fats, proteins) add up to your goals.  You can also continue to eat 4-6 meals a day, or even go to one meal a day.  And, believe me, people have really gone to either extreme on meal number and timing!

Anyway, at this point, I had figured out where I thought my calories and macros should be.  So, to track all the non-standard meals I wanted to eat, I pulled out my dusty app (let's assume unused apps can get dusty) for MyFitnessPal.  A helpful, if not obsessifying app to say the least, it became my passtime, my time-killing game, supplanter of Facebook, and basically my best friend ever.  Cottage cheese fits in... here.  Now I should take out the yogurt I planned to eat... Too many carbs.  I'm feeling cheese in my eggs this morning... better use less avocado on my salad later.  I can't forget to measure my peanut butter in grams before I put a dab on my protein pancakes!

I think you get it.  It was an ongoing, constant, self-absorbed and obsessive process.  My husband told me I should just marry MyFitnessPal.  And that was a sad day.

Still, I thought this was the only. way.  But after weeks - many weeks - of living my life by the book (I mean it - calories and workouts were as strict as starch) I saw no change in body fat!

This was a bit discouraging.  After all, I thought that the main idea of "dieting" and abstaining from eating junk and drinking adult beverages was primarily fat loss.  Of course I wanted to gain muscle (BEEFCAKE!) but I wasn't thinking of it in terms of one-or-the-other at the time.

Finally, at around 8 weeks out, measurement-obsessed, and frustrated at "stalling," which is what I thought it was at the time, I decided it was time for a more hard-core approach.  First, I had been avoiding doing more cardio than 5 minute warmups and the 3-4 cardio classes I taught every week.  AKA doing LESS cardio than I had been doing before bikini prep.  I mean, some of the other bloggers out there had scared me with talk of only doing 20 mintues of cardio per week.  That was my first change:  I realized that because my body was accustomed to 4-5 hours of cardio per week or MORE just teaching and practicing for classes, I couldn't go under that, eat the same calories, and expect speedy fat loss results.  

I had also been eating plenty of carbs at the recommended times.  Great!  Perfect.  For building muscle.  To see the fat loss I wanted in just a few weeks, carbs would need a little re-working.  Hence, my decision to work my way into a ketogenic diet.  Basically, a diet with very little carbs - low enough that the body can no longer rely on carbs as its main fuel source and thus switches to converting fat to usable ketones.  (I've read a lot of research proving that it can be a safe and effective short-term method of fat loss - unless you have certain metabolic issues, which I do not!)


Now hold up - before you start to think I've been base-jumping through fad diets here, let me assure you that I was more than happy to take each transition gradually, over a couple weeks at a time.  Lucky for me, I had the time, having started 16ish weeks out!  When I decided to try keto, I reduced my carbs slowly for a couple weeks to get low enough, and just sat on that level for 2-3 weeks straight to give my body time to just be in actual ketosis.  

While there was no bibbity-bobbity-boo overnight miracle Cinderella transformation, the keto + bit more cardio (think a few 15 minute HIIT sessions/week) is when the weight began to shuffle off again.  I actually started to notice my shirt sleeves and belts fitting a little better!

Still, I was attached at the fingertips to that old ball and chain.  That MyFitnessPal.  I still had a calorie goal, and I still had a macro goal.  Not only was it driving me as bat-freaking crazy as a honey badger with a bee up its nose, I was stalling again.  I still couldn't see my abs and nothing had changed in a few weeks.

But remember how I'm all about the abs?  I still needed more than an idea that they were hiding in there.

That's when I decided to BREAK FREE!  Once and for all, I went cold-turkey and stopped. using. that. app.  It was like the sun came out.

It's not that I don't think the app was useful, or that there was anything wrong with tracking my way through the confusing wilderness of beginning prep, but after a while, the slight errors in either my calculations or those given by the app and/or the feeling of NEED to eat more or less began affecting the last stage of fat loss.  Like, say that day I was supposed to eat 1300 calories + 50 grams of fat, but I only hit 1100 and 30 grams of fat... and I was totally stuffed.  It has happened!  Sometimes I would find myself eating more instead of listening to my body.

So, my last, utterly non-drastic, stage was to LISTEN to myself.  I ate when I wanted to, I ate what I wanted to - albeit with a clear idea now of what portion sizes were and what did and did not include a lot of carbs!  (Yes, a big thank-you to MyFitnessPal and my kitchen scale for teaching me those things!)  I've been learning a lot about how my body responds to certain foods and I have a good idea for what and how much I need at different times.  By listening to my body, I was able to take in the right nutrients when I needed them.

Since then, I've lost the final fat and have been able to maintain quite a bit of the muscle I gained during the first half.    

Speaking of which - that first half of prep, where I thought I was "stalling" - was actually essential to my success in the weight loss phase.  My "mistake" of eating a lot of calories and carbs while doing less cardio/just heavy weight training was giving me secret muscles that hid beneath my stubborn blanket of fat.  Is'nt that way cool?  I had secret muscles that not even I knew about.  That sure sounds better than "stalling!"

This brings me back to the fact that I've only got ONE day left before the competition.  
So, am I nervous?  

No, when I think about it, I'm really just excited!

Excited for the experience on stage, for having done it, for hopefully meeting new people, and for being DONE!  Sometimes, getting through something like this can be a huge reward in itself.

That's it for tonight, but stick around for the post competition recap + more specifics on my diet and exercise plan as well as what I learned.  Don't worry.  More recipes to come, too!