This is a story with which the majority of you will be able to identify. I am so grateful for my dear friend Sarah and her willingness to share it. I hope you find it as encouraging, challenging and inspiring as I did!
"A while back, Hunter asked me to write a blog about my journey with food and exercise. God has certainly taught me much over the past several years, and I know I have a long way to go still, but here’s a not-so-brief story of my experience.
I have always been interested in nutrition and exercise, so I did my best to research what is believed to be the healthiest way to live and followed it like a pro. I joined the cross country team in high school and developed a love for running--especially long distance running. I ate a generally “healthy” diet usually consisting of low-fat, whole grains, but never had to pay much attention to calorie count while running cross country. However, once I stopped running my junior year of high school I began struggling with my weight. All the weight that so easily disappeared when I was running 10 miles a day slowly began to appear and thus began the years-long struggle with balancing eating and exercise while attempting to maintain a healthy weight. I tried several different diets and counted calories religiously, which never seemed to work with quite the magic with which it is touted. I spent most of my days calculating how many calories I had already eaten and/or burned off so I stayed within my “quota” for the day, failing miserably many days. I also jumped back on the long-distance running wagon, thinking that I could beat my body into submission. Yet even with a strict diet and exercise regimen, I would find myself craving certain foods and binging from time to time, developing a very unhealthy eating pattern—skipping meals or only eating salads and other low calorie foods, so that I wouldn’t feel as bad about what I binged on the night before (mostly highly-processed, low-fat, sugary, gluten-laden “food”). I also added more and more distance to my running regimen, which was therapeutic in some ways for me, I thought of it as a stress reliever for my type-A Pre-Med college-self, but also with the underlying goal of burning off more calories. Little did I know that I was just adding more and more stress to my body. And my weight fluctuated greatly, as did my mood, as I never quite reached my goals—mostly the goal of looking just like the women on the front of Runner’s World magazine.
When I moved to Ft Hood in August 2012, Hunter asked me to train with her as she was developing her style of training. I was frustrated with recent marriage-weight-gain, and the stress-relieving, but the seemingly-weight-loss futility of running 4 miles a day and eating whole grains, so I readily agreed. To be honest, I was completely skeptical of weight-training as I did not want to add more bulk to the weight I had, but Hunter convinced me that women do not have the capacity to bulk the same way guys do. So I learned what a Romanian deadlift, back squat, and shoulder press were. I fully enjoyed the same hard workout feel that I had afterwards, without spending an hour of my day running around the track. Hunter also started telling me more about the Paleo diet, but mostly the importance of cutting gluten out of the diet… so I started looking more into that too. I cut out gluten for 3 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas and was amazed at how good I felt, how constant my energy was, and how stable my moods were. It was hard to find a rhythm again after returning from Christmas break, and I started a new job in April, which although I love it, certainly adds more stress to my life overall. I kept running long distances, training for a half-marathon, and tried to watch my diet, but my weight kept climbing and I fell back into eating habits similar to what I had in college-attempting to restrict calories and then binging because my cravings felt too strong. Finally in July, I was fed up with an So I finally fully took the advice I’d been listening to in the balancedbites podcast-- that Hunter got me hooked on- and started following the Paleo diet. I also finally realized that what they had been saying was true—your body doesn’t recognize between emotional or physical stress—it all raises cortisol levels which in turns causes your body to hold onto fat—definitely not the effect I was going for! I also realized that getting up early to run was putting extra stress on my body as I denied it the restorative sleep it needed after long days at the office.arthritic knee and gaining weight despite logging over 20 miles most weeks.
Once I made the decision to make sleep a priority (at least 8 hours a night) and to strictly cut out grains and dairy from my diet, focusing on much more nutrient dense foods, I was again amazed at how much more steady my energy and focus levels were at work. I still trained for my half-marathon because I wanted to finish that, but once it was over I gladly hung up my running shoes (except for sprints) and focused on lifting again, in which my workouts at much shorter than my runs were, and are much less stressful on my body. I have truly enjoyed this shift and I can tell my body is much more in balance. And by allowing myself to get the nutrients it needs from whole foods, a variety of fresh veggies, meats, and healthy fats, without worrying about calories, I no longer feel the need to binge, and even at meals it is much easier to eat to satiety rather than eating until I am uncomfortably full. I was able to slowly introduce dairy back in, which I have found I can tolerate at low levels. My weight has steadily decreased over the past several months—and I can’t remember the last time I counted calories. I no longer fear fat—I love eating plenty of grass-fed butter and coconut oil! Lifting weights has helped me to lean out, and the build of muscle mass means that even if I have to miss a several days at the gym my weight doesn’t fluctuate the same way it did when I missed a few days of running. Also, the arthritis in my knee (for which I felt way too young!) has vanished. My husband has even commented several times on how much more ‘at peace’ I seem these past several months (I don’t think he misses the emotional swings that would accompany the weight swings). I do have to say that the Lord has answered a lot of prayers, from late high school on, as I often struggled with making food or weight loss a priority rather than Him, focusing most of my time and efforts on that. And it’s still a growing process, I still struggle with many old habits or ways of thought creeping back into my head. Yet, I am so grateful for God’s provision in transitioning me out of those terribly unhealthy, yet so-common, mindsets. And although I wouldn’t mind looking like the women on the front of Runner’s World, I (usually) no longer feel the pressure to look “perfect.” After a hard workout at the gym I am far more excited about how many pounds I squatted rather than how many calories I burned. I am constantly amazed and grateful for how much my body can do—not as much where it fails to measure up.
It is certainly a journey, but it has been fun to grow in my understanding of the human body and why we need fats to work well, why grains cause us to hold onto body fat and increase inflammation in the body. I’ve learned more about why our body really needs cholesterol, despite what we are often fed by the media. We only get one body, and I want to be able to keep using mine to its best ability for the glory of God, so I want to fuel it and train it the best way I can, and I am excited to see where that leads me in the future!"