For whatever reason, lately the universe seems to be inundating me with stories like the ones I included in my last post – stories about women going to unhealthy extremes for the sake of a competition, women using competitions as a way to justify eating disorders, and women dealing with the devastating aftermath of metabolic damage thanks to irresponsible competition prep. Half of these stories are written by former competitors in hindsight as they reflect on their experiences. The other half of the stories are written by women still in the midst of these circumstances who seem to be in various stages of denial. What the latter group all seem to have in common is what I’m going to call a “martyr mentality.”
noun1. a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion.2. a person who is put to death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause.3. a person who undergoes severe or constant suffering: a martyr to severe headaches.4. a person who seeks sympathy or attention by feigning or exaggerating pain, deprivation, etc.
Competing is hard. And it should be. Will you have to be disciplined? Absolutely. Will you have to work hard? Definitely. Will it get difficult to the point that you may want to give up? For sure. It is not meant to be a comfortable process, and if it feels that way to you, then you are probably doing something wrong. However, so many competitors seem to discard common sense when it comes to preparing for a show. They suddenly find themselves doing things they know are excessive and unreasonable – but somehow, doing them for the sake of a competition magically makes it acceptable. If their coach tells them to do it, they simply obey.
What has become absolutely clear to me over the last few days is how important it is to me to be a fitness role model and not a fitness martyr. The women who boast about how disciplined and dedicated they are because they ate no carbs today and did 3 hours of cardio are not only harming themselves, but they are also perpetuating the misguided idea among non-competitors that the only way to be fit is to deprive/starve yourself and spend 3 hours per day in the gym. It’s total bullshit, and it is not the message I want to convey to others.
This leads me to the caveman part of my post. I am in the midst of a huge paradigm shift. I am unlearning many of the rules and conventional “wisdom” that I accepted long ago regarding what it means to live a healthy lifestyle and be fit. I’ve been reading a lot about Paleo and Primal approaches to eating and have found that the Primal lifestyle really appeals to me. I’ve been reading Mark Sisson’s book, The Primal Blueprint, and so far it’s been pretty mind-blowing.
I have been steadily shifting my eating to be more in alignment with the Primal philosophy. Moderate carbohydrate intake (100-150 g per day mostly in the form of non-starchy vegetables, some fruit, and starchy vegetables like butternut squash and sweet potato in moderation). I’ve cut out grains completely, which wasn’t that difficult considering the only grain I was eating with any consistency was oatmeal anyway. I’ve significantly increased my fat intake, incorporating more healthy fat sources like salmon, coconut oil, avocado, and whole omega 3-enriched eggs. I’ve focused on eating meals comprised of whole foods instead of relying on protein powders or bars.
What I like most about Primal is that it isn’t just a way of eating, it’s a lifestyle, which incorporates exercise, sleep, play, mental stimulation, and healthy exposure to sunlight. It also suits me in terms of supporting my mental “recovery” from competing in that it emphasizes the 80/20 rule (perfection not required), process-oriented goals instead of outcome-oriented goals, doesn’t require calorie counting, focuses on intuitive eating when you are hungry (not necessarily the standard every 2-3 hours), eschews chronic cardio and regimented workout schedules, and allows for stable blood glucose and insulin levels (goodbye sugar cravings, mood swings, and energy crashes). I find that between the large quantities of fruits and vegetables I eat daily and the significantly higher fat intake, my satiety between meals has never been greater. I feel like I don’t even really get hungry for the rest of the day after my second morning meal.
Primal does allow for the occasional indulgence of some of my favorite things, like wine, chocolate, and coffee. The primary foods that are excluded are grains and legumes, which have never been among my favorite foods anyway. It also allows for the guilt-free inclusion of some foods that have been traditionally villainized, including foods high in saturated fat like butter and red meat.
So, I am going to treat my body like a laboratory experiment and commit to Primal living for the next 30 days. I’m interested to see what the results are. I’m going to put together a snapshot of where I am/how I feel right now (as well as take some pictures) and then compare that to wherever I end up in 30 days. If it doesn’t yield positive results, I’ll give something else a try. Grok on!
*For anyone interested in learning more about Primal living, I highly recommend Mark Sisson’s website, Mark’s Daily Apple, or his book, The Primal Blueprint (which I am still in the middle of reading). This was news to me, but apparently there are some differences between Paleo and Primal, although they share many fundamental tenets.