It seems completely out of my realm to write about exercise because I sat on my couch for so long proudly proclaiming that exercise is only for “those people.” It seems like absolute insanity and to some degree self-betrayal (ha ha) to embrace calling myself a CrossFit athlete and a CrossFit/USA Weightlifting coach for crying out loud. I’ll never make it to the CrossFit games, nor would I ever truly want to, but the community, the coaches and the methodology is one that embraces if you work hard and don’t quit, you are an athlete. That, I dig.
It didn’t start out that way. Weighing in at 265 pounds, exercise was a chore. When going up and down one flight of stairs had my heart racing and me out of breath, how was I supposed to get on a treadmill or take a boot camp class? I knew that exercise couldn’t be my starting point.
Being someone who had started and stopped countless diets for 20-years, one thing I knew was that I couldn’t fail any more. I was exhausted. I was depressed and in a dark place. I vowed the next time I started a diet, it would be my last and final time. I was going to do things MY way. Mind you, I had no idea what that way was, but I was tired of being let down by other people, programs and most of all, myself. I at least knew I had to make more decisions about what was best for me. I needed to advocate for myself. That made sense for me, but it was hard as hell. How was I going to do that? Well, I still needed help (a doctor and a nutrition coach) to guide me, but I was going to be in charge and have the final say.
One thing I knew above all else was that food was the root of my problem. That’s also the understatement of the year. Food dominated (and still dominates) my daily thoughts. I am always thinking about food.
Lets be clear, I did not find willpower or discipline out of no where. In fact, I would not describe myself as having either today. Not even a smidge. What I have done, however, is built strategies over time that have put me in a position to be more likely to overcome those thoughts that lead to overeating and binge eating episodes. (Thank you Atomic Habits by James Clear).
So Jen, you might be saying, I thought this was about exercise. Bear with me…it is.
After losing 115 pounds and keeping it off for a few years (and now being a nutrition coach which just flipping excites the heck out of me) I hear from people who tell me they want to lose weight. Usually the first thing that comes out of their mouth, “Man, I really need to get back to the gym.”
This is where I have to watch what I say, because my first thought is…do you?
Hear me out.
I have a nutrition client who is a busy professional mom, wife and has three young kids. She told me she and her husband had been talking for weeks about how they need to “get back to the gym.” He was going to go in the morning, she would go after work. They would make it work, because taking care of themselves is important too. Good for them, right?
Long story short, this client was amazed with what she was able to do focusing on her nutrition alone. She was reflecting on where she might be if she had only gone to the gym. In fact, she suggested I talk about this more. So here we are, talking about this more.
Think about it, we eat 3 meals a day (likely more when you add snacks, second servings, large helpings, etc.) We work out 3 times a week, I mean I’m no mathematician, but logically, which one will have bigger impact?
However, its not where our head goes. I see people post all the time about how they work out to eat pizza or tacos or ice cream. Do you know how hard you would have to work out to shed one slice of pizza just to stay the same weight? The math will never match up.
Even CrossFit teaches in its methodology – nutrition before everything else.
I would NEVER discourage exercise. Never. However, I know getting our food right, particularly those of you who relate to me, is hard. If you aren’t currently exercising and want to shed pounds, my suggestion would be to simply start with your food.
My philosophy with my nutrition clients is that if working out will interfere or complicate their ability to focus on their nutrition, then simply focus on food. Be active, get in your steps, yoga, walking the dog, playing with the kids, etc…but don’t feel like you have to work out if its not a current habit.
Here’s what I totally know to be true:
- You can’t out-train or out-exercise your food.
- Abs are actually made in the kitchen.
- A workout should never be a punishment or something you do because of something you ate or something you want to eat or drink.
Even I somehow knew as my 265 pound self, that there was an order to things. Jumping in with exercise without being consistent with my eating was not going to serve me. I knew it would come in to play at some point, but it wasn’t going to start there.
If you are currently working out and love it – keep doing it! Never stop! However, if you aren’t managing things well – start with food. For me it is 80-90% of the equation.
Here was my exercise path. After I lost about 40 pounds, I began training to walk/jog a 5k. After I lost about 65 pounds, I started CrossFit. I started these things only at the times I felt good about my eating. Upon reflection I realize that I feeling great and eating in a way that would maximize my workouts, not be a punishment or hedge against eating pizza, chips and ice cream.
It is never a 1:1 ratio for eating and working out. Ever. And I don’t know about you, maybe it’s the JenX in me that doesn’t trust any of those machines or apps to tell me how many calories I burned.
Doing it this way also made me feel like a f**king bad ass when I did work out. Even though my movement is slow and scaled much of the time, my attitude is savage and it makes me just think about how far I’ve come.
I’ll never forget the first time I ran 10 minutes without stopping on a treadmill. I remember inching up the speed thinking I was immediately going to pass out. I didn’t, I kept going and going…then I hit 8 minutes and thought, maybe I can do 10? And I did! I was in the middle of the YMCA and just welled up with tears of joy. I’m sure I didn’t run very far, but I was elated as I never recalled ever doing that in my adult life. Ever.
I haven’t stopped surprising myself since. Pull ups, toes to bar. Hiking in the Rockies and Grand Canyon. Maybe one day a muscle up? Who knows?
Once I got my food right, my fuel has been right.
If you are fretting about needing to “get to the gym” – pause to ask yourself about the motivation. If its weight loss, think about your food and diet first. Most importantly, think about what’s best for you. Be your own best advocate.
If you want my two cents, however, get right with food first, then get your butt to the gym.