Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Confessions of a Recovering Clean Eater

Yes, I used to be a “clean eater” and am proud to say I no longer am. I used to smoke too, and when I realized I was slowly killing myself, I stopped.

The clean eating change was almost the same for me. Obviously “clean eating” wasn’t killing me, but it was killing my relationships with people and my passion for life.

What is “clean eating”? If you are reading this you have certainly heard the term before, but exactly how would you explain it to people? How would you define clean eating? I would like to hear your definition and why you feel that way.

My definition (back when I was a CE’er) was whole foods, nothing from a box, low fat and low carb. Six meals a day (gotta eat every 2.5 hours to keep the metabolism burning)! I ate the same old thing each time and “always carried my food”.

Most competitors I know define it as broccoli, asparagus, sweet potatoes, chicken breast,  tilapia, rice, (usually brown), and maybe 10 almonds. Six  or seven times a day, every day for weeks or even months on end. And not much food either.  Many people think that it is the only way to get lean. Of course most of the same people spend hours and hours a week doing cardio, and even worse “fasted cardio”. Yup, starve themselves then try to exercise, often to the point of exhaustion.

Of course you can get lean like that! You are severely restricting calories, controlling the food like a Nazi guard and eating the same stuff over and over so you get sick of it and would not even consider over eating.

You start chewing with your front teeth only because all you want to do is chew and swallow, you are sick of the stuff you are putting in your mouth and don’t want to really even taste it! I remember each competition when I got to that stage it was mind over matter, I wanted real food and had to choke down the same old dry crap meal after meal!

We all want to look good. And for competitors that desire is even more ingrained in our day to day lives. We NEED to look good all the time, when we go off our competition diets and look like a “normal” person, we feel fat so we start eating like we are prepping again for a competition, even though we aren’t. It’s a sick and viscous circle that we put ourselves through.

At some point I took a long look at my life and those around me, whom I love very much. My family, my friends. I no longer ate many meals with my family, or if I did, it was cold chicken out of a plastic bag. I didn’t go to many social functions as it was too much eating and drinking, I really didn’t want to be around it.

I knew there was a better way, there had to be. Life is not meant to be lived in purgatory, it’s meant to be enjoyed.

If you have read my last few posts you know I started working with Dr. Layne Norton for my nutrition and now he is doing my training programming also (only because Roy closed his gym, and that’s a whole other story!).

The change was scary at first. We all see the “IIFYM” (If It Fits Your Macros) people, they love to show all the ridiculously unhealthy looking recipes they concoct with fat free this and low cal that. It’s frightening when you come from the belief that there are many “bad” foods out there!

Unlike what most traditional bodybuilder/competitors believe, those of us who follow “flexible dieting” do not all eat crap, at least not all the time.  I rarely eat packaged foods, although I eat a lot more than I used to.

It took me a long time to actually believe that “a carb is a carb”. Seriously! I did as I was instructed, and at every weekly check in would ask things like “Is sourdough bread ok?” “May I eat mangoes?” Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?! He would laugh and say “Of course!”

As of this writing, I have had exactly 6 pop tarts! (in a six month span of working with Layne). And…. I LIKE pop tarts now! You see, a carb is a carb and if you tell me that my body knows the difference between a piece of whole wheat toast and a pop tart and will build muscle accordingly (or gain fat), I will tell you to show me proof. Show me a study. I am not going to rely on a steroid taking old school bodybuilder who insists that is true “just because it’s always been done that way”.

One large slice of whole wheat toast has the same (actually a bit more) carbohydrate than one pop tart. I am eating 310 grams of carbohydrate a day, which means I eat 108.5 grams pre training! Sometimes I don’t want three pieces of toast, so I have two pieces and a pop tart (along with yams, raspberry & dark chocolate Greek yogurt and whey protein).

I tend to eat whey to fill in missing protein now. I like whole food best and as much as I can get.

No foods are off limits, but I have learned that there are some that are much more calorie dense than others, and I have also learned that if I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it means on very low carb bread and not pre or post training, the meal timing is crucial as I am working to maintain a very low bodyfat while adding muscle.

I don’t eat “cheat meals”, there is no need as I can eat anything I want, as long as I stick to my macro nutrient ratios, meal timing and calories. If I want a glass of wine, I have one, but it means less food that day (the food wins 99% of the time).

I also eat fewer meals. I eat five meals Monday through Thursday and only four on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It allows me to have larger portions when I have fewer meals, I sometimes go 5 hours between a meal, I have not lost a leg, all my muscle or died, I look good. And I have muscle, believe me.

My favorite dinner is a cheddar cheese omelet (real, full fat cheese and egg whites) with mushrooms and broccoli raab, all cooked in a small amount of raw butter and garlic sourdough toast. I frequently eat 2 pound salads made of mixed cooked vegetables, hard cooked eggs and chicken breast, all tossed with fresh lemon and tahini sauce, followed by a crisp apple and almond butter

I tend to eat meals that are very filling, so lots of vegetables and leaner meats then I add tahini sauce or almond butter or avocado for fat. I can eat the fattier meats but then I cannot have the almond butter! Decisions, decisions!

People are willing to try everything it seems. Many eat “gluten free” even though they do not have celiac disease; thousands follow a Paleo diet when there is no reason to believe we should eat like cavemen ; there are vegetarians, vegans, dairy free, fish free, you name it there is a diet! They all work for one reason- calorie restriction. BOOM! You cut a major food group out of your diet, or decide you can only eat a few things and you are controlling portion right there.

If people want to be “clean eaters” I support them for attempting to live a healthy life and take control of their nutrition, but I do want to express that there are other ways and other diets that work just as well. People become very passionate about what they strongly believe in, often to the point that they lash out at others who disagree. There is no need for “diet wars”, we should all be free to choose our own method to our madness; however, I hate seeing poor misguided young women (and it’s usually women), fall into the belief that the unhealthy starvation and excess cardio routine is the way to go. These same women are the ones who live “cheat meal” to “cheat meal” and often binge.

Do I think you are less a person for following a clean eating diet? No, not at all. Nor do I think I am superior, I too followed it for many years and swore it was the only way. But in life, we learn as we progress. Change is never easy, and if you don’t want to change, it is even more difficult. When you are ready for a change, when you are no longer happy with the way your life is, you may take a peek and see how the other side lives, the side I am on. Yes, the grass is greener over here!

It’s been almost six months now; I actually just entered into an agreement with Layne for training and nutritional coaching for another year and a half. I was planning a May 10 competition, but I have gotten so lean, that he is encouraging me to do a competition a month earlier, he said I won’t need to diet long and it shouldn’t be difficult.

Did I mention I have lost 10 pounds doing this? Yes, I went from eating 1550 calories a day and weighed 131 pounds in August, to eating 2510 calories a day and I weigh 121 pounds. I am lean and ripped, and I am doing cardio two times a week, for a total of 24 minutes each time (that is including the 5 minute warm up and 5 minute cool down).

Eating this way, reverse dieting (adding calories slowly, the opposite of dieting where you subtract calories) and following a flexible diet have been one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but one of the most rewarding. It’s been six months of daily calculations of every single thing I eat and drink, preparing way ahead, and reviewing restaurant menus before stepping foot into the restaurant. But my body has responded well. I am muscular, very lean, strong, physically and, more importantly, emotionally healthy. I do not feel deprived at all, I feel liberated actually. I am not worried about how I look constantly, or worried that I will “blow up” from eating a certain food. I am no longer bound by the self imposed chains that held me so long.