Two months ago, I finally accepted that my 30+ extra pounds were not going to come off via mindful eating and positive body affirmations. Since then, I’ve lost 7 pounds and 8 inches, and I feel great. Besides feeling good, long-term results and maintenance are the real tests, and it’s way too early to know about that. At the risk of eating my words later, I’m writing about it now because I’m excited to have found a nutrition and exercise plan that feels like a sustainable lifestyle change more than a diet. I’ve been doing Beachbody’s 21-Day Fix.
At age 45 with a 20-year career in health care, it’s crazy that I’m only now learning appropriate food portions. It’s kind of embarrassing, really, but I’m glad I finally am. It’s motivating and empowering.
First, let’s get a couple disclaimers out of the way:
- I’ve never suffered from eating disorders. Beyond occasional emotional eating, my weight fluctuations have been due to bad American habits and not understanding how much (or really how little) food is needed to nourish and fuel a body. This or any other weight loss program may present problems for those with a more complicated relationship to food. (And none of this is medical advice, just my personal experience with this program.)
- Beachbody is one of those multi-level marketing companies. I’m not a seller and I doubt I ever will be, but who knows?
OK, without further ado, here’s how I got involved in this program and my experience so far. In this post, I’ll talk about the eating plan, and in Part 2 I’ll focus on the workouts.
How did I get here?
After baby number two, I lost all the baby weight and then some without trying. Over the next few years, I slowly and steadily packed on 30 pounds. Having never lost weight on purpose, I had no experience with how to deal with it once I realized how much weight had snuck up on me while I didn’t even have a working scale. I’ve never believed in diets, and I still believe the diet industry has caused great harm to women and girls, so a structured diet plan was not going to be my first go-to solution.
I figured the weight would come off at some point without me having to do anything, as it had in the past. Maybe because I’m well into my 40’s now, vaguely stepping up my exercise and “eating healthy” only resulted in gaining another pound every couple months. I was eating clean—lots of organic produce, mostly grass-fed meat, healthy fats only, minimal starchy carbs, and almost no processed foods. I was exercising a few times a week. I didn’t see what else I could realistically do.
I tried counting calories, and even using the My Fitness Pal app, I could only do it for a few days before it drove me crazy and led to obsessing over what I could and couldn’t have and when. I did the Whole30 (a paleo cleanse) a couple times. That was a worthwhile lesson on how too many grain carbs and sugar affect my energy level and moods, but I didn’t lose any weight because (I now realize) I learned nothing about how to stop overeating all that clean, healthy food.
I figured all I could do was accept my new normal. I read Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth, which I highly recommend (even though I eventually went on a “diet,” and she would probably not approve). I vowed that with practice, I would become finely tuned in to my body’s real hunger and fullness cues. I would know intuitively what foods my body needed, and how much. Mindful eating. Self-love. I was all in.
I hoped the weight would naturally come off this way (pretty please?), but if not, I would fully accept my current size and learn to love my curves.
Then I discovered (TMI alert!) that I couldn’t walk down the beach without this dreadful thigh chafing problem, which I found out actually has a name—“chub rub.” I also noticed there were certain yoga postures I could no longer do because I was mechanically impeded by body fat. Now it was no longer about cultivating self-acceptance and rejecting societal ideals about the female form. My weight was directly interfering with some of my favorite activities.
I did the BMI calculation and it was 30. The BMI calculator isn’t perfect—it doesn’t take frame or each person’s unique proportions of fat to muscle mass into account, but I was at least in the ballpark of clinical obesity, with the attendant health risks. I was done.
How did I choose this program? If not for a couple random turns of events, I probably never would have considered it because the program includes shakes. I’m not a believer in liquid meal replacements because to me, sustainable lifestyle change means being able to lose weight and keep it off by eating regular food, not to mention the fact that most nutritional shakes are full of chemical crap. I learned that a) the shakes are optional—you can do this plan on regular food only, b) a shake replaces a protein snack (and a fruit if you add that), not a full meal and c) most importantly, the ingredients in Shakeology are far superior to other shakes.
I got started when a friend who is a total nutritional purist gave me about a ¼ bag of Shakeology to try. She loves the workouts, which have helped her stay consistent with exercise. Another friend (also the super granola sort) put me in touch with her coach, a like-minded person who understood and addressed my reservations around diets in general and my skepticism about any program that includes processed shake powder. I decided to try it for one cycle of the 21-Day Fix and take it from there.
Is this really a “diet?” Yes and no. Yes, because you are tracking what you’re eating, portions are controlled, and if you’re following it strictly, some things are off limits. No, because it’s clean eating in healthy proportions and it can be followed indefinitely, with a little leeway certainly, as a permanent lifestyle change.
The eating plan is about portion control and getting the right proportions of macronutrients—proteins, carbs and fats—so that you’re well nourished, energy levels are even and you’re not hungry, even at an overall calorie deficit. There’s no calorie counting or weighing—portions are measured using containers of different colors and sizes for each type of food: proteins, veggies, fruits, carbs (grains and starchy veggies), healthy fats, seeds and dressings, and oils/nut butters. Depending on your current weight, you get so many of each color container per day.
This obviously involves tracking everything you eat in some way, so I thought it would drive me crazy the same way calories counting does. But it doesn’t, and I think there are three reasons for that.
- It’s not quite as fussy as counting calories. I don’t have to add or input every single ingredient. Tracking macro food groups is less involved and quicker. And the app makes it even easier.
- The containers make it easier to work with the question, “What do I have left for the day?” “I have a protein, a carb, 2 veggies, and a fat left.” feels a lot saner and more manageable than “I have 600 calories left, what can I eat?” (It’s also a lot easier to estimate when eating out).
- I’m learning portion control habits I can use for the rest of my life. I used the containers religiously for the first couple weeks. Then I started to practice eyeballing my portions by putting the food on the plate first, then putting that amount in the container to see how close I was. I’m getting really good at it. Now, when I eat out or at someone’s house, I know I’m spot on or pretty damn close.
More on the shakes
My plan was to get one 30-day supply of Shakeology as part of the package I bought, and then continue the program without it. It’s not cheap—one 30 day supply is about $120, so about $4 per shake. Some people spend that on a latte every day anyway, but I don’t. The sales pitch is, if you bought all the ingredients as superfoods and supplements, it would be many times the cost. That argument doesn’t work for me, because I’m not otherwise going to buy all that stuff, so the shakes are an extra expense, period.
I wish I didn’t like Shakeology so much, because my 30-days only plan is not working out. I ordered another bag, thinking I’d have it a few times a week and make it last, but I’m still drinking it almost every day.
I feel energized after my shake, and I feel great in general since I’ve started this program. The shakes are full of superfoods, so maybe that’s why. It could also be the placebo effect. Or it could be more from the workouts, or getting the right proportions of macronutrients without overeating, or some combination of two of these or all three. I started all three changes at the same time, so who knows?
Whatever it is, I like the shakes, and right now I don’t feel like messing with what’s working for me. That said, I do like knowing this program is not dependent on them. If I decide to quit buying it at any time, I can replace it with a Greek yogurt or some other protein.
How strictly am I following it? Here are my tweaks that make it sustainable:
Strict ANYTHING is not for me. That said, if I only had 5-10 pounds to lose, I might follow the 21-Day fix to the letter, get it done in one round (two, tops) and move on to maintenance. I can follow anything for three weeks.
With 30+ pounds to lose, I need to be in it for the long haul and be happy in the process. I have a few tweaks that allow me to do it without rigidity and deprivation. For me, this means:
- Half and half in my coffee. I tried giving this up when I did my first Whole30. Nope. I added it back after two weeks (my only cheat on that program) and I’m never giving it up again. My coffee is my last surviving vice, and I’ll have it exactly the way I like it (which is at least without sugar).
- Eyeballing combination foods. I’m not going to get all stressed out from looking at a bowl of chili. I’m going to estimate how many protein and carb portions are in it and move on.
- Deviating from the suggested food lists, just a little. There are lists of suggested foods for each food group. For the red container (proteins), it says skinless chicken breast. Sometimes I have dark meat with a little skin (gasp). It also says extra-lean ground beef. I eat the grass-fed beef that’s already in my freezer, and I have no idea what the percentage of fat is. Probably more. Oh, well.
- A little less of this and a little more of that. Occasionally, I subtract a carb portion and add a fat portion in its place. Because some days, I want some avocado AND some cheese.
- Ice cream. If everyone is having it, I have might have a few bites and really savor it. Or I might not. Knowing I can if I want to makes it easier to forego it some of the time.
- Taking a day off occasionally. Last week, I had a potluck brunch date with five girlfriends I never get to see and another potluck party at dinnertime with a dozen sister midwives. I vaguely watched my portions but mostly ate what I wanted and had some treats.
All this means my progress is slower than it is for some people doing this program. Many people lose more in one round of the 21-day fix than I’ve lost in 2 months. That’s OK with me. It took me three years to gain this weight. Even if I only lose a couple pounds a month, I’ll still lose all of it in half the time it took to gain it.
For some people, following the eating plan strictly might feel better since it takes some decision-making out of the equation. Also, “tweaks” (AKA “cheats,” if you want to put a negative spin on it) could be a slippery slope starting with minor deviations and ending with barely following the plan. I could see this happening with the holidays coming up because yes, I have eaten a little Halloween candy—not nearly as much as usual, though! Honestly, if I don’t gain any back before the end of the year and then go back to losing after the holiday season, I’ll be happy with that.
It seems counterintuitive, but after some time measuring and tracking my portions via the containers, I’m becoming more tuned in to my body’s hunger and fullness cues than I was when I was trying to practice that awareness without any structure around what and how much to eat. My guess is, that’s because I’m no longer overriding that subtle “enough” signal by habitually overeating.
So as long as it keeps coming off, I don’t care if it’s slow, because I’ve found my sweet spot with a healthy way of eating I can maintain indefinitely. For me, it’s all about sustainable lifestyle change. Oh, and sanity.
In Part 2, I’ll talk about the workouts, and some considerations for parents.
© copyright Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2016