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As most of you who have been following my blog for awhile know, I’ve been on a fitness journey in earnest for about the last eight months. Like a lot of people who are trying to get fit, I’ve been using Instagram to not only keep me accountable but also get me inspired to stay on track. I’ve followed several amazing ladies on Instagram who have been offering up heaps of inspiration to me. Ladies like Emily Skye, Bella Falconi, Nancy Anderson, and Juli Bauer Roth. All of these ladies are about my age (I think Juli is the youngest and she’s turning 30 this year) and about my size. There’s a lot of fit ladies on Instagram doing amazing workouts but I started to notice some things about some of the most popular ladies. They were really young (like 10 years younger than me) and they were giving advice that wouldn’t work for me at this point. Jen Selter for instance that gifted us with the “belfie” is only 24 years old. Alice Liveing is also 24. Meggan Grubb of Peach Plan fame is only 21 years old.
I don’t begrudge these young ladies getting their sweats in but I think those of us who are a bit older need to look at these women with a bit of perspective. When I was 22 years old I looked like this.
I also ate McDonald’s every day and couldn’t gain a pound if my life depended on it. I realize not all women have had that experience but a good portion of the women who are being idolized as #fitspo-s are experiencing just that. That’s why you hear so many of them say, “I eat intuitively” – well let me tell you about my intuition, it’s telling me all day long to have 16 cans of coke and 3 cheeseburgers. That’s what I ate when I was 22 but I sure as hell can’t eat that way now.
When I got to law school in order to combat some depression (law school has an incredibly high incidence of depression that most people never talk about) it was recommended that I start working out. Now I had done some cardio during my cheerleading stint in high school but this was the first time I picked up a dumbbell (very light weight of course). At the time girls were still not being encouraged to lift heavy, though I wish we had been. And I put on a little bit of muscle and started looking like this.
I still didn’t look like I could kick your butt and in all honesty, I was still eating all the fast food. I was going through a Taco Bell phase at this point. It was around my second extended stay in Italy in 2010 that I started to feel like something in pasta didn’t agree with me. I was usually bloated and tired even though I was eating a ton and always felt hungry. During my time there I started to look like this.
When I got back home from that trip I felt like the life force had been sucked out of me and I decided I needed to figure out what my body needed to run best. I realized that probably gluten wasn’t my friend but it was hard to quit it entirely, I was still in law school and didn’t have much time to completely restructure my eating habits. There were going to be days where a Subway footlong was going to have to do but I decreased my intake of wheat-based foods considerably and started eating more meat and potatoes. By the time I entered my last year law school I was looking like this.
I was a cardio bunny at this point, I spent a lot of time on a treadmill that I hated and I ate huge amounts of food but I was still tired pretty often and still looking pretty frail despite gaining about 7lbs. I would only drift into the weight section of the gym when it was devoid of boys because I was embarrassed by what they might think. When I graduated law school I had to contend with studying for the bar and during that time I kept working out at home doing mostly circuits with very lightweight and the Brazilian Butt Lift set of DVDs from Beach Body. I actually still use quite of few of the moves I learned from that DVD set on leg day but it’s definitely designed to give you more of a Brazilian Super Model aesthetic. It was the job search stress after the bar exam that led to this.
For the first time ever I wasn’t lean or frail, I felt mushy and soft. To most people, I still looked great but I wasn’t used to the extra fat on my hips and wasn’t used to not seeing my pelvic bones. It bothered me. Soon after this picture was taken I started dating again an old flame that was super into fitness. He lifted heavy, he drank protein shakes, he ate to fuel his workouts and I was motivated to try to do the same. My folks had gotten me a treadmill for Christmas since they knew I was feeling self-conscious and I purchased a barbell set for myself so I could workout from home. I started lifting heavier. Well heavier for me at the time. I still split my workouts about 50/50 between cardio and weightlifting. The excess weight fell off and the few pounds that did stick around turned into muscle. I was down to about 110lbs.
I was still eating junk food at this point. On cheat days, but not the kind with better ingredients, so Taco Bell, McDonald’s, were still on the list. I didn’t even think about calories, I just ate whenever I was hungry. Aside from cheat days, I was strictly Paleo. The day after cheat day always sucked, it would take me sometimes days to get back into the swing of things. And then I made the decision to drop the junk completely. I would have a burger about once a week but only from places that I knew were serving good ingredients and nothing extra. I stopped eating bread and pasta entirely. I started to lift more than I ran (I hate running). I was getting stronger, I had more energy, I was sleeping better. I dropped the soda, except as a special treat on weekends. Drank very little and this happened.
I loved this body! This picture was taken exactly one month before I met my fiance Isaac. I felt confident, clothes fit well, I could dance the night away, I could bring in all the groceries in a single trip. The weight I had put on was all muscle. I still wasn’t doing any calorie counting but I suppose because I was eating very clean my calories were probably right where they needed to be. I craved mostly protein and ate lots of complex carbs. And then I started working at a very demanding law firm, I got sick, all I had time to do was work. I would pass out on the couch constantly after a long day. By the time I realized the stress and sedentary days were packing on the pounds I was looking like this.
And right when I decided to start going to the gym again and getting in shape, I got into a car accident. I sprained my knee pretty badly (thankfully nothing was torn), had a bruised sternum that felt bruised forever, a concussion, and a cut hand. I was let go from my job a month later, even though I didn’t take a single day off due to my injuries and had continued to work at the same high level as always. I went to a low dark place while I tried to rebuild my career and figure out what I wanted out of life. That took several months. I returned to the gym that following Spring 2017. And that’s when it happened. On a bench press, I committed to more weight than I was ready to handle and tore my abductor pollicus longus tendon, it’s the tendon on the side of your wrist that helps you move your thumb away from the rest of your hand. It hurt like hell. I knew I hadn’t completely shredded it and knew that it could heal on its own so I opted for that instead of getting it surgically repaired. Tendons take forever to heal. And whatever you do don’t stop using it like I did for months. This was a setback on my comeback. I was scared to lift for a while. I thought I had to wait until I was pain-free. But immobilizing it just made it feel worse. I needed to move my wrist to get blood (thereby oxygen) to the injured tendon to help it heal. So I decided to work through it and that brings us up to where the story started on this blog last summer.
My summer challenge failed because I thought I could just workout and that would be enough. I thought, ‘my diet is healthy,’ ‘I don’t eat anything that’s not good for you,’ ‘I eat organic all the time.’ As I’ve discussed on this blog before, the female body goes through something interesting after 30. In your 20s you’re actually still growing until about 25 so you’re going to burn more calories just from that process but once you hit 30 you’re all grown girl! Your body starts to produce less human growth hormone and if you’re sedentary you lose muscle tone quickly. Your basal metabolic rate drops, in some people considerably and that’s why women start to notice around 30 that they no longer seem to be able to eat as much as they used to or eat many things that they used to without putting on weight. And this brings us back to where I started this post.
While I think it’s great that these young women are starting and encouraging other young women to develop healthy habits and specifically to gain muscle, which will help keep their metabolic rate up long-term, if you’re already over 30 and trying to lose body fat your strategy is going to necessarily be different. You’re going to need to figure out just how much fuel you need per day to meet all the demands of your daily routine and you’re going to have to learn to gage the nutrition and caloric impact of the foods you eat. Once you learn those things and they become a habit, of course you can start saying I eat intuitively because now you know exactly what that guacamole equals in terms of caloric impact. But you will be surprised at the things that you thought were healthy (they are healthy) but are calorie bombs. Like that spoonful of guac at Chipotle (230 calories to be precise). If you’re bulking to put on some muscle eat all of it but I already did my bulk and now I’m cutting. Here’s the last time I was in a bikini.
I recommend that you use these younger ladies as inspiration, incorporate some of the moves that they do, certainly lift as heavy as you can (progressing with your weight training in a safe, controlled manner), and remember that their bodies are at a different place than yours is right at this moment. Then go find you some 30-something ladies who are kicking butt and taking names.
As an update: I’m down to 127lbs, I’ve simultaneously been putting on muscle while I’ve been losing body fat. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, my wrist is almost completely pain-free, and I’m steadily increasing the amount of weight I lift. This I hope will help make this a permanent change rather than a quick fix. Expect a picture of me on my Instagram @realgraceshines on April 21, 2018 with the real reveal.
Let me know in the comments if you’re over 30, followed some of the young fitness ladies advice and whether it worked for you. Also, let me know if you tried eating more and it blew up in your face. But whatever you do, don’t quit, keep at it, the changes are coming.
Keep at it,