Cardio+Dieting vs Lifting+Eating: Can You Tell the Difference?

I made this for my tumblr (you can follow me on tumblr too here!) and it’s a little more tumblr-appropriate, but I thought I’d post it here as well:

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Here’s a challenge for you guys! One of these pictures was taken in February 2011, the other was taken in May 2011. 

  • FEBRUARY: I was eating 1000-1200 calories per day and working out 2+ hours daily—a little bit of weightlifting, but mostly just hour upon hour on the elliptical. 
  • MAY: I was lifting weights about 4x/week, doing about 2 hours of cardio per week, as opposed to per day, and eating 2400-2500 calories daily.

Can you tell which picture is which?

                                                     *      *     *      *       *

Honestly, I don’t see a difference. As much as I advocate weight-lifting, it didn’t make THAT much of a change in my physique—at least not one that’s readily apparent in clothes after just twelve weeks. I certainly didn’t get bulky! And even now, a year later, I wouldn’t say I look particularly muscular—I don’t think that anyone would pass me on the street and think, “Wow, that girl pumps some iron!” 

The real difference was the changes that it made in my mentality and approach to health, food, and weight loss. Lifting weights enabled me to maintain my weight in a way that was healthier, EASIER, and infinitely more sustainable in the long term. By that May, I was eating more than twice as much, I had more energy, I was happier, and I was no longer terrified that I’d spend the rest of my life desperately trying to avoid gaining the weight back. (Actually, the most significant payoff I got from weight lifting would not be apparent until almost a year later—I wrote about this here—but of course I didn’t know that at the time).

So here’s my point(s):

  1. Lifting heavy weights does not make you bulky. It takes female bodybuilders months if not YEARS of work to “bulk up”, along with specific diets and training programs, professional coaches and trainers, expensive powders and supplements, and sometimes even illegal substances. For the average woman, weight lifting just makes you look thinner and more toned. 
  2. But just because you’re not seeing an immediate increase in muscle doesn’t mean that you’re not changing your body in a positive way. You’re still raising your metabolism and making it easier to lose and maintain weight both now and in the future!
  3. You can eat a lot more than you think to maintain your weight/stay thin. I more than doubled my calories up to ~2500 for maintenance, and I didn’t regain weight—I just stopped losing. I’m pretty sure most people on here find it unfathomable to knowingly choose to eat that much, but I did and you probably can too! (check out my post on Why You Won’t Gain the Weight Back for an explanation). If you’re eating 1300 calories a day to maintain your weight then you’re doing it wrong. 
  4. And you don’t actually need all that cardio. I reduced my cardio by about literally 6-10 hours a week without making any difference. Steady state cardio is not as beneficial as you think, especially when you do so much of it that your body adapts.
  5. Finally, appearances can be misleading. In one of these pictures I was your typical cardio queen who didn’t even know what a squat rack was (funny story: I used to think that guys picked up the 200+ lb squat bars and put them their own backs), in the other I was a girl who could squat 185lbs. You can’t just look at someone and know how they eat, train, or what kind of shape they’re in!

Thanks for playing, and if you’re interested in getting started with weight lifting, I wrote a guide on getting started here!

(Btw, picture on the right is February, picture on the left is May. I look a little rough in the May picture because I just came from a concert, but I wanted to use that one because it’s almost the exact same outfit!)

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