How I Lost Weight

Ever since I discovered heavy weight lifting, I was hooked. I loved the feeling of pushing myself and I loved the effect on my body. This made me an exception. Most girls do not and will not lift heavy weights. Nor do most girls eat the way they should to get the body they want. I advocate for heavy weight lifting and a high protein (NOT low-cal) diet as much as possible, but it’s hard to go against decades of conventional wisdom and societal norms. Besides, when it came down to it I had to admit that I primarily got my body through a low calorie diet and moderate lifting–the heavy lifting and higher calories didn’t come until later. My own experience wasn’t enough proof to support my beliefs. Now, unintentionally and unexpectedly, I have that proof, and I want to share. Read on:

WEIGHT LOSS ROUND 1

If you read through my information and old entries, you’ll see that this blog covers a period during the spring semester of my junior year of college when I was in the best shape of my life and had developed passion for heavy weight lifting.  First the background: from December 2010 to February 2011, I lost about 15 lbs, going from ~153 to 138 lbs at 5’8.

Before (October 2010, ~155 lbs)

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After (February 2011, 137 lbs)

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I lost the weight by spending hours in the gym and eating at an unsustainably low calorie deficit. (Probably around 1000 per day). I wasn’t trying to starve myself but I was going through external stress that resulted in appetite loss, and I used the gym for stress release to an unhealthy extent. I was happy when things got back to normal, including my appetite, but I loved my new appearance and was terrified that I would gain the weight back. To maintain my weight, I consciously limited my calories to 1300-1500 per day. I could manage at this level–barely. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Does this mean I can only eat 1300 calories every day for the rest of my life? What happens when I get pregnant and have to eat more? What if I get in an accident and can’t exercise? What if I just get too hungry?” This lasted for about a month.

MAINTENANCE

Then, two things happened. First, I started getting interested in heavy weight lifting and reading the blogs of girls who lifted. Some of these girls were six inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than me, yet they were eating 2400-2600 calories a day! If they could maintain their weight eating that much, why couldn’t I? (My biggest influences in this regard were Katie at Faith, Food, and Fitness and April at Foods of April – April’s blog also is a great resource for nutrition and lifting information). Then, over my spring break, I went on vacation to Charleston with my parents. In Charleston I ate the same foods I normally would eat, just a lot of them: greek yogurt and berries for breakfast; a restaurant salad with fish for lunch; seafood for dinner plus appetizers, bread, and dessert every night; protein bars, fruit, and trail mix through the day; a couple pieces of chocolate after dinner–all in all probably around 3000-3800 calories per day. After 5 days of this, I had gained…nothing. Well, maybe a pound–my jeans felt a little tight, but only for a day or so. But if I barely gained weight on 3000+ calories a day then I figured there was no way I could gain on 2000! I immediately increased my calorie intake to roughly 2000-2400 daily (tracked loosely in my head so it might have been higher) and never looked back.

Over the months of April and May I did not indeed gain the weight back but continued to grow leaner and stronger as I got more into heavy weight lifting and began to develop a passion for weight training. By the end of the semester I could squat 185 lbs, bench 80 lbs, and my size two jeans and size zero shorts still fit great. Getting out a calorie deficit also resulted in amazing ab definition–no crunches necessary! I was happy, healthy, and both mentally and physically in the best shape of my life.

AND THEN THINGS GOT OFF TRACK…

In June, I moved to Delaware for the summer to intern at an investment bank near the University of Delaware campus. My high school friend Austin went to school there and also interned at the same investment bank, and he hooked me up with one of his friends who was subleasing for the summer. I was so excited for this internship and ready to have an amazing summer, but I also wanted to stay in shape and maintain my weight! I immediately joined a nearby gym two miles away–the perfect distance to run to!–and I went most days before or after work. I didn’t have a Trader Joe’s or most other grocery stores that I was used to, but I made the best of it with the local Pathmark and also joined BJs for great deals on bulk quantities of produce. So my eating and workout routines didn’t change that much. However…

I started drinking. A lot. I had always been a big partier as an undergraduate, but had lost interest during the second half of junior year. The same old bars were getting old, and with a full courseload plus a part-time internship I just couldn’t afford to go out drinking all the time. Plus I’d had a falling out with my closest friends at the beginning of the semester (this contributed to the external stress referenced previously), and as a result my social life took a hit. But Delaware represented a whole new social scene: happy hours with the other interns, parties at Austin’s fraternity, daydrinks and barbeques at his girlfriend’s house, margaritas with my roommates, and lots of nights at the bar. I’d head out for a run and pass four or five of my friends sitting on someone’s roof drinking–how could I resist? Pretty soon I was going out three nights a week–five for the 4th of July!

I was having an amazing summer! But I was consuming a LOT of extra calories from alcohol. And drinking made my eating habits go out the window. I’d come home from the bars and dig into an enormous bag of m&ms. Or eat pizza and brownies when I was hungover. And forget about going to the gym! Going to work hungover was even worse because I couldn’t just sleep it off, so I’d sit at my desk feeling awful and eating animal crackers or pretzels to keep myself awake. I kept up the weight lifting, and my eating habits were good MOST of the time, but they it wasn’t enough to compensate for all the alcohol and hungover eating. So I gained weight.  I was studying abroad in France for my senior year fall, and the day before I left, I finally stepped on the scale. I weighed 149.0 lbs, an 11 pound gain since the end of the school year. Well I wasn’t thrilled, but I wasn’t overweight–I still weighed less than I did through most of high school and college (low 150s to low 160s), and still wore about a size 4 (compared to 0/2 in the spring and 6/8 in high school and college). I didn’t have time to do much about it before France, so I just crossed my fingers that I’d lose weight in France.

IT GOT WORSE. MUCH WORSE.

I didn’t. My eating habits in France were horrible. Horrible! Yes, I joined a gym right away and kept up with lifting, yes I ran on the beach, yes I walked a lot (once 15 miles in a single day!) but this wasn’t enough to compensate for my overindulgence in the major French food groups: wine, cheese, bread, pastries, and chocolate. And various other alcohols. And gelato and pizza when I visited Italy. And boxes of cookies from the grocery store. And crepes with nutella. And hot chocolate daily once the temperature dropped. And so on.

I estimate that I gained another 10-15 lbs over the semester, adding up to a 20-25 lb gain since May. So I probably weighed 160-165 lbs when I came home in December. Here’s a picture of me on December 3, 2011 (not even my heaviest–I still had 2 weeks to go which included a Christmas cookie and holiday bread phase):

December 2011 (160ish lbs)

Now, this wasn’t my heaviest weight ever–it was about what I weighed by the end of freshman year, for instance (note: that was also alcohol-related). And I wasn’t technically overweight–at 5’8 I squeezed in right under the cut-off for the normal BMI range. But never in my life had I gained this much weight this fast. Never in my life had I felt so out of control. Never in my life had I felt less like myself. I thought I was back to square one–but worse, since I was now 7-12 lbs heavier than when I started losing weight in December 2010. I thought all my hard work had been erased. I thought losing the weight again would be impossible.

BUT THEN…

I was wrong.

Here’s a picture of me on March 7, 2012, 11 weeks after I returned from France:

March 2012 (142 lbs)

WHAT THE…?

I didn’t lose the weight by crash dieting or crazy amounts of exercise–in fact, I didn’t even track calories or have access to a gym for the first five weeks, which included Christmas and all the associated holiday indulgence. It wasn’t a miracle nor was it luck.

I lost weight because the hard work and investment I put into working out, increasing my calories, and raising my metabolism made it incredibly easy to eat at a calorie deficit. When I returned to my normal eating habits, the weight just fell off. I am now losing weight on an average intake of ~1500-1600 calories per day, as opposed to ~1000 last year. Moreover, a year’s worth of added muscle gives me a thinner appearance–in the picture above I weigh 142 lbs, but fit comfortably into the same clothes I did a year ago at 138. My arms, which have always been my problem area, are also more defined from a year of lifting. I’m at the point where tiny changes on the scale produce a dramatic effect on my body, and I’m excited to see what I look like a month from now. At that point I’ll start raising my calorie intake back to a 2000+ maintenance again–I’d be crazy not to!

Now let’s compare this to what would have happened if I never took up weight-lifting and never increased my calories above 1300-1500. First, I would have probably gained back the weight much faster, and who knows what it would have gotten up to? Second, I would have lost more muscle and the weight I gained back would be more fat. Third, it would be much more difficult to create a calorie deficit. Right now I’m creating (I estimate) about an 800 calorie deficit by averaging 1500-1600 cal/day. If 1300-1500 was my norm, I’d have to eat about 600 calories a day to produce the same deficit–that’s a recipe for binging, yo-yo dieting and failure. Ultimately I think my weight would fall back into the 150-160 range but would more likely settle on the higher end as opposed to the lower end where it was when this initially started in December 2010. My guess is that the ultimate outcome would leave me 5-7 pounds heavier, with a slower metabolism, higher body fat, and mushier appearance–much worse off than if I’d never lost weight in the first place.

And that’s how diets fail. That’s how someone can start out trying to lose 10 pounds, and end up 5 years later 50 pounds heavier. Or spend their whole lives gaining and losing the same 25 lbs. Or get to the point where they’re starving themselves but not losing weight. I feel bad when I read someone’s blog and it’s clear the person is setting themselves up on this path. Or when they’re incredibly dedicated but not seeing results because they’ve already screwed up their metabolism. Or when they’ve gained back weight that they’ve worked so hard to lose. I wish I could say, “just do what I did and you’ll lose the weight again too” but I can’t, because at that point it’s too late. I wish I had the cure, but for now I just thank god that I stumbled upon the right insurance.

AND THAT IS WHY I THINK YOU SHOULD LIFT WEIGHTS! AND NOT STARVE YOURSELF EVEN IF YOU’RE CONVINCED YOU’RE TOTALLY HAPPY EATING THAT LITTLE AND COULDN’T POSSIBLY MANAGE ANOTHER BITE! I DON’T EVEN BELIEVE PEOPLE WHO SAY THAT!

Bottom Line: Gaining weight sucks. Re-gaining weight sucks even more. No one embarks on a weight-loss journey anticipating gaining it back. It’s easy to think you’ll never be in that position, but sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes you want to let lose and party. Sometimes you go to France. You can’t predict the future, but you CAN take steps now that will have a lasting impact no matter what that future holds.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi, Shannon! You have a very inspiring blog going on here! I am currently recovering from Bulimia and struggling with binges and unhealthy habits. I am also trying to shed 26 pounds I have gained in a 7-year period (due to extreme dieting, irresponsible eating, overeating and, of course, the mentioned ED). What I am mainly trying to achieve is losing the weight, looking incredibly good in a bikini and do it without starving myself or dieting. Your progress pictures are awesome! I’m looking forward for your posts :).

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