Macros, counting & disordered eating…

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Well that’s interesting…2 weeks in, and the negative spiral has already started.

Let me start back a bit.

At the end of last year, I decided I would jump on the macro counting bandwagon – I was training hard and wanted to make sure I was maximising my gains by fueling my body better.

I did some research, talked to my coach, and quizzed friends who were macro counting and performing well (and looking ripped!). I found an App, calculated my numbers and set about meal prepping. It wasn’t about losing weight (but I wasn’t going to be disappointed if some of the extra padding shifted), it was about being a better crossfitter. I weighed, and counted, ate and recorded…. and was hungry – really hungry.

The app flashed up angry red warnings if I went over my carbs or fat numbers. It showed me everything; daily breakdown of the macros, per meal, average over the week, pretty green graphs when I was under the calorie count, alarming red graphs for went I was over, predictions of what I’d weigh in 5 weeks.

And then I started trying to win – not just staying in the green, but beating it – by eating less and making sure the prediction of how much I would weigh kept decreasing. I was weighing myself daily, aiming for a lower and lower number. My partner would find me standing, almost paralyzed by angst, in the middle of the kitchen trying to meal prep; trying to plan an entire weeks worth of food, that hit all the numbers less a bit. It wasn’t an eating disorder. I was still eating sufficient calories, I was losing weight, but slowly, sensibly. I was still able to train five times a week, I wasn’t losing strength. I was fine…

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Luckily I’m just self aware enough to know that that was a bit of a lie, something wasn’t right. It might not be an eating disorder, but it was definitely disordered eating. Even luckier – I have some amazing friends I could turn to for help. One in particular read the tumble of thoughts I’d sent her, and responded immediately with “I think we should talk – come over for coffee”. She dropped what she was doing to listen, to help me rationalise my thoughts, and to help me come up with a plan.

Stop.

Just stop; stop counting, stop tracking, stop weighing, uninstall the app, and then, start just eating. If I’m hungry, eat. Enjoy food.

I wasn’t in a head-space where I could work though the root causes and try to fix them. I was broken, and just needed to get back to a place where I was OK. We talked at length, through tears, and established that to get there – to OK – I needed to trust myself. I know how to eat generally well, I exercise, and the worst that was going to happen if I just ate, was (realistically for me) I’d put on a few kilo’s and have to buy some new clothes. Not the end of the world, and certainly nothing that couldn’t be managed when, or if, it happened.

So I did – I stopped. I stopped the obsessing, I went back to just eating food. I uninstalled the app and put away the scales. It took some mental strength, it wasn’t easy, I still had to fight against the pull of feeling in control, but I had support. I shared what I was doing, and why, with my partner, my friends and my coach. There was not one negative comment or glance. Not one thing said to suggest I was “being silly”, or that there was any reason for me to not trust myself. And it worked. I was happier, and less hungry, and it was OK.

The plan was to get to a better headspace, and then, when I had some emotional reserves, I should tackle this big, scary, emotional trigger and unpack it, depower it. But that’s hard, and while I was going along ‘just eating’, there was no need. I was good; nothing to see here.

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Fast forward a few months, factor in an upheaval of routine, sense of place and belonging, and introduce new opportunities for my inner critic to make ‘not good enough’ comparisons and then re-introduce Macro counting. In hindsight, perhaps not the cleverest of plans.

It was going to be different this time though, I was going to approach it differently – review it as an afterthought rather than plan out a day, a week.

Yeah, Right.

Two weeks in, and I realise the negative spiral has started again. Not only am I obsessing, hungry, focused on my weight, and trying to win at eating, I am not eating well. I eat junk – under the guise of “see, I’m fine, I’m not obsessing, it’s not controlling me” – but then punish myself by skipping meals. I feel awful, my inner critic is constantly telling me I need to lose weight, that I’m fat, and useless and not good enough.

Turns out, if you don’t actually address the root cause of problems, if you don’t break triggering behaviours down and understand them, nothing changes. The triggers still trigger, and the outcomes are the same. Who knew?

For now, I am going back to ‘just eating’. I don’t like the fact that my head is broken when it comes to food and my sense of self worth, but it is, and not putting myself in a situation where that causes problems isn’t coping out – it’s looking after myself. If I injure myself, I stop doing the thing that makes it hurt – and this is exactly the same. Whether or not it is sensible to think I will be able to avoid it for ever, and therefore don’t need to work out what injured it in the first place is another matter, but not one I need to tackle right now. It’s going to take some time to get back to being OK, but the voice inside my head telling me that my weight “means” something, and that the number on the scales needs to get smaller, and that it somehow reflects my worth as a human, is already getting quieter, and more infrequent. I will get better, and it will be OK.

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Some disclaimers – this is my reality, not yours. I have seen Macro counting work amazingly in others, and RP, and Zone, and Paleo and Atkins, and a plethora of other diets. Just ‘eating’ for you might be a really bad idea. It might be the exact opposite of what being healthy means for you. Eating disorders are very real, and very damaging, and truly life threatening. If this is you, I hope you get the support you need and have the courage to talk to someone about it. But this is not that, and I am not trying to make light of those issues, or suggest that having one coffee with a friend will make everything better. What I am trying to do is explain that everyone has their ‘thing’. This is one of mine. Maybe, sharing this might help you to reflect on your own relationship with food, maybe it’ll mean someone realises they are not alone, perhaps it’ll just give you a different perspective.

At no point did my coach, or my friends, or my Crossfit community suggest I had to change my diet and start counting Macros. In fact, one of the genuinely enlightening thing I find about Crossfit is the complete absence of focus on what you look like or how much you weigh. The only thing that ‘matters’ is how you move and the effort you put in. Any celebration is focused on the awesome things your body is able to do, the only weights discussed are those that you are lifting, and there is no pressure to do anything other than what works for and is right for you as an individually amazing human.

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End of an Era

There have been a lot of unformulated thoughts floating round in this average crossfitter’s brain since the open. Pretty fragmented, unconnected, incomplete, and not ready to be put to paper.

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The results of the open, and a couple of other competitions I’ve done, started to play on my mind. I find it hard to reconcile a realistic view of where I am as a Crossfitter. Despite empirical evidence (rankings/results), I find a lot of excuses as to why it they are not real results. When I tell people how I’ve done, I always find myself qualifying – “but, that doesn’t really count because…”

Don’t get me wrong, I am under no illusions that I am (or that I ever will be) an elite athlete, or could compete with the top Crossfitters in New Zealand, let alone the World, but I do find it near impossible to react objectively to results.

I’m not entirely sure if this comes from a place of not wanting people to think that I believe I am better than I am, or trying to provide context for people so they don’t have an expectation that I can’t live up to, or more basic than that – trying to protect myself from perceived failure.

Certainly something to explore further, but while wrestling with this, a big chunk of how I define my world changed seemingly overnight. My second home, Crossfit Reebok Canterbury, was closing.

Last view of this place before 6am class.

It’s taking me a long time to dissect what that means to me, and I don’t think it has all been unravelled yet.

Obviously there is the tangible; find a new box to continue my crossfit out of. Primarily selected based on logistics, close to home with a short trip to work, 6am classes with Open Gym afterwards so I can keep up with the accessory stuff that keeps me moving.

After working with the same coach for the last 4 years, and getting to the point that he knows my, as I call them, “unique” co-ordination abilities, and that we both understand my goals and what I am prepared to put into this gambit, it is daunting to be losing that relationship.

Add to that the fact that my perception of the box that logistically is the best fit, is of it being ‘ultra-competitive’ and full of Instagram-able people – not my tribe at all – and that no-one else from the tight knit crew I train with would be heading there.

Talk about insecurity overdrive!

But its not just that – that bit is just Crossfit (albeit with lots of intriguing thoughts to explore about who I am, what is my Why, what my goals are, how do I relate to others) – I feel “off” for weeks. I am not talking to my partner about my head-space because I don’t understand it. I prioritize CrossFit, my crew, and building myself a space somewhere new, over everything else – bye bye life balance.

My relationship suffers, I suffer, my partner suffers. I feel silly that this is having such an impact on me and my life, and a lot of energy is being spent trying to get used to a new box, and new people, new coaches, and a whole new daily routine, leaving little left over. I feel emotionally exhausted.

I’m only now starting to piece together what it all means. It’s a real sense of loss. I’m losing my connection with a bunch of people that have helped me grow, get me through burnout, picked me up when I’ve been down, supported me when I’ve been struggling, cheered for me when I’ve done well, given me life advice, helped me understand some of what’s been going on in my brain, and generally had a really big impact on who I am. Basically, this group of people form the basis of what I want this blog to be about.

Sure – we’ll stay in touch, but I know it is going to be different. Already the daily check-ins, chats via messenger, have dwindled to weekly, and over time that will dwindle down to the odd facebook post. Even with those that have become close friends, we now have to schedule time to get together, in addition to heading to crossfit, and work, and life. There are only so many hours in the week, and fitting everything in gets difficult.

What was one of my comfort zones, even with the concept of getting comfortable with the uncomfortableness of CrossFit within it, has gone. It took years to build that up, to mold it and be molded by it, to feel as though I truly belonged, As an extreme introvert and someone who has often felt out of place, there is genuine fear and uncertainty that it won’t be able to be replicated. There is nothing to do but feel the fear and do it anyway – but it is hard work, and unsettling, and a bit sad.

I really miss you guys!

Onwards and upwards though – there are a load of new opportunities. In terms of CrossFit; new coaches, new skills, new training, new ways of approaching things, as well as opportunities for yet more personal growth and an impetus to revisit my goals, my why, and of course an opportunity to widen my CrossFit community and form new friendships.

Having been at my new box for a few weeks, it turns out that those Instagram-able people are also really friendly, the 6am crew have all been very welcoming, and a team of Masters Athletes have made a real effort to make sure I feel included. The coaches are learning about me, and are nothing but supportive, and I am learning how they work too. I’m slowly finding my feet, and beginning to believe that these could be my people, and that perhaps I can belong. It took years to build up my second home at my last box and feel like part of the furniture, and it will take time before that happens at my new one – but I am now feeling optimistic that it can happen and that, as I’ve found before, if I get involved and just focus on enjoying the journey the outcome will sort itself.

The initial turmoil is over and life is starting to settle down. I am finding my new normal, and even enjoying some of the challenges that doing things differently provides. I have regained some balance, and perspective. My relationship is back on track and life is good, leaving me some space and energy to tackle whatever is next.

That’s a wrap!

Just like that, the 2019 CrossFit Open is over. It has been a real experience for me this year, sparking the idea to start this blog, challenging me in ways I could never imagine, providing countless moments of happiness (and pain) and giving me a real sense of belonging.

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19.5 was a world of physical hurt, but my experiences over the previous 4 weeks meant I knew how to prepare mentally and went into it with a solid game-plan based on me and my abilities. I visualized how it would feel, and what I was going to do to get through that, and at the end of 18-something minutes I felt exhausted, but thrilled to have executed as well as I could on the day.

Now that the chalk has settled – I have had a chance to physically recover and reflect on the process. I have also poured over the scoreboard, comparing results from previous years, analyzing statistics, percentages, and seeing “where I sit”. The major difference doing this now, compared to 5 weeks ago? I am not defining myself by the score. It is useful feedback to see where my strengths and weaknesses are, to validate the training I’ve put in over the last year, and to have something objective I can pull out and look back at later, and it also highlights the fact that the score isn’t everything. That disastrous WOD – the result wasn’t particularly different to 19.4 where I was happy with my performance. Rowing and Wallballs – that was actually my third best result. Not what I would have picked based on my emotionally response, but it shows how futile linking feeling good to your score is and why focusing on how you execute is likely to lead to a happier human.

As a whole it has been immensely satisfying taking part – not only because of the personal growth, but also because I am damn proud to be part of a community where people challenge themselves and achieve things they never thought possible, all the while supporting each other with a genuine lack of ego.

My Reebok CrossFit Canterbury Family

One of the externally small, but internally massive achievements for me this year, was overcoming my insecurities (for short moments at least) around by body image, allowing me to – when I really felt I had to – go into “shirts off WOD” mode. This might not seem a big thing, and I suspect the majority of the people around me barely noticed but for me I conquered a huge obstacle with this one.

What goes on inside my head around body image, food, and related self worth is a topic I will explore in the future – but is too gnarly to share space with what is intended to be an uplifting reflective piece on the Crossfit Open, so instead: a report card.

CrossFit Open 2019

Proudest moment(s):

  • Being brave enough to put myself, my headspace, my thoughts, out into the world with this Blog.
  • Helping someone else to reflect on their own journey of Crossfit and achieve great things.
  • Learning from the occasions where things didn’t go right, and executing the changes I wanted to make.

Toughest moment:

  • 19.4 – after the Christchurch Terrorist Attack

Lessons Learnt:

  • Have your plan – Just do you
  • Mentally prepare – How will it feel?
  • Be present in the moment, stick to one thing – Every. Rep.
  • Focus on the process, not the outcome – Have fun
  • Cherish people and community, we can and we will, be better humans – Kia Kaha
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Thank-you to all the people that made my Crossfit Open a huge success. I hope, that in some small way, I am able to give something back to each of you.

Only 6 months before we get to do it all again!

Kia Kaha

I have struggled to find the words for this week’s blog – this week it is not about Crossfit. I am somewhat embarrassed now, looking back at last week’s entry; my comment that good days don’t last was made with no comprehension that an event so terrible, of such a scale, and so close to home could transpire.

I am a Cantabrian, I have lived in Christchurch for close to 30 years, it is my home, my community, my place.

It was shortly after checking the Crossfit Games site for 19.4, messaging my coach to share my excitement about the workout, sharing with friends that it included “my favourite things”, that the news of a shooting starting trickling through. Initially, I assumed (as I think a lot of us did), that it was someone with an individual beef, a single gun shot, maybe one person injured – big news in our little city certainly, and horrible, but contained, not earth shattering.

I checked with a guy I knew who I was pretty sure attended the Al Noor Mosque to see if he was there, that he was OK, and asked if he knew if one of my workmates was alright. If I had known then what I know now I would never have sent those messages, although I am grateful that, physically at least, they are both OK. He had more important things to be focusing on than answering random texts from me, but as always, he put others before himself and is such a genuinely good human being that he would never have even entertained the notion of ignoring me.

The reality started dawning on us that this was something else, this was truly horrific, unimaginable. This was Terrorism. I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, no one was working, we were all trying to get information, checking on people, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Not in Christchurch – Not in New Zealand – Not this – Not here – Not us

I am one of the lucky few who has not been directly impacted by the murder of 50 people in my city. I know people who were there, who survived. I class them as friends, but we are not close, we are workmates, Facebook friends, and because of that part of me feels I do not have the right to be as affected by this as I am, but this is huge, life-changing, I’m not sure I understand the world any more.

I am shocked.

I am sad.

I am sorry.

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Friday night, and as the city is reeling, our little community of Crossfitters debates whether the Saturday morning throwdown of 19.4 should go ahead or not. Eventually, after much soul searching and discussion, we decide that it will. In part, as a show of solidarity that Terror and Hate will not, and does not, define us and that we will carry on – forever changed, but resolute in our condemnation of such acts of violence. In part to give us an opportunity to gather as a community to support each other, to pay our respect to the people that have died, and acknowledge the terrible loss that our city and our country has experienced. We decide to sponsor each other for the WOD, with every rep completed meaning a donation to Victim Support. This is the only time the score will really matter.

Saturday morning at the box was subdued, with people sharing their experiences of being in lock-down at work, their children being in lock-down in schools, and telling their stories of the previous day. We shared our disbelief and grief at this happening at all, and the shock at it happening in Christchurch. After taking time to acknowledge the attack, and to have a minutes silence for the victims, we got on and did what we do. We embrace differences, we share in people’s troubles and triumphs and we support each other – always.

Today is a good day.

Friday, week three of the open, training has been going well but I am feeling emotionally exhausted. It has been a big week at work with a lot of ‘peopleing’ and, contrary to popular belief, I am quite the introvert. I simply haven’t had the chance to recharge and that means I am taking everything personally and feel that I am doing everything wrong. By the time lunchtime rolls round, I am almost in tears and feeling overwhelmed by life. This does not bode well for Saturday, although at this point, I don’t really care.

I’m in a meeting, feeling as though all of my decisions are being questioned, when 19.3 gets announced. I check the CrossFit site as a distraction from my negative thoughts. The workout is actually pretty good for me, a case of getting on and getting as much of it done as I can. I’m excited, there is no reason why I can’t do well. The negativity gets pushed aside for a bit, although I’m still feeling shattered and can’t wait to get home, where I’m glad to be able to be silent and alone for a while.

Saturday morning, and, compared to the previous weeks, I am feeling grounded, determined, centered. By articulating what has been going on in my head in this blog, I have been forced to truly reflect and analyse my thoughts, their impact on me and my performance. I have grown a lot, and understand more about myself than before.

Today, all my goals are process based, I don’t even think about an end objective. I think about how it’s going to feel, when it’s going to hurt, and what I’m going to do when it does – just keep going! A brief message from my coach to enjoy, along with a simple rep plan, sets me up with the right strategy and a reminder that I’m doing this for fun.

Waiting for the “3,2,1 Go” I’m relaxed, smiling, enjoying the atmosphere. The timer starts and I get into my work. When my brain starts to wander to ‘what’s next’, I refocus on the rep I’m doing, I breathe. I’m immensely grateful to my judge, who has read my blog, and helps me out by repeating “Every Rep” – keeping me grounded. I make every move, including stepping back to gasp for air, deliberate, measured, controlled.

Time is called – I’m elated. I have stuck to my plan, followed through with the lessons I’ve learnt the previous weeks, and feel as though I couldn’t have done anything any better. I am surrounded by a group of amazing athletes; high fives, smiles, pats on the back. I’m not sure they realise just how much this means to me, to belong, to be part of something that is so selfless, so supportive, so genuine. This community, this ‘cult’, builds people up in a way I haven’t experienced anywhere before.

Today is a good day. This is a good feeling. This is my why.

But, like everything, it is only temporary. In just the same way as one bad day doesn’t necessarily mean that the next day will be a bad day, today being a good day does not guarantee that tomorrow will be too. I am going to enjoy it, relish it, appreciate it, but then put it in the Hell-yeah bucket and move on. It is a case of continuing to be mindful, of focusing on what is important, of being grounded in the moment and always learning, moving forward. I can’t wait to see what next week brings.

Disappointment

19.2 and it’s a workout that looks right in my wheelhouse. Headspace is feeling better, and I’ve picked targets for things I can control – not the end score, or placing, but what I am going to do in the wod: sets of 5 toes-to-bar (ttb), unbroken double unders, singles for the lifts. Do that and the score will follow. I prepared myself for the squats to hurt, and reminded myself that I am capable of driving through it.

The workout started well. Toes-to-bar were good, I nailed the skipping unbroken, the 40kg Squat Cleans felt ok, I got into a rhythm and worked through them. Round two and I adjusted ttb to match how I was feeling, it was still going well. I tripped once on the skipping, but otherwise hung on till the end. The barbell was heavy and my first lift was a bit ropey, but the second was back on track. My coach was in my ear reminding me to focus on one thing – getting my elbows through was my only job. It was going ok – then just 3 lifts to go. I started thinking that I might make the time cap and get to the next round, then, that I was tired, and it was hard, and then, I forgot to think about the lifts at all (despite my coaches best efforts!).

Failed lift.

Deep breath – still heaps of time. I picked up the bar but didn’t put 100% effort or focus into the mechanics of the lift. My brain was all about: I have to make it, I don’t think I can, grip and rip.

Failed Lift.

I nod at my coach when he says to focus on elbows, hearing it, but not acting on it. Then I go through the lift with the exact same thought pattern…and with the same result.

Time’s up.

I’m gutted. Physically I could have done it, I feel like I’ve let down my coach, and myself – we’d talked about this, I know this, I can do better, and once again my headspace lets me down.

Queue the internal argument: “It’s a skill I have to learn, and practice, and it is unreasonable to expect myself to get it right all the time” vs “I should have done better, I’m not good enough, and my coach won’t want to keep putting effort into someone who doesn’t get it”

Then the angst:
Do I redo it? But what if I do worse? What if it happens again? If I redo, am I going against my “why” and my aim for the open? I will have other opportunities to practice that mindset…do I throw this one in the fuck-it bucket and move on? What’s best for me, for the long game?

Interestingly, compared to last week, I am not really worried about the actual score. My mind is entirely focused on what could have been (or the way my inner critic phrases it: what I should have done). On reflection I could take this as a positive – my plan was to focus on the process, not the outcome, and I’ve certainly achieved that. I am disappointed in execution and I’m not thinking of the end result.

That answers the question of a redo for me – changing the score isn’t going to change the disappointment of the execution, but I can learn from it and put myself in situations, and the mindset, to practice putting 100% focus into every lift / every rep, in training and in competition.

I now have a new Mantra: “Every. Rep.”

That’s my queue to focus on “the one thing” for the execution of that rep, whether it be Squat Cleans (elbows through hard), TTB (feet together in the arch), Box Step Overs (stay low) or Skipping (relax the jaw).

Bring on 19.3!

The Open – 19.1

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19.1 rolled round and I was already in a bad spot. I’ve just turned 40, and at the young end of a master’s category. I feel like I’ve been training hard, and I should be able to smash it – right? I started thinking other people expected me to do well – I mean, they’ve seen be putting in work after class. That means I’m at some other level, or at least I must think I am, so I better prove it. If I don’t smash it, I’ve been wasting my coaches time, and will be letting him down, and therefore am less of a person.

Reality: I spend an extra 20 or so minutes after class working through the active life hips program – so that I can bend down and tie up my shoes without being in pain, so that I can hit something that resembles a reasonable range of motion and actually complete movements to meet standards.

I spend another 20 min on skills – either lifting or gymnastics, because I want to get better (not just fitter) and it is simply more fun when you can do things and that’s not going to happen if I don’t spend time practicing.

Neither of these things are going to take me from an average CrossFitter to an elite athlete, so why do I think that’s what is expected of me, and why do I expect it of myself?

19.1 hurt…a lot… My brain wasn’t fully in the game; I was overthinking things, trying to downplay what was going on in my head, and overcompensating for the internal (unrealistic) expectations by avoiding thinking about the wod at all, not setting any targets, even targets that weren’t score related, and certainly not thinking about how it was going to feel and how I wanted to respond.

Luckily for me, the community of Crossfit means that I have some pretty amazing friends that I can talk to about this stuff, and I’ve been through enough life to know that the best way to get out of my own head, is to share what’s going on in it.

The realisation that when I was saying expectations of “other people”, I was actually meaning myself, came through a simple line of questioning. Other people – What people? Who?

A reminder to “just do you”, helped me to refocus on my why – what am I wanting to get out of the open this year and why am I doing it.

The acknowledgement from my coach that I was feeling disappointed by my result was followed by the reality check that I was never going to crush a rowing and wallball WOD and therefore shouldn’t be too disappointed. This meant I felt understood and wasn’t “just being silly”, while setting some reasonable expectations.

By now, I was starting to get a more balanced perspective, and my coach picking up on the key takeaways for me – learning to rowing consistently, and that most importantly, I learn how to psychologically prepare, helped to solidify my thoughts and bring me back to a more positive space. Bring on next week and 19.2.