Everyone has a friend who is always on a diet. For the past few years, I feel as if I have been that person. My Facebook memories regularly make me chuckle as I am reminded of that period from 2012 when I tried to drink hemp protein shakes without gagging or in 2014 when I tried to give up all starchy carbohydrates or that time in 2015 when I only ate tuna salads for two weeks. Constantly “on a diet,” I have bounced from a no-carbs diet to a paleo diet to a clean-eating diet and then most recently, carb cycling. The problem with diets is: when does it stop? For months, I would drink green smoothies and eat salads during the week and then have Cheat Days during the weekend. These Cheat Days were an excuse to eat crap (Chinese takeaway anyone?) and simply resulted in me undoing all of my hard work from the week prior. Why wasn’t I losing weight? And don’t get me started on the mood swings… putting my body on this rollercoaster of sugar, alcohol, starches, etc. meant that my hormones were complete imbalanced and my mood didn’t know what to do with itself. Diets don’t work in the long term; lifestyle changes do.
In January 2015, I began a journey of weight loss and embarked on a strict diet and intense fitness program. Was it a success? It certainly helped me lose weight as I shed 20 lbs and dropped my body fat percentage significantly. But after twelve months of dieting and rigorous exercise, I struggled to maintain my leanness and didn’t quite know how to get back to normality or truthfully, whether I wanted to. At the time, I loved my lifestyle; I woke up every day excited to work out, excited to meal prep and my newfound passion truly got me through one of the most stressful years of my life. There were times I trained for 14+ days without taking a day to rest. There were occasions when I ate perfectly clean and went for days in a caloric deficit. A passion slowly began to turn into an obsession. How hard could I train without feeling faint? How little could I eat without feeling hungry? This gruelling program was one that I created for myself, in partnership with a personal trainer. As a disclaimer, the personal trainer was brilliant and had I followed all of her advice (not just the pieces I selected), it probably would have been a lot more sustainable plan! I have always been a bit of an “all or nothing” person. Rejecting the notion of doing things in moderation, I thrive in pushing myself to extremes; it’s part of my personality. This internal voice and innate need to challenge myself and “achieve, improve, succeed” can be a very positive thing. However, when channelled into diet and exercise, it can manifest itself as obsessive behaviours. That is the difficult thing about meal prepping, training and clean eating; where do you draw the line between “healthy” and “unhealthy”? When does it go from a “lifestyle” to an “obsession”?
How do we know which “diet” or eating regime or lifestyle is the best for our health? We are bombarded with conflicting advice about diet and nutrition. I recall having a complete meltdown one day over whether to eat Greek-style yoghurt, coconut yoghurt or soya yoghurt. One nutritionist told me soya products were bad for my immunity and another told me that dairy was bad for my digestion and skin, but a personal trainer told me coconut was too high in fat and I should keep it to a minimum. So, which one can I eat?! None of them! From reading blogs, I believed that white potato was bad and would make me fat but that I shouldn’t eat too much sweet potato because most of my carbs should come from leafy green vegetables like kale and broccoli. When I went on vacation to the Canary Islands, I ate tuna salads with boiled egg whites and no dressing because I was too scared to eat anything else. I would even pick out the tomatoes because I thought they were too high in carbohydrates/sugars. For almost a year, I avoided peppers because one nutritionist told me they had nightshades in them. What the f**k are nightshades?! To this day, I couldn’t even explain it. My quest for diet perfection meant that my meals became more and more restricted and I developed a phobia of certain foods. One day, I ate a bagel at work after a big training session and a male colleague said to me, “Oh my god, you’re eating a bagel? Watch out Emma, once you start eating that stuff again, it’s a slippery slope.” I didn’t touch bread for about nine months after that. Going out to eat and grocery shopping became stressful tasks, as I was constantly hunting for the cleanest items on the menu or walking up and down the aisles, reading the ingredients and nutrition information on every single item I picked up. If I can draw one positive out of that year, it was the huge amount of knowledge I gained about food and nutrition.
Where am I now? Well, it’s safe to say I have gained back all the weight/fat I lost in 2015 but I have maintained good muscle definition and strength. Now that I am starting 2017 injury-free, I am ready to get back to ultra-healthy eating and a more rigorous training routine, which will include plenty of sleep and rest. There are still foods that I choose not to eat. This is not due to fear anymore, but rather due to my own knowledge of nutrition and the other healthier alternatives out there. One example is pasta. I would rather have courgetti, squash spaghetti or a rice or bean-based alternative. Foods I have added to my diet include white potato, bananas, rye bread, and more. My digestion is very poor due to restricting my diet for so long and putting my body through a lot of stress. Pro-biotic foods, herbal teas and a careful diet help alleviate this symptom. Yes, I have gained weight but this isn’t from adding potato or bread to my diet; it’s from drinking alcohol, over-indulging in sugary treats and chocolate, and the biggest cause of weight gain — stress. I would like to lose some of the weight I’ve gained and get back down to a “comfortable” UK Size 10, as opposed to the 10/12 I am right now, but I will do it the healthy way. Why am I writing this post? From the beginning, this blog has been honest and transparent. Yes, I lost a lot of weight and changed my life. But it wasn’t a perfect, linear journey. For a while, I lost my way and I have now been at both extreme ends of the spectrum during different times in my life (see above photos). This blog is therapeutic for me as I teach myself more and more about weight loss, health, fitness and nutrition. It is also a chance for me to help others who aren’t as far along in their journey as I am. I want to help any other men or women who are embarking on their own weight loss or fitness journeys. Please proceed with caution. Take the advice of professionals who are fully qualified to give advice on diet, nutrition and exercise. Challenge yourself but also learn to listen to your body. The mind and body are not separate; they are completely and wholly interconnected in ways we are only beginning to understand. Love your body and nourish it; don’t starve it and punish it. And finally, enjoy every moment of it. If you aren’t having fun, growing, living, thriving, then stop, reevaluate and make some positive changes. Life is short and you only get one body to enjoy it in, treat it well.