Convincing a 54-year old woman that she should stop counting calories is a hard sell. I grew up in the era of drinking lemon water and using baby oil to get a tan. If you wanted to lose weight, you simply decreased your caloric intake. “Skinny” came in a pink can called, “Tab.” The rule was to eat what you wanted, just make sure you didn’t go over your daily caloric allotment. It stuck with me and trying to shake it has been like melting a glacier with a glass of water. I loved my calories, the few I had. We were a couple, committed to each other.
Things started to change when I met my trainer, Javier. He’s super-smart. He’s made me strong, lean, and more toned than I have been in my previous eight years of lifting. He pushes me hard and I do what he says. But when it came to nutrition, I had no idea what he was talking about. He first tried to explain it to me with words like, fat oxidation, anabolic, ketosis, post-absorptive rate, thermodynamics, epigenetic phenomena – Quick, somebody hand me a Snickers bar! I needed a simple explanation of why heavy weightlifting 30 minutes then spend between 8 – 13 miles on the “wogging” (walking and jogging) trail daily wasn’t losing weight on a 1200 – 1500 calorie-a-day diet. I knew I couldn’t cut calories much more without fainting but I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. When he first told me that I needed to increase my caloric intake, I almost left the gym. Something kept me from that impulse – it could have been the burn my legs were feeling from the lunges I just completed.
I asked Javier to try again, to make it simple. Remedial. Elementary. While he can’t really seem to count reps accurately (“20” is not “5,” Javier…), he has helped me understood the importance of carbohydrates, fats (yes, “fats”), protein, and hormone optimization. Calories are not to be completely ignored, but they are not the stars of the show.
My explanation below is unworthy of a grade higher than a C+ but it has worked for me. Everybody’s gotta start where they are and I was at the bottom.
Pack on the Protein – Protein is essential for building muscle. Lean beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, egg whites, and whey are in that wheelhouse. Protein feeds muscles the nutrients they need to build healthy mass and function properly. It’s difficult to over-due protein so it is the last of my worries.
Get Chummy with the Carbs – Carbs have gotten a bad rap. Complex carbohydrates convert to fuel. Good carbs are high in fiber and encourage but slow digestion and are found in whole grains, beans, oats, fresh fruits, veggies, and nuts. They prevent those spikes in blood sugar that contribute to hunger cravings and mood swings. They keep us full longer, staving off hunger. They lower bad cholesterol, improve memory, help prevent some diseases, and bump up serotonin production – the happy hormone. Bonus.
Our bodies don’t store them as fat when eaten in the right proportion to good fats and protein. Eating too few good carbs can turn the body into a hoarder and make losing excess weight and maintaining a healthy weight almost impossible.
Get Friendly with Fats – The good fats are essential for optimal weight and health. Bad fats are what increase the risk of certain diseases. Good fats protect your brain and heart, and help keep you at a healthy weight. Like the good carbs, they can protect against diseases, boost a person’s mood (yay fats!), and help us maintain a healthy weight. Some examples of good fats are salmon, soybeans, flax seeds, peanuts, avocados, olive oil, almonds, and walnuts.
We need fat. I’ve learned that it’s important to eat them in disproportionate amounts. What I mean by that is that if you are eating higher carbs one day, then your fats should be lower and vice versa. They take turns as the premium fuel your body uses to run. They also keep the body from settling into complacency and not burning fuel like it should.
OPTIMIZE YOUR HORMONES – For the last three years, I have been on bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). Hormone levels naturally decline as we age. Low hormones increase the risk of heart disease, some cancers, and a host of other health challenges – think “menopause, mood swings, hot flashes, weight gain, insomnia, forgetfulness…” I get BioTE® Medical’s subcutaneous pellets inserted every 3-4 months. They are cardio-activated and because my activity level is extremely high, I get pelleted more often than the average female patient who goes every 5-6 months.
I’m feeling better than ever. I have dissolved my exclusive relationship with calories. The breakup was difficult. It took a long time and it was painful. We had some great times together. But I am stronger, healthier, happier, and leaner than ever and the glacier is starting to melt.
Just for the health of it,
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