In the fitness industry there are so many misconceptions. There’s the “women will get bulky if they lift weights”, the “I need to get rid of this little patch of fat”, and the “fat will make you fat” – just to name a few. These misconceptions somehow evolve throughout time and make their way into our conventional wisdom. Anyone who actually knows something about human physiology, anatomy and the science of exercise and nutrition can easily disprove these beliefs and support their reasoning with sound science, but it takes someone with an open mind to actually listen and heed advice. As a fitness professional it’s frustrating to constantly see this misinformation permeate society; we see it on the covers of magazines, in the news, and, unfortunately, coming out of fitness institutions and from the mouths of so-called “experts”.
These myths confuse the hell out of us; the ones trying to fight the good fight; exercising and eating all the right things. But are we really eating the right things? Are we really getting the most out of our time at the gym?
This post is intended for everyone; guys and ladies. Most of the time when I hear “I’m afraid I will look like a freak if I lift heavy weights” it’s coming from the mouth of a female. If I ever hear a guy say that he thinks women should not lift or that they look “manly” if they are well-muscled, then he is just not worth my time and I will stop listening. I’m not kidding. Being muscular and strong is how we keep our bodies functioning like they should; preventing injury, decrepitude, and frailty.
I’ve now been on my CrossFit/Paleo journey for over three years. It’s been an amazing and rewarding journey and a huge learning process. I want to share a little bit about the journey, in order to help change your minds about some of these misconceptions and distorted ideas that float around in the fitness business. I hope you enjoy the photos as well.
Scale weight: About 150lbs
This picture was taken at the beginning of a 30-day Paleo Challenge in 2011. Before the challenge I was eating about 75-80% Paleo; I couldn’t commit 100%. I was still drinking alcohol on a consistent basis and eating Paleo baked goods often. Partying on the weekends takes a huge toll on the body composition and training schedule. That November challenge set me up for totally committing to this way of eating; the absence of grains, dairy, legumes, and added sugar became my “normal”. I’ve never looked back.
These photos were taken at the beginning of a Spring 2012 Paleo Challenge. The differences in my body composition after a winter of CrossFit and clean eating are apparent. During this challenge I leaned out a lot. I don’t have an after photo unfortunately. There was a problem, though. I wasn’t eating enough carbohydrate to support my activity level. I was getting all of my carbs from vegetables like kale, broccoli and asparagus, which isn’t a bad thing, but it just wasn’t enough for the amount of work I was doing in the gym and for my active job as a trainer. I found myself becoming annoyed really easily and I felt fatigued a lot of the time. In the mirror I saw the results I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t sustainable because I was miserable. You can read about my food intake back then HERE.
I thought it might just be sugar withdrawal that was making me feel so shitty, but when I began reading more about carb intake and read Sweet Potato Power, I saw the light. I tracked my daily carb intake and it was not nearly enough. I added a sweet potato to my daily food intake and it was amazing. I was hesitant because I though the dense, starchy carb source wouldn’t allow me to stay as lean as I wanted, but then the opposite happened. I actually leaned out more! The best part was that I was also a lot happier. Sweet potatoes and squash are now essential to my life, haha. Sweet potato is definitely the food that I could never live without.
Scale Weight: 155lbs
The above photo was taken at the beginning of my January Whole30. Since September 17th, 2012 when I embarked on a 60-day challenge I have eaten very strict Paleo; the cleanest I’ve ever been, with the exception of Christmas. I ate a lot of Paleo cookies over the holidays and enjoyed a few adult beverages. It tasted good but I felt like crap and felt bloated and swollen from the sugar and booze. I felt slow in the gym. It took me about a week and a half to completely recover from this mini-bender.
I included my weight in each of these photos to show that the number on the scale is kind of a silly thing to pay a lot of attention to. I weigh more now than I did two years ago, but I look much different; better, in my humble opinion. I am smaller now than I was back then, when I weighed less. Isn’t that strange?! I think it’s awesome. But how does this happen? Muscle is denser than body fat. So if you look at a five-pound piece of muscle it will take up less space than a five-pound piece of fat. As a result of training and clean eating, I have built muscle and reduced the amount of fat on my body. So my scale weight has increased because of the muscle, but I am smaller because I lost fat. Don’t fret if the number on the scale isn’t moving like you thought it would. In fact, put the scale in the basement or dark closet and use it sparingly, if at all. A much better way to track progress is to take measurements with a tape measure (hips, waist, chest, legs, arms) and to take before and after photos like I’ve done here. Also, gauge changes in your body by how your clothes feel. Tight jeans don’t lie!
Same weight, fat vs. muscle. Ever notice how sweet potatoes kind of look like muscles?
The next series of photos are a few of my lady CrossFit friends. They all train hard and eat clean. To me they are beautiful, fit, strong women. They are nowhere near “bulky” or “manly”.
Dana drags the 135# sled. She works part-time and is a full-time wife and the mom of two little cuties.
Brittany does shoulder taps. She works full-time and is also a part-time fashionista.
Ilda with a gorgeous clean and beautiful smile. She is a full-time student, studying medicine at Dartmouth.
My hope is that post is enlightening for my readers. If you already knew all of this, then it serves as reinforcement. If you’re still skeptical I would be happy to have a chat with you. Experiment with the food you are putting into your body; change it up if it’s not working for you. Ask a good coach for some advice if you’re not performing, looking, or feeling as good as you know you could. Most of all, give your body the time it needs to change. Change does not happen overnight. We must be patient and remain focused on our goals in the gym and outside of the gym.
Special thanks to Dana, Brittany, and Ilda for graciously agreeing to let me use their photos for this post. Thank you to my amazing chiropractors, Drs. Matt and Whitney Swiesz for repairing my posture over the past year and half. It’s very noticeable in those photos! Finally, thank you to my coaches and mentors who have helped me along this path – the entire way: My little(BIG) bro, Ky-Guy, Mike Molloy, and Rob Austin.
Please let me know what you’re thinking about this. Go forth and lift big!