My Macro Journey to Fitness – Part 1

Redefining my relationship with food was one of the hardest challenges I overcame in my recovery from Anorexia. It’s been a decade plus journey with plenty of weak moments and falling off of the wagon. In an effort to hold myself accountable and practice what I preach, to both my clients and loved ones, I’d like to tell you a bit about the role nutrition played in getting me to where I am today.

The Miseducation of Julia Fragias…

The body is a wonderfully efficient machine.

Starve and abuse it, but in a continuous loop of feedback mechanisms, the brain catches wind of what you’re doing and tweaks every cell in the body to maintain your existence. When I started to eat again, my brain clearly didn’t trust me. It adjusted my metabolism to a lower rate in order to make sure the calories I put into my body wouldn’t disappear.

It took a while to earn that trust back.

The image you see above from 2007 is a softer, fuller girl almost 2 years into recovery from Anorexia. I didn’t know how to exercise properly. I didn’t know how to like food, much less understand now-common concepts like macronutrients. I was instructed by my then counselor not to restrict food and was assured my metabolism would normalize. Eventually.

But, of course, I was still afraid to eat.

I categorized foods into “safe” and “off limits.” How did I decide what made them safe? They were low in fat or fat free. Vegetables or fruit were safe, as long as they didn’t bloat me. Liquids were safer than solids. It also helped if they were low in calories per serving. I ate my “safe foods” repetitively and copiously.

My criteria for safe were so far off the mark that they actually contributed to my rapid weight gain. As my body continued to expand, I had to fight the urge to restrict my eating. I wanted someone to give me a magic menu or list of foods that I could eat without anxiety.

I wanted safety, but I needed education.

Through therapy, I was getting served a whole lot of how to eat through mindfulness, which was helpful – chew your food well, eat slowly, savor the flavors, be grateful for the nourishment – but nobody was telling me what to eat.

How could I begin to structure balanced meals that would fuel my body efficiently?

Count your macros…

My self education was to obsessively watch fitness channels on Youtube. This was when I first came across the term macronutrient. The body builders and fitness professionals I was taking notes from all shared the same advice – count your macros. It’s a catchy word, especially when repeated like a mantra, but what exactly are they?

Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats: compounds we derive the most energy from and that make up the bulk of our diets as humans. Our cells need these nutrients to grow and develop properly.

Finally, I had something specific to focus on. I concentrated on the ratios of these compounds that the fitness community recommended were optimal for fitness and good health. I constructed a daily diet that consisted of ready made and home made protein powder based shakes, protein bars, bags of nuts, bananas for my pre-workout, and cans of water packed tuna for dinner.

Finally, I had a new “safe” list!

Problem was, it was even more restricted than my previous one.

My workouts were cardio endurance based only and lasted between 60 and 90 minutes to the point of utter exhaustion. There are a number of reasons why this is not the fitness route you want to go down, but I will get into that in my next post. I dropped about ten pounds, but I was constipated, had started to develop eczema patches all over my body and odd outbreaks of hives, had terrible insomnia and brain fog. As if that weren’t all bad enough, I put on virtually no muscle tone.

At the end of 2007, my annual blood test indicated I was deficient in many vitamins and borderline anemic. Essentially, I was malnourished. My doctor didn’t help matters either by telling me I needed to lose a few pounds. He came to this conclusion based on a chart of height and weight ranges of which I was at the high end of normal. FYI – this chart also said I was a normal weight when I had full blown anorexia. Scary, truly.

Here’s an example of a Height to Weight Chart, like the one my doctor used to determine I needed to lose weight. These things are AWFUL!

I left the doctor’s office terrified.

I abandoned my diet and let my body’s cravings guide my food choices. This was recommended by a therapist who believed the body intuitively knows what it needs. She was also trying to prevent my patterns of restriction and categorizing food. I remember meeting up with an old friend, who had struggled with childhood obesity and was now super fit. I asked him how he learned to eat properly. He laughed at me and said, “Julia. NO ONE eats properly. It’s how you exercise that counts.”

Working with a trainer, he put on lean muscle that raised his metabolism and allowed his body to burn off more calories at rest.

And he noticed something interesting.

The fitter he became, the less he craved the fried pork chops, plantain chips and soda of his youth. Remember what I said about the wonderful efficiency of the body? As his body grew healthier and stronger, so did his food choices.

He strongly urged me to contact his trainer. After I got over myself (my bad experience with personal trainers was documented in my post A Body Is A Terrible Thing To Waste) I set up my first session in August of 2008.

I started on the strength-training program the trainer designed for me. It was around the 6 week mark that I started to feel something I never expected to feel again. Hunger.

I was hungry all the time.

To actually feel my stomach rumbling and experience the weakness of NOT attending to that hunger was frightening to me, but also a huge step forward. Hunger was a sensation I had psychologically dulled for years with my disordered eating habits. So, for the first time since my recovery began, I ate when I was actually hungry.

This. Was. A. Game changer.

I was most ravenous within an hour of my workouts. I found myself craving meat, which was shocking because I had been a vegetarian for 7 years and the thought of animal protein in my mouth used to nauseate me. This hunger and these new cravings were my body’s call to action.

FEED ME, JULIA!!!

But how?

Stay tuned for Part 2…

 

 

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The Food MD

The American audience has been saturated with advertisements for Pharmaceutical products since the mid-nineties. Whether it’s in print or on the screen, anyone can find a drug to address a multitude of symptoms a la Ray Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451.” Fast forward through the gently spoken side effects and the advice to “consult with your doctor before taking…” and most people presume life will be brighter, happier and glossier when on this drug. Oh, behold how gray propaganda works.

It’s a full body experience, alright!

In response to all these scripts is “The Food Hospital,”a program that airs on the BBC’s Channel 4 and The Cooking Channel here in the States. It explores the science behind using food as medicine. Patients with conditions and/or a variety of symptoms come in, are subject to a battery of scientific tests after which a food regimen is prescribed and monitored by its doctors to see if it can effectively treat them. During their follow up visits, patients and doctors meticulously review how the different foods eaten helped them through hematocrits (i.e. blood tests) and feedback, then compare the statistical results from the prescription drug alternatives. Sometimes the patients have already tried all the drugs on the market for their condition, so the comparison is first hand; however more often than not, the food program has the most profound impact sans side effects.

If we think about our history, man has always looked to nature for methods of disease prevention and curing sickness. There are still people in remote tribes using things like tree bark and crushed dung beetles to treat infection. As we cringe and contort our faces in disgust, an incredible thing occurs – the treatments WORK. I should remind you that many new medications being developed in pharmaceutical labs have their roots in botanical and organic sources, sometimes emerging from rainforest and bush treatments.  Of course, by the time the medication makes it to market, those sources have been altered and incorporated with a multitude of synthetic agents. Bring on the light colored pill and its numerous side effects. If, however, you knew that changing what you put inside your body could help treat you, which would you gravitate to?

A young woman suffering from debilitating PMS found that incorporating more calcium rich vegetables like broccoli and dark leafy greens into her diet helped to eliminate the severity of her symptoms. Prior to visiting the Food Hospital, her only medical option was taking an anti-depressant. For other conditions, the food prescription is a little more involved. Take, for example, the Portfolio diet, which is a vegetarian diet consisting of a four key cholesterol lowering foods that bring down the levels of LDL, considered the “bad” cholesterol. This “portfolio” consists of soluble fiber, (examples include oatmeal, oat bran, barley, peas, beans, lentils, psyllium, and vegetables such as okra and eggplant) nuts, soy protein and margarine enriched with plant sterols. It can be a challenging diet, but incredibly effective. In fact, its efficacy has been comparable to that of prescription drug Lestatin. Also in that vein of challenging yet effective is the Low FODMAP diet which is prescribed to people suffering from IBS (Irritable Bowl Syndrome). The science behind this diet is that consumption of foods with high levels of fermentable sugars end up creating more liquid and gas in the gut, thus leading to the uncomfortable symptoms experienced by those who have the condition. Foods with low levels of these sugars and especially when eaten in certain combinations and amounts have been found to drastically reduce  digestive distress. Since current prescription medications for IBS have varied results and obvious risk factors (think of the recall in 2000 of Lotronex after some users died as a side effect), it’s sort of a no-brainer to go the route of Px Diet. If you never thought food could have this kind of profound impact on health, then start thinking it NOW. Just note that none of the above diet programs or other ones should be undertaken solo. The script needs to come from a registered dietician and/or doctor’s referral.

Happy eating!

Treats are mightier than the pen

Last month I joined a program created by a blogger “The Lean Green Bean”  a.k.a Lindsay a 26 year old Dietetic Tech from Ohio who is pursuing her passion of becoming a Registered Dietician. This program is known as Foodie Pen Pals. Instead of sending letters to your randomly selected pen pal, you send a package of treats created by you within a budget of $15. Along with your package you include something handwritten that lets them know a little about you and/or why you chose what you did for them. In return, you also receive a package from a totally different foodie pen pal filled with treats and notes. Each month the cycle begins again with new pairings, so you have the opportunity to share and get to know people from all corners of the US and Canada.


I was drawn to the concept for a number of reasons. First, food is a manner in which many cultures (including my own) show their love for others. What a wonderful way, I thought, to show someone else who I am. It made me think of the care packages my friend’s mom would send her filled with home baked cookies and other things she missed. Granted, I am a total stranger to this person, but I can bridge the familial gap through my careful and thoughtful selection of food items that appeal to their tastes and dietary preferences. Secondly, I love the randomness of treats that are native to an area. It speaks a lot about the environment and allows me to experience something local and special from a place I may never see. Lastly, it’s a unique way of meeting like minded people without the phoniness of social networks. Food is real, tangible connection. So are handwritten notes that no one else needs to see but you. As part of the program, you blog at the end of the month about what you received from your foodie pen pal. If you’re not a blogger, you can just email your pen pal and let them know what joy their treat box brought you.

My foodie pen pal was a sweetheart of a girl from Waco, TX named Laney. Her blog is A Little Bit of Everything – literally. She calls herself a novice foodie, but her box of treats was like a celebration of all things Texan. She even went to the Farmer’s Market in her area to pick up treats she knew would be absolutely local and unique. Here’s what was in my box:

  • The Salt Lick Texas Salsa (can’t wait to try this with some homemade Ranch dressing – a mixture my good friend Stephanie introduced me to who is also from Texas 🙂
  • TruBar (nuts and dried fruit bar that was not overly sweet like so many brands NYC delis carry)
  • Justin’s All Natural Peanut Bar (better than a Reese’s)
  • Apple Pie Native Pecans from the Pecan Shop (my bf snatched them never to be tasted by yours truly…they now reside in his belly)
  • Aunt Aggie De’s Pralines (so richly sweet…needs to be eaten in moderation and with strong coffee)
  • Wildflower Honey from Texas (almost as good as the mountain honey we ate in Greece as kids)

I can’t believe she only spent $15 but then again, NYC is an expensive city; things are way cheaper in TX. I was so touched by her selections especially since I already had honey and salsa written on my grocery list. Without knowing me, she really picked things out food items that were absolutely in my heart. A true mixture of healthy and sweetness. She did an amazing job.