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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Need a Day Off? Recovery and Motivation

I have been feeling a familiar pulling sensation in my coracobrachialis (a lovely muscle found in the region of your bicep that feels kinda hard and ropey at times). This was exactly what I felt before I developed that horrendous tendinitis 2 years ago that had me altering not only my workouts, but the way I massaged so that I could actually have a livelihood.

Need a Day Off? Recovery and Motivation
The bain of my ever-loving training life...

 

The below post by Eirik Førlie, owner and coach at Forlie Sports Performance Gym, sheds some light on “rest days” of which I definitely do not take enough of. My body is trying to tell me something and Eirik is making me feel like it’s safe to listen.

Need a Day Off? Recovery and Motivation.

Give like a Rubberband

Within the lyrics of my favorite Kate Bush song, “Rubberband Girl” is the following statement:

“If I could learn to give like a rubberband, I’d be back on my feet…”

While we can’t all be Gumbi, the flexibility that we are born with can be conditioned further through exercise and a wonderful thing called stretching. Your joints are designed to move through space with the help of your muscles, tendons and ligaments (we all have these parts). The ability to take your joints through their entire range of movement and maintaining this range is an important part of injury prevention. Measured in degrees, flexibility diminishes with the passage of time and the amount of wear and tear on our joints and tissues that comes with aging.

That being said, there are very right and very wrong ways to stretch. The best route to go is to have a stretching program designed for you, much like a fitness program, that is based on detailed analysis of the activity/sport/conditioning that you engage in, your medical history and your injury risk factors. As a licensed massage therapist, prescribing stretches to my clients as part of their aftercare is within my scope of practice, but to design a stretching program I would consult with a personal trainer and physical therapist for input in tailoring the stretches to my client’s needs. Ideally, it is amazing to be able to work with these fitness and medical professionals as a team, much like you see in any professional athlete’s training entourage, to improve the performance and recovery time of the client.

Professional that I am, I am guilty of stretching incorrectly. I realized my folly after an especially intense set of yoga classes. I felt incredibly long and leaned out after each class, partly because visualization is a key part of really settling into the practice. I pictured my limbs extending beyond me to the front and back walls of the room, pulling my extremities ever further from each other like a yogic “rack” of sorts. At the same time, I was also working with my trainer twice a week doing a combination of weight training and Thai kickboxing. I believed that my leg strength would improve with my yoga practice. Yes, I could definitely kick my leg up to my face, but what I felt was a surprising weakness in my quads. The plyometric squats that I once could do 3 sets of 20 holding 15 pounders in each hand became impossible. My thighs shivered after only ten reps. After consulting with one of my professors, I realized that by overstretching my Quad muscles, I had made it a lot harder for them to contract. The demand I made on these muscles to perform the way I was used to in training was too much in this over-lengthened state. Even scarier than weakness, muscle fibers that are over stretched can sometimes rip, also known as a strain or “pull” which thankfully did not happen to me. Usually PAIN when stretching beyond the limit will indicate something has gone awry in there. I took a couple weeks off of yoga and within 2 to 3 training sessions, was right back at the level I had been prior to the overstretching. The experience was a cautionary one.

When designing a stretching program there are two types of stretching techniques to take into consideration – static and dynamic. A static stretch is when you take the muscle being stretched to the point where you feel tension (not PAIN) and hold it there. After a certain period of time (under 30 seconds) the hold tricks the brain into telling your tendons to let go, thus lengthening the muscle further and increasing your flexibility. Holding the stretch for more than 30 seconds was noted by researchers to have a negative affect on athletic performance, as it undermined explosiveness and power. Dynamic stretches take the muscle through its range of movement slowly and deliberately, gradually increasing the speed of the movement over a period of time.  Therefore, a combination of short term static stretches and dynamic stretches that mimic the movements of my sport have proven to be the most effective way for me to prepare and repair my muscles. Coupled with massage, my stretching program has rendered me injury free for sometime now (knock on some wood, please). Learn to properly let your body give like a rubberband, as Ms. Bush sang, and not only will you be back on your feet, but ready for action!