I have to be honest, I’ve been having a really hard time the past few weeks. I touched on it briefly in a post a few weeks ago, because I thought I’d conquered it, but that was apparently only a temporary fix. It was barely a few days before my motivation took another deep dive into the depths of all-I-want-is-cookies. And then, last night, I hit a breaking point.
I’ve mentioned a few times before that, although I’m pretty happy with the way I look now, and I’m most certainly healthy, I want to lose just a few more pounds because I want my lower abs to show. And, in the time following my half marathon, I started to get impatient. I was feeling the stress of having been in a “trying to lose weight” state for almost a year, and I really, really wanted to get to the “maintaining your weight” stage. So, I took drastic measures.
I changed the settings on my calorie counting app to be at about a 400 calorie a day deficit. This may not seem like much, since most things you read will recommend a 500 calorie deficit (which I do not endorse), but because I’m so small this meant only about 1370 calories a day. In other words, not very much. Especially because I frequently get bored at work and look to (healthy) snacking to keep myself occupied. I was at a point where I’d see a 400 calorie recipe and think “no… that’s too much. I need it lighter.” Trust me, that is not a place you want to be.
Plus, because I was eating so little of everything else, I felt like I needed to be eating sweets of some sort every day just so that I didn’t feel like I was in some kind of forced self-deprivation. But this meant I was saving calories I should have been using on quality food for admittedly yummy, but nutritionally valueless desserts. Plus, as a person who has nearly always been moderate with my sweets, it meant I was drastically upping my sugar intake which was leading to some pretty nasty cravings.
Enter last night’s breaking point.
Yesterday I decided to set aside 470 calories for a Peanut Butter Dream Cookie I’d bought the day before at Panera. For anyone doing the math, that’s over a third of the calories I was allowing myself for each day. I made delicious salad for lunch, planned on eating some leftover chili for dinner, and exhibited enough self-control to only eat half the cookie when I got home from work, saving the second half for after dinner. And that cookie was delicious. Absolutely worth the care I had to take with my other meals.
The problem arose when I went to eat that second half. Due to laziness and lack of foresight, the first half I’d eaten was the larger one. So when I finished that second half, I desperately wanted more. I knew I was out of calories for the day, but I thought that maybe if I got in a bit of sugar somehow else it’d satisfy the craving. I went to my fridge, grabbed a tub of frosting (yes, I keep frosting in my fridge at all times to eat by the spoonful, and no, I will not be ashamed), and tasted just the tiniest bit. Then I closed the fridge and walked away. I thought that would be the end of it.
But alas, it was not. Eating that little bit of frosting just made me want more. So I went back and grabbed a small spoonful. Then I went back again and grabbed a heaping spoonful. Then, still unsatisfied, I thought maybe I should go for some of the Halloween-sized candy I’d bought specifically for portion control. I grabbed a Twizzlers. Then a second, because the first seemed so small. Then I got an intense craving for some of my cranberry walnut bread and a slice of (low-fat, no sugar added!) cheesecake, so I grabbed a plate and took both, as well as a third Twizzlers. At this point I was so full it was physically uncomfortable and I knew I needed to stop, but I couldn’t cut that craving so I grabbed just one more fun-sized Twizzlers.
Then I mentally stood back and looked at myself in shame. Not just two days before I had given a really successful talk about making healthier food choices, and here I was consuming probably 900-1,000 empty calories of sweets, more or less in one sitting. I was finally ready to accept that what I was doing wasn’t working, and something needed to change.
When I made the decision to decrease my calorie limit I lost sight of something really important, and that’s what got me to where I am now: doing things my way. Slowly. I fell in love with calorie counting because it wasn’t restrictive, and because it let me eat whatever I wanted. Setting my limit so low was doing the exact opposite of that, forcing me to put all of my willpower into my food choices, and making it difficult for me to stick to my workout schedule because I just didn’t have enough willpower left.
Furthermore, because I know that restricting calories too severely will lead to muscle loss instead of fat loss, I was trying to significantly increase my protein intake without increasing calories. And that meant that a lot of times, instead of making a salad or sandwich for lunch like I had been doing, I was having competitions with myself to see how long I could make a protein bar last so I’d be full for as long as possible. In other words, the exact opposite of what I knew I should be doing – eating real, naturally filling foods.
It’s funny because I have talked about similar subjects so many times. I’ve advised others not to cut their calories too significantly lest they feel they’ve depriving themselves, I’ve insisted that I don’t believe in diets because diets never work, and I’ve even written here about adjusting your exercise schedule when it’s asking too much of you – something I did when I first moved to Charleston. Unfortunately, it took me a night of sugar-fueled shame to figure out that I needed to do the same for my food intake. Specifically, I needed to get back to what had worked for me before: making slow but steady progress, at my own pace, in my own time.
So when I woke up this morning I set my calorie limit back up to where it should be based on my correct size, weight, and exercise schedule. Before work I did some strength training that I was behind on from slacking in the past couple of weeks, and then after work I got in my 45 minute run, exactly as planned. By the end of today I will have eaten almost exactly 1782 calories (my new limit), and that means I won’t be losing any weight today. But you know what? That’s ok, because I got stronger, I got faster, I ate real, delicious food, and there will be plenty of other days where I will be quite a bit under my limit and I will lose weight.
I’ve come a really long way and I look and feel fantastic. I’m at a point now where getting to where I want to be (dropping those last few pounds of tummy fat) is universally acknowledged to be really difficult, even for those who are in phenomenal shape. So as far as I’m concerned, as long as I’m happy and healthy where I am, there’s no need to rush into the future, better, six-pack having me. I’ll get there in my own time, and I’ll enjoy the journey a heck of a lot more if I also get to enjoy my food along the way.
Motivational Crisis: Over.