Until my 20s I never worried about what I ate. I never had to. I grew up rail thin, a carbon copy of my mother. I was always playing sports and moving around as a kid, and even though I didn’t do much working out in college, I was moving all the time. I was busy and walking around a lot, not to mention stressed out AF.
When I got into my 20s I had a great job, I was happily married, and I continued to eat and drink whatever I wanted (don’t hate me). After a few years it caught up to me. I was still skinny, but I was what I call skinny fat. Basically I had no muscle, so whatever wasn’t skin, bones, organs, or water — was fat. Growing up I always did sports that were more cardio oriented, so I never really built a strong foundation of muscle to begin with.
And while the whole love your body trend is fine and all — I’m on board with not judging people and their bodies and not feeling shame about your body — it doesn’t mean that I have or want to accept my own body as currently is, or like it for that matter. I don’t shame other people’s bodies or cellulite, but I definitely don’t have to like my own either! Yes, even skinny girls have cellulite. Over 90% of women have cellulite. Loved this article about the subject of the love your body trend.
Also, having muscle is really important. I don’t want to be a frail old woman who can’t open a jar. I’d like to maintain a healthy strong body even as I get older so I can always be active, and I know that I need to start working on that now!
Anyway, as someone turning 34, today actually, I can tell you that your body changes A LOT in your late 20s and 30s. Age hits you and your metabolism starts to laugh at you, and as you get older you realize that what you eat and drink actually has a huge affect on how you feel. My previous sky-high metabolism, while it is still pretty good in general, is not what it used to be. And after years of eating like I was still in my teens, a few years ago I just decided that I just don’t feel good anymore. Not only do I just want to change my body, and gain some muscle, but I always felt bloated. Sorry for the TMI here but sometimes if I ate a large meal I would literally look four or five months pregnant.
Before we go any further, let me just say that yes, I’m thin, I know that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to make my body better and see what it’s capable of. It also has nothing to do with anyone else and their body. I don’t judge anyone, I’m just telling you all of this from my personal perspective, and I have very minimal problems in the grand scheme of things and I know that.
So while I was definitely still on the thin side, it’s not really about being thin or a certain number. I just felt like I need to change because things just weren’t feeling right. The constant bloating sucked, I wanted food to make me feel good, not bad. And I wanted and needed a stronger body than I had. So while the thought of any sort of prolonged food or alcohol restriction sounded miserable — I was already miserable in a different way. So I decided I wanted to try to swap the misery.
I do want to state that I don’t have any illnesses, diseases, or food intolerances that affect the way I eat. I can eat gluten and dairy. I am a really picky eater (which is annoying as an adult) so I’m only limited in that way. I’m lucky that picky is my only food restriction.
MY FIRST APPROACH
My first approach to this whole change my body thing was to decide to make working out my #1 priority in 2016. Last year I mostly ignored the food part and thought if I did CrossFit 4-5 times a week and other classes here and there that I could change my body to how I wanted to. While I did gain a good bit of muscle in 2016 (about 10 pounds), eating only partly healthy and drinking a lot of wine didn’t help me get to where I wanted to be. I learned firsthand that working out consistently, pretty intense workouts I might add, did not cut it. Now, I think workout out is a very important step — you can’t gain muscle from just eating right, you have to work out — but after a year of CrossFit, and feeling better about the muscle part, I still felt miserable otherwise.
Why? Because while I would eat healthy about 50% of the time — smoothies, sweetgreen salads, fruit, paleo dinners 3 nights a week, lots of water — the other 50% was cheese, carbs, sugar, and wine. And then more cheese and carbs, and wine. And pizza. And cookies and ice cream. And more wine. You get the picture. All the yummy bad things in my mouth.
At the end of 2016 I realized that to really get to where I want to be, I needed to make a dramatic change in my diet. I looked into a few things, and then my husband recommended Renaissance Periodization (RP) because it’s proven to help you only lose fat and not muscle, and since I had just spent a year building muscle my husband didn’t want me to lose it (me either!).
So I decided to trade my misery, and for the first time ever, in my entire life, follow a strict food plan. I’ve literally never restricted my diet (don’t hate me). And honestly I’m so picky about food to begin with that the thought of restricting what I eat was overwhelming. I also don’t love to cook, I can, I will, but I don’t love to do it. So it wasn’t like some fun challenge I could get creative with. No, I wasn’t really excited to start some crazy food program at all. But I had to give something a try.
So what is RP? Don’t laugh — it’s a cutting program that body builders use (and people in the weightlifting & fitness industries) that preserves your muscle and helps you only lose fat. Since I’ve worked so hard to build muscle, I didn’t want to lose weight by a calorie deficit, I wanted to make sure I kept the muscle, and only lose that pesky fat.
No, I don’t have a lot of weight to lose. It’s not about a number for me, it’s about how I feel. Feel physically and mentally. I do know that I feel much better when I’m working out consistently. And by consistently I mean 4-6 times a week doing a 30-60 minute workout. I’ve never left a work out and regretted going, or felt bad afterward. I’m always glad I worked out. So I knew I’d continue that, but now I needed to focus on food.
How does RP work? I can give you the general concept of the plan, but it’s different for everyone depending on your body, how often you work out, how hard you work out, how strictly you can adhere to the plan, and genetics of course.
From my limited knowledge of the nutrition world the overview of RP is that it focuses on eating very specific foods, counting grams and weighing your food out, and eating at certain times of day depending on when your workout is and how intense it is. If you buy a plan, you will get a spreadsheet with the breakdown of all the grams of the types of food you should eat and at what time of day. (No I’m not affiliated with RP, it’s not a commission link, I’m not working with them — I paid for the program.)
I have to say, it’s a very complicated and confusing diet. If you can afford the consulting option and are serious about committing to it, I’d do the consulting just so you have someone you can email with the million questions you no doubt will have if you don’t want to wade through the answers in the Facebook group.
While I think the website recently got an update, the RP plan itself (I personally think) is not super easy to follow, as there are a ton of exceptions. So I decided to try to make it as easy as I could on myself. I also decided that I would have to follow it a little loosely due to the fact that I’m super picky, and also the planning and prepping you’d have to do to follow it to a T is just more than I can handle. I also go to a lot of events and dinners for my job, and following it exactly would be a huge pain and I was just not willing to go that far. This change, a restrictive food plan, was already going to be a huge shock to my system so I figured I’d just see how it went being as strict as I could on it without going insane. If I ever wanted to follow something super strict I’d need a personal chef!
MY RESULTS SO FAR
I’ve been doing a loose version of RP for about 8-9 weeks. There have been a few days (or several days in a row) that haven’t been very good since I was traveling, the Girl Scout cookies I ordered in December came in, and I had a few events/weekends where I let things get a little out of control (hangover level), but other than that, I was really strict the first 4-5 weeks, and have lightened up a little bit since and am still seeing results.
The first five weeks I was pretty strict. I only ate a few things that weren’t on the diet. Maybe had two glasses of wine total in one month — that type of strict. Then I went to Miami. What I ate in Miami stays in Miami. The past 4 weeks I have been less strict, but I pick and choose when I’m going to go off the plan. Usually it’s when I’m out with friends or if my husband and I decide to go out to dinner.
A lot of people ask what RP says about cheat days or cheat meals, and they basically say just don’t cheat. Or if you do, it’s fine, just move on and don’t let it spiral into a multiple day thing. By eating things not on the list of recommended foods you are just holding yourself and your own progress back. Obviously, I cheat when I feel like it. I think it keeps me sane. Also, I should probably say that I’ve never had an eating disorder or anything, so I have a very healthy relationship with food/eating. If you know me, this is obvious as I will eat all the carbs and cheese and wine and chocolate.
Back to RP. Basically they list out the items that they consider lean proteins, good vegetables, healthy fats, healthy carbs, and workout carbs (the plan was created by doctors, dietitians, and professors). The lists of approved foods in each category are not long, but I actually think the structure and limitation can be helpful.
In the spreadsheets you will get if you do the program, they list out six meals a day, and give you specific amounts of what to eat in the different categories in each meal. You will see that this will change depending on when your workout is, how intense it is, and what phase you are in the plan. The gram counting is similar to a macro/IIFYM plan.
I’m going to preface these next few paragraphs with the fact that I’m not personally trying to lose a lot of weight. I’m more interested in toning and strengthening my body, and yes, lose a few unnecessary fat pounds where I have them to lose. I want to challenge myself and see what happens. But don’t get hung up on what I’m about to tell you about how much weight I’ve lost as it’s not about a number for me personally — but it might be for you, and maybe it will encourage you if you were wanting to try something a little more drastic than you’ve tried before.
I can tell you that it works. It’s not a gimic thing. I’m not trying to talk you into RP (I could care less if you purchase it), I’m not even doing it exactly how they say to do it (but if I did I bet my results by now would be even better). RP doesn’t have much to do with this besides giving me the baseline of how to eat to change my body and keep my muscle. What I’m saying is that eating the right things at the right times works. I even think that just eating the right things will work wonders, but then adding in the timing and working out — I think it takes it to another level.
So far, I’ve basically lost a pound a week (8 pounds total) on the weeks that I’ve been dedicated to it. Let me also remind you that I gained about 10 pounds in muscle last year from doing CrossFit, so just keep that in mind.
Since I’ve seen, what I consider, pretty dramatic results, I’m definitely going to keep it going for a while. Maybe for me it’s just because it’s a complete shock to my system to NOT eat all the cheese and wine and carbs and sugar. Maybe I won’t see much more of a difference if I keep doing it a little on the loose side. I don’t know, but I’m going to keep going and we’ll see where we’re at in a few more months. Again, I don’t care what my scale says, for me it’s about how I feel and yes how I look. And I can definitely say I look and feel much better already. But I know that consistently going to CrossFit aids in this as well. I don’t think I’ve gotten any less strong, so I do think it’s targeting fat.
Besides losing 8 pounds and looking and feeling much better in general, the biggest change is that I am rarely bloated anymore and I make better food decisions regularly. I still eat the healthy carbs they have on the list — examples are whole grain bread, white rice (yes white, it gets burned easily with my workouts), whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, fruit) but I now rarely get bloated even when I eat these carbs, it’s never to the extreme that it used to be.
MAIN THEMES IN THE PROGRAM
The main things I’ve learned are that I need to eat a lot of protein and vegetables. A lot. If you are vegetarian, RP has a specific program for you. I have no idea what it looks like so you’d have to find out for yourself.
I’ve also noticed that carb consumption should be around my workout. So it’s sort of like the macro diet plus carb cycling with a limited list of foods. And if you are cutting or trying to lose (because RP also has a plan for if you are trying to gain weight/muscle) then as you get further into the program you eat less and less carbs and fat and almost only protein and vegetables (no I wouldn’t be able to handle that).
WHAT I’M EATING
I’ll tell you a little bit about what I’m eating and the things I’m not doing that I probably should be to see better results. You can actually see some photos of my food in this feature on the Washingtonian.
I typically do CrossFit at 5 or 6 pm, so for breakfast I’m only supposed to eat lean protein, veggies, and a serving of healthy fats. No carbs until I’ve been up for 3-5 hours. For me, this sucks because I’m not a protein in the morning kind of gal. But what I’ve been doing is either turkey bacon and some carrots, or making an egg white quiche with tomatoes and spinach and eating it for a few days until it’s gone. The first few weeks I was religious about this, lately I’ve been eating fruit or whole wheat toast sometimes. I have coffee with cream even though the cream isn’t a “healthy fat” I don’t care — it’s the only way I can drink coffee. There are probably better choices (skim milk) but yuck. I’d rather drink tea than coffee with skim milk.
For lunch I’ll have either a smoothie that has lots of spinach or kale, fruit, and a scoop of protein powder, or I’ll have a salad with chicken on it. Basically greens & protein! I wish I was one of those people who just loved those beautiful bowls of all veggies and healthy stuff, but I don’t. Damn tastebuds.
A few hours before my workout I’m supposed to eat another meal but usually I’m just not hungry enough for a full meal and I don’t like to be full when I work out, so I’ll have a lighter snack like carrots and a ranch dip made from non-fat greek yogurt, a high-protein granola bar (not on “the list”), cottage cheese, or a few spoonfuls of this cookie dough made with beans. Also, I just cannot eat meat and eggs four times a day, so I eat greek yogurt or protein powder when I can. I also just learned about powdered peanut butter (which doesn’t have all the fat in it) so that might be entering my routine.
During my workout I’ll drink water and a Gatorade (they recommend Gatorade or fruit juice for carbs to burn during your workout), and they also recommend drinking a whey protein shake during your workout but I’m not a huge fan of that. And then eat another meal not too long after my workout, which for me is dinner.
I do one of two things for dinner. I either have a paleo meal from Power Supply, or I will make something that will last me a few nights for dinner (like a whole wheat pasta with chicken and homemade kale/spinach and walnut pesto sauce). The meal has protein, veggies, some healthy carbs and a little healthy fat. RP considers things like olive oil, natural nut butter, and avocados healthy fats. But the fat servings are tiny — just FYI. I probably eat way more fat than RP recommends. So while my results could probably be better by now, I’m just trying to do this in the most realistic way that I plan to actually live my life and eat in the long term.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
To keep it simple, I’m really just eating the same things over and over. I have a few options for each meal or snack and I just rotate them in and out. If you aren’t picky like me then you’ll have a lot more options. I’m not going go into too many of the specifics as far as grams and things because it totally depends on your body and your goals, so you’d need a specific plan from RP anyway. But for me it’s working even though I’m following it pretty loosely. I think in general it’s just a shock to my system to not eat much sugar or alcohol or non-healthy carbs and lots of fats (cheese). I will eat all of these things sometimes so I don’t go insane, but have really limited them in comparison to how I used to eat (and drink).
NOT DRINKING ALCOHOL
Last year I drank a lot. So to have 1-2 glasses of wine only every few weeks is a huge change from previously 1-2 glasses per night. I think not drinking daily in itself was a shock to my body. I did a little reading up on alcohol and I don’t think I realized how much havoc it wreaks on our bodies (I still love it and will still drink it) but it’s a toxin and whenever you drink alcohol you body goes into overdrive trying to process the toxin, and then it doesn’t deal with the other crap we’re putting in our body at the time.
I think not drinking often has helped a lot with the bloating, and helped with not feeling like crap! To curb my desire for wine in the evenings I’m just drinking a lot of sparkling water (there are always at least two flavors of La Croix in my fridge). Seriously. I drink regular water too, but sparkling water at least tastes different and seems special somehow and it curbs my desire for wine (most of the time).
After just 8-9 weeks of this program, surprisingly I think that I’m permanently changed as far as my approach to eating. Prior to doing this I was a YOLO type of person and didn’t want to “miss out” or limit myself, but as I said — I was trading one misery for another. I already find myself making better food decisions even when I am out with friends or at an event.
I’d say that taking a few months to focus on food (in addition to regular workouts) and change my body to how I want it to be — strong, toned, lean, and feeling good — has been totally worth it so far. Yes, there are lots of donuts I’ve wanted to eat but haven’t, glasses of wine calling my name that I didn’t partake in, and all the cheese, but I’m excited to see how the next few months go. Change takes a while and I think you have to have a combination of diet and exercise to really change your body — and both are really important.
Have you ever done a restricted diet? Have you found something that works for you? How did it go for you? Please share in the comments!