Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Girl Walks Into A Gym

A girl walks into a gym and bets herself, and the gym, $500 that in six weeks she can lose either 20 pounds or 6% body fats through diet and exercise. For six weeks, she has to commit to a kickboxing workout 3x a week, following a meal plan that eliminates bread, cheese, and basically all the good parts of pizza, and she can't drown her sorrows in wine because alcohol is also off the table.

That girl was me. An alternate title for this post could be Pining for Pizz and Back Again.

I, January, saw an ad on Instagram for 9Round Kickboxing Leander promoting their 6 Week Challenge program- 6 weeks of guided workouts, nutrition planning, and accountability that guaranteed great results. A lot of factors worked together to lead me to decide to give this a shot. I had just had my annual physical and was a bit shell-shocked at the weight and BMI I got back (173lbs and a Body fat percentage of nearly 28%!), it was the beginning of the year and that lull before race season, I was in full interview mode seeking out a new job, and a friend of mine I admired dearly had just taken her own life. Things were ripe for change, and this seemed to be the catalyst that was going to send me in whatever direction 2018 was going to take me.

So, in Mid-January I walked into the gym, met with the owner, and signed up for the challenge. I walked out with a pair of boxing gloves, hand wraps, and a meal plan, ready for the following Monday when things officially started. Bryce and I even ate our last unhealthy meal at Raising Cane's for good measure.

I normally hesitate hardcore when I see diet and fitness challenges, because they are often gimmicks to sell supplements or promote unreasonable expectations. However, this one felt different to me because it wasn't solely based on weight. I didn't have 20 pounds to lose, at least not in 6 weeks in a way that would be healthy and sustainable. I did, however, have a hunch I could make some drastic improvement on my body composition with a better diet and a new exercise routine that would break me out of my rut.

The diet plan was also reasonable. Sure, it was a bummer to think about no bread or cheese (Or cake or chocolate or anything else fun yet awful for you...) but the diet was not insanely restrictive. The majority of the foods on the list were things I ate already, just with portions planned out properly. Once I confirmed avocados were OK, I knew I could make it happen. High protein, controlled carb and fat portions, and all the veggies you could handle. That's not a gimmick- it's a good way to eat!

I also appreciated the accountability aspect of the challenge. $500 is a LOT of money- I did NOT want to lose that! Every time I saw a doughnut in the break room or craved chips and queso, I remembered that I really, really need to save up for a vehicle down payment so my dad can have his old truck back, and I stopped myself. There were weekly weigh-ins, so results were well known. No faking it or making excuses- you either did it right or you literally paid the price!

I won't walk people through my whole six weeks, but I did feel like the experience was worth writing about because it has led me to reflect a lot on myself, my body, and how I treat it. The overall experience was one that I feel good about, but it wasn't all life-affirming sunshine and inspirational Pinterest quotes for sure. 

This challenge program is truly set up for people who have a long way to go and no good base for getting there. I knew as someone who was already an athlete with the endurance to workout 3-4x more than this plan required, that I was a bit of an anomaly for their target audience. Anyone with over 20lbs to lose who isn't already exercising or eating well can succeed at this challenge, that I firmly believe. However, someone like me who is on the cusp? That was trickier and led to frustrations that were different from other challengers. (But, probably also very similar- it's no easy task for anyone to undertake!)

My body was at a place on the literal and figurative scale I didn't expect before going to the doctor. I had fallen into the trap of believing that because I worked out all the time, I could eat whatever I want because I had earned it. Not so, said my pants that were getting too tight and the shape my back made in my sports bra.

Still, my body does incredible things. It takes me on 100-mile bike rides, climbs mountains, runs marathons, surfs, swims, and conquers my world with me. I like to appreciate it, to be kind to myself and not focus on my image. Through this challenge, I was able to build a better balance between rewarding myself for my hard work and treating my body the way it deserves to be treated.

However, because of this struggle, there were certainly good parts, as well as bad and ugly parts, to the experience. I'll start with the latter.

The Bad & Ugly

1. The frustration. Oh, the frustration. I made progress every week at my weigh-ins, but not significant progress like many others in the challenge. I knew it was because I had "less to lose" than some, but also knew I was eating and working out just like them, why weren't my numbers changing?

2. Those damned numbers. I was obsessing. Hello- Type A former Ironman triathlete personality here! I had a goal in front of me and a financial incentive to reach it. It started to be all I thought about (and probably all I talked about. Thank you, Bryce, and co-workers, for your patience!)

3. A new kind of self-criticism I thought I'd put to bed years ago. Growing up I was no athlete. I was a band nerd who had never run a full mile until well into college. I was never obese, but I was chubby, and thanks to society, my own insecurity, and the insecurity of others reflecting on me, I never loved my body or thought it was beautiful. When I started running in grad school that changed, and I got to a much healthier mental space. I didn't realize until this challenge just how hair-thin that balance was, though. I was getting so angry with my body for not losing the weight, not ridding itself of the fat after all the hard work- for not participating in this challenge with me!

4. An unhealthy fixation with reaching my goals. I've never had an eating disorder, but I know intimately what they look like, having had friends go through them. So when I started contemplating pushing results with laxatives or special fat burner pills- something, anything I could do, I had to take a step back. That was the direction I knew I did not need to take. Nothing is worth endangering your health and well-being, not even $500. It was hard to re-focus my mind to the goal at hand: a healthier body and better perspective on food -when all I could fixate on was what those final numbers had to be. It made me sad to realize I was feeling so low about what was ultimately good for me and made me seriously question my penchant for only taking up challenges as a measure of success. A lot of dark, contemplative rabbit holes were explored as I sat on the couch craving a snack to quiet my brain.

The Good

1. A lot of reflection. I struggled a lot mentally (as described above) but through that, felt that I stabilized and strengthened the foundation of a healthier body image I've been working to build since I was a teenager aware of what a "bikini body" was. It's not perfect, and likely never will be, but when you put your brain through the wringer while denying it pizza, you come out with a lot of clarity.

2. A lot of results! Although I didn't lose 100lbs and come out with 6-pack abs, I did make serious progress I never would have believed. I lost about 14 pounds total, and 6% body fat! Additionally, I lost about 2 inches from my waist, toned my arms, and I swear to God my hair is shinier.

3. A lot of fun. I'm a triathlete and mountain biker. I swim, I bike, I run. Those things are fun. (Well, not running.) but switching it up with kickboxing was fantastic. I built a ton of core and upper body strength, loved the trainers at the gym and all of their encouragement, jammed out to great playlists, and generally enjoyed punching and kicking the s#@* out of things 3x a week.

4. A whole new way of thinking. The diet wasn't that hard, and that's the point. Yes, it was HARD going through Valentine's day without chocolate or my Tiff's Treats, but it was NOT hard eating hearty, balanced, delicious meals three times a day. I tracked my food with MyFitnessPal and gained great perspective on what a day of good, worthwhile calories and macros looked like. No, I am not giving up pizza forever, but I can say with certainty now that my choices, cravings, and overall grocery list have swung in a much more positive direction. Yes, you only live once and pizza is so worth it, but maybe not a Red Baron every single week like I was eating! Even Bryce, who had to be on the diet with me because I do the grocery shopping (he also volunteered to do it out of support because he is amazing) feels the same way, and that man is a Whataburger loyalist.

In the end, I did it. The Monday of the final week I walked in for my weekly weigh-in and screeched when I saw the body fat reading. I got the trainer to come take a look and we high-fived took fun photos and celebrated with a killer workout. The mental frustration and physical anguish I experienced while watching my best friend eat chips and queso next to me three days prior had been worth it.

Part of the challenge involved writing a review on Facebook, which I have done, but it did not require this blog post. I am doing this, not only for me to come back and read when I'm making excuses for why I am getting off track again, but also for anyone to read who might be on the bubble I was on. There are a million inspirational articles out there for those just beginning their fitness journeys, but not many for those of us who are already well on that road, and maybe not quite aware that we've gotten a few cracks in the windshield from complacency and a self-righteous belief that athletes can't be unhealthy.

While I don't recommend risking financial security to set your mind right to everyone, if you're considering this challenge, give it some good thought. While the main point of it, of course, is for the gym to recruit new members full-time (and the offer they give you for a membership rate for participating is great!), the owner and trainers really are focused on helping people find their healthy path, whether or not that leads to their door in the end.

I truly enjoyed my experience with 9Round, and although at this time I haven't been able to join full-time. I will definitely be back when I can, because it's been great, for both my body (I can do so many more pushups now!) as well as my mind.