I F*cked Up So You Don’t Have To
By Andrew Crickmore
That’s been my mantra for a long time; at the very least since I started posting in Imgurfit. It’s also the sub-title for our first podcast. A lot of what I say in this post pertains, in part, to the stories told n there, so please give it a whirl.
At the end of 2011, I went through a bit of a life crisis; I was a fat, miserable and soon-to-be-divorced 25 year old that felt like I had no control over a lot of what was going on in my life. After a brief grief period of self-loathing, I decided to take a measure of control back. I pledged to not be fat anymore.
11 months and 109 lbs. later a thin (in hindsight, too thin) me emerged my self-inflicted trial by fire having learned a lot about how incredibly little I understood about weight loss and nutrition and a better appreciation for why people have such a hard time losing weight (and keeping it off).
So, let’s run through the not-chronological order of things I learned from my own stupidity
As much as I have painted a very awful picture of my weight loss journey, the ultimate good news is I’ve kept the weight off since 2012 and reversed all the nasty, self-inflicted damage I foisted upon myself. So, there’s that at least. In addition of course, I did do some good (and critical) things during my fat to fit process that has stuck with me and probably helped lead me to my ultimate success:
- Started using MyFitnessPal immediately and tracking calorie intake, along with weighing and measuring food for over a year to reset my base understanding of servings
- Went to the gym and tried, in theory, to have a balanced workout plan
- Never stopped reading and learning, even when the things I was reading ended up being wrong.
MyFitnessPal was (and still is) an essential tool in my tool box. Learning how to properly track and measure portions was likely the number one reason I succeeded in my weight loss, even as I started eating some ridiculously low calorie intakes. I measured and weighed food portion religiously and managed to hit my aggressive calorie targets 90% of the time. It was so important to my success I still use it; I’m up to a streak of 1350 days straight (and counting).
After I started tracking my calories, I drove over to the community centre gym I knew I had a dormant gym membership at and reactivated it. At first I just did machine circuits, but that evolved into an upper body/lower body rotational split as I was afraid of not working out all my muscles. As much as whatever half-assed program I concocted that was, it was born from the first real attempts to learn something substantial about weight lifting and, coincidentally ties well into my third and final takeaway…
Last, but not least, I delved deeply into blogs, articles, books, videos and whatever else I could dig up for answers on pertinent questions about what I should and should not be doing. Ideally I’d have done this BEFORE doing any substantial weight loss and exercise, but I seriously doubt I’m unique in my endeavour to throw myself into the gauntlet without even a helmet to protect me.
It’s hard to imagine a time when I was so utterly clueless about weight loss and fitness that these things happened, but they did. A lot of what I characterize as “the bad” in this article are the sorts of things that it seems nearly everyone is guilty of:
- I was way too aggressive with my weight loss, despite some early and seemingly reasonable goals
- I bought into the idea of working myself ‘to death’ was the best way to gain results
- the Numbers mattered more than anything else, including, in the end, my health.
Patience. Patience. Patience. It’s all I preach now to people now who ask about weight loss and fitness results. It’s typically my best quality, but it never was when I started losing weight. Initially I set what SEEMED like pretty realistic goals; 35 lbs. lost between December 2011 and April 2012 initially. This was after I’d lost a few pounds just cutting out pop and junk food, so I felt pretty good about how things were going. Problem was, was that I started to lose weight VERY quickly. At one point I was losing about 2-3 lbs. every 3-4 days (at least according to the scale). Seeing that sort of initial loss was addictive. So, I crushed that first goal by a good 10 lbs., then took it even further.
In my self-inflicted race to the bottom, I started going to the gym longer and longer. 2-3 hours was common, most of it doing half and half cardio and weights, 6 days a week. I chased calories burned, I chased weight loss, and eventually I even started doing outdoor running in addition to all of that. Hell, I even worked myself up to a solid 6 mile distance at my peak because the more I could burn, the better. At the same time, I was continuing to maintain a -1000 calorie deficit (or thereabouts, I was solely dependent on MFP’s calorie reduction system and never adjusted it, not even when I felt like hell).
All of this inflicted on myself because I couldn’t wait. It was a weird experience for someone who typically is patient to a fault. These points weren’t even the worst things I experienced, however…
What categorizes ‘The Ugly’ for me was the stuff that bordered on sadistic and eating disorder issues. This is the sort of stuff that probably made me lose the most muscle mass, feel the absolute worst as my weight loss journey stretched into a year, and caused the most issues for me in struggling with my post-dieting existence.
- I had absolutely no idea what TDEE and BMR were, and paid for it
- When I got down to sub-200 lbs., my calorie deficit was so bad I felt like I had a black hole in my gut, yet I ignored it.
- I tried all sorts of stupid things, which included cutting out nearly all my protein intake at one point.
- At my lowest, I’d binge on frozen yogurt and low-fat peanut butter and feel miserably guilty about it after
TDEE and BMR used to be foreign concepts to me. I understood calories in vs. calories out, and I understood calorie deficits, but I never really understood anything about TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) and BMR (Base Metabolic Rate) until I’d already fucked myself over. All I knew was what MFP told me to eat, and as much as I enjoy using MyFitnessPal, they really need to change their algorithm. At my lowest I was trying to subsist on only 1470 calories. Keep in mind my BMR is around 1900 calories, so I was eating a brisk -500 calorie deficit on my bare minimum required calories.
This ridiculous calorie deficit really started to be a problem when I hit the sub-200 calorie mark. For people who don’t know, if you lose 10 lbs. MFP will ask you if you want to adjust your calorie intake down by 100 calories per day. That SEEMS reasonable, except it caps at 1200 calories, which is ridiculously low calories for ANYBODY. As a result, I started to feel physically and mentally shittier. Physically, I’d be weak, have difficulty sleeping, and even got jitters at some point. Mentally was worse. Food dogged me constantly. I was making bargains with myself over the food I was eating and calculating how much cardio I needed to do to counter it.
I distinctly remember nights where I would stare into a jar of peanut butter and bargain with myself as to whether I would eat any more of it. These staring contests would last anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour. Usually I caved and would start shoveling spoonfuls of peanut butter into my mouth in some involuntary attempt to make up for the massive amount of lost calories I’d subjected myself to. The most I’d ever eaten during one of these binge stages was an entire kilo of peanut butter, ending the destruction by scraping the bottom with my finger. It’s amazing that I can still eat peanut butter at all honestly. Peanut butter was the main trigger food for this, but I did it for other foods too. Mostly sugary things mocking me from my freezer or workplace break room table.
Other stupid shit I did? For one, I went vegetarian for a week. Problem with that was I basically just cut out all my protein intake. I cannot describe to you what soreness without protein intake is like when you insist on working out anyways. I did similarly miserable things with carbs and fats, all with equally dismal results. I beat salads to death, weird curry dishes to death, cheat days to death, spicy foods to death…really, I tried every coping mechanism I could to trick myself into eating less calories or feeling “full” on less calories. The slop I’d eat just to minimize my calorie intake was as ridiculous as it was intense.
What the Hell Should I Learn From All This?
First and foremost, Despite my fuckups I’ve managed to keep the weight off going on 4 years (as of October 2015). This in itself is a huge accomplishment. That doesn’t mean any sane person should try what I did, yet my experience isn’t exactly an outlier. plenty of people on imgurfit and elsewhere continue to subject themselves to well-meaning but extremely poor choices.
So, if you skipped all the way down to the bottom of this post for some reason, here’s what you should do;
- Develop or practice patience. Slow and steady is better than aggressive and fast when it comes to weight loss
- Don’t try stupid shit. Calculate your calories, eat enough food and at the right macronutrient ratios.
- Eat for your level of activity. If you run and lift and do all sorts of other things, eat lots of food. You’ll still probably lose weight.
- Develop a healthy relationship with food. even when trying to cut calories. Don’t degrade your mental and physical health to the point where you’re binge-eating regularly to compensate for your poor health.
- Keep reading, keep learning, and become nutritionally and physically literate.
- Track your god damn calories and macros.
Thanks for Reading, and Keep an eye out for future Podcast Primer Posts pertaining to the things we’ve discussed.