Monday, August 1, 2016

My experience seeing a nutritionist

Alright guys, long post alert. BUT, I have been wanting to share this over the past few weeks. Plus, I know my mom has been asking to hear more about this (hi, Mom!) About a month ago, I started seeing a nutritionist and have been really happy with the results. It was a big decision for me, so let me back up a little and start at the beginning.

At the end of June, after Chattanooga, I made a couple of decisions to "get more serious" about training as I moved towards my next 70.3 in Australia. I got a coach, I joined the Atlanta Triathlon Club, started to train in groups more, and another one was to learn more about what sports nutrition - outside of the actual race.

Last year as I trained for Chicago Marathon, due to the help of my friend Earon, I learned a lot about race nutrition like how much I should be eating and why I needed a combination of Gatorade, water, Gu's, and salt tabs. And honestly, it worked! Previously, I had been trying to eat as little as possible while running with the mindset, if I am taking in calories WHILE I burn them, doesn't that defeat the purpose?

Well, this mentality was squashed for me when I saw how well I did at Chicago Marathon, breaking 4 hours in a marathon (what!) and I have since been championing mid-race fueling to all my running friends.

I've taken these lessons over to longer distance triathlon training, as its an integral part to being successful in this sport, even as an "I do this just-for-fun!" person such as myself. Crashing mid-race and your body breaking down on you is a very real thing to happen during endurance sports where you are exercising for hours on end, in heat and sun, etc. Proper nutrition to get you through the swim, the bike, and the run are things you need to test and learn during training and hope like heck go well during race day.

While training for Chattanooga, I did a really good job with this, and also felt my nutrition went really well during the race. I didn't crash at all, and I felt my nutrition plan worked great, despite some of the human error on my part, and my inability to stomach any more Gu Chews towards the end of the race.

However, one area that I have really struggled to tackle is nutrition outside of the actual racing part of triathlon. I struggled mentally during training for Chattanooga with food. I ditched Weight Watchers, which has been my weight management plan for years, opting instead to focus on real foods and foods to fuel my body. I tried tracking calories and then drove myself crazy trying to estimate portion sizes and analyzing what I was eating. I was surrounded by other people that didn't seem to have this same obsession with food and it was driving me a bit mad and really disheartening me. I felt obsessed. I wasn't happy with my body going into Chattanooga, despite the amazing things I was doing. And THAT disappointed me. I thought the training would have a different effect on my body.

I knew that with the amount of exercising I was doing I had to be doing something wrong to be gaining weight.

So, following the Chattanooga race, after I decided to do another one, I decided to take the plunge and see a nutritionist. I honestly thought that maybe instead of a nutritionist, I should see a psychiatrist to help with some of the issues, but decided to first opt with a nutritionist.

The one I saw came recommended from a friend, and who is a sports nutritionist and works with Atlanta Triathlon Club athletes, providing discounts to members. I set up an appointment with her following my weekend in NYC and right after the 4th of July holiday, on Tuesday, July 5th, I met with her for the first time.

The first appointment was about 2 hours long and consisted of me saying "But!" a lot as she explained some of her concepts to me and some of the things that she wanted me to try. She told me that I didn't need to replenish calories after long workouts (But what's the fun in doing them then!) She told me that I needed to combine protein sources with my carbs (But that's more calories!) And she told me that I needed to eat in the mornings before I worked out (But I feel fine on an empty stomach! And that's more calories!)

Some of the lessons I have had ingrained in me or picked up along the way I had to toss out the window. She said I should start eating my bananas with peanut butter. That I should start eating my carrot sticks with hummus.  That I should eat white potatoes as a great source of fast burning carbs. That I can buy bread again and eat it toasted and with avocado smashed on top.

Wait, what? You want me to do what?

My mind was spinning after that first 2 hour meeting. But I left there with my body fat and weight measured and vowed to do my best over the next few weeks. Especially while traveling! And going on vacation! I was nervous because it seemed like the plan had be ADDING calories to my diet and although I was really excited about the idea of peanut butter and banana, and turkey sandwiches, I was nervous I would mess it up and return having gained weight. How could adding calories help me LOSE weight?

The first two days after I saw her that first time I e-mailed her about 4 times saying, "I just ate XYZ... is that okay? Am I doing it right?" and she wrote back saying "Yes." "Yes you are." and then "Please stop e-mailing me."

So I stopped, and was on my own.

My goals with her were simple. I wanted to lose weight. I didn't want to have to have to track everything that I ate. I didn't want to measure and calorie count. I wanted to feel like I had a normal relationship with food. I wanted to fuel my workouts. And I wanted to fit it all into a normal and healthy life. I didn't want to feel obsessed with food.

I was hesitant to write about the experience and the ways I was eating before having my first check in, because what if it didn't work? What if I did gain weight? I wanted to try it out first and see howit went and then share with you the results and my thoughts.  Well, on Monday, I revisited the nutritionist for my first check in. The results are outstanding (I think.)

I lost 5.5 lbs and 4% body fat.  According to her calculations, I probably lost about 7 lbs of fat, since I gained muscle. I also did this while spending 2 weeks traveling. While not completely avoiding eating pizza and drinking beer and having ice cream and some candy. Honestly, it was some of the easiest weight I have ever had come off. That doesn't mean I didn't work hard to focus on my eating habits, but it means that many of the changes were simple.

I wasn't obsessing (too much) and I was able to enjoy many of the normal things like eating at my favorite restaurants, having friends and family make my favorite meals, having some sweets, and some beers. I followed her guidelines and I make smart choices, avoiding the things I didn't care about and also managing portions. I am so proud of the workouts that I got in while I was traveling, as well as how I managed food and eating.

I shared with you my workouts while I traveled, and although I haven't been posting my workouts every single week, I also exercised for more than 45 hours in the month of July. This equates to almost 1.5 hours a day. I had only three days in the whole month that I didn't do any form of exercise. It was a tough month and I burned A LOT of calories. As I share with you the principles I followed and later some of what I have been eating, I can't stress enough that this is SPORTS nutrition. The changes I made were recommended to me by a sports nutritionist who works with endurance athletes. I am not sure that this would work if I weren't exercising the way that I am.

That being said, here are a few of the changes I made and some of the rationale behind it (as I understand it.) I followed these as best I could over the past month, as described to me by the nutritionist:

- Eat straight carbs before I work out in the mornings. Normally I do not eat before I work out, and I do most of my morning workouts on an empty stomach. However, she recommended I eat right away some straight carbs before I exercise in order to get my metabolism going. Even if it is only a few bites, carbs, will get my metabolism cranking and she said carbs before a workout, helps train my body to burn FAT (yes, please!) Some of the best things she recommended were white potato, 1/2 a banana, or even some Gatorade. My choice has been potatoes and I boiled a bunch of small red potatoes and have been grabbing one before I head out the door in the morning to nosh on while I drive to workout. Sometimes it is honestly hard to stomach something and I have to force myself to have just a few bites but I have been pretty good about this and only forgot 1-2 times to eat before working out.

- Eat breakfast right away after a morning workout, even before I am hungry. Generally what I would do is wait until I got to my desk and eat breakfast only when I got hungry. My mentality was that if I could put off breakfast, I would get hungry for lunch later and it would make my whole day go better. However, she said this is starving my body and I should eat my first meal right after working out.

- Do not stretch out eating my meals. Another normal thing I would do since I eat breakfast, lunch, and snacks all at my desk during most days is try and stretch it out. I would have a few bites, send an e-mail or two, have a few bites more, etc. and try not to eat fast. She recommended, not that I shovel my food into my face, but not to stretch out my eating over the course of 30-60 minutes, which I would sometimes do. The example she gave was cows... who graze all day long on really healthy/low-calorie foods (grass) but they are still fat. Grazing = not good.

- Aim to eat mini meals every 2.5 hours. To avoid grazing or starving, she recommends the optimal spacing between mini meals to be 2.5 hours. Obviously this isn't an exact set in stone rule but this is what I should aim for. I would say that my normal pattern shifted a little bit and would eat around 8:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., etc. It sometimes would get hard but I tried my best with the timing of my meals, while also listening to my body. Some days I would feel like I was eating a lot and some days I felt like I was hungry before the 2.5 time periods were up! Or I had meetings/events, etc. that stopped me from being able to eat with that timing. However, this is just a goal.

- Always combine a carb with a protein. This was an eye opener for me! When we first talked through these theories, it was hard for me to grasp because everything she was telling me seemed to be ADDING calories to my diet. How was I going to lose weight when adding calories? A normal mid-morning snack for me would have been a banana but she recommended combing the banana (a carb) with peanut butter (a protein.) And my afternoon snack was usually carrot sticks, but she recommended carrot sticks (carb) and hummus (protein.) I was very hesitant to try all this and add calories, but also if a licensed nutritionist is telling me to eat peanut butter... who am I to object??  I never tended to think of apples, bananas, or carrots as a carb, I think of them as a vegetable or a fruit, and therefore a healthy snack. However, the pattern I was putting myself in of having all these carbs alone was giving me spikes and drops in my hormone levels and the idea of combining them with proteins and eating at regular intervals is to keep me at more even levelized hormones.

- Unless it is immediately before I work out... then eat straight carbs. So the times that I should be eating carbs alone is if I am eating 30-60 minutes before any workout. Again, this is to teach my body to burn fat. Just as I train my body to build endurance and strength, I also needed to train it to burn the right things (I guess.)  Often I have been working out 2x a day, so it has been tricky to map out eating and my mini meals when I have my evening workouts, but again, I just did my best throughout it to stick to these principals.

- No longer justify my workouts with food. This was just a shift in mindset I needed to change, that I have known all along that I needed to change since starting training for longer-distance triathlons. The mindset of "Well, I worked out today, so I can have..." always leads you to eat more calories than you need.

- Do not replenish calories with a huge meal post long workout. This is along those same lines. One of the things I looked forward to during long bike rides or workouts is "What am I going to eat after??" and rewarded long workouts with big meals. There are SOME calories that need replenishing, right?!  Wrong. What she said was that if I am fueling appropriately during the bike and the workout, I shouldn't need to have a massive meal afterwards and replenish calories. My body didn't need that, it was just my mind telling me I could. So I have been trying to go back into eating as if it were a normal day after workouts (this was a really hard one for me to grasp and had me saying, "But! But!" a lot while she was explaining it to me.)

- Limit processed carbs to 1x a day if I have them. Makes sense. I've known for a long time that we don't need as much white bread, pasta, and pizza crust as we tend to have in our diets. I have avoided those things for a quite a while as much as possible. However, what opened up new worlds for me was her explaining "Ezekial bread" to me, which is non-process sprouted wheat bread that you buy in the freezer section. I have been eating turkey sandwiches for the past month for the first time in years and absolutely love it! This bread (and english muffins, etc.) do not count as processed and they're delicious.

- Limit fats to 3-4x a day. Fats are okay! Another thing I have known but I have never know to what extent. Avocado is good. Olive oil is good. Nuts are good. I just need to limit them to 3-4 a day. And I can still eat my Quest bars that I love, they just count as a fat.

- Do not feel guilty. If you make mistakes. Don't stress and beat yourself up. This is life. You're not on a diet.

So these are some of the things I have been doing. I am by no means an expert at this but I feel good right now. The first week was tough and I felt tired and like crap a bit, but I have been feeling energetic and ready to tackle my workouts.

This post is already extremely massive, so more to come, but I feel good. I am excited about this revelation in my life. Right now, I feel like a weight has been lifted from me. It has only been a month so it is a long road to go. But it makes me feel so happy to have a better grasp on this aspect that I have been struggling with for the past year. I am a nutritionist convert, people!!!

1 comment:

  1. this is fascinating! i love that you shared this; i (obviously) am so interested. i may just go see a nutritionist myself - 7 lbs of fat in a month!??!!? also, might just try the "eat straight carbs before a morning workout thing." i am in the same "empty stomach" boat... i wonder if this could help. although i have also read that working out on an empty stomach ("fasted cardio") makes you burn more calories - is that wrong? i have so many questions! lol

    (i swear i commented because i wanted to and not just bc we talked about it last night!).