I wanted to elaborate on the phases of fitness and nutrition that I've taken since starting my journey as a self-conscious sophomore in highschool. Can you relate?
The "Healthy" (Excessive) Way
Eat less and move more. Consume low or non-fat (specifically saturated fat) "heart-healthy" products like whole grain bread, margarine, bland cereal, fat-free dairy, and canned soups. Do a LOT of cardio. As a female, don't lift heavy weight because this will result in bulky, unsightly muscle. Continue until you experience frequent IBS symptoms, hair thinning, and irregular menstruation cycles.
The Paleo "Met-Con" Junkie
Eat only real foods; no grains, dairy, legumes, soy, vegetable oils. In the newbie phase, this may include consuming a happy amount of lara bars, dried fruit, and generous amounts of sunflower nut butter. Eat skinless chicken breast and egg whites because animal fat is still a little scary. Do "met-con" (metabolic conditioning) Crossfit workouts 4-5x/week like your freaking life depended on it. Go hard, fast, and intense. Sprint up hills, jump up and off boxes, do push-ups until you drop, and then repeat until you can't. Continue until you experience an increase in injuries, total exhaustion, and crazy exercise addiction.
The Paleo Weight-Lifting Beast Woman
Continue to eat real foods, but eat low-carb (30-70g per day) and fattier cuts of meat. Enjoy chuck roast, pork shoulders and chicken skin. Get a gym membership already and lift progressively heavier weights on compound movements like the back squat, deadlift, overhead press, chin-ups, lunges, and weighted push-ups. Nix all cardio because this will interfere with strength gains. Continue until you gain five pounds of mostly muscle (and therefore a very pleasant change in body composition,) intimidate all the men in your gym by your abilities (and demand their respect,) and start focusing on how much weight you've been adding to the bar than the weight on the scale.
The Burnt-Out Over Achiever
Continue to add weight to the bar and train regardless of outside factors (stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition.) Fail to realize that adding more weight to the bar, regardless of whether "ready" or not, will require more days of recovery. Fail to schedule in "active recovery days" such as foam rolling, stretching, or meditation during a particularly stressful fifteen months. Continue until you experience restless sleep, lack of interest in training, and a "cortisol" belly (weight gain around the belly button.) Get really upset and try interventions to "get back on track" such as intermittent fasting, reducing carbohydrates even lower, and adding former lover, Mr. Met-Con, to the end of strength training sessions (which all inherently add more stress to the body.)
The Patient Learner
Begin to listen, respect, and accept any changes in your body regardless of how undesirable they may be. Evaluate frequently and focus on the way you feel rather than inappropriately pushing for a PR (personal record) on a bad day. Make small changes (like going to sleep an hour earlier) that can be maintained for at least 4-6 weeks before adding in a new intervention. Instead of focusing on carbs/fat/calories, focus on consuming the most nutrient-dense foods possible (fermented food, bone broth, organ meats, vegetables) in sufficient quantities. Participate in yoga, meditation, slow movement throughout the day, and seemingly "unproductive" activities like lying outside in the sunshine, listening to your favorite album, or cuddling a ridiculous amount with your significant other.
Did each of my phases work for awhile? Yes, and then they slowly destroyed me. I felt awesome as a Paleo Met-Con Junkie, but if I tried that now then I might as well just grind my poor adrenal glands into a pulp. In all honesty, my workouts still aren't anywhere near what they used to be (or what I think they "should" be,) but I'm working with it. This is where I think it's truly important to hire a trainer, coach, mentor, whatever. Sometimes you can't see the "forest for the trees" because you're blindsighted by your must-have goals and neglect to see that your chosen path may have some pretty dire consequences. Sometimes you really need that objective point of view to scream, LISTEN!!!
I'll be writing another post on "evangelism" and how being too sold on an idea or concept may also breed an unhealty, and perhaps damaging, quest for optimal "health". ...