• MY JOURNEY: FAT VS. CALORIES

    Hi! It’s me again! Mel keeps asking me to write these “blogs” for the monthly newsletter. I’m 51. I don’t really even know what a “blog” is. This time he said to “make it personal”. I’m not so good at that. Not sure where to go with this; but, I want to make it relevant to fitness. So, here’s my story…
    I called this “Fat vs. Calories” because I’ve always wondered what is best: counting calories or counting your fat??? My intrigue is a result of years of advice from personal trainers, Physical Trainers (sports doctors), general doctors, therapists, and Education (my degree, although ancient, is in Health and Physical Education/Oh…how things have changed in both diet and exercise). All who seem to have their own ideas and opinions on fitness and nutrition. Ironically, they were never the same. I have personally tried nearly all of them, from low-fat, low-calorie, low-carb, to the Hollywood and Cabbage diets. As the story goes…
    “George”, that is what they called me as a young girl. Needless to say, I was quite the tomboy. (I am embarrassed to admit this). I was one of eight children (five girls, three boys). I was sixth in line. My brothers picked on me all the time. I had to learn early to fight and fend for myself, encouraging the “George” in me.
    In junior high, I met my best friend, Susan. What a girl! What a gift! She was a tomboy, as well; and, blessedly, directed my interest to sports. Susan was incredibly talented. Everything she did turned to gold. She was the “best” friend; particularly, because she challenged me to be better…my best ALWAYS! Fortunately, from the beginning, I had enough athletic talent to keep my interest peaked. The more I succeeded, the more confidence I gained. And, with Susan by my side, I had a driving force…including my desire to kick her butt daily. We competed night and day and in every sport possible: volleyball, basketball, track, tennis, softball… In those days, it was good. You could play every sport. You weren’t forced to specialize. Funny, we always believed we were going to be the first “girl” basketball players in the NBA. And, we were driven to do it. (Of course, that was probably every young girl basketball player’s dream at that time because there was no WNBA).
    So, by 6th grade, I was a BIG girl. In fact, I was already 5’7 and about 150#. (Again, embarrassed to say). I was often mistaken for being much older than I really was. Maybe that was due to my breast size (D). I remember so vividly every broken bra strap. There was no such thing as a sports bra in the 70’s (not a good one, anyway). Talk about embarrassing!!! My height was an asset, as you can imagine; but, my weight was a struggle. It often limited my opportunities and abilities. More specifically, it limited my motivation and confidence often lending to a misconception of being “lazy”. I wasn’t lazy! I was scared, embarrassed, and insecure! And, I did not have that self-motivation/self-determination that drives athletes…unlike Susan, who was so driven. She excelled at everything. Thank God she pushed me. She never let me quit. And, I wanted to be just like her!
    In High School, I continued to grow in my sports, having tastes of success which grew my confidence. I made the varsity teams as a freshman. But, I could never quite compete with Susan. She was always “the best”, the “MVP”. I wanted so badly to beat her, to be better than her. As much as I loved her, I envied her. (Not only was she a great athlete, she was a straight A student, gifted musician, beautiful, and everyone adored her). And, that drove me, in every way. There was one thing, though, that continued to hold me back…my weight. By my sophomore year in high school, I was 5’9 (which was great) and about 185 #’s (not so great). Although I was pretty agile for my size, it definitely affected my endurance and mobility. Despite all the accolades I did receive, it limited my opportunities to achieve my dreams.
    College Basketball…that was my dream. By my junior year, I started “getting it”. I knew where I wanted to go, and my passion for basketball was driving me. In fact, it was my saving grace. Without Susan and without basketball, I may have been “barefoot and pregnant” at 16 (i.e. lost and with no direction in life). Basketball gave me purpose. Every taste of success in it gave me the confidence and passion for more. But there is nothing harsher than WORDS to bring you down, to destroy your confidence, and to stop you in your tracks. (Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are the power of the tongue…”) These were words spoken to me that nearly broke me. Words I will never forget. First, as a sophomore in high school, our assistant coach yelled out in front of everyone as we were doing drills “you’re too fat and too lazy…” (the rest doesn’t matter/that’s all I heard/he may have been trying to motivate me; but, reality is, it crushed me); secondly, our family doctor told me I was “built like a half-back” (referring to a large football player). As Scripture tells us, there is “a time to tear, a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak”. I’m not sure their timing was right! Now, despite that I was a tomboy and athletically driven, I was a girl. In my heart, I wanted to be A GIRL…in fact, a “girly, girl”. Both these statements were certainly a blow to my self-esteem. I had a choice, I could allow these words to defeat me or to drive me.
    My junior year in high school, my coach took me aside and expressed to me that I needed to “lose weight” in order to compete at a higher level. He knew my desire to play college basketball and he saw my potential. He also recognized the one thing holding me back from being the best I could be. Unlike the others, he did this gently and sincerely. (Proverbs 15:4 “A gentle tongue is a tree of life…”). It drove me! I made a pact with myself to lose weight. Without the proper guidance, I approached it passionately, yet dangerously. Not unlike many young female athletes, I starved myself. As I saw the pounds dropping, I wanted more. It was like an addiction! I was eating less and less each day. Sometimes consuming no more than 500 calories while exercising for hours. I was so driven, I didn’t know my body was dying. I lost over 40 lbs. in four months (a summer). The summer between my junior and senior years, I went from just under 200 lbs. (Size 18) to 145 lbs (Size 6). As my body changed, so did my sports. I was excelling! I could run, jump, play longer, faster, and higher than ever. I was getting noticed – heavily by recruiters and by the BOYS!!! Honestly, deep down, I was most excited about the boys. I never got that kind of attention! It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it – even when your body is breaking down. Your mind is powerful!
    So, I achieved my dream. I got recruited to play college basketball. Sadly, the “extreme” dieting damaged my body. Borderline anorexic, I caused myself severe headaches, bone damage, menstrual issues, etc., all which presented themselves my freshman year in college. Fortunately, I had a wise mother. She recognized changes I paid no attention to. Thank God!!! At that point, I was doing more damage than good! As my body began to recover by improving my eating habits and nutrition, my sports improved as well. The game was on…
    Here’s where the “fat vs. calories” question begins. In college, I began to struggle again with my weight. Within months, I gained the college “10”…then 20. My weight was my “battle”. It was up and down. In fact, it’s been the fight of my life. I have spent my lifetime dieting. I was so tired of counting calories. It’s no fun; and, they add up quickly. It was frustrating and depressing for me. And, it just never worked. My weight just kept adding up!
    I got advice from my college basketball Trainer. He had a new suggestion for me. Instead of counting calories, he suggested counting the number of fat grams I eat daily. He instructed me to eat “no more than 30 grams of fat if I am not training; and, no more than 40 grams of fat when in training”. So, I began my journey with this new mode of dieting. He also suggested I was about 20lbs. overweight (at 165#). Counting my fat was much easier for me (smaller numbers!). And, I discovered, if I chose the right foods, I could eat quite heartily. Not sure what you know about female athletes, but…WE CAN EAT!!! “Fat Free” foods were the trend then; so, probably, were “low-fat” diets. I have to say, I really enjoyed Fat Free Twinkies! Good, but not so good for me! Being young and athletic, fortunately my body could afford a little bit of junk. Most importantly, the weight began dropping steadily. Ultimately, I got back down to my desired weight, 145# – back to my lowest weight and size (6). This plan worked for me; and, I wasn’t starving! I had strength, I had energy. This plan worked for me throughout my college career. When I stumbled, I’d get right back on track and get results.
    Counting my “fat” became a way of life for me. It was a part of my mission for staying healthy. It has been my life plan which I still follow to this day. Watching my fat naturally helped me to control my calorie intake as well. For me, this plan has been a blessing. As I’ve grown and educated myself, of course, I have learned to choose more “healthy” fats than not. At age 51, I am often told I look many years younger than my age. I certainly feel many years younger. Despite the remnants of many athletic injuries, I am able to enjoy life fully and abundantly. Life is pretty darn good!
    But, is it the safest, healthiest plan? As I am aging my body is changing. Things just don’t operate the same. I recognize the need to make changes to both my diet and exercise to accommodate these changes. But, there is so many opinions out there…low fat, low calorie, low carbohydrates, high protein. Even before taking this job, I have been asked time and again “how do you stay so healthy or thin?” Particularly those who knew me as a rather large young girl. There’s no feeling like going back to sporting events at my high school or to a class reunion and being the one others are eyeing or envying. I was that person back then…always wanting to look like the other girls. It’s probably not right; but, truthfully, it sure feels good! I am personally convinced, through education and experience, that the key is “balance”. A little bit of everything healthy is good. Healthy fat, healthy carbs, healthy proteins, etc… In fact, research suggests that there is no perfect plan other than choosing a lifestyle that allows you to make “healthy” choices you can live with. While doing this blog, I researched numerous health studies, articles, reviews, and even spoke to a nutritionist…all confirming the same (the best plan is the plan that works for you and can be maintained over a lifetime). I also believe that whole or natural foods are best, as indicated in my research. I am personally discovering the value of eliminating processed foods, sugar, and starches from my diet. I was just recently introduced to an excellent website for diet and exercise guidance, ExRx.Net. It’s not only educational and informative, it also helps you to set up an appropriate diet and exercise program for your body type, goals, and medical conditions and track your progress. I encourage you to peruse the site.
    Most importantly, my greatest successes (personally, athletically, physically, etc.) have always come through my spiritual journey, and diet and exercise have definitely been a spiritual journey for me. Through the grace of God and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, He has given me the power to overcome my weaknesses, most especially my own will and mind. Upon recognizing that His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, resides in me, I realized I have a responsibility to honor God in everything I do, including my body. He is in me. My body is His temple. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”. (1 Corinthians 10:31). What an honor and a privilege that My Creator, God, resides in me. He empowers me. And, He fulfills His promises to me, including helping me in my diet and exercise journey. He is my driving force; my inspiration; my motivation. And, although I fail often, I try every day to honor and glorify Him in body and soul.
    And…he goes so far as to give you his strategy. As our Creator, it only makes sense that he would prescribe what is best for us. The Bible gives us wisdom and guidance for every choice in life…including diet and exercise. God’s Word provides us the connection between body, mind (emotions), and spirit in relation to health and longevity. “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:29) “My son, eat honey, for it is good…” (Proverbs 24:13) “Every moving thing that lives (animal) shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything”. (Genesis 9:3) “A land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey…” (Deuteronomy 8:8) His Word defines for us how God created special nutrients in our food that have a profound impact on our health. He confirms that natural foods straight from the earth are healthiest (“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness”/Psalm 24:1).
    EXERCISE IS GOOD FOR YOUR SOUL! Jesus and his Disciples walked and talked often. Walking can open our eyes to God’s presence. Physical training can positively relate to spiritual training. “Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize…I discipline my body like and athlete, training it to do what it should.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-17). Physical exercise is good for us! (“Exercise daily in God – no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gym are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever”. (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
    IT TAKES DISCIPLINE TO BE HEALTHY! Avoid compulsions (including food). His word says, “Everything is permissible for me – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me – but I will not be mastered by anything…therefore, honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:12). It takes DISCIPLINE. “The road to life is a disciplined life; ignore correction and you’re lost for good”. (Proverbs 10:17) “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty (Proverbs 14:23). The blessing is…He provides you the strength and guidance as stated in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. This was my mantra, my strength. As significantly, healthy living begins with healthy thinking. “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authenic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse”. (Phillipians 4:8).
    Most importantly, I/we must “hunger and thirst” for the Lord! Matthew 5:6 tells us, “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat”. We need to feed our sould with God’s word. “People need more than bread for their life; they must feed on every word of God”. (Matthew 4:4)
    To close, my best encouragement would be to…”Taste and see that the Lord is good…” 800-479-6710

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