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Reflections on Setbacks

Disappointment concept.I had a demoralizing experience at the bod pod earlier this week. The bod pod measures body composition (lean mass to fat ratio).  I went once before, in September.  And since getting leaner is one of the goals I have, the bod pod is a good way to get an objective measure on that.  Tuesday’s result: I’ve lost 2 pounds of lean mass and gained 4 pounds of fat since September.

I had some reservations about going to the bod pod at all. First, I’ve been following the intuitive eating recommendation of staying away from the scale. This has been a great freedom for me and has released me from years of obsession with food and weight. That alone is a great success for me, not one I will trade in, even for a few pounds.

Second, I know for a fact that I’ve fallen out of routine lately, with both my running and my weight training suffering for it.  Backing off of the weight training is likely a key explanation for my loss of lean mass.

Third, I don’t think I’m getting enough protein. As explained in my last post, I’m making an effort to get more.  That post yielded some good advice. I’m tracking protein for a little while anyway, until I get on track. I’ve got some distance to go. Yesterday I fell short of my 100 grams/day goal by 24 grams.

So I have the explanation for why the decline in lean mass and increase in fat.  Today I’m feeling okay about it but I have to say that on Tuesday and yesterday I felt pretty discouraged.  I remember that feeling from when I used to weigh myself regularly.  Given that I’ve fallen out of my routine, I probably didn’t need the bod pod to tell me that my lean mass hasn’t increased and that my fat has increased. In fact, that little voice in the back of my head was telling me to cancel the appointment.

The thing was all made worse by the fact that the bod pod guy assumed that I would feel discouraged and went into a long list of suggestions about what I should or could do about it.  These ranged from relatively sound advice about working with a sports nutritionist or following the Precision Nutrition plan, to eating all of my food within a six hour period each day between 4 p.m and 10 p.m. (!!).  I really just wanted to get out of there at that point, but he’s a nice man and I didn’t want to be rude. At the same time, I wasn’t seeking his input, just the results of the test.

I only enjoy wallowing in the negative for a short time.  So I spent that evening and yesterday feeling discouraged and demoralized, a little bit hopeless and a little bit helpless, frustrated and sorry for myself. I shared my tale of woe with Sam, who is always great at lending an empathetic ear and seeing the positive side of things.

What good can I glean from this setback, if that’s even what it is?  The first question is of course this: is doing a bod pod measurement a useful thing for me to do, given my aspirations to stick with intuitive eating?  I’m not so sure it is. I think for the time being I would do better not to monitor my “progress” in this manner, but instead to stick with a few performance goals that I can feel good about.

To that end, I’m getting back on track with my running now that the weather is a bit better. I start a clinic with a local running group this evening.  It’ll be my first experience running with people and I’m kind of excited about it.

The other issue is my resistance training.  I’m not pushing myself as hard as my trainer used to push me. That’s I guess the main reason we hire trainers, isn’t it? But I’m not interested (at the moment, anyway) in going back to the training studio.  It’s a lot of money and I have enough knowledge to figure out my own workouts. It’s the motivation factor that I need to get back.  I’ve got to mull that one over a bit. I could start training at the Y again. I have a membership already because of the pool, and I have fond memories of the camaraderie of the gym.  Maybe.  If I can’t get my home routine back on track over the month of May, then the Y is an option.

And then there’s the issue of what IS working. Sam reminded me that, for me, getting over the food obsession and letting go of the scale are significant changes.  The bod pod result made me question everything for a short time. I started to think that intuitive eating wasn’t “working.”  I even felt drawn to go on some sort of diet, but then remembered that diets don’t work. The fact is, intuitive eating is working just fine.  Other than that I now feel it’s time to focus a bit more on high protein choices, I’m doing well with the intuitive eating approach.

A brief reflection on “what went wrong” yields that the main issue hasn’t been food (other than that I could get more protein) but training.

Being fixated on the numbers that the bod pod gives me isn’t much different from fixating on the numbers on the scale.  I’ve learned that it’s really difficult for me to react well to a reading that isn’t as “good” as I wanted it to be.  Yes, it’s information, but is it the sort of information that I really need to have in order to achieve my fitness goals?  I’m not so sure about that.

Re-grouping, I plan to stick to my original commitments: running 3 x a week; resistance training 3 x a week; yoga 3 x a week; swimming 2 x a week; leaving the car at home more often, opting to walk or cycle instead.  That’s a good re-start.

Once I have the routine back in place, I can think about upping my performance goals.  I like the strategy of gradual progression, adding just a little bit each day or week.  For example, instead of swimming for 25 minutes, swim for 30; or make a few of the laps sprints. Instead of doing 20 kettlebell swings, do 22.  That sort of thing. Subject matter for a future blog post.

For now, I’ve got to be somewhere soon, and if I’m going to walk instead of drive, I need to hit the road!

[image from Bigstock]

26 thoughts on “Reflections on Setbacks

      1. Hang in there, Tracy. Setbacks can happen and do happen. It sounds like when faced with a setback, you’re one of those people who despair and want to break things for a few days. Then, you deal – and you deal with it seriously. That makes you very strong actually. Plus it sounds like you’ve figured it out basically. More protein, and maybe a little less high-calorie carbs (quinoa, for instance, is great for you and packed with protein; bodybuilders, however, only eat alot of quinoa when they in the off-season want to gain alot of mass and don’t really care about fat; they’ll lose that later starving themselves). Plus of course a re-commitment to your training regime, which really will be just like getting back on a bike for you. Now that the weather is getting better, everything will be easier! Have faith. (Just as an aside, working out at home is really hard for almost everyone I know anyway. I think there are alot of reasons for this, but whatever – the truth is that most people just work out more and harder at the gym!)

  1. I am curious about the goal of fat loss/muscle gain. I’m not questioning your goals, but wondering how you decided it would be beneficial? I just sort of automatically assume it’s good to lose fat and gain lean muscle mass, but reading your post kind of made a little lightbulb go off over my head, and I wondered “says who?” Like, maybe your physical training is best supported by the fat gain since September; maybe your body knows what it’s doing.

    1. This is such a great question. I’ve wondered it myself quite a bit lately. I know that I have more energy and seem to do better performance-wise at yoga, running, and swimming when I am slightly leaner. And then there are of course the stats about osteoporosis and how important it is for women to maintain muscle as they go through menopause and enter into their wisdom years (as I like to call them). That doesn’t really speak to the fat gain, but it does raise a concern for me about the loss of lean mass (that wasn’t just percentage-wise, it was actual loss of weight). But I appreciate your question because sometimes I wonder if I’m just rationalizing, and if, despite what I’d like to think and what I’m aiming for re. losing the need to have aesthetic goals, I really think deep down that I would *look* better if I were leaner. The diet / weight loss mindset is a sneaky belief-system!

      1. It IS a sneaky belief-system! But I don’t think it’s unusual or wrong to want to look good: sexual attraction is an important and fun part of life! I suppose it’s finding a calm balance with other aspects of our lives that can get out of whack. One reason I was curious about your fat/muscle goal is that for me, personally, I don’t seem to have that kind of control over my body. I can do the things that support (theoretically) a goal of weight loss or fat ratio or whatever, but that doesn’t mean the desired result will actually occur. Like all those years I counted calories in and out, believing that if I maintained the CICO equation, I would *have to* lose weight. Imagine my shock when the math didn’t pan out 🙂 At any rate, I certainly wish you success with all your goals.

      2. Thank you so much. I have given up on the bod pod because I think for me it has the same impact as the scale — no good can come of it. I’m just going to continue doing what I do and not concern myself with that sort of measure. Rather, if I can run 10K, lift heavier weights, strengthen my swimming, and stay more focused in yoga, all without being obsessed with food and body, I’ll feel as if I’ve accomplished something amazing.

  2. A few thoughts:

    What matters for osteoporosis is also size. Larger women generally don’t get it. Lots of weight bearing exercise everyday!

    For big muscle gain I think what helps is lifting big weights. I love power lifting and Olympic lifting. The downtown Y isn’t great for that–not enough space and too many machines–but the east Y has a nice old fashioned lifting room where you can deadlift, squat etc.

    Read Nia Shanks, I think she’s super.

    Ditto Krista Scott Dixon,

    And there’s a lot of great CrossFit materials. (Give it a try!)

    So I get caring about strength and building muscles. And I’d be bummed too if I lost muscle. But I do think it’s worth exploring the question of why care about fat and the muscle/fat ratio thing. I care about it because I want to get up hills on my bike faster and not get dropped. That’s all about power to weight ratios. And I’m also 50 pounds over the normal weight range for my height. Lots of fat to lose so we’re starting in very different places.

    I keep thinking that if I were starting with your build, I’d just be keen on getting stronger but that’s easy for me to say. I’ve never in my life been in the BMI normal weight range for my height. Okay, grade 6, maybe.

    Anyway, I’m curious to see what difference eating more protein makes. 85 grams today so far. (You got me curious.)

    1. I really like that Nia Shanks article you linked to — thank you! I haven’t been upstairs since I re-joined the Y. Did they remove the free weights room? Sounds like it.

      We may be starting in different places but according to “the chart” I’m carrying “excess fat” too. But then again, the question I really need to ask myself is “so what?” It’s not as if my health is at risk.

      I’m impressed that you’re already at 85g of protein today. I’m only at 51 g and I am on my way to falling short again. I honestly can’t eat enough food to reach 100g, or at least that’s how it feels. I’m still full from lunch. Did you eat vegan today so far?

      1. Not, I discovered my protein added cereal has whey powder…but other than that, yes.

        Protein added cereal (40g) plus soy milk (7g) + pear
        Vega protein bar (15g) + banana
        Large veg burger (15g)
        Almonds (8g)

      2. Wow. Is it protein powder that you added to your cereal, or is it a cereal that has all that protein. I wonder if there is a vegan version with 40g of protein. That’s a great way to get a head start first thing in the a.m.

  3. And the Y still has a free weight area but there isn’t space to do Olympic lifting.

  4. And yes, I’m now in the merely ‘excess fat’ category but I wasn’t when we started. Progress! But yeah, why care? There are a few women fitness bloggers who’ve written about how they stopped caring about their percent body fat. I care about because it shows me that even though I might never make it to the normal BMI range, I’ve got lots of muscle. It plays a different role in my thinking.

  5. Yes. I’m going to reflect on that. Might be something I can stop thinking about. In any case, I don’t think I’ll be going to the bod pod anytime soon. And I’m going to see what I can do about heavy lifting a few days a week.

  6. I think your own particular goals really have to be examined. Just for instance, alot of cardio will interfere with the muscle gain you could otherwise make. Bodybuilders do get stronger when adding fat and weight in the off-season. Doing alot of squats and deadlifts could make it difficult to keep up with a serious running regime – and the serious running regime could make it difficult to heal enough in one week to be ready again for a full leg day in the gym, which would presumably include squats and deadlifts. So – unless you only care about one thing, e.g. strength – there are trade-offs that have to be made. The trade-offs will depend on your own goals – and your training regime has to be suited to those goals. There’s no one way to get “fit”. There are only performance goals, which can change over time. If medical conditions influence your individual performance goals, that’s a factor. But it doesn’t sound like you have that issue, Tracy. So – you have to figure out what you want performance-wise, and develop a realistic training regime which suits it, and there likely will be some trade-offs. If some aesthetic goals are put into the mix and I am just so unsure about whether from a feminist or any other perspective that’s to be avoided completely and altogether (or otherwise it will become all-consuming, for women at least?), that too will have to influence the mix.

    1. My trade off when I was cycling seriously was only to do lower body weights off season. There’s no way to squat one day and then sprint out climb hills the next. In cycling season I pretty much only do upper body weights. Not sure about this summer yet.

      1. Yeah, I’ll have to find a balance. I care about running and still want to increase distance. I’m starting my clinic tonight, so I’ll see what they have to say about balancing weight training with running goals (and I hope it stops raining within the hour too).

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