Bod Pod Body Fat Measurement and Experience as a 53kg Female Weightlifter @weightliftingwoman

I’ve always wanted to really know what my body fat percentage was – I have tried those handheld devices that sends faint electric signals through your body to measure the amount of “water” a few years ago back in my triathlon running days. Back then I weighed around 113lbs and it usually clocked me in at 18% B.F.

Photo Comparison Method:

I also used to compare myself to these photos that shows approximately what you might be – but everyone’s body composition and genetics are different, of course! Some women naturally have visible abs at < 19% body fat, while mine barely seem to seep through on some days.

17% body fat female comparison weightlifting woman

Body fat comparison photos found on builtlean.com

 

Just over a month ago (early May), my husband and I decided to track down a Bod Pod up in Portland, OR for a quick test.

Communication on getting the test was easy – the guy who facilitates the Bod Pod testing transports it around to different gyms and areas, so we had to shoot a couple short emails back and forth to coordinate a time to meet up. All you need is about a 20-30 chunk of time MAX depending on how much you like to chat. Be sure not to eat or drink substantial amounts of things, or workout too much within an hour or two before testing.

The Bod Pod Process:

What the Process Was Like: 

You strip down to some light skin-tight workout clothes (I had compression shorts and a sports bra), and put a swim cap over your hair to reduce the “air pockets” that might distort the measurement. You step on a scale to weigh yourself, and also tell the facilitator person what your height (inches) is so they can input those numbers.

You then sit inside the pod super still, and just breathe naturally. There’s a robotic voice that tells you “It’s taking measurements now” much like those space ship rides at Disney. There’s also a few pops and clicks, and the sound of a faint vacuum-like feel, almost like a plane just landed.

The pod takes three measurements: between each measurement, the facilitator has to open the door to neutralize the air pressure. After sitting still for all three, you just get out of the door and you’re done!

How it Works:

The Bod Pod uses air displacement (like how much physical space does your body take up in the pod) to measure your body fat. Apparently, this method is one of the more accurate methods (compared to a DEXA, or the dunk method) and has an error rate of less than 2% or so usually.

Time:

It went by really quick! The entire process of measuring took about 3 minutes total, and my husband and I were in and out in under 20 minutes after some chatting, quick dressing/undressing (and even a re-test for me since the printer wasn’t on the first time around).

Souvenirs:

After the test, I got a paper printout of my results within a minute. It looks a bit like this:

bod pod weightlifting woman testing results - body fat % bod pod weightlifting woman testing results

The Results

I actually ended up testing TWICE because the first time, the printer wasn’t turned on, so my numbers didn’t print correctly on the page (ended up at 17.0%). I did it a second time and got basically very similar results (so there wasn’t any goofs or what not).

Body Weight: 117.8 lbs

My Body Fat %: 16.8%

Resting Metabolic Rate: 1,184 (basically, if I were to sit around and do NOTHING all day, my caloric needs to survive)

Total Energy Expenditure (Daily): 1468 (If I don’t “workout” or have a gym day…surprisingly my apple watch calculates me pretty similar to this number)

 

The Analysis: What Does This All Mean to Me?

First of all, I’m way leaner than I actually thought I was! And actually at the moment, I’m probably a little higher than 17% since I gained back a few lbs and little water weight post-nationals now that I’m in off season.

BUT, my results are actually a pretty strong indicator that I’m sitting at around my ideal weight class for weightlifting. Having almost 100lbs of lean body mass would make it incredibly difficult for me to drop a weight class (48kg / 106lbs) without losing some substantial muscle mass, since anything below 10% or even 14% body fat for females starts to get pretty dangerous. Moving up a weight class would probably cause me to be overly thick and heavy for my height (4’11”) and just overweight in general – and body fat doesn’t do much to move barbell weight around. If anything, extra fat might make you slower and a little more sluggish.

These results are quite interesting and funny to me though because I actually used to weigh somewhere between 125-140lbs throughout high school and college. I don’t know what my body fat could have been then…I’m guessing 24-27%.

However, it’s been a long several years for my body to reach the current composition that it is now and it’s just a great reminder that permanent and effective change to your composition takes time and long term sustainable life-altering efforts. My lifestyle right now is completely different and my body’s composition reflects that. If I were to suddenly gain weight and be 125lbs again, I definitely would look different and feel different now than when I was 125lbs prior to weightlifting or even starting any of my athletic endeavors.

My Current Body Issues: What’s the Downside of My Results?

Let me go ahead and admit upfront: My hormones are already pretty out of whack with the weight and body fat that I DO have. After having done some tests, currently my estrogen and progesterone levels are very low – at the bottom of what would be considered the acceptable range for a healthy female.

Staying below 18% and having “visible abs 24/7” is NOT EASY! There’s been a lot of compromises along the way to get this far. This infographic article by Precision Nutrition does a fabulous job at outlining the cost of being lean. Here’s also a great podcast episode by Empowered by Iron that discusses the “dark side of being lean” in female strength athletes.

For the past few years, I’ve made choices to eliminate certain foods from my diet because I know they’ve made me feel slightly bloated (gluten, soy & most dairy being the culprits). I’ve also avoided a lot of social events and gatherings, staying out late, made it a priority in my life to train or  at least “move” almost every day. Being able to maintain a body like this is literally a full time job alongside my career and relationships. No wait, it’s not just a full time job…it’s my LIFE.

Although it might seem many of my facebook and instagram post shows all smiles, and that I’m completely smashing PRs and weights in the gym all the time…I have a confession.

Dealing with a low body fat percentage (which isn’t even THAT low compared to a lot of fitness model competitors and world-class athletes!) is a HUGE mental struggle for me in addition to being a physical struggle, considering I’m dealing with secondary amenorrhea at the moment, and it seems like my genetics don’t allow me to have as defined abs as many others despite how well I usually eat, and how active I usually am.

So why am I choosing to maintain and/or keep a low body fat if consequently, it’s probably not the healthiest in the long term?

Because at this stage in my life, I currently choose to compete as a national-caliber weightlifter and I know it’s to my advantage to be hovering close to this for the time being. Here’s a bit more about that in the last article I wrote about dealing with the scale weight.

 

So some concluding thoughts: I enjoyed actually getting a bod pod test done and thought that just seeing the composition of my body was worth it – it was not only informative to me for feminine health reasons, but also affirming that this is the body that I have worked for and this is the body that I currently live in.

 

Throwing Out The Scale vs Being Defined By Weight Class - Weightlifting Woman

Boy, do I wish I could just throw out the scale one day and not care about what it says. Wouldn’t that be great?

More and more women are now starting to realize and adopt the idea that they should “throw out the scale” – Who cares about the number on the scale anymore? Look in the mirror: how do you look? How do you feel? What can you lift? Can you squat or deadlift over 200 lbs? Can you snatch over your body weight? Can you do a pull-up? Do you have the grip strength to hang off the side of a cliff for 20 minutes while someone comes to rescue you because you wanted to taste the wild strawberries?

Imagine a life where the amount of mass you were made of only mattered if you were on some cruise ship that was unevenly weighted, and you happened to be the perfect size to properly balance the boat so it wouldn’t sink if you moved to the other side. How stress relieving would that be…to not have to be judged or defined by some number anymore by anyone, including yourself? A true measurement of health and fitness is not about what you weigh after all, but rather about how you feel, how your body systems function, and what you are capable of.

WELL, what’s stopping me from living this dream? I can certainly toss away the scale if I WANTED to…it’s my choice after all whether I decide I want the number on the scale to define me or not. Well, as a competitive weightlifter, the choice has kind of already been made.

Weighing 115.4 lbs around year 2014 when I was constantly staying under 53kg as an amateur weightlifter

Amidst this motivational outlook on body composition and beauty…how do you fit in when you’re in a sport where you are defined by a weight class and need to stay in that weight class?  You can’t throw out the scale – but you need to live by it day-to-day (unless you’re 90+ at heart!)


weightlifting woman 53kg transformation

Various stages of me going from college body – to “triathlete” (2nd photo) – to crossfit/obstacle course racer, to weightlifter across the last 6 years. These are literally the only few “ab” photos I have of me sadly to show. Note that from the 2nd photo through the last photo, I’ve been literally the same pant/dress size! 

I’ve always  wanted to weigh 115 lbs.

Back in middle/high school, that’s the number I thought I needed to be attractive…or to look lean like those magazine models. I weighed about 135 then and struggled so hard to drop the weight but never made it until after college, when I started all sorts of running, triathlon, crossfit, and exercise as my side hobbies and to defeat the boredom from moving out to a new place on my own.

115 lbs. is still above the average recommended “Healthy” BMI for my height of 4’11” 3/4 (I like to round up to 5). Most women my height can be as low as 95 lbs. and as high as 123 and still be in the “healthy” BMI range.

Now I can happily say I’ve reached that weight, have even dropped below that weight, and now…choose to be a little heavier now (just around 120).

Funny thing is, in the last 5 years (since 2011) I have worn the same exact clothing size with up to a 12 lb difference. When I was 110 I wore 0’s and XS, and now as I am about 122 I still wear 0’s and XS. Wait, it gets better – my body fat % actually decreased!

Basically, I just packed on a ginormous amount of muscle!


Am I as attractive as I hoped I would be finally achieving my “goal weight”?

Of course, I feel that way! BUT I’ve also come to realize that this number I was trying to reach was also an ideal weight for me in weightlifting.

How did I decided that being a 53kg lifter was ideal for me?

1. Here’s a cool article from Bob Takano, complete with a chart, that lays out pretty much the ideal weight class you should be in based on your height. I found this chart a few years ago and since then have nestled myself in 53kg class since I was already in that range when I started weightlifting and thought I would fill it out nicely in a few years.

2. I also visually compare my body visually to that of other world-class record-breaking weightlifters in my class: Do I look chunkier? leaner? shorter? taller? If I Photoshopped my head on top of Li Ping or Zulfiya Chinshanlo (both world record holders in the 53kg class), would my body be indistinguishable from their’s?

3. I tried cutting to be a 48kg once and miserably never made it. I should also consider the last time I weighed 105 I was probably a pre-puberty tyke in 4rd grade.

 

So…does my body like staying at my “ideal weight-class?”

Oh the million dollar question…yes AND no.

Staying below 53kg was easy at first back when I was still in my “endurance” phase of my life: I was running countless miles per week, working out 1-2 times per day, 7-8 days in a row, and also experimenting with all sorts of Whole30, Paleo, Zone, Low Carb, and what-not diets that were refreshingly new and a fun challenge. I was in my mid-20’s, fresh out of college and full of figuring-out-adulting energy. I also felt that I was doing a great service to my body by shifting a focus to eating wholesome, nutrient-dense foods compared to the loads of pizza, pasta, bagels and buffets of pre-graduate life – and my body certainly responded positively and kept the weight off!

But after completing an Ironman Triathlon and checked that off the bucket list, I ditched the long-distance training. I switched to primarily strength-focused sports like Weightlifting and CrossFit (which has some endurance components, but let’s be honest it’s a lot of hypertrophy training). I started noticing my weight would gradually want to creep upwards, and my appetite start to increase more and more. Pretty soon, maintaining under 115lbs was a chore and I found myself hovering just below 120 on most given days. I had to be eating super strict to stay below 53 (like if I even looked at a chocolate bar I would gain a pound).

Super strict meant: no gluten/bread/pasta, no cheese, no extra chocolate in the evenings, limited nut intake, no drinks, and hardly ever eating out. Sounds fun, right? (sarcastically).

If you read between the lines, super strict actually meant: no social life, no fun experimenting with food, no “taco tuesdays”, constantly obsessing about food, feeling guilty at parties & social events, feeling limited on menus when eating out, constantly making lists of “all the foods I want to eat after weigh-ins” while browsing food photos on Pinterest.


Now, making weight for every lifting meet is like a game.

How heavy can I be, and how much food can I manage to eat whilst still being able to cut to weigh 52.99 without loss of performance or being hangry for 3-4 weeks in a row?

I have this theory though, but I’m too afraid to try it until after Nationals.

…Are you ready for my “theory”?

I’m pretty sure that the stress of having to maintain a certain weight is actually what’s making it hard to maintain that weight. 

STRESSING ABOUT WEIGHT = POUNDS STAY ON!!! (or KG for you weightlifters)

If I just followed my intuition, didn’t give a crap about what I weighed in at any lifting meet on any day, and ate whatever I wanted when I felt like it, and never looked at the scale…You  know what, I might just weigh under 53 most of the time.

But, because I constantly stress out about what I have to eat, when I have to eat, and what I CAN eat, the stress makes me hold onto weight, because my body never really knows when to relax or when it’s gonna get what it really wants and craves. If I just intuitively ate without sticking to a schedule, counting out all the macros, calories, meal timing, and what not, my body would just intuitively know what it craves, when it’s hungry, when to stop eating. There would be NO FUSS about food at all.

Unfortunately, I’m too afraid to try “intuitive eating” – Cause I’m too number-driven & sciency – I can’t trust doing things “by feel” and by intuition when I’ve relied on numbers for sooooo long! Nationals (in under 2 months) is too close to try new things. They say “never try new things” when you’re so close to a competition.


So, how do you deal with wanting to eat ALL the things, but knowing that you have a substantially competitive advantage being in a certain weight class?

Well, you have two choices:

  1. You DON’T CARE. You make peace with the fact that your health and body’s needs for nourishment at that time is more important than your competition, and you thus choose to just toss out the scale and lift at whatever class you happen to fall in. If you’re 1kg away within a few days of a competition, maybe you make the little effort to cut back on fluids and get down to the lower class, but otherwise, YOU DON’T CARE. You accept that as you get older, your body doesn’t recover as fast, likes to receive more calories (especially if you’re gonna be a mom someday), and may not even keep up strength relative to your early-20s counterparts getting into the weightlifting game. You lift, and you compete, and whether your total will get you 20th place in a higher class, or 5th place in a lighter class, it DON’T matter to you because you care more about the numbers you lifted rather than the prize you got.
  2. You COMMIT. You compromise and sacrifice because competing to you is more important than your health at this moment in your life. BUT, there’s a trade-off that’s gotta happen some point in time when you realize that it’s going to be tough and difficult to maintain this lifestyle for the long term, and in a continuous manner. If you choose to commit, you have decided that it brings you more joy to finish with a higher place compared to your competition, or that the sacrifice is potentially worth breaking a record or getting a spot on the podium someday.

In the end, your decision to choose what weight-class you’re in should be based on what will make you the most satisfied and happiest in the end.

Are you doing this because you get the MOST joy and happiness from the numbers you can lift at a certain body weight? Or because you feel that there’s a chance…even the slightest chance…that you’ll break a record or get a spot on the podium at a pretty big competition coming up? [Hmm…sounds like the stage of my life where I’m at right now?]

Does happiness really come with having floods of admiration and thousands of instagram/facebook likes because of your ripped 6-pack abs photo, or because your lift at a national competition made it to a HookGrip posting because you were able to cut to that weight class?

OR, might you find the most joy and happiness just because you love weightlifting for what it is – you lift what you want, you don’t care about your “weight class,” you get to eat all the things you want, AND everyone is still envious of your thighs to die for. I don’t know about you, but I find the most happiness through sharing the joy of weightlifting with friends who also love weightlifting, and having friends I can joke around with about missed lifts, breaking through PR plateaus, and eating tacos with post-workout.

 

Stay tuned for another upcoming article about more woman issues – next week (or three weeks at this rate of my rather busy life!) I’ll tackle the issue of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea in female weightlifters…

Conundrum of Calorie Counting Header Photo - Calculating vs Intuitive Eating @weightlifting woman

 

Choosing what to eat (and how much to eat) would be a lot less stressful if you didn’t have to worry about the number on the scale, right?

Let’s get right to the point.

Yes, I do measure the amount of calories and macros that I eat, and I am THAT strict about my dietary choices. End of story.

Whoa! Big surprise there! …Especially knowing that my own husband tells a lot of his clients that they don’t need to count calories, that his clients can “eyeball” portions based on how it compares to their hands, and that according to Precision Nutrition, the accuracy of calorie counting is really not as reliable whatsoever.

So then, why do I persist on counting and measuring? Am I just wasting my precious time weighing things out on a scale and logging things in my FitBit app when I really don’t need to?

Here’s why: the only reason why I want to measure everything is to maximize my performance and body composition for competition and sport.

…And because I am willing to put in the time and compromises to make it happen.


weightlifting-divider-line

I’ve experimented with my dietary choices a ton in the last few years in order to stay around the 53kg class. Paleo, Whole 30, Zone, weighing & measuring, “no bread”, low carb/high fat, counting macros…a whole lot of things. Have they all worked…? Yes, since I’ve been pretty successful at hitting my needed weight. So…why do I bother switching it up?

Well, some of these methods feel a bit restrictive…they purposely “eliminate” foods from your diet so you feel like you can’t have them. They’re off limits! If you have it, you’ll NEVER hit your goals at all.

What a load of BS. I mean…it did give me a lot of insight as to which foods I had sensitivities to (like soy…my skin breaks out with soy! And gluten—I get all bloaty!)

But, I wanted a method that would justify for me how much I CAN actually eat without feeling the need to restrict certain foods…to say “no, I can’t have that” – and make me realize the plentiful amount of food I do have to be adequately nourished for my sport.

Here’s a little bit of insight as to why I do what I do, and why it may/may not be the best option for you.

 


 

First and foremost, If I weren’t competing in a sport that was based on weight-class, I probably would be a lot little looser when it comes to my dietary choices.

Once I decide to stop being competitive and just “live life” without a need to hit a certain number on the scale, I won’t be as strict as I am now. However, the amount that I have learned and gained from measuring stuff is all precious knowledge than I can carry with me throughout my future “non-measuring” days because I have a greater understanding of portioning sizes more than I ever have before and how food quantities have impacted my body.

I will say that I’m able to closely sustain the weight I am now (and make a lot of gains) because of how closely I monitor what I eat.

At the advanced and elite level, precision is everything.

Precision is important when it comes to your weightlifting technique.

Precision is also important when it comes down to your food intake. 

Gains and progress are much MUCH harder to come by once you advance to a high enough level in any activity or sport, and thus, it all comes down to how close you can be to perfection and accuracy to become even a little better.

For this reason, unless you have the same types of performance goals and weight maintenance goals as I do…you probably don’t need to count anything. Because really, it’s not necessary and it’s just more work and more compromises than you really need for the results that you want.

However, if you really thrive on competition and are willing to find and make the time and the sacrifices for the results you want, and are super driven by numbers and data to reassure yourself that you’re doing the right thing…then yes, that justifies counting calories.

 

So here’s what I currently do right now:
  1. Eat as much real, wholesome, and non-processed foods as I can about 98% of the time, with plenty of fruits in vegetables in basically every meal, and always trying to avoid foods with unnecessary added sugars, refined fats, or empty calories. This is the foundation of my nutrition, period.
  2. Measure my macro percentages (how many grams of carbs/protein/fat I get at each meal and total throughout the whole day). Currently I aim for around 35-40% carbs, 30% protein, 30-35% fat totaling around ~2100 calories a day more or less depending on how I feel and activity levels.
  3. Use a food scale at home to weigh out how much meat (in oz) I eat and to measure out really calorically dense foods such as starches (oats, rice, potatoes) and fats (oils, avocado, nuts, mayo). Protein is something I try to be consistent at every meal (~25 grams of protein) and won’t compromise.
  4. Meal-prep a huge batch of 2-3 dishes at the start of the week that I separate into equal servings, calculating how many “carbs” are in each serving.
  5. Eat very similar things everyday because consistency and routine is the best way to monitor how much I’m eating everyday.
  6. Eat at very similar TIMES in the day because I get cranky and nervous and hangry if there’s too many hours between meals or if I eat too soon or too late around workouts.
  7. Read food and nutrition labels on EVERYTHING and use those to gauge how much I can eat, but also if the food has ingredients that I should avoid (lots of extra additives, some soy, extra unneeded sugars, etc)
  8. Allow myself a “treat” every now and then (cookie, cupcake, a drink, etc) if I include it in my total allotment of calories and carb/fat intake for the day.
  9. Lastly, I try not to be 100% precise with matching up my “calories in” vs “calories out” and hitting macros spot on each day because nothing ever is really that accurate – but I try to fall close to the range I need to and call it “good enough” for the day. I do have OFF days where I throw everything out the window every now and then, but I try to get right back on track and adjust for the next day.

 

For example, if at the end of the day I’m like 178 calories short, it’s not like I’ll go out of my way to eat something to make up those calories if I’m not hungry or needing it. Similarly, I’m not going to say “no” to a food if I’m craving it but it puts me 200 calories or 20 grams of fat over for the day. Whatevs, it happens!

Seeing these numbers in front of me as daily goals though does influence my decision making when it comes to picking the best foods for me, though.


 

The Positives of Measuring Macros & Counting Calories – Why I do it:

Food is no longer a variable for me when it comes to my performance

By monitoring and knowing exactly how much I’m eating (in terms of fat, carbs, protein), I can worry less about food being the reason why my workouts or performance would suffer on any day. I can also adjust how much I eat based on performance in a much more precise manner (rather than just guessing).

 

I don’t trust myself to eat intuitively because I have an “abstainer” personality and I’m a horrible moderator.

If you put a delicious pan of brownies in front of me with no limits, I will probably eat half of the pan (instead of just one). I’m horrible when it comes to moderating because I get an extreme high with a lot of sugary and salty treats that come my way. It probably doesn’t help that much of the food industry injects flavorings into a lot of their packaged foods to entice people to keep munching and eating, and that these foods are nutritionally lacking so your brain will never feel satisfied with the food no matter how much you eat (and thus keeps eating more).

Therefore, the only way I can prevent myself from overeating any of these things is to not eat them at all – to completely avoid these things at all costs and to put myself in the mindset that it is NOT ok to have these things. It literally has to be black/white for me so I can control myself. However, with intense restriction also comes my rebel side…and after I’ve abstained from something too long I tend to blow up and stuff myself with an entire bag of popcorn, or have 4-5 servings of the no-bake peanut butter brownies at the party when I only really needed one.

By measuring stuff out, I can allot myself a little treat here and there knowing exactly how much I can have and that it IS okay to have it (rather than completely eliminate it from my life).
 
 

I can maximize my performance and have the best body composition possible for my weight class.

Competing in a weight-class based sport, you definitely don’t want extra “dead weight” hanging around that’s useless. You want to have plenty of muscle (so you can lift more weight) and also have the minimum body fat needed to have a healthily functioning body (because too little body fat on women can have pretty harsh hormonal effects, especially when it comes to motherhood later).

I watch my macros so I can monitor if I’m going too high/low carb, or too high/low fat for what I need for my body composition while also getting plenty of fuel to feel strong with my workouts…and if I start gaining some extra flub I can determine what I need to change with my diet to cut back down without cutting TOO much.
 
 

It’s helped me understand that not all foods are off limits – that you CAN still have a little of this here or there, but not a lot.

Back when I first started Paleo and Whole30 I was all about eating the “clean” foods and eliminating anything that didn’t fall into the Paleo category, such as all gluten & grains, rice, potatoes, dairy, soy, legumes, cheese, processed sugars, and anything with a label that had any of these things listed on there. I lost some extra body fat, but I also became quite the crazy lady and found it extremely hard to eat out anywhere nor eat with friends/family and socialize without feeling like an annoyance.

So I realized I DIDN’T need to be that strict, and I allowed myself to have a slice of pizza, or some beers after a long run, or the cookies during the faculty meeting. However, when I took this approach and “intuitively” ate what I felt, I ended up GAINING a lot of weight. BUT, by trying to incorporate some (not a lot) of these foods to hit certain macronutrient ratios ( I do 40/30/30), I could eat the brownies AND not overeat!

Obviously, when you do look at the calorie and carb count…you can have 10x more watermelon compared to one brownie. BUT, taking into account my macros helped me realize that BROWNIES ARE OK in moderation.
 
 

I’m a Big Data-Driven Person and I like Having Data to Justify my Decisions

I feel more comfortable seeing hard numbers when it comes feeling reassured that what I’m doing is right, especially when I feel that I can’t trust my intuition sometimes. I need some sort of “proof” but mainly because I need some way to keep me in check. I’m an obliger – I tend to do things because other people expect me to and I feel like I will let people down if I don’t meet their expectations (whether they really do expect me to or not…sometimes I just make up or create false expectations that other people have of me and try to meet those even when it may not be true).

Numbers keep me in check. They either calculate and add up, or they don’t. Numbers don’t lie.

 


 

What I have learned from Measuring my Food:

 
 

1. Protein is important to have at each meal – but also, has taught me how much protein I need at each meal.

I literally used to eat breakfasts before that consisted of just yogurt, fresh fruit and granola. But the amount of yogurt I had was definitely not the amount of protein I needed that morning to suppress my hunger at all. I also used to eat 8-9oz of steak for dinner thinking YES MEAT, MEAT IS GOOD. However, that was way more protein (and fat) than I really needed.
 
 

2. That a small spoon of oil, a half handful of nuts, or a sliver of an avocado packs a RIDICULOUS amount of calories.

Therefore, it’s super easy to accidentally eat way more fat than what you need because a little quantity packs a lot of calories. I used to eat half of an avocado wiht my breakfast or 2-3 handfuls of nuts at a time. But I realized that when measuring – more than 60% of my calories were coming from fat! (and when I meet my carb intake that just means I end up eating way too many calories overall). I only need a half a handful of nuts or a sliver of an avocado to match up to the other foods I’m eating.

Also, remember fat is also heavily present in a lot of the proteins and meats that “paleo” people eat (pork, beef, lamb, etc). In conclusion, it’s really easy to overdo it on fat until you really understand what a “moderate portion” of fat really is.
 
 

3. The right portion of rice, oats, and potatoes, and other dense, starchy carbs that I need is much smaller than what I used to portion myself before.

Yep, I used to fill the ENTIRE BOWL with oats, rice, noodles, potatoes, cereal. That seemed like a good portion – but really in the end that was a lot more carbs than I really needed for that meal. Starchy carbs are super dense, and I found that with any of these foods that I ended up with about a small handful in the end to meet my needs (I have these mini “prep” pyrex bowls that are about 3/4 cup in volume and end up just filling that mini bowl).

It’s also a great reminder that the amount of home fries, potatoes, and starch they give you in restaurants is about 3-4x more than what you really need to eat. No wonder we have a tendency to gain weight when eating out a lot!
 
 

4. If I want to feel “fuller” with more volume of food, I need to pick more vegetables, fruits, and foods that are more nutritionally dense.

It’s totally true – an entire bowl of salad equates to just as many carbs as those 3 oreos or that Organic Food protein bar! Though I might feel mentally satisfied in the short term with those little compact sweet treats, I certainly am not going to feel as physically full and satisfied as having a giant bowl of fruits and veggies filling up space my tummy.

 

Nutritional Takeaways - What I learned from Counting Calories Weightlifting Woman


SO now you’re thinking OMG those are such good reasons, and if I need to get ANY RESULTS at all I should be counting everything!!!

 

Hold your horses folks.

NO, you don’t necessarily have to count your calories and your macros unless you:

  • have the exact same performance goals as me,
  • have tried “hand portioning” with REAL FOODS and failed because you’re not that intuitive about it and tend to over/underguesstimate stuff,
  • are super data-driven and like having all the numbers in front of you as a form of monitoring and being exact
  • and you have the ability and desire to make the compromises necessary to do this work.

Reality is, most of you probably don’t have the time and energy to do something this intensive and this specific, nor are you looking for the same high-level performance and weight maintenance goals as I have.

By measuring, I’ve established a VISUAL baseline average of what 3 oz of meat looks like, and what 40 grams of carbs looks like in terms of amount of rice, or fruit, or leafy green veggies, and what 15 grams of fat looks like.

However, I had to go through this whole food measuring process to finally figure that out and to verify and reassure that.

In fact, you can probably get away with this “eyeballing” everything based on the size of your hands. Just remember, eyeballing and portioning really works if you’re eating wholesome foods with lean meats, fruits, veggies and healthy fats. No guarantees hand portioning chocolate peanut butter protein shakes, sub sandwiches and slices of pizza will work.

 


 

The Downsides of Measuring & Counting For Me. 

 

Yes, let’s discuss the DOWNSIDES of this now since you may want to consider these to know whether monitoring your nutrition in this way will be worth the time

 

Eating out (unless the restaurant has graciously posted their macros and calories for all their dishes) is a DISASTER when it comes to logging anything perfectly.

When eating out, you never know exactly how much cooking fat or oil was used, what ingredients are in the sauces, what the fat percentage of the meat is, or how much that scoop of potatoes weigh (and does it look like about 1 cup? 1.5 cups? ehhh). When you’re cooking at home, it’s so much easier to control EVERYTHING down to the amount of oil in the pan, what substitutions go in the recipes, and the number of grams of sliced onions you have.

You can also portion everything perfectly when meal-prepping to ensure you’re only eating as much as you need to (and not dealing with the guilt of getting too much food in a restaurant and leaving 4 little bites left on the plate because it “doesn’t fit your macros” but is too little to take home with you.)

It takes too much time to measure out and log every last thing!

Yeah, I could be a little quicker meal-prepping in the kitchen if I didn’t have to put everything in a bowl on the scale before putting it in the pan. I also spend just as much time “logging my foods” into my FitBit app to make sure I get all the ingredients and amounts correct. Well, I guess once you’re in the habit of doing so it becomes natural – but it’s a tough habit to start and squeeze time in to do if you have never done it, and is another thing that takes up precious minutes of my day.

Counting all this stuff isn’t 100% accurate at all, so why bother if calorie measurements of foods cooked and uncooked are variable and hard to pin point accurately?

Precision Nutrition has an amazing PDF about this, btw. Yes, there can be huge accuracy discrepancies and errors when trying to calculate calories perfectly of the foods eaten – and in the end I might actually be completely off by 500-600 calories sometimes! (which after a week can add up to an extra pound gained or so). Because of this, I try not to meet my numbers 100% perfectly (and I don’t care if I don’t meet them 100% perfectly) knowing that it’s not accurate…but I try to get in the “good enough” range for the day.

Endless Compromises & Sacrifices

Honestly, I feel kind of restricted when it comes to a lot of social events. I find myself backing out of a lot of party/eating out invites because I get scared it doesn’t line up with my nutritional goals and that it will impact my performance in an upcoming workout.

 


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Closing Remarks & Take-Aways from this Conversation

 

A lot of people wonder if I’m some sort of tron-like robot in the gym, or wonder how I’m able to have the energy to do all I do.

I attribute it to how much VALUE and IMPORTANCE I place on my nutrition.

If at ever you’re questioning why you lack energy every now and then, or why you’re unable to achieve your body composition goals, or why you’re not performing as well as you could, but you haven’t really valued your nutrition as highly and thought of it as the main reasoning behind any of this…

…well, there’s the answer to your question.

It’s not rocket science. BUT, that doesn’t mean to need to measure everything down to the last gram.

If you have particular body composition goals in mind and you’ve tried everything (getting enough sleep, eating plenty of fruits and veggies, limiting your consumption of extra sugars and excess starchy carbs, drinking plenty of water, limiting alcohol intake) but you seem to have plateaued…then maybe taking a few weeks to measure something out will reveal where you are still missing the mark. Maybe your protein, fat and carb intake is way more off the target than what you really should be having and you’re not able to pinpoint this through intuitive eating or eyeballing/guesstimating your current portions.

I think you should realize how much VALUE and IMPORTANCE I place on nutrition to ensure I feel my best.

 

Yes, there will be a point in my life where I will go back to “not measuring anything” at least in terms of weighing stuff and logging it down and tracking my macros by numbers. In fact on some days even now, I get a little loose and just eyeball things based on what I’ve eaten before.

The cool end of the story is, I think measuring stuff out has given me a really solid baseline of portioning sizes and has clarified how much protein is right, or how much rice is really needed, or how much fat there is in a lot of foods that we eat. I have a better VISUAL GUIDE now to how much I need to eat, moreso than ever before, and can now use this knowledge in a way that’s more intuitive and less strict by the numbers.

I have gained a bigger respect for food and how it’s used as fuel for my body.

If I have inspired you to start “counting calories” then by all means, good on you and good luck on your journey!

If I have scared you away from ever doing so…then awesome, I wish I could be as relaxed as you! But in the end, I hope what I have written here has made you realize how much value and importance I place on nutrition and how  above most things, I turn to nutrition if I have any questions at all about how I feel and how my body feels.

 

Traveling Tips for Staying Mobile and Fit - Weightliftingwoman @powersofthesnow

Nothing seems to take you more out of your gym and eating routine than traveling away for a few days, right?

You find yourself sitting in planes and trains for hours on end, adjusting to time changes, and working around the food choices available to you either in airports (which are very pricey) or at restaurants local to where you’re visiting.

Keeping track on your fitness and nutrition regime can seem extremely tough when you’re suddenly taken…out of routine. Having traveled to several competitions across the US for a couple years now, I’ve finally figured out what strategies and tips to implement to make sure I’m staying mobile, getting in adequate nutrition, not catching colds from other travelers and lessening the “shock factor” of travel impacting my short-term health and performance.

Thus, I bring you my tips and tricks (both fitness/mobility related AND nutritional related) that you can bring with you and be mindful of to keep you in tip-top shape while on the road or on a plane.

Staying Mobile

  • Always book an aisle seat if possible. This way, you have much more liberty to stand up and stretch throughout flights rather than require people to get up out of their seats if you have a window spot.
  • Bring a lax ball or small roller with you to “roll out” while waiting for your plane at the next gate.
  • Wear clothes that are comfortable and allow you most range of motion if you can. That way, you can drop into a samson lunge stretch with ease during your layovers (see featured image above!). Bonus points if you wear a hoodie or sweatshirt that says “crossfit” or has some kettlebell icon on it, or wear some nanos or other workout shoes so people won’t think you’re crazy.
  • Does your hotel room have internet? Pull up a yoga video on youtube for some mobility! No mat needed – why need to be overly glamorous here? The key is just to get moving and stay mobile.
  • The three places I find that tend to get the most “tightened up” over long hours of travel are chest (front of shoulders), hip flexors and hamstrings. When we sit, we’re constantly shrugged and hunched forward, our hip flexors get shorted and our hamstrings don’t get as much length. Throughout the day I always do a few forward folds (sometimes clasping hands behind the back and reaching to the sky to open the chest if standing), samson & spiderman stretches, seated twists, neck stretches, and a standing triangle pose for 45-seconds to a minute. Make an effort to get these in – and don’t care what other people will think of you doing these at the airport. They don’t know who you are, and they’re not getting the mobility benefits – you are.
  • When waiting for your connection, spend more time standing than sitting. 1. It gives more spots to other people who like to sit down, and 2. you’re probably already spending a lot of time sitting during the traveling day anyways so the less time you can spend sitting, the better.

Getting in your Workouts

  • Walk around during your layovers. In airports, take the stairs and don’t use the “walking walk-way” to allow yourself a few extra steps of walking. Now’s your chance to get in as much “walking” as you can to combat the effect of just sitting for hours. Have a couple extra hours of layover? Go on a hike to Terminal A to get your Starbucks coffee (or just to use the bathroom)! Stay on your feet and browse some stores while you’re at it.
  • Do you usually bring a “rolling bag”? Consider a less lazier option that enables you to get in more nutritious movement : Pack your things in a backpack or bag that you can sling over a shoulder so you’re hauling around more weight while you walk and thus doing “weighted-walks” (and burning a few more calories too). If you’re bring a one-shoulder bag, make sure you switch shoulders throughout the day to work your loads evenly (so one shoulder doesn’t end up being tighter than the other the next day).
  • Have a list of 2-3 travel workouts to take along with you that involve body-weight movements. push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, jumping lunges, air squats, jump squats, plank holds, mountain climbers are all excellent moves you can do right in your room. In fact, I was just doing a few jump squats and plank holds late last night to keep my body awake and adjust to the time change and late lifting times.
  • Find a local crossfit box in the area (if you usually do crossfit) – they are usually very open to drop-ins (usually at $15-$20, or free if you buy a t-shirt from them) and is a great way to meet other like-minded fitness folks in a different area. Although it may not be perfectly in tune to the programming and cycle at the home gym, it’s certainly better than NOT doing anything.
  • Don’t forget to pack your your fitness shoes, socks, clothing and water bottle! I know a lot of people that forget these things, and thus their trip turns into an “oh well, I forgot them so I guess I can’t workout”.

 

Keeping your Nutrition in Check

Just yesterday on the plane we decided to get a box of snacks, and I couldn’t help but read the labels and notice all of the soybean oil, dextrose, maltodextrin-something or other, preservatives, and other ingredients I can’t remember because they were so long and lengthy. UGH! With proper planning before hand, you can stay on top of your meals and not have to rely on overpriced, processed, trans-fatty and unhealthy food options while on-the-go.

  • Always check to see if you can get a mini fridge and/or microwave in your hotel room. This way, if you need to store any leftovers or stop at a grocery store nearby to grab a salad to go, you can store it in your room.
  • TSA allows you to pack food in your carry-on luggage so long as you’re not bringing any excessive liquids or sauces (unless you can bring those liquids in a small closed container under 3oz and put them in a quart-sized ziplock along with your toiletries when you go through the security screening). Any fresh fruit or vegetables and solid foods (protein bars, pre-made sandwiches, canned fish, nuts, sauteed veggies & meat, etc) that are sealed up in a tupperware container are OK to bring on your flight. Make sure to pack utensils & napkins!
  • Suggested nutrient-dense snacks to bring along (so you aren’t reliant on some possible mysterious airplane food): jerky, mixed nuts or trail mix, fresh fruits, carrot sticks & cherry tomatoes, protein bars (I love Exo, Epic, Quest & Organic Food Bar), individual protein powder packets, hard boiled eggs, homemade sandwich wraps (I love Julian Bakery Paleo Wraps that are gluten-free and made from coconut).
  • Yelp & Urbanspoon are really great for looking up decent places to eat prior to arriving at your destination. I usually search for terms “organic”, “salad” and “gluten-free” when trying to find decent places nearby that serve quality foods that cater to my no-bread, paleo-ish eating habits, and I spend about 20 minutes while during layover at the airport to make a list of 4-5 places (looking up their menus on their websites as well) that would be adequate for eating at.
  • Always search for high-vegetable options as much as you can when eating out, and stay nutrient-dense! Avoid the starches as much as possible since portion sizes when eating out tend to be larger than usual and thus you’ll end up eating more carbs overall. To balance that out, keep away from the potatoes, rice and breads except for maybe one meal of the day (unless you’re needing carbs to fuel a heavy workout at a local crossfit box or are competing in a weightlifting competition.) Salads are almost my default option because it gets me some greens in my diet, but I also look for “side of fruit” options as opposed to toast or homefries, and always look for that one “meat & veggies” entree hidden in the menu somewhere. Don’t be afraid of asking for substitutions.
  • Stay hydrated! Traveling for some reason tends to sap all of the hydration out of you and/or makes you feel slumpy (at least it does for me) so I try to make sure I get a bottle of water once I’m past the gates and sipping about 8oz of water every 1-2 hours. It also helps to stave off a lot of hunger cravings and stops you from caving into those processed airplane snacks or making unhealthy food choices when you get to the terminals.
  • Bring your vitamins and supplements with you in a plastic bag or mini tupperware if you can. Generally when traveling we tend to get less nutrient-dense options when eating out, but also get exposed to totally different environments, air qualities, people, germs, and the like. Making sure you’re on top of your vitamins and supplements keeps you more routine and ensures your body is getting adequate nutrients to sustain its daily functioning.

I hope you’ll find a lot of these travel tips useful when staying mobile and in shape while on your journey to wherever you’re going to go! Traveling is not an excuse to just drop your routine for a few days – but if you make an effort to keep health, fitness and nutrition a priority then you’ll feel your best and adapt to jet lag (or road-trip lag) easier in the end.

Safe Travels!

Holiday Eating - Abstain or Moderate by Weightlifting Woman

“Everything in moderation.”

That seems to be the key to developing sustainable (yet good) nutritional habits for the long term, right?

Let me ask you this question: When you decide to have a little “cheat” and take a bite of a brownie, cookie, a sip of beer or have a pizza…do you:

  1. Find yourself to be pretty decent at saying “no, I’ve had plenty” after having that little nibble and are able to hold yourself back without much extra effort in having more than you should?
  2. Or, continue to crave more, and more, and more even if you told yourself, “nah, I’ll just have one” but continue to grab yet another cookie or have another beer or slice of pizza (or whatever)?

Be honest with me here.

(I fall into that second category.)

Imagine continuously feeling like you are depriving yourself of any treats or anything that feels good for several weeks on end…and then by the time you decide “ok, I’ll give in” and have that sip of beer, or slice of pizza, or brownie, or Hersheys kiss…you end up way over binging and eating everything in sight! Everything tastes sooooo good!!

As “disciplined” as I may seem with my diet (as most of you may think)…if I do end up deciding to eat something that’s a bit of a “cheat” (i.e. a piece of chocolate, a cookie at the faculty meeting, a sip of wine) I find it incredibly hard to resist having another – and in fact most of the time I invite myself to seconds because it just tastes so good to me, and the amount of satisfaction I get with each bite is as strong as the first.

In fact, just the other night at a halloween party someone brought out these GIANT no-bake peanut butter brownie squares. I had one…

…but throughout the evening I continued to help myself to a 2nd one, and then a 3rd, and I think even a 4th one. I was sneaking them around the corner so Nate wouldn’t see me eating them. They were SO good.

I’m absolutely HORRIBLE at moderation – because when I do decide to indulge, I tend to go all out.

However, there are some of you out there who find it easier than I to moderate. All you need is that first couple bites or nibbles, and then the satisfaction you get from any additional bites is no longer as strong or as satisfying as the first. One brownie for you is good…you’re done…and you move on.


 

Abstainers vs Moderators

I’ve been reading this book about habits: Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin (which is a great read about understanding yourself so you can understand how you deal with forming habits).

She mentions that when it comes to tendencies and self-monitoring, people can fall into two one of two categories: Abstainers and Moderators.

According to Rubin, an Abstainer is someone who is much better off completely staying away from indulging in anything – because once that person decides to indulge, it’s incredibly hard for that person to stop continuing to indulge or crave that thing. For example, once this person has just one square of a chocolate, then he/she can’t resist not having the rest of it and will want the entire bar of chocolate.

For Abstainers, it’s much easier to completely stay away and say NO rather than to take that first bite.

A Moderator, on the other hand, finds the most joy in that first one or two bites or indulgences, but is able to stop his/herself with more ease and say “no, I’ve definitely had enough” and move on. This type of person is able to repeat this type of moderation frequently each day without over binging or going crazy.

Moderators can choose to have one or two squares of chocolate, but will then be satisfied and will be able to move on without craving or needing to have the rest of the chocolate. They find it hard to say NO because they need to have that little indulgence here and there to feel like they are not depriving themselves of anything in the long term.

“Everything in moderation.” – says the Moderator.


 

So, getting back to how this relates to weightlifting and Holiday eating…

Well, they like to schedule the American Open the weekend AFTER Thanksgiving (great choice, USAW). Therefore, I really have to watch what I’m eating in order to make weight less than a week later. When it comes to all of these Halloween and Thanksgiving treats (and pumpkin beers and mashed potatoes), I find it much easier to completely stay away and abstain from anything rather than try to moderate myself, because I know if I have one, then I find it super hard to stop myself from having another.

Thus, my diet is incredibly “disciplined” and super strict in the eyes of most people, because I don’t allow any of it.

But HOW CAN YOU DO THAT?

Because it’s easier for me to say NO than to control myself when I’ve had some. It’s that simple.

Not all people are moderators, in the same way that not all people are abstainers. If you understand what type of tendency you lean towards when it comes to cheats and indulgences, you’ll gain a better grasp of how to control your eating habits and how to sustain *good* nutritional habits in the long run. I choose not to have any types of chips, snacks, chocolate, or goodies readily available in the house because I’ll grab it when I’m hungry. I just can’t stand having it readily there and available.

So yes, when I go all out, I go ALL OUT – but then it takes a week to get rid of that excess water weight from all the carbs. So therefore, I have my ONE DAY but I’m right back to being on the bandwagon and strict the next day.

Have I tried being a Moderator?

Yes, that was called “off-season” and I ended up putting on an extra 2-3 lbs above weight class. I had to revert to my “abstainer” ways in order to stay strict enough to lose that extra weight for the season. Because I know I work better as an Abstainer, I know what I need to do to make the weight class I need to make.

We’ll see how much I choose to indulge (or not) on Thanksgiving.

Happy Holidays!


 

For more information on these self-monitoring tendencies (as well as all sorts of cool quizzes and other information to learn more about how you deal with habits), check out Gretchen Rubin’s site.