When my high school sports days were over and I began college, for the first time in my life felt lost. My clothes were starting to get tighter and I wasn’t exercising because I no longer played sports. I didn’t have my parents there to cook me healthy meals nor did I even have a clue about how to eat healthy. Because I was so active my entire life, I never had to worry about exercise and what I ate. Now that this was finally catching up to me, I knew I needed to do something. So I did my research and conclusively found out that if I wanted to lose weight and get my high school body back, I’d need to do at least 45 minutes of cardio each day and restrict my calorie intake. Well, I ate less, did a lot of cardio and you guessed it, lost weight.
When I realized how thin I had actually gotten, I now wanted to be ‘toned’. I read in fitness magazines that if you do high reps and light weight, you would achieve that toned look that everyone wants. Along with cardio, I started incorporating light circuit training, eating a little more but still not enough. While I felt more confident, I wasn’t getting anywhere. Luckily, I met someone at the gym who explained to me that I needed to be lifting heavier weights and eating more to get the results I wanted. I appreciated his advice but I didn’t want to ‘bulk up’. Sound familiar?
Well here’s the truth: Lifting heavy weights will not make you bulky. Thinking that is the same thing as thinking that if you pick up a basketball and shoot around you’ll suddenly turn into Michael Jordan. Needless to say, either are very unlikely to happen. It is incredibly difficult to put on a lot of muscle mass as a female. Unless you’re doing some extreme eating or pro hormones, your chances of becoming ‘bulky’ are slim to none. So, to clear things up, ‘toning’ is the same thing as gaining muscle.
When this picture above was taken I was eating over 2000 calories lifting 5x a week and not doing any cardio. When you see women that are in shape and toned with nice round glutes and shoulders, that is muscle my friends. In order to achieve that you need to lift weights and properly fuel your body. Muscles DO NOT grow on low calorie diets. Just like a car, your muscles need fuel. The more muscle you achieve -> the higher your metabolism will become -> the more calories you will burn -> the more fat you will shed.
While I did eventually ‘figure it out’, I spent years spinning my wheels. Constantly trying to run more and eat less. Physically and mentally exhausting myself, seeing exercise as a chore and food as something that needed to be restricted. This was a very unhealthy cycle on multiple levels. The main problem however, existed in my mindset. I was constantly focused on how I looked. Never did I exercise because it made me feel good. Never did I eat because it would fuel my body short term and long term. I exercised and ate because the anticipated results were always to be leaner and more toned. Not for health, not for how it made me feel, not for strength, not for longevity, just to look good. It’s truly sad that I wasted so much time missing the true concept of fitness entirely. If I had just picked up some weights and learned how to eat properly in the first place, I would have saved myself YEARS of running in circles, draining myself on the inside and out.
If you are going through this or have gone through this, you are not alone. As a Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, the most common goal I hear is ‘I want to tone up and lose fat’. I can tell you with certainty that you will not achieve this by doing long cardio sessions and eating like a bird. Our bodies are not made to look good, they are made to survive. The less you feed it the more it’ll store because it doesn’t know when/if that next meal is coming or if it’ll be substantial enough to support basic body processes.
So, if you want to gain strength, longevity and confidence, here is what I recommend you do.
1. Figure out how much you really need to be eating to support your training. Check out another blog post I wrote about how to calculate your macros here. An app I also enjoy is the OTR (On the Regimen) Macros app. (it’s free) I like this because it considers bodyfat %, which plays a huge role in proper macronutrient splits.
2. Consume lean protein and veggies at every meal. Also leave room for carbs and fats sparingly. (The dispersion of these will very from person to person). Again check out the options above if you need help with this.
3. Now that you understand how adequate food intake plays a major role in getting the results you want, it’s time to hit the weights.
4. If you have never lifted weights before I highly recommend consulting with a personal trainer to show you the ropes. Proper form is very important in efficiency, longevity and injury prevention. Here is another blog a wrote about safely starting your weight training journey.
5. If you have some experience / know some basic movements, start by lifting 3x a week. 1 upper body day, 1 lower body day and 1 core day. 5-6 exercises per session, 12-15 reps of slow, controlled movements. Choose a weight that is hard to achieve these reps with but no so hard that you lose form.
6. Patience and consistency. The two most underrated keys to success. It’s not about where you are now, it’s about how hard you’re willing to work to get to where you want to be.
Obviously training and nutrition programs are going to differ based on the individual. The essence of this post is to illustrate the benefits of lifting weights and using food as fuel to achieve the curves, confidence and strength we all want. Most importantly, whatever you do, do it because you love it and it gives you the results that YOU find beautiful both mentally and physically. This article isn’t meant to bash running, if you love running and the way it makes you feel then RUN! I just find that many people (like myself at one point) do it because that’s what they think they need to do. Same goes for cardio in general, some people genuinely like it, it’s therapeutic to them and that’s great! Cardio also plays a role in fat loss plateaus but what some people may not realize is that nutrition alone can take care of that (in many but not all cases).
I achieved this transformation above simply by cleaning up my nutrition and regaining focus during weight training). Overall, I believe we all need to find that something what will bring us to peace with our bodies. Being fit should be a combination of two things; what you love and how you feel. I promise you, once you embrace those concepts entirely, you will no longer care about looking a certain way. Rather, you will appreciate your body for what it does for you over how you appear. This is where true satisfaction thrives.
All my best,
Amy – [email protected]