Before I started my biohacking journey, I used to view fitness in a myopic and flawed way. What do I mean by this?
Example 1 (myopic– training for a specific event): In middle and high school, I ran cross country. My goal at that time: to finish each 5k race without stopping in 30 minutes or less.
Sounds like a good goal, right? I mean, I would meet that goal during every fall season by gradually lowering my time with each race.
But what about the other seasons of the year when cross country wasn’t offered?
I studied and ate crappy processed food and/or carbs and would gain whatever weight I would lose during that previous cross country season. So that by next fall, I would be back to square one in terms of race time and weight.
Takeaway: Setting a fitness goal via an event such as a 5k is good in theory but in order to have your overall fitness be sustainable for long-term improvement, you need to sign up for 5k/marathons/other such events for the rest of your life. This concept also applies to life events such as looking good for your wedding day.
Let’s think bigger: Why not look and feel good for the rest of your life? For yourself? Because you can?
And what if there are only so many 5ks offered in your area in a given year? What incentive do you then have to start training early when the race is not imminent? You’ll then have to look at 5ks outside where you live to make it a year-round thing. Which can then get expensive because not only are you now registering for multiple races, but you must also factor in travel/accommodations for all the 5ks outside of where you live.
Now, there are people who do this. I used to be one of them. Personally, I don’t like being dependent on something external from myself to sustain my life. Plus, all that flying around to different 5ks or marathons around the country just doesn’t seem worth it for me. I’d rather save and travel to see Macchu Pichu or try experiencing ayahuasca with some shaman in the rainforest or laze about on a beach in Fiji than run a race– something one can do anywhere.
Example 2 (flawed– choosing an ineffective methodology): In college, I wanted to lose weight again. I had already started without even trying just from the stress of missing my friends back home and studying all the time as a pre-med student (a career path I eventually abandoned, as I realized I was doing it for my parents instead of myself)– and figured I might as well keep going since it seemed so easy anyway.
And it worked.
I drank copious amounts of caffeine and still felt sleepy during the day. I remember being really thankful my dorm was so close to my classes so I could take my daily 1-2 hour “nap.”
Also, my mood wasn’t good. I think being in a constant state of fatigue can lead to low-level depression. Is this why depression affects women more than men? Because so many women are told that calorie restriction + cardio is the way to lose weight and be fit?
Sure, there were legitimate reasons to be sad for me at that time– I missed my friends and family from home, I didn’t know what my major was going to be (finished as a pre-med student majoring in English Literature and minoring in Spanish– who does that? Apparently me).
While these things were definitely stressors, they certainly did not explain why my mood was constantly down. Looking back, I wish I had practiced more gratitude— I was in the prime of my life and I felt tired and miserable.
Also, once I left college and went to grad school to get my MFA in Creative Writing where I was surrounded by moody writers that drank/did drugs/didn’t care about their health, I stopped my diet and eventually wound up back where I started in terms of weight.
So that yo-yo effect would typify most of my adult life: gain weight, go back on calorie restriction/cardio, lose weight, get caught up in work or friendships or something else– feel tired/a bit depressed/gain weight, go back on calorie restriction/cardio, etc. etc.
Takeaway: Cutting calories while doing cardio is a flawed strategy because it is not sustainable– you eventually (and literally) tire from it which then gets you to gain whatever weight you originally lost (and feel really down on yourself as an awesome bonus).
Solution: Find a fitness goal that 1) actually works and 2) is not dependent on discrete events like a wedding or a 5k race but rather, is sustainable for the rest of your life.
That solution, for me, has been a combination of majority weight-lifting with some high-intensity interval cardio balanced with a cyclical ketogenic diet + fasting.
To clarify, my 1-2 good carb days are not “cheat” days because I’m still eating slow carbs— this is not the moment where I buy a bunch of cupcakes or binge on gluten-packed pasta. I’m just getting that protein cleanse my body needs while also resetting my leptin and insulin sensitivities.
I have been on this diet for a year. I feel like I could do it for the rest of my life. Why?
Reason 1: It works.
Unlike the calorie restriction-cardio strategy, I feel good/happy and have energy to keep it going– all while fitting into a size 2 dress.
I have gone from a size 12 to a size 2 in one year doing this!
Here’s a pic of me before that’s pretty iconic (screenshot from my stand-up days— yes, I know I’m not that funny in this blog but there was a time when I actually wanted to make others laugh just to see if I could do it/self-challenge spirit, again):
This really captures how not happy I was with my health back then (haha). And this is me a couple days ago:
I actually haven’t lost that much weight but this is the lowest dress size I’ve ever had in my life– which tells me my body is becoming mostly muscle at this point (also, this has been confirmed via a DXA scan).
I debated whether or not to wait and reveal a before/after later or just show my journey as it happens– and I opted to do the latter. There are plenty of before/after pics all over the Internet. But not many people are documenting how they got to look the way they look in real time.
I know I could theoretically stop here since 20-25% body fat or lower for a woman is considered healthy but I have a ways to go in my quest for 18% (see muscular female muse below) but I definitely feel like I’m the healthiest, strongest, and happiest/most energetic I have ever been in my life.
I don’t even miss carbs. Although, there’s definitely a social cost to not eating carbs– I mean, if you have tried low carb for a day or two, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Look, if it’s a friend’s birthday party, what the hell, I’ll have a slice of the gluten-sugar combo that is birthday cake. I’ll then balance that hit my body took by fasting longer than I normally would the next day and hit the gym and eat really well the rest of the time until another social (i.e., bad-carb/anomalous) event comes around. I live to share life with others. Not to look good in a vacuum.
Reason 2a: This diet and fitness strategy is not dependent on an event.
Once I hit 18% body fat, I’m not going to stop. I’ll still work on lifting more and maintaining that physique. Because why not? It’s fun and it feels good!
Also, I think weight-lifting is easier on your body than long-distance running. My ankles and knees are still weak to this day from my running days. My body is not built to run long distances for the rest of its life. I needed to figure out something sustainable that wouldn’t wear down my joints.
Reason 2b: Weight-lifting in particular doesn’t require much of your time.
I spend less time at the gym than I ever did when I was focusing on cardio. I go about 4 times a week for 40 minutes/session. That’s it.
Sounds like a lot? Well, I used to run 2 hours per day.
I am spending less time on fitness and am seeing better, faster results. Why? My muscles that I have built are burning energy even when I’m sleeping. How awesome is that? You don’t get that effect when you’re doing just cardio.
I was initially really worried about looking like a man if I weight-lifted. I pictured Arnold Schwarzenneger’s body with my face on top.
Let me clarify– I’m totally down with gender non-conformity. But for me/my body, I like looking feminine.
Type “female weightlifter” and the first image you get back in Google (at least, at the time of this posting), is this:
Hell, yes! She looks strong but still feminine. That is the image I want to connote with my body– “I am a strong woman.”
Let’s take a step back a bit– why am I writing all this? What has weight-lifting on a cyclical ketogenic diet taught me?
I can achieve what I set my mind to.
When I started weight-lifting, I was weak. I could barely bicep curl 10 lbs using both arms. Now I’m able to do 20 lbs per arm (in a future post, I’ll be sure to share my weight-lifting regimen). I’ve previously posted on what I do post-workout.
When I started eating low carb and high good fat, there was a period where I still missed cupcakes. Now, when I walk by a cupcake shop, I feel nothing. It’s my carb-addicted friends that are suggesting we stop by a bakery before we both part ways.
I have seen how when I stick with something, I can do it. And that is truly amazing.
I used to think of my body type as being pre-destined by genetics. Looking like a fitness model was something other people did, but that I could never do.
I started this blog because I want to share with the world the following– you can do this, too! And not just with fitness, but with anything!
How meta– fitness taught me I can do anything which then incited me to start a food/health blog to tell people that fitness can teach you that you can do anything!
Now, you may find that just low carb + high fat is enough. You may stay in ketosis all the time and get the results you’re looking for. You may find you don’t want to do any high-intensity interval training. You might want to look bulky rather than lean. You may want to do majority cardio just because you love it. I don’t want folks to think I hate cardio– I still do it via high-intensity interval training– it’s just no longer my main source of exercise.
Find what works for you. I’ve found what works for me– and I hope you do too!
*Fasting Post-Script: I had some cellulite on the back of my thighs– have had it all my life, even in times of extreme fitness (marathon-running days) and it’s virtually gone/barely there! I also have a more pronounced “thigh gap” now– I believe all this is due to my fasting for a week.
Again, I think this is worth saying, I don’t think one’s worth is in their looks– this is all in the spirit of meeting self-challenges and mine is to get to 18% body fat since I’ve never been able to get there– until now!
Also, I heard in a recent Bulletproof podcast that vegetable oils produce cellulite– they also mess with your brain biochemical structure (eek!). So, now you now have all the more reason to stick to good fats!