Tracey Primeau, @prime.nutrition.fitness
I’ve heard comments my whole life about how lucky I am to have the body-type/metabolism I have. I often wonder if people realize that things are never as easy as they look and that everyone has their own struggles. We’ve all heard the sayings “we want what we can’t have” or “the grass is always greener on the other side” – well, this story isn’t any different.
I started going to the gym regularly after graduating university, spurred by the fact that I wasn’t nearly as active in organized sports and in an attempt to shed the pounds I put on the previous 4 years. Despite my education, knowledge and understanding of the science behind how the human body responds to both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise, I ignored it all and became a slave to the treadmill.
The numbers haunted me.
The number of calories burned was far more important to me than the fact that I had barely any muscle definition. I’m not sure if it was all in my head or if the scrawny look was deemed attractive back then, but I was striving for what most would now consider a very unhealthy appearance.
Don’t even get me started on diet. I used to be the poster child for the best attempt at out training a bad diet. Surely I could be the one to prove it could be done, right? Not so much. The mind is an amazing thing – the rationalization and numbers games I would play in order to eat the chips, fries and treats took more effort and determination than required to simply make better choices.
Making my fitness and food relationship even more difficult, the gym I attended was on the second floor of a grocery store.
Above a bakery!
The engineers behind that design were a special kind of evil genius.
My Saturday morning workouts were fueled by the scent of all the pastries from below. I would stay on that treadmill until I burned at least two to three times the amount of calories I was going to consume stuffing that croissant into my face on the way out. Again, I knew that rationale didn’t have any scientific merit, but that didn’t matter.
Eating disorders weren’t really something that I was ever in danger of.
But exercise disorders, now that was a slippery slope for me.
I had the discipline, the endurance and the ability to control everything with exercise, but that didn’t mean it ever solved anything. I would run miles on end, be happy with what the scale said, and then complain about my ass, or lack thereof. Where was my ass!? Again, I knew very well where it was.
It was waiting for me in the weight room.
I knew this. But, like I’ve said before, knowing and doing are two very different things.
Calorie deficits vs starvation mode, EPOC, strength training vs cardio, eating more to lose fat – these were all concepts I was aware of. I knew the science behind the numbers, but yet again, for some reason I felt like the science didn’t apply to me. I had a very hard time believing something I couldn’t see. And I wasn’t strong enough to experiment in case it went horribly wrong.
A couple of years ago I caught a glimpse of my reflection and it was like a switch went off. I saw my rounded shoulders. I saw my scrawny arms. I couldn’t see my ass.
I was a 30-something year old woman with the body of a 12-year old boy. I was slim, but I was not the picture of good health.
Time for a change.
I had always avoided the weight area of the gyms because I was intimidated by the “judgmental” and “meathead” occupants – the girls who had already discovered the benefits of strength training and guys who were often times throwing around weights as big as their egos. I soon realized that the issue was with me. These were my preconceived notions and I was being just as judgmental as I feared others to be.
These “judgmental” and “meathead” gym rats have since become some of my closest friends, mentors and colleagues.
I started incorporating strength training into my schedule, but I still maintained a very high cardio regimen. I wasn’t able to cut back on the cardio.
I’ve used some form of fitness/heart rate tracker for several years and while I love the feedback and information provided from using one, it is so easy for me to become obsessed with the numbers. If I did a strength training session and the calories burned were minimal, it would ruin my day until I did something to up those numbers. I would go to the trail and run 6 miles.
Phew, anxiety gone.
As well as half my day taken up by multiple workouts.
That wasn’t something I could realistically maintain as other areas of my life (momming, wife-ing…living) were starting to suffer.
Last year I started to scale back on my cardio as I incorporated more weights and I looked and felt healthier and better than I ever had. I suffered a shoulder injury (my body was finally physically responding to all of my over-exercising) and that setback was enough for old Tracey to take over, warranting a cease and desist order on all strength training. Overnight, I fell back into my trusty ole cardio routine.
Then, a couple of months ago, I noticed I had lost pretty much every bit of muscle definition I had worked so hard for.
I was frustrated, bitter, angry and most of all, disappointed in myself. It was the push I needed to get my sh*t together.
Now, all that being said, I’m not trying to cardio-shame anyone. We all have our own goals, struggles, personal preferences, body-type, food preferences, etc. If we listen to our bodies, we can better understand what we need vs making what we want suit our needs.
While I enjoy running as a way to clear my head and relax, I’m also well aware that I can easily fall back down the rabbit hole.
It’s taken me far longer than I’d like to admit, but I am now aware of what my body needs, what it responds to and what needs to be done to reach my goals. I’m now working out less, focusing more on goal-oriented and purposeful exercise rather than duration. I’ve learned how to shut down the mental side of it and recognize the numbers for what they actually mean. The most difficult but important part is trying to love myself every step of the way.
I struggled to write this post, but over the past few months I’ve seen the numbers play a huge role in so many peoples lives. It triggers something in me every time but I know how hard it is to admit, acknowledge and overcome. I’m hoping that if someone reads this and recognizes their self in any of this, perhaps I can help someone get off the never-ending fitness/fuel hamster wheel and find some balance – something that works for their mental wellness, their goals and their lifestyle.