What can be even more painstaking than waiting for a set of over-enthusiastically plucked eyebrows to fill back in? Fixing a “broken” metabolism.
Actually, damaging my metabolism in the first place was no picnic either. Add years of mid-distance running and restrictive eating to the basket. Take care not to forget to insert months of marathon training, countless restless nights with only a rumbling stomach for company, and a serious fixation with being thin. At my “peak”, I was running nearly 80 miles a week on something like 1650 calories a day. I often logged over 150 miles at a stretch before taking a single day off. I was carbohydrate-shy and petrified of fats.
I was also estrogen-deficient, injury-prone, and grumpy as could be. I counted my calories as if I was pinching my pennies, I spent more time exercising than I did living, and I still didn’t have the body that I wanted.
To get semi-scientific for a nanosecond: In reality, I was exercising so much and eating so little that my body was effectively in starvation mode. My cortisol [stress hormone] levels must have been through the roof, since a consistently low calorie diet and a regularly high volume of exercise register as two “stressors” internally. High cortisol levels are directly linked to body fat storage – particularly in the abdominal region. No wonder I couldn’t get that flat stomach I so desperately wanted…
Well-meaning loved ones lobbed words like “female triad syndrome” [a hard-hitting trio: disordered eating, amenorrhea or period loss, and osteoporosis], “dysmorphia” [a preoccupation with a perceived flaw in appearance], “orthorexia nervosa” [an obsession with avoiding foods deemed to be unhealthy], and “anorexia athletica” [an addiction to exercise] in my general direction, but I still didn’t think my problem was a “real” one.
As an experiment, one day almost a year ago I tucked a tiny blue notebook in my back pocket and jotted down a solid black slash every time I had a negative thought about my body. 12 hours and 171 check marks later, those neat little lines blurred into one big watery gray splotch.
Following that dive off the deep end, there were lots of half starts. In the beginning I mostly tried running less and recovering more, though I did wise up and start eating more over time. For many months though, I simply couldn’t shake the cycle:
- Part One: The second I started to see the number on the scale really go up, I panicked and either halved my portions or doubled my mileage
- Part Two: After an initial weight loss, I’d plateau and start going to bed hungry/waking up fatigued again
- Part Three: I’d feel dissatisfied enough [mentally and physically] to make another stab at “getting better”
So where am I now? Well, Part Four, I suppose!
In the last 8 months, I’ve reduced my cardio to only 3 days a week [less than 60 minute sessions, with an immediate emphasis on high intensity interval training and a total disregard for overall mileage] and I’ve been strength training 3 days a week [using express-delivery-from-England 4-6 week cycles, with a long-term emphasis on muscle gain and fat loss]. I’ll admit it’s still something of a shock to see 2 pounds of protein powder sitting on my shelf, but I do adore that frosted cocoa cake…
My boyfriend and my brothers did everything short of spoon-feeding me to get me up to over 2,000 calories a day [with a carefully calculated distribution of protein, carbs, fats, and fiber], and I did gain some of that weight I’d been dreading. In order to repair my metabolism, I had to reverse diet [by gradually adding back in calories over what turned out to be a seven month period].
Now, after several weeks of feeling like HANNAH THE HIPPOPOTAMUS, I’m at a point where I can safely begin to make some minor adjustments to my nutrition plan. This time around I’m taking cutting (even that word feels too sharp) slowwwwwwwwly: just 50-100 calories less a day, for as many weeks as my body continues to respond positively, before re-evaluating…The goal being to lose the fat I put on when I needed to but also to keep the muscle I gained in the gym. Eventually, when my metabolism is fully repaired, I should be able to stay lean AND healthy year-round, without seesawing all over the place. Stick around for Part Five!