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Harriet

Lifting, diet and body image

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I've gotten a lot bigger since starting lifting, and I don't know if my problem is my diet, my mindset, or just my oppressive skinny jeans. Help me out here, I'm feeling discouraged and want an outside view.
 

So, a while ago I was 70kg/157 pounds at 5'6. I hated myself and restricted food as much as I could until I got down to about 59/130. But after a year I couldn't do it any more and decided to try eating healthy rather than just eating less. I went back to 61/134 almost immediately. Then a friend introduced me to lifting and I've grown to about 67/147 over the last seven months. Eeep. But I think some of it is muscle because my waist has stayed the same size while my hips and thighs have gotten huge and more shapely (when I was just fatter, my waist was bigger and my legs/bottom were smaller). I see muscle definition and feel hardness where there was just squish before. I like my shape better than before. But I look really out of proportion. Like a spinning top. I have a 28” waist and a 40” hip, my jeans are driving me mad – constricting my legs like terrible denim pythons whilst simultaneously swimming at the waist. Also, workouts are kicking my arse, I'm not getting strong very fast (progress is sloooow), and I can't face the thought of another diet, emotionally speaking. I feel exhausted, weak and frumpy. All I can see is skinny girls. Skinny, muscly girls with boundless energy, chic outfits and heavier squats than me.

 

My BMI is normal, and I guess I'm about 24% body fat (just by looking). I don't know whether to try to lose fat in order to look how I would really love to look, or just try to accept myself a bit more since no objective outcome hinges on my weight (my husband thinks I look great). If or when I decide to lose more fat, how do I get in the right place emotionally? If I decide to let it go for a bit and focus on getting stronger and happier, how do I actually get rid of my awful, envious and self-hating thoughts? Also, lifting women with big legs and hips, what do you wear that feels comfy and looks great?

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So I definitely can't really give much advice because I struggle a lot with the same things! I can give you a large amount of solidarity though!

 

12 hours ago, Harriet said:

Also, lifting women with big legs and hips, what do you wear that feels comfy and looks great?

 

Yoga pants. Seriously, I bought my first pair like a few months ago and it has been life changing. I shudder when I have to go back to leg prisons (jeans). It's also started to help a bit with my body image as my husband pointed out that you can see quad definition when I wear them. They are also a lot more forgiving with a bigger difference between waist and hips.

 

12 hours ago, Harriet said:

If or when I decide to lose more fat, how do I get in the right place emotionally? If I decide to let it go for a bit and focus on getting stronger and happier, how do I actually get rid of my awful, envious and self-hating thoughts?

 

I don't know that anyone can answer these questions for you, because it truly is about getting yourself into a good headspace. If you like your shape better than before and see the positive benefits of lifting, that seems to be totally on the right track. 

 

For me, it's always been helpful to remember I can't be great at both. If I want to see my lifts increase, I'm going to have to sacrifice fat loss. If I want to lose fat, my lifts are probably going to stall. Do you regularly track your calories / macros anyway? If you are seeing your weights stall and you aren't looking for fat loss currently, it might be time to shake them up a bit. 

 

FWIW, being comfortable and happy in your own skin, regardless of how it looks right now, can be really hard, but it is SUPER important. 

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16 hours ago, Harriet said:

I've gotten a lot bigger since starting lifting

 

Important: remember "bigger" doesn't always mean "fatter." Bigger can be good.

 

16 hours ago, Harriet said:

my jeans are driving me mad

 

In my many years of being alive I've decided that jeans don't properly fit anyone, and the people who make them aren't people, but aliens who have only a vague sense of what a human is shaped like.

 

Beyond that, all I can say is identify your goals. You don't sound like you're 100% sure what you want yet. This is fine and happens to all of us at some point, but don't get down on yourself when you don't know whether or not you're succeeding. I've had the conflict of "get big or stay lean" and once I identified that I wanted to be bigger and stronger more than I wanted to be lean, the body image issues have quieted a bit.

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I have the same "problem" (it isn't for me anymore) as you have.

I have one pair of jeans twice four work and in private I alwys wear leggings.

As you can see on my profile pic (70kg/154lbs, 1,72m/5'6") I am not "skinny and strong" but I wasn't that with 55kg either. I have a wide basin and broad shoulders. That's my body type. (my BF is at around 25% btw)

And sure, there is some fat above my (relatively big) thigh muscles, but not that much.

I will NEVER EVER look like these skinny, muscly girls. But (now, finally) that's ok for me.
Some people told me that I may have a body perception disorder. Yes, that may be. (You can read a bit about that in my battle log)

So, I now have goals regarding my strength etc and not regarding my looking. That helps. I want to be strong, flexible, agile,..... and when I am that, then I will look how I look.

I can't change that :D

 

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On ‎9‎/‎5‎/‎2018 at 8:42 PM, Harriet said:

 I have a 28” waist and a 40” hip, my jeans are driving me mad – constricting my legs like terrible denim pythons whilst simultaneously swimming at the waist. 

Most athletic builds will not find jeans off the rack that fit - get them to fit your thighs/bum comfortably, and then bring in the waist.

 

On ‎9‎/‎5‎/‎2018 at 8:42 PM, Harriet said:

Also, workouts are kicking my arse, I'm not getting strong very fast (progress is sloooow), and I can't face the thought of another diet, emotionally speaking. I feel exhausted, weak and frumpy. All I can see is skinny girls. Skinny, muscly girls with boundless energy, chic outfits and heavier squats than me.

Are you eating enough? Sleeping enough? Avoiding stress? Sounds like you're under-recovering, which could be for any number of reasons. Check to make sure you're eating at least ~150g of protein a day, and at least 1,800-2,000kcal a day - that's roughly around where I'd guess your TDEE is. Also, do remember that those 'skinny' girls may have been lifting for years, and everyone has different genetic advantages/disadvantages (not that being skinny is an advantage, I'm talking about strength & muscle potential).

 

Is your progress actually 'slow' or is it the typical slow slog? eg. https://bretcontreras.com/average-female-strength-gains-over-a-six-month-period/  If it's actually slow, you'll need to see where your routine should be tweaked to improve results.

 

Also, maybe (if budget allows) you may enjoy making a consulting appointment with a personal shopper? Sometimes all we need is someone else to help us find the right outfits for a major confidence boost - it may also be helpful for you since you're essentially learning how to dress a totally different body! :)

 

On ‎9‎/‎5‎/‎2018 at 8:42 PM, Harriet said:

My BMI is normal, and I guess I'm about 24% body fat (just by looking). I don't know whether to try to lose fat in order to look how I would really love to look, or just try to accept myself a bit more since no objective outcome hinges on my weight (my husband thinks I look great). If or when I decide to lose more fat, how do I get in the right place emotionally? If I decide to let it go for a bit and focus on getting stronger and happier, how do I actually get rid of my awful, envious and self-hating thoughts?

Gratitude journal. Meditation. Workout buddies with similar lifting experience/body type. Speaking to a professional. Honestly, there are no easy answers for this.

 

Instead of focusing on 'building muscle' or 'losing fat', you could just do a slow recomp - eat at least 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight, eat right around your TDEE (set it to sedentary which would probably be around 1,800kcal for yourself, and then use this calculator to determine calories burned during workouts: https://www.freedieting.com/calories-burned ) and just let things happen naturally. You'll likely continue to slowly lose fat without having to restrict yourself, also while gradually increasing your strength. Win-win; sometimes the slow progress is less stressful than 'going on a diet'.

 

At 24%BF you're well within healthy ranges, so the only reason to get leaner is for your own personal satisfaction - and that's ok, if you decide you want to. Totally up to you, no one else can tell you. Hugs.

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On 9/6/2018 at 6:42 PM, Sylvaa said:

Do you regularly track your calories / macros anyway? If you are seeing your weights stall and you aren't looking for fat loss currently, it might be time to shake them up a bit. 

Thanks for the reply, I shall consider yoga pants and how to style them. I guess they're like leggings and should be worn with longer tops? 

 

I don't track regularly because it drives me mad. When I was counting, I felt anxious and guilty often, and my weight loss stalled anyway after a few months. I occasionally count the calories or protein of a few meals so I have a rough idea of what I'm cooking. I've been focusing on changing habits instead of counting cals. I switch around between eating more fat/animal foods and more carbs/vegetarian because 1. I read such contradictory things on what's good and healthy and 2. My husband wants us to cut meat to reduce our carbon footprint. I've been trying to get a few fruit & veg and some protein each day regardless of what else we eat. 

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7 minutes ago, Harriet said:

I guess they're like leggings and should be worn with longer tops? 

 

They should be. Mine are less tight than leggings, although still fitted. 

 

Totally understood with the tracking - I did ask because food plays a big part in how well you do with either weight / fat loss OR strength gains. If it were me, I'd focus on what puts you in the best mental space along with what makes you happiest. If you are finding it difficult to track and also to see progress, can you start focusing more on what you are capable of doing now that you couldn't before? Or something not image related?

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On 9/6/2018 at 8:58 PM, calanthrophy said:

jeans don't properly fit anyone, and the people who make them aren't people, but aliens who have only a vague sense of what a human is shaped like.

This makes sense, but I feel it's true for all women's clothing. But then lots of women of many sizes appear effortlessly chic... maybe they do put in effort that we just don't see, I don't know . You're right, I don't really know what I want. Or rather, I want several conflicting things, and I'm not sure what's possible or what to focus on first.

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12 hours ago, Arkania said:



So, I now have goals regarding my strength etc and not regarding my looking. That helps. I want to be strong, flexible, agile,..... and when I am that, then I will look how I look.

I can't change that :D

 

It makes sooo much sense that I should care less about how I look and focus more on what I can do. It's hard, though, I feel a very strong obligation to be thinner and guilt about not achieving that yet. 

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10 hours ago, Defining said:

Is your progress actually 'slow' or is it the typical slow slog? eg. https://bretcontreras.com/average-female-strength-gains-over-a-six-month-period/  If it's actually slow, you'll need to see where your routine should be tweaked to improve results.

Yeah.... I'm at about the three month mark after seven months (bench 70, squat 80 after some form problems, deadlift 130). Ouch. I guess I'm eating roughly 2200, if I'm honest, but I haven't managed 150g protein so far, especially on vegetarian days. I've probably put on fat as well as muscle/water. Tailoring, personal shopper and gratitude journal are all great ideas, thank you. Someone else I know mentioned the gratitude journal as helpful so I'll have to try it. Thanks for the hugs, too :)

 

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18 hours ago, Sylvaa said:

can you start focusing more on what you are capable of doing now that you couldn't before? Or something not image related?

I can try. I'm not that impressed with my non-image achievements either, but I'll try to compare myself to previous-me rather than all the girls I see on campus who are 10-12 years younger than me (I'm going to the uni gym and sitting in on classes since we moved to a university town in another country for my husband's job).

 

It has helped a bit just hearing from others on nerd fitness. I think I need to focus on sleep, recovery and eating for health and energy. I need some new pants or a tailor, and I should try to focus less on my appearance which will hopefully improve slowly with continued lifting and better food choices.

 

Um, is 150g of protein really needed, though? I think I was getting about 90 when I was eating meat every day and including a snack. On vegetarian days it's less, and I also wanted to cut the snack because I probably eat a little too much, otherwise me and my warlegs wouldn't have gotten bigger... though the weight gain seems to have stopped the last month or so. 

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4 hours ago, Harriet said:

Um, is 150g of protein really needed, though? I think I was getting about 90 when I was eating meat every day and including a snack. On vegetarian days it's less, and I also wanted to cut the snack because I probably eat a little too much, otherwise me and my warlegs wouldn't have gotten bigger... though the weight gain seems to have stopped the last month or so. 

 

This is where @Defining and I differ in our thoughts. There are a lot of differing opinions on exactly how much protein one needs. Protein will help with muscle growth and recovery, so if your overall goal is lifting more, protein is going to be super important. Also, protein will help keep you full longer, so it helps with limiting caloric intake if you go down that route. 

 

That being said, in my non-professional opinion, aiming for 1.6g / kg of bodyweight or 1g / lb of lean body mass (roughly 100g) should be sufficient for people who aren't primarily focused on weightlifting. Some studies show that this should keep muscle mass constant, even if you choose to diet. I will also say that there are a lot of ways to get protein on a vegetarian diet - it just takes more planning and forethought than on a meat eating diet. 

 

4 hours ago, Harriet said:

It has helped a bit just hearing from others on nerd fitness. I think I need to focus on sleep, recovery and eating for health and energy. I need some new pants or a tailor, and I should try to focus less on my appearance which will hopefully improve slowly with continued lifting and better food choices.

 

This sounds like a great plan! Also, do you take progress pictures / measurements? Sometimes it's easier to focus on the parts of our bodies that grow and forget about the parts that shrink. 

 

18 hours ago, Harriet said:

It makes sooo much sense that I should care less about how I look and focus more on what I can do. It's hard, though, I feel a very strong obligation to be thinner and guilt about not achieving that yet. 

 

The perils of being a woman! Where is your obligation coming from (you don't have to answer this here, just food for thought)? I think this would be a great place to start in terms of mindset. 

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Hmmm, to get even 100g without eating too many calories I think I still need to up my cooking game and find ways to add flavour that aren't so calorie dense (like cheese, I've been relying on it to make vegetarian meals tasty).

 

Yeah, I take cm measurements. They tell me my hips are bigger, that's all. I should probably take pictures as well because my perception of how I look varies a lot from day to day. It would be good to have an objective record. 

 

Interesting question... I have this feeling the rest of my life might fall into place if I look the part. Not true, I know. But still... I want to look awesome instead of awkward. Doesn't everyone? 

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@Sylvaa makes a good point, I'm pretty dogmatic about protein intake - but there's a lot of grey area between sufficient intake and optimum intake, so if the 150 is too much for you, that's ok! For example, for most active adults simply maintaining their weight, a healthy range of protein intake is 1.4-2.2g/kg of bodyweight (90-150g for yourself). If you're trying to lose fat/gain muscle, the optimum intakes ramp up to 2.2-3.4g of protein (150-230g for yourself), but that would require something crazy like 10-12cups of legumes every day if you're plant-based - even I'M not THAT crazy. ;) 

 

One of the reasons I err towards the higher end of the spectrum in my protein intake goals is because there's pretty much no downside to eating more protein (apart from the obvious budget and meal planning challenges). Higher protein intakes are associated with improvement in muscle synthesis and preferential burning of fat stores. It's also been shown to have protective effects in minimising fat gain when overeating. So if I'm going to be a caloric deficit, I want the protein to prevent muscle loss - if I'm in a surplus, I want to gain muscle not fat; and if I'm in recomp/maintenance, I want my body to keep my muscle and use up fat when it's hungry.

 

But again, that's MY bias. You need to choose what's right for YOU. I used to be a vegan, and can almost guarantee that you are unlikely to comfortably eat that much protein on a plant based diet; but if you include eggs/dairy/fish, it's pretty easy. Especially with a decent protein powder. 

 

EG.

This would be 130g of protein, and the remaining 20g could come from your vegetables (minimum 6 servings a day)

2c edemame (boiled/raw soybeans) - 34g protein, 30g carbs (16 fiber), 16g fat, 378kcal

2c sprouted lentils - 14g protein, 34g carbs (12 fiber) , 1g fat, 164kcal (sprouting makes them tasty, and easier to digest)

1c chickpeas - 15g protein, 45g carbs (12 fiber), 4.2g fat, 269kcal

3.5oz of wild sockeye salmon (assuming you eat fish) - 27g protein, 0 carbs, 11g fat, 220kcal

2 large eggs - 12g protein, 1.2g carbs, 10g fat, 156kcal

1 scoop whey protein powder - 28g protein, 0.5g carbs, 0.5g fat, 120kcal

 

130g protein, 111g carbs (40 fiber, net ~71g carbs),  43g fat = 1,307kcal

So, another 500-700kcal on top of that for carbs/nuts/cooking fat/treats, etc. And hunger is unlikely to be an issue with this kind of meal plan, there's a LOT of healthy fiber. :) 

 

 

Another thing to consider if you're limiting animal proteins: you will need a good VARIETY of protein sources, since there are very few (mostly just soy & quinoa) plant based foods that contain all of the essential amino acids (this is what people mean if anyone talks about a 'whole protein'. eg. beans & rice). There are some really tasty meat-substitute products out there these days too, some are mycoprotein and most are pea/soy - good options for last minute/can't be bothered to cook properly meals.

 

As for flavour, check out nutritional yeast - not only is it delicious and tastes like cheese, but it's also a decent hit of protein and is often fortified with B12 (another important nutrient to keep an eye on with a vegetarian diet). Curry spice mixes are a g-dsend as well, and curried lentils/beans are perfect for big batch meal prep and freezing in easy portions (like a DIY frozen meal!). Fresh herbs can make things exciting, as can other fun tools like smoked salt, chipotle, salsa, hot sauce, grilling to add flavour, etc. Also garlic. Garlic is always nice. Adding some umami to your meals helps, mushrooms/miso/parmesean are good choices, as are anchovy paste & fish sauce.

 

On ‎9‎/‎8‎/‎2018 at 9:05 AM, Harriet said:

It has helped a bit just hearing from others on nerd fitness. I think I need to focus on sleep, recovery and eating for health and energy. I need some new pants or a tailor, and I should try to focus less on my appearance which will hopefully improve slowly with continued lifting and better food choices.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ THIS! :D 

 

On ‎9‎/‎7‎/‎2018 at 7:33 PM, Harriet said:

Yeah.... I'm at about the three month mark after seven months (bench 70, squat 80 after some form problems, deadlift 130)

 

Thanks for the hugs, too :)

May be worth popping up a post in the weightlifting or workout plan boards to get some feedback on your lifting routine? Could be that you've just been a little more conservative about adding weight (not unusual for women, and not necessarily a bad thing since adding too much weight can cause injuries), or just need to tweak a few exercises. And you're welcome to hugs anytime.

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Oooh, thank you so much for the meal ideas. That's very helpful. I think we'll definitely eat some meat and fish so we don't have to eat legumes all day every day. I think I'll increase my protein in steps, getting 100g consistently can be my next step, then I might go for more.

 

You're probably right, I've been very conservative about adding weights after failing a few times. I particularly dislike rolling the barbell over my guts after a failed bench press. Everything's been mixed up recently - we moved country, changed our diet, and I've been trying all sorts of different rep and set schemes and subbing different exercises. Now that I know what exercises I want to do and have decided on an approximate rep range, I'll pick something with a medium rate of progression and stick with it for a few months, even if there are a few fail days. Yeah, I might post about my programming later, when things settle down. I always read everything I can on the internet, but I feel like I can trust real people more than articles. Thanks again, my fine nerds <3

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