When I started this journey, I definitely had an image of what an IronWoman looked like –rippling abs, lean, strong limbs, sun-kissed skin—but, as time stretched on, I discovered that chiseled muscles were a lot harder to get, and that extra fat was a lot easier to gain than I thought.
You might say: Whaaatt? You burned, like, 12,000 calories in a single weekend, and you GAINED weight? How is that even possible?!?!
When you look at things from the perspective of how much exercise you’re putting your body through, it seems unfathomable that a person could ever eat that many calories. Still, as we all know, those pesky calories can add up, and, if you’re not careful (which is difficult to be when you’re training , and I’ll explain why), you will end up consuming more calories than you burn, even (and especially) in the final weeks of training.
During the first 3-5 months of Ironman training, I began to lose a bit of the bulge that I’d accumulated over the holiday season (I stepped on the scale in December, only to be greeted by quick and dirty 10 lbs of post-marathon flub). While training continued to ramp up, I started to feel a bit more “back to normal”, size-wise. I followed my cravings, and, mostly, my cravings steered me toward healthy foods, like protein-packed salads, or low-carb items like meat (I was never a big meat eater before, but I craved steak like crazy). Most of what I craved wasn’t heavily fatty or carb-y, although I did enjoy dessert more often because, heck, when else would I get that kind of caloric “freebie”?
Somewhere along the way, something began to change. I began to crave carbs like a ravenous sugar monster. Sweets, cookies and pasta didn’t stand a chance against my crazy appetite. I could eat a huge plate of pasta and NOT be disgustingly stuffed afterward, merely pleasantly satisfied. It was a problem. My body began to respond, and puff up, and my jeans got tighter. At first, I told myself that maybe it was just water weight from all of the electrolytes we’d been consuming, but pretty soon, the weight gain was undeniable. This past month, I had to squeeze to button jeans that had previously been baggy on me.
Why did things switch? Well, I am not a doctor, but I have a theory. While cycling, triathletes must consume a cocktail of calories, carbs and electrolytes, typically in liquid format, and, on really long rides, some of us also consume some kind of high-calorie bar. We consume, on average, about 300 calories/hour on that bike. For a five-hour ride, that’s 1500 calories of pure sugar. Yes, we need it, and yes, we use it, but that sets the body into motion for craving high levels of sugar to sustain itself.
During the week, my body screamed for sugar. On top of that, the sheer amount of exercise caused the hunger beast to rear its head 24/7. At times I would eat a full meal, only to have the wild hunger beast clawing at my stomach an hour later. It was insane.
It wasn’t so much what I ate on weekends, but what I ate during the week, that, I am pretty sure, caused me to pack on weight. Work’s cafeteria became a way for me to dive into all of the forbidden foods I would never have consumed regularly pre-IM training: creamy fettuccini alfredo, savory crepes filled with cheese and egg, burritos with cheese and sour cream, au gratin potatoes (you get it—the cheese and carbs are kind of my thing). At night, I could gulp down a whole package of organic whole grain mac & cheese, or a huge plate of cheese ravioli. And let’s not forget dessert: a giant cookie every day at lunch, and some sort of chocolate or ice cream at home.
No, I didn’t really try to curb my eating habits while training. I had come so far after my binge eating problem to train myself to listen to my body and what it was craving, that I didn’t want to be unnecessarily hard on myself. It wasn’t like I was gaining a huge amount of weight, and, by the time I realized it, the season was almost over anyway. I figured, “Eh, let me have this one time in my life to eat whatever I want, whenever I want. When am I going to have this opportunity again?”
So, here we are, at post-Ironman weight, a number of which I have no idea, because I never step on a scale (I’m guessing 15 lbs, since it takes 15 lbs to go up one whole pant size). Still, it’s not the kind of weight where it’s very noticeable to the outsider, the kind of weight where mean girls talk behind your back about the expansion of your rear view. Ideally, I’d like to drop 20-25 lbs to be the best me I can be. Here’s the rub: the cycle of carb addiction. While I’m no longer consuming vast amounts of sugary beverages every weekend, my body still likes carbs a bit too much and wants me to eat them.
I’ve dealt with this before, when breaking my binge eating cycle (also mainly due to carb addiction), and I’ll go about changing my habits the same way that I did before. For two weeks, I will go on a raw food “cleanse” (I hate that word—it’s so hippie dippy), to eliminate all of the effects of the processed and refined sugars and foods in my body. It worked magnificently last time, and I was able to crave healthy foods again afterward. Unlike crazy L.A. dieters, I don’t expect any huge weight loss, but if that kick-starts me and makes me feel a bit less bloated and gross, then, yay.
It’s not any strict diet, but simply raw fruits, veggies and nuts, in unlimited supply (except for avos, coconuts, nuts and bananas, which can be really caloric), with a naturally sweetened, low sugar protein shake (made with water or juice) for breakfast, plus plenty of sleep and regular exercise. Any condiments are limited (although red and white wine vinegar and lemon are sometimes okay).
Afterward, I will incorporate cooked foods, spices and more proteins for a week, and, eventually, will go back to eating select whole grains, and even the occasional treat, listening and keeping an active dialogue with my body to figure out whether I really NEED a certain food, or whether it’s just a passing craving.
Luckily, the exercise will be ramping back up as well. Last week, I had a fun hour+ long bike ride with friends (and Coach Brad, who made us do one Amalfi hill loop-grr), and this morning I got in a 25-min run (which was much less painful than I thought it would be). This week, it’ll be swimming, more running, more cycling, and maybe some Pilates thrown in, just to mix it up. Let the reverse taper begin!