A few months ago, I wrote about having gained 5 pounds. Instead of fluctuating around the 165 lb. mark, I found myself fluctuating around the 170 lb. mark. In that post, I described a reasonable plan that would get me back to 165 lb. by doing a little calorie counting and sticking with my workouts.
I have recently come to realize that there was something missing from my original analysis. I automatically assumed that the 5 lb. weight gain was a negative thing- that I had probably put on a bit of body fat due to some breaks in my exercise habits. I have become accustomed to dealing with my daily weight. I accept fluctuations and they do not bother me at all. But this was something different: a definitive gain and I had not dealt with that yet. This is a first for me since I changed my lifestyle.
So, I fired up MyFitnessPal on my iPhone and I decided to stick with 2000 calories a day. I wasn’t thinking of losing weight quickly but getting back to the 165 lb. range in a few months. Calorie counting was hard to get back into for the first few weeks. I was about 70% on and 30% off. I don’t go crazy eating when I don’t track; I just sometimes don’t feel like doing it so I don’t bother for the day. Each week I got a little more consistent and eventually I did see my weight going down, hitting 167 at one point last month. The day after that happened, I came down with a cough and stopped tracking or exercising for 5 days while I let myself recover, after which my friend the scale said 175 lb. Ugh. I’ve sort of sputtered on and off calorie counting since then, and today I still weigh 169 lb. Here’s the chart of my weight history for the last year:
(I’m reading what I’ve written and I feel like you must think I’m completely obsessed with my weight. It may appear that way, but even though I’m overanalyzing this severely, none of it is causing me emotional pain. I’m just trying to understand what’s happening. After all, I did lose 120 lb. I’m not 100% sure what it will take to keep that off forever, so I do try to stay engaged with it so I don’t end up back where I was 3 years ago. Not that I think that’s going to happen. But it could. So I keep an eye on it.)
Last week, I was reading a blog by Go Kaleo where she showed pictures of herself over several years. One of them showed how she had gained 10 lb. in one year, but looked amazingly fitter and leaner. She gained 10 lb. overall, but the picture made it clear she had gained muscle and lost fat… wait a minute! I cannot believe it took me that long to think of this, because I would tell any other person not to worry about your weight but instead go by how you look and feel, but could it be that I actually gained muscle? Hmmm.
I have no concrete way of knowing. I have not ever accurately measured my body fat percentage. But I have lots of little things that add up to what I now believe: I may be a bit heavier than I was 1 year ago, but I am slightly leaner. I’m wearing the same clothes I wore at my lower weight and some of them are loose. I have more muscle definition all over- from my arms and shoulders to my core to my legs. My face looks leaner. And, the final sign (not a particularly positive thing): I have a bit of loose skin under my chin that I never had before this month. You know, the kind of thing that would send some women running to the plastic surgeon? I believe they call it a waddle (but good god, I will never call it that!) I had quite a double chin at my high weight, so this isn’t particularly surprising. And no, I’m not going to get sliced up over a little wrinkle. That’s definitely not what I’m all about.
Yesterday at the gym, I was taking a good hard look at myself while I was lifting and it now seems so obvious: I gained muscle. Then, out of the blue, some random guy said “nice delts” while I was doing upright rows. I’ve never gotten an unsolicited muscle compliment before! That settles it. I gained muscle.
Here’s a side by side comparison of what my body looked like 1 year ago versus now. I can see some little differences in my overall shape, probably things nobody else will see. But the take away I get from this is that I am basically the same size:
My exercise for the past year has been gravitating toward more and more weight training and less cardio. Since moving, I have been doing about 75% heavy weight lifting and 25% cardio. It should not be at all surprising to me that I have gained muscle. Isn’t that the expected result of weight training? I’m laughing at myself now. Yeah, I’m fallible too. I’ll never figure this all out; there’s always something else to learn.
So NOW what am I going to do about it? First, I’m not calorie counting anymore. I feel satisfied that I have not gained fat, and since all my clothes fit me well, I’m stopping. Calorie counting has become quite a burden to me. When I focus on it, it takes a lot of the joy out of eating right. It makes me feel a little crazy. It makes me too attentive to numbers and not attentive enough to my hunger signals. I’m glad I did it for the past few months because I realized I was misjudging certain serving sizes again, except this time, they were too small! I had reduced my idea of what an ounce of cheese looks like to about half an ounce. Little things like that add up over time. So I will put more things on my food scale just to check, but I won’t record it.
It’s odd to me, because I rather liked calorie counting while I was losing weight. But it’s just not right for me now. It feels like going backward, not forward. It’s like I graduated from high school, but I’m still taking tests and grading myself. It’s redundant. I do not need to do it. I maintained my weight for a year without calorie counting. I eat very healthy foods and I do not overeat. I’m good. Freak out is officially over.
I’ve also made the decision to finally have my body fat tested and I will share the result when I do. I am happy with myself the way I am. The reason I am doing this is so that in the future if I gain weight or lose weight or drive myself a little crazy, I will have a way of checking and seeing if I have indeed gained fat or muscle. Maybe I will never do that, but at least I will have a base line measurement if I want it. I have absolutely no clue what by body fat percentage is. The only time I’ve ever had anything close to a measurement was when I was over 190 lb. and a trainer at the gym did a caliper test. It came out to 24%, which I never believed because it seemed really low for being 190 lb. I’d be surprised if it was as low as 24% now to be honest. I don’t want to guess because I’ll probably be way off, but I am hoping I will be able to know this number without it changing the way I feel about myself. Fingers crossed on that one. I will come up with a plan for what I will do if it’s over 30% before I have the test done. I don’t think it will be, but I really can’t tell by looking at myself.
I don’t particularly care what the number on the scale is or what my body fat percentage is. Now that I’ve thought this through a little more than I did previously, I can see that there are situations in which weight gain is a positive thing. That is a hard thing to wrap my head around since I’ve spent so much of my life trying to lose weight. But weight is a very different thing when you are at a good size for your body. When you’re very overweight or obese, it’s so obvious that losing weight is a positive thing. When you’re no longer overweight, it’s a whole new ball game. I’ve never played this game before, so I’m still learning the rules. I’ll work out the kinks, but for now I think the best way I can tell if I’m staying in a good weight range for myself is if my clothes continue to fit. I’ll keep weighing myself, just because I find the data interesting and educational, but I’ll look at it a little bit differently from now on.
This all just goes to show, the journey really never does end. I keep learning new things about myself all the time.