SMARTer bodies

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The Fighting Foodie- my journey towards healthy body image

For those of you who don’t follow me on Instagram (FOR SHAME! By the way, it’s @kimlienkendall), I’ve been deeply immersed in the world of competitive Brazilian jiu jitsu which I have to admit, makes very little sense for a 35 year-old, self-employed single mom. Trying to murder people in pajamas, aside from being literally the most fun thing I can think of, plays a pivotal role in my mental health and more importantly, my idea of self worth. Like most women, unfortunately, my “value” has always been measured in inches and pounds and having to compete in a sport with weight classes hasn’t helped. I’ve finally developed a healthy relationship with my body image and I’m here to share my journey with you in hopes that you find some relatable piece of information.

So without further ado, here is my story of all the fucked up things I’ve done to my body in the name of vanity:

This story begins in the late 90s, when 24 inch waists and thigh gaps were fashionable. I tried just about every crash diet there was- master cleanse, atkins, I was even RAW VEGAN (basically I ate rabbit food) for 2 whole years. All I wanted was a skinny body, but all I got was a ton of problems. Not only did my weight fluctuate in an unpredictable fashion, but I was experiencing highs and lows in energy, my hair was falling out, I stopped getting my period and I was pretty much constantly bloated. I was so focused on what NOT to put in my body that I ended up developing an eating disorder. Aside from all that, I wasted SO MUCH money on daily $25 yoga classes and organic vegan food that I would end up barfing into a fancy restaurant bathroom anyway (fun times!).

I could have held the handstand longer if I weren't sucking my belly in for the pic
I could have held the handstand longer if I weren’t sucking my belly in for the pic

Then I got knocked up (it happens). All of the focus on my body now shifted from what it looked like to how well it could grow and nourish another human being (which is some crazy ass shit if you really think about it). This was cool for a while until I decided that my body should be more than just an udder. After my maternity leave, I was fortunate to be hired by a facility with a beautiful gym. I worked with some very talented strength coaches (big shout out to Ben Shear aka the angriest thumb I know!) and I started to focus on strength training.

Don't worry, I didn't actually surf while pregnant, no matter how badly I wanted to...
Don’t worry, I didn’t actually surf while pregnant, no matter how badly I wanted to…

Lifting weights provided a welcome break from this vicious cycle of body dysmorphia. I started to focus on feeling strong and PRs (if you don’t know what that is, do you even lift, bruh?) rather than fitting into jean sizes that I wore in high school. I actually ended up putting on a significant amount of muscle mass (thank goodness for awesome genetics!) and I was able to eventually deadlift almost 2 times my own body weight!

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While this seems like a much healthier mentality than obsessing about being thin, this new mindset came with its own set of problems. At the time, Ashley Graham was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and #bodypositivity was the new trend for women’s bodies. Although this campaign should have translated to “your body is perfectly fine the way it is”, that message isn’t as profitable as telling young girls they should look like Kim Kardashian. Yes, this created a shift in the fitness industry and it became more common to see women deadlifting and squatting, but it didn’t free us from the socially imposed norms of what our bodies should look like. It just meant that big butts were in style and that’s what was now being sold to us.

Did you buy tickets to the gun show?
Did you buy tickets to the gun show?

So, in the spirit of being fashionable, I became obsessed with appearing thick. This allowed me to eat as much food as I wanted (#winning!). I had just started training jiu jitsu, so between training, lifting weights and riding my bike, I was putting in 15-18 hours a week of moderate to intense exercise. My appetite was voracious and I was eating whatever I wanted (ice cream for breakfast, anyone?). I stopped routinely weighing myself and taking circumference measurements of my waist and instead measured my ass and tits- you know, the trendy parts. I even wrote a blog post about how I had finally overcome the oppressive body image issues that have become the social norm for women (hurrah!). But alas, this was also a ruse.

The next time I stepped on the scale was before my first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament. I weighed 139 lbs at 5’2”. All of my teammates and other competitors were cutting weight but in my naivety, I thought surely my strength and power would help me overcome my opponent even if she was slightly taller than me. Well… “slightly” ended up being an average of 5 inches for my first few tournaments. It didn’t take me long to realize that all the women in my division were MUCH larger than me, and relying on my strength wasn’t going to cut it if I wanted to continue to compete, which I did.

Shout out to Dan Behr (@Behr_Dan) for these dope pics!
Shout out to Dan Behr (@Behr_Dan) for these dope pics!

I knew that adding in MORE activity wasn’t physically possible, so that meant I would have to *sigh* go on a diet. Now, if you’ve ever tried dieting and you like food, you’ve probably noticed that shit doesn’t work. Or if it does, it works for a very limited amount of time. Most of this is because of the evolution of our limbic system; our brains are hardwired to consume as much as possible and preserve as much energy as possible, which is how our species survived. Even the word DIET reminds me of misery and failure. So, what did I do? I procrastinated my weight cut of course! I kept telling myself I would do it the next tournament and I kept losing matches to giants (to be clear- a lot of it was failure in executing proper technique and timing BUT it doesn’t help when you come up to your opponent’s collarbone!)

the enemy...
the enemy…

This went on for a while until, praise the fitness lords, intermittent fasting became a thing. Which meant I didn’t have to change WHAT I ate, just WHEN I ate! I lost 17 lbs in 6 weeks and I entered Masters Worlds 2017 as a featherweight! Don’t rejoice yet, I still lost my first match BUT it was pretty close and the women were definitely my size. This was my new competition weight and I didn’t want to stray too far from it considering how long it took for me to lose the weight and how annoying it was to plan all my “feeding” times.

photo cred @behr_dan
photo cred @behr_dan

I wasn’t used to being this size and it felt oddly vulnerable. Although I was much faster at this weight and I hadn’t lost much strength, I had to come to terms with the fact that I am, in fact, a small person. I was also a fitness professional who promoted body positivity and eating what makes you happy… but now I had to keep track of my weight and go on a diet! I felt like a fraud and a hypocrite! It didn’t help that I was going through a lot of major life changes. I guess you could call it an existential crisis of sorts that forced me to really investigate who I am and what my core values are, which ended up being a blessing in disguise.

During this process I realized that there is a fine line between self-care and self-sabotage. I realized that a lot of my attachments to food were emotional and even though I deserved to eat things that I wanted, I didn’t deserve stepping on the scale the next day and hating myself. A lot of the foods I desired weren’t foods that my body needed, but foods that my mind craved. I was rebelling against the idea that in order to be healthy, I had to deprive myself. But what I was missing was balance. There had to be a way to eat enjoyable food, nourish my body with what it needs and still make weight.

11% body fat and ripped as fuck right before Masters Worlds and before Cesar's Buffet
11% body fat and ripped as fuck right before Masters Worlds and before Cesar’s Buffet

So, I did a lot of research (and watched a LOT of Food Network), experimented with recipes and products. With the help of some awesome and smart friends, I found a new love in cooking! I realized that food is nourishment and that what you eat determines how well your body functions (so basically super obvious shit that took me a decade to figure out). Cooking food for yourself is a form of self love. I learned to trust myself more and trust that my body is asking for what it needs. More importantly I learned how to listen to cues my body was giving me. I started picking ingredients that appealed to my senses and taking time to perfect the taste of what I was making. It not only made my food more enjoyable, but more satiating! I was able to taste and smell certain nuances of flavors and over time I didn’t need as much guidance in the process. I didn’t have to eat as much and I was more inclined to make better choices.

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I started to feel better a few weeks into this new journey and those effects have lasted. I’m not as achy, I have more energy, I’m not as bloated and my hair, skin and nails are healthier. It has also had a pretty significant impact on my performance and my recovery. I find myself getting sick less and I’m not concerned about when I can have my next “cheat” meal because I don’t feel like I need one. This doesn’t feel like deprivation.

Instead of focusing on eliminating certain foods from my diet, I started focusing on specific nutrients like good fats, B vitamins, calcium rich foods, probiotic foods and quality proteins. By the way, if you believe it’s easier for you to supplement your nutrition, Naked Nutrition has really great products that don’t have any crap in them- just grass fed proteins! It took a lot of experimentation to find a product I actually like- so you’re welcome! I’ve been using their whey protein for shakes and collagen protein for soups and overnight oats. (www.nkdnutrition.com)

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Now comes the shameless self promotion part of this blog…

Along this journey I began to document what I ate during weight cuts. I got a lot of inquiries about what I was eating/cooking and what kinds of products and supplements I use. So I decided to write a(nother) book! I am combining forces with a nutritionist (www.laurencadillac.com) and an MMA fighter (follow RoccoGmma on Instagram) to write a guide/ cookbook for athletes who care about how their food tastes but still have to make weight.

The goal is to educate readers about what their bodies need for optimal function and show them how they can find these nutrients in familiar, tasty dishes while honoring their time constraints. Hopefully this will help shift us away from the “diet” era of depriving our bodies and into a mindset where we see food as nourishment.

In conclusion, our time here on earth is limited and we can get so much more out of our bodies than making them look a certain way, but we have to treat our bodies well!

If you found this blog helpful, feel free to share! Or sign up for our newsletter. You can always email me (kim@smarterbodies.com) if you have any questions or ideas that I haven’t shared here.

Quick Fix for Weight Loss

THERE IS NO QUICK FIX to losing weight or looking slimmer. However, I seem to keep wanting to challenge that fact.

apple cider vinegar

The day after Easter when I pigged out, I decided to try something I was suggested to do. I drank a shot of apple cider vinegar. I nearly gagged and almost threw up. I was willing to experiment because a friend, whom I respect, said I should drink a little apple cider vinegar to get rid of this pesky belly fat I can’t seem to eliminate. Now that I tried, I decided to do a little research. This article from WebMd can shed a little light on the realities of shooting apple cider vinegar when you wake up. Apple cider vinegar article from WebMd.

As you can see, there is no PROVEN science behind losing weight by drinking apple cider vinegar in the morning. However, it seems that there has been scientific evidence that the vinegar helps with joint issues. OK, but I am still stuck with this middle age belly!

Here are a few things I have decided to do recently, that have helped.

  1. Keep a food journal. You can do it the old fashioned way, or use a app. I have been using this one
  2. Drink more water, with or without lemon. Lemon, like the vinegar will not make you lose weight, but it will help you eliminate more efficiently. More on lemons
  3. Prepare some meals for your week so that you have healthy foods, that you LIKE ready at home.
  4. Make sure you are getting 6-8 hours of sleep a night. Increased cortisol makes weight loss difficult
  5. Don’t deny yourself, invite yourself to enjoy food, as you add in healthy and delicious choices, you will see your cravings for crap lift.

There are many other things that can help. These previous suggestions are a start. Stay tuned for more!!!

lemons

How to not fail your resolutions Part 3: the super nerdy post

If you read the last 2 posts and you aren’t new to our blog, you may have noticed that we’ve avoided writing in our super technical, science-y voice. That’s because we saved it ALL for this post. Oh yea!

*please note* this post is based off of our latest studies in these fields from various sources. Like any other scientific discussion, this information may be obsolete, incorrect, misinterpreted or debatable. 

Now that you have some advice about how to create reasonable goals and keys to achieving those goals, you have to know that it won’t be easy and there are several things holding you back, but don’t get discouraged! Just get educated! In this post, we will go over these factors and talk about what is under your control and what isn’t, so that you can avoid frustration and make SMARTer decisions!

Here is our comprehensive list of the ways your body is trying to sabotage your fitness goals. We have arranged these in the order of least controllable to most manageable.

Your genetics

In a very technical sense, this is the “code” of base sequences in your DNA (the “rungs” of the double helix ladder thingie you’ve seen in sci fi movies). This was passed on to you from your parents and CANNOT change, barring EXTREME chemical intervention (as in more than trace amounts of “toxic” substances) which can produce random small mutations in DNA and most likely not result in any noticeable phenotype (physical) difference, despite what David Wolfe might tell you (f*** that guy, for real). Your genes (specifically, portions of your DNA that code for proteins that carry out specific functions) determine several characteristics of your appearance (including height, body proportion, body type, etc), determines your likelihood of becoming obese, risk of chronic disease, etc. One can have surgical procedures done to change appearance, but it will not alter your DNA. In other words, there is nothing you can do about your genetics and these traits will be passed on to your children.

Epigenetics

Epigenetics are modifications to the structure of your genes (not the DNA base sequence itself), occurring in the cell that affect gene expression (whether or not certain proteins will be made and how many will be made). A good majority of epigenetic modifications occur while we are in the womb (again, something we have no control over now). Some modifications are dependent upon the environment and respond in an attempt to save the organism from DRASTIC environmental changes (like famine, drought or moving to a war-torn country, for example) and these modifications can have long lasting effects for decades, but no modifications are permanent and they will not necessarily be passed down to offspring. This is also something you have very little control over but can affect your overall health. It can affect your tendency towards obesity and disease and it can affect your metabolism, sleep cycle, hormone balance, tolerance to pain and drugs, your mental health and much more.

Limbic system modification to motor output

Before you Google search what all that means only to become more confused, the concept is pretty simple. Your mid-brain (specifically your limbic system) is what some refer to as our reptile brain. In a way, it acts instinctively in a threat vs reward system and associates past experiences (particularly emotional and traumatic ones) with new ones. That’s an oversimplification, but let’s say you were in an accident in the water as a child. You may have a large hesitation or even fear being around water as an adult and might avoid things like pool parties. 

As far as movement is concerned, unfortunately, before thought in the pre-frontal cortex is turned into movement, the signal passes through this part of the brain first. Our past emotional experiences with movement can prevent us from doing particular movements, influence the movements we choose to do or dictate how we perceive new movement. For instance, if I’m told from a doctor that squatting will re-injure my knees, any time I hear the word “squat” in a fitness class, I may become overly concerned with knee pain or sensations (one can even induce a psychosomatic experience of pain). Similarly, if I was rewarded as a child for certain activities (let’s say I was an award winning gymnast), even if I haven’t worked out for decades, I may favor movement that mimics what I did as a child.

There is also another important factor to consider here. Our limbic system comes from thousands of years of evolution. In order for our species to survive, at one point we had to eat as much as we possibly could while expending as little energy as possible. Because we have not evolved much since that time (evolution takes a REALLY long time), our limbic system still retains this idea. People new to exercise will often subconsciously view exercise and diet as a threat. As soon as any level of discomfort occurs, there is a part of our brain that will try to convince us to stop. Eating less and working out more goes against our instincts. That’s why it is so important to do things we enjoy so that we can override this system. This is one of the factors we can indirectly control. Having this knowledge can help us trick our brains to favor better decisions.

Hormones, hormones, hormones

Ok, admittedly this part is way too complicated to go into in this post, however we can simplify. Without medical intervention we do have some level of control over our production of hormones, indirectly. The problem is that there isn’t a direct equation for optimal hormone balance and this balance depends on environmental stimulus, genetic (or epigenetic) predisposition, age, stress levels, diet, etc. Testosterone, estrogen, thyroid hormones, glucagon and insulin all affect how our body processes food, stores food, how we build muscle, how we maintain tissues, lose or gain body weight, and how quickly we recover. While the levels of these hormones relative to each other will change in response to how we eat, how we work out and how we rest, there is too much variability to imagine we have total control over this process. Consistency seems to help and certainly medical intervention may be needed if our levels of these hormones become pathological.

One hormone that is talked about a lot in fitness is Cortisol. This is a long term stress hormone that comes into play when our bodies are made to think that we are in conditions where food and water may become scarce and we start to stockpile (we keep on added weight). The funny part is that it doesn’t have to be extreme conditions that cause our bodies to pump out this unfriendly hormone. Things like lack of sleep, work-related stress, over-training and poor diet can trigger the release of cortisol. This is something we have control over. While we may not be able to eliminate the stresses of our lives, we can handle how we react to those stresses. Meditation and stress management as well as exercise are shown to lower cortisol levels. So if you aren’t attaining your reasonable fitness goals with hard work and diet, you may want to check your stress levels. 

Logical fallacies

Because the human brain is imperfect, we cannot view reality objectively. Plus if we did, things would be pretty boring. We are all prone to logical fallacies, of which there are hundreds, but there are a few in particular that affect us when trying to accomplish fitness goals. One of the blogs I read a lot, wrote about this as well, “Common Logical Fallacies in the Fitness Industry.”

Appealing to common belief: This fallacy makes us more likely to believe something the more we hear it, despite it being true. That’s why there are SO many fitness myths that people still believe even though science tells us otherwise (the myth that cardio is the best way for women to lose weight, for instance). It’s important to recognize this fallacy so that we don’t waste time doing something dumb like a juice cleanse or anything else Gwenyth Paltrow is selling…..

Mistaking correlation with causation: This is a tricky fallacy. Weight loss and body composition changes are complicated processes and if several factors are changed at once, it may be too hard to determine what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes we may believe that one method worked just because the change we wanted to see occurred at the time we were using that method. Like we have mentioned before, however, changes often take several weeks to show effect so it may have been something we did weeks ago that created a change. Changing one variable at a time and testing it out for a few weeks is best when trying to determine what works and what doesn’t. Have patience. 

Confirmation bias: This is where we tend to seek out information that affirms our beliefs. This can get us into a whole world of trouble and not just in fitness. Facebook algorithms fully take advantage of this and we can often find ourselves in an echo chamber, completely oblivious to reality. So if all your friends go Paleo, and all you read about are the benefits of Paleo, you are more likely to adopt this absurd diet and blame your lack of results on something else.

Simply being aware of these fallacies can help us avoid them and luckily this is something we have total control over. Critical thinking is key here and can help you avoid bad fitness information and make more objective decisions about your fitness goals.

Habits

Old habits die hard, they say. The good news is that all of the above factors are what create good or bad habits. It is helpful for us to know all of this information so that we know what is stopping us from breaking bad habits. After breaking bad habits, we clean the slate, so to speak, and can begin to create positive change in our lives.