In review: intermittent fasting

It seems as  though there’s a new diet almost every single day. If you’re a 90s baby you’ll remember the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, the Blood-Type diet, the Zone diet, the list is endless. One of the reasons why I’ve never stuck to any of these diets is because I don’t like being told what to eat. In the blood type diet my blood group (A+) is meant to avoid mangos and potatoes which is crazy for me. Intermittent fasting is less about what you eat and more about when you eat. It’s not a diet but an adaptation to your eating pattern. I became curious about intermittent fasting after having picked up a tiny bit of weight that made me feel uncomfortable in my skin. I love having breakfast…when I remember to prep so IF seemed like a good way to eliminate my morning forgetfulness around eating. Scientists from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Heidelberg University Hospital have found out in a study called HELENA – the largest investigation on intermittent fasting to date, that there are many paths leading to a healthier weight and it’s all about finding the path that fits you best.

Right now, IF is the path that fits me best. I was interested in losing weight and keeping it off, with intermittent fasting because you’re not constantly eating, you give your stomach and gut a chance to recover from the usual churning of stomach acids to digest food which in turn can reduce inflammation. The first week of IF, I watched a million and one videos on IF (my favourite being anything by Dr. Jason Fung, I even follow him on Twitter!)  and read countless articles (I would recommend that before you commit to IF, do as much research as you can and consult a doctor or nutritionist if necessary) on the experiences that people have had with IF.

There are three main ways to do an intermittent fast: the 5:2 diet, in which you eat regularly for five days a week and reduce your intake to 600 calories during the next two; alternate-day fasting, where you rotate between standard and 600-calorie days; and time-restricted eating which is what I’m doing where you limit your eating periods to four-to-eight hours. What works best for me (since I wake up at 5 and am in bed by 22h on most days is to fast from the time I wake up until 12 noon and on some days I’ve even pushed that time out to 14h. This gives me a total of 16 hours fasting and on some days when I’m a superhuman…17 hours.

How am I feeling?

The first two weeks were hard. I had to make a conscious effort to drink not just more water (which is something I’m constantly practicing) but also more tea to ‘fill’ me up. One thing I realised is that once I made the decision that I wouldn’t be eating before 12/13h, it’s almost as though my stomach shut up aka stopped grumbling. The less I thought about food, the easier it’s was for my stomach and the less it complained. The mental aspect for me is what plays the biggest role in ensuring that you commit to IF. In terms of my weight, I have managed to lose centimetres that I gained on that glorious holiday to Cape Town and I’m feeling happy in my skin again. I wake up with zero bloating which does a lot to lift the mood. Whenever I get a little bit fluffy I have this moment of not knowing who I am anymore (I know that sounds very dramatic haha!) IF helped with the calorie reduction that I needed in order to shed those extra kilos. I’ve been on this IF journey for almost a month and I’m going to see this through till the end of the year and then re-evaluate. In the first two weeks I battled with extreme fatigue and feelings of hanger (hunger that leads to anger), luckily having to maintain good work relationships was enough of a reminder to keep me from lashing out in hunger!

In terms of my weight, I have managed to lose centimetres that I gained on that glorious holiday to Cape Town and I’m feeling happy in my skin again. Whenever I get a little bit fluffy I have this moment of not knowing who I am anymore (I know that sounds very dramatic haha) IF helped with the calorie reduction that I needed in order to shed those extra kilos. I’ve been on this IF journey for almost a month though.I’m going to see this through till the end of the year and then re-evaluate. I am not a fan of the feeling of hunger that is present during non-eating periods and in light of my 2019 body goals (which I’ll share in a later post) IF just isn’t going to work for the long-term. A girl is trying to get stronger and fitter as she approaches 30…damn did I just address myself in 3rd person!

For an eating plan to be successful, it should be sustainable and improve your performance not just as an athlete (where I’m concerned,) but as a human. This is the biggest lesson I’ve learnt through IF, food should be tasty yes but it’s even more important for the food you eat to fuel you. When I am eating, I am 100% more conscious about what I put into my mouth. Along the way I have had some treats but what I’ve noticed is that I have more self-control and those naughty treats are few and very far in between in comparison to when I was eating whenever I wanted. I will say the one thing I truly miss is having breakfast at breakfast time!

How to make IF work for you?

  • I cannot stress this enough: plan, plan plan! You’ve heard this cliché before and it’s because it’s true: fail to plan/prepare and prepare to fail. Fill your water bottle the night before, make sure that the tea you have is one that you won’t get sick of drinking during your fasting period and prepare your meals in advance.
  • If you’re going to snack during your eating period, make sure your snacks are healthy. I love to stick to raw nuts. Cashews, walnuts and almonds are my favourites but you can go with whatever you like best. Hummus & carrots will also NEVER go out of style. 
  • Get an accountability partner. Friends, I consider myself so lucky to be with the man I call my boyfriend. I tell him about every single lifestyle change that I make and he holds me accountable; whether it’s running more often, eating healthier and now sticking to this new eating pattern, he is SO good at reminding me of the goals I set for myself. I can’t tell y’all how much I love this man!
  • Plan your training at least an hour after you’ve had your meal during your eating period. I found that this worked best for me. Training in the morning while still in a fasted state left me feeling hungrier than usual and we all know that hunger can quickly transform to hanger. I also found that when I took pre-workout on an empty stomach, it’s almost as though I could feel my body disassociating with reality, can’t explain that.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt in this intermittent fasting journey? A healthy lifestyle is not just about the food you eat but the choices you make in your everyday life. It’s not just about losing weight, although it does start that way. When you remove the toxic elements that aren’t serving you well in your nutrition (if you’re consistent enough), it then extends to your physical environment. One day you’re making healthier food choices and the next you’re making healthier life choices! Constantly work towards being in the best physical, mental and emotional shape of your life, it’s what I’m focussing on and it’s what you should be focussing on.

YOUR journey.

The Struggle Is Real…Isn’t It Always?

Knowing things will go wrong is what keeps most people on the sidelines. Most people seek to avoid the struggle. But we are not most people. When the fists fly, we charge headlong into the fray. Because we saw the struggle coming. Because we want what’s on the other side more than we want to stay comfortable. Because we know a secret. That adversity is the only shortcut to greatness. CompTrain.

I have a confession to make. One that I’m hoping I won’t be stoned for. Lately I’ve hated CrossFit. I love watching it, the Games this year was one of the best in my opinion, I love the athletes (Bethany Shadburne is my new face,) but I started to notice that whenever I walked into the box, I would feel ‘meh’ about the wod before it even started. I didn’t say anything to my coach at first but eventually my face began to betray me. I have quite an honest relationship with my coach and on that day when my stank face was in full force, I told him about how I had been feeling. I’ve now come to the realisation that it isn’t CrossFit that I hate, it’s the pressure that I’ve piled on myself, it’s the little niggles creeping up whenever I improve a little bit more that I hate. The tiredness and crankiness from a life lived saying yes to far more than I should have been, was what I hated.  To me, everything felt like it was a test to break me. The reality was that I had begun to view adversity as an enemy as opposed to the friend that it could be to get me closer to the goals I have for myself.

471
‘The fastest way to get in the way of your own potential is to view everything as a test. If you look at something as a test, then you will focus only on passing the test instead of maximizing your growth through the experience. – The secret is to understand that nothing is a test, but only an opportunity to learn and grow. Over time, the person who is simply focused on maximizing what they can learn and how they can grow will become much greater than the person who sees life as one continual test to prove themselves.’ CompTrain

Right now I’m nursing an oblique strain and while I am annoyed at how it has derailed my ‘8 pack by summer’ plan. This temporary setback has provided me with time to reflect on what I’m doing well, and plan and execute what I could be doing better. The niggles that I seem to constantly be plagued with was the first thing that came to my mind. Injury is something that I’ve been battling with since last year injuring my lower back. Now that I’m developing a better relationship with my body, I know that the reason why I keep getting these niggles is because I can be neglectful when it comes to stretching especially on days when I’ve lifted heavy. It’s not that no fudges are given, I just struggle to slow down and have often found myself yawning mid-stretch. In order to maximize my athletic potential, this life of not stretching is no longer a luxury that I can afford, and speaking about afford, if you can I would recommend a ROMWOD subscription if you’re all swole and not yet flexy!

The first three days of this oblique strain were painful as fudge: standing sucked, sitting sucked, breathing sucked. In fact just being alive on these three days sucked. There wasn’t a single movement that didn’t hurt. Anti-inflammatory medication, deep freeze and my hot water bottle were my best friends.  On Monday I could finally walk without feeling too much pain and began my ROMWOD journey. It honestly hasn’t been that long, 2 days to be precise BUT my hips feel so much better and there’s tension in my lower back that eases up after each session. My body feels better already, and I’m excited to see where I’ll be in a couple of months. There are some stretches like the saddle eagle and the more obscurely named fragon, that remind me of just how much mobility I’ve lost due to being neglectful but remember how I said we’ve gotta learn to look at the opportunity in every occasion as opposed to the failure that may lay in it? I’m doing that. It’s healthier for your mind and body to focus on what you can improve, celebrate those improvements and restart the cycle again. If you’re getting 1% better each day, that’s still something to celebrate.

473.JPEG

Going through the struggle? Here’s a few things to remember:

  1. The struggle isn’t permanent, on the other side of it should you persevere, is your goal.
  2. Smile. Don’t allow the adversity you’re facing to take away the joy and love you have for the sport.
  3. Rehab that injury properly. Do your stretches, do your strengthening exercises and don’t neglect your nutrition.
  4. Listen to your coach, sometimes he knows what he’s doing 😉

Drop it like a squat…

Can you remember the first workout move you ever did? No? Don’t worry I’ll help you out, it was the squat. It’s the first thing we do as babies, we do it  without even thinking about maintaining that 90 degree angle. We’re naturals at that age!  The fairytale would be that we stay that natural forever right? But then life begins , we take different paths, a path that might be void of sports and then one magical day, you find the best sport in the world, *DRUM ROLL PLEASE!* CrossFit!

As CrossFitters we know how integral a good squat is. It’s all over instagram, booty’s are important people! Posts accompanied by one…or in my case, all of these hash tags, #squats #shesquats #asstograss #squatbabysquat…and in my best Sam Smith voice, ‘I know I’m not the only one.’ The squat is an exercise movement that is useful for more than just developing a rounder tush that you can bounce a quarter off of.  You’ll see the squat in everyone’s favourite movement…wallballs, yay! The squat, a shallow form of it, is also present in movements such as snatches, box jumps, cleans, deadlifts and kettlebell swings to name a few. Learning and applying proper squat mechanics means that you will be less likely to injure yourself,  and will be on your way to a nice juicy butt!

What’s so great about the squat?

What’s not great about the squat should be the question you’re asking! The squat is considered a compound, full body exercise movement and not just for the great butt benefits, do I say that squats should be part of everyone’s fitness routine!

Here’s why: squats are functional and although the muscles that it primarily targets are your quads and glutes (we’ve felt that with Karen!) Squats can help you in promoting better  midline stability as you focus on keeping you core engaged, i.e. spine straight and neutral, (no hunching forward,) thereby building strength in your lower back.  If you arch your back during your squat, or any movement that begins in a squat, you’re more likely to injure/ hurt your back. Proper squat mechanics should  be centred on bracing through your core and making sure that the largest muscle that you have, your quads, do most, if not all of the work. Squats help in promoting mobility and balance by engaging your secondary muscles, known as stabilizers such as your transverse abdominal muscles (this is a muscle layer, considered to be a significant component of your core in providing strength and stability to your thorax…fancy biology term for your rib cage, which stabilizes your body movements,)  soleus and gastrocnemius (calf muscles,) erector spinae (the muscles that straighten and rotate the back,) your hip flexors which are important for flexibility and an increased range of motion, as well as your hamstrings. They’re an exercise movement that can be easily ramped up by either adding more reps, or more weight. Squats can be done anywhere with very minimal space and equipment, which is great because it means we’ve just scratched an excuse off of our list.

A good squat shouldn’t cause pain or put strain on your knees and/or lower back. When I injured my back last year, I found out that I have an extra vertebra, if you’re normal, you only have 5 lumbar vertebrae.  I have a sixth one, (known as a transitional vertebra) inserted just about my sacrum and coccyx, which can make most movements where I have to bend, i.e. squatting, uncomfortable. My physio taught me this gem of a trick, a hip flexor activation that helps ensure that those flexor muscles are primed and ready to do what they were meant to do. It also takes the strain and pain (nice rhyming skills there right!!!) away from your lower back, which is a common area of pain for those with an extra vertebrae.

How to do it: hip flexor activation

This works best when someone else does it for you, but you’ll reap just as many benefits by doing it on your own/to yourself? Whether it’s you or someone else activating you, you’ll want to lie flat on your back, the floor works best, sometimes I’ve even practiced this standing, keeping a nice tight posture with my core engaged.  If you’re on the floor, the idea is to have zero arch through your lower back, your core is engaged, your spine is keeping everything strong. Almost like if someone had to try tickle your stomach, they’d encounter your rock hard abs. While you’re laying on the floor, take the palm of your hand and rub the centre of your stomach, (your belly button area,) for 30 seconds. Then do the same by rubbing both sides of your oblique’s at a 45 degree angle.

Why this works: Something that I didn’t know prior to physio is that your hip flexors should be the initiators of a squat. A hip flexion is created at the bottom of your squat, with your hip flexor muscles, reach their maximal eccentric contraction, in simple terms, this means that the muscle fibres lengthen as they contract, those are the days when all your squats feels easy. This is generally why the wider the range of motion, or flexibility you have in your hip flexor muscles, the deeper and more comfortable your squats will be. You’ll feel your quads contract eccentrically in this downward squat motion. Coming up, your muscles contract in a concentric form, which means that the muscle fibre shortens and your able to utilise your quad strength to bring that booty up.

So there ya have it kids, for a stronger booty, core and quads, all you have to do is squat!