Sunday, January 30, 2011

Time to get started, again!

Sustainable Balance can now be found at:

Hey readers (do I have any? haha),

Well, more than 7 months later I'm back at it. I've had the healthiest times of my life over the past while, and have been ridiculously busy with grad school and other commitments that have kept me from writing this blog despite really wanting to. No more messing around.

To start, I will continue the story of how I came to the level of health and fitness that I'm at now from where it left off: re-introducing meat into my diet and beginning to really focus on strength training.

This was the summer of 2004. For my diet, I was eating eggs+black beans and oatmeal/cereal for breakfast, tuna/turkey sandwiches for lunch, and chicken stir-fries for dinner with lots and lots of nuts and fruits for snacks. I was trying to eat as much as humanly possible for weight gain. In regards to my strength training, I started off with a simple 3 or 4 day split focusing only on the upper body (those mirror muscles yo!). Day 1 was chest and back. Day 2 was arms and shoulders. Days 3 and 4 would be the same as 1 and 2, respectively. If I didn't have time for day 4 (typically Friday, and some weekends I would leave town on Fridays and miss it), I would combine days 3 and 4 into one workout on day 3. For legs I figured biking would be good enough, so I committed to commuting around town almost entirely on a heavy-ish mountain bike. I saw huge results that summer. I went from a skinny, vegetarian, 140 pound waif (and virgin! haha) to a nicely proportioned, lean, muscular, 170 pound athlete (and, um, well you get the point)! It was great! I remember feeling awesome when I would go play sports like football (ones involving upper body strength). I could feel the new power within me, and it felt like each workout was a huge improvement upon the last. My confidence in everything I did was through the roof which was something I had never experienced. People I was meeting were looking at me in a way I had never felt. This was the summer that I became addicted to strength training (and the diet that typically accompanies it).

After that summer, I started to notice a plateau in my strength training. I HATED IT. I figured: "Well, if working out 3-4 days a week got me this far, why not shoot for 5-6?". I incorporated leg-based moves like squats and deadlifts into my training regime (I was told they would help me bust through the plateau) for my Days 5 and 6 (there was some rearrangement in the order, however). Now I was in the gym 1.5-2 hours a day (sometimes twice), 6 days a week along with playing sports up to 3x a week with friends (and dominating much more than I ever used to, it was sweet in that way). I started feeling hungry and exhausted all the time if I wasn't exercising! I compensated for this with a hugely increased intake of caffeine and food! I was pounding protein shakes halfway between my 2 hour workouts. Around this time I fell in love with 'The Abs Diet' promoted by Men's Health (I had purchased myself a subscription by this time). It promoted eating several smaller, protein packed meals throughout the day with a suggestion of 6 meals a day. Following this, and with all my training, I got up to almost 190 pounds by the time I was 20. Mostly chest and shoulders, I was noticeably big at this point, it was crazy. I loved it. I had never thought of myself as strong and powerful, and now couldn't stand the idea of being anything less than as big as I could possibly be. This is where "fitness" started to diverge quite rapidly from "health".

Along with my inflated muscles (and ego), I started becoming quite anxious all the time. I started suffering from inexplicable insomnia (I was so tired, but could NOT relax). My heart would be pounding SO LOUDLY in my eardrums at night that I would often get up and check the halls for people stomping around, only to realize that it was coming from inside of me! I was always starving, and almost every night I would wake up (if I could sleep that is) and need to go eat a snack before I could get back to sleep. A few times my dreams would involve hunger, and be so lucid that I would be in a dream state where I was just so ridiculously hungry that I would be devouring everything in sight (even some weird things, but I won't go there). When I woke up from these dreams my stomach would be aching with hunger (despite a monster bedtime snack) which would drive me to eat at crazy hours of the night. It got to the point where I assumed that this was normal for an "elite athlete" such as myself, and I would prepare food in advance for my nighttime awakenings. I literally would put plates of nuts, cheese, fruits, meats, etc. directly on my bedside table so I could wake up and just reach over and chomp away without having to open my eyes.

I definitely looked super buff (like, for real, I was bulging) during these days, and was putting up decent weight, but I was SO NERVOUS to not have food around (I actually carried nuts around with me at all times for like 3 years 'just in case', no joke). If I ever skipped a meal, I felt like HELL! My stomach would ROAR! I would be weak, and my mind would stop working until I got some food! Again, I chalked this up to being within the upper echelon of fitness, and figured it was normal 'for guys like me'. I was sleeping so poorly that I was taking up to 3 short naps a day. At night to relax, I would smoke copious amounts of marijuana just to get my mind to cool off and coax myself into sleeping. Though I also used these nights to eat an extraordinary amount of food (being high definitely helped, hahah - whole pizzas to myself!). To help me sleep, I sought out sleeping pills and took lots of melatonin in an effort to just get a good nights sleep. The doc gave me valium, and I took it more or less in secret for half a year. Sometimes I would avoid social situations just so I could stay home, blaze weed, and take valium, "for my health". I haven't mentioned the digestive issues I was having throughout these times, but perhaps you can imagine....the sheer volume was disgusting. Solids AND gases (and sometimes liquids!). Enough said.

This went on for about 4 years - until early 2009. There would be times where things weren't so bad (typically during times where I couldn't work out as much), but I would always "get back into it" by starting up these ridiculous training and eating schedules. I noticed as I got older that I couldn't keep the fat off the way I used to, and so I started in late 2009 I started really avoiding carbohydrates in an effort to stay lean while still eating huge amounts quite frequently. This was a guy who used to routinely eat a pound of grapes in front of the TV at night, who now was trying to eat no more than 1/2 a cup of berries at a time (for carbs anyway, the protein was still getting pounded back! - and plus I would sometimes completely binge on carbs - whole pizzas!). I started noticing that I wasn't starving every 2 hours anymore, and it freaked me out! I would compulsively eat with the same schedule I had for years, but I was never hungry anymore. I reduced my food intake as a result, but kept working out just as much. My lifting really suffered - I was getting weaker! I lost quite a bit of weight during this time - went down below 170! I definitely got leaner, but I was skinny and weak again! I was losing muscle in order to stay lean - I didn't understand what was happening to me. I was still really struggling with my sleeping whenever I would "go hard in the gym", and found that I wasn't recovering from my workouts, but guilt kept me from EVER skipping a workout even if I had barely slept and was still sore as fuck from a workout two days before. Guilt also kept me from EVER skipping a meal (or eating less at a meal) since "my metabolism would slow down" and I would "lose even more muscle!!!".

It was unsustainable. I was sleeping horribly. I was always recovering from workouts. If I ever went out drinking (and stayed up late and had fun, you know), I would feel the results for an entire week. My digestive system was crying out in pain every time I ate, but I didn't know how to NOT eat. I thought in order to be as healthy and strong as possible, I had to work out like crazy every day and eat huge amounts of protein (and everything else) to sustain myself, or I would get skinny and weak and be back where I started. I was completely confused. Everything I believed to be "healthy" was starting to kill me. That's actually how I felt.

During this "low-carb awakening" (haha), I started reading tons of blogs and stuff online. I was paying a ton of money for all sorts of supplements I thought would re-invigorate me and let me continue working out and eating as much as I thought I needed too (I was still suffering from massive guilt if I missed a workout or meal, no matter how I was feeling). Looking back now, it was all so stupid. One blog I found starting talking about evolutionary fitness and health (designing modern fitness routines around the lifestyles of our ancestors), and started talking about the dangers of overtraining and training improperly, and the benefits of "INTERMITTENT FASTING". FASTING? What?! How could NOT EATING ever be healthy? I was always so fucking hungry that I brushed this all off as craziness. The blog posted a recipe from another blog called "Marks Daily Apple". I clicked the link, and stayed up all night reading the entire site from top to bottom. This was late 2009, and I felt like a huge fucking light bulb had gone on in my head and I realized what was really to blame for all the health problems I was experiencing: IT WAS ME! I was doing it to myself. I didn't realize the degree of stress I had been putting on myself for over 5 years. "Fitness" and "health" had diverged so completely for me that I no longer had a handle on EITHER! This was a big revolution for me, and I started asking questions.

The first ones (and ones I'm trying to answer) were "Is it possible to be super fit and super healthy? What does that even mean? Is there such thing as a sustainable balance?"

Well, that's all for now. More to come (not 7 months this time, I promise!).

Thanks for reading,