I remember playing defense in the infield on my 2002 college softball team when a hard hit ground ball hummed my way. I bobbled the ball, messed up the play, and the runner was safe at first base. I stared dumbfounded at my glove, as if it were my glove's fault that I botched the routine play.
"It's not your glove's fault, Fowler!" my coach yelled out to me from the dugout. She was right. It was obviously MY fault, but it was easier to look at my glove and try to find the reason for the error there rather than be embarrassed for my mistake.
You'll laughingly witness the same thing at a little leaguer game. The cute little players with baseball pants up to their ears blame their gloves for pass balls all of the time. And if you're lucky you'll get to see them launch their gloves across the dirt in an effort to stop a moving ball. Ball gloves served a fine job of assigning blame for many plays on the diamond. Aw, the days of sunflower seeds and bubble gum.
Speaking of bubble gum.
In 2014 I participated in three fitness challenges that required me to be on a very strict eating regimen. I wasn't competing for anything, but the weight loss challenge featured a money back option if you lost the allotted weight within the challenge. In addition to the strict meal plan provided, we were given unlimited access to workouts, accountability, and weigh-in.
I lost a lot of weight within those three challenges that I completed. I was at my smallest weight as an adult (smaller than I was in the 4th grade), and I was determined to play by the rules, follow the eating plan, and revel in my weight loss success. Having struggled with obesity at a young age, I was navigating into a new me, and it felt good at the time.
The problem was that I was starving myself. If we weren't on a high carb day, I was eating under 1000 calories for my meals. That's ALL of my meals put together. I would eat my breakfast, only to count down until I could have my next protein shake. Once I'd have my protein shake, I'd count down until I could heat up my prepped chicken and broccoli. Then I'd time it just right so that I could have my afternoon protein shake and a small, small handful of nuts, and then the count down ensued for my tilapia and asparagus dinner. Every. Single. Day.
I didn't fully understand this at the time, but I was starving, you guys. I couldn't drink enough water to make the hunger in my belly go away. I couldn't even complain about being hungry because I was losing weight. I was supposed to be hungry, right? The goal was to lose weight to feel more confident, but my social life and my outings with family and friends revolved around food. I measured my food, and I obsessed with every day results.
In an effort to avoid "cheating" and eating more than I was supposed to (I always ate more than my allotted nuts - TRUE statement), I chewed on gum all day long. I'll admit, I'm that person that always asks for two pieces of gum BECAUSE I LIKE TO POP BUBBLES. Don't judge me. But I began to chew gum incessantly. When I felt hungry, I chewed gum. When the flavor went away, I popped in a couple more pieces of gum. Directly after dinner, I'd have GUM for "dessert" so that I wouldn't get hungry before bed. Every trash can in my home and at work left proof of an obsessive gum chewing monster roaming the house. Gum was deemed as my saving grace in this weight loss challenge.
Until the gas bubble came.
I was still dropping weight in our bi-weekly weigh ins, but my stomach started to experience major bloat and constant gas. It even became a joke in my inner circle of friends. WHY WAS I SO GASSY?
"It's gotta be the broccoli."
My naivety in this situation is admittedly pretty embarrassing. But you really don't know something until you know. You know? ;) At that time I was blaming broccoli for my gut issues. I was even going so far as to searching the internet for broccoli side effects. (I'm SO serious, you guys. WTF!) I once faked sickness in my graduate level class because I could not comfortably sit in a classroom without flatus outbreaks. Embarrassing as it might be for both the physical and the ideological sides, it all happened because of my obsession with gum. Apparently excessive artificial sweeteners do not sit well with me.
For me, the gum obsession was a side effect of the restrictive eating plan. I was resolving my "overeating" problem, but I was bandaid-ing the issue with another obsession - gum. Replacing a problem with another problem isn't the answer. The ACTUAL answer is forming healthy habits, ones that don't fall on extreme sides of the spectrum - the good or the bad.
Sometimes smokers pick up unhealthy eating habits when trying to quit smoking. Sometimes drinkers pick up unhealthy shopping habits when trying to quit drinking. I wasn't cognizant that my new gum obsession was detrimental in so many ways.
After my challenges, I quickly gained weight back (hello water and carbs and satiable food), and I discovered that not only was chewing gum messing up my digestive system, but I had lost my menstrual cycle, I was losing my hair, I developed night sweats, and the list goes on. I'd gotten to a body weight 1) that I'd never, ever been at before and 2) I believe this body weight was much too small for me.
Hindsight is 20/20, and I can look back at that time in my life and still be thankful. The problems that I experienced forced me to become more educated about nutrition and body awareness. I now talk about eating in moderation, and I never blame foods for the problem. The problem is our relationship with food (or gum), and the outcome is the response to our actions with those specific foods (or gum).
Let me also mention - I think striving for fat loss is an admirable goal to have, but I now understand that FOR ME eating a strict regimen and white knuckling my way to the next meal with gum in cheek is not a sustainable way of eating. Sustainable fat loss takes time. It takes knowledge about your own body. There is no one size fits all nutrition plan.
This realization wasn't without disappointment. There are days that I think "Oh, if I can just go back to a really strict diet I could quickly get back to my leanest self." It just doesn't work like that anymore for me, though. I can mutter those words all I want, but I KNOW I have no desire to eat like that again. There's a way to dial in on nutrition without restricting yourself to obsession. If I go about fat loss, I realize now that it can't be a quick fix. The faster we lose it, the faster it comes back. I want to eat the same on Saturday that I do on Wednesday. Making it a lifestyle is the goal.
I obsessively chewed gum for a long time before realizing what the problem was for me. And gum wasn't the actual problem. The amount of gum I was chewing was my problem. The strict regimen was my problem. My inability to ask questions and educate myself at the time also contributed to the problem.
I think it's more important than ever that we ask questions when it comes to nutrition and movement. We can't work on autopilot and expect to get to know ourselves like we should. Ask questions. It's true trial and error. Find the things that work for YOU. It can be an overwhelming process, but credit yourself with the ability to figure it all out. TRUST yourself in the process. Some of us want to be handed an exact meal plan with exact instructions because we don't really trust ourselves. And why should we, right? Nothing that we've done has worked so far.
But it CAN work.
My story has lots of wrong turns, stop signs, and MANY instances of running red lights. But now I pay attention to the signs. I give my body the compassion and grace it needs. I love it right now, regardless of my body fat percentage. And I can still strive for wanting fat loss, but when and if I do that, I can do that in a healthy, sustainable manner. NOT in a manner that forces gum to come to the rescue of my ravenous belly.
I now moderate nutrition with the 80/20 rule, I lift heavy weights, and I practice compassion with myself on a daily basis.
I eat my veggies, too... But I don't blame the broccoli anymore.