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Guest Blog Post: Kirsten Binder

February 10, 2019

Fittest Loser 2019 Prep List—A View from the Middle of the Pack

Kirsten Binder
February 10, 2019

Last year’s winner of the Daily Herald’s Fittest Loser contest, Chad Lowry, posted this Prep List recently, primarily meant for the next round of soon-to-be announced competitors but truly appropriate for a much wider audience. I encourage everyone to read it and take it to heart—anyone at any stage of their resolutions/intentions/self care/transformations/journeys… Whatever you want to call taking care of your health treating yourself with respect.

He and I had the same opportunities and comparable instruction from trainers at Push Fitness (the gym hosting the participants and a sponsor of the contest), but the similarities fall away after that point.

  • His job has him commuting to Chicago each day and taking frequent trips to trainings he conducts across the country; I run my business from home.
  • He loves to run; I prefer yoga and Pilates, although my experience in the contest has brought new types of exercise into my sphere.
  • And let’s recognize another big difference: Chad is a man; I am a woman. Does that make a difference when it comes to weight loss? Not really. A lot of people predicted that Chad would win “because guys lose weight more easily” but that diminishes the effort he put into winning. He might have had a slight advantage at the beginning of the 12 weeks, but once our metabolisms adjusted and the toxins and excess water were out of our systems, all of us had an equal chance to come out on top. Other than some clothing considerations for different anatomy (read on…), all of his advice and mine is equally suited to anyone.

When Chad challenged me to share my own thoughts about Fittest Loser strategies, I jumped at the chance—not because he didn’t cover all the bases, but because each person’s experience is different. Gender, age, resources, schedules, injuries, allergies, or any other preferences or circumstances… all of these contribute as much to the real obstacles standing in the way of our ability to lose weight as they do to the misconceptions, self-delusions, and excuses we manufacture for ourselves.

Sometimes it takes hearing the same message in a different way, with different analogies, inspirations, tips, etc. to take effect. With that in mind, here are my thoughts for all of the competitors this year—in the Fittest Loser competition and beyond.

  • Suppress your instincts… for now – Sorry to be the one to tell you, but you don’t have good instincts in this arena of your life. You crave the wrong foods, trust the wrong advice, and, if you’re doing any exercise at all, it’s inconsistent and ineffective. Your instincts are what have gotten you to this point, and they’ve affected more than just your waistline. You’ve become a master self-manipulator—constantly making and breaking promises with yourself. The end of that heartbreaking cycle is coming, but it’s going to take a wholesale abandonment of your previous ways in order to make improvements that will last.
  • Do what your trainers tell you to do… 100% – The program doesn’t work if it’s followed only halfway. You can’t make changes that will last while holding onto old habits. Piecemeal, cherry-picking of some habits while ignoring other advice just won’t fly, and even the most well-intentioned advice from people outside of the program can derail your efforts. You’re going to go through some big changes over the next 12 weeks. Let this be the one aspect of the journey where things are predictable—where the rules are the rules, the end. As you’ll soon see, you’ll happily adopt these new ways of living as your own, actively choosing to continue following them after the artificial constructs of the “contest” are long over.
  • Without backing away from my previous statement, be sure communicate candidly with your personal trainer about what’s working for you and what’s challenging you. It’s right there in the title—personal trainer—they’re there to customize your program to your needs. If something hurts, say something immediately. If you think you can go harder, speak up (I really doubt this’ll happen, though… Push is right there in the title, too; they’ll keep you working at full capacity). Hate running? Sorry… you’ll be doing some, but maybe it doesn’t have to be as big a component of your program. Want to row? Box? TRX? Spin? Swim? It’s all good, but you have to let your trainer know so it can all be incorporated in the grand plan.
  • Chad talked a little bit about clothing for men; I’ll talk to the women… starting with your “girls”. Invest in a few well-made exercise bras and be ready to replace them when you start to shrink and you don’t fill them out in quite the same way (you’ll notice the changes here, first… again, I’m sorry). If you’re self-conscious about how you’re bouncing around when you’re bouncing around the gym, that’ll be one more rationalization you’ll make to get yourself out of a workout. I know that good exercise bras aren’t cheap, but off-price retailers have a surprisingly good selection and can relieve some of the stress on your wallet.
  • Learn to love your new gym shoes. Trust the retailer who tells you the type of shoe you need. Pay no attention to what they look like (they’re going to be colorful and go with nothing you own—it’s inevitable). Change into them when you get to your gym/studio instead of wearing them there and, when you do use them outside, clean them up when you’re done. It’s a total cliché, but take it to heart—treat them right and they’ll treat you right in return.
  • Personally, I liked wearing long, tight-fitting yoga pants or leggings and looser cotton tops while working out. Some people will swear by Dri-Fit fabrics, loose shorts, certain brands, certain colors, etc… To any of these suggestions, I have to answer simply: You Do You. If you feel best wearing your exercise bra for a top, even though everyone in class is wearing a cute t-shirt with a charming little mantra… You Do You. Feel comfier in a big, ratty old sweatshirt than anything else you could buy? So long as it doesn’t restrict your movement or make you overheat before your workout is complete? Say it with me: You. Do. You.
  • Get ready to pee. Often. You’ll be drinking what will seem like an absurd, ridiculous amount of water, now—in your home, at your desk, on the road, and certainly while you’re working out. Your body isn’t used to getting the hydration it really needs and will respond, at first, by flushing your system of it… literally and rapidly. As you adjust to the new levels of hydration, your bathroom visits will become somewhat less frequent, but get used to near-hourly visits to the facilities from now on. No, this isn’t normal by societal standards, but it’s how a body is supposed to function. By many experts’ estimations, something like 75% of Americans are perpetually dehydrated. You used to be one of them, but you won’t be anymore. Once you know how your brain functions, your moods regulate, and your skin feels when there’s enough water in your system, you won’t go back.
  • Mourn the loss of simple carbohydrates—breads, sugars, pastas, etc.—as well as most dairy products and (this was the toughest one for me) alcohol. This is a time for your body to reset, so please, please don’t cheat on this. After the 12 weeks, you’ll really be amazed at 1) how awful a lot of these “forbidden” items really taste and how they make your newly detoxed, clean system feel 2) how, once the program ends and you’ve moved into maintenance mode, just a few sips or a bite or two of something decadent and indulgent are more than enough.
  • Some people in the competition prepared all of their food for the week ahead; I didn’t. I did, however, find it much easier to stick to the program by eating virtually the same thing every day for 3-4 of my 5 meals (Yes, 5… you’ll see). What I liked about the routine is that it took decision-making out of the equation. Decisions were opportunities to stray from the program. Whatever you need to do to stay on program; do that. Make it as dead simple as you can for yourself while you let the program do the work. You’ll have the rest of your life to make decisions and enjoy variety. Take this time to let the reset take its course.
  • Here’s a snapshot of what my meals looked like on any given day: one portion each of protein, complex carbohydrate, and fat—five times daily. It’s totally counterintuitive (remember, I said to ignore your instincts!), but you’re going to feel like you’re eating all the time. Breakfast was usually eggs, avocado and vegetables. A mid-morning snack often involved yogurt with nuts and berries or oatmeal with peanut butter and fruit. Lunch was often something left over from the previous night’s dinner (read on…). Most afternoons, I’d have almond milk blended with protein powder and a banana. Dinner had a little more variety because I shared it with my family, but it didn’t stray far from the script: lean protein (chicken breast and salmon were the main staples), with a generous portion of vegetables or a big green salad with vinaigrette. Later in the competition when my weight loss seemed to plateau, I stopped including yogurt, peanut butter and oats, too.
  • Get obsessive about label reading—although, honestly, if you’re eating as many fruits, nuts, vegetables, and meats as I was, there aren’t that many labels to read. There are so many pitfalls with packaged food, it’s almost not worth the bother. The single most important think to watch out for when you’re eating anything you didn’t prepare yourself is sodium. Even a passing glance at a saltshaker will make you swell up like a balloon and, while water weight isn’t permanent, it’s disheartening just the same.
  • On the subject of getting disheartened, don’t lose faith if you happen to experience a setback; just reset and continue. Also, don’t get frustrated when, even though the scale is changing, you’re not pleased with how your body feels. Mid-way through the contest, I felt like I was deflating, not tightening up despite some really rigorous strength training. The numbers were going in the right direction but I felt flabbier than I had before the contest had begun. It takes some time for your body to catch up with the new demands you’re making of it; be patient. Definition will come in time.
  • On this last point, I’m going to echo what Chad shared in his original post. Throughout the weeks of competition, we were told that our group had a more cohesive dynamic than many of the other years’ participants. This makes me happy, yet it bums me out at the same time—knowing that other groups didn’t become as close as we have. I can’t imagine what it would have been like not to feel genuinely supported by and get excited about the accomplishments of my fellow Losers. During the contest and to this day, we trade emails, texts, and social media posts celebrating when we reach goals and encouraging when we’re struggling.

The takeaway, here, isn’t to force friendships with other contestants that don’t feel real; it’s to make sure that, whoever you choose, make sure you engage your support network. You’re going to find that plenty of people are watching you, following your progress, and supporting you, even from afar—it is in the newspaper and online, after all. Learn to share your story. Learn to say “Thank you” to compliments (it sounds weird but it’s one of the hardest lessons I learned during the experience). Learn to field well-intentioned advice but filter it through the lens of the program you’ve embraced. In other words, ignore most of it and focus on what’s working for you.

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