by Tracy Zimmer
This morning I woke up and prepared food. First my meals for the next few days, then a cake for my Mom’s birthday. I will not be enjoying the cake; at least not today. Some extended family will be over to celebrate my Mom’s birthday and I will be at work. Although it would be nice to see everyone, it’s also nice to steal away from temptation—the cake that is. It’s not on my diet.
The word diet and the thoughts associated with it lead many people to fear dieting altogether. For a long time I have struggled with it. I've also struggled with the number on the scale, but it really doesn't matter. If you like the way you look, then what you weigh shouldn't make a difference. I have done carb cycling, the Paleo Diet, zero carbs, chicken and broccoli, ground beef and sweet potatoes, and others. They all work, but what works the best? I really think it depends on the individual and also what you’re willing to give up to achieve a goal.
I'm currently training for a bodybuilding competition and I've found that ground beef is the way to go. The fat in the beef leaves me feeling full and sweet potatoes are a great carb source that I love. I eat a pound and a half of ground beef a day, one small sweet potato in the morning and can have an unlimited amount of green veggies. I've been very consistent with my diet the past few months and that is key. A lot of people who being dieting and exercising at the same time tend to reward themselves with treats because of one exercise session—trust me, this is NOT the way to go about it. I know from experience because in the past I've had a tendency to cheat and sometimes lose all self-control, which leaves me feeling awful both physically and mentally. I have a love-hate relationship with food. I have a sweet tooth like none other: ice cream, cake, chocolate, cookies, frosting, donuts...I want to eat them all the time! Peanut butter too. ANY taste of sugar usually sends me it a feeding frenzy! It is like crack: triggering me to binge until I feel sick.
There is a domino effect when I eat bad and when I eat good. In the past when my diet was off, I used to continue to eat foods that I shouldn’t to feel some temporary satisfaction. This emotional eating is disastrous. When my diet is on point, I feel great. What’s even better is that I’ve finally figured out how to stay in control! For me, there is great satisfaction in knowing that I can stay in control or refuse to eat things that are literally calling my name.
Food is constantly in my thoughts but I can forget about it depending on where I am. Staying on my diet is easiest when I'm at work. In the weight room there are no temptations, just the food I prepare and bring with me. We always have promax bars for some of the teams, but if I were to cheat, I wouldn't be feigning for a glorified protein bar that's somewhat comparable to candy. On average, I'm at work 12 hours a day and have a 45 minute drive each way. I prepare meals for a few days and leave them in the fridge at work. On my drive in, I can't wait eat! I love waking up with an empty feeling in my stomach. After breakfast, I'm usually busy all day—training teams, meetings, watching people lift, writing programs, studying for class, etc.—so I'm distracted and hardly think of food. After I workout, I eat again and sometimes choke down a protein shake, then I'm back to being busy. I usually eat dinner early and when it comes time to drive home, food is really not on my mind.
When I go home it's a different story, so I tend to relegate myself to my room because I am mentally at war with the refrigerator, pantry and kitchen in general. The smell of food alone—and food that I can't have—can make it difficult to stay on track. When I contemplate cheating, my mind is flooded with questions. Is it worth cheating? Why can't you wait till the next cheat meal? What will this do to my abs? How will I answer the question, “Did you cheat?” when Steel asks? What is the competition eating? Am I really hungry? Those come to mind easily, but there are many more.
I’m torn between knowing what food tastes like, and knowing how it will make me feel. Temporarily I will be satisfied, at the same time I will feel guiltily. Regret is a horrible feeling to have, especially with diet because you control what you put in your mouth. Since my diet is very low carb to begin with, any cheating is very obvious the next day: my eyes look puffy and my face looks round. I like to refer to this as "hog-jaws" and it is very unappealing. Most recently, I’ve stayed within the guidelines Steel has given me for cheating: one meal limited to an hour time period. Once the hour is up: STOP! In the past, stopping was typically the problem. Not only that, but I used to let my cheat meal spill over into the next day. Having done that on occasion, I know it’s not worth it. Right now, I'm in a good place mentally. When I see something I want to eat but know I cannot have it or else it will set me back, I continue to tell myself that there is always more. Meaning, the food will still be available once I reach my goal.
I'm beginning to like the way I look and can see the results of eating right and working out.
Really, everyone should just eat how they want to eat. I love food and the diet I'm following leaves a lot to be desired; it is also a great way to be socially ostracized. What I don't understand is why people suddenly become concerned with someone else’s diet choices. One thing that has never affected me is what non-dieters think. It is a choice, so everyone should mind their own business. I eat ground beef and sweet potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the week because I want to. If you're not eating it, don't worry about it. Yes, it seems strange, but it's also a choice. I’m no better than anyone else, but I don’t want to be average. I want to be strong and muscular and have a body fat percent in the single digits. The diet is tough, but will be worth it. I'm obsessive about it, but closer to my goal for staying committed.
I recognize it's a lifestyle, and certainly not for everyone. In a recent article I read in Muscular Development, someone asks Branch Warren, "Are there any fat burners I can use that will still let me cheat on my diet here and there?" The answer: "Man, find some other sport. If you can't stick to a diet to get in shape, you're not cut out for bodybuilding. I'm serious. What separates bodybuilders from the millions of people who say they want to get in shape but never do is that we are willing to have the dedication and discipline to eat a certain way and to avoid the wrong foods, even though they might be your favorites." This couldn't be more true—if there were shortcuts around dieting, many more people would be in better shape then they are now. The nature of bodybuilding creates a ton of food hang-ups. Unfortunately, I’ve always had food hang-ups, but it makes me more aware of the choices I make.
Like everything, it's a process. Depending on where you are when you start and depending on where you want to be, reaching your goal may take a very long time. If your goal is to lose weight, then the scale will not lie and any missteps in dieting will certainly make it difficult to achieve your weight loss goal. If your goal is to transform your body composition, realize it will take time. You will not magically weigh a few pounds less or have round muscles after a week, a month, maybe more…much more. If someone writes your workouts or diet or offers you advice of any kind, that's great. What you do with the information is a separate issue and a matter of dedication, will power, and how badly you really want something. If it's important to you, you'll make the necessary changes and sometimes sacrifices to reach whatever your goal may be. I’ve learned with dieting that you are your own biggest obstacle. I'm sure diet has troubled everyone at some point and if it hasn't, then it will. Since diet is a matter of choice, all i can say is be happy and be consistent; if not, it probably isn't worth it.
Tracy is currently training for her first bodybuilding show and is an Assistant Strength Coach at the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow her lifts on video at the Jim Steel section of the strengthvillain.com forum under "more freaky strength".