Advice · Health · Inspirational

Lean and Strong

Photo from: coreperformance.com
Photo from: coreperformance.com

I’ve always been thin. I guess you could call it good genes, but I also think it’s because of the habits I’ve developed over the years. I’m more of a “snacker” type eater–I find it impossible to gorge myself on large meals. Instead, I eat smaller portioned meals and snack throughout the day. There will occasionally be a larger meal here and there but for the most part I’m definitely a snacker eater. I stop eating when I’m full, which correlates to less room for the dangers of overeating. But, the truth is, if you spoke to me a couple of years ago I’d tell you I put absolutely no effort into my physique. I really didn’t work out much a few years ago but my lifestyle has always been incredibly active. I worked in retail and journalism for years so I was always on my feet, running from one place to another and lifting heavy shipment boxes. I’ve also always been incredibly busy juggling multiple jobs, classes and extra curriculars. I can’t stand more than a day or two of vegging out at home on the couch–it just isn’t who I am. Couple my active lifestyle with a very high metabolism and you have someone who has maintained a consistent weight for so many years with no effort. I do want to note that being thin doesn’t necessarily equate to healthy, and I’ve been well aware of this my entire life.

Believe it or not, kids used to make fun of me for my thin physique. To this day, I still get the occasional back-handed comment about how thin I am, but it has bothered me less and less over the years. I’m not saying these comments always come from a bad place of envy or jealously, but if they knew how difficult it was for me to actually put on weight I’m sure they’d take back their comments. Thankfully, I’ve never had body image or self-esteem issues. I’ve never had doctors fret over my weight, so it never bothered me that I was just naturally thin. I never tried to stay thin–it is just what has happened over the years. I remember my dad mentioned to me a long time ago: “Jen, enjoy being thin now because when you hit the end of your 20s/early 30s you’ll have a tougher time staying fit.” Well, I’m nearing the end of my 20s, and I’m still around the exact same weight I was in high school with zero effort.

Should I thank my metabolism for the maintenance of my weight? I think the answer to this is yes and no. It’s half-yes because I do have a high metabolism. It’s also half-no because I’ve recently discovered that I naturally eat just enough calories to maintain my weight, and I’m active. Over the course of the last 2-3 years or so I’ve taken steps to become healthier. Dan and I have switched to more organic/natural foods, we’ve reduced our intake of fast food, and I’ve tried to cook more healthy meals at home (because we all know eating out makes it very difficult to monitor what you’re actually ingesting). But, if I want to put on lean muscle weight then I have to take an even bigger step: increase my caloric intake while watching proteins, carbs and fats as well. Dan has lost around 40 lbs by eating below his maintenance caloric intake. He has done a ton of research into losing weight so I thought he would be perfect to talk to so I could learn how to put on weight correctly, but I’m not talking about fat–I’m talking lean muscle (rawr!). We sat down one night, and I decided to gradually build up on my caloric intake. I need to eat above my current intake in order to put on weight. This is going to be an uphill battle for me because as I stated above I’m a “snacker” eater. I downloaded a calorie tracker app on my phone and last week I started monitoring the number of calories I was consuming a day. I found it amazing that I eat right around my maintenance level without even trying–it’s a great habit that I’ve developed over the years. But here’s the kicker: I need to up my intake by around 400-500 more calories a day (remaining cognizant of protein/carbs/fats) to start putting on weight. That’s not all though. In order to put on lean muscle versus fat I need to continue working on strength training (more lifting weights/squats/push-ups) with less focus on cardio (step aerobics and running). I’ve pretty much stopped running again because it’s too much cardio for me. I burn way more calories than I’m eating, and the goal is to put on weight; not lose it. I love working out, and I’ve been consistent in working out over the course of the last 2 years. I miss running, but I enjoy my strength/weight training classes so much. I’ve noticed a significant difference in my body tone, and I can finally do a beautiful squat. I’m planning to maintain my 3-4 visits to the gym a week so this won’t be difficult for me. It’s upping my caloric intake that is going to take some getting used to. This is definitely going to mean that I need to make sure I have healthy snacks at work.

My goal is to put on around 5 lbs of lean muscle weight by the end of January. I’ll assess my progress at that point to see if I want to maintain or add on more. I have a feeling maintaining the added weight will be difficult, but I’m hoping to develop healthy habits now so that when I do reach that level I’ll be able to maintain it better. In a world that is obsessed with being thin I know this seems counter-culture, but I don’t want to be thin—thin doesn’t automatically mean healthy. I want to be strong and kick butt. Stick around for updates on my progress :)

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