Monday, 11 November 2013

Karen writes: Getting fat through eating not enough...

Energy in equals energy out. It makes sense, anything you don't burn through activity is stored, so take less in or burn off more if you want to lose weight.  That is what we teach, that is what all the recommendations say, that is also what the research unequivocally shows.  For by far the majority of people this equation is absolutely right, the hard part is offsetting the multitude of complicating factors life throws at them, things that make eating too much of the wrong food and doing too little exercise into the easy option.

In the last 6 months the energy equation has not been working for me, I've been putting weight on even though my average energy intake has been way below my energy output. In desperation I even dropped cake AND chocolate to the bottom of my essential food list (notice I said 'bottom' not 'off').  My big energy deficit has often been accidental, for example, to completely replace the energy burned in a 5 hour run or bikeride, about 3000 kilocal, you'd have to eat over 5 Big Macs, or probably closer to my particular heart (stomach), 30 snack-size (20g) chocolate bars, I mean, who would? According to the energy in/out equation my weight should be going down, the opposite is happening and I've become aware that something isn't right in my metabolic landscape, something I cant just blame arbitrarily on my long term thyroid condition.

Last week I invested in time with a sports nutritionist recommended by a previous team-member. I've been to dietitians and nutritionists before, they did their best with the limited information they had in front of them, and advice was usually more of the energy in/out, cut fat, fiddling around the edges of my diet depending on the fashions of the time or their personal background philosophy. One memorable elderly gentleman in Howick told me to give up the exercise, someone decided allergies were the problem, and one fabulous woman held my attention through two whole bottles of horrible herbs before I retreated back to my comfort zone.  So I headed over to Ponsonby and met up with Gavin at Performance Nutrition for an hour long consultation, I promised Kate that I would pay careful attention and report back.

Gavin started with questioning about my perception of the impact of my thyroid condition on being an endurance athlete. I had to confess I operated in permanent trial and error mode, never could really understand what was going on and had failed to find anyone in medical, nutrition or sports-land who really did either, there just aren't that many people with my problem trying to do what I am.  He asked about my current nutrition, he asked about my training, he asked what's changed that might have caused my recent weight gain.  In fact we talked lots.  He did the caliper and tape-measure thing, body fat percentage 17.9% (lower than I expected!), he said he'd seen worse. Then he looked at his notes and looked at me and said he knew what was most likely going on and I would have to take a leap of faith to fix it. My heart sank.

In a nutshell, he wanted me to eat more and while I was in his office the rationale made sense. Not enough carbohydrates for training meant protein was the next source of energy, so I was cannibalizing the muscle which was the very thing that I needed in order to burn off fat. Not enough protein being taken in, double whammy for the muscles.  My body was also probably spending too much time being asked to do impossible things without adequate energy and that slowed my already dodgy metabolism. Now I have heard of these things before in various forms and it was easier just to reject them because that equation of energy in versus energy out is so habitual. It also seems counter-intuitive to put MORE food in when you are trying to lose weight, so massive confidence in the person making such a recommendation is needed.

Anyway, the detailed plan to try to remedy this situation has just arrived, it looks...frightening. What a list of food, but I am going to attempt to follow instructions...yep...we all know that's something I am REAL good at.   Then I'm to go back in about a month to check progress, hopefully those calipers and tape measures might tell a different story even if the scales don't.  I have to admit that right now I am struggling with the 'leap of faith' stuff and rather worried that I will be going back not the Athena but sorta-hiding-it athlete I am now, but heading into full on Athena Super-Plus!

Well it is now 2 hours after breakfast and I am meant to eat 2-3 hourly during the day. Of course I am wondering if a snickers could be substituted for the heavy on the protein nut-type bar, the snickers also has nuts in it. And today is curry day at work, will that count as the lunchtime "200g meat/chicken/fish with rice and vegetables"?