Sunday, July 29, 2012

4LetterWord: are you eating enough?

I know some of you are bored to death by this so I'm telling you up front:  this will be more about Fitocracy, losing weight, and getting back into shape (if you're new, the 4 letter word is 'diet,' because I hate to diet).  Feel free to skip it.  Or skim.  Or write me an angry e-mail.  That would be new.  In all the time I've had this blog, I've never received an angry e-mail. 

I was probably a little harsh with that post about Fitocracy the other day.  For the most part, people are welcoming, kind, and encouraging.  It has been really good for me to hang out with people who are such good athletes.  And it has been a revelation to me-- a complete and utter astonishment-- to discover how much I can do if I push myself.  And to discover that even when I push myself very hard, I'm not doing very much compared to many other people, even people as ancient as I am.

It shouldn't surprise me that I can do this.  I come from an athletic family.  My dad was a semi-pro fast-pitch softball pitcher for years.  My mom was a tennis player, and my older sister went through college on a tennis scholarship and coached tennis for a year at a university.  My uncle and aunt taught college-level physical education for decades (my aunt still does).  We are all avid sports spectators, of almost any sport.  I am genetically capable of this-- and I'm lucky that way, I know many are not.

But it was part of my rebellion as a kid to be completely and unapologetically unathletic.  I was the middle of three sisters, and you know how that goes.  The middle child of three same-sex siblings gets lost.  It's not uncommon, and it wasn't remarkably bad-- my parents were proud of my achievements, even if they didn't enjoy band and orchestra concerts nearly as much as they did tennis tournaments.  This is not a story of abuse and neglect.  But still, I had the distinct feeling that if I did the same things as my older sister, I would disappear.  Irrational, I know, but what kid is rational? 

So a large part of my battle to get into shape is mental.  It's a huge turnaround in the way I think about myself to acknowledge that I can do this stuff.  If I keep working my muscles, they get stronger.  If I walk regularly, I can go farther and do more difficult walks.

There was a part of me that had all these weird negative-magical-thinking ideas about what was supposed to happen if I exercised.  For one thing, it wasn't supposed to be hard.  If it got too hard, there must be something wrong with me or with what I was doing.  If I got hot and sweaty, I didn't want to do it.  If it made my muscles ache the next day, it was too hard.  It's been a huge change to learn to push through that.  If I work hard, I get results.  Not always as fast as I would like, but they happen.  I don't disappear, and I like the changes that are happening.

This is so not where I was going when I sat down to type.

So, anyway.  My ongoing love-hate relationship with Fitocracy.  It took me awhile to figure this out, but there's a reason why the Fitocracy point system is so skewed against cardio (cardio = exercise that works the cardiovascular system, like running, walking, cycling, aerobics, etc.)  Weight lifters are trying to build muscle mass.  Cardio burns calories.  They don't want to burn off calories, they want to turn calories into muscle.  So, plain and simple, the purists don't value cardio.

This should be the place where I give you examples of points for different activities, but I doubt you'd be interested.  You can earn lots of points for running or cycling if you go a very long ways or for a very long time-- three hours of cycling will earn you plenty of points.  But generally speaking, on Fitocracy you would earn two (or more) times as many points weightlifting as you would in the same amount of time doing cardio.

And once you understand their reasoning, it makes sense.  For them.  But if you get hooked on the site, and you're not interested in building muscle mass (and I'm not, I just want to be strong enough to do the things I want to do), you just have to put up with the fact that Fitocracy is first and foremost a weightlifting site.  As someone said succinctly in the comments to one of my friend's workouts the other day, "Fito is a lifter's site.  Deal with it." 

Now we're finally getting to where I was going when I sat down to type.  ha.  They also have an entirely different attitude towards diet, which has fascinated me.  If you're lifting hundreds of pounds many times in a workout, you need fuel for your body.  If you're going to build muscle mass, you need fuel, and lots of it.  You need to eat.  In the forums, a common bit of advice you hear to newcomers is "are you eating enough? are you getting enough sleep?"

It is, again, a big difference in how they think about food compared to how I think about food as someone who wants to lose weight.  I think in terms of calorie restriction:  how can I eat the fewest possible number of calories today without making myself miserable?  What can I cut out of my diet so that my body will shed pounds?  They think in terms of what their bodies need:  what kind of food and how much of it do I need to eat to fuel my body's activities? 

I love this.  It's a much better way to think about food.  What does my body need?  Sure, I still need to think about avoiding sugar and empty calories, but if I think about it in terms of what my body needs instead of as a restriction, it is so much more .... better.   It's just better, a better way for me to think about food.  Since I need to lose some weight in order to be healthy, what my body needs includes weight-loss.  But it's not the only thing my body needs.  I also need healthy food to fuel my activities.

Which is why I love Fitocracy, in spite of all the reasons it drives me nuts.  I love when people challenge me to think differently. 


  1. "This is so not where I was going when I sat down to type."

    Lol. I do it too. ;)

    And I've said it before, you do this for me. So I totally get it. Also, great post!

    1. Thanks! I think Dan and Dean should ask us on a regular basis, "Are you eating enough?" ha. the very thought makes me laugh, which means we should probably do it. :-)

  2. Definitely a better way to think of it. It's body-friendly!

    Strange that they call it "fitocracy" since being fit doesn't equal body building. Maybe it wasn't their intention in the beginning and then they realized this was their main following and they played to it. Well, you're getting what you need out of it, so that's cool.

    1. Actually it was started by a couple of nerdy kids-- I think they might even have been teenagers at the time-- who had changed their lives by lifting weights. Which is great, I don't begrudge them that at all-- in fact, I think it's terrific. It's just not what I want for myself. I use their site as a tool because it really does motivate me to work out harder and longer, and it is a GREAT resource for learning about different kinds of exercise. But I don't use it the way they intended.