An Experiment in Fitness and Nutrition with P90
When I moved to LA the most valuable thing I packed was an open mind. I told myself I’d be up for whatever experiences were thrown my way. Auditioning for a reality TV show– check! Dancing in the desert at a musical festival– check! Eating raw food and green juice– check, check! Testing out a new home workout program….hold up. Let’s say I didn’t see that one coming.
While there were many things I anticipated getting the chance to do, becoming a before and after “model” was not one. Yet, when the opportunity presented itself, I dove in and stayed true to my commitment to embrace the unexpected. This leads us to the aforementioned picture. A side-by-side comparison of my flawed imperfect normal self put on display next to a ‘New and Improved!’ version.
Normally sharing these photos would fall outside of the sphere of things I’m willing to do. Appearing on reality TV fully clothed is one thing. Sharing half-naked pictures of myself a whole other and exponentially frightening endeavor (IMOP). Particularly frightening when one of those photos makes me look like I’ve smoked a pipe of opium and eaten a wedding cake while hibernating in a remote arctic cave. It’s not exactly the selfie I want on display for all the world to see.
One of the things The Single Diaries has taught me, however, is not to let fear get in the way of opportunity. When these photos were shared with me, I knew there was an opportunity to share the story behind them with you. So what exactly is that story? How did I end up as infomercial material and what does it have to do with you? Let’s start from the beginning.
Last November you might recall that I decided to up and leave my job, a drastic step I needed to take to propel my life in a new direction. All in all it was the right decision though sacrificing my paycheck also meant sacrificing the things it afforded me. First thing to get cut– my exorbitant gym membership I was doling nearly two grand out for each year. Yikes.
I’ve always been a fitness fanatic so lacking a gym was not about to keep me from getting in my daily circuits. As fate would have it, my roommate worked for BeachBody, the team famous for those P90X commercials you watch on repeat when a bout of insomnia strikes. With her help, I was selected to test out the company’s newest home workout DVD series, a revamped version of P90.
I’d given P90X a try in the past and though I liked the workouts had never managed to complete the 90 program in full. I’d seen the “after” photos BeachBody promised their products could offer but could never imagine myself attaining those kinds of results. Seriously, who has abs like that??
Turns out I do. (Pause #2 for a moment of disbelief). When I accepted the challenge to test out P90 I fully committed to the cause. Part of me was driven by curiosity. Could I get those same results? The other part of me was driven by the need for structure. Working solo has it’s advantageous but structure is not one of them. Dedicating myself to my new workout and eating plan helped to fill this gap.
6 days a week I worked out to one of P90’s roughly 45 minutes routines. 7 days a week I ate according to the prescribed diet–1200 calories a day, no sugar, alcohol, or gluten. No cheating for 90 days. Was it tough not to cheat? Hell yes! Was I hell-bent on proving I could do it? You better believe it.
The most obvious results of this stringent plan are the physical. Over the course of 90 days I lost nearly 9 pounds and 50% body fat while increasing my muscle mass and tone. No point in denying it, I got shredded.
The less obvious results are the lessons I learned about fitness, nutrition, and living a healthy lifestyle. From beginning ballet at the age of four to running a marathon at twenty-four, I’ve worked out pretty much my entire life. My focus on fitness also came with a considerate awareness of what foods I chose to feed into my body. I felt like I had it all figured out– workout every day and eat healthy. Easy enough, right?
Not quite. While I understood the general framework for healthy living there were a couple of problems I’d always run into. First, I could never figure out how to make my routines consistent. There would be times I’d be in the gym two times a day. Other times when I was withholding from all carbs. I was always on the hunt for a solution that I could maintain. Second, I never really saw the results I was looking for. I’d gain a few pounds here, lose a few pounds there, but never dramatically change the shape or look of my body in the way I’d hoped. It didn’t seem to matter that I was getting up at 5 am to make it to spinning class and avoiding the cookie plate at work. I’d always wondered if anything would happen if I just gave up the gym all together and decided to eat nothing but cheese plates and chocolate.
Committing to P90 shed light on some vital fitness facts I’d been missing which brings me back to why I’m sharing my awkward pre and post photos with you. I’m here to impart the knowledge. Though I’m not saying you need to follow my exact footsteps in order to reach your goals, keeping in mind these few tips might make your process a little easier:
Nutrition matters…a lot
I’m a snacker. I don’t like to eat a lot at once but I do like to eat a little a lot of the time. I thought I was managing my intake by keeping my portion sizes small. The problem is that the number of portions I was eating was more than I’d come to realize. The consequence was that I was withholding from the foods that I really wanted to eat and not benefitting from my good intentions. I’ve since learned that your diet determines 70-80% of your results.
When I started P90 I was worried that I’d actually gain weight because the workouts were shorter than I was used to. I now realize that you can workout all you want but if you aren’t eating right your efforts will be fruitless. Hitting the gym does not grant you a free pass to stuff your face.
During the 90 days I ate 3 meals, 1 protein shake, and one snack a day. My meals were high in lean protein and low in fat and carbs. I ate thoughtfully and intentionally rather than mindlessly grazing. Not only did I enjoy my meals more but also I learned to recognize feelings of hunger vs. the mental desire to eat.
Lifting weights does the body good
I was a cardio junkie. I believed hitting the road for a run, maniacally pushing the elliptical, or tearing it up in spinning class were about the only ways to burn enough calories to lose weight. I resisted weight training because I felt like I didn’t work up as good of a sweat and therefore wasn’t burning as many calories as I could if I was doing another activity.
What I hadn’t accounted for was the prolonged metabolic benefit lifting weights granted. Thing is, when you build muscle mass you actually burn more calories when you’re not doing anything at all. That sounds pretty good right?
I’d tricked myself into believing 5-pound hand weights were as much as I could handle. P90 taught me different. By day 90 I was lifting weights I’d never imagine I’d be able to pick up off the rack and I was finally seeing the muscle tone I’d previously only dreamed up.
Change is imperative
Running and spinning had become my default workouts of choice. Every now and then I’d sprinkle in a barre class just to keep things interesting. Always aiming for 60 minutes of sweat no matter the activity. I’d fallen into an obvious pattern but couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I wasn’t seeing different results.
In P90 the workouts progressively get harder and longer every 30 days. The intent is to continuously challenge your body to step up to the next level. After a while, your body grows accustomed to the stress you put it through. If you don’t present challenges you won’t see new results.
My steady sweat sessions had put me on a hamster wheel. I’d become reliant on them just to maintain my current status. It wasn’t until I mixed things up, even when shortening my total workout time, that I started to see change.
Foam rolling will save your life
I hated to warm up, cool down, and stretch. I didn’t see the point. Why waste the precious minutes when you could devote them to burning hard-core calories? My body was always sore, my muscles were as tight as cold rubber bands, and my lower back ached like it belonged to a pregnant woman. The solution was obvious but I refused to give in.
Before every P90 workout I would spend 5-10 minutes on a foam roller. Have you heard of these things? Rolling on one provides a mixed feeling of relief and masochism. The hard surface needs out knots deep within your muscles inducing some of the worst and most relieving pain your body can handle.
Introducing foam rolling to my workouts changed my life. My back stopped hurting, my muscles loosened up, and I had a solution to resolve my soreness. I’m still not a big fan of stretching but using the foam roller helps make up for some of that.
The number on the scale isn’t everything
Whenever I would start a new diet or workout plan, I always went into it with one goal in mind- to decrease the number that appeared on my scale. If I could just lose those last 5-1o pounds I’d be set, I’d tell myself. I hadn’t realized how much of the picture I was missing by zeroing in on this one number.
During the P90 program I was encouraged to access my progress in multiple ways. The first and most motivating was by taking daily selfies. These pics were for no ones eyes but mine and they were my largest motivator. It was incredible to see how much change could occur in just one week when you had pictures to track the progress. Besides daily pics, every 30 days I checked my body fat percent and body measurements. Though my total inches lost wasn’t drastic, I was shocked to see how much my body fat % went down.
By introducing much more weightlifting into my routine, I had begun to replace body fat with lean muscle. Since muscle weighs more than fat, I was counteracting some of the effects of my weight loss. Though the number on the scale wasn’t decreasing as fast as I would have imagined, seeing the bigger picture made me much happier with my results.
It’s been a few months since I’ve wrapped up my P90 trial. Have I managed to keep 100% of the physical results I earned? No. Have I managed to retain the lessons the program taught me? Yes (well for the most part). I’ve seen what my body can do when I commit to healthy habits. I also know what things will bring me closer to my before photo than I ‘d like. I’m not as strict with myself as I was during my test but when I choose to indulge I do it intentionally. Life is a balance and I’m happy with the center I’ve found.