This food lover’s biggest challenge!

*** Before I get started… No, I do not look like a super model now; I am not lifting 250lbs overhead; I definitely do not have six-pack abs. What I am about to get into is not about magic. It is about struggles, efforts, emotional roller-coasters, realistic results and my feelings. Everything here is from my very personal, subjective point of view, and obviously, not everyone will have the same experience or opinions. 

First of all, thank God for grape tomatoes

Here’s a little background about me. I am a food lover with all these random cravings, which have to be satisfied immediately. Food is (almost) everything to me. 80% of my social media contents are food pictures. I think of the next meal while I am eating. Eating food (of my choice at the time of my choice) is one of the biggest joys in my life. When I plan trips (domestic or international), the first thing I do is to pick out restaurants and food items; then everything else is between meals. Yes, it is an obsession.

I was born and raised in a country where all three meals (and some snacks) consist of mainly rice and noodles – the “scariest” word in the world these days, CARBS! I have always been “fat”, according to Korean standards, and I have always been self-conscious about my body. I still am.

I have been doing CrossFit for about three years now and I absolutely love it; the intense workout totally takes your mind off all the trouble/anxiety for an hour and cleanses your body and mind; it keeps you fit; you belong to a very tight community. One of the things that keep me going back to the gym is food, though. I will run an extra mile and do five more back squats just for that cheesecake sitting in my fridge. Working out is great; however, everyone says that food control is a very important part of being fit. My CrossFit gym offers this nutrition challenge based on the RP diet by Renaissance Periodization a few times a year.

I kind of wanted to see what my body was capable of if I actually controlled what I ate – before I got too old. I had never read food labels or weighed my food before this challenge. I was hoping this strict meal/workout plan would give me more (visible) muscles and help me lose some body fat. And today, it officially ended. Whoa.

Here are the final results.

Duration September 13, 2019 – December 8, 2019 (12 weeks)
“Fight Gone Bad” score +37
Back Squats (lbs) +5
Deadlift (lbs) +5
1 Mile Run (seconds) -96 (It took me over 10 minutes before this challenge)
Rowing (seconds) 500m: -6                                        2000m: -22
Body Fat (lbs, DEXA scan) -13.8 (I am very happy that most of the total weight loss is from fat loss…!! Actually gained 1.3 lbs of muscles!)
Chest ((inches) -1 (Yes, boobs get smaller too……)
Waist (inches) -4.75 (Less muffin top for sure)
Hips (inches) -1.75
Thigh (inches) -1.5
Arm (inches) -1.25
Weight (lbs) -14 (Weight loss each week was relatively consistent )

Overall, I am VERY happy with the result. Cardio workouts feel great right now, since I have a lot less to carry with the weight loss. I am ecstatic that the overall pounds that I lost is from fat loss. I did not really pay attention to weight loss before; a gigantic 25lb cat food bag weighs the same as the small dumbbell; so WHAT I lost, not how much I lost, really means a lot to me. On another note, I am not feeling as strong as I was about a month ago (FL1). Will get into that below.

Here’s the breakdown of each phase.

  • Base (Week 1 – Week 6) – I was very surprised at the instant weight loss and how long I could actually stayed at this stage. Also, that made me think, ‘how badly was I eating?’ Portions were just a little less that what I was already eating, but the biggest change at this stage was the kinds of food that I was supposed to eat: lean protein, healthy carbs, healthy fat. That got rid of a lot of things I was eating, though: pork belly, white bread, pasta, potato (chips), and pork belly and pork belly… The worst part in this stage, other than having to weigh everything and getting used to that, was the deprivation of my freedom to eat what I want to eat when I want to eat. After a couple of weeks, I had a mental breakdown and got seriously depressed. My solution to the blues was to watch a taco video on Netflix for 2 straight hours. Call me weird.
  • Fat Loss 1 (Week 7 – Week 9) – This was by far the best week as to the energy level and working out. I could feel my metabolism going! I had so much energy not only during workouts but also at work all day that I didn’t even need coffee throughout the day. I could definitely feel the muscle/strength gain and got to enjoy the pre-workout carbs, which I had never had before this challenge. The food was plentiful as well; I still got to eat protein, a generous portion of carbs (especially on workout days #motivation), fat and veggies at this stage. The biggest change here was the increase in veggie intake. 2 cups of veggies each meal are A LOT when you are eating every 3-4 hours. I think this was my favorite phase.
  • Fat Loss 2 (Week 10 – Week 11) – And there goes most of my carbs and hunger kicks in. Again, I come from a country where everyone eats so much carbs and still weighs 90lbs. Carbs are a must in my diet. Until FL1, this challenge was still enjoyable, but now I was not satisfied at all when I ate. I did this challenge with my husband, and we did come up with a lot of creative ways to cook delicious, yet healthy meals earlier. But at this point, food was just fuel – enough fuel till now.
  • Fat Loss 3 (Week 12) – Then, FL3 comes. Hangry all the time. No carbs, no fat. I was literally counting minutes during this stage repeating ‘what kind of life is this’ in my head. I got hungry 10 minutes after each meal, which actually made every single meal so precious! I cherished every single bit of minced garlic on my plate. Lean protein and 2 cups of veggies, that was it. I am absolutely glad that this phase was only for a week. It may have been necessary for the final cut, but this definitely did not feel sustainable at all.

From what I hear, one of the biggest challenges for some people is the actual cooking part. It indeed is very hard to maintain this kind of diet if you eat out often. I had to go on a few business trips while on this diet (THANK YOU, COLLEAGUES, FOR UNDERSTANDING MY BEING A PARTY POOPER & ORDERING BLUH FOOD), and I found it very hard to get enough veggies and good carbs from an order at most restaurants. A lot of times, there aren’t enough veggies on a salad so you have to order an extra vegetable dish. Even then, they are covered in butter and oil. Don’t get me wrong. Butter and oil are amazing things in life, but when your template says no fat… Also, a lot of seasonal vegetables that restaurants offer are root vegetables, most of which count towards your carb intake. Sigh… Challenges in getting good carbs, too… Sweet potatoes are usually covered in butter and sauces; rice is almost always cooked in something that I was not supposed to have; not a lot of restaurants have fresh fruit on hand. I even dreamt about opening up a restaurant where you could order food by your desired food macro. “Could I get 20g of protein with chicken breast, 2 cups of blanched vegetables, 10g of fat with almonds and 15g of carbs with berries, please.”

Eating out wise, going out to Korean restaurants was a little easier than other options, personally. There are always plenty of vegetables without heavy sauce, meat/protein portions are not ginormous, and you can always get “good” carbs from plain, steamed rice. The raw fish, vegetable, rice bowl was quite satisfying indeed.

To me, cooking/portioning was not a big deal. We cook all the time. We even enjoyed tweaking a couple of things here and there to make the macro work. For example, instead of using sesame oil, I crushed sesame seeds for more flavors. Mirin was used quite often to add some sweetness without using sugar. We used a lot of vinegar, Dijon mustard, ground pepper, red pepper flakes, lemon/lime juice, hot sauce, etc. to please our taste buds without adding anything unhealthy. Japanese tan-men recipe was used very often for our vegetable intake; obviously, without delicious port belly.

There are some food items that we absolutely loved having around. Cherry tomatoes are a godsend; they are very convenient to carry around and easy to store; they were an incredible lifesaver throughout the whole process. San Pellegrino replaced all our drinks. Also, tofu – especially the soft silken tofu; silken tofu is already ready to eat so it is perfect on a busy day; I usually add a little soy sauce, red pepper flakes and a couple drops of sesame oil. Pico de gallo is a delicious replacement for salad dressing or a heavy sauce!

Wait, did I mention Thanksgiving?

This challenge definitely made us a little shy about going to parties and hanging out with friends. It is possible, but to me, eating delicious food with other people is just more than putting edible stuff in my mouse. How was Thanksgiving dinner? Turkey breast wasn’t too dry; can’t say much about other dishes I chose not to eat. We did stick to it pretty strictly the entire time.

There were some firsts for me: food scale, pan spray (please don’t tell me what it really is… scared to know….), egg whites (I used to fight with my sister over the yolk), Amazon Fresh (another lifesaver!), drinking 1 gallon of water every day. Grocery shopping was something else. Because we had to eat so many vegetables (5 cups per meal between two of us), we basically went grocery shopping every other day. It was awesome that Whole Foods was in a walking distance and Amazon Fresh became free with the prime deal! I did run a spending report on my credit cards and grocery bills up by 10% compared to last year. At the same time, “food” category was way down too from not going out to eat as much. I started to take casein protein every night with this program too; taking the white power in small bags on my flight made me kind of nervous, but TSA didn’t have any issues. 😉

Judgment and guilt. I have been always skeptical about people who are always “on a diet” aka not eating – without any substantial workouts. Or, all this craze about diet programs with fancy names these days. One of the things I learned from this experience is not all carbs are the same and neither is the fat. I could take 20g of carbs from a piece of cake (LOVE!) vs. take 25g of carbs from a half piece of plain, baked sweet potato; and I am confident to say that latter option is better for our body. For instance, during the first phase, I lost so much weight just by switching what I was eating, not necessarily by dramatically decreasing the amount of food I had been eating. Now that I have seen this change happen to my body, am I conscious about what I am putting in my body? Yes. Am I going to stop eating pork belly and cookie dough ice cream? Heck, no. Am I gonna be feeling guilty? Yes. Oh well.

So, what’s next? I am definitely keeping some good habits. Drinking lots of water. Eating smaller meals more frequently. Eating more vegetables. Comsuming a little less food than what body tells me to do. Brain, stop lying to me!! Also, we have been given maintenance templates and new base template to follow as well. We will see how that goes.

Today, I completed all the benchmark workouts and did the body scan. the DEXA scan guy looked at my numbers and said, “this is the best I’ve seen today! Keep doing whatever you are doing” and that made me very happy and sad at the same time. Because I know that I won’t be doing what I was doing last week, meaning some fat is coming back fast and my pants will be tight again. However, I would like to give myself a nice tap on my shoulder. I had never been on a diet, and this was an extreme challenge physically and emotionally. 

With that said, I also would like to take a moment to thank all the great coaches we have at the CrossFit box. I could not have made it this far without their guidance and cheers. The group of people in this challenge had a Facebook page as well, so we could share our difficulties and victories as well. Great to be around great people.

My big celebration meal tomorrow is gonna be this: ramen noodles with a whole egg (YOLK PLEASE) and a bag of potato chips. That’s right. Empty calories and bad carbs, oh how I missed you! So, here’s the conclusion. No pain, no gain. Or, should I say no loss. 😉 Nothing is free in this world and I have paid quite a bit this time. Now I am ready to get on the airplane and go get millions of tacos in Mexico! More “cheat meals” are ahead, and therefore, more food pictures are returning!! Stay tuned.

Special thanks to John for this amazinglicous hot sauce from Belize! We ended the bottle with the completion of this diet!

No flour, no meat, no root veggies… What?

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I’m about to enjoy the last bit of my gluten free brownie! Why am I eating gluten free stuff all of a sudden?

I hurt my back in October and went to see an oriental medicine doctor. After some sessions of acupuncture, he figured out my body type – “Metal Yang”! According to him, there are 8 types of body, each of which has certain foods that are recommended. I was given this RIDICULOUS list of what to eat and what not to eat.

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No meat, no root vegetables, no wheat flour, no red pepper flakes, no apples, no pears, no coffee… Basically, there are a lot more things that I am not supposed to eat than what I can eat. As a food/meat lover, this list seemed almost impossible to follow but I thought I would give it a try and, hey, I made it for 4 weeks! Cold turkey!

It’s been very hard for me, though. I still cooked for the fam: for example, delicious bibimbap and bulgogi.

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We did go out to eat a lot too.

20131117-173107.jpg I was tempted quite a few times, but I managed to follow the rules for the last 4 weeks. The duck at Peking Gormet Inn in Falls Church was the toughest one to resist but I did it!

I’m not allergic to anything as far as I know so I never had to be one of those people who are like “I’ll have the salad but no nuts or bacon please. Can I have this light dressing instead of that dressing? Also, none of this please but can I have some of that on the side?” I’d never even been on the gluten free aisle until recently either. And I gotta say that I’ve learned some new things from this experience. There are other good sources of protein such as beans, tofu and certain seafood. Some gluten free snacks are surprisingly delicious. 😉 Some special food needs can be met these days in a quite satisfying way.

However, I’m ending this special diet as of today! The stress and the sense of hunger I can’t stand anymore! 🙂 In general, I eat pretty healthy. There might be certain things that are “bad” for my body type but if I stress so much over not being able to eat what I really want to eat, it’s probably bad for me anyway. I’m so excited to go back to being a meat lover 🙂 I’m ready for some juicy burgers and fries! YOLO!