By Gabby Hoffman
Two words that strike fear into the hearts of nearly everyone. They conjure up images of depressing bowls of lettuce, treadmills, misery, and looking longingly at chocolate bars.
I get it – like a significant portion of women, I spent most of my life trying diet after diet to try losing weight and get my body to be small. I’ve tried nearly every diet imaginable, and none of them ever really worked. I tried to do cardio and deprive my body into submission, and all that ever came of it was being so incredibly ill that I could barely work, a foot fracture, and pretty much zero physique change. It sucked.
But I changed my focus after finding Full Circle, and after a while my goal was just to get stronger, and then it was to compete in Strong(wo)man, and now it’s to be very competitive and accomplish some big (and terrifying) goals related to the sport.
I say all of that to illustrate the fact that I’m not immune to all of the crap that comes along with losing weight and weight issues, particularly for women. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and occasionally STILL do that.
Now that all of that is out of the way, let’s back up a bit.
Why am I writing this? Because Coach Jason asked me to. But truthfully, I’m writing this to talk (uh, type) a little bit about my process of losing weight (20+ lbs) over the course of about 6 months. I lost weight in order to move down a weight class to improve my competitive abilities in my given sport (Strongman). After my last contest, Coach Jason and I sat down and mapped out what my goals were for the next competitive season and how we planned to accomplish said goals. The decision was made that moving down a weight class would be a great move for me – it would make me much more competitive than I would be in my then-current weight class, and I had room to make body composition changes. It was a pretty easy decision – a daunting one, sure, but it wasn’t agonizing.
All the numbers, hold the feels. Plans were made. Math was done (so much math), and calories and macros were determined. I spent 2ish weeks tracking my daily intake before plan #lightweightorbust took effect, so we had a solid idea of where I was and where I needed to go. I will say that I honestly like tracking calories and macros. I’m a huge data nerd so numbers are helpful to me. (You guys know that macro spreadsheet that Coach Jason has used for workshops? I made that. On my own. Because I felt like it. That is how nerdy I am). I approached this endeavour in an analytical, objective way, and I think that has a been a big portion of why I have actually been successful this time around.
Throughout the entire process, I’ve tracked my calories, macros, and scale weight – and I haven’t lost my mind.
Truthfully, these numbers are just that – numbers. They are not a reflection of what I squatted yesterday, how great of a person I am (or am not), and they certainly don’t speak to any other qualities that I may possess. They’re data points that are used to determine what I’m doing, where I’m headed, and what adjustments need to be made so that goals can be met.
It’s been my previous experience, and I’m confident a large portion of women will agree with me here, that these numbers can illicit an emotional response. That emotional response is often one of shame, guilt, or feeling bad (note: I’m not talking about eating disorders here, that is something else entirely, and something that I am most definitely not qualified to address). Quite frankly, that emotional response has been responsible for my past failures, and I’m sure there are plenty of others who have had a similar experience. Women in particular carry around a lot of baggage about our bodies thanks to years of being told what our bodies should look like by people other than ourselves. That stuff is real, and that stuff runs deep, but that stuff also does not have to impede success in making physique changes.
With ALL of that said, I think there are some other key factors that were important to my success:
- Quantifiable goals: Instead of having vague goals such as “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to squat a lot,” I made goals that were self-determined and quantifiable. I said, “I want to be a lightweight who weighs in at 140.4 before a contest,” and “I want to squat 200×5 (again) as a lightweight competitor.” Quantifiable goals require quantifiable plans – you wouldn’t walk into the gym and say, “I want to squat a lot,” and then not have a specific plan. Building a big squat requires… well, squatting, and requires doing so in a systematic fashion to build the strength required to impress all the internetz with your squat powers. Losing weight requires the same thing – you set a goal, you make a plan to reach said goal, you follow the plan, you reach the goal. Goal set, goal achieved.
- Accountability: For the most part, Coach Jason and I worked together to come up with what I needed to do to reach my goals. But at the end of the day, I was accountable to him (and everyone else who knew what my goal was). I get my body fat checked periodically to make sure things are on track. I have a deadline of when I need to be near contest weight, and I’m accountable to that date.
- Trusting the process: Having someone else take the reigns was helpful because it required me to just trust the process. I can’t get all wrapped up in trying to make this giant list of exceptions of why something “won’t work for me.” Instead, something is tried, data is evaluated, and adjustments are made. Physiological science does not magically change because you believe something to be true. Sorry, but it doesn’t. While each person has unique things like hormonal profiles that need to be taken into consideration, there are still certain principles that apply.
- Just say no… to restriction: Within my plan, no food is off limits (well, besides gluten because of medical reasons). There are no “bad” foods or “good” foods, there is just food. Does some food serve my goals better than others? Definitely. Despite the fact that I could theoretically just live off of protein shakes and Reese’s PB cups, I don’t. I eat food that promotes my performance, my recovery, and my health. And there is still plenty of room for PB cups. When I feel like having one, I eat one. There is no guilt attached to it; there is no remorse or punishing myself; there’s just chocolate peanut butter goodness. Not having some checklist of foods that I can and cannot eat makes it easy, and it doesn’t make me feel deprived and like I need to fall face first into the next cake I see.
- Being prepared: I’m a huge advocate of meal planning and prepping simply because it takes a lot of the “effort” out of eating. Every Sunday, I take a few hours and make a bunch of food and portion it out for the week. Then before I go to bed, I pack up whatever I’m going to eat the next day, track it, and in the morning, all I have to do is grab and go. I don’t even have to think about it because frankly, I don’t like obsessing over food every waking minute of my life. And before you say, “I can’t do that! I don’t have enough time,” I assure you that I also don’t really have the time. I work anywhere from 60-80+ hours per week between my full time job, helping run my husband’s food truck business from an administrative standpoint, working on the food truck, and freelancing. Add training on top of that plus other miscellaneous obligations like studying for my CSCS exam, and my days look a little ridiculous. But truthfully, it takes me a maximum of 2 hours to set myself for the majority of the week. Not having to think about what to eat saves my energy for all of the other stuff I’ve got to think about and accomplish during the day. (P.S. I’ve got lots of info about meal planning and such here.)
Above all, however, the reason I was successful was because I actually did what I needed to do. I followed my plan to meet my goal. Was it all rainbows and sunshine and unicorns? No. Was it easy? No, but it also wasn’t excruciating. It didn’t need to be. It was honestly much easier than I was anticipating. You wouldn’t walk into the gym and tell one of the coaches that you don’t feel like doing those 3 sets of cleans because they’re hard, would you? (I don’t recommend trying that.) No. You would do them, get help when needed, and know that by doing the work, you are going to make improvements. I took the same type of approach to moving down a weight class.
But what about the GAINZ?!
Oh the gainz. I’ve gotten lots of questions about how losing a significant portion of my bodyweight has impacted my strength. And the answer is that it really hasn’t. I’ve PR’d nearly everything, or I’ve at least maintained the strength I had already built. I was injured for about 2 months, and during that time I couldn’t do a few things that are staples in our program (namely back squats and deadlifts), but even with two months off, I’m most likely going to exceed what I do before I even started this weight cut process. I didn’t do any extra “cardio,” minus some short and brutal sled dragging for about a month. I just got smaller and stronger.
There are a couple of reasons why, I think, this occurred:
- Training changes: most of my training was built around maintaining when I needed to get a bit more aggressive on the caloric deficit. Coach Jason also added and removed other items as needed to make sure that I would actually make progress and recover.
- Recovery was a major priority: When I’m not at the gym or working, I’m probably eating or sleeping. Seriously. I put a lot of effort into recovering, including more sleep, more naps, chiropractic care, foam rolling, eating well, etc. to make sure that my body is able to handle what it needs to handle.
- Diet adjustments: Again, adjustments were made along the way to maximize recovery and performance.
Overall, the experience of moving down a weight class has been a very positive one, and I don’t think there is anything particularly special about me or my circumstances that made it that way. I owe A LOT to Coach Jason for helping me with this entire thing, and I owe a lot to my teammates, friends, and family for also helping me along the way.
Bottom line: Weight loss doesn’t have to be a war. It can be a positive process of goal setting and goal achievement.