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How I lost fat and gained muscle

Trigger Warning: Weight Loss, dieting, restrictive eating, body dysmorphia, body composition

This is a continuation of a post made on my Instagram regarding my weight-loss/body composition change journey. The original post can be found here:


TL/DR: I lost 10kg in 6 months. I ate less and continued to exercise a lot. I am happy with what I achieved. Shame is real even for those who have an 'easy' journey.


Weight loss is a fraught subject - and as someone approaching this journey with no pre-existing eating disorder or significant body dysmorphia and being generically healthy I was very privileged.

THE START

While I didn’t feel particularly negative about my body when all of this started, I wanted it to look different. I had a lot of muscle and I wanted to be able to see it more easily - so I went to my doctor. My GP is a lovely lady and happily organised a body composition analysis for me. The office she works out of has a machine in house and after finding a nurse to help her turn it on we got to work. The results of the analysis were significant as part of my journey - they revealed that my BMI was quite high (unsurprising and not treated as relevant in my journey, for which I am grateful), my muscle mass was unusually high, my BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) was unusually high, and my visceral fat was very low. My "Physique Rating" was STANDARD. I asked my GP if these numbers were "healthy" and I will admit that looking back I feel like that was an unfair question of me to ask. But I was healthy. She admitted that my BMI was high but considering my muscle mass that was unsurprising. Muscle is very dense and BMI is an index that relies on a relationship between mass and height. Using my BMR I estimated what I considered to be a modest (5%) caloric deficit. And for the first time in my life, I counted calories.

DURING

Counting calories turned out to not be too much of a drag - although honestly it makes eating out kind of a pain until you get good at remembering what you ate. I found an App for my phone that had minimal weight loss propaganda and switched it to measure everything in kilojoules because that made the numbers bigger and made me feel better about limiting how much I was going to eat. After a couple of weeks and with no apparent loss of weight I reduced my caloric intake by another 5% (given the tools available to estimate caloric needs are all kind of all over the place I wasn't surprised that I had to make changes). I had to do this a couple of times, once more for no apparent weight loss and then again because I worked out that I wasn't really changing much about my life except that I was snacking less. And I wasn't experiencing any negative effects.

I only weighed myself once a fortnight - it was when I would donate plasma. This wasn’t the most reliable way to keep track of anything and if I ever do this again I will weigh myself more frequently.

THE END

I chose to cease my deficit early in 2022. I did this for a couple of reasons and with the approval of my GP.

Reason number one was actually because my weight had dropped below what I was 'aiming' for and when I measured myself I realised that my measurements had become smaller (shouldn't have surprised me, but it did) and I noticed a change in the fit of my clothing. This triggered me stopping the process because a) I own a lot of activewear and it would be very expensive to replace it and b) I am getting married in March and the dress needs to still fit, because it was made to my measurements almost 12 months ago, pre-journey.

Reason number two was that I was happy with what I looked like. Not that I hadn't been happy before but my muscles are just that little bit more apparent now. My stomach is mostly flat (with the exception of when I eat, when I'm bloated from not eating, when I'm bloated from eating too much, etc) and while it is muscley I still look feminine. I feel good and I don't feel like I need to change anymore.

When I saw my GP regarding a new body composition check and the thought of ceasing my caloric deficit, she was honestly pretty impressed. She definitely seemed disappointed when I told her that my main strategy had been to snack less. I had lost 10kg of body mass in total. I had gained 4kg of muscle mass. My body fat was still in the "healthy" range. My BMR was higher again (thanks to the muscle growth). And my "Physique Rating" was now VERY MUSCULAR. Now if that didn't feel like a pat on the back, I don't know what would.

WHAT DID I LEARN?

Chocolate contains an offensive amount of energy in it. So do hot chips and alcohol. And cheese.

If you are hungry, chances are there is a reason and there is a good chance that food will solve the problem. This is not to say that everyone should always eat whenever they are hungry and just eat until they are full (I know there are conditions, both mental health related and hormone related as well as others). But for me, while I ate to my goals as often as possible, I definitely ate more if my body needed it and treated my App as more of a food diary. I think my experience with this was definitely smoother than it might have been if I'd had a history of eating disorders or similar disordered eating patterns.

Even if you are generically 'healthy' and have a 'socially acceptable' presentation, talking about weight or weight loss can be very stressful. It was strange to walk into a doctor's office and feel BAD about voicing my desire to change something about my body. I felt SHAME if anyone brought it up or if it came out in conversation that I was (insert shame filled whisper here) *dieting*.

Protein, whole foods, and WATER are your friends. I knew that already (between health food focussed parents and a science degree this shouldn't felt as revelationary as it did) but that was definitely what contributed to my being able to put on muscle and lose fat at the same time.

WHAT DID I NOT CHANGE?

How much I exercise. I exercise a lot. Both incidentally while teaching and when I train by myself. I didn't change that.

How often I ate out. If people wanted to eat out, despite the fact that I knew I would consume more while eating out than at home, I would go out with them because life is life and eating more one day is just sometimes something that happens. I did not reduce my food intake in the subsequent days. I never punished or restricted myself after days on which I ate more than I wanted to.

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