Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Back from the Brink - How IF Changed One Woman's Life

Lisa today - 114 lbs of
Every day, rising at the crack of dawn, 38-year old Lisa C. hopes to grab a few moments peace before waking her five children. “I wake the kids up and it's a mad dash to get them all dressed and fed - if they'll eat,” she said. “Then it’s out the door with everyone's bags and homework.” An hour later, after the older kids are at school, she may have time to run errands, clean the house and spend time with her two-year old Twins, Tessa and Griffin.

By noon it’s time to pick up six-year old Holden from kindergarten and little J.D., 4, from preschool. She heads back to the house for lunch in the hopes of getting one of the twins to nap before it's time to pick up Eli, 9, from school. Her evenings are filled with homework, dinner, bed time for the kiddos before she is able to even think about taking time for her. If she’s lucky, she’ll get an hour to workout or spend with her husband. “He's a deputy and works shifts, so he often conks out by the time my 9-year old is in bed,” she said.

With so little time for herself, it’s a wonder as to how has she managed to get in such fantastic shape. Her secret? Intermittent Fasting, or IF. “IF has been great because I can get so much more done,” Lisa said. “I'm not making and eating my mini-meals every two hours. On workout days, once I've put Griffin in bed for his nap and turned on the TV for the others, I can go down to the basement to train.” Lisa said she can often find snippets of time to herself throughout what is otherwise a whirlwind each day. “I love it,” she said. “And it’s great for burning off some extra calories.”

“I was teased at school. It was a big blow to my self-esteem. I have days where I still think I am a size 16. It's a battle for me.”

From the looks of her, she’s doing something right. But Lisa wasn’t always ripped. In fact, this energetic mother of five has spent most of her teen and adult years fighting body image issues. “I was chubby as a child and then spent most of my life going up and down the scale,” she said. “I was teased at school. It was a big blow to my self-esteem. I have days where I still think I am a size 16. It's a battle for me.”
Lisa at about 145 lbs pictured
with her husband, Lee.

Born in Minnesota but now living in Marietta, GA, Lisa earned a BA in Art Education before holding down a string of jobs including receptionist, retail associate in a frame shop, a travel manager for a local University, assistant teacher in a Special Ed class, and office manager for a building inspector.

As a child, Lisa said she was shy and quiet around others. Perhaps that’s what drew her to art and dance – both of which she immersed herself in throughout her high school years. It’s also when the pressure to be thin increased.

“My idea of the perfect body was completely distorted,” she said. “In the dancing world, the perfect body is lithe, slight. The ideal body is similar to a model's only on a smaller scale - a tall dancer has a shot in Vegas or perhaps The Rockettes.
"I thought I was fat," she said.
"One is expected to be strong and fit while maintaining a waif-like appearance. Girls with eating disorders were all around me.” At  5’3”, 120 lbs, Lisa was a perfectly healthy weight. “I thought I was fat,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure to be thin. I lost parts to other girls who were much thinner. I remember a male dancer telling his partner she was the heaviest he had worked with. She was 5’6” and 112 lbs.”
Lisa in 2009 with baby Tessa.
Trying everything from severe calorie restriction to the latest fad diet, she spent the better part of her adult life in a lost in the quagmire of contradictions that rules the health and fitness industry. In high school, she tried extreme calorie restriction coupled with a ton of exercise. “I lost weight and got down to 15% body fat, but I was hungry and felt terrible most of the time,” Lisa said. The rebound effect to her extreme diet was eating whatever she wanted which did not work at all, so she went back to restricting calories, consuming a mere 1,200 calories at 145 lbs. She combined this diet approach with lots of intense cardio. “I was running 25 miles a week.”  Not surprisingly, this did not work at all either.

Somewhere between the ‘fad’ diet programs, Lisa experimented with standard bodybuilding diets and working out and said it worked fairly well. “I was doing more high-volume/lower intensity weight training every other day, lots of intense hour-long rowing sessions four days a week and Tabata HIIT two days a week. Aside from bench I did isolation exercises; no other compound movements. I was hungry and it was tiring and it was not very fun.” 

In college, Lisa hit bottom. “I gave up. I was tired and I didn't have the energy and focus it takes to diet like I had been,” she said. “I found comfort in food. Diet is far more important than exercise and so, even though I was taking two or three dance classes a day, the workout did not come close to burning off the calories. Before I quit dancing, I weighed 140 lbs. After I quit, I gained more weight. At my heaviest non-pregnant weight I was 180 lbs.” 
Lisa in May 2010. Not fat by any
standard, but not yet fully fierce!

 At her thinnest adult weight, Lisa was self-admittedly ‘skinny fat.’ “I was 123 lbs. I don't know what my bodyweight was, but if I had to guess I'd say 26%.”
Today Lisa is 5’3”, 114 lbs and is a proud member of the FFF 200-lb club with a deadlift personal best of 215 lbs x 4 - all thanks to Leangains.
Like many of the FFFers in the group, Lisa literally stumbled upon the Leangains approach. “Martin must have one of those automated friend apps on Twitter because he requested to be my friend. I didn't look at his profile for a long time because I thought he was trying to hit on me. :D  One day I decided to look at his profile and clicked on his blog and I started reading. It made sense and was backed up by scientific studies. I was really open to whatever. It was a flippant, ‘what the heck’ decision.’”
As it turns out, it would also be a life-altering decision. Since starting Leangains in January of this year at 123 “skinny fat” lbs, she’s managed a nice recomp – adding muscle and burning off body fat while managing to increase strength.

“I follow the Leangains as closely as I can,” she said. “I calorie and carb-cycle based on whether it's a rest day or training day. I eat mostly whole foods. I stay away from processed foods as much as possible. I drink lots of coffee. Lots of veggies and fruit and meat.”
For her training, Lisa works out every three days with two rest days between each workout. “I mostly do RPT [reverse pyramid training]) with big, compound movements - Deadlift, Squat, Chin-up, bench press.” All workouts are low volume with heavy weights. “I am doing almost no cardio right now.”
Lisa is also the person who is largely responsible for the creation of the FFF Facebook group. Earlier this year, when she came upon my personal blog – fitnesssafari.blogspot.com – she encouraged me to start the group on the popular social networking site. Shortly thereafter, Fierce Fit Fearless was born.

As of the time I was wrapping up this article, FFF boasted 1,0921 female members (and Martin) – four more than when I wrote this paragraph yesterday – and we continue to grow daily. From the veteran to the noob, this group has become a community of support, encouragement, and education for women who are looking for a no bullshit way to change their lives. No question is off-limits, but stupidity is highly frowned upon. We discourage unhealthy diet practices, binge/purge activities and the abuse of the Leangains or Eat Stop Eat systems. Thanks to members like Lisa, this group has become the go-to source for any woman who wants to lose fat and gain muscle naturally, efficiently and in the healthiest manner possible.
 "stupidity is highly frowned upon"
While she looks amazing and her progress is unquestionable, you may be surprised to know that Lisa still struggles. Regardless how amazing she looks today or how much she can lift in the gym, her fight with body image remains as a stubborn remnant of her past. “When I have a ‘fat day’ I remind myself that I am not that person anymore,” she said.
Her story just goes to show the influence society has on each and every one of us – down to our core. It is people like Lisa, and communities like FFF, Girls Gone Strong, Beautiful Badasses and Strong is the New Skinny, that will lead future generations along the path to a healthy life and, more importantly, a healthy attitude toward fitness and our bodies.
As we wrap up 2011, Lisa is setting her goals for the coming year and beyond:
Her goals in fitness:

  • I want to look good naked. Who doesn't? 
  • I don't want to give up.  I want to continually push myself, set new goals, and then reach those goals.
  • I want to inspire other women to really go for their own fitness goals. I want them to look at where I have come from and say "I can do that too!" and then do it.
Her goals in life:
  • When I'm old and gray I want to be able to look back and see that my life was meaningful and complete.  
  • I want to find the good in every situation. One of my sons is so positive.  Any time something goes wrong big or small, he makes a comment that starts with "At least..."  I want to be like that.  
  • I want to be a great role model for my children, especially my daughter.  I want her to see that she can be strong in all aspects of her life.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

1057 Fierce Females and going Strong!

FFF Gear Now Available at Spreadshirt!

We cruised passed the 1,000 mark - sprinted, actually - a few days ago and are already up to 1,057 members. The group has been an education for me. There are so many amazing, inspirational women out there who are doing FIERCE things - at home, at work, in the gym...everywhere! 

This group has proven that there is a mindset change taking hold in the fitness world. Gone are the days of Jane Fonda videos and Susan Summers' Thighmaster...Cheesy spandex tights and leg warmers have been replaced by funky knee-high socks and Converse sneakers...Many women are even ditching the gloves and bar pads, opting for chalk and bruises instead.

I'm so proud to be a part of this revolution that I will be featuring a profile from a different member of my group every couple of weeks. I want everyone to know what makes the FIERCE woman tick. I'm hoping their stories will be as inspirational and motivational to you as they have been to me.

Stay tuned for the first installment in about a week - and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!