Why Water Polo Made Me Change My Relationship to My Body

Why Water Polo Made Me Change My Relationship to My Body

You've heard it before from me: I'm a swimmer. 

Swimming is awesome. I'm in the pool 6 days a week because I coach and teach swimming. It's been this way since I was 9 years old and my Aunt nicknamed me, "Chlorina." There's no way I could do this if I didn't LOVE the water. But I didn't get lucky enough to play water polo until college. 

And, thank God. When I moved to New York City those 9 years ago, I had a pretty fucked up relationship with my body

Exercise could be distracting you from this issue

Exercise could be distracting you from this issue

 A lot of people "don't diet" but are religious about exercise. 

They often say things like, "I eat what I want but I just always exercise a lot."  

Often times people in this situation tend to have a super intense relationship with exercise. They might like more "serious" versions of exercise like crossfit, or hot yoga or pure barre or soulcycle. The intensity of the exercise is important to this eater because the harder the workout, the more calories one burns. 

The more calories burned, the more comfortable this person feels eating what they like. 

I used to be this person. 

Stop Counting Carbs

They did NOT count carbohydrates in the Paleolithic era.  

Imagine that! People didn't think about calculating anything. They just ate. I could see ancient humans being worried about the lions eating all the wild chickens. I could see them worrying about accidentally eating a poisonous berry, but I don't think they were really concerned about whether or not they had a thigh gap. 

What's cool about the Paleo community is that they seem interested in going back to a time when people didn't really worry so much about "getting fat." 

Paleo diet people seem to want to return to our bodies' natural instincts when it comes to deciding how to move and how to eat. And frankly, that's pretty exciting because people want to eat simply again and listen to their bodies instead of calculating calories, tracking points, or measuring food. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the human body has amazing capabilities if we're willing to just listen. 

BUT....... 

The grand irony of the Paleo community is that many of the people who wanted to return to a simpler time are often the very ones counting carbohydrates via percentages, fitness apps, or counting up the grams on nutrition labels.

Carbohydrates really are okay. They're a macronutrient that is actually necessary to survival. Also, both fruits and vegetables contain carbohydrates.

So instead of COUNTING carbohydrates, here's how to listen to your body and learn how carbohydrates affect you: 

1. Notice your hunger/fullness. 

Simple carbohydrates like the ones we find in simple sugars and refined grains (e.g. white rice, white bread) do not contain much fiber or protein. Protein, fiber and fat all take the body longer to digest and keep you fuller for longer. Pay attention to which carbs fill you up for awhile. 

2. Pay attention to your digestion

This one definitely builds on the last one because people who have difficulty with digestion might experience more gas and bloating from high fiber foods. Sometimes refined grains are easier to digest for people with digestive issues. 

However, because of the high amount of fiber in whole grain foods, they can be super beneficial for helping move waste out of the body. 💩

3. Watch your mood. 

Sometimes the biggest issue with sugar and simple carbohydrates is the sugar roller coaster: sugar highs and sugar lows. This can be pretty gnarly on your overall mood if you're constantly swinging between the two. If you've been feeling a little too high and a little too low, it might be time to reconsider your sugar intake or processed/refined food intake. 

(I wrote another blog post back in February about mood regulation, carbs, and serotonin. Check that out here!). 

4. Monitor for any other health issues. 

Refined carbohydrates can increase triglycerides. For diabetics, monitoring glucose levels is a matter of vital importance. For others, refined grains can increase inflammation in the body making arthritis worse. For those with allergies, eating corn, wheat, soy, and dairy can cause all sorts of crazy problems in the body. 

Notice changes in your body, cumulative or sudden, and make sure you're getting regular check-ups and blood work with your healthcare provider to monitor for life-threatening issues like heart disease and diabetes. And, of course, please listen to your doctors and take care of yourself (AKA keep counting carbohydrates if you have a medical condition that requires it). 

When looking at carbohydrates and your body, remember to do it from a place of SELF-LOVE. Everybody is different. You just have to listen to yours. Just like our ancestors did. 

 

Six-Packs are Overrated

I had a six-pack once. For a week when I was 14….

I was still growing and I had just spent a week at swim camp. We were in the pool for 4 hours a day and doing "dry land training," AKA plyometric exercise, for an hour. That’s 5 hours a day of training, and I was growing, AND I had the metabolism of a 14 year old.

My early athleticism gave me a taste for a certain body type. Athletic training made me feel like being the cover girl on a magazine was attainable.

And it is attainable…provided you’ve got the metabolism of a 14 year old, 5 hours a day to exercise and your mom is cooking you well-rounded meals with lean meats, vegetables and whole grains. When I was 14, I felt like exercise was my secret weapon for having the body I wanted.

I am grateful for my athletic background but, until I changed my relationship with food, I also had an unhealthy relationship with exercise. Whenever I ate “too much” of a “bad food,” I'd vow to exercise it off. If I "ate too many calories," I'd just go hit the treadmill.  This felt sane to me.

I thought that if I had a consistent exercise routine, I'd worry less. It just felt like a clean slate. Like going to confession. I felt like I could erase my bad deeds.

But, of course, that’s not really how it worked. This is not to say that I ballooned or anything (which is not a bad thing anyway). It’s just that vowing to never eat cookies, eating 5 cookies and running 3 miles on the treadmill is not intuitive eating.  And because exercise was a punishment, I didn’t exactly jump for joy at the prospect of a run, even on a beautiful spring day in a beautiful place.

So, here’s my recommendation:  

Lean in and LISTEN to how YOUR body is feeling when you feel inclined to exercise. Why do you want to exercise?  Does exercise feel rough and exhausting? Are you giving yourself enough time to digest? Or do you just feel like you need some fresh air? Time to think? A good stretch? A little competition?

Experiment with me for just a week. Only do the workouts that sound like fun – the ones you have energy and inspiration to do. If nothing sounds fun, maybe you need to couch-potato for a while. I PROMISE that you won’t couch-potato forever if you really ALLOW yourself to couch-potato (think about how you feel after a really long Netflix binge - you probably want to move if only to get outside and get some fresh air or take a shower). Variety is the spice of life.

When you trade in the "calorie-busting booty building boot-camp" for a yoga class you actually want to go to, life is going to improve enormously for you. If you’re lucky, you might even start to like exercise again. And, I think that’s better than a six-pack. 

No Pain. No Gain

I am a swimmer. It's been my whole life since I was a kid. 

 This is based off the Tao 66 quote. You can find that  here .

This is based off the Tao 66 quote. You can find that here.

Swimming is sort of a masochistic sport. The joy comes from hard work, seeing how hard you can push yourself. And when it comes to competition, it's all about swimming faster and better. It's taught me to compare. 

When my competitive career finished by college, I started to play with yoga.

I was drawn into yoga by cool inversions that showed off how strong my upper body was, like crow-to-headstand. It was like gymnastics with breathing. 

In the poverty of post-grad life, I found the cheapest exercises were running and donation yoga. I hated running and when my shin splints got worse, I went to yoga. 

Let me tell you, in comparison to 5000 yards of swimming, 1 hour of yoga feels like nothing. I'd be down on myself because it wasn't so demanding cardiovascularly. However, each day I went, the instructors would remind me to focus on my breath and my practice. 

"Don't pay attention to what those around you are doing.Focus on your body. How does it feel in YOUR body?" 

"Try not to judge today against yesterday. Some days the same poses are not available to you."

"Whenever you lose your breath, child's pose is a space where you can always resume your breath." 

"Yoga is a moving meditation." 

"Savasana is the most important pose."

Inhale. Exhale. They reminded me to focus on me, close my eyes, and listen to my body. 

Making the transition from someone who always had her eye on the next lane to somebody who closed her eyes and listened was amazing. 

I found myself enjoying yoga. Doing regular exercise felt good. And the best part: nothing came crashing down. I'm still strong. I can still walk up stairs two-at-a-time. My blood work is within range. 

Yoga has taught me that exercise doesn't have to be about pain and suffering. A yoga practice isn't "No pain, no gain." It's about getting to know your body and listening to it. 

This was a crucial step for me in believing in intuitive eating. Dieting culture teaches us that we must be hungry. We must be left wanting. You cannot achieve what you most want by "taking it easy." (I blame capitalism, the American Dream, and Jillian Michaels). 

Yoga is not about hurting and punishing the body. It's about listening to this amazing creation that manages to never miss a heartbeat. 

And, rumor has it, yoga shouldn't stop on your mat. 

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