This article isn’t on "how to lose weight fast” or a “miracle workout to do an Ironman tomorrow”. There’s a huge emotional component to losing weight, so the following lines will speak of hard work & perseverance, but also of difficult learnings and emotional labour.
This is my journey, my experiences, throughout which I’ve collected a few important lessons that I’d love to share with you today.
This is a picture of me on a beach in Mexico, in 2011.
It was taken on the eve of my 30th birthday, I was weighing in at 190 lbs, and I was in the worst shape of my life.
I’d always been active, but for some reason had let myself go in the years before. I was always on the road for work, so my eating habits were far from healthy. I gained weight without really realizing it… Some could say that I was in denial, considering that I was constantly updating my wardrobe with bigger sizes. The truth is, it wasn’t denial, it was addiction. Eating was my addiction and food was my drug. As soon as I finished a meal, I counted the hours before the next one. It was my main source of comfort, but also my worst punishment… The vicious cycle of addiction.
Unsurprisingly, my self-esteem hit rock bottom… I started drinking more to compensate for my lack of self-confidence, and all my relationships began to suffer because of it.
This infamous photo of me on the beach thus represents a pivotal moment in my life. It marks the starting point of a radical transformation towards a healthier lifestyle, because I no longer wanted to be the obese person I had become.
When I got home from Mexico, I didn’t waste a second. I imposed a very strict diet upon myself and started coaching sessions with a private trainer, several times a week.
Throughout this whole process, I suffered, I cried of hunger, and raged at myself every time my addiction tried to take me back to my old habits. On the other hand, I was also disciplined and determined. My efforts weren’t in vain, because every week I was losing more and more weight. Each and every one of those losses was a huge victory for me.
In 5 months, I lost 50 lbs. It was so motivating to see the changes in my body and my energy levels constantly increase, so I decided to take on another challenge: a half Ironman.
Today, I’m proud to say that I’ve completed four half Ironman challenges and one Ironman. The road wasn’t always easy, but it’s been life changing—to say the least. The way I look at food has been completely transformed. Here are my learnings.
The road to Ironman: My learnings
1. Learning the basics of good nutrition.
Humans have hundreds of dietary decisions to make each day. Knowing and understanding the basics of how food affects your body is the only way to avoid unknowingly making bad nutritional decisions. When you learn the best food combinations to optimize your diet, you’ll really be able to step up your game to new levels.
2. Work with a nutritionist to build an adapted nutrition plan.
After having mastered the basics, the next step was to work with a professional to help me build a tailor-made diet plan that would optimize every aspect of my training: I needed to eat enough in order to stay healthy, to give me the energy needed for training, but also to recover properly afterwards.
3. Plan portioned meals made with healthy foods.
When training for an Ironman or a Half Ironman, there are so many factors that we need to judge, analyze, assess (not to mention everything else we think about in a day like work, our social lived, family, etc.), that not having to think of meals takes a huge weight off the shoulders (no pun intended). Planning and preparing meals allowed me to ensure I was always eating healthy, well-balanced, and fresh foods, thus maintain the discipline required to be at my very best.
4. On competition day, eat as natural as possible and respect the limits of your body.
Nutrition when preparing for an Ironman is one thing, but knowing what to eat before and during the competition itself is a whole new challenge.
In order to keep a good level of energy throughout the race, without unwanted reactions that could jeopardize performance, you have to know your body responds to all foods, and how to limit the ones that can cause side effects. This is key to optimizing nutrition on race day.
During my Iron Man, I followed my race diet as planned, but at the 12th kilometer of the running stage, the carbs in some of my snacks started to cause problems. But because I knew exactly what to do to counter my symptoms, I rectified my nutrition and was able to finish the race unscathed. Knowledge is the best form of prevention!
A few other things to consider for an optimal, healthy lifestyle:
- Reduce your alcohol consumption
- Avoid processed foods
- Increase your water consumption
- Set small goals that can be achieved quickly
Changing your life for the better.
These lifestyle changes allowed me to reach the goal of a lifetime: not only to be healthy, but to stay healthy. They’ve also contributed to changing the way I see the world. I’m now 37 years old, a little over 8 years after that photo was taken of me on the beach, and I have never felt so alive, stimulated, and motivated.
If there’s one thing you should remember from my story, it’s training is obviously an extremely important factor when planning for an Ironman, but nutrition is really the key to success. The learnings I’ve made helped me turn my addiction into a tool that pushed me to surpass myself in so many ways.
I hope my story can inspire you to change your life for the better. Just know that you don’t need to train for an Ironman to be healthy - all it takes is a few small changes to your diet and lifestyle to get started!
It's up to you now!
- Andréanne Germain