Exactly a year ago, I started counting my macros properly. For 363 days (there are just two where I didn’t get around to it), I’ve logged into one programme or another (mostly MyFitnessPal because Android <3) and logged everything I've eaten. A year ago, I took photos of myself in a bikini top and pants and sent them halfway across the world. This wasn't the first time I had done such a thing, but I knew it was going to be a different time from all the ones before.
I first encountered Sohee Lee several years ago, when we were both on the same fitness forum. She was studying at a fancy American university, and I'm from London and didn't study at a fancy American university, rather, I went to a slightly grey and soggy Welsh one, so I remember when people are doing that kind of very different life thing and am fascinated. We exchanged occasional, friendly, cross-forum comments from time-to-time, and she struck me as a nice and intelligent and driven kind of human.
This was a while ago, multiple steps back on my fitness journey. I was getting into my first foray into weightlifting; a couple of years of hopefully serious lifting on my own, guided by YouTube videos and whatever I could get from reading the blogs of fitness competitors, whilst knowing, simultaneously, that I would never be the kind of person who ate tilapia, not ever, and definitely that I wouldn't be able to do an hour of cardio daily, never mind twice daily, which, back in those days, seemed to be what was required to be a fitness competitor. Fitness competitors were also the only communities I could find of women who lifted weights, so I spent a while trying to half-follow what they were up to, trying to work out what was and wasn't relevant, and what I did and didn't want to do. Eventually, I started to feel inadequate in the whole area, and drifted away from the forums and blogs, which seemed, back in those days, to be starting to get rather snarky and stressful anyway.
Roundabout when I wrote my novel, I stopped working out so much. I dropped the heavy lifting, and then my gym from that time closed anyway, and I didn't go back. I took up running, because that, I thought, would make me thinner, happier, more productive.
It kinda did. Which was great. And about that time, I also signed up for Precision Nutrition's Lean Eating – about which I still have a lot of good things to say – because I felt I had picked up all kinds of bad habits. Which I had. I followed their programme, I lost 50lbs in weight, I finished the programme surprised at how well I'd done, how slender I had become, how much more shape and tone I had. It was great. Yes. I came out of all that at a sort of neutral point. Fixed, fine. Good. Hurrah.
I sort of stayed there for another year, worked out a bit, joined a gym when I moved home and lifted, sort of, sometimes. If I felt like it. I ran a lot. It was good. I did a half-marathon. I started a job where I was on my feet ten hours a day. I avoided bread, pasta and sugar and generally carbs to make sure that I didn't get fat, because that's how it works, isn't it? Wasn't it? I read a lot of stuff on the internet sometimes. That seemed to be it. And I did more running, because running would make me live forever and so on.
Roughly around then, I saw an article Sohee had written about deadlifting cues on bodybuilding.com. It’s a great piece. I recalled her immediately, thought about how I hadn’t deadlifted in forever, and looked up her website to see what she was up to. I saw she had branched successfully into the field of online coaching, and had written some excellent posts about a variety of food and exercise-based issues. How ace, I thought. I bet she’s really good at coaching. And look at all her thoughts on nutrition and exercise – they’re refreshingly sane-sounding and sustainable. I’d love to have her as my coach, I thought. But I wasn’t quite there yet.
Another month went by. I felt things were getting a bit out of control. I was putting on a bit of weight, and I couldn’t find a focus with my workouts. My body didn’t seem so capable, and I was tiredtiredtired but didn’t want to be. I found a Facebook group programme from another coach, and tried it. I tried it so hard. It was not for me. All kinds of weird things started happening in my brain, and I was going backwards, pretty quickly, and couldn’t quite get myself understood by the coaches there. My weight took a leap up and my mind darkened, horribly. I ducked out fast. I knew I needed some support, and, having experienced the wrong kind, I was convinced that the right kind would help.
I had one last name in mind, and yep, ’twas Sohee. I had a last look through her recent articles on her website, ascertained that, yes, this is definitely someone with whom I’d like to work, filled out her enquiry form, sent her my photos, and waited. And, lo and behold, she invited me to sign up for one-on-one nutrition coaching, starting out with the goal of fat loss. I had, I reckoned, back then, about 20lbs I could easily shed, and I knew I needed to address a few things about my eating and working out, or lack thereof.
I didn’t even realise how much I needed to be where I was when I signed up, or how much difference there could be between my before and after habits. I ate more bread than I had in months. I ate the cake I made at work. But counted, and measured, and both those things went from being scary to you-have-no-power-over-me in a matter of days. After a couple of weeks, I made myself a weighed and measured bowl of pasta. Pasta, for goodness’ sake, the kind of thing I had to avoid for years because I thought it would a) make me fat or b) make me eat a bucket of it or c) both.
Sohee talked with me about my ridiculous work schedule, and about my lack of coherent gym time, and shortly after that, I found myself getting out of bed at 5.45am four times a week to go to the gym for half an hour before work.
And it’s great.
I was ready, every morning, really, truly, pretty much every morning I was so excited to go and work out. I don’t mind mornings, I just hadn’t been using them before. I hadn’t committed to anything for years, but somewhere in the, just do enough, every day of Sohee’s wise encouragement, I found myself making space with genuine ease. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you eat properly, and sleep properly, and give your body what it needs. Ten months on, I still get to the gym four times a week, like clockwork. It’s not the most possible time in the gym. I never do cardio beyond rushing around work and town, walking and cycling. But what I do is consistent, and that is something I hadn’t been in years.
It was genuinely hard for me to eat so much (no, I know…it’s so strange to find that you need to eat more, when every day of your life before you’ve had a nagging sense that you ought to have eaten less of something, somehow), to change so much, and at the same time, it was the easiest and most natural thing I’ve ever done. It was greatly helped by the immediate changes in my measurements. Greatly helped. I became much smaller: I lost 6.5″ from my waist within six months. The weight loss? 8lbs, at most. Not the twenty I’d aimed for, but the funny thing was, is, still, that I have completely and utterly ceased to care about the scales.
It’s very odd.
I weighed myself every day before working with Sohee, every day. I knew all the fluctuations I could have – and they could be a lot – and I would panic about any increases that lasted any time, and etc, etc. Now? I have to leave stickers on my scales to remind myself to do it. I just don’t care about that. Measurements, yes. Clothes, definitely. But I care about a lot more besides that, now.
Sohee started offering Group Training, where the group share a prescribed, detailed workout, which changes on a monthly basis. After a couple of months of following my own, I was so, so happy to outsource this to her. Sohee’s workouts are ridiculously fun, and rarely take me more than 40 minutes to complete. They have this excellent balance of achievable and impossible, and even when she makes me do single leg exercises, my weakest and worst, I still love them, because, week on week, I always see this incredible, gradual, consistent progress.
After a few months of fat loss, with gradually lessening (but still perfectly satiating) macros, I found myself feeling tired again. I was working so much, and I had really got into lifting weights. My numbers were stalling a little, and I just wanted to PR all the time. I wanted to feel powerful. I felt like I was on the edge of feeling powerful, like, with just a little more food, maybe I could feel like that. I liked being small and neat okay, but I didn’t need to be it. It wasn’t serving any purpose. I didn’t have as much muscle on my frame as I’d hoped – and with the inconsistent years of lifting behind me, this was no surprise.
So Sohee said, shall we just do some reverse dieting for a bit? Having been around the Sohee community for a few months, I’d learnt about this concept of consciously, slowly increasing food and working out with the intention of gaining muscle. More gradual than the old school bulk, reverse dieting feels a bit like a hug for your muscles. Because I trust her, and because the idea of being guided through something so positive and exciting as strength gains appeals like tea and cake and blankets on a rainy day (that’s like, bouncing up and down, clapping hands levels of excited, k?), I said, yespleasethankyougivemeallthecarbs. And so she did.
Now, a few months into a reverse diet where my training day carbs are at a glorious 250 grams, my weight is only a couple of pounds from where it was a year ago, but my waistline is still five inches smaller. My body is so much more dense than it was. I am solid. I have rounded glutes, something I would have assumed irrelevant to my body at best, and unachieveable at worst, six months ago. My arms have shape when I’m not doing anything, and I can do hard and heavy things without worrying about it in the slightest.
This morning I squatted the most I ever have – 95kg, or a shade under 210lbs. My deadlifts have gone from 80kg to 120kg, and I know I’ll go beyond that this month (low volume lifts this month ftw!). I can bench, full stop, because I really struggled with the co-ordination and the guts to even try it before, but now I’m up to 65kg for reps and, again, know I have a long way I can go. I can hip thrust (that sentence alone makes me want to laugh) almost 300lbs and I’m coming for that number by the end of the month as well. To move so much weight in an exercise I’ve only been doing for six months blows my mind.
I’ve always been considered strong for a girl, but sometimes I think that meant, just sort of big, and not afraid to try. Now, I consider myself strong for a me, and full of potential, and with so much more time to fulfil it.
I’ve made a lot of changes this year, from buying an evil exfoliating sponge and actually using it all the time to running a really rather successful business. I’ve changed jobs and reconnected with old friends. I’ve sold a home and…oh, just so many changes. The short of it is: I have a framework, now, a baseline of macros that I eat that change only based on whether or not I train that day, and a workout schedule that can be flexible where it needs to be, but that I have no trouble adhering to overall. All this because I have a coach I completely trust to know how to help me look after myself, and how to help me make small changes, only where needed, to allow me to keep making progress towards my goals, and, further than that, to help me keep assessing and developing those goals to suit where and who I am.
I’ll come back to fat loss some time, one day, to see what I’ve built over this period of time. I have complete faith that I can experience gradual and effective fat loss, if that’s what I want, because I’ve seen my body do it. But what I want right now is to lift more weight, and enjoy my food and my rest and my strength, and to stay managed and safe and excited about it. I had never imagined I could have these ambitions and be fulfilling them, had never imagined I would be able to find the time, the dedication, to meet them. Yet I have, and it’s genuinely been easier than it was to not have them, and work towards them.
Working with Sohee has lifted stresses and stressors from my daily life in the most unexpected ways. Tracking macros has worked extremely well for me, and flexible dieting has enabled me to embrace every food I’ve ever liked, including all those that I had thought I had to completely cut out. I have not overeaten in a year. I don’t fear a buffet, or a long day, or panic about food…almost ever. And if I do ever feel uncomfortable or have a problem with any aspect of my nutrition, fitness and, indeed, general wellbeing, I have great people to talk to about it. Sohee’s clients, and her exceptional assistants, Lauren and Jennifer, make for the most awesomely human, supportive and wise community, coming from all levels of fitness, from relative newbie to experienced competitor. It’s by far the most positive, pleasant and damn useful community of people I’ve been in in the fitness field, and more or less in any area of the internet – and I’ve been around the internet for decades, now.
It’s a joy to be on a journey for the fun of the journey, for the achievements that can be many, to discover the multitudes I can contain, and to have such a great community to share it with. Cheers, Sohee, for your coachness, and your coolness, and your glute circuits, and your cute photos of Ollie, and your enthusiasm, and professionalism. Happy Soheeversary to me. Here’s to another year in which I Eat, Lift, and Thrive!