*Edited to add: This post is in no way meant to bash fitness bootcamps or the value of them. A ton of people have and can benefit from a jump start to reaching their health and fitness goals. In fact, my sister-in-law leads a bunch of really great bootcamps for those who are interested. This is simply a reflection on the food tracking portion and how those with disordered eating in their past may need to think carefully about that element of a bootcamp. 😉
You may have seen that for the last 12 weeks I’ve been participating in a Carb Cycling Bootcamp with my friend and fitness coach, Ashley Wiseman. I love Ashley and think the world of her approach to health, wellness and food, and have been increasingly interested in carb cycling, so although I had never done a fitness bootcamp previously, I signed up to see what all the fuss was about.
Let me say first and foremost that I loved Ashley’s bootcamp. She was incredibly supportive, encouraging and the workouts she created for her programs were the perfect mix of challenging and varied/interesting. I also really loved the carb cycling program – eating plenty of carbs on most days, while adding in a select few low-carb days paired with sprint workouts to get the benefits of low-carb eating without having to maintain low-carb for the long haul. As a vegetarian, the low-carb days were hard for me, but I made it work. Knowing that I had a regular carb day to look forward to really helped me stick out the days when carbs were restricted.
But here’s where things get tricky.
During the course of the bootcamp I noticed that I was increasingly agitated and cranky. Snapping at Joe and everyone around me, hyper focused on everything being organized and perfectly in place. From the cleanliness of our house to the minute details of our finances, I was a total wreck to be around. I could feel myself becoming more and more agitated, yet I wasn’t sure what was causing it. And then a lightbulb clicked: The hyper focus on all the things started around the same time I started tracking my food for the bootcamp.
During college, I struggled with my fair share of disordered eating. I’ve documented those struggles on the blog in years past. In summary: I got into a cycle of binge eating, restrictive eating, over-exercising and counting calories that was anything but healthy. While in college I was eating much less than I do now, yet I weighed a lot more and felt horrible.
Over the years I’ve gotten to a very healthy place with food and body image, and for the most part I don’t really think about those past struggles. But tracking my food to such a degree during the bootcamp seemed to trigger some of those old, unhealthy patterns. Controlling every detail of what I ate really started to transfer into all aspects of my life.
Once I came to that realization, I knew things needed to change. My family life was suffering, my health was suffering and no one was benefitting. Right then and there, I decided that I would delete the My Fitness Pal app from my phone and eat intuitively rather than sticking to a rigid structure. And it was amazing how quickly things went back to normal. I felt calmer, more sane and less obsessive about everything in life.
So where does that leave me?
I decided to stick with the bootcamp’s workouts and schedules during the last two weeks, but instead of tracking my macros and calories and carbs, I ate intuitively. The bootcamp had already taught me what a low carb day looked and felt like, and same goes for a higher carb day. Instead of tracking every bit of food, I just ate according to my best guess and let that be enough. I realized that I had already learned enough about carb cycling to follow along without making it a central focus of my day.
For someone like me, with a history of disordered eating, bootcamps are tricky. No matter how much progress I make, part of me will always tend to lean toward an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to food, and focusing on what I’m eating too much tends to put nutrition and health in a place that’s higher and more important than it should be.
Would I recommend a bootcamp for most people? Absolutely! In fact, I recommended this very bootcamp to a number of people. Would I recommend it to people who have found their nutrition happy place and have a history of disordered eating? Maybe not. Or at least not the food tracking aspect.
I’m so glad I learned more about myself through participating. I’ll certainly continue to incorporate elements of carb cycling into my day-to-day life, but with a good deal of modification and no My Fitness Pal by my side.