“Before” pic from Sunday. Proud of the shoulder & back definition! Just a little waist-upper hips & lower butt-thigh stuff.  Not posting stomach yet until I have a good “after” shot to go with!

Today is my fourth day of eating low carb, and my second day of Jillian workouts. My body hurts from yesterday! But not unmanageably. So far, so good.

This diet is from The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises (“The World’s Greatest 4-Week Diet and Exercise Plan”). It’s a simple plan of protein, vegetables, and fats, with just one milk and one fruit per day, and no added sugar. This plan is supposed to regulate your appetite to decrease calories naturally, and force your body to burn fat instead of sugar. I know there are a million arguments about the physiology of weight loss and whether this is accurate. I’m just looking for something I can do that works and doesn’t leave me starving!

Jillian’s book has her own food plans, that involve buying ingredients and making complicated recipes for four, when I only need one serving the whole 30 days. I am just so not into that — all the money, stress, and wasted ingredients! But the exercise part of the Women’s Health plan looked too lightweight compared to Jillian’s. So I made my own combo of the two.

I thought it might be informative to take people through my process the first few days — it might illustrate some of the points I’ve been talking about.

First, you may have noticed that I deliberately didn’t start a diet and exercise program on the same day. I’ve had trouble eliminating sugar and decreasing carbs before, in the form of initial tiredness, low energy, and super-strong cravings. I started this diet over a weekend to see how I responded to it without the added physical needs of working out. Fortunately, besides really, really wishing I could have my chocolate in the afternoon, it’s been a smooth transition.

There’s no particular benefit to changing everything in your life at once (besides that unrealistic, glorified, temporary feeling of I’m changing my life TODAY!!!!), and lots of potential downfalls. Every change is a stress, and we all have enough stress in our lives already. For the maximum likelihood of success, make change as least stressful as possible. If I wasn’t already used to working out, I would separate the diet and exercise by weeks or months, establishing a habit in one before tackling the other.

Sunday night, I photocopied the Day 1 plan in Jillian’s book and all the exercise pages and stapled them together in order. I read through, numbered, and highlighted the exercises, then put that in my gym bag. I put a jump rope in my bag. I looked at my schedule for Monday and decided to get to Bally’s sometime before evening classes took the room I wanted to use. I noted I’d need to eat my pre-workout nutrition from the diet (a small can of tuna) within an hour before working out — which would mean within half an hour of leaving my house. I didn’t have it planned to the minute, but I had a detailed picture in my head of what I needed to do.

I always do this — think through ahead of time what I need to do and when I’m going to do it. It sounds simple, even simplistic, but it has made all the difference in the world.

Monday, I got to Bally’s not knowing whether to do one round of exercises in each circuit, or the two rounds Jillian said would be “an intense challenge.” I wanted results, didn’t I? I started with two rounds, but before halfway through, my muscles started shaking and failing, and my form was getting terrible. You never want your form to be terrible. After I had to stop completely during squat thrusts, I made a call: In the interest of getting through Day 2 and beyond, I would just do one round of circuits for now! If if feel stronger or go through the plan again, I’ll add the second round.

When an exercise plan is too much for you, you must modify it. Your body responds from where it is today; not from what a plan tells you to do. If you are supposed to do full push-ups and can only do knee push-ups, there is nothing wrong with that at all. You get stronger only from going forward from exactly where you are.

There was one place I knew I was failing Jillian: the crazy gym-style cardio. I could not get through burpies, mountain climbers, or squat thrusts without slowing down and taking extra rest. I could hear Jillian’s voice in my ear screaming at me not to stop. But there’s no benefit to spiking your heart rate over 95%. It seemed ironic for an endurance athlete to struggle most with the “cardio”! However, Jillian also included 7-mph “sprints” on the treadmill, which is a speed that’s actually at the high end of my jogging range. It just goes to show the principle of specificity: we get better at those things we do. I fully hope to be able to do ten burpies and one minute of mountain climbers in the near future.

I finished with fifteen minutes of treadmill running at 6.5 mph at a 1% grade (that simulates outside running). This was the first point at which I felt underfueled, a little bit of hitting-the-wall. I’m eating plenty of calories, but not the type that replenish stored muscle glycogen. It will be interesting to see if/how I adapt. I’d never do a running training program on a low carb diet; it would compromise performance. Hopefully I can meet my goals here, and then reintroduce carbs without disaster.

Finally, I have decided ahead of time that if I can’t handle working out on a low carb diet, I’ll switch to a more “Zone” style diet (40% carbs/30% protein/30% fat). I’ll assess that in the first week. And if I like the low carb plan but don’t lose body fat, I’ll start tracking exactly what I’m eating and how many calories. I’ll assess that after 2-3 weeks.

I hope this gives some picture of how I approach, monitor, and modify a plan to make it actually work over the long run.