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Advice for Losing the Freshman 15, Without Losing Your Mind: My Love Affair With (er, Review Of) Carla Birnberg’s new book

Posted Jan 04 2013 8:12am

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College is a gauntlet of growing up in so many ways – the day I discovered the horror of the overdraft fee stands out in vivid memory – but for many it’s also a time of growing, er, out. As in the Freshman 15. Over the holidays I had a chance to chat with a girl I used to teach in church who was home from college for Christmas and her first question for me was “I know you’re a fitness writer! Tell me how to lose the XX pounds I’ve gained so far this year!” I could feel the desperation. And I sympathized – I remember that angst rather too well. So I gave her a few generic tips like “cut out the junk food” and “find an exercise you love.” I know, I kinda want to smack me too; while those things are good and true they also weren’t necessarily what she was looking for. Not only did she want/need more detail but she needed to know she wasn’t alone and that there was a way out of her struggle. She replied, “What if you wrote a book about helping college girls lose weight? And I could be your subject?”

My immediate response was, “That book has been written many times and by people so much smarter than I am!” I wasn’t being humble or disingenuous. I was being honest. Giving advice is not my strong suit, mostly because I’m not qualified in any way to give it. I have no degree, no credentials or anything other than my own personal life experience to draw on and I know it. Which is why this blog focuses mainly on what I learn from experimenting on myself. If I do offer advice I try to make it clear that it’s a) just my personal opinion or b) the result of interviewing experts in that subject (i.e. most of my work for Shape mag) or c) culling and trying to interpret research. (Or d) the consensus of funny images on the Internet. LOLcats will never steer you wrong.)

And, truth is, I’m not a good person to ask about weight loss. If you’ve read this blog for long then you know my struggle has really been with learning it’s okay to not care about my weight and to make peace with being about 10 pounds heavier than I’m comfortable with. Frankly, the best advice I can give anyone in regards to losing weight in the college years is DON’T BE ME; my college years were a mess of eating disorders, perfectionism and self-loathing. Yes I’ve had to lose the “baby weight” (what a ridic term – believe me, I have ginormous babies and the majority of the weight is still definitely all mine!) – and that was very difficult both mentally and physically – but to me that seems different than needing to lose weight independent of hormonal changes (but perhaps it’s not? Feel free to enlighten me!).

So what did I tell my sweet little friend? I recommended her this book:  MizFit: How to Build Muscle and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind by, naturally, the venerable blogger MizFit, a.k.a. Carla Birnberg . There are so many things I love about Carla – she was my first real blog friend (whom I now consider just a friend-friend), she’s an engaged mom, she tells it like it is, she isn’t afraid to disagree with experts and she has her own expert credentials – but the thing that most drew me to her was how rational she was in what I was discovering to be a completely irrational industry. I found her at one of my most eating-disordered times in my life (ah, the first year of this blog, I’m sorry) and I still remember one of our first exchanges:

Me: “Wow, your arms are so cut! What percentage of body fat are you at?”

Her: “What? I don’t know. Whatever one my body wants to be at.”

Me: “No seriously, what are you at.”

Her: “No seriously, I have no idea. I don’t measure that kind of thing.”

Me: No reply because my head was exploding.

Plus I thought she would be a great fit for my friend (and other people wanting the basics of healthy living) because her e-book, based on years of doing her healthy living blog, is only $3.99. Totally do-able! And it’s a relatively short, easy read. I read it over the Christmas break and thought she did a great job of breaking down a very confusing and disheartening subject into something totally sane and manageable.

Here’s what I love about her book:

1. She starts with this: “My story about weight loss and finding my healthy living path is an uncomplicated one. I shed 35 pounds nineteen years ago [in college] and never looked back. Never regained. Never got off-track. Maintained even when Master’s degree, marriage, and motherhood conspired to derail me.” Which by itself might make you kind of want to hate her but then she immediately follows it with this: “I thought I had it all figured out. I did not.” I love how she shows you that long-term weight maintenance is simple but it isn’t easy.

2. Before any of the advice she has you read her essay ”Exposed.” It was a movement started by some bloggers years ago (aiee I’m old) to photograph yourself in your undies/swimsuit and point out what you love about your body. How cool is it that she starts a weight loss book by listing what she loves about her bod, not what she hates or is trying to change? I’ve read too many books where the first chapter is “And then I looked in the mirror and saw all the fat on my butt and had realized that I couldn’t go out into society looking like such a beast – must lose weight nooooowww!” It’s an important truth: If you can’t love yourself now, you won’t love yourself xx pounds lighter.

3. Her exercise philosophy is so simple: “Exercise should fit in your life.” For a girl who for years worked her entire life around her fitness routine this was kind of a revelation. I’ve talked before about how over-exercising is one of the last socially sanctioned eating disorders. People will call you out for many things but planning your life around exercise is not only encouraged it’s sanctioned as “dedicated” and “committed” – even if what your doing is only going to commit you to the mental ward.

But exercise, like eating, is one of those things you need to do to survive – the trick is in finding the right, happy balance for you. Carla gives great advice about:

  • Running: Getting started, how to do it, sensible advice for not getting injured, and going barefoot.
  • Strength training: As a former bodybuilder, personal trainer and studio owner she offers great tips on finding a personal trainer, workout partners, building mind/muscle connection, and super slow training. This chapter also contains one of my fave Carla quotes ever: “When I lift I’m focusing on how, as a result of my iron hoisting, I take up MORE space in the world and I’m far less likely to be ignored or overlooked.”
  • Playouts: Her signature workout is actually playing with her young daughter doing activities that are fun for both child and parent. Remember how much you used to love hopscotch, badminton, juggling, Skip-Its, and other playground games? No reason you still can’t!
  • Eating healthy: She has “zero hard and fast rules” about nutrition but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about what she eats. Over the years she’s developed an intuitive and mindful way of eating through observing her own body closesly (how does this food make me feel?) and as learned by watching her child eat. She also offers ideas for detoxing from junk food and her thoughts on night eating (she’s a fan!).
  • How to keep perspective: It’s fitting that she ends with a section about self-care, encouragement, and meditation.

So if you’re looking for a primer in sensible weight loss, I totally recommend her book. (Check out the different downloading/purchasing options here .) I get no kickbacks from sales, I didn’t get a free copy (it was my first book purchase on my Christmas gift – my new Google Nexus tablet!!) and she didn’t even ask me to review this. I just love it. I just love her. The end.

(Okay not totally the end. Fitness fashionistas: she also has a totally adorable workout skort with a fabric she designed herself and the proceeds ALL go to a Guatemalan adoption charity!)

Did you struggle with “the freshman 15″? What do you tell people when they ask you for advice on weight loss? What was your biggest revelation your first time living away from home?

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