One Year with BIN - A Clients' Journey

I came to BIN like a lot of women do: with a long history of disordered eating in my rear view mirror. Emotional/stress eating, anorexia, exercise bulimia, bingeing: I had dealt with them all. 

Focusing on eating for performance as an adult significantly improved my relationship with food. I have been a competitive horseback rider since I was a kid: showjumping, dressage,  and later endurance were my sports of choice, while also having a strong interest in general strength training and running as a part of my own conditioning. It is only fair that the rider be as fit as their horse. 

In my mid-20s towards the end of my show jumping era.

In my mid-20s towards the end of my show jumping era.

At 37 years of age, on my last 50-mile endurance ride.  My mare Tiger Lily and I completed the Old Dominion Triple Crown, which features the three toughest endurance rides on the East Coast, at the 50-mile distance. Some people spend all their lives searching for the perfect endurance partner and thousands of dollars on bloodlines and breeding on the quest for that perfect horse. I successfully completed these three rides on my mutt mare that I bought for $1...on our first attempts at each of these rides. Up until now, endurance riding on this particular mare was my crowning achievement as a rider, equestrian, and athlete.  (Photo by Becky Pearman, used with purchase)

At 37 years of age, on my last 50-mile endurance ride.

My mare Tiger Lily and I completed the Old Dominion Triple Crown, which features the three toughest endurance rides on the East Coast, at the 50-mile distance. Some people spend all their lives searching for the perfect endurance partner and thousands of dollars on bloodlines and breeding on the quest for that perfect horse. I successfully completed these three rides on my mutt mare that I bought for $1...on our first attempts at each of these rides. Up until now, endurance riding on this particular mare was my crowning achievement as a rider, equestrian, and athlete.

(Photo by Becky Pearman, used with purchase)

After proving myself successfully as a master at conditioning both myself and my horses with distance riding, I decided I wanted to take that "eating for performance" concept to the next level and took up competitive bodybuilding: it allowed me to train as hard as I wanted to be training while learning how the different macros affected my strength, endurance and energy levels. It was a valuable lesson that would set the groundwork for what would come later: it started to show me how my body reacted to different macros ratios and gave me the ability to track said macros down to the very last gram. 

 
I took 3rd and 4th place at my first bodybuilding competition.  (That's me on the right)

I took 3rd and 4th place at my first bodybuilding competition.

(That's me on the right)

 

A year into my exploration of this sport though, I realized I was regressing: I had become afraid of carbs, returned to my old habit of obsessively labeling foods "good" vs "bad," had fallen into the pit of excessive cardio, was becoming way too focused on how I looked, and was starting to go into cycles of binge eating and starvation, a behavioral pattern that had taken a lot of time and effort to break on my own in my early 20s.

Fate was on my side: my trainer retired from bodybuilding and I took up CrossFit instead, where I promptly realized I would need to eat way more in general, but especially carbs, if I wanted to excel at this sport.  I knew I had the will to figure it out on my own through trial and error but I really wanted guidance from someone with more knowledge and experience. I wanted a shortcut in the form of someone whom I could learn from about nutrition for performance. I was wondering how I would go about this, when BIN was quite literally dropped into my lap: an athlete in an online powerlifting group was asking for nutrition advice, and nutrition coaching was recommended. Among the many recommendations, one single person mentioned Black Iron Nutrition...and the name spiked my curiosity so I checked them out. 

They sounded like exactly what I was looking for: a way to learn how to eat for both performance and aesthetics. I signed up for the wait lists of several of the coaches, requested a macros blueprint from IIFYM in the meantime so I could work on the reverse diet that I knew I needed to do, and sat down to wait. A week later I was contacted by BIN: a spot with Jilda, who had been my top choice, was available. 

I'm sure she went *face-palm* when I told her what I wanted: I wanted my strength to improve while leaning out further. As most people with primary athletic goals know, it can be almost impossible to both gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously, especially if you are trying to get stronger. I was aware of this, but it didn't change the fact that these were my goals: I didn't say it out loud at the time, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could look like a bodybuilder while eating reasonable amounts of food and being able to perform at my absolute best. 

Jilda didn't steer me away from this notion. Instead, it was decided that we would focus on performance with the end goal being that form follows function. 

 
Because form   will   follow function.

Because form will follow function.

 

Jilda continued me on a reverse diet similar to what I had started on my own, and then it was just a matter of trusting the process and watching myself flourish while she very gradually increased macros, especially carbs...I went from eating 50 g of carbs per day to over 300! My strength, endurance, and energy improved by leaps and bounds and the PRs started raining in at an astounding rate. 

The day I finally started consistently hitting RX weights and rep schemes in CrossFit, thanks to putting in the work yes...but also finally eating enough for what I wanted to achieve.

The day I finally started consistently hitting RX weights and rep schemes in CrossFit, thanks to putting in the work yes...but also finally eating enough for what I wanted to achieve.

I had not realized how tired I was all the time until I suddenly wasn't tired anymore. It was a ripple effect that affected everything, not just what I was doing in the gym: my long shifts as a critical care veterinary nurse were not physically daunting anymore now that I wasn't severely under eating on work days, and my brain felt as alert at the end of 13 hours at work as it did at the beginning of them. I was more patient and more emotionally resilient in my high-stress job, which allowed me to provide an even higher quality of care for my patients and their owners...and also be in a better mood when I returned home at night. I also realized that for the first time in a year (since I had taken up bodybuilding) I did not have to choose between riding my horse and the gym because I only had the energy for one or the other: I could now do both on the same days without feeling wiped out afterwards! 

I was able to go out regularly on dinner dates with my husband without obsessing over what I could or couldn't eat. 

 
 

We even went on two vacations that I got an enormous kick out of because I had energy to spare for adventure. 

There are just over 20 years between these two photos. Top: wistful sad anorexic me at 18 years of age, miserable because I was so hungry all the time.  Bottom: happy powerful muscular me at 39 years of age, having a blast on vacation.

There are just over 20 years between these two photos. Top: wistful sad anorexic me at 18 years of age, miserable because I was so hungry all the time.

Bottom: happy powerful muscular me at 39 years of age, having a blast on vacation.

I was happier in every aspect of my life because I was able to enjoy everything I was doing, not just my time in the gym. 

 
IMG_8213.HEIC.jpeg
 

But Jilda didn't only assign me macros. She was my sounding board when I realized I wanted more progression in my training in order to continue to improve, and she helped me identify what type of progression I needed. She gently nudged me in the right direction when I was bordering on over training because I wanted to do way too much all at once.  Jilda then helped me figure out what deloads are and when I should take them. 

Jilda was the first person other than my husband to gently tell me, "It's okay to take an extra rest day if you need it." "It's okay to not work so hard all the time." "It's okay eat more if you need to: do it and track it, because it will help us in the future!" "The world is not going to end because you had an extra drink or decided to eat something you hadn't originally planned for." "It's okay to have fun." Sure I had been told all of those things by people who love me. But it was the first time a fitness and nutrition professional told me all of those things. I had needed that outsider's perspective and words. I was born a type A: my mom had to encourage me as a kid to play more and study a little less because I was such a diehard overachiever and perfectionist. Jilda encouraged me to do the same in my relationships with food, fitness and my body.

 
With Jilda, food became such a beautiful, magical and nourishing experience.

With Jilda, food became such a beautiful, magical and nourishing experience.

 

Jilda oversaw me through my winter doldrums and the realization that I didn't want to work as hard as I had been. While training for CrossFit, I had 100% achieved my original goal of looking a certain way while being able to eat well and perform to a certain standard. But it was an exhausting thing to maintain: up until then, I’d been working out for upwards of 3 hours/day at times and was starting to feel like I was pounding my body into the ground. I wanted to step away from that mentality. I had been yearning to try powerlifting as my main sport ever since I had gotten to experiment with it as part of my bodybuilding training. The Universe conspired in turning me down that road: I happened to be at a box that not only held USPA sanctioned powerlifting meets, but the coaches also taught the compound lifts to competitive powerlifting standards.

After working at one of my box's meets, I was hooked...and decided to give it a whirl as a new sport for myself. Jilda was so excited for me. She also happened to be familiar with the online program I chose, enough to be able to warn me, "There might come a time where you have to choose between your two strength sports because that program is no joke!" 

Jilda encouraged me to listen to my body when I found myself wanting more fats and less carbs with the shift in training. She guided me through sorting out hormonal fluctuations: for the first time in my life, I had answers, explanations and solutions for things I had been noticing since I was a teen. She helped me transition off of hormonal BC with barely a glitch. On the rare occasions when she didn't know the answer to one of my questions, she investigated further and we learned together. She helped me manage stress when I was going through a rough patch at work. She translated for my body when it finally said, "The time to choose a sport is now: these two are too much." 

I chose powerlifting.

I chose powerlifting.

Jilda guided me again when I felt like I wanted to trim down a bit over the winter after the holidays. She reminded me that when strength becomes your main goal, it can be hard to maintain a well-defined 6-pack 24/7 because you have to eat more in order to maintain said strength. When I was frustrated with training, she reassured me that everyone has bad weeks, days and even months: that sometimes the best we can do is to show up and just get the work in, and that's ok.  She laughed with me over some of my "strong woman in the globo gym" adventures, cheered for me when I signed up for my first powerlifting meet, and modified my nutrition again in order to help my strength peak. 

 
 

I had wanted to cut for a specific weight class: she told me it was possible, even with a big summer trip planned in the middle of that. She was still positive when I changed my mind and decided I didn't want to stress over making a specific weight class after all. I walked into my first meet calm and confident, radiating in my singlet (an article of clothing you would not have caught me dead in at another time in my life) and stepped onto that platform in front of an audience grinning from ear to ear because throughout this last year my whole mentality had shifted from worrying about how my body looks to reveling in what it can do for me. Which, at that moment on the platform, was to lift more weight than I had ever fathomed before. There is nothing that will make you love your body more than realizing how much power it holds.

 
 

That meet was the epitome of that shift in mindset: I PR'd all of my lifts, went 9 out of 9 on all of them, and won the women's masters division to boot. With zero pressure on myself because I was there purely to have fun and see how far I could go. I am an extremely competitive person that can get incredibly anxious about competing...and to be able to walk into a competitive environment without an in-person coach to tell me to believe in myself...as a relaxed participant that was genuinely there to have fun...and then do well on top of that...was one of the most thrilling experiences of my athletic life so far. There are no words with which I can describe the confidence I gained from that experience. Just like with nutrition, it is a confidence has trickled into every other aspect of my life. No one had to tell me to believe in myself: I had found that belief on my own.

And all of that, ALL of that was thanks to this amazing woman named Jilda Lamb that was serendipitously dropped into my lap one day when I needed her the most. It still floors me to look back and see how my potential, a potential that I figured was there but had no idea how to tap into, has unfolded beyond my wildest dreams thanks to Jilda's gentle nudges, guidance and belief in me during this past year+ of working with her.

Currently we are doing a mini cut on more food than I would have been willing to eat at another time in my life, with the goal of doing a bulk towards the end of the year in order to put on more muscle. I made that decision because I want to see exactly how much stronger I can get. If choosing to gain after a lifetime of on and off disordered eating isn't the biggest mental PR, I don't what is. You sign up for this thinking that you'll finally be happy with your body when it looks a certain way...and maybe you achieve that goal...but then you realize that that isn't what makes you happy because maintaining that body doesn't quite allow you to do what you want/need to do in order to be truly happy. In the end, life isn't defined by how you look: your life is defined by what you do with it, which isn't limited by what you do in the gym. There is no "after" photo in my own personal fitness journey because it doesn't end: the journey is as ongoing as life itself. I'm just thrilled to get to enjoy the adventure.

The scope of my experience with Jilda and Black Iron Nutrition has impacted my life in ways that I never imagined when I first signed up in June of last year. Joining BIN was, and continues to be, a life-altering experience.  

Written by: Nicole Alvarez, Black Iron Nutrition Client, @ntorrech