During the past couple of weeks of lock down I've stumbled on a fitness Youtuber, called Stephanie Buttermore, by pure happenstance. I continued watching her videos because unlike other fitness influencers out there, this one has a PhD and some of the most engaging content I've seen on YouTube related to fitness and nutrition. Granted, most of it is food porn and since I'm fasting for Ramadan it has served to while away the hours for me (strangely I don't get hungry during Ramadan just thirsty). However, I have been eating a lot of doughnuts lately after Iftar, a craving probably inspired by watching Buttermore down one after another of these sinful delights.
Anyways, Stephanie Buttermore is a fitness and bikini model who also currently holds a PhD in cancer research (so being a scientist and a doctor, her theories were definitely to be trusted). I think I was looking for at home workout videos on Youtube when I came across one of her videos where she talks about how 2019 was the year she decided to do away with her strict low caloric diet and sacrifice her extremely lean physique in order to fix two main problems she was experiencing as a result of maintaining such a low body fat: amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle), and what she calls her "ravenous hunger", or the "bottomless pit" syndrome. Other side effects of her caloric deficit way of eating were that she was always extremely cold and tired even though she trains like a beast in the gym. She would set about curing all this by going "all in", which is to eat everyday until satiety (no matter the caloric intake per day). Her new "food journey" or nutritional lifestyle would consist mostly of whole foods (fruits, vegetables, carbs, proteins, etc), but she would not say no to the occasional sweet treat, be it doughnuts, ice cream, candy bars, etc. Furthermore, she would continue her daily exercise regimen of mostly lifting weights. As a result, she hopes that her body would reach its normal set weight through "rescuing normal hunger cues by allowing herself to eat until full satiation everyday", eating as much as she wants, whenever she feels hungry. No holds barred. At some point, she believes her weight gain will plateau and her hunger will stabilize.
As I watched her update videos of her "all in" journey, I started thinking about all the new diets out there and the whole diet culture, in general, and how Buttermore's intuitive way of eating is really taking it back to basics. I began to wonder: where did we get so off track that we normalized the abnormal- like drastically reducing portion sizes or removing whole food groups from our diets? Or eating extremely low calorie meals in order to cut insane amounts of body fat to fit a certain stereotype of "fitness"? Which eventually still leaves us hungry and enables the dreaded yo-yo dieting or weight cycling pattern. I'm not talking about bulemia or anorexia as these are still officially considered by the fitness industry as unhealthy. I'm talking about the calorie deficit paradigm that is sometimes taken to the extreme by some competitive fitness models. It's normal for us to see these models showcasing their lean, ripped, almost sculpted bodies on a stage, with striations going up and down their arms when they flex, slim shoulders and overdeveloped glutes (especially in women's physiques) and think that that is the picture of health. But, following Stephanie Buttermore's journey and watching other fitness Youtubers' and dietitians' reviews of her journey revealed to me a very divisive issue in the fitness industry: that is, the competitive fitness industry has underlying "unfit" ideologies that are extremely detrimental to the health of these competitive fitness models (I don't care what anyone says, but if a 20-something year old woman is no longer having her menstrual cycle due to low body fat, then the risk to her reproductive system surely outweighs any dubious benefits from such a lifestyle). It turns out many competitive fitness models (male and female) have been disillusioned by the immense strain that such a lifestyle has had on their physical health because being underweight is just as damaging to your long term health as being overweight. Furthermore, it has brought into sharp focus the issue of what is aesthetically pleasing as opposed to what is healthy. As another fitness Youtuber commented, "we have to unhook aesthetics from health." An overweight person should strive to lose weight because of the health issues they might be experiencing or will, in the future. It has nothing to do with how they look. Similarly, an underweight person should, for the same reasons, endeavor to gain body fat.
As Stephanie Buttermore continues to document her "all in" journey on YouTube, she discusses more than the inevitable weight gain. She is also very honest about the emotional struggles of gaining weight publicly as an ex-fitness model. Granted, she is still at a healthy weight (despite having gained over 30 pounds) simply because she used to be extremely lean. However, she has brought to light another aspect of her intuitive way of eating, and that is, the mental health benefits that she's gained. Not surprisingly, eating whenever you feel hungry and to full satiety has some positive impacts on your mental health. She talks of being happier in general, with more energy, and strength to maintain her exercise regimen at the gym. Now, I want to get one thing straight. Stephanie Buttermore was an extremely lean fitness model, living a very fit lifestyle, so her "all in" journey is not a one size fits all solution (excuse the pun). Please don't misunderstand. I'm in no way advocating this way of eating for everyone. Obviously, this may not necessarily apply to an overweight or obese person. I'm certainly not suggesting that everyone go out there and eat the copious amounts of food that this woman eats on a daily basis. By her own admission, she has an unusually large appetite, and always had, even before her figure competitor days. If you've seen just one of her epic cheat day videos, you'll know what I mean (To be honest, I feel stuffed just watching her devour 5 or 6 doughnuts for breakfast!!). What she is clearly saying, and I reiterate, is that this is the path that she has chosen for herself, the path that has afforded her peace of mind and a greater appreciation for life (for her, as for many people, food is life). And if she gains some weight and loses her defined six pack abs in the process, then so be it.
What struck me the most about the "all in" journey is that it was familiar. Before it was popularized by ex-figure competitors like Buttermore, it was what I always believed was the healthiest option. I tried every diet out there, and they just never sat well with me. I always felt deprived, either by reducing caloric intake or cutting out a food group altogether. More often than not, I ended up gaining the weight after I stopped the diet. So my question is: If one is eating whenever one is hungry and to full satiation a diet comprised mainly of whole foods like fruits and vegetables, while maintaining an active lifestyle, then where is the harm in indulging in a few treats now and then? Where is the harm in having a body that looks less like a starved Instagram model and more like a real human being? Furthermore, where is the harm in enjoying food, the whole spectrum of foods, rather than viewing certain food groups as the enemy? In the end, your body, your future you, and your mental health will surely thank you for it.
Note: Photo by Adam Voorhes/ Gallery Stock