In an earlier post, I talked about how I am trying to apply my Wall Street Quant skills to areas other than finance. One of those is data mining of social networks. But before doing any data mining, I needed to join a social network.
When people talk about social networks, most immediately think about Facebook; but there are others. Depending on your goal, finding the right social network can improve your odds of reaching it. If your goal is to make friends with a wide range of interests, Facebook is fine. For professional networking, Linkedin is great. For my fitness goal, I wanted to meet professionals close to my age, looking to improve physically in a rational way. I joined Bodyspace, owned by bodybuilding.com.
Soon after joining I met Christina. I first learned about Christina in November 2009. We were both looking for inspiration from like-minded people, to help us on our journeys “from fat to fit”. We started exchanging e-mails and tips.
Christina is a 38 year old woman, mother of two beautiful girls and, as she puts it, wife to the most patient, loving man in the world. Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, she received an undergraduate degree in Political Science and International Relations from Kent State University, and spent about two years interning in Geneva and Washington D.C. After returning to the US, she went to law school at the University of Notre Dame and graduated in 1999.
She worked in the area until 2008, when her career was interrupted. She is now a “recovering attorney” hoping to make some major career changes in the near future. In 2009 she realized that she had hit rock bottom. The previous years, she had gone through her “dark months” as she puts it. Her bodyweight had increased dramatically, and she became extremely fat. When she looked in the mirror, she didn’t recognize herself.
But thanks to the help of her family and friends, she bounced back. So, a series of events out of her control made Christina change tracks from lawyer to figure nut, for the better.
After going through her own personal hell a few years ago, Christina is a happy and beautiful woman inside and out, in love with her family, and always eager to help and inspire anyone who has been in that dark place and just needs to see that there is a way out.
Fast forwarding to 2011, I am very impressed and proud of her transformation. Christina has graciously agreed to be interviewed for the readers of The Quantitative Method.
TQM: Christina, first of all, thank you very much for accepting my invitation to be interviewed for The Quantitative Method. First question: How long did it take to get, let’s say, half way between where you were in 2008 and how you look now?
I think it took me about six months to go from incredibly fat to skinny fat. When I first started working out I was mainly doing yoga and pilates which along with counting calories allowed me to take off a lot of the weight but it did nothing to recompose my body. That didn’t happen until I started watching my macros and lifting weights.
TQM: When I decided to get in shape, I started by doing a major research project to find just the right program mix for me, the right algorithm for a quant. What were some of the things you looked at when you first started?
When I first started I watched the people in the gym who I thought looked the way that I would like to look and they weren’t the cardio bunnies. They were the very fit looking ladies tossing around weights in the bodypump class. So I figured out the class schedules, talked with some of the instructors and then I was on my way. When I didn’t think my body was changing fast enough I decided to hire a personal trainer. I think one of the biggest mistakes ladies make is avoiding the weight room. I know so many women who will spend an incredible amount of money on hair, shoes and makeup but think it’s too expensive to hire a personal trainer. These are the same women who whine that they don’t like how they look in their clothes. If only they took the time to at least go through a few training sessions to learn their way around a weight room and get a real plan of action put in place to transform their bodies, they wouldn’t need to be spending all of the money on things to hide behind.
To bring this back to the initial question, I think that even the most intelligent, educated people don’t have the level of knowledge it requires to set up a nutritional and fitness plan that will bring about incredible changes in their bodies. But there are people out there that are incredibly good at it. I know that for every contest prep I hire a posing coach, a personal trainer and a nutritionist. Given how much time I spend researching these things and blogging and contributing to fitness boards, I know a decent amount but I am still not a trainer. That’s why I turn to people that know what they’re doing when I need to see bigger quicker results.
TQM: Christina, you know that one of the main reasons that I was able to transform myself from fat to fit was keeping track of things like calories consumed, exercises, protein, carbs, fat consumed, fluids, timing of meals, etc. Do you keep track and quantify any of those variables?
I don’t think it is possible for anyone to greatly transform themselves if they have absolutely no clue what they are putting into their bodies. But I must admit that generally I do not count calories or macros. When I am at the beginning of a contest prep or am bulking I make sure that I am getting in a decent amount of protein several times a day and that I am extremely hydrated which to me means getting in a gallon or two of water every day. I also try to keep my largest amounts of carbs closest to my workouts. When it gets closer to contest time and there is less caloric wiggle room I start to pay closer attention to volume. And honestly, I think that by slowly dropping things out of the diet like simple sugars, protein shakes or bars, dairy, pork, and eggs I can take off a decent amount of pounds without counting anything. When I get about two weeks out however, the timing of cardio, when and if I eat carbs and what supplements I take becomes critical.
I think the biggest problem people have when trying to count all of these things is that they go to one extreme or another. Some people truly have no idea the amount they are eating and whether or not they’ve gotten in adequate protein, which is never good. But I also think that the people at the opposite end of the spectrum who count every single gram and ounce may actually be doing themselves a disservice by spending more time micromanaging their plan then actually implementing it. If you stick to the basics and make wise decisions every day I think it is still possible to make big changes. It’s not until you get down to the last few pounds where precision is absolutely necessary. I’d hate to see someone give up just because they didn’t have time to track everything. Sometimes moderation is key.
TQM: In my blog titled “Wall Street Story: From Fat Quant to Fit Nerd part 1” I have a dynamic quant chart that I programmed with data from the Centers for Disease Control that shows how the US as a nation is becoming obese, and how the Southern states are leading the pack. What’s your opinion about that? What do you think we can do at the individual level to reverse that horrible trend?
I honestly have no idea how we would go about changing that on an individual level. One of the biggest problems is that Americans have been brainwashed into thinking that things like hundred calorie packs and Happy Meals with fries switched out for apples and caramel dipping sauce are healthy alternatives. It drives me nuts when things are labeled healthy when they are lower in fat, or when I’m traveling and see things on room service menus labeled as lighter fare because they involve granola or have more toast and fruit and less meat. I never see things labeled as healthy because of their protein content.
Another huge problem we have to face and I’m not sure how to counter it on an individual level is the availability of food. There are vending machines just about everywher e. And I know at least at my youngest daughter’s daycare they are being fed snacks two or three times a day in addition to the main meals. And I can’t remember the last time I socialized with friends while hiking or playing tennis. It’s just built into our culture that family gatherings and social events revolve around food. I’m not even sur e how to escape all of it. All I know is that I do my best, as does my husband, to keep our pantry stocked with healthy snack choices and our refrigerator filled with quality protein sources and tons and tons of veggies. Our family meals tend to be made up entirely of whole foods that are usually grilled and broiled and they are usually followed up with a family walk or some Wii fit.
TQM: There is a big taboo about women lifting weights and “getting big” or “developing huge muscles”, therefore a lot of women avoid it. You and I know that building muscle is essential to staying fit and even slowing down some signs of aging. Can you explain to our readers why lifting weights is important, particularly for women?
Well I know in my own personal experience I am paying several people to aid me in my attempts to pack on more muscle for my figure competitive career. I am a size two right now and weigh about 115 pounds. I usually get mistaken for a much younger aerobics instructor. Now mind you, I am lifting crazy amounts of weight. For example I squat 225 and legpress 62 5. I use 40-50 pound dumbbells to work my chest and arms and I do walking lunges with 60 pounds of weight strapped onto me and a bar with 50 pounds thrown on top. I am eating a crazy amount of food yet I am still a tiny little thing and I am still struggling to get mass where I’d like it. And I’m doing all of this to get the look of a fitness model, not a bodybuilder. The bodybuilding women, which I think most mainstream women would not like to look like, are taking their workouts, diet and supplementation to the extreme.
For the women who are afraid of getting all big and manly, they should take a look at fitness icons like Ava Cowan, Jamie Eason, and Jennifer Nicole Lee, all women who have bods most women would die for. You see these ladies doing infomercials for the abrocker and hydroxycut, yet these incredibly fit and curvy women all hit the weights and they hit them hard.
Now for all the women out there who are struggling to get their bodies back after giving birth, I think that they are spinning their wheels, literally, if they are spending hours and hours on a treadmill, stationary bike or elliptical. This will do nothing for the shape of your rear or your sagging arms and chest. Only lifting a challenging amount of weight will do this. And I’ll go so far as to say that too much cardio is shooting themselves in the foot. Your body gets used to the cardio and gets more efficient at it which means that more cardio will be needed to get the same results. On top of this, much like the saying about working up an appetite goes, cardio will make you even more hungry then you were before you did it. So it’s a never ending battle because you are doing nothing good for your metabolism. Admittedly however some cardio is always good for your cardiovascular health. I know that I personally don’t do it until the last week or two before a contest. I’d rather tweak my diet than spend hours on a treadmill.
TQM: Christina, we both know the value of quantifying and self tracking variables such as bodyfat, muscle mass, etc. What about things that can’t be quantified, such as discipline and dedication? I think that one of the most important aspects of the whole body transformation is the psychological aspect. Do you have any insights that you want to share?
Yes I do. I have realized that to make drastic changes in your appearance you have to make drastic changes in your priorities and your attitude. You have to decide what is important to you and what is not. Every day I am making decisions about whether or not the ice cream will be worth it when I’m standing up on stage next to the competitor who skipped the extra treat. And even when I’m not in competition mode I am slowly learning that I love the way I feel when I am hitting it hard in the gym and eating a healthy nourishing balanced diet. I guess what it all boils down to is how you really feel about yourself. If you get to a place where you are happy with your body and how you look and feel there is much less of a desire to disrespect that body. If you want the body of a champion you have to treat it like one. Maybe even more importantly, you must think like one and act like one. You only get one body. Make the choices that allow you to have the best one possible and always remind yourself that you are worthy of that body. Almost everything else will fall into place if you can maintain that attitude.
TQM: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers of The Quantitative Method?
Yes. I would like to remind everyone that you can not build an entirely new body overnight. It takes time and patience. So have some patience and give yourself some time. On the flipside however, if what you are doing isn’t working by all means don’t just keep endlessly doing it. Find something that works and gets results for you.
Thank you very much Christina! Keep up the good work!
If you want to learn more about Christina and her transformation, visit her blog redheadlaw7.