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CrossFit Illumine:
6663 Howard St - Niles, IL 60714
(224) 585-7905
CrossFit Illumine North:
1852 Janke Dr - Northbrook, IL 60062
(224) 585-7905
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Nutrition & Fitness Coach Heather’s Diet and Fitness Journey

From the time I was in high school to now, I have tried many diets. In college until the time I found CrossFit, I dieted for aesthetics. After CrossFit, I dieted for performance. I decided to pull these diets together and record my experiences with them.

2009 During my first week of CrossFit . Taken and posted by CF Arlington Heights

Calorie Restriction

This is the most common “diet” out there. Be hungry. All. The. Time. I basically decided to eat 1500 calories a day, including weekends. I still have the calories in most foods memorized as a result of years spent thinking only of calories in and calories out in relation to my body.

Goal: When I did this, I was in college and restricted to cafeteria food and a student’s schedule. I wanted to lose 10 pounds. I figured why not just be miserable for a month and see if I would achieve the body I always wanted. At the time I was about 20% body fat (taken with calipers at the college gym), and 128 pounds.

The Food: I ate a Slim Fast meal replacement bar and a piece of fruit in the morning, and a salad at night. Sometimes that changed slightly, but my goal was to eat 500 calories in the morning, and 1000 calories in the evening. I did not do anything social during that time since all social outings involved drinking. I had a girlfriend who spent a lot of time with me at Barnes & Noble reading magazines and drinking coffee.

The Workout: In college, I spent 2 hours a day in the gym. I did 30 minutes on the treadmill, 30 minutes calisthenics (sit ups, push ups – basic body weight work), 30 minutes using nautilus machines, and 30 minutes on the airdyne bike.

The Results: I lost 10 pounds (putting me at 120lbs). My body did not look any different to myself, my face was gaunt, and my clothes all fit the same. I went back to my old ways, which was still calorie counting, just less restrictive, and weighed 128-132 until after 2014.

The Zone 

2009 3 months after starting CF and 2 months after starting The Zone

(2009 & Present)

After college, I basically did variations of calorie restriction, joined the same type of big globo gyms (Ballys, Lifetime, Xsport), and did the same kind of workouts, swaping out the treadmill for the stairmaster and group fitness classes (body pump!) as in college. I also started using free weights instead of nautilus machines exclusively. Doing that, I stayed at around 128 pounds (it was always important to me to be just under 130) and looked the same regardless of specific diet and workout.

In 2009, I found CrossFit. I was pretty competitive about it from the start. I had a training partner who was beating me in most workouts. I decided to try to eat healthier in order to better fuel my workouts as a way to increase performance. I wasn’t trying to lose weight or change my appearance. That had already happened from CrossFitting 5 days a week. I wanted to win.

The Goal: Kick Lisa’s butt in workouts. Also, I wanted to feel better. I sat in an office all day and would often feel bloated and uncomfortable by the end of the day.

The Diet: The Zone has you control your portions and your macro ratio (protein, fat, carbs) in order to control your glycemic index (sugar highs and lows) and inflammation (pain/illness) in the body. Basically, I had to eat a certain about of food a day, and have that food in the proper carb to protein to fat ratios.

The Workout: CrossFit (1 hour).  And this was when gyms were following the mainsite and doing either strength or a metcon.  Not both as is common now.

The Result: I felt good about eating well. I did learn about portions for my macros and what foods are largly carb, protein and fat sources. However, I was hungry all the time, which I hate. I kept up with this way of eating for awhile, but eventually sought out something that allowed me to not think about food all the time. I did not lose weight, although my body changed, and I have yet to beat Lisa in workouts, but my fitness did improve.  I have since learned my macro prescription was too low.  That’s what happens when you don’t have a nutrition coach to help you with your macro and calorie prescription!

2011 after about a year of Paleo

Whole 30 Challenge/Paleo


Part of CrossFit is all the CrossFit blogs out there. I started reading one called “Byers Gets Diesel” by a woman who wrote about her experiences as a crossfitter. Her blogs were pure entertainment. Eventually she started writing about nutrition as well, and it turned into her current website which is a great Paleo Diet resource (the earlier posts are the best) and the one I started with.

At the time, the Whole 30 Challenge was informal, and she was a gritty funny writer. Now she’s more professional. However, she still describes the program in the way that sold me when I read about it.

“We cannot possibly put enough emphasis on this simple fact—the next 30 days will change your life. It will change the way you think about food, it will change your tastes, it will change your habits and your cravings. It could, quite possibly, change the emotional relationship you have with food, and with your body.”

The Goal: Change my relationship with food including my cravings. Get rid of the stomach pains I still had from sitting at a desk all day.

The Diet: Eat meat, vegetables, some fruit and nuts for 3o days straight. No preservatives, no added sugars, no alcohol. The specifics are here.

The Workout: Still 1 hour of CrossFit!  However, there was now a strength and metcon each day on most days as is common now.

The Results: It really did change my life, my body, and my relationship to food. I did not lose weight, but I lost body fat. I wasn’t hungry all the time, and my stomach pains went away. The challenge itself was one of the hardest things I’ve done. It was a huge change to my diet at the time.

When I first started Paleo, I actually gained weight.  Since there are no portion guidelines, I went almond crazy.  Turns out portion control, especially with nuts, seeds, and oils, is very important (again, needed that nutrition coach!).  I started using Zone guidelines to control my Paleo food portions.

After the 30 days, I continued to eat the “paleo” way during the week, and would go off the program on weekends. Year after year, I just stopped craving certain foods (bread, deserts). Also, those foods started having more and more of a negative effect. As a result, I’ve naturally gotten more strict with going off program, not because I’m trying to follow a set of rules, but because I’m basically eating what I want to eat. If I want a desert, I’ll have it and try not to overdo it to avoid negative effects. I do overdo it sometimes, and that makes it easier not to do it frequently because of my physical reaction.

In short, I still follow this way of eating when choosing foods.  I have added some unprocessed carbs for energy in moderation.  I feel the same about this way of eating as I did then.  I enjoy life and food, and eat healthy most of the time. I got to 13% body fat and weigh 140 pounds. My clothes fit differently, but I have not gone up or down in size.


2013 during my weightlifting year while doing ketosis

(2013 for a few months)

A lot of people who eat paleo think they are in ketosis. Ketosis basically means you are eating more fat than carbs and protein, which allows you to burn ketones (fat) for energy instead of glucose (carbs).

Basically, if you are eating a normal diet, your body burns carbs, then fat, then protein. If you don’t eat a lot of carbs, it gets to the fats sooner. If you aren’t eating enough food, you end up burning through both carbs and fats, and start burning your muscle (protein). Additionally, this will cause a stress response, and you will start storing fat.

If you are in ketosis, you have enough fat to keep burning that for both energy and weight loss. For part of 2013 through 2014 I stopped CrossFitting, and became a competitive Olympic Weightlifter. That is a weight class sport and I was competing as a 58kg lifter (128 pounds), which is low for my height (compared to other Weightlifters). At the time, I weighed around 132lbs and had 13% body fat (women shouldn’t get below 12%). That means for every meet I went to, I had to lose 4 pounds and the best way to do that fast, is to dehydrate. It was really hard and miserable. So I started looking into ways to get as lean as possible, without losing muscle. That is how I found ketosis.

The Goal: Get as lean as I could so I wouldn’t have to dehydrate myself so much before meets. There are also benefits like increased brain function and cancer prevention.

The Workout: Olympic Weightlifting

The Diet: Eat a ton of fat. If you eat more protein or carbs than fat at any time, you are immediately out of ketosis. That means lean meat is out (too much protein, not enough fat), nuts are out (too many carbs), apples in extreme moderation (too many carbs, no fat), and I had to have a lot of oils with everything because it’s pretty much the only thing that has fat and NO protein or carbs. My mother looked at me in disgust as I put oil and butter in a kale and chicken salad because I knew the protein and carbs were too high in it.

The Results: Eating was impossible. I liked the food I was eating ok, but I had to give up my favorite food, almond butter. There is no cheating. If you cheat, you are out of ketosis and it takes several days to get back in it. After 2 months, I didn’t lose any weight, but I did feel really good. If the eating was more sustainable, I would probably have tried to stick with it, but it was just too hard.

2014 During my weightlifting year while doing ketosis followed by intermittent fasting

Intermittent Fasting


This in combination with paleo is how I ate for 2 years, until Josh and I decided to try to have a baby (it’s not good for fertility).  I tried it because a friend of mine said he lost a bunch of weight on it, and although I was primarily a crossfitter at the time, I was still competing in Weightlifting, and I still hated cutting weight (and became a 63kg/138lb lifter who walked around at 142, 13% body fat). When I went from Weightlifting only to CrossFitting and Weightlifting, I gained 10 pounds (no body fat and no change in clothes size). I have no explanation for this. Regardless, I still had to lose that difficult 4 pounds before meets, so I figured if I coukd change my weight by just eating my food at different times, it was worth a try.

Goal: Increase energy, decrease hunger, and lose access weight. I’ve also read long lists of advantages like good brain health and cancer prevention.

Workout: CrossFit plus Weightlifting (~1.5 hours a day)

The Results: I did not lose weight from this diet. However, my hunger dropped a lot and I found that I really liked working out fasted. I worried less about dragging food around with me, and I got to eat at night, which I love. Basically, this diet worked well with my lifestyle, which decreased my stress. That is the reason I stuck with it for so long.

2016 after a couple years of Intermittent fasting following Zone ratios and Paleo foods. I stopped IA to get pregnant and haven’t started it again because I feel better on Zone


It’s not the specific diet or workout that matters.  It’s:

  • Mindset, having measurable and achievable goals and a realistic plan
  • Consistency, sticking with one plan for a period of time
  • Accountability, having someone make sure your mindset and consistency stay on track

The biggest and most influential change to my body has been a combination of CrossFit and eating Paleo because they were the most managable for me. I stopped starving myself and wasting 2+ hours in the gym to look like an airbrushed Nike model.

However, the most positive change I made was not the specifics of my diet or workout.  It was my mindset.  Since I started eating to fuel performance and to feel good from day-to-day, instead of trying to look some imaginary ideal way, I feel better about myself. I still don’t love everything about my body. I do love everything I can do, and so I don’t care as much that I have short stocky legs, and I don’t feel guilty for every brownie that I eat. I also don’t work out because I ate too much over the weekend. I workout because I love it. I am happy with my body not because I look like Jessica Biel, which I don’t, but because I know I am the best version of me.

Looking for some information on how Nutrition coaching can help you?  Book a complimentary Nutrition Consult with me!




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author: Heather Refenes