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

by Charlotte on January 4, 2013 · 32 comments


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??

UPDATE: A reader e-mailed me saying she was upset that I hadn’t disclosed in this review that Carla mentions my blog in her book. I was surprised because I hadn’t even noticed that. (Truly. I missed it.) But I want to reiterate that while Carla and I are very good friends and have been blog buddies for years, we have no business relationship. I don’t get kickbacks in payment or payment in kind for this review or from sales of her book. There was no prior arrangement, ulterior motives or any other behind-the-scenes shenanigans. And if you are concerned about either of us getting ad revenue from the other’s recommendation then I fear you are overestimating the importance of both of us;) I apologize deeply to anyone else who felt upset by this – it was never my intent to deceive anyone – and I encourage you to e-mail me if you would like further clarification.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

JavaChick January 4, 2013 at 7:52 am

I have Carla’s book (Husband & bought each other Google Nexus tablets for our anniversary this year – love it!) but haven’t read it yet. Love your review and I am looking forward to reading the book myself.

My weight gain actually began when I started working full time – which was 15 years ago – and unfortunately I’ve never managed to reverse the situation. I do think I made some progress in the right direction last year…and then managed to completely undo all my success…so I’m hoping I can get there again.


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:42 pm

So interesting! I have found that I tend to weigh less when I work outside my home. (Although maybe that has more to do with the fact I was also younger and less kiddos then?) So glad you’re reading her book!


Kim January 4, 2013 at 8:08 am

Love the book review. I have her book on my Nook but haven’t finished it yet. And I was so very happy to get her work-out skirt (and matching sports bra) for Christmas – I sort of hinted, marked the spot and practically placed the order but still!! I love it!!


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Ooh I just saw the bra! That must be new! And…I totally do the gift thing the same way. I’m never surprised. But then I’m always happy;)


Geosomin January 4, 2013 at 9:03 am

Yup I added a freshman 15 to my already larger frame…and yes it is indeed true -”If you can’t love yourself now, you won’t love yourself xx pounds lighter.” And it can come off…but it takes time.
I am looking forward to Carla’s book. Just trying to figure out my Kindle app for my new iPad and I’ll be picking it up. I really respect and admire her so I’m looking forward to reading her more detailed thoughts and ideas.


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:48 pm

It took me quite a bit of time to figure out the kindle app for my Nexus. Honestly, Amazon does NOT make it easy for those of us trying to read e-books on things other than kindles… Anyhow, rant over and I hope you got it figured out!


Kacie @ Savvy Sassy Me January 4, 2013 at 9:23 am

What a great love affair (review)!!! ;-) I have been seeing all kind of hype on her amazing ebook and this one takes the cake because of your personal, yet informative perspective! She ROCKS and you do too!


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Aw thanks! You totally made me smile:)


Elle January 4, 2013 at 9:49 am

Great review of Carla’s book. Love her honesty and ‘in your face’ wayof being up front and open.


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Thanks! Me too! P.S. Um, your paleo chili recipe looks amazing! I bookmarked it!


Happier Heather January 4, 2013 at 10:35 am

Considering I just decided that I need to go back to a more simplistic approach to weight loss AND the fact that I’ve decided to read at least 50 books this year, I think I must have this one! Sounds perfect.

Thanks for the review!!


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Yay for your book goal! My sister and I did a one-book-a-week challenge a few years ago and it was a blast. Let me know if you find some good ones! I always need recs!


Quix January 4, 2013 at 10:44 am

Love it. Read it. Loved it. :)

I gained the freshman 15, then the senior 15, then the “started a desk job 50…” It was badness.


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:53 pm

“started a desk job 50″ lol!


Satu January 9, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I’d never heard of “desk job 50″. Glad there is finally a name for the phenomenon! :-)

I have the book too, I’m still in the middle of reading it.


Casey Kay January 4, 2013 at 11:02 am

I actually lost about 20 pounds my first year of college by only eating what I wanted and not all the heavy foods that were usually for dinner, but then I gained it back plus an extra ten that summer at home and have yet to lose much three years later. Definitely looking to pick up the book when I have a little extra money in my nook account.

Also, yay for the Nexus! From personal experience (a.k.a my morning of clumsiness so far, plus my regular clumsiness in general) it’s a very tough little machine that can withstand numerous falls to the floor… :-)


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Sweet! With four little kids ours is bound to get dropped a lot too. I’m loving ours so far!


Sarah January 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I didn’t have a problem with the freshman 15 – although I ate rubbish as a student (mostly cheese toasties and bacon sandwiches) I also walked into lectures every day – 40 mins there and back which balanced it out.

I had more of a problem later in life with the “post marriage 15″.

The thing that hit me the most at uni was in the first week when some friends asked me out clubbing. I suddenly realised I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission, or tell anyone what time I was coming home! Wahey I was a grown up!


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:56 pm

“when some friends asked me out clubbing. I suddenly realised I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission, or tell anyone what time I was coming home!” I love this SO much! I remember having a similar epiphany. So much freeeedommmm!


Katie H. January 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm

You just completely sold me on this book. (I’m sorry to hear you don’t get a kickback!) I truly think this is EXACTLY what I need to read right now. I just wrote a post all about how I think my exercise and eating habits MIGHT be veering towards unhealthy. I am craving better balance in my life. THANK YOU FOR SHARING! I’m going to buy it RIGHT NOW!


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:57 pm

Yay! I hope it helps! And I love how aware you are of yourself and your life – that speaks good things for you;)


Alyssa (azusmom) January 4, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Bought the book a few days ago, and am loving it!
Enjoy your tablet! Hubby has one & rarely puts it down. :)


Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:59 pm

So glad! And yeah, I’m loving it so far!


R January 4, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I was in the mood to read a fitness book today! And it isn’t too pricey. Thanks for the rec!


Charlotte January 6, 2013 at 12:00 am

Yay! Let me know what you think!


Jody - Fit at 55 January 4, 2013 at 6:13 pm

I friggin LOVE Carla!!!! I LOVE THIS POST ON HER because it is so true!!!! I want to buy her book but I don’t have a Kindle or anything like that & I am not good at sitting at the computer to read books… I need to get one of them new fangled reader things when I make some money this year – after I find a job! ;) Seriously, she is amazing & thank you so much for this post! If I can’t afford a reader soon, I am just going to do the PDF thing… hoping I don’t have to do that! :)


Charlotte January 6, 2013 at 12:01 am

Ah and I friggin love YOU Jody!!


Katie January 4, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Great review, Charlotte! I’ve got the ebook and started reading it, but I got sucked into another one. I have a feeling I’ll be finishing it soon…


Charlotte January 6, 2013 at 12:02 am

Ooh which one? I just finished The Reliable Wife and that was… really twisted. I need a good rec!


Jess January 6, 2013 at 8:35 pm

I love Carla!! She is so down to earth, practical and just cool. Haha. I havent read it yet because I don’t have a kindle, but I’m sure it is awesome!


Bek @ Crave January 7, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Looks like an awesome read! I always love reading from a rational perspective, since I’m the opposite!

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