Bulking vs. Massing vs. Gaining

At first, I was massing.

Then, it was bulking.

I scoured the internet, googling articles about how to mass correctly and gain muscle and researching what the top weightlifters do when they want to move up a weight class.  I listened to podcasts which described the appropriate caloric surplus I’d need to be in in order to gain a pound a week and what the fat to muscle ration would be if I bulked up. I wanted to think the massing and bulking were ways I could overcome the craziness of anorexia and disordered eating and get me bigger without adding too much adipose tissue onto my midsection.

Long story short:  I read and listened and then tried all the different diets I could find.  And in the end, I could not do it.  I could not adhere to any one strategy and in fact, I actually lost weight.

So I decided to change my views.

I gave up on the idea of massing.  I am no longer going to try to bulk.  Now, I’m just recovering.  Gaining.

There are so many terms to describe weight gain.  Why would one “mass” but not “bulk”?  What’s wrong with just saying, “I’m putting on some pounds?” Don’t these terms all really mean the same thing???

My theory (and there’s nothing scientific about it):  No.  “Massing” is different than “bulking” and is even more different than “building.”  As one who taught high school English for a number of years, I always tried to impress upon my students that word choice is gold.  Thoughtful and insightful diction usage can make or break a piece of writing.  So when it comes down to what one is attempting to do with weight (mass or bulk), it’s important to make the distinction.

Even up to a week or so ago, I deluded myself for so long.  I knew I needed to gain weight since my periods were absent for years on end.  I knew that my body was physically exhausted, that my mind was going crazy with thoughts of macros and calories, and that I was spending so much of my time stuck in a quasi-recovery state.  I knew putting on a few extra (well, maybe more than a few) kilos on my slight frame would make me a stronger athlete, but more importantly, make me a stronger person overall.  It’s pretty hard to be a full-time teacher, mother, and wife if I could barely make it through the day without hunger pains gnawing at my stomach.  I knew I needed to eat more, but here’s the conundrum:

I wanted to gain muscle and not fat.  I wanted to be bigger but not have a stomach that created wrinkles when I sat down.  I wanted to be bigger but not have all the weight gather around my mid-section like a spare tire (can you tell one of my hang-ups is my “abs”???).  I wanted to be bigger but not get fat.  For some reason, I fear(ed) fat.  When I was first diagnosed with anorexia years ago, I hated the fat on my legs and midsection.  Cellulite made me feel queasy, and when I sat on the floor with criss-crossed legs, I’d check my abductors to see if the mass there wrinkled and dimpled into cellulite.


Fat scared me (and actually, still kind of does), and although I intellectually knew/know that fat is necessary (as a macronutrient and as a part of the human body), seeing it accumulate on me made/makes my stomach roll up in knots.  Why?  Because that’s the eating disorder sending me crazy messages and wanting me NOT to eat the food I should and exercise like a madwoman.

Anyhow, back to my attempts to “mass.”  Given that I knew I needed to put on some pounds, a few years ago I said that I would “mass” to gain weight.  I rationalized that I wasn’t really in eating disorder recovery because I was going to gain weight the “right way” (aka following a structured food template so that macronutrients were eaten at times that would aid my lifting performance).  I wanted to “mass” to be better at sport.

Sounds feasible to some–why not gain body weight to lift more barbell weight?  To a person without eating issues, this is a no brainer.  But for me, I became deathly afraid of eating anything other than fast-acting carbohydrates and lean protein after training.  Any hint of fat in my meal would send me into a tailspin.  I became so regimented on when I ate and what the macronutrient make-up of the meal was that I ended up mentally crazed.  In my scenario, “massing” was definitely not feasible to me.  Why?  Because rather than putting my health and well-being first, I was putting weightlifting first.  I was eating for performance in the gym, when I really should have been eating to, well, save my life so that I wouldn’t have a heart attack and die because I was so malnourished.

And then the whole idea of “bulking.”  I’d listen to podcast after podcast on how to “clean bulk” or “dirty bulk” and the benefits and drawbacks of both.  Maybe I’ll just do that!  I can gain muscle AND fat during a bulk.  Sounded like a win-win situation, that what I needed (to gain body fat and overall weight) could be accomplished with a “bulk.”  Well, what I neglected to hear was that many people who “bulk” were doing it in preparation for a bodybuilding competition, so yes, there was a time to gain weight, but then what followed was a time to cut/shred the fat from their bodies to reveal their muscles.  “Bulking” was also not in the cards for me, as I should be eating to maintain my daily energy levels, not just to revel in a new physique once I dieted for a number of weeks.  In this situation, I was putting aesthetics first, eating so that I’d have a desirable body composition (aka “abs”).

Don’t get me wrong–there are many people out there that can bulk and mass and have perfectly fine cognitions regarding food and exercise.  I just happen to NOT be one of them.  There is no way I will ever be able to diet/cut/shred.  There is no way I will ever be able to count macros or calories or log food into MyFitnessPal.  I just cannot do it.

So what am I doing now?   I’m merely gaining.  No, wait, not “merely” gaining, but “really” gaining.  I have put on some kilos within the past two weeks by eating what my body is craving, eating portions that are similar or more than my husband’s, and making sure to get in at least three meals and three snacks.  But the “gains” that I am making are a lot more than physical.  I am challenging so many of the food rules and rituals I had for years on end, and in the process, I am gaining my sanity.  Peace of mind.  Normalcy.  A life.

I am still in the infancy stages of true recovery.  Every meal is a challenge in its own way.  For example, last night I had pizza, poke, and a musubi for Halloween dinner.  To the outward observer, I was challenging myself because those foods were off limits to me even a month ago (too many carbs!!!).  In my heart of hearts, however, I knew that that meal in itself was not so much of a challenge, but that the next day (meaning today), it would be much harder to continue eating fear foods in normal quantities.  I had to will myself this morning not to exercise off the fat I imagined I ate.  I had to text friends after breakfast because I was freaking out that I ate too much.  And guess what?  Sleeping in versus waking up before the sun to run off the food I ate felt grand.  And guess what else?  My friends told me I am doing great and to keep up the good work…and that there is never a “too much” amount for me to eat.

I am on the road to gaining.  And I am looking forward to all of the gainzzzzzz.


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