If you’ve been taking my classes in recent months, you’ve heard me talk about the importance of rest and balance a lot more. Many new clients have come to me with the goal of wanting to lose body fat and get leaner, yet feeling frustrated that no matter what they’re doing, how hard they’re working out and how much they’re dieting, nothing’s budging. The reason I’m pushing rest and balance so much more now is that I’ve learned a lot about my own body in the past year and hope to save you frustration, wasted time and health issues. Let me explain and hopefully you’ll look at your own body and its journey in a different light:
Last year my body went through a pretty drastic change. It went from being lean, strong, and energized to lethargic, bloated, tired and heavy.
All of a sudden I couldn’t fit into my jeans anymore. My T-shirts were fitting tighter around the waist and back. I had put on weight around my hips, thighs, my stomach and the definition in my arms was gone. Talk about bubble butt… My face felt puffy and bloated. I remember being invited to a fashion fitness shoot for Refinery29 and I couldn’t fit into the clothes they had picked out for me. It was terrifying and embarrassing.
I would wake up every night at exactly 3am and would lay awake. I would feel lethargic during the day and totally exhausted after my workouts. I couldn’t get through my daily chores without feeling drained and moody. I was so wired that it was hard to focus and my mood fluctuated wildly, ranging from edgy to depressed. I was ravenous and my sweet cravings were through the roof. Normal meals just didn’t do the trick anymore and my digestion wasn’t happy either. To sum it up: I felt like I was in a foreign body.
I hadn’t changed anything drastically and yet I couldn’t figure out what was going on with me. I figured my body had gotten used to the 2-3 hours of daily exercise and just needed to be worked a bit harder. I took the conventional approach of working out more. Most trainers would tell you that you have to push yourself harder and eat less. It was only natural that my body would get used to twice daily workouts and would not respond as much as it had initially. I added a run here and there and cut the carbs a little more, but to no avail. My body fat wasn’t budging and I continued to feel awful. When I visited my doctor and described what was going on, she suggested an anti-depressant. I insisted on blood work first. To my surprise, nothing was out of the normal range, which confused me even more as I had guessed my thyroid was not up to par or at least I was anemic, explaining my lethargy.
It took some serious research into the variety of symptoms I was exhibiting to understand what I had gotten myself into. It turned out that I was in full-blown metabolic damage. While my doctor chose to look at ONE symptom and label me as depressed, I realized that all the symptoms I was exhibiting were the result of metabolic issues and serious metabolic damage.
How did I end up damaging my metabolism?
As a trainer my body was used to 2-3 hours of daily workouts. I was eating a clean diet at the same time – all good to keep a lean physique. The trouble started when things got stressful a few years ago: Good stress and bad stress resulted that I was getting 5 hours of sleep a night max. I made up for the lack of energy with coffee and pushing myself harder and harder. I thought I could handle it all and so I continued to ignore the signs from my body, which actually needed rest. If I had a free hour, I’d book a class or a client or work instead of taking a break. The physical and emotional stress then started to affect my digestion. How? Stress reduces your stomach acid and that results in nutrients not being properly digested and assimilated. I was actually deficient in a variety of nutrients and also started to develop food allergies. When I ate protein, it made me bloated and puffy. My stomach was not happy with me either and I hadn’t changed my diet. The nutrient deficiency then affected my brain chemistry and caused mood swings, severe cravings, sleep disturbances and inability to focus. Even worse, it left my body feeling exhausted all the time, unable to recover from the many workouts. Had I pushed even harder – exercised more and eaten less without rest, I could have seriously pushed my body into a corner and caused more damage, affecting my hormonal balance (menstrual cycle, fertility) and my thyroid function, but I’m lucky it didn’t lead me there.
It took a well-rounded program to get back to feeling like myself again and I’m happy to say that I’ve not felt better in a long time.
What worried me the most was that I had decided to sign up for my first Ironman event. Knowing the long hours of training that would be added to my schedule and the nutrition requirements, I was quite nervous that such a feat would do even more damage to my metabolism. I was determined to repair my metabolism before throwing myself into the training regimen of swimming, biking and running. Ironman training requires about 10 more hours a week in addition to teaching classes and I was sure it would be an impossible feat, given how I had felt.
What did it take to repair my metabolism?
Sleep: I started sleeping more. I would try to nap during the day when I could and aim for 7 hours a night. Non-negotiable. This is still the biggest lesson I’ve learned. The importance of sleep and its nourishing effects on recovery and nervous system balance.
Supplements: I added a bunch of supplements to my routine that killed my sugar cravings, balanced my mood and allowed me to repair the digestive system so I would properly absorb my nutrients again.
Targeted Workouts: I added targeted workouts – short and efficient – to my regimen that focus on building muscle, boosting the metabolism, and getting my definition back.
Rest and recovery: I made it a point to add in various activities that would allow my stressed out body and brain to recover: massages, long walks with the dogs, hydrotherapy, yoga, sauna sessions, etc.
Nutrition: I quit sugar once and for all. I started eating more fibrous and starchy carbs and timed them around my workouts. Pre-and post-workout nutrition made all the difference in workout recovery, muscle building, and allowing my body to go into fat burning mode again.
It didn’t happen from one week to the next, but eventually my body realized I was working WITH it, not against it anymore. Now, I can spot metabolic damage in my own clients quickly. They’re the ones with digestive issues (gas, bloating, indigestion, etc) and thyroid issues, menstrual fluctuations and uncontrollable appetites and sweet cravings. Their moods aren’t very balanced and their sleep is disrupted. They’re the ones who think that working out more is better and eating less is the way to go. If you’re spotting several of those symptoms, you really want to ask yourself if what you’re doing is still working.
Working smarter, not harder is key. And, working your nutrition based on your activity and sleep schedule is crucial if you want to see your body change. Pushing it into the corner by exercising more and eating less is the worst thing you can do to yourself.
Resolving these plateaus and frustrations about my body were the biggest relief. I feel back in charge of my body, my health and have the tools to direct the change I want to see. I know that many of you have the mindset of “more is better”, but the reality is that there is no need for twice daily workouts and dieting if you want to see your body change. The body truly responds best to targeted, effective workouts and proper nourishment and rest. It is the specific balance, however, that determines whether you’ll see your body change or break down.