You want to be the healthiest version of yourself. You want to live your best life. I get it. We all do.
But at what expense? How much time are you spending on that treadmill? How many HIIT workouts are you doing in a day or a week?
On a similar note, are you the same person who says: "I hit the gym so I deserve this [insert highly palatable food here]" or "I can eat this because I did [insert chic fitness class here]?"
If you are, I get it. We all have thought or said this at one point in time in our health and wellness journey.
That being said, it is worth noting that our metabolism is more of a fine balance to strike rather than the lab approach of "calories in, calories out." Our bodies are complex organisms that use energy quite differently than a Bunsen burner.
Naturopathic doctor and metabolism expert Jade Teta puts it this way: if your hunger, energy, and cravings are out of control, you will not see fat loss, weight loss, or muscle gain. Your hormones, the chemicals that work together to create your metabolism, must be balanced beforehand.
In fact, while exercise is a great tool for longevity, it is not the most efficient way to lose weight. You probably figured this out by working diligently at the gym for months without changing your eating habits.
Then we have the extra layer of complexity with women in their menstrual cycle. For instance, if women do a HIIT workout during the latter half of their luteal phase, they may actually gain weight or be more inclined to have exercise intolerance from the extra stress during this more sensitive time in their cycle.
Nevertheless, whether you are a woman in her cycle or not, you have to do a bit of self-analysis here. What is your exercise schedule like? Are you doing the same kinds of workouts daily? Do you do HIIT workouts often? How long are your HIIT workouts? Do you do resistance training or mostly cardio?
The more energy you expend, the more fuel your body is going to crave. This effect is compounded when your meals are not properly balanced with proteins, healthy fats, and fiber.
While over-exercising is an issue in itself, considering the reason why a person would over-exercise and the mental health implications of that, it creates this state of emergency in the body with these consistent spikes of cortisol, the stress hormone.
This is why athletes have to really prioritize their recovery days so much so that it is built into their training schedule.
Now, this does not mean that you should avoid movement altogether on your rest days. A walk in nature or gentle yoga is enough to stimulate your metabolism on those days.
Ideally, a person needs a mix of resistance training, a form of cardiovascular training, and maybe high-intensity interval training (HIIT) a couple of times a week depending on the person.
Every single body has its own individuality, so what works for your best friend or even your sister may not necessarily work for you.
What about the concept of "eat less and exercise more?"
It works… until it doesn't. Your body, being the striver of balance it is, starts to burn fewer calories as it consumes less and less food while moving more...and more. If that were not true, we would all just lose weight until we weigh zero pounds.
It comes back to creating balance in your metabolism. The following is a list of actionable items you can take starting today to do that:
- Start by balancing your blood sugar. Without this step, it is very difficult to balance your metabolic hormones. This means to walk after your meals, avoid fat and starchy carbohydrate combinations, and eat your vegetables first, proteins and fats second, and your starches last (in a nutshell).
- Take stock of your exercise habits. Are you working out too much or too little? Are you not doing enough resistance training and too much cardio? Maybe go for a walk instead of taking that boxing class.
- Create better sleep habits. Stop scrolling through your phone before you go to bed, keep your sleep on a consistent schedule, avoid eating at least two to three hours before bed, and stop working out or drinking alcohol so close to your bedtime. Establishing healthy sleep habits can reduce your risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease while improving your immune function.
- Drink water before you drink your coffee, but also keep in mind the time you consume it. Some experts say have it after 8 am. Some say have it between 9 am and 11 am. Delay having your morning coffee either way, even if it is just for an hour after waking.
- Start practicing a form of stress management. That could be meditation, walking meditation, yoga, painting...the options are endless. Chronic stress is what starts to shut down your immune system, reproductive system, endocrine system, and more after years or even weeks and months of a high-stress environment.
- Start aligning your day to a natural circadian rhythm. Check out the image below.
This is a lot, I understand. But think about it as eating the elephant one bite at a time.
Start small. Find some great books to read, and check out this curated list of health and wellness resources from books to podcasts to brands to buy that I compiled for you.
It comes down to changing your schedule and setting up your environment for success. You have the power to do that.
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