Monday, August 1, 2011
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Did you know that light affects how well you sleep?
That's right, contrary to popular belief, us humans are part of nature and as such we react to it in ways similar to other animals. Have you noticed how birds go to sleep as soon as it starts getting dark and then wake up at the break of dawn? Have you ever seen a bird in need of a power nap?
So back to lights and the quality of your sleep... did you know that the production of melatonin by the Pineal Gland is directly influenced by the amount of light we are exposed to? Yep! Our eyelids have receptor cells that " tell" the body to start or shut down the production of melatonin depending on how much light you are exposed to.
The problem these days is that we are constantly exposed to light. Think of computers, mobile phones, the television, the ipad or any form of blue light. If years ago we went to sleep as it got darker, today we stay up watching the latest news, we text friends, watch one more episode of Grey's anatomy (or other TV show of your preference) or post one more Tweet; lights are constantly on.
If your melatonin production is dependent a.o on the amount of light we are exposed to, no wonder so many of us find ourselves lying in bed staring at the ceiling. Think about it, when would your body get the signal that it is about time to go to bed?
No melatonin = no sleep.
By all means, I am not suggesting you should go to bed with the birds. That's utopia and not very realistic in this day and age. However, if you find that you are having trouble sleeping, why not turn off your computer, tv or mobile phone a bit earlier?
Thursday, March 17, 2011
- Give me pimples
- Make me feel hungover
- Ruin my digestive system and consequently how I absorb the foods I eat
- Get me downright depressed.
- Too much sugar (be it 85% chocolate, fruit or sweet potatoes) will make me unpleasantly jittery. I won’t sleep and then I will crash and burn.
- Wheat is a serious no-no. Eating any of it will leave me curled up on the floor with a major stomach ache and a destroyed digestive system.
- I can handle Milk (as long as it´s raw) on occasion and in small quantities.
- I seem to have no problems with a little white potatoes or rice every now and then.
In practice it means:
- I never eat wheat
- I will eat chocolate (even if it isn’t always 85% cocoa) and dairy as occasional treats
- I won’t pass up the opportunity to eat some good Thai food, rice and all.
- Do you have signs or do you suspect any auto-immune disease or inflammation? Skip the dairy, the grains and the legumes. Yep. I am afraid that is what it is.
- What are your body composition goals? Want to lose weight? Then, even if you find you can tolerate potatoes and rice, these would not be the best choice for your current goal.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
- Mood swings (guilty as sin)
- Nervousness (I can go on like Speedy Gonzales)
- Irritability (yep)
- Fluid retention (on occasion and to my horror)
- Sleeping problems (bingo)
- Quick weight gain (I can’t say it was quick)
- Accelerated aging (didn’t notice anything)
- Reduced recovery after an intensive work-out or illness (yep)
- Cellulite (didn’t quite get to it. Phew!)
- Exposure to xeno-estrogens (took care of that).
- Alcohol use (I don’t drink)
- The pill (stopped using it when I realized I became a crazy psycho every month)
- Yo-yo dieting (was never really my thing)
- Excessive carb eating (been there)
- Excessive sugar consumption (been there)
- Stress (hmmm) Cardio training (Eeek! How often did I go for long runs? Can I hear spinning classes, aerobics, 2 or more hours of paddling per day?)
- Get my cortisol back to normal levels by living , exercising and eating smart.
- Regain lost muscle mass and decrease body fat from 18% to 14%.
- Sleep 8 to 9 hours per night.
- Do 2 relatively heavy 45 minute (max) weight-training sessions (100% effort) per week. The workouts will include will include things like Bench Press; Pull ups; Squats, Dead lifts and Shoulder presses. Why? Because I want to recruit as much muscle as possible in one exercise and therefore create overload in a shorter period of time. Getting thus the hormonal response I want.
- Do 2 CrossFit workouts per week (Average of 15 minutes per workout). Why? Because I enjoy it and because I know estrogen reacts really well to lactic acid build up. As I do have my cortisol levels to consider, longer work-outs than that just won’t do.
- Go for walks with my dogs, just because it relaxes me, helps me recover and keeps my babies fit too.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
The second group wants one-on-one help inside the gym, in addition to their own implementation of the lifestyle changes I suggest. In most cases the second group always gets better results. This is because I am constantly reviewing their efforts. During training for example, I can quickly see whether someone has recovered from the previous workout or from life in general and whether or not they are in fact ready to have their homeostasis disturbed yet again. If the person isn’t recovered due to any of several possible causes like bad food, dehydration, lack of sleep, deadlines, etc., there won’t be any training. Instead, we will do some mobility and recovery work. Adding stress in the form of exercise to an already- stressed body is not going to help that person reach her goals any faster; in fact, it can contribute to some unsightly developments in the abdominal area.
At the end of the day you may lose that weight (today I won’t get into what you may be in fact losing and whether you should be happy about it), but you are constantly hungry and tired. Chances are you are now skinny, bloated, tired and still not sleeping too well. You may also have developed an injury from all that repetitive movement. When you fail, you blame it on your own lack of perseverance or even strength of character. Oh brother…
Monday, January 31, 2011
My husband and I went on a 3-week holiday to Houston, Texas and Costa Rica. We saw many things and had a great time with friends and family.
Although we did not deprive ourselves of the foods we love, we both leaned out. Note that I specifically chose “leaned out” instead of “lost weight”. In my book, and in our specific case, losing weight could mean a loss of muscle mass and an increase in body fat.
I see losing muscle mass as something like removing a Ferrari’s motor and replacing it with a Fiat 500’s. The car loses power. It may look impressive for a while but eventually you will see that it isn’t going anywhere fast.
Without getting into too much detail, simply see your muscle mass as your body’s fat burning motor: the bigger the engine, the bigger the capacity. So if you replace the motor with a smaller version (i.e. you lose your muscle mass), you won’t be burning as much as you used to.
So how on earth did we lean out during our holidays? Sounds like a feat? Well it wasn’t really. This is what I did:
We ate good foods
We had plenty of sleep
While in the USA, most of our breakfasts were eaten at our family’s home. Remco and I found the nearest WholeFoods where we bought eggs, veggies and blueberries. This became our breakfast staple. In Costa Rica we relied mostly on restaurants.
Breakfast at a restaurant usually included avocados, bacon, eggs and a cup of tea. Once we went to a place called Texas Grill, and did I ever dive into those sausages? I did stay clear of the sauces (no idea what they were made of), beans, rice and other staple foods that do not fit into my diet. Result? I was fuller for longer, did not get bloated and had no sugar cravings.
Lunch and dinner
When in The Netherlands we eat mostly at home. I value knowing what is in my food, and I like my organic meats, fruits and veggies. When we do go out, we make a big deal of it and indulge. Yes, I will get an entrée, a main course and a dessert.
While on holidays, I did not indulge in a 3-course meal each time. When we did, the whole thing looked like this:
Salmon salad with olives, olive oil and some lemon juice (no croutons, cheese, or sauce, please) or perhaps some Carpaccio. I always make sure to include some protein and fat.
You may wonder why I do not dive into the bread basket. Well, for two reasons: first, wheat and I do not go together well. Ever since I stopped eating it, any tiny bit I consume causes me a major stomach ache. Second, I have since learned that wheat has anti-nutrients, that it irritates my gut, making it very difficult for my body to absorb vitamins and minerals. Bread doesn’t sound that appealing now, does it?
Always a big piece of protein, loads of vegetables and good fats.
Protein: anything that once had a face. You know: cows, ostriches (yeah, I am an African), fish, chicken, etc.
Veggies: pretty much anything that tickled my fancy.
The fats I ate depended on the meal I chose. Coconut milk if I selected a curry, olive oil, or even a good old avocado. While in Costa Rica I made it a habit of eating one avocado per meal (yes, I said one whole avocado per meal). Fats and protein keep me satiated for a long time. This means I can enjoy my holidays and do not have to worry about the next snack every 2 to 3 hours.
I like fresh mint tea, but unfortunately it isn’t’ available everywhere. I also love chocolate and would on occasion indulge on some truffles or 85% chocolate that I had bought at Whole Foods. Have I mentioned that I love that store? Seriously, I am like a kid in a candy store, eh, well… without the high and lows of a sugar crash.
Most meals were simply a one-course meal that left me satisfied. I drank water most of the time. Why? Because I never learned how to drink in my early years (going out, getting wasted and having to be up for a training session didn’t go hand in hand). I do believe that if you like wine, then by any means enjoy a good glass of red wine.
In Costa Rica, I did enjoy my share of fruit. I did not go overboard because I found that eating too much fruit left me cranky (holy sugar crash), hungry and that it awakened my sugar cravings. Since I wasn’t interested in waking the sugar dragon, spiking up my insulin levels and consequently gaining weight, I ate small amounts of these tropical treats.
Life tends to be hectic. Or maybe I should just cut the bull and say that I have been guilty of not planning things well, of taking way too much work on, training too much and sleeping too little. “Run Forrest, run! “
All of these “lovely” ingredients contributed to my adrenal fatigue. Complete system failure. I had high cortisol levels and a tentative small muffin top to show for it.
Poor Cortisol, it gets a bad rep when in fact this hormone is also responsible, among others, for controlling inflammation. In my case, constant periods of stress (yes, exercise falls under that category too) led to a lowering of my testosterone and growth hormone levels (yes, women have them too!). This led to a break down of my muscle mass, slowed my metabolism and added the dreaded extra adipose tissue. EEEEKKK!
So I have changed my ways. I was already sleeping more, reduced the amount of exercise drastically, and started saying no.
During our holidays I slept until I woke up. No alarm clock. I spent a great deal of time in the sun and at the beach, I read several books and enjoyed the company of friends and family. Not having to be anywhere or do anything. . .bliss, just bliss.
I also decided to take time off of exercising. In fact, I took a 32-day sabbatical. No exercise whatsoever. That was new and scary! I was still somehow stuck to the idea that you have to exercise not to gain weight. Guess what? Not only did I not gain weight, I lost body fat!
I sleep much better and I feel rested for the first time in ages.
This was my formula: good foods and sleep. I avoided foods that spike up insulin levels (bread, pasta, potatoes, juices, loads of fruit, sugar, dairy) and opted for proteins, veggies and good fats. I slept a great deal and relaxed for the first time in ages. It really was that simple.
Does this mean we did not indulge? Yes, of course we did. We joined my family on their Christmas meal. Half of the family being Angolan, it mean that we were served Bacalhau com Natas, a very typical Portuguese dish with cod fish, heavy cream and fries, among other ingredients. I grew up with this recipe and the smell alone brings me good memories. So what the heck? I dove in, enjoyed and dealt with the bloated belly later.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Last year my doctor told me that I had adrenal fatigue. Adrenal what now?! How did I ever get this far?
Turns out it is quite “easy” to fry your adrenals. This was my own very successful recipe:
- Go on sleeping an average of 6-7 hours per night. Throw in a couple of shorter nights just for good measure and never get up feeling rested.
- Live constantly under stress.
- Get too much work on your plate and do not ever say no.
- Beat up your body by competitive kayaking for years and by all means do not even attempt to fuel your body properly.
- Once done with competitive sports continue to beat body down by training 6 days a week. Mix 100% effort in weight training sessions to a few CrossFit circuits and you’re all done!
- Drink crazy amounts of green tea or coffee.
- Eat bad foods for most of your life and make sure your gut gets so irritated that your body is no longer able to absorb nutrients properly. Or better yet, eat things you are allergic to. I mean, since you are at it, you might as well do a thorough job at busting your immune system, after all who needs it? (right?!)
But wait, I guess I should rewind a bit and tell you why I ended up at the doctor’s office in the first place. Here it goes short and not-so-sweet:
- Major decrease in sports performance.
- Loss of muscle mass followed by a disturbing increase in body fat.
- Poor sleep or lack thereof.
- Awake during the night and sleepy during the day. I became a bat! Too bad the rest of the world didn’t work according to my body’s new schedule.
You think I would have stopped and analysed what I was doing as I went downhill wouldn’t you? Well, I didn’t. I kept on going, thinking I was “ hardcore” (yeah, whatever… in fact, yawn). After a while I started blaming my age, after all I was no longer in my twenties. (ugh). Only after my circadian rhythm flipped out completely and I realised that I was going to lose my mind from a lack of sleep did I drag my sorry butt to the doctor.
Blood tests and a 24-hour urine test confirmed that I had a Masters in Adrenal Fatigue. I had passed Cum Laude.
Horrified beyond belief, I listened as the doctor told me what I needed to do in order to revive my adrenals. Beat up, I left on a mission (how typical) to get myself all patched up.
Next time I will tell you what I did and whether it worked.