As I mentioned in previous posts, for a long time I led a lifestyle that pretty much fried my adrenals and left me feeling like someone had punched the air out of me. Although I embraced the Paleo way of eating, which has allowed my body to heal itself in many levels, sleep and stress management still left a lot to be desired.
We all experience some form of stress in our lives, but things go belly up when it becomes too much. Your body not only perceives stress when you experience emotional stress (think of trouble at work or school), but also when you do too much exercise (chronic cardio for example, or too little rest between training sessions), do not get enough sleep, or eat foods the body cannot handle. So yes, experiencing too much stress may mean that although you are lean overall, your body still carries that extra body fat around your middle. It may also mean that although you dial in on your food and exercise smartly, you will not lose body fat.
Before I get into the (somewhat gruesome) details of the consequences of the lack of sleep and stress management on my body, let me give you a little scientific-ish background information you will need to make sense of the rest of the story. Please note that this is a simplistic explanation of an otherwise intricate process.
Our kidneys have little “hats” on top of them. They are called adrenals and it is their job to produce several hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Also known as the ‘’stress’’ hormone, cortisol is necessary and good in the right quantities, and bad for us in excess. If you are under constant stress your adrenals rev up the cortisol production and keep on going until they tire out and are no longer able to keep up with the demand. The cortisol output will slowly diminish and you will eventually experience the unpleasant consequences.
Now imagine a tree. That tree is Pregnenalone and it has two branches: cortisol and DHEA (a hormone that is converted into either male or female hormones). Both branches are “fed” by the tree trunk. So if your adrenal glands are constantly serving the demand for cortisol, eventually the pregnenalone ‘’tree’’ will be used mostly to cope with the stress (cortisol) and there won’t be enough pregnenalone left over to create DHEA.
What does this mean? It means that too much stress may result in a serious lowering of your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) as well as growth hormone levels. This isn’t exactly what you want if your goal is to increase or maintain your lean body mass.
So now that you´ve passed the crash course on hormones, back to my story:
My latest holidays did help and I leaned out a great deal. How do I know? It really is as simple as looking in the mirror. I usually check the “damage” in a room with neoprene lights. (WARNING!: If you do this first thing in the morning, you risk being grumpy the rest of your day.)
Me being me, I had to get myself tested to know exactly where I stood. Having this information helps me establish how to adapt my “diet” and most importantly: how I should or should not be training to get the hormonal response I need for the results I want.
Two weeks ago I decided to bite the bullet and get myself tested by one of my mentors: Bas Willemse from The Overload Principle. You can always count on Bas to tell it like it is. This is fine by me as I am not into the fluffy stuff anyway.
I underwent a test that established my Hormonal Profile. This test is based on the premise that where your body stores fat says a great deal about how balanced/imbalanced your hormones are. Once you know what your “issue” is, you can (assisted by a practitioner) effectively make changes through a combination of exercise, supplements, diet and critical lifestyle changes that are relevant and applicable to you. This is the type of testing that I do with my own clients and with great results.
So, there I stood as Bas used a skin caliper to measure 12 different skin folds on my body. Top on, top off, pants on, pants off. (On a side note: so glad I did remember not to wear a G-string. That’s just not cool.)
By the way, did you know that if a man has a higher percentage of body fat on his chest than on his triceps it generally means that there is some imbalance in his sex hormones (Growth Hormone, Testosterone and Estrogen? Something else I find interesting is that measurements on the umbilical (a.k.a. belly button) site say a lot about your stress levels. )
So anyway, my skin fold measurements, in addition to an extended questionnaire on matters such as how long I sleep, how I deal with stress, how my digestion works, etc., gave me a clear picture of what is currently going on in my body.
Tadaaaaaa! Here are the results:
Current body composition: body fat had gone from 14.9 % to 18.2 % EEEEKKK. Although I weigh the same, my lean body mass declined by 2 kilos and made way for some “good old” fat. DOUBLE EEEEEKK!! I could have cried, but it really wasn’t something I didn’t already know (and stressing out about it would have made me fatter). So yeah: shut it, take a deep, relaxing breath, and do something about it.
Hormonal Profile: estrogen profile
Broadly speaking, here are some of the “symptoms” of someone who has an estrogen profile:
- 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!)
To my doctor’s annoyance, I always need to understand why things happen in my body as I refuse to believe that it simply went mad one day and decided to do me in. So of course, I looked into it. Again in a nutshell, here are some of the possible causes of an estrogen imbalance:
- 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?)
Man, no wonder things got so messed up!
Anyway, now I know and it is time I did something about it.
- 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.
I am ready, willing and able.
The coming 6 weeks I will update my blog regularly so that you can follow me on my journey and I can be held accountable.
I am at the start line…3,2,1 GO!