Eating less and exercising more often gives no results and leave many people feeling frustrated, and hopeless. Their last resort is commonly some extreme diet program that has rapid results. Sadly, and most likely, the fat returns faster than it came off.
The hormones of metabolism are complex and many. Let’s start with the 3 most common hormones of metabolism and the things that affect them.
Thyroid hormone, insulin and cortisol. These make up the “Metabolic Triad”. When any one of them is ‘out of whack’; the others are affected and your metabolism slows down. You struggle to burn fat no matter how hard you try.
When you are under ongoing stress, even if you’re used to it; your cortisol levels are affected. When too high, your body is in a ‘tear down’ state. We call this ‘catabolic-anabolic imbalance’. Instead of being able to build muscle, you store fat more easily.
This state of chronic stress slows down your thyroid hormone. Think of Caveman. He had a fairly simple life. Other than being under threat of attack by a wild animal, which is transient; the only time he had stress was when the leaves turned brown and he started to worry about his food supply. This state of ongoing stress caused a shift in his thyroid hormone levels and how they work. His metabolism slowed down in order to store more calories from smaller amounts of food. This is how he survived the winter.
As you continue to be under long term stress, with work and maybe a second job; maybe financial or family stressors, relationship struggles or aging parents… whatever your case might be; your ability to make higher amounts of cortisol slowly diminishes. Your body is getting depleted of all the building blocks it needs to continue to cope. You make less cortisol: your stress coping hormone.
You may notice that you can’t take on the same number of commitments as before. A sense of overwhelm might creep in at times. Perhaps your motivation is waning. You may find yourself needing that afternoon cup of coffee to keep going, even an extra one in the mornings. And fatigue sets in. Even your memory ‘is shot’ or you feel like your thoughts are a fraction slower than they used to be. This is because you burn out your brain and your body chemistry at the same time. High cortisol has been shown to ‘shrink’ your brain. Prolonged high cortisol (stress) destroys the memory cells in your hippocampus, the centre of memory. This is why you feel like you’re getting dementia when you undergo a lot of stress.
Things you can do:
- Be grateful. Gratitudes and journaling daily help lower your stress.
- Be mindful. Practising mindfulness has been shown to lower your stress response. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is well studied and a great alternative to meditation.
- Let it go! Don’t dwell on the things you cannot change!
In the quest for weight loss or ‘extreme fitness’ there is a tendency to over exercise.
Consider that your genetics have not evolved too far from Caveman’s. He was active throughout the day. Bursts of higher intensity exercise at times and for shorter periods. Not ‘spin class’ or Cross fit for an hour! I’m not saying don’t do it, however it is not a natural activity for man. In doing so, you are depleting essential nutrients that could be used for other essential functions. This is in the face of already depleting levels of cortisol. So if you want to continue your high intensity exercise, ensure you have an adequate exercise repletion protocol in place. Email [email protected] to receive the protocol.
Simply put, high intensity exercise is another stress that leads to further cortisol and essential nutrient depletion.
Things you can do:
- Check in with your body. Does your exercise rejuvenate you or make you tired?
Are you more achy after exercise and feeling worn out?
If so, it’s time to slow down.
Often, patients find better weight loss results when they decrease their amount of exercise to fit with their levels of cortisol and thyroid and insulin.
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can be completed in under 15 min with great results.
- Tabatas are also quick, high intensity short workouts that are very effective. (Again, if you have dysregulated cortisol, this may not always work. Consult a doctor who can look at these levels and prescribe the correct type of exercise to maximize your results and your metabolic triad).
Sacrificing sleep is one of the worst things for your metabolism.
Make sleep a priority.
If you have trouble falling asleep, or if you have a second wind that keeps you up into the wee hours of the night, or if you have a busy brain and feel
like the night disappeared before you could sleep deeply: you likely have issues with cortisol levels.
Sleep apnea is another metabolic blocker and an issue that you may have and be unaware of.
Insomnia, whether it is initial (trouble falling asleep), middle (awakening during the night), or terminal (early morning awakening and cannot go back to sleep) will block your metabolism and make fat burning very difficult.
Insomnia implies disturbance in not only cortisol, but hormones like progesterone and melatonin; and brain chemistry like serotonin.
All these levels can be measured and corrected with specialized testing; so you can have a restful and refreshing sleep and a healthy metabolism.
Things you can do:
- do not use your electronic devices before bedtime. Avoid your TV screen and anything stimulating or involving bright or flickering lights.
- your bedroom should be used for sleep and intimacy only.
- if you awaken in the middle of the night and lie there tossing and turning, leave your room and read or journal. Then return to bed when you’re ready to fall asleep.
- keep your room cool and completely dark. Not even the light from a charger or an alarm clock should be emitting while you’re sleeping.