Tag Archive | hormones

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Going OFF The Pill

So after years of yo-yo ing with the pill (at least 5 different brands) primarily to mitigate symptoms of PCOS, and also not get pregnant, I finally have had enough.  I recently opted instead to address the PCOS from a blood sugar/insulin resistance treatment method (diet changes and the addition of some key supplements, which I’ll talk about at a later date).  And I decided to get the Mirena IUD for birth control.  Best decision ever, on both fronts.

That being said, just as their are undesirable side effects of being ON the pill (depression, headaches, forgetting to take it, mood swings, nausea, etc), there can also be some great and not so great side effects while your body adjusts to going OFF the pill.

(Becca Schmidt/Flickr via Compfight)

Photo credit: (Becca Schmidt/Flickr via Compfight) Source: http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2014/09/ditching-the-pill

Like me, Veronica Thomas (guest contributor to Wbur’s Common Health: Reform & Reality) was caught off-guard by the unexpected side effects of going off the pill. And to help others avoid similar unpleasant surprises, she spoke with three experts about what to expect when you ditch the pill for another birth control method:

Of course, just as each woman has a unique reaction to the pill, she’ll also have a unique reaction to going off. According to the feminist women’s health organization Our Bodies, Ourselves, there is “enormous variability in any individual’s response to her own hormones or any synthetic hormones she takes.” One woman’s skin may break out in pimples, while another’s clears up completely.

With this disclaimer in mind, here are eight possibly unexpected changes you might experience when you cancel your monthly refill of that crinkly foil packet:

1. Most of the side effects should disappear in a few days.

First off, while many women decide to have their period before pitching the pack, it’s safe to stop taking the pill at any point. However, you should stop immediately if experiencing any serious side effects, like headaches or high blood pressure, says Dr. Jennifer Moore Kickham, the medical director of a Massachusetts General Hospital outpatient gynecology clinic.

Because they are taken daily, the synthetic hormones from oral contraceptives leave your system in a couple days. This is why you have to use another form of birth control after missing more than two doses of the pill. But it’s also why most acute side effects, like nausea, will go away pretty soon after giving the pill the boot. Other issues, such as mood swings or irregular bleeding, may take a bit longer. If they persist, you should visit your doctor to investigate possible other causes, Dr. Kickham says.

In addition to migraines, I had major stomach bloating while on the pill—a side effect so perpetual that I came to view it as normal. I also experienced anxiety and a general irritability that I’m sure my family and boyfriend didn’t particularly enjoy. Eventually, after six years of being on and off the pill, I couldn’t tolerate it anymore. I decided to ditch it for good. I felt better almost immediately. After a month, my headaches and bloating vanished. (I had no idea I could eat without my stomach inflating like a balloon!) My mood issues took a bit longer, but eventually faded away, too.

When you stop the pill after a few years, you may actually realize you were experiencing mild side effects the entire time, like bloating or breast tenderness. According to Dr. Kickham, “Some women come off and say, ‘I didn’t realize I had a low-level headache the whole time I was on the pill, and now it’s gone.’”

2. But some of the pill’s benefits will go too.

Though I may have started this story with a little pill-bashing party, oral contraceptives do have major benefits that usually outweigh any negative side effects. “The pill is an effective form of contraception with a lot of great benefits,” Dr. Kickham says. “So as long as it’s safe for patients to use and they’re not having horrible side effects, it can be a really great option.”

While about half of my friends are dumping the pill in favor of IUDs, the other half have had serious commitments with the same oral contraceptives for years with little or no side effects. “There are some women who are very sensitive to the hormones and switch a variety of times and always have some type of side effect,” says Dr. Goldberg of Planned Parenthood. “Then, other women can tolerate most formulations without much difficulty.”

Because most versions of the pill include both estrogen and progestin, it also has a number of health perks that you can’t get from progestin-only or hormone-free methods, like IUDs or condoms. In fact, many women who don’t actually need birth control take the pill for its other health benefits, like lighter periods and reduced cramping. Other benefits of the pill include some protection against: acne, PMS symptoms, iron deficiency anemia, endometrial and ovarian cancer, and additional health problems.

When you stop taking the pill, you may lose these benefits. It’s like flipping a coin. The benefits you got on the pill morph into the new side effects of being off it, whereas the side effects you had turn into benefits. The light, regular periods you had on the pill may be replaced by spotting and cramping, and your porcelain skin may turn into a pimply mess. But, on the flip side, your sex drive may return and your irritability may evaporate.

“All these choices are a balance of risks and benefits,” Dr. Kickham explains. Do the benefits tip the scale in the pill’s favor, or are the side effects weighing you down like a bag of bricks? “For any medication, if the risks or negative side effects are outweighing the benefits, then they should consider other options,” she says.

3. You’ll need to use another form of birth control. Immediately.

Protection from an unwanted pregnancy is one crucial—and obvious—benefit of the pill that will vanish almost instantly. Just as acute side effects should stop in a couple days, the contraception will too.

“Most women resume ovulation pretty quickly after stopping the pill,” Dr. Goldberg explains. “So, the most important thing for women to know is that when they stop the pill they are at risk for pregnancy almost immediately.” It’s crucial to find a new method as soon as possible without any gaps in coverage, she says.

4. Your normal period might not return for a while.

Although my teenage self would hate me for saying this, I actually looked forward to having a regular period when I went off the pill. The low-dose oral contraceptive that I had taken for the past three years made me stop having one all together. I waited for eight months. No period. I had no idea this wasn’t normal at first. I just thought it was part of transitioning off the pill.

After a number of doctor visits, blood tests and even a rather uncomfortable ultrasound, I was diagnosed with secondary amenorrhea—the absence of menstruation. I had to take two weeks of progestin-only pills, then restart the pill for a month in order to “jumpstart” my hormones and ensure my body could cycle.

I dropped the pill last September without knowing what changes to anticipate in my body. I eagerly welcomed most of them, but my unexpectedly absent period made me worry about fertility and my future. In fact, this surprising change was my impetus for writing this story.

According to the experts I spoke with, if your period hasn’t returned for three months after stopping the pill, you should visit your doctor, who can investigate other potential causes. I’m not alone in my post-pill amenorrhea. It took one of my friends nine months to regain her period after stopping the pill.

But for most women, ovulation should resume in a few days and periods should return within a couple of months. “If you stop the pill and you don’t get a regular period for a month or two, it’s just a delayed menses—give it a little more time,” Dr. Goldberg says.

Even if your period does return right away, it might be different. The pill often lightens bleeding and reduces cramping, while also making your periods more regular and predictable. According to Dr. Kickham, this is why many women love the pill.

When you stop taking the pill, you may experience irregular periods for a few months or even years, especially if you had erratic menstruation pre-pill, says Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies, Ourselves. If you had heavy, crampy periods before the pill, they might also return when you go off.

5. You may find yourself more interested in sex.

Lying down with a heating pad on your stomach is not the only thing you might be doing more of in bed. After discontinuing the pill, you may also find yourself wanting to get sexually intimate more often. The combination pill limits the amount of free testosterone in the blood, which creates anti-androgenic (“anti-masculine”) symptoms in some women, including lower libido and sexual dysfunction.

“Where the pill helps with acne and hair growth, some of my patients will come back saying ‘I don’t have the desire I used to and I don’t know why, I’ve noticed a difference,’” Dr. Kickham explains. Other women may actually experience increased libido while on the pill because it reduces their anxiety about getting pregnant.

Several studies over the past 30 years have found that oral contraceptives hinder sexual function by decreasing sexual interest and arousal, as well as the frequency of sexual intercourse and enjoyment. When you stop taking the pill there is more free testosterone in your system, so don’t be surprised if you notice a big boost in your sex drive. Reminder of No. 3 above: You need new protection right away.

6. Your skin may break out like a prepubescent teenager’s.

For the first time in a while, you’re not bloated or moody, and you’re the one initiating sex. You’re feeling confident and sexy—like a million bucks. But then, a pimple pops up on your chin. Then, a few more. Soon, you feel like a prepubescent teen desperately trying every acne face wash and zit-zapper from the drugstore. So much for that boost in libido.

This is exactly what happened to me. After years of clear skin and a mostly pimple-free adolescence, a painful mess of cystic acne covered my chin and jaw—often where hormonal acne appears in adults. The pill can help mitigate hormone-related symptoms like acne and hair growth, so when you stop taking it, these issues may, literally, surface.

Cue a visit to the dermatologist. After a couple months of very unsexy, painful acne, I finally got my skin under control with salicylic acid and spironolactone (a medication that reduces circulating androgens), but I’m left with red acne marks and blotchy skin.

Some women with post-pill acne may actually find out they have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome—a common hormonal disorder often accompanied by acne. “If a woman has been on the pill for a long time, like 10 years, other pathologies could have developed and be unmasked when she comes off,” says Dr. Goldberg. Say a woman had mild PCOS before going on the pill but wasn’t diagnosed. The pill may help improve or control the symptoms of acne and irregular periods so much that the PCOS doesn’t become apparent until she stops taking it a decade later, she says.

For many women, cystic acne is worse than any side effect they experience while taking the pill. For me, I’d still rather apply an extra coat of concealer every morning than risk ruining my relationships because of my erratic mood swings and irritability.

7. Your emotions and mood swings might get better—or worse.

Although this change is difficult to prove and slightly resembles a daytime talk-show confession, I finally feel like “myself” since ditching the pill. I have more energy and excitement about school and my relationships, and don’t find myself wanting to strangle a friend who asks about my day.

According to Judy Norsigian, mood swings, depression and general brain “fogginess” are some major reasons women go off the pill and use other birth control methods.

On the other hand, women who use the pill to treat severe PMS or premenstrual dysphoric disorder may actually experience improvements in their mood while taking it. If they have mood fluctuations related to their natural cycle, the balancing effect of the pill’s synthetic hormones can help, so mood issues may return when they go off, Dr. Kickham explains.

“It is hard to predict who will respond in what way to the variety of pills,” she says. “For instance, I’ve definitely had people call me a couple weeks after starting the pill saying, ‘I’m crying all the time, I’ve noticed a huge change in my mood.’ So we have them come off it right away, immediately.”

Since the hormones metabolize out of the system within a couple days, your mood issues should improve once you go off the pill—if it was actually to blame.

8. You might still have side effects with your new method. (Sadly, it turns out there is no perfect birth control.)

If you’re going off the pill and still need a birth control method, there are a number of other options to choose from. “I usually just go through the whole list of contraceptives and try to decide with my patients what they’re looking for based on their goals and their response to the pill,” Dr. Kickham says.

Regardless of the new method you’re choosing, sadly, no birth control is perfect. Since both the patch and the vaginal ring contain a combination of estrogen and progestin, you might have similar side effects with these that you had on the pill, like breast tenderness and nausea.

The birth control shot, which injects progestin every three months, is associated with irregular bleeding and weight gain, as well as osteoporosis. Another of its biggest drawbacks is the inability to take the hormones back out once they’re injected. Unlike the pill, the hormones will not metabolize out of the system until after the three months.

The implant, which is a matchstick-sized rod placed in your arm for up to three years, also releases only progestin. Since both the shot and implant don’t release estrogen, you might miss out on some of its perks. For instance, you won’t have the benefits of more regulated periods, reduced acne or protection against reproductive organ diseases, like endometrial cancer.

Though it has its own cult following, even the IUD—a T-shaped device placed in the uterus—is also not without fault. The ParaGard, which does not release any hormones and works for up to 10 years, is associated with heavier and crampier periods. The hormonal IUDs, Mirena and Skyla, release progestin and last for three to five years. Unlike the ParaGard, they may lighten your period and actually get rid of it entirely. But on the flip side, IUDs don’t provide the benefits linked to estrogen.

As with the pill, experts say you should stick with your new birth control method for at least three months as long as you’re not experiencing any severe side effects, since it can take that long for your body to adjust.

 

Bottom line: As with many things, trial and error comes into play to find a birth control method that suits you. Each body and its hormonal makeup differ significantly, so what works for your friend(s) may be a disaster for you (just like with dating! ha!).  Key in to how YOU feel with the method(s) you’ve tried and go with what makes you feel best.

Ciao for now!

-E

What Women Need to Know To Lose Fat, Build Muscle, and Improve Performance (this one’s for you, ladies!)

With summertime and days at the beach right around the corner, this may be a time when many of you are feeling like you’re not quite bikini-ready. Some of you may have even been trying to get into shape over the winter and aren’t seeing the changes you had hoped for. I know for me, I see lots of men in the gym with toned bodies, great muscle definition and six-pack abs…and they don’t exactly seem to be going HAM to get it. I feel like I eat pretty clean and push myself, yet the results (while they are happening) are sloowwwwww. What gives?!

The thing is, women’s bodies differ significantly from men’s in terms of metabolism and somewhat in terms of exercise response. On top of that, there are considerable gender stereotypes and misconceptions that limit women’s ability to get useful advice about how to improve their physiques (i.e. the myth that lifting heavy will make you bulky and/or manly).

I found an article online by the Poliquin Group™ Editorial Staff on How Women’s Metabolism Differs From Men’s & What To Do About It that was so well written that I decided to share it with you all 🙂  They mention 5 key pieces of information that will empower you to meet your goals:

#1: At rest, women burn more glucose (carbs) than men and less fat. In addition, women tend to have greater fat storage after eating, which also contributes to their higher body fat percentage.

From an evolutionary perspective, it’s favorable for women to have more body fat because these fat stores will be used during pregnancy and lactation. Once young women become able to reproduce, their bodies will begin storing fat around the hips and thighs “locking it away” in preparation for having a baby.

The fat around the hips and thighs (called gluteofemoral fat) has a particularly high concentration of DHA, one of the three omega-3 fats. The theory is that gluteofemoral DHA fat is used to make breast milk, and that it is for the development of a baby’s brain.

Research suggests that U.S. women tend to have a low percentage of DHA in their gluteofemoral fat due to low intake of omega-3s. This typically leads to significant weight gain during pregnancy, because the woman’s brain is thought to monitor nutrient status throughout the body, sensing the low DHA stores.

This leads to excessive hunger cues, causing women to eat more, in the quest to store as much DHA as possible for nurturing an infant brain. In contrast, Japanese women have a much higher percentage of DHA in their fat due to high fish intake and are correspondingly leaner.

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I personally like this brand…high quality, low toxins, and meets recommended doses of EPA and DHA. Click photo for more info.

What To Do About It: Regardless of whether you’re planning on having a baby, get adequate DHA in your diet. Shoot for a balanced ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats by limiting your intake of vegetable fats and oils.

Make your body metabolically flexible so that it is capable of burning fat for energy. Do this by limiting carbohydrates in your diet at certain times so that your body is forced to learn to burn fat. For example, try eating lower carb on a day when you aren’t training but higher carb on workout days. Doing anaerobic-style exercise such as weight lifting and sprints also improves the body’s metabolic flexibility.

 

 

#2: Women and men burn (and store) body fat differently. Women rely on fat for fuel during exercise to a much greater degree than men. This makes exercise absolutely essential for women to lose fat because of the unfortunate fact that women burn much less fat at rest.

In addition, women store fat right below the skin (subcutaneously), whereas men have more visceral fat. Visceral fat is metabolically active and a risk for cardiovascular health and insulin resistance. Meanwhile, for women, having a reasonable amount of lower body fat indicates better health and less heart disease risk!

Women tend to lose fat from the upper body first, but have a harder time losing lower body fat. As mentioned in #1, women’s bodies preferentially store fat for pregnancy, but they also have a greater number of alpha receptors in this region than men. The combination of alpha receptors and estrogen inhibits the loss of fat. Men have a higher total proportion of beta receptors, which makes it easier for them to mobilize fat to burn it off.

To get rid of stubborn lower body fat, research shows women must perform anaerobic training. For example, a recent study found that by adding a strength program to an aerobic exercise protocol produced superior fat loss. Women who did concurrent training lost 12.2 percent of fat mass from the legs, decreased hip circumference by 4 percent, and lost 9.7 percent of the original body fat. In contrast, the women who did aerobic training lost 5.7 percent fat mass from the legs, decreased hip circumference by 4 percent, and lost 5 percent of their original body fat.

Scientists suggest that the higher intensity of resistance exercise helps to stimulate the release of body fat from fat cells so that it can be burned for energy. In addition, it’s possible (though not definitive) that estrogen has a positive effect on fat burning during exercise via a few mechanisms:

• Estrogen appears to limit the breakdown of triglycerides in the blood stream for storage.

• Estrogen enhances epinephrine production for greater fat burning.

• Estrogen stimulates growth hormone, which plays a role in fat metabolism and stimulates blood flow.

What To Do About It: Perform strength training, favoring multi-joint exercises, with a focus on lower body and total body lifts such as squats, deadlifts, step ups, and lunges. Do high-intensity interval training on a track, bike, or by pushing a sled to target the alpha receptors and enhance fat loss from the lower body.

 

#3: Stress affects women’s metabolism, inhibiting fat loss. Of course, stress affects fat loss for everyone, but it’s possible certain kinds of stress are more harmful to women than men.

Stress leads to persistent cortisol secretion, and cortisol’s primary function is to increase blood sugar (bringing with it an insulin spike) so you have enough energy to get through a stressful situation.

When this becomes chronic, the body turns the hormone pregnenolone, which is a precursor to estrogen and testosterone, into progesterone, which is then used to make cortisol and aldosterone. Together these hormones lead to greater fat storage and more fluid retention. Not only will you have more cortisol, but you’ll have less estrogen and testosterone.

Women with lower testosterone than normal have a disadvantage when it comes to fat loss. Although elevated estrogen is not beneficial for loss, low estrogen isn’t either as we saw in #2, because it inhibits the greater fat oxidation that women experience during exercise. The body’s just not working right any more. Everything is out of whack and fat loss simply won’t happen.

What To Do About It:Find stress management strategies that work for you, whether it’s meditation, yoga, psychological therapy, or something else. (In addition, you might want to take an adaptogenic supplement if you think your adrenals are really out of whack)

Focus on optimizing your circadian rhythms. Consider that the body operates around a 24-hour circadian clock. Each person’s clock is slightly different, a trait known as chronotype or tendency toward being a morning or evening person. Chronotype reflects the time of the day that someone’s physical functions (hormone level, body temperature, cognitive faculties, eating and sleeping) are active.

When you adhere to your chronotype, you can promote balance and optimal health. When you go against the clock, the innate rhythms are disrupted. This will increase stress and make fat loss much more difficult.

 

#4: Intermittent fasting and calorie restriction tends to be detrimental for women but beneficial for men.

Intermittent fasting (IF) and calorie restriction is a glaring example of how stress negatively affects women’s metabolism compared to men. Both are metabolically beneficial for most men, allowing them to lose fat, lower inflammation, and improve disease risk factors.

However, research shows fasting is harmful for female reproductive health. Anecdotally, many women have reported that fasting has caused weight gain, blood sugar imbalance, sleeplessness, missed periods, and infertility.

Where men tend to lose fat with fasting, a large portion of women gain it. The mechanism behind this discrepancy likely has to do with how the female body responds to lack of calories. Scientists believe that calorie restriction, even sporadic restriction, causes hormonal dysregulation, and excess cortisol secretion with the body holding onto its fat stores. It’s a “protective response” as the body stores the fat for future survival when calories will be scarce.

What To Do About It: Avoid calorie restriction if you’re exercising at a high intensity or for long duration. Be very cautious with fasting. It sounds counter intuitive but if you give your body enough energy, with balanced fat, carbs and protein, your hormones will be in happy balance, stress will be lower, and your body will be more willing to give up your fat stores.

funny-picture-todays-to-do-eat-workout-be-awesome

#5: Young women have the same ability to build muscle as men. Older women appear to be at a disadvantage when it comes to building muscle.

A common belief is that women can’t build as much muscle as men because they don’t have as much testosterone. Technically this isn’t true. Recent studies show that protein synthesis and gene signaling that leads to muscle gains are nearly equal between young men and women.

However, women start out with less muscle and their bodies tend to be lighter and smaller than men’s, so increases a 10 percent increase in muscle for a woman will be smaller than a man’s in absolute terms.

In addition, very large increases in testosterone such as when a male goes through puberty or when one takes testosterone in the form of steroids do increase muscle mass. The small, transient post-workout increase doesn’t. Rather, the exercise-induced increase is thought to be linked to athletic performance.

A recent study illustrates this: Women and men performed a resistance training workout and then took a protein drink. Muscle protein synthesis was 2.3 times higher in men and 2.7 times higher in women than at rest. Men experienced a 45-fold higher increase in testosterone post-workout than the women, however this had no effect on protein synthesis or gene signaling, which are the primary factors for building muscle.

The exception is older women who have a reduced muscle building response to resistance exercise. They have lower protein synthesis than men of the same age in response to training, which appears to be maintained even when they take supplemental protein, however more research needs to be done regarding dosing.

It’s possible older women require a larger dose of protein or more of the amino acid leucine (which has been found to equalize protein synthesis in older and younger men).

What To Do About It: If you’re a woman who wants to put on muscle, you’re in luck! You won’t look like a man, but you will be able to build muscle in the same way men can. Consider this a good thing!

Do a periodized hypertrophy-style training program that favors moderate reps (8 to 12) and moderate load (65 to 85 percent of the 1RM) for a high volume.

If you just want to get lean, building muscle will help. A small increase in muscle mass will boost your metabolism significantly so you burn exponentially more calories at rest, enabling fat loss.

Use a training program that changes every 3 to 6 weeks to continually shock your body into adapting. Make sure to use heavy enough weights—one of the most common reason women don’t get results from training is that they use weights that are too light.

 

The takeaways:

  • Don’t starve yourself
  • Eat enough protein
  • Include healthy fats in your diet
  • Don’t be afraid of weights/lifting heavy
  • High Intensity Interval training is better than steady state cardio for fat loss
  • Keep stress levels under control

 

Ciao for now!

 

-E

 

 

Want a Fast Metabolism? Avoid “Starvation Mode!”

I hope everyone’s New Year is off to a fantastic start!  I’ve seen lots of new faces at my gym and hope that they can keep themselves motivated for some healthy lifestyle changes in 2014!  Weight loss, fat loss, healthier eating, and getting in better shape are often at the top of many lists of resolutions. The problem though, is that there is overwhelming and conflicting information on how best to achieve these goals. Given my professional background and personal experiences, I often have many people reach out to me for tips, tricks, and recommendations…and I’m always happy to share what I know.  One of my ongoing pleas to those who ask me (and even to those who don’t), is PLEASE DO NOT STARVE YOURSELF!!  And by starve, I don’t just mean stop eating…I also mean UNDEReating.  I’ve written before about how eating less food can cause your metabolism to slow down to conserve energy, and I recently found an article by integrative physician, Jade Teta where this process is explained both simply and thoroughly.

In the article, Dr. Teta discusses “starvation mode” (aka adaptive thermogenesis), which is the body’s natural protective mechanism developed through millions of years of evolution to keep you from starving when food was something you had to work to get. Rather than trying to paraphrase this awesomely well-written, concise article, I think I’ll just share it as is:

starvation-modeSource

Starvation Mode? What are we really talking about

We realize there is a ton of noise out on the internet regarding “starvation mode”, “metabolic damage” and “weight loss resistance”. Because of that it is difficult to make sense of what people mean by these terms.

Whether you are a lean bodybuilder, an elite athlete or your average Jane or Joe trying to lose some weight, you will be impacted by the metabolic compensation of the body. It is a natural response of the metabolism and not some crazy disease state. Here is how it works in bullets so you can easily follow the narrative:

  • You go on a diet.  By diet I mean you do some combination of “eat less, exercise more”.
  • At the start you do just fine and may actually lose a few pounds.  You’re happy. YAY!
  • A few days or weeks in and your body starts to compensate. You start feeling more hungry, your energy becomes unstable, you start getting cravings and your metabolic rate declines. This is metabolic compensation. It’s the body’s normal protective response.  Lets called this starvation mode phase 1.
  • Because of this metabolic compensation your weight loss slows, halts or, if you have a very large drop in metabolic rate and/or can’t control the hunger and craving urge, even reverses.
  • Being a good little dieter you decide to double down on the eat less, exercise more approach. You think, “I just need to work harder”.
  • Things may change briefly.  Maybe you lose a few more pounds or at least stop the weight regain.  But the body compensates again and this time more quickly.
  • Perhaps you try even harder, but the body slowly becomes more resistant to your attempts.
  • Now you are eating like a bird and spending hours in the gym and nothing seems to be happening. We call this metabolic resistance. You can think of this as starvation mode phase 2.
  • You don’t understand what is happening, but you have an iron will.  All you need to do is work harder.  You hit the internet and immerse yourself in the best “thinspiration” you can fine.  Maybe you play some Rocky theme music.  You quadruple your effort!!
  • You see some results, but now you have other worries.  You start feeling gassy and bloated all the time.  If you’re a women, your menses becomes irregular or disappears. Your libido is shot.
  • Your sleep is disrupted and you are exhausted.  You may feel a “wired but tired sensation”. You feel sick and unwell. Anxious or depressed but usually both.
  • You just can’t keep up any more. Now you are slowly gaining weight no matter how hard you try. This is metabolic damage. Phase 3 and the final stage of starvation mode.
  • You go to a physique coach.  Tell them what is going on and they say “you are in starvation mode”.  You need to eat more and ease up on the exercise.  They tell you to move from an eat less, exercise more approach to an eat more, exercise less approach.
  • Guess what happens?  You gain so much weight so fast you could swear someone stuck an air pump in you!  Not good, not good at all.  You gain 15 pounds in 7 days and feel worse than ever.
  • You go to seek answers, but no one has them. What do you do?  You go back to the eat less, exercise more model. But it still does not work and continue the cycle doing more damage to your body and your psyche.

The escape from starvation mode

Here is the information you have never been told. Your body does not work like a calculator.  It works like a thermostat.

What happens if your heater breaks in the winter and starts pushing out cold air?  You don’t turn up the fan speed do you? You turn it off and find another way to keep warm.

When you play the game described above you are playing an UN-winnable tug-o-war game. You pull as hard as you can and the metabolism pulls back just as hard or harder. So you pull even harder and the metabolism once again responds in kind.  If you keep playing this game you will end up in a heap of exhausted rubble on the ground. You can’t win this game, so stop playing. Remember that trick in tug-o-war when you were matched against a team that you knew would beat you? When they pulled, you let the rope go and they went flailing to the ground as you looked on in laughter!  That is how you beat starvation mode.

metabolic-syndrome-300x252Source

Fixing starvation mode

Whether you are in metabolic compensation (phase 1), metabolic resistance (phase 2) or metabolic damage (phase 3) the beginning steps are the same.

You stop the eating less, exercise more approach and instead let go of the rope by matching your intake of food with your output of energy. You either 1) eat less and exercise less OR 2) eat more and exercise more.

These are your only two options, and the only way you start to decrease the stress on your metabolism while not gaining weight in the process. If you happen to have gotten all the way to stage 3, your only real option is the eat less, exercise less approach.

Steps to take

Metabolic Compensation (phase 1):  This phase is pretty easy to deal with.  Just simply move to an eat less, exercise less OR and eat more, exercise more approach. The approach you choose does not really matter. This will almost always solve the issue. Expect to be back on track within a week.

Metabolic Resistance (Phase 2): If you find yourself in this phase you will need to cycle the diet.  Spend 2-3 weeks in the eat less, exercise less phase and then switch to an eat more, exercise more approach for a time.  You will likely need to take some other steps involving rest and recovery activities like prioritizing very low intensity activity like walking and muscle regaining activity like weight training over intervals and traditional cardio. Expect to be back on track within 1-3 months.

Metabolic Damage (Phase 3):  Here you have no choice.  It’s eat less, exercise less.  It is also relaxing and restorative activity and no intense exercise or cardio.  Even the popular short intense metabolic conditioning workouts will be too much at this stage.  You will likely also need to consult with a functional medicine doctor who can evaluate thyroid, adrenal and gonadal function. This is beyond the scope of a physique coach to deal with. Supplements and or hormones may be required at this point. Expect to be back on track within 3 to 15 months (if you get the right help).

Understand-metabolism

I hope this hit home with some of you who are struggling with weight loss and educates you as to what NOT to do. I often wish I would have had this information when I was 14, before I began the slippery slope of crash dieting that would find me in a decade longs struggle with eating disorders. Then again, now that I’ve made it through to the other side and now know how to properly nourish my body, I’m grateful for my experience, as it allows me to connect with and educate others.

If anyone has any struggles, questions, or success stories about anything mentioned in this post, please feel free to share 🙂

Ciao for now,

-E

 

 

Exercise – It’s for EVERYbody but it benefits MORE than just your body!

A recent discussion with a friend of mine, who is recently getting back on track with making fitness a priority, prompted me to write about the mental health benefits of exercise. You see, my friend had been having difficulty getting back on track amidst running her business, recently giving birth to a new baby, raising her two other kids, and keeping a home together. She was worried about making time to workout, what if her body didn’t respond to exercise the way it once did b.b. (before babies), etc.

exercise makes you happySource

As her friend, it was hard for me to watch her struggle…she has been stressed out and a little down lately, and I know from my own experience that, regardless of the physical benefits that she’d reap from regular sweat sessions, exercising would really boost her mood and be a great stress outlet.

Many of you already know about the mental health benefits of working out, but with society cramming images of perfect bodies down our throats, it’s easy to focus solely on the physical/aesthetic benefits. So, as a reminder, here are a few ways exercise can improve your mood:

1. Reduce Stress
One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. When we work up a sweat, our body increases its concentration of norepinephrine, a chemical that can decrease the brain’s response to stress.

exercise reduces stressSource

 

2. Increase Happiness
In addition to releasing chemicals that help us deal with stress, exercise also releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among those    who are clinically depressed. In some cases, exercise can even be as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression. And it doesn’t have to be pumping iron or sprinting on the treadmill at a gym…go for a walk, a hike, rollerskating, etc for just 30 minutes a few times a week and you can instantly boost overall mood.exercise helps depression

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3. Relieve Anxiety
You might be surprised to know that a 20 minute jog is actually better at alleviating anxiety than a warm bubble bath. During (and after!) a sweat sesh, the brain releases chemicals that help us calm down, and doing moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise (interval training, anyone?) can reduce anxiety sensitivity.

4. Boost Brainpower
This one is awesome…Several studies on both mice and humans have shown that cardiovascular exercise can stimulate the creation of new brain cells (for my science geeks, this is known as neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance. Research also suggests that higher intensity workouts increase levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking and learning.

brain on exercise

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5. Sharpen Memory
Regular physical activity boosts memory and our ability to learn new things. Getting sweaty increases production of cells in the hippocampus—the part of our brain which is responsible for memory and learning.

I talked to my friend about some of these and she finally just bit the bullet and hit the gym for the first time in a while…and she said she felt immediate results. She told me she felt less stressed, more in-control, and her overall mood was just better. Hooray!

Give it a try and see for yourself! The proof is in the pudding 🙂

Ciao for now!

-E