Last year I worked with a woman who wanted to lose weight after many years of yo-yo dieting...
At the age of 42 she was not only concerned about her looks and health, but also her fertility. She was finally ready to put aside her short-term focus on quick fixes and juice fasts and instead learn how she can create a lifestyle for the rest of her life.
Given her long history of dieting, her metabolism was slightly resistant. Her blood work revealed that her thyroid function was slow and that her stress hormones were elevated. She didn't have enough muscle mass due to excessive cardio and too little strength training. Her body felt "flabby, soft and shapeless" according to her description. She stored most of her body fat in the lower body and had digestive issues that drained her energy. She was obsessively focusing on food (how much to eat, when, how often, why did i eat that? How can I lose weight...?)
She was dealing with the typical symptoms of someone who had taken exercise and dieting to an extreme: low energy, intense sugar and carb cravings, an inability to lose weight or keep it off, stubborn body fat on her hips and thighs and belly, fat storage on the back of her arms, sleep disturbances and joint pain with irritable bowels.
She wanted nothing more than to lose the fat and feel like herself again, but she was also afraid of starting yet another 'diet'.
There were a number of things she did that kept her in diet-binge mode...
Constant dieting drops your thyroid (thyroxin) levels. Your thyroid is the master regulator of your metabolism speed. Even just a week of cutting calories too low and exercising excessively can reduce thyroid function and in turn slow your metabolism.
Constant dieting drops your leptin levels. Leptin is the hormone released after you eat. It tells your brain you're no longer hungry. If leptin levels drop, which happens after just a few days of dieting, you get hungrier and you start craving food - the bad kind. And, you won't be able to stop eating the sugar and starches so easily because they're creating an addiction by targeting the pleasure center of the brain.
High carb meals (even from so-called 'healthy' foods, such as dairy, grains and fruit) promote high levels of insulin. Insulin is your fat storage hormone. Your body releases it in response to a lot of sugar, starch or lots of calories entering your blood stream. As soon as insulin is in your blood stream, fat burning stops. Only when insulin levels are low, fat can be released from the fat cells and used for energy.
Working with your hormones is key to seeing your hips, thighs and butt change. There are times in your cycle when estrogen levels drop - the week before your period and week of your period. When that happens, your beta receptors in the lower body can release stored body fat. That allows you to shape your lower body. However, that only happens when estrogen AND insulin levels are low. Your workout and nutrition should match your hormonal situation. That means you'll need different things if you're menopausal, pregnant, breast-feeding, and whether you're in your 20s or 40s.
Your cardio workouts can make things worse: When you eat a clean diet, your blood sugar is balanced. At the same time your insulin levels are kept low and that can help you burn body fat. But, most diets work against you when it comes to your beta receptors. Excessive stress stimulates insulin and fat storage. Many popular exercise classes (spin, 60-minute HIIT classes and treadmill running classes) promise you fast results and a high calorie burn, but they create an internal stress hormone surge that undoes any benefits the workout might have.
You need to allow your body to recover. My client never took a day off. She would go spinning, followed by HIIT workouts, followed by running - all cardio-based workouts that made her lose muscle, increased her stress hormones and in turn her appetite, sugar cravings and made her feel more tired. Yes, she burned calories, but the moment the workout was done, the body went right into fat storage mode from the stress hormones that were set free in the workout. (Yes, you can feel de-stressed after a workout mentally AND be stressed-out physically at the same time.)
I was able to help her understand her misconceptions about dieting and exercise.
She also learned that her 'more is better' mindset and perfectionism were derailing her efforts. We were able to create a well-balanced approach of the right type of exercise, paired with proper nutrition and highly effective recovery strategies and metabolism boosting tricks that she can stick to.
She was able to free up 3 hours a week by exercising less, but more efficiently. She was also able to drop 15 lbs in a matter of just 2 months, along with a drop of 4% body fat. She is well on her way to finally keeping up this lifestyle by addressing the all-or-nothing mindset that caused her to go from diet to binge to diet. She now understands that there is no such thing as eating perfectly. Rather, she understands how to eat given what her life demands and matches her workouts and nutrition to her cycle, stress levels and results.
How can you apply the above tips right away?
Follow the below steps and you'll reshape your lower body, speed fat burning, and create an after-burn effect for up to 48 hours after your workout:
Do this workout 3x a week on an empty stomach (ideally with a rest day afterwards)
Walk for at least 20 minutes afterwards (this is will help burn off the fat released in the workout)
Start your day with a meal consisting of protein and veggies (omelette, frittata, protein/veggie smoothie)
This type of workout is especially beneficial in the week before and of your period. Why? Your fat receptors in your lower body are more likely to drop body fat during this lower estrogen period.
Manage your stress levels during those two weeks as you are more stress sensitive (that includes skipping the intense spinning and HIIT classes and not overdoing the distance running).
Manage your carb intake especially during those two weeks as you're more likely to store them as fat during this period. Focus on veggies with lean proteins and skip sugar and starches.
Feed your sugar cravings with dark chocolate, such as 90% Lindt Chocolate or make a hot cocoa with unsweetened almond milk, dark cocoa powder and stevia. Zero sugar, but kills cravings.
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