FEATURE — There is an epidemic of overweight dieters who are eating less, exercising more, standing on scales and losing weight, only to gain it all back and then shame themselves in the mirror. These are people in the trenches of life who are tired, exhausted and stressed, and they just want to go home.
Home in this case is not a location but a state of being that we all seek. More often than not, we refer to it as health, but they are one and the same.
Maybe some of us have always had pretty good health, and we only take on a bit of stress here and there. Maybe we were healthy at one time in our lives and now spend a good amount of time and money on diet fads, trying to duplicate feeling and moving like we did back in the day. Or maybe, like many people I have visited with, we aren’t trying to get our health back, because we’ve always been overweight, but for the first time we are trying healthy on for size.
Whatever our situation, we’ve either seen, heard or read about the how-to of getting healthy. It looks a lot like joining a gym, walking on the “dread-mill,” going to aerobic classes, counting our steps, cutting calories, withholding favorite treats or talking about the drama of weight loss and dieting to friends and family.
Did you catch all of those action words? In all of the joining, walking, going, counting, cutting, withholding and talking it seems like we’re working harder, not smarter. Besides that, wouldn’t we rather just be out having fun and doing things that matter to us, rather than fretting about our health? Does it really have to be this much work?
There’s an easier way to manage your health, and a lot of it has to do with our ability to adopt the mindset of letting go of the “busy-ness” of losing weight. Let go of everything you think you know about weight loss and start listening to what your body is asking for.
Taking care of the innate need to eat nutritionally dense foods, exercise to burn fat calories, reduce stress and get more sleep are the factors your hormones care about. If your mindset is geared to satisfy hunger, sleep and stress signals coming from your hormones, you are closer to home than you think.
Hormones determine whether you burn or store fat. Reducing stress is key, because if we are stressed, in terms of hormones, we store fat. When stress is low, we are in a metabolic state conducive to burning fat.
If it’s the type of calories we burn that matter to our hormones, relative to reducing body fat, then we don’t want to burn calories in general, we want to burn fat calories specifically.
For instance, you wake up and get ready to do a workout routine. Keep in mind that your brain’s number one job is to keep your body safe — another term to use would be “stress free.”
When you do a workout that is unnecessarily lengthy and strenuous, you will begin to pace yourself to survive, and the likelihood that your brain is sending stress signals to your adrenal glands is much higher. You’ve just put yourself in a fat-storing mode, rather than a fat-burning mode.
We can reverse that scenario, however. Try resting more during a 30-minute workout: giving a quick burst of intense effort and then resting when you become breathless. Rest as long as you need to, and then give another short burst of intense effort when you’re ready. There is no limit to the amount of rest you might need to fully recover your breathing.
Resting will send a message of safety to your brain, which translates to a low-stress experience for your body. This is an example of the mindset that will help you reduce stress and get results. Your goal is to listen to your body and give it rest when it needs it.
Believe me when I say taking your rest in the workout is the hardest part of working out smarter. Since the day Jane Fonda put on her first pair of leg warmers and introduced the term “aerobics” to the world, the mantra we’ve been exposed to is go harder, do more, don’t stop, don’t quit.
However, listening to you first is the mindset that must go along with creating sustainable fat loss. That is how you will begin to work smarter, not harder. Take your rest when you need it. Do 30 minutes of push-and-rest exercise and see what you think. Simple.
In the same vein of listening to you first is the internal awareness of when you are hungry and tired. If your stomach growls, hormones are talking to you, and you need to feed the machine. Feeding your body nutritiously dense foods when it’s hungry sends the message to your body that it’s safe, and therefore, your stress hormone levels will stay low.
When being tired sets in, you need to wind down your day. If you don’t prepare to get more sleep when you’re tired, your tired will turn into fatigue before it runs into exhaustion, and you know what happens next: somewhere between fatigued and exhausted is cookies, cake, ice cream. It’s only funny because it’s true. We all do it.
At the end of the day, dinner is over, but we’re still up taking care of stuff. Our blood sugar drops, which makes us feel tired. We think we need some “down time” before bed and something to stabilize our blood sugar in order to stay up later. Because we’re so tired, we don’t want to think about making a healthy choice, so we grab what is easy. Easy food is usually found in the freezer or the snack cupboard.
In the end, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by ignoring our tired signals. Indulging in more down time makes getting up and being productive first thing in the morning too hard.
Truthfully, we don’t need more down time, we need more sleep. Again, that comes down to listening to the answers that lie within. Hungry means we need fuel, and tired means we need sleep. We don’t need a diet plan to tell us that. We just need to listen closer to the hormonal signals that are mapping out a direct route to fat loss success.
On your journey to achieve a level of health that allows you to live your best life, it’s imperative that you listen to your body first, regardless of what the diet world may be recommending. That world is talking to the masses, but you are not the masses.
You are an individual with personal preferences and lifestyle sensitivities. Make fat loss work for you. Keep it simple, and be confident in the fact that you already have the answers within. If you follow your hormonal instincts and care for your needs, before you know it, you’ll be home again.
Written by Teresa Ford for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.
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