Have you been to the doctor and all your blood tests show up ‘healthy’, but you feel far from it?
Have you been eating really well, maybe the paleo way or vegan? Taking your vitamins? Drinking green juice daily, eating kale….. and still you feel tired, stressed, can’t sleep and your weight is creeping up no matter how much exercise you do?
What's going on?
When it comes to health, we tend to put all our focus on the body and it’s biochemistry, we replenish nutritional deficiencies, treat inflammation, count calories or carbs, and take our medicine. We know what good nutrition looks like, we know we need to move our bodies, and sleep, yep, we know how important this is too.
So why isn't it making a difference to how you feel?
Or, why aren’t you doing it?
Why are you feeling more tired each day. Why are women always feeling burnt-out, overwhelmed, and plagued with symptoms of weight gain, depression, anxiety, insomnia and reproductive problems?
Let's talk about your hormones, psyche and food choices!
Your hormones have much more influence than you realise. While you're doing all the right things in terms of diet and exercise, your body's hormonal profile could be working against your attempts to lose fat by exercising. Instead of burning fat from you low calorie/carb diet, it could be storing fat all day long. Maybe it stopped producing the right chemistry which naturally keeps you happy and calm, and it may have blocked your fertility hormones without your knowing,
Why would it do this??
Our hormones are one big happy family, nothing happens to one without impacting another. Commonly today, we tend to see an overproduction of hormones that are released when we’re stressed, these are adrenalin and cortisol.
These hormones are released when our body perceives a threat. It’s a primitive stress response back from our hunter gatherer days, and it helps our bodies prepare to either fight or flee from a life threatening situation – back then it was a wild animal. It’s life saving during times of famine and war also.
Today, most of our stress is psychological though, coming from our thoughts. Our life is not in mortal danger, but the body thinks it is and produces the same hormonal cascade when, for example, we have a fight with our partner, our boss has criticised our work, worried you can’t pay the bills, you self-loath over the kilos you’ve gained or the chocolate you ate or if you’re selling your soul for a pay-check.
Our thoughts have power, which is why the field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) even exists, to study the how our thoughts translate into biochemistry. You can read more here.
When this system is triggered constantly and these hormones become excessive, then what once saved our life, ends up doing us more harm then good.
Adrenalin diverts blood supply away from our digestive system, so food is not being digested (hello bloating and gas). It communicates to your cells to release stored glucose and dump it into your blood, causing sugar levels to spike and insulin to be released. Now your body is busy storing fat.
Then we have cortisol, which tells our body that food is scarce and there is a famine, even though food is abundant. It then breaks down muscle to convert that into sugar (fuel), causing more insulin to be released, so you’re definitely storing fat now regardless of what you eat. If the stress continues, you’ll stay in fat storage mode until your body knows it’s safe to burn fat again.
Because you're in a ‘famine’, or so your body thinks, it doesn't need to focus on reproduction because the last thing it wants is for you to conceive, so it shuts down your fertility hormones.
It impacts your ‘happy’ chemical, serotonin, because you don’t need to be happy, calm and content while you’re trying to survive this famine, war, or outrun the wild animal. You just need to survive.
Over the long-term, if stress continues then these hormones begin to impact other systems. In particular the thyroid gland, immune system, digestive system, ovaries/reproduction, and mood and emotions. It has systemic effects. It will also lead to adrenal fatigue, where your body eventually becomes burnout, read more here.
Maybe you've noticed this yourself. Have you gone from a happy, relaxed, energetic woman who could lose weight easily and eat most foods? Now you've become stressed or anxious, you tend to worry more and become irritable. You feel unhappy and tired more often than not. You gain weight easily, particularly around the abdomen, and digestive bloating becomes a regular thing. Your PMS symptoms get worse and most nights you have trouble sleeping – which is why you drink wine (you think).
Our hormones influence our food choices
Cortisol causes your body to crave sugar, because that’s the best source of fuel for running from a life threatening situation. You may muster up all your willpower to avoid it, but you succumb in the end because the body needs to refill it's fuel tank!
So you’ll naturally eat chocolate, biscuits or bread in order to increase the sugar levels, which then releases insulin in to move sugar into cells for energy. After a couple of hours, your sugar levels plummet, and you’re back to feeling tired, irritable, hungry and craving sugar. If this process happens over the whole day, your body is up and down like a yo-yo.
No matter how much exercise you do, being in this hormonal state makes it virtually impossible to lose weight.
Still wondering why you can’t lose weight? Why you feel tired all the time? Overwhelmed? Irritable?
Our thoughts influence our hormones
Most of our stress today is psychological. We live lives that bring us little joy, we disconnect from ourselves, we don’t meet our needs and desires, and we feel unsatisfied. We get caught up in our to-do lists, that we don’t even realise we’re not having fun anymore. That were not living the lives we once dreamed of.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Our body is self-healing, it maintains homeostasis all on its own while you go about your busy day. It fights bacteria, viruses, balances your hormones, detoxifies your body, detects and destroys cancer cells, and balances your metabolism and weight. Your body is fully equipped with everything it needs to order to rebalance and recharge.
The only reason your body is not doing this now is because your stress hormones have interrupted this ability. Our stress response shuts down our innate self-healing mechanisms.
Don't think you have much stress?
It's estimated that the average person has up to 50 stress responses per day, but even more if you're in an unhealthy relationship, you hate your job, you're unhappy, you have a to-do list a mile long, you feel lonely, you worry about money or have no down-time.
Firstly, breathe! Seriously, take a deep breath! Then another one, even deeper again, feel your rib cage expand. Take another, this time pause for 2 seconds on the peak of inhalation…..you’ve already started the process of changing your chemical profile. Breathing exercises reduce your stress hormones and switch your body into the relaxation response, where your body is in self-healing mode.
Long and slow breathing, focus on your breath and make sure your abdomen moves in and out as you breathe. This will alter the cascade of hormonal events that trigger anxiety and fat storage.
Do as often as you can throughout the day. When you’re out for a walk, sitting at your desk, when you wake up and after lunch.
Leave notes around the place so you can remember. Put a reminder in your phone.
2. Identify your stress
The hormonal response is triggered by the mind (thoughts) which also influence our actions. In order to get to the heart of the matter, you need find what is your underlying stress.
I recommend keeping a journal for 6 weeks and write in it everyday. It can be one page or one line, it doesn’t matter. The idea is to get your thoughts out of your head and to clear your mind. It’s like a mental dump, it’s cleansing.
After a month you’ll start to see common themes in your writing which will tell you about your core beliefs, stressors, and where you limit yourself in life.
Commit to a time everyday to write.
3. Make some changes
Once you’ve identified your source of stress, you either need to change the situation or change the way you see it.
If this was easy, you would have done it already!
Get support. I can’t emphasise this enough.
Our history shows that we have always been supported by our tribe, community and/or family.
Today, we’re “independent” and try to do everything ourselves. We keep our stressors, worries, and pain locked away so no one can see them, and on the outside we look calm, relaxed and ‘in control’. This is far from the truth, and inside we’re are struggling to keep up with the demands of our life, and our body is screaming for help.
Talk to a friend, ask a family member for help, reach out to your community for social support. Join a spiritual group or whatever helps you to feel more connected to the bigger picture.
See a life coach. I incorporate Life Coaching into my work because I saw the effect stress had on the health of my patients, and I felt the effect it had over my own health and life.
Coaching is transformational. My clients experience major transformations by making the smallest changes!
Life coaching is part detox and part nourishment for the mind, body, spirit and emotions.
Coaching gives you the opportunity to have the important conversation you would otherwise be too busy to have.
Coaching creates space for your soul!
From my experience, many of us need more than just a physical shift to transform our health, but emotional and mental shifts to transform our lives. Illness is a teacher and comes because we are not living in alignment or not living fully.
Love to hear your comments – please share below or on Facebook
I’m a Naturopath, Transformational Coach, Mind-body Medicine Specialist & Speaker, and I love supporting modern women who are overworked, busy & burnt out.
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