We see it all the time: client comes in, they want to lose weight – ideally fat. In pursuit of that goal of fat loss, they’ve been watching what they eat and hitting the gym every day. Sometimes, even twice a day! But despite all that exercising, they’re just not getting the results and we can see the frustration radiating off them.
“Why aren’t I getting results?” we get asked. The answer a lot of the time is stress. When you are under stress, your body produces more cortisol and more cortisol means more fat stores. But we don’t just mean emotional stress, physical stress is a significant and often overlooked trigger for cortisol production – especially in our enthusiastic exerciser example.
As Chris Kresser says, “when a goal of exercise is to lose weight or improve energy, overtraining can clearly be a barrier to achieving those goals.” Extreme exercise produces an immediate increase in cortisol, and chronically high levels of cortisol can increase your risk for a range of health problems, such as sleep disturbance (which can also hinder fat loss – see our blog post on sleep and fat!), digestive issues, depression, weight gain and memory impairment. Excess cortisol also encourages fat gain, especially around the abdomen, and we know how dangerous that abdominal fat can be.
So how do you know if you are putting your body under too much stress when exercising? You can start by doing a simple exercise test. For example, you might be able to do five pull ups when you aren’t stressed. But two days later, you find you can only do three pull ups. Of course it doesn’t have to be pull ups- it can be any simple exercises, for example, a vertical leap or a chin up. That’s a big warning sign that your body hasn’t recovered and you will trigger the production of cortisol and store fat, rather than burn it.
To get the maximum benefit from your exercise regime, without promoting excessive cortisol production, try the following tips:
- Reduce the frequency: Limit high intensity, high stress exercise to only two or three times a week.
- Get enough rest: It’s important to give your body time to recover and get enough sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping through the night, evaluate the intensity of your training schedule.
- Have a break: Take a regular, planned break from intense training.
- Get more variety: High intensity exercise can be great for reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass. But balance this with a form of exercise that helps to control your cortisol levels, such as a regular yoga practice.
- Be smart about your carbohydrates: Low-carb eating is a good way to decrease body fat, but if you are doing high intensity training, it’s important to strike the right balance. Choose healthy, slow burning carbs such as those found in root vegetables.
Are you training hard but not seeing results? Or are you feeling rundown and exhausted? Come back for a follow up DEXA scan and we can assess the changes in your body composition and help to identify if you might be overtraining and placing your body under too much stress.
There’s no doubt about it, sleep can make you fat.
But that’s not because you’re being a lazy bludger who’s hitting the snooze button on your alarm instead of getting up for your workout. No, it’s not getting ENOUGH sleep that might be the culprit for that pillow of fat around your tummy.
You see, sleep is an important function of your body’s repair cycle and also regulates your hormones. And when it comes to sleep and fat loss, there are two hormones that we need to be worrying about: ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin tells you when to eat – and when you are sleep deprived, your body produces more ghrelin. Sending you straight into the loving embrace of that mid-afternoon coffee with a side order of chocolate. Leptin’s role is to tell you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin. So that one row of the chocolate block turns into the whole family-sized bar. Then, in addition to making poor food choices, you’re tired and lack the motivation to exercise.
As you can see, it’s a recipe for a slowed down metabolism. In our society of busy-ness where sleep deprivation is often worn like a badge of honour, it’s little wonder that obesity levels continue to rise!
In addition to how much sleep you are getting, the quality of your sleep is also important too. You might think you are getting the recommended seven hours of sleep each night – or maybe even more, but like someone surviving on only four hours, you’re tired, struggling to control your appetite and unable to lose weight. With a growing number of health monitors, like the Fitbit or Jawbone Up among others, on the market now, many people are discovering that the quality of their sleep is less than ideal and this is negatively impacting their health. These devices can be a useful tool to identify a potential issue with the quality of your sleep, but for long term sleep problems, a referral from your doctor for a sleep study can help to pinpoint any underlying issues, such as sleep apnoea.
So, how can you improve your sleep and get your hormones back under control? Here’s some great tips from Harvard Medical School:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine too close to bedtime
- Make your bedroom a sleep inducing environment: quiet, dark and cool, with minimal electronic devices
- Create a soothing pre-sleep routine
- Go to sleep when you’re truly tired
- Use natural light in the day to keep your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle
- Have a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time
- Nap early, or not at all
- Have a lighter evening meal
- Time your exercise right – aim for at least 3 hours before bed, or earlier in the day
Are your sleep habits undermining your fat loss goals? We can help to monitor your fat loss and show you how your results improve when you prioritise good sleep habits. Come in for a before and after DEXA scan in Crows Nest to get a true picture of your internal health.