How Exercise Can Cause You To Gain Weight

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Are you exercising too much?

Being in the health and wellness world for over 17 years, I have seen my fair share of exercise advice — push harder, do this new program, slow it down, lift heavier — the advice goes on and on.

Yet, proposing the question of how much is too much is rarely asked or even encouraged. It seems that the fitness industry often speaks to and caters those that are in need of that extra push. That extra encouragement. That little kick you might need to move your body and better your physical health.

But what about those fitness enthusiasts that are regularly pushing themselves? Or, those in love with high intensity competition? What about those who are already living stressful lives and want to incorporate the right kind of exercise?

They are a special breed when it comes to exercise, at least exercising the right way for the best results.

It is common knowledge that exercise is one of the healthiest forms of self-care that we can indulge in. Strength training helps to build muscle and cardiovascular exercise helps to keep your heart healthy. But, if you do too much of either of these, a normally healthy habit can begin to break the body down and, inversely, cause you to be weak and overly stressed. It doesn’t stop there…

If you live a lifestyle that is high in stress, this is going to compound and add to the extra stress placed on your body from regular intense exercise. It doesn’t matter if your stress is related to  work, family, mental health, or emotional turmoil — it all equates to extra stress in the body.

How do you know if the exercise you are doing is placing too much extra stress on your body? It is not always so easy to spot, but there are a few signs that do begin to present. When your body can no longer take the over-exercising, signs of overtraining typically creep in. Overtraining can signal the body to start burning muscle for fuel and store more fat, resulting in some weight gain.

Overtraining shows up as —

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle loss
  • Increased weakness

Probably not what you are hoping for with your exercise plan!

How Over-Exercising Impacts The Body

Over-exercising places excessive stress on the body. With this onset, your hormone levels begin to change — especially testosterone and cortisol (yes, women have testosterone too!).

Testosterone is important to help build lean muscle, increase bone density, and keep your heart and blood healthy. Having healthy, balanced, levels of testosterone are super important for gaining the results you want in your workouts. When excessive stress is placed on the body, cortisol levels increase and steal from your testosterone, throwing off your healthy hormonal ratios.

With the body’s delicate hormonal balance upset, it begins to signal to the body to burn muscle instead of fat. As a result, you may notice that the lifting of your usual amount of weights, running your usual distances, and performing the same type of exercises may be much more difficult than easy.

If cortisol levels rise too high and stay elevated for too long, the adrenal glands may become imbalanced and cortisol levels drop below normal. This is when weight gain occurs.

Your body has an amazing capacity to adapt, which is what makes your body so resilient.  If you keep demanding too much from your body, without the necessary rest and recovery, it will start to compromise and compensate in an effort to keep functioning.  Your stubborn body fat —especially belly fat — is just one of the ways in which your body compensates when exposed to too many stressors.

What You Can Do

Here is where I want to emphasis the importance of looking at the stress in your everyday life. Not every day will be stress-free — every day shouldn’t be — but it is about the flow of how stress enters, exits, and dances around the moments in your day. When you step back and look at the big picture, this will help guide you in the right kind of and right amount of exercise for you and your lifestyle in this moment of your life.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), how much stress do I realistically have at work, at home, and in my personal life? List out the stressors if this helps you see the big picture more clearly.
  • How am I feeling right now (i.e., tired, sore, heavy, sad, stressed, light, happy, so-so)?
  • Would pushing harder make me feel better or worse? Would slowing down make me feel better or worse?
  • Can I give my body what it really needs?

You may be quite surprised to find out how much stress you unknowingly deal with on a daily basis. When you can honestly say how much “daily stress” you are experiencing, then you can step back and look at your exercise regimen. If your “daily stress” is high, then it might be counterintuitive to hop on the elliptical trainer for an hour. It is common that people who lead a more stressful lifestyle tend to gravitate towards longer cardio as a way to deal with stress — the inner push is already in their nature. Instead, try yoga or a stretching class to emphasis stress-relieving and add gentle movement that your body is craving.

If this sounds like you and you believe you are over-exercising, here are some places you could begin:

  1. Add in more energy balancing practices. Perform low to moderate amounts of exercise and save some time to do daily stress relieving practices, such as meditation, visualization, deep breathing, and journaling. You could even sign up for a Reiki session or other energy work to help you get realigned. This allows your adrenal gland hormones to begin balancing and it helps to stabilize your blood sugar, both important for properly functioning adrenals.
  2. Stop doing long cardio sessions. If you’re doing long cardio workouts, you’re only adding to the problem.  Long cardio eats away at your lean muscle mass which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories.  And it dramatically increases your appetite making you more susceptible to unnecessary snacking and over eating. Not to mention that it can create imbalance in your blood sugar, opening you up to more food cravings and inflammation in the body. Instead of long cardio, try doing short, high intensity workouts (i.e., HIIT programs).  These workouts are much more effective at promoting fat burning hormones that target your stubborn fat. It is important to mention that if you are already dealing with more severe over-training symptoms or adrenal issues, high intensity workouts may still be too aggressive for you at this time.
  3. Change the way you lift weights. Lift heavier weights at lower repetitions instead of lower weights for higher repetitions. Lifting heavier weights has been linked to increasing testosterone levels, therefore, helping to keep the hormone balance more, well, balanced. It will also help to increase lean muscle mass and increase your overall metabolism.
  4. Make sure that you are getting adequate rest. Recovery and rest are often more important than exercising.  If you’re feeling sluggish or drained of energy, do an active recovery such as an easy walk, hike, or a leisurely bike ride. If you’re really tired, take the day off! It’s during periods of rest that your body does most of the fat burning, so don’t short change yourself.  Proper rest and recovery means you’re enabling your body to burn more fat.
  5. Feed your body (the right way). The foods we eat can place large amounts of stress on the body. A diet full of sugar, processed carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats can place a significant amount of stress on the body and increase systemic inflammation in the body. Eat a well-balanced nutrition plan of whole foods that contain plenty of vegetables, lean proteins, high quality carbohydrates, healthy fats, and a few fruits. Plenty of vegetables and colorful fruits are also high in anti-oxidants (which helps to fight the negative effects of stress on the body)! Limit your alcohol and sugar because as the body become stressed, you crave both of these more!

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The Complex Relationship Between Sleep and Weight

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This blog is guest written by Sheila Johnson at https://www.wellsheila.net .

Are you struggling with stubborn body fat while suffering from insomnia? Or perhaps you’ve gained a few pounds and aren’t sleeping as well as you used to. It’s easy to write these connections off as coincidence, but there’s a complex relationship between weight and sleep. Not only does your weight affect how well you sleep, but sleep also impacts your ability to maintain a healthy weight. Wild Flowers Grow invites you to read on if you’re ready to get better sleep and lose weight. 

How Weight Affects Sleep (and Vice Versa)

Excess weight is linked to sleep disorders

Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes the airway to become obstructed during sleep. Because sleep apnea reduces sleep quality, it can lead to further weight gain due to sleep quality’s impact on appetite, exercise, and metabolism.

Poor sleep makes you hungrier

Sleep deprivation causes the body to release more appetite-stimulating hormones and suppresses leptin, a hormone that tells your brain when you’re full. If that’s not bad enough, insomniacs are also more likely to reach for high-fat, high-sugar, and high-calorie foods.

Poor sleep makes it harder to exercise

People are less likely to exercise when sleep deprived. Even if you work up the will to hit the gym, workouts tend to be shorter and less intense when you’re not well-rested.

Poor sleep leads to weight gain

There’s also research that suggests poor sleep lowers resting metabolism and increases insulin resistance, two things that make it even harder to lose weight.

These facts are scary, but you can break the cycle of insomnia and weight gain.

How to Sleep Better with Excess Weight

Before you get serious about losing weight, you need to address your poor sleep quality. These are some things you can do to sleep better when you’re carrying extra weight:

Get a supportive mattress

If you’ve gained weight, your old mattress might not be as supportive as it used to be. Many heavier individuals find foam mattresses don’t provide enough support to align their spine, which can lead to back pain and difficulty sleeping. If you’re on the heavier side and tend to toss and turn most nights, switching to a larger size innerspring mattress for more support could be the perfect solution to help you achieve better sleep.

Avoid eating and drinking before bed

Overweight people are more likely to experience acid reflux. To reduce nighttime heartburn, stop eating and drinking three hours before bed. If you’re a side sleeper, sleep on your left side.

Exercise more

Exercise is proven to improve sleep. Vigorous aerobic exercise like running or HIIT is best for sleep, but even moderate-intensity exercise makes a difference. However, avoid intense exercise right before bed. If you’re looking for a nighttime workout, try a mindful yoga routine instead. Better yet, making yoga a regular activity can enhance your ability to feel more relaxed since it’s a great stress reducer. If you need some extra motivation, use discounts to splurge on some new activewear from stores like Nike or Finish Line. 

Talk to your doctor

Sleep apnea and snoring may go away with weight loss, but in the meantime, it’s important to address sleep disorders that leave you waking up groggy. Talk to your doctor about sleep apnea. You may be prescribed a sleep study and a PAP machine.

Weight Loss Tips for Better Sleep (and Health!)

Now that you’re sleeping better, it’s easier to conquer your weight loss goals. There are tons of weight loss tips out there, but these simple tips are at the core of any weight loss plan:

Eat filling foods

Controlling your appetite will be a challenge at first, so avoid empty calories and instead, focus on filling foods like proteins, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates.

Find exercise you enjoy

Consistency is the most important thing when it comes to exercise, so find something you can commit to. Again, yoga is fantastic when you’re starting a weight loss journey because it’s low-impact, beginner-friendly, and adaptable to every body.

Focus on the dos, not the don’ts

It’s common to approach weight loss by taking things away — junk food, calories, lazy nights on the sofa. Instead of focusing on what’s off-limits, work on building healthy behaviors. Planning your meals, eating more vegetables, and getting active are positive goals that build you up.

It’s hard to find the motivation to get healthy when you’re not sleeping well. Unfortunately, poor lifestyle habits also make it harder to catch quality rest. If you’re stuck in the cycle of sleep loss and weight gain, use these tips to get your sleep and your health back on track.

Image via Unsplash

This blog is written by Sheila Johnson at https://www.wellsheila.net . For more info and to contact her directly, head over to her website and see what she has to offer! 

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7 Tips To Decrease Sugar Cravings

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Food cravings can mean the death of many of your nutrition goals. Even the most dedicated can find themselves slipping and giving into the gnarling voice of their cravings.

Sugar and salt seem to be the most craved, with sugar in particular, being so addictive that willpower and intellect alone have little to do with pushing it away. You can only willpower your way through a sugar craving so many times until you eventually give in and throw all caution to the wind.

There are many reasons of why sugar can feel like it has a stranglehold on you — stress, nutrient deficiencies, imbalanced blood sugar, food memories, poor relationship with food, not enough sleep, and not being mindful of what you are eating. This is only naming a few of the reasons.

There is a belly-mind connection and it is much stronger than your willpower in the long run. 

And because of this belly-mind connection, it is super important to address a layer of reasons of why you may be struggling with your cravings. Some of those layers may feel very challenging to move through, while other may feel a bit easier and more direct. 

When starting a successful habit change, you want to focus on those low hanging fruit layers — those easy to grasp and where you can see quick results. Not only does it help to get the ball rolling, but it is also super motivating to see quick results.

Changing your relationship with food and the memories associated with your cravings can prove to be a little bit more challenging and typically demand deeper mental and emotional work. You can start here, but it might be easier to make some simple nutritional changes. This will help to decrease the physical and nutritional issues that may not be associated directly with your relationship with food.

Here are 7 easy tips that can begin to ward off cravings and balance your blood sugar:

  1. Drink more water. Let’s start with a simple one. The more dehydrated you are, the more difficult it is for the body to metabolize glycogen (stored glucose) for energy, so our bodies crave sugar to provide us with a quick source of energy when we actually just need to drink a little more water. 
  2. Add in cinnamon. This spice helps your body control the amount of sugar in your blood, evening out the highs and lows that lead to cravings. One study found those who took 3g of cinnamon a day maintained lower blood sugar levels after a glucose-tolerance test than those who did not take the cinnamon. And, your sugar cravings can drop immediately after consuming something with cinnamon!
  3. Eat your bitter foods. Research has found that consuming bitter foods shuts down the receptors in your brain that drive you to desire and consume more sugar. Bitter foods and plants can help slow the absorption of sugar and regulate blood sugar levels. You can eat foods such as dandelion, citrus peel, artichoke leaf, licorice root, and even burdock root. Or, you can make it super simple and use a tincture of bitters either before or after your meals (this helps with digestion too!). My favorite bitter tincture is by Urban Moonshine.
  4. Try spinach extract. Spinach extract, also known as Appethyl, is actually a weight loss supplement. It contains thylakoids, which consist mostly of proteins, antioxidants, and chlorophyll. Spinach extract has been shown to delay fat absorption (but not total inhibit it) and increase the activity of the hormones that reduce appetite and hunger. 
  5. Say no to the small bites. Feel a craving coming on? Don’t eat the small bites here and the small bites there. Those first few bites are inevitably the most tasty and your brain is going to be triggered by indulging in just a few bites. Not to mention, this creates a mindset of deprivation and can actually make you crave harder and jeopardize your relationship with food.
  6. Avoid getting too hungry. Make sure to eat regularly and not allow yourself to get too hungry. Fasting is all the rage and everyone seems to be either doing it or wondering if they should do it. Fasting can be super beneficial to help with cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells (autophagy) but when you fast for too long, it can create a great imbalance in your blood sugar, causing hunger and cravings. If you are choosing to fast regularly, keep your time frames on the shorter side, aiming between 12-16 hours. If you are a woman, keep those time frames in the 12-14 hour range. 
  7. Make it hard to get. This is technically a behavior change, but it falls right in line with nutritional behavior changes. One of the first line of defenses when making a habit change is to make what you want hard to get. That could be by placing it out of sight and out of mind, placing it in the highest cupboard of the kitchen (needing a step stool every time you want to get it), or even not buying it at all and only being able to get it by going to the grocery store. When you create a challenge or obstacle and it is not so easy, this delays the food to mouth time AND it also gives you more time to think about the choice that you are making. Sometimes simply creating space and time can be enough to allow you to decide that the craving is just not worth it!

Getting rid of cravings can be super complex and has many layers attached to it. Often, you have to dig and uncover those layers to get to the root cause of what is causing your cravings in the first place. This is where a coach and support system can help guide you on your journey. Are you ready to finally uncover your layers? Click here to learn more about my signature “Break Your Plateau” health coaching program!

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The REAL Reason You Can’t Lose Weight And 6 Ways To Fix It

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Eat less, move more.

That’s what mainstream wellness advice is often telling you to do.

Sprinkle that plate of advice with eat more veggies, drink more water, get more sleep, and boost your diet with fibrous foods.

Sound advice? For some it is, especially if you are doing little to none of that. But for others? Perhaps not as in-depth as you may need.

If you are a women who is going through hormonal changes (at any life stage), in peri-menopause, or in menopause itself, you probably know that real struggle of body change and how mainstream wellness advice may not give you the results you are looking for. 

Weight gain, weight shift, mood changes, digestive problems, fatigue, joint pain — you may know these all too well. But if you are doing all the right things, or at least most of them, and still not getting results, what do you do?

First stop? Make sure that your hormones are being supported.

Imbalanced hormones create a whirlwind in the body that can cause a spiraling effect of physical symptoms and problems. Your hormonal needs are going to be different than mine, but there are a few hormones that are key factors in the balance game for all of us. Let’s take a quick look at them…

Insulin

Insulin is a fat-storage hormone. Insulin resistance or block means your cells can’t absorb the extra blood glucose your body generates from the food you eat—when that happens, your liver converts the glucose into fat. Insulin resistance usually causes weight gain and sugar addiction. This is one reason that it is imperative to keep blood sugar levels balanced when looking to balance out hormonal levels.

Leptin

Leptin is nature’s appetite suppressant. When you’ve had enough to eat, leptin says to your brain, “Hey it is time to stop eating.” High leptin can cause weight gain and excessive hunger. When you are overweight, your fat cells produce excess leptin. When your brain gets bombarded with leptin signals from too many fat cells, it shuts down; leptin levels keep rising, receptors stop functioning, your body doesn’t get the leptin signal, and you don’t feel full. You keep eating the wrong foods in an addictive pattern, and you keep gaining weight. An imbalance in this hormone can really make it challenging to gather your willpower to push away food that you know is not going to help you achieve your goals. 

Estrogen

For women, estrogen can greatly fluctuate through many stages of life — pregnancy, peri-menopause, menopause, etc. Estrogen dominance is when you have too much estrogen compared with its counter-hormone, progesterone. Having too much estrogen in the body causes a number of symptoms, including resistance to weight loss, moodiness, PMS, and heavy periods.

Thyroid

Your thyroid is directly tied to your metabolism. It is like the gas pedal, managing how fast or how slow you burn those calories. When the thyroid is sluggish, hypothyroidism, it can cause weight gain, fluid retention, hair loss or thinning, depression, and constipation, among other problems. When it is excessive, hyperthyroidism, it can cause appetite changes (decrease or increase), difficulty sleeping, fatigue, frequent bowel movements, heart palpitations, heat intolerance, increased sweating, irritability, just to name a few. 

Getting Your Hormones Back On Track 

Addressing your HPA axis is going to be the first step. If you missed my blog on the HPA axis and it’s involvement in hormonal balancing, make sure that you read that first. After addressing that, now we have to look at the other lifestyle changes essential to getting your hormones back on track. There are 4 main essential changes needed to correct the hormonal misfiring. These are changes in:

  • How you eat (this makes up approximately 80% of your overall results)
  • How you think
  • How you move
  • How you supplement 
  1. Choose wisely what you eat and drink. Eating whole, unprocessed foods that are abundant in healthy fats, vegetables, protein, and some fruits are the best place to start. Each person’s needs will be different, but if you start incorporating more of these foods, you will start to notice differences. Greatly limit processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugars and sugar substitutes from your diet. These foods create an imbalance in your blood sugar levels and an imbalance in your overall hormonal disposition. Eliminate alcohol for 30 days. A single serving of this can reduce a woman’s metabolism by more than 70% and, even though, it is temporary, it can add up if you have a drink most nights.
  2. Support your digestion. Hippocrates stated that “All disease begins in the gut.” It is not only where approximately 80% of your immune cells reside, but it is also the gateway to nutrient absorption. If your digestive health is out of whack (think excessive gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, stomach pains after eating, etc), then the way your body uses your food and your hormonal balance will be following suit. Foods such as processed foods, sugar, gluten-containing foods, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats (i.e., vegetable oils, canola oil, trans fats), and foods you are allergic/sensitive to can all decrease the health of your digestion (aka your gut health). Eating supporting foods (refer back to #1), fermented foods (i.e., sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, etc), decreasing your stress levels, and taking supportive supplements can all help to get your gut health solid. 
  3. Watch your thoughts. Stress and our reactions to life start with the thoughts we think. Finding ways to alter your inner dialogue and understand why you think and believe what you do can make a significant difference on your stress levels. It really is about discovering yourself, what stresses you out, and how you can change your approach so that it is not so taxing on your energy (and your hormones). Negative thoughts and increased stress also raise your cortisol levels, putting you in a fight or flight mindset. And, the more you go to that place of being, the more your cortisol levels chronically stay elevated. Long-term exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can wreck havoc on almost all of your body’s processes, increasing your risk of many health issues, from heart disease and obesity to anxiety and depression. 
  4. Add targeted body movement into your day. It is important to move the way that you and your body love — that will help to keep you committed to moving. But when balancing hormones, there is a hierarchy in what will get you the best results. Chronic cardio and long distance training are not as likely to stabilize your cortisol, which can actually be raised dramatically after these sorts of activities. Burst training, HIIT training, and adaptive exercise (i.e. Pilates and yoga) are more likely to stabilize cortisol. Burst training is incredibly efficient because it involves short periods of high intensity exercise with moderate-level exercise as recovery. This allows your body to raise cortisol, but only for a bit, allowing you to get the benefits of exercise, but not create a huge imbalance. Not only that, but it is extremely effective at raising growth hormone, the growth-and-repair hormone that maintains your lean body mass, a crucial indicator of how your body is aging biologically. 
  5. Consider genetic testing. It can guide the best ways for you to eat, move, think, and supplement for hormonal harmony and weight loss. This way, there is no guessing game and you can truly discover what might be the factors holding you back. 
  6. Use supplements as needed to improve your hormone levels. In a perfect world, you can get all you need from the food you eat and the healthy lifestyle choices you make. Unfortunately in our modern society, that becomes a challenge. Our food system has been so greatly depleted nutritionally and replaced with much processed, chemically-laden foods. We are inundated with environmental hazards such as toxins, pesticides, EMF’s, and poor air quality that our body is under daily attack — more for some people than others. Adding appropriate supplementation into your nutrition plan can greatly enhance how your body manages all of these modern day obstacles, but can also help offload some of the stress so that your hormones can get better balance. Outside of the adaptogens that are often associated with hormonal balances (ashwagandha, rhodiola, maca) and the common vitamins and minerals that can offset other health woes (Vitamin D, B complex, magnesium, etc), there are a few others that are highly researched: 
  • Cortisol Manager: You need 7 to 8.5 hours of sleep to break through weight loss resistance. An excellent supplement for improved sleep and less stress is called Cortisol Manager, by Integrative Therapeutics. It is a combination of phosphatidyl serine and ashwagandha. It dials down the HPA so that you don’t feel stressed and can wind down for a good night of sleep. Too much cortisol raises blood sugar and deposits fat at night. 
  • Berberine. Berberine, (a great brand is Integrative Therapeutics) is the most proven supplement to reset insulin and support weight loss in women. It activates an important enzyme called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase, or AMP, nicknamed the “metabolic master switch.” It has been shown to work better when combined with milk thistle.
  • ION Biome Gut Health. Want a supplement that not only supplements, rather it supports your health? This is it. The active ingredient, Terrahydrite, has been shown to support the integrity of the gut lining, even in the face of damage from toxins such as glyphosate. I use this when I know that I will be consuming foods or drinks that may not be the healthiest or when I suspect potential issues may be present.

If you suspect that you are struggling with imbalanced hormones and they are causing you to not get the results you want, it doesn’t have to be that way. There is hope. I encourage you to investigate all areas of your life and get really real with yourself to see what might be the main culprit in holding you back to going exactly where you want to go!

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