Food & Fitness, Sleep & Stress: Balancing it All

The four pillars of a healthy regimen: Food, Fitness, Sleep, Stress. All four pillars must be given equal attention and intentional planning. We’re going to deep dive each pillar with the goal of gaining more energy, more productivity, and (as always) a more sustainable lifestyle.

Food

One cannot think well, sleep well, or love well if one hasn’t dined well.

– Virginia Wolf

The problem: It’s common knowledge that a healthy diet is the foundation for feeling good, performing well, and living long. So why are 40% of American obese? If its common knowledge, why are three-quarters of Americans struggling with a weight issue (obese or overweight)? America has the highest percentage of obese adults. I can tell you why. Bigger portions, a boom in meat consumption, dieting (you heard me) and inactivity. Americans are eating a lot more, especially meat products, and moving less. They’re also confused on what to it and when. Conflicting diet guidelines are everywhere, and Americans want results fast. People are willing to try anything that works, especially if they saw their friend do it. We’re being pumped full of trans fats and artificial sweeteners while jumping on any fad diet we can get our hands on for fast results. Futile, at best.

The solution: Start by determining a specific, realistic long-term goal. Example: “I’d like to lose 10 pounds by November 2021, increase my muscle definition, and feel more energetic.” Introduce 1 daily ritual each month that will help you progress slowly towards this goal. Examples: Drink 2 liters of water each day. Eat 2 fresh fruits and 2 fresh vegetables each day. Eat 25-50% vegan or vegetarian. Refrain from drinking soda, alcohol, or smoking during the week. That’s a solid start if you can commit to it. From there, try cooking more at home. Eating out is expensive and generally unhealthy in terms of how the food is prepared and the portions you’re given. Not to mention, your far more likely to contract Covid-19 if you eat out (even if you pick up curbside). Lastly, do not be afraid of fat or carbohydrates. They have somehow gotten a bad rep in America. 50% of your diet should be carbohydrates. They’re linked to longevity and provide energy. My favorites are sweet potatoes, organic pasta and rice, and fresh fruit.  Fat is also important for several reasons, but my favorite is they’re filling and satisfying. Avocados, olives, and almonds are fantastic foods that provide rich sources of vitamins and minerals. Don’t be duped into thinking protein equals skinny. Protein plays an important role in metabolism, but if you want the most balanced and sustainable nutrition plan, you need carbohydrates and fats too!

Fitness

Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.

– Jim Rohn

The problem: Inactivity, plain and simple. A lot of working Americans are sedentary, and technology has provided us with everything we need to be inactive. We can order online, take a vehicle anywhere, and eat all our meals without raising a finger to grow, prepare, and/or clean up. I’d like to cite a lack of patience, too. As previously stated, Americans want results fast. That just doesn’t happen in reality. Functional, realistic programs take time. There is no end point. Our bodies should constantly be on a path of self-improvement and growth, challenged with new stimuli and tested.

The solution: Start small. If you aren’t training regularly, start with walking for 30 minutes 3 times a week. If you stick to that, and work on your diet/sleep, you will slowly gain energy and lose weight. Try that for a month, and then think about slowly progressing. I have 70+ videos on YouTube for FREE you can try. They’re fantastic for all levels! If you’re already exercising consistently, good on you! I recommend increasing your intensity, or frequency (minutes per week), 10% each week to find improvements. This may mean adding intervals to your cardio or adding a little weight to your strength routines. A coach may be beneficial for this purpose. My training philosophy centers on balance, literally. All my athletes train to improve balance, then mobility, then muscular endurance. It’s essential to have a stable foundation before beginning a periodized overload program or you will just build strength on existing weaknesses and further imbalances. Training deep core muscles starts at the beginning, as I’ve learned to train from the inside out. Stability first! From a stable platform you can launch into a more aggressive program. Starting with stability is not only a wise and sustainable way to begin, it’s also approachable. If you’re overweight and just looking to make a change, beginning with walking a few times a week and some light balance/core training is a lot easier to stick to then getting crushed at bootcamp- which can be embarrassing. You’re far less likely to get injured this way, and far more likely to stick with it to see results.

Sleep

Sleep is the best meditation.

– Dali Lama

The problem: Americans are steadily averaging less sleep, an inverse relationship that directly correlates with a steady increase in weight gain. According to the Sleep Foundation, Americans get about 7.5 hours of sleep/night. Most people go to bed around 11 pm and wake up at 6:30 am during the week, and sleep about 40 minutes longer on the weekend. Ideally, we get between 8-10 hours of sleep each night. (Some people need more than others, mind you) Lack of sleep can lead to cravings and metabolic dysfunction, as hormones like ghrelin and leptin are affected by sleep deprivation. Then there’s the simple notion that staying awake longer presents more opportunities to eat. The more tired you are from missing out on sleep, the less energy you will have for physical fitness, too. Childhood and adolescent obesity are linked with sleep deprivation, the link likely being skipped meals like breakfast and increased sugar / salt consumption. As an athlete, you’re more likely to get injured if you get less than 8 hours of sleep.

The solution: GET. MORE. SLEEP. Make a plan on when to go to bed and wake up so you’re at your best. Keeping a regular sleep schedule is helpful, as big swings in your sleep regimen can reduce your insulin sensitivity (elevating blood sugar) and cause changes in your metabolism. iPhones have a setting in which you can program reminders on when to head to bed and when to wake up. Avoid snacking late, as this is can cause weight gain and instigate sleep issues. Good old-fashioned discipline is required to turn off the TV and stop scrolling on Instagram. Try reading for 30 minutes before your goal bedtime and sleeping in a dark room.

Stress

It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.

– Hans Selye

The problem: According to The American Institute of Stress, 77% of Americans experience stress that affects their physical health, while 73% report experiencing stress that affects their mental health. Those experiencing the most stress are ethnic minorities, women, single parents, and people responsible for their family’s healthcare decisions. Top causes of stress are money, work, and the economy followed closely by family responsibilities, relationships, personal health issues, and housing costs. Side effects of stress are irritability, low energy/fatigue, lack of motivation/interest, anxiety, headaches, feeling sad or depressed, acid reflux, muscle tension, high blood pressure, and appetite changes. Many people also experience sexual problems, weight gain, GI issues like constipation or diarrhea, and forgetfulness. Whew.

The solution: Start by identifying the signs of stress listed above and/or any stress triggers. Getting plenty of sleep (as mentioned before 8-10 hours) and regular exercise (start with 3x 30-minute walks/week and some light stretching!). Practicing relaxation skills like meditation, journaling, or diaphragm breathing (nose inhalation to belly for 4 counts, hold 4 counts, exhale 4 counts). You may try setting 1-2 goals, defining your personal priorities, and forming 1-2 daily habits, like we’ve talked about. Spending time with people you love and doing activities you enjoy, like knitting, baking, painting, and reading, are important to minimize stress.

Putting it all together

  1. Set a long-term goal
  2. Form 1-2 daily rituals to exercise and eat well. Think sustainable and balanced. Progress 10% when you’re ready!
  3. Make sleeping 8-10 hours a priority.
  4. Identify stress and work to relieve it.
  5. Be patient. Nothing happens overnight.

There is probably nothing in this blog that you haven’t heard before. This is a friendly note to get back to the basics and invest in yourself. Fuel yourself well, treat your body like a temple, and rest the amount you deserve.  There is no fad diet, sleeping pill, or hack that will do the work for you. You’re going to have to sacrifice some social media time to cook, set some boundaries in your personal or professional life to decrease your stress and/or make time for exercise. I know you can do it, and I promise you it will be worth it.

Best,

Becca


Why You’re Fat

Lifestyle management is a daily challenge. One slip, two slips, three slips…and a bad habit is formed with consequences that can be ten-fold. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness about lifestyle choices, without any bullsh*t. I’m here to speak truth, and offer a way out. If you need some life changes, this article will help get you on the right track. Let’s get right down to it. 

Main Causes of Obesity (from a trainer’s perspective) :

  1. Stress – 1 out of 75 adults experience panic disorders (National Institute of Mental Health)
  2. Lack of sleep – 1/3 of American adults report getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep/night (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) 
  3. Poor nutrition – The nationwide count for fast food restaurants has doubled since 1970! 

Common sense, right? The prior are three key ingredients to the Obesity Recipe and, quite frankly, get swept under the rug too much. While it may seem easy to “fix” stress, sleep, and nutrition, it’s actually the three topics I’m constantly stuck on with most clients. American lifestyle is high-paced, competitive, and busy. Is that an excuse? No. It is, however, an explanation – a piece to everyone’s individual puzzle.

Let’s look at stress, the causes and consequences, and address how to manage your lifestyle with proper sleep and nutrition to battle the bulge. 

Stress – the start of it all.  

To name a few of many causes: 

– Work – 80% of Americans reported feeling stressed at work, while almost 50% cited they need help managing stress. (American Institute of Stress) Changing careers, pressure to perform and hit deadlines, receiving promotions, and/or working split or night shifts are more specific examples of work related stress

– Fitness Routines – while it’s often a positive stressor, it’s still stress on the body. Training for a specific race, meet, and / or weight loss goals are examples of stressors. Even more specifically, high intensity and specific overload sessions are examples of things that can cause stress. 

– Family-  whether its chasing kids or helping a family member with an addiction or ailment, family can be stressful!

– Future of our country- surprisingly (or maybe not…) this ranked as one of the highest causes of stress in 2017. Some fear the national leader, while others are more stressed about how that specifically translates to things like Medicare. Long story short, Americans are the most concerned and stressed they have EVER been about this topic. (statistically) 

Any of these relate to you? If so, keep reading..

Consequences of short and long – term stress levels

*This is the main takeaway, so if you’re skimming, slow down here.

When we experience immediate stress, our body releases several hormones (you may recognize one in particular known as cortisol). After the removal of a short bout of stress, say a workout, or traffic jam, or busy day at work, some hormones dissipate, some stick around to make sure energy is restored. Here’s where insulin comes in. Elevating blood glucose (aka eating sugar) lowers some of these hormone levels. As we give into sugar cravings more, our bodies adapt. Soon, we need more sugar to relieve these elevated hormones, and after an extended level of stress (unsustainable amounts of high intensity exercises or prolonged lack of sleep, for example), elevated levels of said hormones hinder thyroid-stimulating hormones, the important ones that account for metabolizing 60-75% of our daily calorie expenditure) which in turn reduces quantities of hormones needed to regulate metabolism. Before we know it, we’re insulin-resistant with high levels of fat in our core. (NASM) Slippery slopes… 

Lifestyle Management 

Stress is a part of life. It always has been, it always will be. The reason why we’re more overweight is partly due to chronic stress from busy lifestyles, and the obnoxious amounts of readily available fast food and sugar. You’re allowed to be stressed! However, your reaction to stress has consequences. Do you want them to be positive (balanced diet and exercise) or negative (sugar cravings, insulin-resistance, weight gain)? *Note: discipline required to read further. 

  • Balance you life. Take 5 minutes at the beginning, middle, and/or end of your day to think about the positive aspects of your life. If you can’t fill 5 minutes with positivity, it’s time to make some drastic changes. If you’re one step ahead saying change is stressful, you bet your a** it is, but if short-term stress leads to relief of chronic stress well, that’s a trade I’d take any day. 
  • Incorporate aerobic activity. If all you’re doing is blowing off steam with ground and pound workouts, or avoiding exercise altogether, think about redirecting your time. If you’re not exercising, start with 30 minute walks 3 x’s a week. If you’re already exercising, step back and look at your approach. Do you need some aerobic activity to help reduce those stress hormones? Try doing 2 moderate workouts to 1 high intensity or anaerobic workouts. If you’re training for a specific, competitive event, be sure to include a recovery week every 2-4 weeks. 
  • SLEEP. Everyone is different, but the majority of us need 7-8 hours of sleep. This means exercising and eating at an appropriate time. Sometimes that means skipping an early workout if sleep quality was poor, while sometimes this means working out early to ensure a timely dinner and bedtime. Lastly, this means lights off and devices away by a certain time. If that’s too much to ask, reassess your priorities. 
  • Feed yourself. Under-fueling is an epidemic, in my dramatic opinion. Too many people work hard at demanding job, stress their bodies in training, and (in a futile attempt to lose weight) restrict calories. If give your body less than it needs to function, you only increase those naughty hormones I discussed. The result is fatigue, not weight loss. That’s depressing! If you’re unsure of what you need to ensure a healthy metabolism, consult a fitness professional. Nutrition is not a cookie-cutter plan. It takes time to find the right caloric intake for optimal performance and / or weight loss. 
  • Proper Nutrition. The minute you pull into McDonald’s after a stressful day at work after a poor night’s sleep is the minute you agree to the negative chain of events we discussed. To be clear: treats and rewards are part of a balanced routine, while stress-responses eating is an addictive habit. If you get promoted and celebrate with a milk shake, awesome! If you’re traveling for work, sleep-deprived, and react with a milk shake, not awesome. Set yourself up for success by grocery shopping for 1 hour, and meal prepping for 2 hours. That’s three hours of time on a day you’ve set aside each week to be successful during a busy week. If that’s still not possible, use an online food service to deliver healthy meals in stressful weeks. If you travel, plan your trip ahead to find walkable distance stores and be strong at company dinners. Skip the alcohol, bulk the vegetables. I could make this bullet a separate post, as this barely touches on ways to have proper nutrition. If you still have questions, feel free to reach out to me personally on this matter. 
  • Routine vs. Ritual: I’ve found most people to be creatures of habit. We prefer to have our schedule “normal.” For example: Breakfast at 7. Workout at 8. Shower and head to work at 9, so on and so forth. Bland, but seems to work…or does it? If you look at your schedule and find yourself going through your daily routine effortlessly, then it’s time to ramp it up a little. Rituals are meaningful tasks that specifically lead us closer to our goal. It’s the mentality behind the actions that make an impact. It’s quite possible your routine is holding you back from reaching your potential, merely by lulling you into mediocrity. Look at your day to day and find ways to insert rituals into your routine that will make you just 10% better. 

That’s it for today, folks!  Feel free to email me personally if clarification or personal advice is needed on any of the topics touched on today. 

BK