Last weekend I presented in Brisbane at the first Get It Girl event.
The event was aimed to inspire, empower and educate like-minded women on how to best achieve their own health and fitness journey, and my task was to share a little of my own story and insight in doing so. Here’s what I shared...
Firstly, I want to start with asking you this: do you think that right now, in all honesty, that you are healthy and happy?
Unfortunately, I only had about 3 women out of a room of 85+ raise their hand to declare that they were. I’m also guessing that if you’re reading this, you probably wouldn’t have been one of them either, and neither would I.
It has taken me almost my whole life (24 years!) to figure out what healthy and happy means to me, and I’m only just coming close to getting there myself now. My journey has been full of ups and downs to say the least; tiny steps forwards and many steps back, lots of lessons learned and a wavering sense of determination. I’ve made myself proud, but I’ve also let myself down, and I’ve progressed and self-sabotaged on and off without ever giving myself a chance to consistently and sustainably live a truly healthy lifestyle.
Here’s a snapshot
Phase 1: Overweight
For most of my childhood and teen years I was overweight, bordering on obese. I was young and naive, but that didn’t excuse me from looking after my body, especially as I hit my late teens. I had no concept of nutrition or exercise, no desire to prioritise it and as a result, I completely neglected the importance of my body and health.
As a child, this never really caught up to me. I was happy because I just wasn’t basing my happiness, self-worth or perception of myself on my appearance - I was basing it on how hard I could make my best friend laugh, how proud I could make my parents or teachers with my homework and just how much I could fill my days with the things that I loved, not necessarily the things that made me feel good - let alone look good.
Unfortunately, that really nice, ignorant bliss and naivety didn’t last once I reached high school.
All of a sudden, looking good became so important. I wasn’t ’Steph', I wasn’t ‘kind’, ‘funny’ or ’nice’, I was just ‘fat’ and that alone was enough to qualify me as less than worthy of my skinnier, prettier friends. I was bullied daily (not always in obvious ways either), hurled insults and subtly made to feel inadequate, unattractive and worthless. My sense of humour, my grades, my hobbies and interests….none of those things defined me anymore. Only my body did.
I mistakenly learned from a very young age that my appearance determined my happiness, and obviously my appearance wasn’t good enough. So I berated myself, lost any sense of confidence or self-love, and started to internalise a lot of hatred and unhappiness.
By the end of year 11 I had developed anxiety and depression. I would barely speak up in conversations, I wore layers of clothes in the warmest of Summer days to try to hide my body, and I became fixated on how I could change my body so I could ‘fit in’ and be as happy as the people skinnier than me were.
All of the energy I’d previously channelled into my school work, my hobbies, my friendships and just my life in general, was now thrown into a desperate pursuit to lose weight and 'be healthy’.
Phase 2: Underweight and disordered eating
By the final year of high school I had started dabbling in the world of health and fitness. I took the simple approach of eating less, eating ‘clean' and training more - and didn’t really overcomplicate it more than that.
Soon, I began to see results from the simple lifestyle changes. Everyone began complimenting and encouraging me for my weight loss, and I became hyperaware of the fact that every gram of body weight I lost earned me an extra bit of support, attention and validation.
This played upon a vulnerable part of my brain chemistry that was a little ‘off’ and my Type A personality, and everything just fed into that inherent need in me to be in control, to succeed and to push harder.
My brief stint with what probably was a healthy start of health and fitness, soon became a diet full of restrictions, minimal food and a lot of ‘no thank yous’ at parties and at lunchtime.
Within months I lost over 15kgs without ever really understanding how this couldn’t be healthy. If anything, I thought I was becoming healthier than ever - because health had become to be equated with “tiny” and “disciplined” and “in control” and nothing more.
Looking back, I remember how normal it seemed that I felt compelled to do burpees straight after Christmas lunch instead of spending time with my family.
I remember fighting back tiredness to do my strict ab routine I had to do every night.
I remember my mum catching me doing these sneaky bursts of exercise and looking at me with not only disappointment, but also so much fear that she couldn’t stop her youngest daughter from torturing herself.
I remember declining every piece of ‘junk’ food offered to me by my friends, and counting every single ‘no thank you’ to food as a victory.
I remember having fights with my family whenever they tried to make me eat something ‘dirty’ or make me deviate from my strict routine.
I remember watching my mum cry to her sisters on a family holiday she should have been enjoying because she was at an absolute loss at how sick I’d become.
It wasn’t until I suddenly realised I’d gone a whole year without my period that I went to my doctor for advice. After a weigh-in, a few psychological tests and questions…I was diagnosed with an eating disorder on the spot.
Honestly, I had no idea that I’d ever reached this point. I had never seen myself as ’sick enough’ or had consciously accepted the mental health issues I’d come to be consumed by - despite the concern my family and friends were showing for me. Again, I was so naive about just how far ‘gone’ my mentality had become, and I wasn’t really prepared for what was to come for me during my recovery. Thanks to the support of my parents and sister I sought help, and started what would turn out to be 2 years of weekly psychologist sessions, nutritionist appointments and a daily battle with an illness that I never even realised I had.
Phase 3: Orthorexia
That was 6 years ago, and I honestly wish that I could say that after that initial reach for help, that the past 5 years were filled with a positive story of recovery.
Unfortunately, for me, being diagnosed and seeing help only made me more aware of my disordered thoughts and my ‘identity’ as anorexic. I latched onto the idea of a ‘sick, tiny Steph’, and as people tried to take it away from me, I through myself into a facade of ‘health and fitness’ to try to appease them.
I thought that because I was seeing help, eating “loads” of clean foods and getting into strength training that this was enough for me to be healthy and recovered.
I even had myself fooled.
I really only accepted that I needed to recover from my eating disorder if I could fixate on doing it in the ‘healthiest’ way possible.
I probably googled “how to gain weight healthily” every single day, and I was so determined to achieve this really ‘attractive’ and ideal transformation from “skinny to strong” that I saw all across Tumblr. In reality, I actually just went from one form of disordered eating into another, and developed body dysmorphia worse than I even had at the height of my restrictive eating disorder.
At this stage I was so desperate for a healthy body that I became like a sponge - I just absorbed any information/advice/fitness ‘hacks’ I read that told me how I could be healthy and happy. When I then joined Instagram, I easily opened myself up to what has been in some ways the best, and also the most destructive environment for me to ‘recover in’.
I think the biggest reason why I want to share my story is to warn people how easily a ‘health’ journey can spiral out of control when done for the wrong reasons, or utilising the wrong methods to achieve it.
There is SO MUCH information out there about what is ‘healthy’ for us to be doing - and chances are 90% of it is bullish*t, not a “fact” and by no means should be done by every single one of us in order to ‘be healthy’.
There’s also a lot of misconception about what “healthy” even means, because let’s face it - it doesn’t mean the way we look, our weight or our body shape.
I remember throwing myself into Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide because I wanted my legs to be as thin as hers. I couldn’t understand how hours of high reps and cardio wasn’t making me ‘lean and fit’. Then I came across the “girls who lift” movement, and all of a sudden I became consumed with living up to the ideal of being “strong not skinny” and tyring to gain weight solely through gaining muscle.
In either case, my body was never good enough, and I was still constantly fighting against it to achieve a ‘look’ I thought would bring me health and happiness. The entire time my mental health was neglected too, because all I was invested in was creating an outward image of ‘health’. If anything, my mind was deteriorating more and more as I threw myself deep into the #fitspo world.
Phase 4: Acceptance and health
As far as I’m concerned now, I spent more than 5 years living under the illusion that I was letting my body and my mind recover because I was doing ‘everything I could’ to ‘be healthy’. When honestly, I was driving myself further and further into illness.
I’m ashamed to say that up until 4 weeks ago, I still couldn’t prioritise my bone density, my heart health or my goddamn hormones and ability to have a child above my ’need’ to be lean, to feel in control and to stick to the routine (read: hell) I’d built for myself.
I was still desperately forcing my body into submission and trying to do everything that I thought was ‘right’ without ever once listening to my body itself. I still felt compelled to be in the gym for 2 hours, 6 times a week and training intensely, I still doubted the amount of food I was eating to the point where it would consume hours of my day, and I was harbouring a lot of negative emotions toward myself. I was exhausted, drove my adrenals to the ground, skyrocketed my cortisol levels and got to a point where entire body aches, chronic daily diarrhoea and weekly anxiety attacks had become all I was accustomed to within my ‘healthy lifestyle’.
That only ended 6 weeks ago, and looking back now, I don’t know how I had myself fooled so devastatingly for so long.
I was literally trapped in the pursuit of physically aesthetic ‘healthy’, not an internal, happy healthy.
As a result, I’ve done a lot of internal damage to my body and sacrificed a lot of life experiences.
Im turning 25 years old this year, and I’ve hardly travelled by myself (god forbid I have to go without the gym or eat different food), I’ve never had a proper boyfriend (nor had any desire to up until recently), I’ve worn a bikini only a handful of times, I’ve chosen to disappoint some of my closest friends just to avoid eating out or missing a workout, and I’ve had way too many days at work where I’ve been unproductive because my mind has been so consumed by food and exercise. I’ve hardly existed in many ways, and that honestly breaks my heart.
People tell me they wish they could “find the strength” to get out of this trap like I’m doing now, and here’s my take home message: you never simply ‘find’ the strength. It doesn’t just come to you one day so you can free yourself easily.
You fight for it.
You work for it.
You build it.
Nothing about rewiring your brain, rebuilding your routine and admitting that what you’re doing isn’t healthy is easy. Over the last few weeks, I have pushed through some of the hardest mind games I’ve had. I’ve broken out of some of my most rigid and long-standing behaviours, I’ve FINALLY accepted that what my body looks like isn’t the point of this whole being “healthy” thing, and I’ve adopted a growing sense of inner peace and acceptance with who I want to be as a person - far beyond what my body looks like.
I’ve learned that even if you’ve put on the weight you need to - or lost the weight you wanted to, gained some definition or muscle, and adopted a diet that you think is ‘right’ for you - you are still not healthy if you can’t miss a workout without panicking, if you can’t eat the foods you want out of fear, if your body can’t have a natural period, if you’re experiencing ongoing digestive issues, hormonal imbalances or fatigue, and if you spend every minute of your day thinking about food and training or checking your reflection for some kind of answer.
Your body honestly doesn’t care if you’re doing everything under the sun to be outwardly healthy.
It cares about how you’re listening to it, respecting it and honouring it’s needs to be internally healthy.
That means having stable energy levels, a strong libido, a regular period, a consistent sleep pattern, a comfortable digestive system and a thriving social and work life. Not shredded abs or killer glutes.
So please know this simple fact about being healthy: you can’t fight against your body, hate yourself or stubbornly ignore all the signs that your body is throwing at you in the pursuit of what you think is healthy.
Deep down, you’ll know if what you’re doing is making you feel and be healthy or not, and only you can own up to yourself and take the steps necessary to get your life back and achieve a truly successful "healthy journey".
After months of experiencing rapid weight gain/weight fluctuations, chronic diarrhoea, bloating, fatigue, exhaustion, elevated (then low) cortisol levels, ongoing oestrogen depletion, and heightened episodes of anxiety and depression - I finally reached out for help and signed up with a coach 4 weeks ago.
The accumulative misery of everything I was feeling and thinking honestly became unbearable, and unfortunately it took me reaching rock bottom once again to accept that something had to change - because I honestly couldn’t keep living like I was.
seeking help again
Seeking help and admitting that I needed to change was so much harder this time around then when I first did the same at the beginning of my eating disorder recovery. Back then, I was visibly ill, I was easily diagnosable and I had the support of my family and friends to encourage me to pursue an alternative, better life for myself. My disordered habits and ‘ ED voice' were so overt and recognisable, that I could separate a lot of what was genuinely healthy for me from what wasn’t, and I could more clearly chase the promise of a healthier Steph.
This time? I honestly felt so trapped and alone in the new little hell I’d built for myself. So many of my behaviours were subtle and seemingly ‘healthy’, so not too many people questioned what I was doing or could understand how it couldn’t’ be an ok behaviour. It didn’t help that I’d also built this hell upon an image of health and wellbeing on a growing social media platform. I was getting praised for ‘being healthy', and that validation meant that even when those closest to me did express concern, I wouldn’t listen to them. I’d put on weight, I’d fought a lot of my internal demons, and I had everyone (even myself) convinced that this alone was enough for me to keep doing what I was doing.
Deep down though, I knew what I was doing, and I was very conscious of the choices I was making for myself and the behaviours I was dabbling in - but unfortunately, the boundary between my former disordered voice and the new healthy Steph had become so blurred that while yes, I knew what I was doing, I couldn’t always see that it wasn’t the healthy thing to be doing.
Facing up to myself when I was sick and weak was nothing compared to facing up to myself now that I'm stronger, stubborn and more resilient than ever.
plus, fighting against yourself when you’ve already felt like you’ve worked endlessly to get to where you are (and it still not be ‘enough’) is fucking hard.
It’s probably one of the hardest mental battles I’ve ever had to fight, and it took months of self-sabotage to finally stand up for my health.
So 4 weeks ago, I admitted to myself that as healthily as I was eating, as much as I was eating, as effectively I was training, and as much as I was making progress in some areas of my health…at the end of the day, I was still very ill mentally and physically.
Carrying a few extra kilograms in body weight and being able to eat chocolate every day meant nothing if I still didn’t have my period back, if I still felt the need to smash myself with 6 intense workouts a week to feel ok, and if I still hurled insults at myself every time I noticed my body fill a bigger space.
Four weeks ago it all just clicked for me and I wanted out.
I was so done with living a life that I knew in my heart wasn’t healthy, sustainable or making me the least bit healthy. I couldn’t hide from myself anymore, and I couldn’t ignore all the signs my body was throwing at me that it wasn’t thriving - it was barely surviving.
I reached out, I found a coach to help me with my diet and nutrition, and alongside some other specialists and the support from all my loved ones, I’m finally embarking on what I know is going to be an honest and successful journey toward self-love and recovery from so many of the things I’ve made my body and mind endure over the years.
the changes I've made
To keep it simple, here’s a snapshot of what I’ve had to change already during the initial 4 weeks:
PLEASE NOTE, THESE CHANGES WERE TERRIFYING FOR ME TO MAKE. HALF OF ME IS A LITTLE SHOCKED AND IN DISBELIEF THAT I ACTUALLY MANAGED TO IMPLEMENT THEM, AND THE OTHER HALF OF ME IS JUST SO DAMN PROUD OF MYSELF, BECAUSE I WAS HONESTLY SO SCARED I’D NEVER BE ABLE TO GET MYSELF OUT OF THIS BUBBLE. THE THOUGHT OF MISSING ONE OF MY WORKOUTS USED TO TERRIFY ME, I COULD EASILY STAY IN THE GYM AND PUSH THROUGH FATIGUE, ILLNESS AND EXHAUSTION UNTIL I HIT THE CALORIE BURN I ‘NEEDED TO’, AND THERE’S NO WAY I COULD EVEN FATHOM EATING LESS VEGETABLES AND ‘CLEAN’ FOODS IN ORDER TO ACTUALLY FEEL BETTER.
THE RESULTS 4 WEEKS IN
SAFE TO SAY, AFTER 4 WEEKS, I’VE MANAGED TO SECURE MYSELF THE FOLLOWING BENEFITS/SUCCESSES/WINS ALREADY:
SO ALL IN ALL, IT’S STILL VERY EARLY DAYS, AND I HAVE A LOT OF WORK TO DO OVER THE WEEKS TO COME, BUT I JUST WANT TO GIVE A LITTLE HOPE AND A TINY KICK UP THE ASS FOR ANYONE WHO IS STUCK IN THEIR OWN LITTLE HELL RIGHT NOW. I KNOW YOU DON’T WANT TO CHANGE. I KNOW YOU WANT TO KEEP DOING WHAT FEELS RIGHT, AND SAFE, AND COMFORTABLE. BUT PLEASE BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY THAT NOTHING CHANGES IF NOTHING CHANGES, AND SERIOUSLY, IF YOU’RE NOT HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU’RE DOING FOR YOURSELF RIGHT NOW - THEN WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU KEEP DOING IT?!
JUST REMEMBER THIS;
'THE CAVE WE FEAR TO ENTER OFTEN HOLDS THE TREASURE THAT WE SEEK’
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is "how do you do so much baking, cooking and recipe creations without eating everything you make and 'getting fat'?!"
This is actually a really valid questions, and I completely understand why this might be something many people struggle with. Trust me, I've been there myself and I'm still not perfect. Surrounding yourself with (delicious) foods on a regular basis is highly tempting, and even potentially triggering - especially if you dabble in disordered eating.
I've personally dealt with a really unhealthy relationship with baking in the past. I used to spend hours making the most indulgent, calorie-dense #foodporn style treats for all my friends in high school....without ever letting myself even have a bite. I restricted and tortured myself with what I wouldn't let myself eat, and eventually what started as a hobby very quickly become a disordered behaviour.
Since re-finding my passion for baking and cooking this year, I've definitely come a long way since those days. I now focus on creating recipes that are healthy, nutritious, and most importantly - recipes that I want to eat, and let myself eat.
Sure, there are days where I eat a little too much batter, taste-test the same thing five too many times, and nibble and pick away at what I've made as I take photos of it....but overall, I've found a really good place with preparing and creating my own food, finding pride in it, and using it as an act of self-love and creative outlet - and I would love to inspire even the smallest fraction of my followers to do the same!
So, here's some of my tips, tricks and hints to make sure you're enjoying your baking, without over-doing it or self-sabotaging yourself!
If you feel baking really is problematic for you, or you struggle with binge-eating tendencies, then some of these more structured tricks might help:
What I wouldn't recommend doing:
I've head some people bake what they don't like, but I personally don't find that purposeful, enjoyable or empowering. Instead, I think a better option is to make whatever you're creating as nutritious and healthy as possible most of the time - so you can enjoy it without 'guilt'.
I also wouldn't get into the mindset of 'compensating' or 'budgeting' for what you've consumed during baking. That's also setting you up for a really unhealthy, punishment-driven relationship with food - and in my opinion, that's not what baking should be about!
At the end of the day, it's all up to you in how you decide to incorporate baking into your lifestyle consistently and sustainably - just remember that it should be a fun, constructive hobby, not a self-destructive one xx
What a damn wake up call it has been to have my entire world of health, diet and training very quickly turned upside down.
After almost 6 years of manipulating my diet and training regime to either lose or gain weight, I had honestly become so accustomed to maintaining control over my body and being able to ‘force’ it into some kind of submission based on what I wanted it to look like. Countless times I took for granted how my body responded to changes I’d made in an explainable, predictable way.
At the start of my journey, I decreased my intake to promote a decrease in my weight. I then went through a slow and controlled reverse diet, increasing my intake in order to promote an increase in body weight. I essentially lived in a bubble of weight and appearance = calories in + calories out and believed that it was always going to be as simple as that. Little did I know how quickly the body can adapt, down-regulate and trigger a cascade of metabolic and hormonal imbalances - throwing that entire equation out the window.
I hate having regrets, but I do regret not appreciating the importance of looking after my hormones earlier in my journey. I shoved them to the side and focused purely on looking a certain way, leaving them completely unnoticed despite the numerous signs my body was throwing at me for years (in particular the last 6 months) that they needed some attention.
If I’ve learned anything recently, it’s that yeah calories matter, but hormones matter more.
Importance of hormones
Hormones control our hunger, cravings, metabolic rate, energy levels, food sensitivities, digestive health and more in tightly regulated processes. Which means that without healthy hormones, our body’s don’t function healthily. We might not absorb certain nutrients from our ‘perfect’ diets (in fact we might start to absorb more calories from what we eat), we might experience more cravings and digestive issues, we might feel lethargic and overly sore, even though we’re motivated to train, and we might even gain fat, become inflamed or lose muscle despite all our hard work.
These are the kinds of things that we DON’T want to experience, and all the things our 'healthy' behaviours and habits should be safe-guarding us against - but eventually fail to do so, because our fundamental internal hardwire isn’t properly tuned to produce the healthy result we should be seeing and feeling.
The simple fact is this - if your hormones aren’t properly looked after, you are not going to have a healthy body - no matter how ‘clean’ your diet is or structured your workout regime is. If your hormones are out of balance, you will be too. We just can’t win a battle of wills against our physiology - even the strongest of willpower, commitment and determination become futile strategies in a body that’s out of balance and fundamentally unhealthy.
Our body's will always reign supreme, and our body will always push back against both those attempts that threaten it’s survival (e.g. extreme dieting, disordered eating) and those that dropkick it into submission and push it out of homeostasis (e.g. forced bulking and cutting cycles, excessive training). Which is why I want to emphasise that even the most dedicated ‘healthy’ efforts and routines can easily send the wrong signal to our bodies. Shifts to lower calories, ramping up our training routines, relying on stimulants - all of these behaviours tell our bodies something - and trust me, our bodies won’t always perceive these efforts as ‘just trying to be healthy’ or ‘getting in shape’. Instead, it will perceive excessive stress and real danger, and kickstart certain adaptive strategies within your system (e.g. heightened cortisol release), whilst rapidly halting others (e.g. menstrual cycle, digestion). The result is an extremely imbalanced and disrupted hormonal and metabolic profile.
Think of it like a tug-of-war: the more you push your body out of balance, the harder it will push back against you.
Taking a hormone first-approach
There is so much un-utilised power that lies within prioritising a healthy and balanced body with functioning hormones - not a punished, disrespected or unbalanced one. My newfound belief is this: we can really only achieve any true state of health and wellbeing by actually tuning in to our internal cues and counting our hormones NOT just the numbers on our plates, scales or clothes.
Honestly, I’m still learning how to master this kind of hormone-first approach to a healthy lifestyle myself. It is still so easy to get caught in the bubble of macro/calorie counting, tracking activity levels, monitoring the weight on the scale and pushing hard with a "more is more" approach to see results. It’s almost second-nature to a lot of us now to lose sight of the easiest and simplest ways to keep our bodies healthy - to monitor how good we are feeling and to keep this a consistent and sustainable feeling.
Personally, I’ve found that the easiest way to do this is by ditching the numbers (as much as possible!) and instead, regularly mastering and listening to five key biofeedback cues:
In my next blog post I’ll cover why these things are important, how to 'check-in' with these cues to optimise hormone health, and how to make sure they’re sending the right signals to your body for true health and well-being, and to achieve your goals…xx
Inherent in my nature is the tendency to stress. To worry. To push.
It’s always been 'black or white', 'all or nothing' for me, and over the past few months this kind of high strung approach finally caught up to me - because it simply wasn’t sustainable for my body to be constantly pushed to extremes.
Between my Type A personality and perfectionism, as well as my history of disordered eating and anxiety, I’ve become really good at not listening to my body, and instead, letting my mind and drive guide my behaviour.
All throughout high school and uni, I pushed my social life, hobbies and a lot of internal happiness aside to push myself to achieve the highest grades I could.
When my studies were over, I channeled all this perfectionism and need for control into my diet and exercise. More was better when it came to exercise, and less was key when it came to food.
I pushed through hunger.
I pushed aside food offered to me.
I pushed through (looking back, really f*cking frightening) chest pains just so I could finish my intense workouts.
Even when I entered recovery from my eating disorder and began focusing on healing, I was still pushing hard to succeed.
I was still chasing control over my intake, and was now meticulously tracking every macro and calorie that I consumed.
I was still trying to manipulate my body, and though I'd cut back on the amount of exercise I was doing, I was still relying all too heavily on a strict workout routine to feel at peace with my body as it changed throughout the recovery process.
I was eating a lot, but I was training a lot too, and I was never really happy.
My body was still perceiving so much stress in its environment, and this became manifested in a chronic stress response.
Phase 1: Adrenal overactivity
I went through this stage of heightened stress for a long time - perhaps years. I became so used to thriving off adrenalin, to feeling on-edge, to not knowing what it felt like to take a proper deep breath, and all the little episodes of burnouts I experienced just became motivation for me to push back even harder. My adrenals were pumping out cortisol left, right and centre so I could cope with all this stress I was facing externally (and also internally forcing onto myself).
After all the time, I finally reached the height of this adrenal overactivity just over a month ago.
Symptoms of Adrenal Overactivity
I started experiencing so much cortisol in my system that the manifesting anxiety, depression and panic became too much for me to ignore.
What you should do in this phase:
The most beneficial thing you can do for your body at this stage is to stop, slow down and remove a lot of the stressors from your external and internal environment.
This could mean lowering the intensity of your exercise, reducing your intake of stimulants like caffeine, increasing your calorie intake to meet your body's demands, reducing your work-load, turning down a few commitments , mastering some mindfulness and meditation techniques cope with stress, and just working to reduce the overall perception of stress your body is experiencing, and offset the stress-load from your system.
The worst thing you can do in this phase:
If you’re like me though, then all these signs and symptoms start to take their toll on you in a way that makes you want to do anything but slow down and rest.
You start to feel so useless and crap, that the only way you know how to feel better, is to push harder.
I started exercising more and more.
I started to eat less, and go hours without eating
I turned to coffee to fuel my workouts and my work, multiple times a day.
I looked to social media for ‘inspiration’ to get my body back to where I thought it needed to be.
I berated myself endlessly for how lousy I looked and felt, and I found myself being unable to cope with anything I was facing.
I was desperately trying to fight stress with more stress, and eventually my body had nothing left to give.
Without me really knowing, I all of a sudden entered a phase of Adrenal Conservation.
Phase II: Adrenal Conservation
My body had become so used to this constant and excessive stress, that it started to resist the effects of the cortisol it was pumping out. Small levels of stressed failed to illicit a stress response, and so my body pumped out more and more to try to stimulate this stress response it knew it needed. After months stuck like this, my entire metabolic reserves became depleted, my body didn’t have the energy left to keep producing cortisol or any of the hormones it needed to, and I now had huge hormonal imbalances.
There was definitely a change in my symptoms - but at the time I didn’t really take notice of it. To me, it was kind of just like moving from one feeling of lousiness to another, but here’s some of the things I noticed.
Symptoms of adrenal conservation:
Where to go from here?
When two separate blood and saliva tests taken just 1 month apart revealed these two very different pictures of hormone levels (from overactivity to conservation), I realised pretty quick that my body needed some intensive TLC and attention. I couldn’t ignore what it was trying to tell me anymore, because my entire wellbeing was deteriorating in front of me - despite my assurance that I was pursuing the healthiest lifestyle I could.
I was so lost at this point, because if the solution to high cortisol was to rest, then was the solution of my now low levels to push harder again?! I honestly felt so stuck in this vicious circle of hormonal imbalance, that I succumbed to a pretty bad bout of depression for a few weeks.
Eventually, I sought out the advice of a new specialist and my GP, did a load of research and started playing around with some pretty big lifestyle changes that didn’t require me to completely rest, nor completely push harder.
I knew I had to learn the true meaning of balance and address a variety of factors in my body - not just my adrenals or any one hormone. Everything happening was tying in with other things in my body - which meant that taking any specific drug or supplement, or chasing a high or low level of anything, wasn’t going to be the solution.
It meant rewiring my entire approach to health in order to reset, regain and preserve that very health I always thought I was chasing, but really wasn’t.
Where I‘m at now:
It’s only been a few weeks, but already I’ve managed to nudge my cortisol levels back into normal ranges, I’ve regained a lot of my energy, I’m sleeping better than ever, and I just feel more at peace. I can’t even explain how much more comfortable I feel right now in comparison to this time last month.
I’ll share the Top 5 things that I think have been helping me the most in my next post…so stay tuned. Here’s hoping it’s only onwards and upwards from here xx
What is gut right?
Gut Right by ATP Science is a complex of ‘modbiotics' (polyphenols, polysaccharides, glucans, lectins and other compounds)) that modulate the microbes in our gut by controlling their growth rate and ratios. Here's the link to the product: atpscience.com/product/gutright/ Please note: this post is in no means sponsored, nor did the brand send me this product.
Modbiotics work toward creating a healthier profile in our gut. They do this through actions that reduce the existence of excessive firmicutes (sugar-feeders that create inflammation and slow our metabolism), whilst also working to increase deficient bacteroidetes (the good guys - bacteria that feed on fat, block inflammation and boost out metabolism).
It isn’t a probiotic or a prebiotic, and instead of just adding more bugs to our gut (which can be likened to throwing fertiliser at weeds!), Gut Right works specifically on achieving this desired better ratio of good bugs vs. bad bugs.
Having this ratio in balance prevents things like obesity, insulin resistance and other metabolic syndromes, along with a range of health issues like leaky gut, inflammation and IBS.
So basically, the logic behind Gut Right is to fortify our diets with modbiotics to restore a truly healthy balance in our bodies - reduce the excessive organisms that have overgrown, and support the deficient strains to grow.
In doing so, it promises to support the immune system, reduce inflammation, reduce insulin resistance, support a healthy metabolism, prevent and correct fatigue disorders, aid mental clarity, improve physical and mental performance, reduce bloating and displace parasites and yeasts.
Bring it on.
What is the 10 day protocol?
Gut Right is initiated with a 10-day protocol - which is a short-term purge to rid the overgrowth of the bad bugs in your gut.
You are required to take 1 teaspoon of the GutRight powder 3 times daily with meals, whilst following their specific carbohydrate diet (which you can find here. Note I didn’t follow this strictly. See below in the FAQs why!).
After the 10 days you can resume taking 1 x teaspoon a day, since lower doses have a more modulating effect over a loner period of time to maintain this healthier ratio that has been established during the first 10 days.
What was my experience?
The guys at ATP ominously state that what you should expect to experience during the 10 days will be “directly proportional to what is living inside of you, and what it smells and sounds like as it leaves you”.
For a bit of context: I have had chronic digestive issues since my restrictive eating disorder, and the period during my recovery whereby I would consume Diet Coke every single day, along with artificially sweetened protein bars and shakes and then go on to chew packets of gum at a time. By the time I had finally built up a healthier gut after 2 years of proper eating and adequate nutrition, I had an injury that landed me on antibiotics for 6 months straight. My gut has honestly never been the same since. Then came my recent episode of adrenal fatigue and hormonal deregulation - leaving me suffering over a month of chronic daily diarrhoea due to stress. So based on how messed up my gut was…I knew I had a sh*itty experience ahead of me..literally.
Not going to lie, I am so glad I finally worked up the courage to commence this protocol in the first place! I procrastinated and delayed even starting it because I was honestly so scared as to what kind of side-effects I’d experience, or whether I would notice a change at all. I finally reached a point where I was so fed up with how lousy I felt that I just committed to it. Day 1 was kind of exciting because I was so ready for a change, and through placebo effects alone I felt better instantly with the reassurance that I was doing something good for my gut.
By the end of Day 1, I was already experiencing the Herxheimer reaction - the die off reaction whereby the bad bugs are being killed and start to release toxins to try to fight back (this is why I wish in hindsight I’d stuck to the diet so that I wasn’t fuelling them with the carbs they thrive off to fuel this fight!). I was pretty quick to notice excessive burping, gurgling in my stomach, the most potent farts and by day 3 I was extremely nauseous during the night and had built up to 6 poos a day.
During these first 3 days, the build up of material and increase in volume of my poos was uncomfortable, but also oddly satisfying. I could just tell something was changing inside my body, and it felt good. The worst parts at this stage were the trapped wind, adjusting to the taste of the Gut Right powder and having to drop my carb intake in a half-assed attempt to somewhat comply to the diet protocol.
My skin broke out pretty badly by day 4, but I’ve heard this is part of the purging/cleansing process. I also had a few really bad headaches (which I never get!), and realised I needed to be drinking a lot more water than usual while I was taking the powder.
By day 5, my average daily poo count was around 7-8 poos per day. It was liberating at this stage because each poo was the type of poo where you walk out of the bathroom and just want to high-5 everyone instantly because your shit was that epic. I was also needing to pee SO MUCH - a combination of drinking more water and the inclusion of Cranberry proanthocyanidins in the Gut Right formula (a polyphenol that detoxifies bugs through the urine!).
I also noticed a dramatic increase in my energy levels and quality of sleep at this stage - which was probably the best feeling in the world for me after months of suffering through exhaustion and fatigue. I was finally feeling my usual self again, and by this point, I was ready to sell my soul to the guys at ATP Science for creating such an incredible product.
Unfortunately though, sh*t happens (or doesn’t), and for some reason, all that euphoric lightness left me at day 8 and I felt backed up and so uncomfortably bloated. I was still doing a fair amount of poo’s a day over days 8-10, but they weren’t as satisfying nor did they exit as smoothly.
The smell was slowly improving though, and I was still reaping the benefits of better energy levels. My skin had cleared up immensely, and is probably the best it’s been in ages (I have a feeling this is tied in with a healthier gut leading to healthier hormones and less toxins in my body?!)
I honestly still can’t believe how many little things started improving for me beyond my digestive health over the 10 days - it really hit home hard for me just how many elements of our wellbeing our gut controls.
By day 10 I was feeling a little better again, though my belly was still puffy and inflamed like it was at the start of the 10 days. I was a little disheartened and frustrated at this point, because things were looking SO damn good for a few days in the middle!
What was the overall outcome after the 10 days?
Personally, I made the decision after day 10 to continue the 3-dosage protocol for another 5 days (after consulting with the team at ATP that it was safe to do so!). This is only because I wanted to try to comply to the diet a little better and see if that helped, and really get rid of the mass of bad bugs I knew I still had in me.
I’ve taken the weekend off, and as of Monday will begin another round before assessing where to go from there. I’ll update this post once I’ve completed the next 10 days (this time with stricter compliance to the diet!).
I have now completed the 10-day protocol again, this time following the diet a lot more compliantly. So, how did I go?
For starters, the side-effects/discomfort of the die-off reaction were so, so much worse than the first round. I have a feeling this was because the Gut Right formula was acting far more effectively now that I wasn't feeding the bad bugs with their main sources of fuel (e.g. complex carbs and dairy). It was also probably likely that I was feeling more lousy as my body adjusted to far less carbs in my diet.
Throughout those first few days I had the most excruciating bloating, headaches and nausea but I persevered, because trust me, days 5 and 6 are where the magic happens. All of a sudden I started feeling so much lighter, more energetic and just happy. I was still pooping a lot , but the bloating and discomfort had reduced significantly. I was a little worried that this would all reverse again like it did the first round (whereby I started to get really backed up and bloated on days 8-10), but honestly, I only felt better as the days progressed.
It's now the day after day 10, and I am feeling amazing - I'm talking 100x better than I was when I first began both rounds. My sleep, mood, energy and digestion feel miles ahead of what they were and I'm not exaggerating when I say like a different person than I was a few weeks back when I was stuck in a cycle of fatigue, depression, hormonal imbalances and major digestive issues.
In terms of advice and some tips, here’s a little FAQ that might help you!
Do I have to stick to the diet?
Am I going to feel gross and bloated?
How can I make the protocol ‘smoother’ for myself?
How do you drink it without wanting to throw up?!
Will I lose weight on this product?
CONCLUSION: Would I recommend this product?
I was really hesitant to recommend this until I completed the full 10 days, partly because it IS a very expensive product, and also because every single one of us have a different gut microbiome and will experience different reactions to the ingredients in this product. Just because I had a positive experience, doesn’t mean that every single person who tries it will as well - so that’s just my little disclaimer. In fact, if you're gut is in a pretty healthy place to begin with, you might not experience any effects in your digestion at all.
It's also important to note that this product is not a magic cure in solving poor gut health - there are so many more factors at play that need to be attended to, and I don't think I would have experienced the same positive result if I hadn't made improvements to my lifestyle and stress management whilst I was undertaking the 10 day protocol.
In saying that, if you really are eager to give yourself an extra push toward a healthier gut, then I definitely think this product is at least worth a try.
Overall rating 8/10.
Note as of 8/11: Since reviewing this product unsponsored over 5 months ago, I have since become an affiliate for ATP Science. Which means I can offer a 10% discount on all their products if you are interested in trying them. My code is STEPH10.
Gut Right Hot Chocolate Recipe:
Simply add the milk to a big glass, add in the Gut Right, cacao powder and protein powder and stir well. Allow to combine before pouring the hot water on top. Stir again and enjoy!
-Since managing stress and rebalancing my hormones remain my main goals right now, it’s important that I'm taking steps towards both lowering the stress I'm faced with (i.e. ensuring adequate nutrition, proper rest, eliminating lifestyle stressors etc - all covered here) as well as strengthening my body’s ability to better cope with stress and rebalance my hormones whenever they get out of whack in the future.
Conventional treatments for many hormonal imbalances usually include synthetic hormone replacement therapies, medications and the contraceptive pill. Personally (really emphasising that this is a personal opinion), I’m of belief that while these treatments have their place, for the majority of us, relying on these only does three things:
For the sake of my own journey and recovery, I’ve made sure to read LOADS of research and have also consulted with numerous GPs and specialists to devise a more natural/holistic treatment plan that will (hopefully!) work for me. I’ve been given 6 months to heal my body naturally after a period of chronic stress and excessive cortisol, hypothalamic amenorrhea and now adrenal fatigue and hypocortisolism.
WWithin these 6 months, I’ll be playing around with natural supplements with the hope that they will accelerate the normalisation of key hormones that have become imbalanced and deregulated in my body - such as cortisol, testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone.
Like I’ve emphasised a few times, changing things in my diet and re-evauating some of my lifestyle habits are going to be the most crucial for balancing my cortisol levels and managing my hormones, but supplements can give me a big advantage in achieving that balance - and it would be foolish for me to ignore that advantage.
There are a ton of natural supplements out there, and many of them will be specific for healing different hormonal imbalances - so for the sake of my own experiences and blog, I’m going to 'skim over’ the really technical jargon of these, and just outline the supplements I’m personally trialling and why. I suggest you do your own research and consult a professional before putting anything into an already stressed body!
Honestly, I’d never heard about these before I faced all these health issues - so don’t be skeptical if you haven’t heard of them before either!
Adaptogens are a class of natural remedies that counter the physical and mental effects of stress - they are neither stimulating nor sedentary, and instead work to bring the body back to a state of balance/homeostasis - in whichever direction is needed (e.g. they will work to lower cortisol levels if they're too high, or will boost them if they'e too low).
There’s a few key ones that have been shown to effectively manage cortisol levels and rebalance sex hormones, two I've which I'm trialling at the moment:
Ashwagandha - a traditional adaptogenic herb in Ayurvedic medicine used to treat anxiety and promote relaxation and healing. This herb has been shown to have powerful effects for lowering stress responses and regulating cortisol levels within the body. It benefits thyroid function and can help overcome adrenal fatigue. I take in the form of daily CortRX supplementation, as well as in a herbal tea blend 1-2 x daily.
Rhodiola rosea - another adaptogenic herb used in traditional Chinese medicine. It significantly reduces chronic cortisol and increases resilience to stress. It’s also been found to alleviate symptoms of depression, and can offer energising relief to a fatigued system. Again, I take this one in the form of daily CortRX supplementation.
A lot of these nutrients you can easily obtain from an adequate and varied diet, but keep in mind that in a stressed or compromised system, your body may not be capable of effectively extracting these nutrients from what you're eating, or it may need a little extra than you’re able to realistically consume through your diet alone.
Which supplements to try first?
Firstly, to drive home this point again, make sure you’ve satisfied your core nutritional needs and eliminated some lifestyle stressors. Remember, supplements aren’t going to ‘cure’ you in isolation - so make sure you’re prioritising the tips I covered in Parts I & Part II before trying any of these supplements!
Since stress and hormone imbalances are notorious nutrient drainers, your ‘safest’ and probably cheapest bet is to start with a high-quality multivitamin-mineral supplement and an omega-3 supplement (either fish oil or flaxseed oil). Starting here will ensure you’re building up a healthier system to combat stress, and to nourish your body with the nutrients it needs to regain an optimum balance.
Next, I’d start experimenting with some adaptogens to work directly on managing the cortisol and other stress hormones naturally - especially since you may not know which direction your hormones are falling out of balance. I went from having extremely high cortisol, to now what they suspect is chronically low cortisol. Adaptogens make sure you're not driving your hormones too far in the wrong direction - especially at the start of your recovery when you might not have clear answers as to what's out of balance and in which direction. Ashwagandha is probably the most researched and effective adaptogen for stress management, as well as being one of the easiest to find. You can buy it in capsule or powder form from most supplement or health food stores.
I’d also recommend researching ATP Science products - they have a range of natural remedies that combine a lot of adaptogens and natural ingredients effectively to relieve common hormonal imbalances. This is completely unsponsored, but I would personally call their products life-changing, and well worth the price. (Note: I'm more than happy to review each product separately if there's enough interest!)
If you’re a gym-junkie and will be maintaining a moderate training regime throughout your healing, I would also prioritise the magnesium, zinc and glutamine for recovery and to give your body a greater chance at managing the demands of training on a stressed system (note: it’s up to your discretion and the advice of a professional to determine whether you should still be training right now).
So what is my supplement stack right now?
I feel like a bit of a pill popping junkie, but right now here’s what I’m doing:
So far, I am noticing a huge difference in how my body feels after implementing this supplement routine for 2 weeks now. I’m sleeping so much better (honestly it’s been amazing), my anxiety during the day is much more manageable (before this I was literally jumping out of my skin at the smallest of sounds I was that on-edge), and I can feel myself breathing more steadily and feeling more at ease. Physically, the inflammation around my gut as decreased a little, and I'm feeling lighter and holding on to less water!
I feel really hopeful that all these extra investments into my daily routine will pay-off, and I can’t wait to prove to myself and to my specialists that I can heal myself naturally - and make a comeback feeling stronger and happier than ever before. xx
One of the easiest ways to repair your body after a period of stress or mistreatment is through adequate nutrition and natural supplementation.
Remember though, none of these changes to your diet or the addition of supplements will work if you don’t pair them with proper rest and other necessary lifestyle changes (e.g. more sleep, meditation and the other tips I posted in part one of this blog!) - so implement these steps wisely and be realistic about what they can achieve for you.
Eating to reduce stress and balance hormones.
I’ve always prided myself on my diet and how many healthy foods I consume on a daily basis….but that doesn’t mean my diet has necessarily been ideal or effective in meeting what my body truly needs. The past few weeks have made me realise that there are definitely some tweaks I need to make to my diet, and that I need to start eating more purposefully and mindfully - irrespective of my macros, any preconceived beliefs about ‘clean foods’ or what I see other people eating.
If you’re like me and enjoy investing in your diet and nutrition, then the good news is that you can greatly improve and manage your hormone levels simply by prioritising a diet rich in functional whole foods and a variety of macro and micro nutrients.
While focusing on a diet low in processed foods and high in essential healthy fats, adequate protein and fibrous carbs will be key in balancing your hormones and setting your body up for a successful path toward healing - keep in mind that even the most seemingly insignificant eating habits, certain ingredients lurking in healthy foods, inconsistent blood sugar levels, high levels of inflammation and a history of chronic dieting can all contribute to high cortisol levels and other hormonal imbalances. So don’t underestimate the power of your diet even if you’re already hitting your macros and eating ‘healthy’.
Here's 5 key tips you might need to consider if your body and hormones stops responding positively to your 'healthy' efforts:
Tip #1: Stop under-eating!!
For me personally, my recent hormonal issues came about after a period of complete inconsistency with my diet, and a subtle shift towards lower calories, less carbs and low fat. Even though it wasn’t an intentional shift, it was my way of retaliating and a desperate attempt to gain control in the face of stress and anxiety. Though brief, it was enough to send my body into panic mode. Here's why.
My history of restrictive dieting and disordered eating really took a toll on my body, and I truly believe that if you’ve put your body through anything like this before, it becomes so much more responsive to stress than the ’normal’ stress response most people experience. Our bodies remember past experiences of under-eating, become hyper-sensitive to similar ‘restrictive’ periods, and remain hyper-vigilant and ready to protect themselves in the face of this perceived ‘danger’ and starvation again.
This means even the briefest periods of under-eating can trigger your body to go into overdrive with a heightened fight-or-flight response, initiate a metabolic stress response and trigger a cascade of hormonal imbalances. For me, I notice this pretty quickly - a few days of not eating enough and my digestive system slows down as my body diverts resources elsewhere, my anxiety plays up because my body becomes flooded with stress hormones, and my weight increases due to water retention and inflammation caused by an internal system that’s preparing to fight.
This means that eating enough is your best weapon against a stressed body. It also means that once you're in this state, despite how frightening and counter-intuitive it seems to eat more - it’s possibly one of the most important things you could be doing. In the face of weigh fluctuations, bloating and poor body image caused by a stress body - you have to keep eating and eating enough.
We’re all going to have different needs and minimum calorie intakes, so my only advice is to figure out the tipping point beyond which your body starts to become reactive and hostile. Set this as your absolute minimum daily intake, and aim to eat beyond this each day. It’s going to be a mind-game, and it might not be comfortable, but trust me - you can’t combat stress with more stress, and your body is only going to trust you once it perceives that you’re nourishing it well and realises that it doesn’t need to hold on to everything to protect you.
Work with your body, not against it, and always give it enough fuel to keep you thriving.
Tip #2: Keep your diet simple, minimally processed and balanced
Once you have a rough idea of how much your body needs, start prioritising the foods that give you the biggest bang for buck - and don’t fall into the trap of mindlessly eating to ‘fit your macros’ or relying on empty calories to sustain you.
And lastly, don’t think you can’t eat the foods you love. Eating wisely and eating to meet your body’s needs during this time also includes eating for enjoyment. Your favourite treat or a meal enjoyed out with your loved ones is only going to benefit you by relieving some stress and fulfilling your soul. So make sure you’re getting some of those ‘feel-good’ foods in your body too!
Tip #3: Eat consistently, regularly and with a purpose
You could be eating the most ‘perfect’ diet, hitting all your macro and micronutrient needs and still not be eating optimally for your body and for your hormones.
Why? Because you’re underestimating the importance of consistency and optimal meal timing to get the most out of what you’re eating. Yes, your overall weekly calorie intake is going to be most important, but that doesn’t mean that how you choose to consume those calories throughout the day/week don’t matter.
(Quick note: I am by no means wanting to create more ‘food rules’ for anyone - especially because most of us here are probably trying desperately to rid ourselves of such rules. So keep in mind that these aren’t ‘rules’ or ‘have to’s’ - they’re just little ways that you can make sure you’re giving your body the best support you can to restore itself.)
You don’t need to eat every X hours every single day - realistically, it’s not going to be possible for most of us to always get a healthy meal in at routine times throughout the day. What I can suggest though, is to always have a balanced meal or snack on hand so that your body isn’t going hours without any nutrients or fuel.
In a healthy system, meal timing may not be as important - but for a stressed system, it could potentially make or break you. Personally, I know I f*cked myself over by neglecting the importance of eating enough throughout the day, and getting in a bad habit of ‘hoarding’ my macros till the end of the day. I stopped giving my body the fuel it needed when it needed it most (e.g. in the morning and post-workout) and instead filled up with food right before bed. The result was inconsistent blood sugar levels, low energy, increased cortisol production and poor sleep due to indigestion and insulin spikes at night.
To keep this short: eat when your body needs it most, eat when you feel hungry, eat to perform and to function well, and don’t assume that your body will ‘know’ that it will eventually obtain it’s daily macro/calorie needs just because you know it will. Fasting and letting yourself go hungry and engaging in under-eating and over-eating cycles aren’t giving your body any positive signals - so don’t leave your body guessing, and remember to feed it with consistent nurturing and trust.
Tip #4 Cut back on the excessive consumption of caffeine
Ok, I’m keeping this really short because this is my least favourite tip.
Unfortunately, stimulants like caffeine are not conducive to a relaxed and restorative central nervous system.
I know how hard it is - especially when your body starts to crash and fatigue more and more, and the temptation to rely on stimulants to simply get through the day becomes increasingly appealing and comforting - but it’s really not at all beneficial for your body right now.
I try to remind myself that every single time I drink coffee, I’m encouraging my body to release cortisol. This is the last thing I really want to be doing right now, since cortisol is 90% of the reason why I’m feeling so sh*t. So for me, anything more than 1/2-1 serve of caffeine a day honestly isn’t worth it.
My advice is to just pick your poison and set yourself some boundaries without skimping on too much enjoyment. If you have to have your daily pre-workout, caffeine/energy drink or coffee, try to keep it under 250mg worth of caffeine, time it wisely (e.g. pre-workout or before midday, not before bed or after a workout when your cortisol is already heightened), savour it and then have some fun trying alternatives like Chai, Beetroot Latte’s and other herbal drinks.
Tip #5: Don’t overthink it and trust that your body will tell you what it needs
My last tip is this: eat what makes your body feel good.
Yes, we have to be mindful and proactive with our diet - especially now while we try to restore our hormones, but we shouldn’t be becoming more strict or stressed about our diet. I initially fell into the trap of imposing all these rules on myself and spending hours dwelling on whether I was eating the right things to heal my hormones. I became even more stressed and completely self-sabotaged my efforts.
Take a step back, and focus on what you can do to optimise your diet in a way that’s sustainable, realistic and enjoyable.
For me, I’ve taken this as an opportunity to try new meals and combinations to get more nutrients and variety in my diet, I’ve found a routine of consistent meal times that leave me feeling satisfied and at ease throughout the day, and I’m slowly becoming more and more confident that I’m giving my body what it needs to heal.
There will be days where you f*ck up and drink 3 coffees, where you don’t have time to eat and go hours without a meal and when you eat something that your body is insensitive/intolerant to….learn to accept some ‘misses’ in your diet, move on and make sure your next meal or next day is better for it.
This isn’t going to be a quick fix or smooth journey, so the best you can do is to be consistent, be patient with yourself and be kind to yourself.
Eat like you love your body - not like you’re disappointed in it, and eat with positive intentions - not with an intention to control or manipulate your body. It’ll feed off whatever you give it….so feed it wisely.
Part 3 on supplements to heal a stressed body will be coming soon! xx
If you're like me and have (stupidly) run yourself to the ground in an endless pursuit to go hard, do more, push to the extremes and see results, then here's our game plan.
First and foremost, we have to do two things.
Arguably the first and most important change we need to make is the way we're thinking and talking to ourselves. We're clearly engaging in some less than healthy behaviours for a reason - and I bet it's because we're either unhappy with ourselves, we're feeling insecure, or we're chasing a very disordered approach to health.
I've had to make a huge reassessment of my habits and dig deep to figure out the 'why' behind a lot of the 'healthy habits' I engage in. Here's an example;
Am I training hard 5-6x a week because I love training and how it makes me feel, or because I'm still trying to burn calories, alter my appearance and deal with some underlying unhappiness with my appearance and frustrations in my life?
......I know exactly why I train intensely every single day....and while I genuinely do love working out - it's often not my main motivator. I don't love feeling exhausted, sore and anxious at the end of the week when I've successfully pushed through all my gruelling sessions. I just love knowing I've pushed hard and satisfied the voice in my head that's searching for control or stress relief.
I admit that the 'burn' of a workout is still a big motivator for me, and it's because I still yearn for a sense of control over my body, a desire to 'get smaller/leaner' and an outlet for my depression and anxiety. So, I obviously still suffer from a very disordered mind, and it's tearing all my efforts of achieving a healthier life apart.
You can't hate yourself happier or healthier, and you definitely can't combat stress and exude health with a mind that's thriving off chaos and angst, so here's my advice:
Lifestyle and habit changes
Once you've laid down the groundwork to a healthier mind, you'll be in a much better frame of mind to actually start implementing some better behaviours for your body.
When you've come to peace with the fact that less is more and that you can't simply force your body into submission through a punishing regime - you'll be able to shift focus toward trialling and adopting new strategies for getting your body and health back to feeling their best. Personally, here are some of the changes I'm making to achieve my killer comeback:
Prioritise sleep and rest: Sleep is one of the best antidotes for a stressed body and the foundation to a healthy lifestyle - so embracing quality sleep habits and routines will be crucial to healing your body and getting your metabolism firing and hormones functioning optimally again (especially stress and reproductive hormones!). Again, working with a peaceful mind will help you achieve better sleep, and with better sleep will come better digestion, improved energy and moods, more fulfilling gym sessions and working days, and your body will start to function as it should. Do not skimp on sleep.
Train smarter, not harder: It may seem really counter-intuitive (and frustrating) to slow down or switch up your exercise pace to improve your body composition and overall health, but this is important. Depending on your specific hormonal issues, the way you train is most likely going to have to change. For me, I need to focus on reducing cortisol and maximising testosterone production during training - which means all my energy needs to go into resistance training, compound moves, a shorter overall workout duration and any cardio I do needs to be intense, to the point and very minimal. No more 2 hour long workouts or 45 minute long cardio sessions. The aim is to build our bodies back up, not tear them down any further. Remember, exercise is still a source of stress for our bodies, so implement it wisely and make sure it leaves you feeling stronger and happier - not more worn out.
Prioritise one act of self-care a day: When your body is run down, your head is feeling overwhelmingly chaotic and tumultuous, it's easy to dwell in self-pity and neglect yourself. You feel like sh*t, so you treat yourself like it. It's a vicious cycle, and it needs to stop. Your body needs some extra pampering and self-love right now more than ever - so don't let your mind convince you otherwise.
Release some endorphins with some feel-good practices like a warm bath, a night curled up on the couch watching your favourite TV show, a face mask etc.... Put in some time each day to make yourself feel better - because it will work. The better you start feeling, the more motivated you'll be to keep working to feel this way in the long-term.
Spend time with the right people, doing the things you want to do: Don't make yourself your last priority, make yourself too busy with commitments or say 'yes' to any social event or activity that won't serve your or leave you feeling any better for it. Engage in things that nourish you, not drain you even further. This can be a tough one to learn, but I promise you, you're not being selfish. You need you on your side first and foremost right now, and you need you in your best state to get through this and heal. Anyone or anything that triggers you, burdens you or sucks up your energy is not for one second worth your time. Instead, prioritise the friends and activities that leave you feeling that little bit lighter, more optimistic and more elated. These are the feelings that you need to release your body of some stress and sadness.
Eat with structure, purpose and ease: Eat for your body, eat regular meals, and eat in a way that causes you as little stress as possible. Don't get sucked into specific diets, rigid meal plans or start to restrict your intake because you're desperate for a means to feel in control. Remember: your body can't heal if you don't fuel it with what it needs to do so. This one is a BIG one, so stay tuned for part 2, where I'll discuss specific dietary changes and supplements that can help heal a stressed body....
For now, please remember; you and only you can build yourself back up again. This is YOUR comeback and your chance to bring back that healthy, thriving body you deserve. So put the work, time and most importantly, the love in to get there xx
My body composition has taken a hit recently, and while I don’t want to get hung up on aesthetics and rely on my physical appearance to determine my health and happiness - I do want to accept and acknowledge that how my body looks now is not because I’ve gained healthy/necessary weight or because I've treated my body well.
I want to dedicate some time to explaining how stress affects how we look - because lets face it, if there’s one thing that will scare most of us into positive change, it’s knowing the effect it’s having on something we all admittedly place (too much) importance on.
Current body composition
The way my body looks now doesn’t come down to my ‘clean’ and nutritious diet.
It doesn’t reflect my commitment to the gym and training.
It doesn’t emulate self-care, love or confidence.
Instead? It’s rapidly showing all the signs of a body that has been worn down by chronic stress and mistreatment.
History of stress
I’ve got a pretty bad history of abusing my body with self-destructive behaviours.
I grew up over-eating, eating with no care for nutrition, filling up on ‘junk’ food and being inactive.
I then endured a restrictive eating disorder, experienced malnutrition and basically starved my body from all nutrients, energy and sustenance.
I’ve over-exercised to the point of osteopenia, chest pains, injury and adrenal fatigue….and experienced multiple bouts of burn outs time and time again.
Up until recently, I’d really started to get a grip on my health and treating my body well.
My eating had improved dramatically - I’ve achieved a really amazing balance of eating the right foods, in the right amounts, with very few restrictions or hang-ups over food.
My training had been the best it’s been - still perhaps a little too much, but half of what I used to do and done with exceedingly healthier intentions.
Current experience with stress
So what changed?
Around 2 months ago, my work load and career became more demanding and I started to experience a few personal stressors I’d never had to deal with before. Subconsciously I began to revert to old ‘comforting’ behaviours in a bid to feel more in control and ‘productive’ in the face of all this extra stress.
All of a sudden, my carb macros were becoming lower and lower, I was chasing an excessive calorie burn in the gym, I was favouring cardio over weight-training, I wasn’t sleeping enough, and when I did sleep it was restless and interrupted. I started to de-prioritise my eating, and my meals became inconsistent. I went hours without eating most days, I over-ate and under-ate, I started drinking more coffee and diet coke in a desperate effort to feel energised, and I started internalising a lot of pressure from social media that I ‘had’ to get my period back, to look a certain way, and to maintain some kind of #fitspo ideal.
I was dealing with all these stressors - some I wasn’t even consciously aware of - and I kept trying to push through it and ‘deal with it’. In the process, I endowed even more stress on my body and completely over-worked my nervous system.
Signs of an overly stressed system
Slowly, the initial ‘high’ of all the nervous energy and stress hormones began to wear off.
Unfortunately, I ignored a lot of these signs my body was throwing me, and instead of taking them as an indication that I needed to slow down and rest, I perceived what was happening in my body as a sign of weakness and vowed to push even harder.
I felt like my body was attacking me….when perhaps it was just retaliating because it felt like I was attacking it.
A few weeks on from this tug-of-war between me and my body, and here’s where I’m at.
Mental and physical symptoms aside, I visibly look flat and ‘fluffy’ - and here’s why.
Is stress making me ‘fat'?!
I’ve essentially flooded by body with stress hormones, causing a complete imbalance in my body as it fights to deal with the physical and psychological stress I’ve placed upon it.
My last blood test from December showed extremely high levels of cortisol, low oestrogen, low progesterone and extremely low testosterone. What does all this mean for my body composition?
To keep it really simple, when we’re stressed our bodies produce a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone secreted by the body to provide energy to get through (what it perceives to be) an emergency. The body senses the stress as danger or a threat, and calls for quick energy to fight or flight. To produce quick energy, it calls on cortisol to release and break down stored protein and fat for readily available blood glucose. Chronic stress then causes an ongoing build up of this blood glucose - most of which our bodies don’t ‘burn off’ as we fight our stressors. So we end up with excess sugars in our system - which is eventually stored as fat….all the while our muscles are being broken down and literally wasting away.
To make matters worse, fat cells in our stomach are more sensitive to cortisol - meaning that all this extra fat storage tends to transpire on the one area of our bodies most of us are most self-conscious about and fixated on. I can honestly say that my stomach right now is undeniably flabby - and I’m not just saying that from a place of being overly self-critical. It’s exceedingly evident and wholly uncomfortable. I wish I had the courage to share the ‘before’ photos I took the other day to prove it, but I’ll save that for when I’ve really got a healthy ‘after’ photo to show. For now, take my word - a stressed body isn’t a healthy looking one…especially when it comes to lower belly flab, back fat and depleted muscles.
What can I do to lower cortisol and get my body healthy again?!
So, as my cortisol levels have increased, my body has gained fat and lost muscle - with no increases in my intake or decreases in my expenditure or effort in the gym to justify it. Great.
As someone who has always thrived off being ‘in control’ of my body and chasing a ‘lean’ physique, to all of a sudden ‘lose progress’, observe noticeable increases in fat and scale weight despite all my efforts to maintain my aesthetics…has been f*cking terrifying, frustrating and miserable to say the least.
It’s a lesson well learned for me though - and a very unfriendly reminder that perhaps I’ve never been chasing health for the right reasons or in the right ways.
Which means I need to make some big, scary changes to get this all under control and to truly heal my body and my attitude toward it.
Like I mentioned in my first 'Update' post, my gut instinct has been to slash my calories and increase my cardio to ‘burn off’ the extra fat and weight I’ve gained….but logic reminds me that drastically reducing my calories will just trigger my body to produce more cortisol..and so the cycle continues.
Instead, there’s a few more beneficial and scientically-backed things I’ve already begun implementing, along with a range of other things I’m looking into - lifestyle changes, mental health work, supplementation and diet tweaks. I’ll cover them all in a separate blog post, so leave a comment as to which one you want me to address first!
They’re all equally important, and all equally focused on two main goals:
Let’s just say I've got a lot of work to do…so let’s do this x