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!