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
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