It is not uncommon for me to have conversations with women that have digestive issues, and in particular irregular bowel movements (of which we should ALWAYS be going once a day). Asking about your bathroom habits is essential for me to learn about other things that may be going with your gut. But what is most overlooked when it comes to constipation, and diarrhoea, is stress. And along with this, the frustration with feeling like you’re doing all the right things but you’re not able to reshape your body.
Your gut is your second brain. The gut and brain are intrinsically linked and a major reliance on one another so it is no surprise that stress (daily stresses like traffic, trauma, psychological, physical) is a major culprit of digestive woes and the inability to see body changes. Does this sound familiar to anyone? You are so stressed so you say ‘eff it and eat and drink the things and then feel stressed because you feel guilty and then even more stressed because you feel like you’re never going to be able to change your body and that stress halts the change you want in your body as it is your body’s natural protection … and so on and the cycle continues.
Our modern lives are high paced. Our nervous system is triggered by everything that is going on around us and these days is in a constant sympathetic (stressed) state. Even if you don't feel stressed your phone is giving you alerts all the time, you may be thinking about your to-do list, someone cut you off in traffic, you feel stressed about your body and food ... it's never-ending.
Here’s some truths:
Stress produces cortisol (the stress hormone), which is wonderful IF controlled! But because we are chronically stressed this hormone is chronically elevated, which halts fat loss.
Your body doesn’t know the difference between different stressors. Whether it is stress at work or stress in the gym from training, stress is stress. So, think about having a crazy day at work and then going to the gym to ‘let off some steam’ … you’re creating a more stressful environment, which is why considering your training with everything else that’s going on in your life is imperative.
Stress can affect your other hormones that make us feel good and help us to function well.
If you’re chronically stressed it can inhibit recovery from your training, thus you won’t be getting the stimulus you want from your training to then get an adaptation (e.g. building muscle, helping metabolism, digestive processes, fat loss).
Like training, if you’re not eating enough to help you recover from stressful situations (training, life) you will also be adding even more stress to your body (halting change). If you are eating in a calorie deficit (dieting) then you need to be in an optimal state to do so.
Sound familiar? I’m going to the gym 5 days a week, eating 1200 calories, why am I not losing weight?
The bottom line is this: stress causes adaptation. BUT in order to get that adaptation we need recovery as that is when change can occur. So if you are working out 5 times a week and eating in a deficit but not seeing change, you may well need to to eat more, exercise less and meditate!
I know this seems confusing and completely counterintuitive. We need stress for change but it’s also bad for us? WTF? WIll I ever win?!
Yes, you will, with a few changes.
Unfortunately, like everything, it is a bit of a balancing act.
Our nervous system can only be in one of two modes: sympathetic (stressed) or parasympathetic (rest). The best way to counter being in a constant stressed state is to encourage your body and your mind to spend more time in the parasympathetic. Good quality sleep and scheduling in relaxation is imperative.
Ensure that you are following smart programming! The better you can recover from your training the better adaptation you will get. You can only train as hard as you recover hard. (Keep your eyes peeled for a brand spankin’ SMART programme that I am about to release!)
Sleep more and ensure sleep quality. You have seen all the research by now: it works. Stop pretending it doesn’t and you don’t need it. 7-9 hours a night, please.
Eat. You have to eat to recover. Period. (If this is something you’re stuck on, let’s chat about how I can help you!)
Carbs are not bad. In fact, they blunt cortisol (that stress hormone) by spiking insulin. So always get your carbos in around training!
Awareness precedes change. Get curious about the things in your life that are causing you stress. Write them down and strategise for how you can offset some of that. Someone at work drive you nuts? Is it them or is it actually you? How are you reacting to things? What are the things that are in your control and not in your control? If something happens give yourself 5 minutes to be angry, upset, let of steam then CHOOSE to feel something different.
Match the stressful things in your life with recovery practices so every stress is handled. Training? Pop into the sauna afterwards. Big meeting? Take 2 minutes to sit outside in the sunshine and take 5 full breaths.
Having fun, laughing, being around people that light you up are huge for psychological relief.
Nature. ‘Nuff said.
Create space. Whether you develop a meditation practice or you carve out time in the day for just you, finding ways to mentally unwind and reflect are imperative. What if we called meditation not meditation. Make it work for you! It doesn’t have to be what you think it is (sitting on a mat for forty minutes chanting). It can be whatever you want it to be. That’s the beauty of being the queen of your own world - you make the rules! I would highly recommend starting with a guided meditation. My favourite is the Waking Up app by Sam Harris.
If you are suffering digestive issues in some ways you are lucky! Why? Because that is your body sending you signals that you need to take a load off, that you need to change something. Your body is letting you now before it is too late! IF you’re doing all the things but not where you want to be, this is also a sign to look deeper.
Health is not surface level.
Some bodies don't give out these warning signs and often people are too late to make change before they get sick or give up.
It's all very well to say relax and sleep more, it can feel like there's just no time in the day to do so. But if you are suffering from digestive issues or if making changes to your bod is important to you (which may well be a conversation for another day. Reminder: your body doesn’t need to look a certain way) and you're saying you are too busy to do more relaxing activities, to prep your food, to move your body, to sleep - is that really true? Or is it just not a priority?
Looking after your health and your body must be a priority. You only have one! No one else can take of it for you. Period. Take a moment to really consider that: when was the last time you had good quality sleep? When was the last time you did something for YOU?
Body composition aside, stress is deathly. Grim, I know. But whether aesthetics is your goal or getting your digestion under control, stress must be addressed for quality of life.
Please, I urge you, to actually use something in here and apply it. Because the thing is, you’re smart. But wisdom is useless if it isn't applied. I know talking about stress and thinking about doing these things to manage it is kinda annoying because it’s just not a tangible thing so it is harder to change. But if you can start to take stock, take control of these things, not only can you potentially help digestive woes but you will be a happier more calm person but you will finally start to see the hard work you’re putting into the gym pay off. And you deserve that.
You deserve to have a clearer mind and a happy body.
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