Eating healthy around others: How to deal with social barriers to sticking to your goals.

Happy New Year! I hope you all had an enjoyable Christmas or at least a few days off the normal routine to reflect and recharge.

I had a conversation with my family about how our loved ones and acquaintances can make it difficult for us to stick to our commitments to eating healthy. Not only is this quite common, it can be one of the main reasons people struggle and even give up on their efforts completely.

This year I’m launching an online nutrition program for those who are ready for a fresh start and want to eat healthier, stay consistent with exercise, and heal their relationship with food. The goal of the program is to give people the tools to make and keep habits that will help them long term. A major topic in the program focuses on social barriers and finding social support to sticking to your healthy habits.

Food and eating is very connected with socializing and social events. Often, we think of examples such as family dinners, brunch with the girlfriends, wedding, birthday parties etc. In all these scenarios there are feelings of pure joy, feelings of guilt, or maybe even shame. As a person wanting to make serious changes to dietary habits in pursue of health and/or weight loss, eating in a social setting can bring anxiety. How can we keep to our goals and eat better in social settings when our friends and families are not eating healthy or want to change either? How can we choose healthy options when the only options are cake and ice cream? How can we enjoy conversation without the possibility of unwarranted comments on how we denied dessert in favour of fresh fruit. Our close friends and family can be great allies to our journey on becoming healthier. However, they can also sabotage either unknowingly or deliberately. Some can feel jealous of your progress and others may simply not understand your reasons for change. Please know that you are not alone first and foremost. Many try to change their eating secretively and might even avoid social situations where food is involved rather than talk about it. A large part is to avoid criticism but also to avoid the possibility of failing in public.

So what to do? Tell yourself that despite how many say they only comment out of their concern for you, your body is your business. If people ask, you can say you are making changes for your own health and wellbeing because it’s important to you, or that you want to be a good role model. You could also say nothing, that’s fine too. When in a situation where there is food and alcohol, decide beforehand whether or not you would have some and ask: will this bring me joy? Would this satisfy my hunger? How would I feel afterwards? Could I make a compromise and limit myself to a few things, and would this make me feel satisfied or frustrated? Focus on you and you alone. Never feel shame for your choices to eat or not eat, drink or not drink. Do what you believe is right for you.

For each day, think about a time when you felt pressured in a social setting that involved eating, what are some ways you can respond that you feel is a healthy choice? How do you feel about it? How can it affect your friends and family positively or negatively? Feel free to jot down your answers in a journal so you can refer to frequently.

Are social gatherings around food and drink give you anxiety? How have you responded to comments or actions by the people around you?

If you are interested in working on challenges to help you take control on your efforts to become healthier, check out my program. Info is on my website or feel free to email me at contact@superwomentraining.com. All are welcome 🙂

Gym Intimidation: Should you just “suck it up”?

Tips to overcoming gym intimidation (Gymidation)

We all hear it constantly that exercise is very important. There are so many benefits of exercise from mental health, to antiaging effects. A great way for most to get their exercise is by going to a gym. Gyms are equipped with a variety of tools to get us in shape. However, going to a gym can come easier to some more than others for many reasons.

As a new comer or one who hasn’t stepped foot in a fitness facility in a while, feeling uncomfortable and intimidated is very common. But it seems that there is more to it than feeling not confident in how to use machines or proper exercise technique.

For some women, in particular, they find stepping into a gym very difficult. Some women report feeling intimidated by looks from other men and feeling judged by their appearance.

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So, what is there to do about this issue? Based on internet forums, fitness magazine articles, and chatting with fellow gym goers, here is a list of popular ways women cope with getting their workout in while managing their “gymidation”.

  1. Ignore People:

People stare, men stare at women they find attractive, sometimes people need to look at something that’s moving. Rather than being bothered by it, find strategies that would help you ignore the gazes. Put on headphones, stay at the back of the room, don’t respond to comments (you can’t hear them anyway). Soon you will find that it’ll no longer bother you.

  1. Dress in a matter that will not bring attention:

As comfortable stretchy leggings can be, wearing them might bring unwarranted attention. So, dress in baggy clothes, don’t wear any makeup, and wear a hat to cover your hair. Not only will this prevent men hitting on you, they might avoid you completely. It also helps to put on an angry frown so that no one would ever think twice about asking you how your day was. Oh, and avoid mirrors, even those most gyms are surrounded by them.

  1. Don’t attempt an exercise in which you are unsure on how to execute:

Trying something new might lead to doing it incorrectly and therefore others would mock you on your poor form. Instead, do the basics you know well. Weights and machines can be hard to use and put you at risk of looking silly. An option is to attend a class (stay at the back) in which you are not required to use any weights or machines. That way you are safe from looking foolish and you blend into the crowd. And when in doubt, just do some stretching, everyone can stretch.

  1. Don’t perform exercises that are perceived as advance (especially for a woman).

Avoiding areas in the weight room that are populated with men and don’t do lifts using the same weight as the guy beside you. You will eliminate the belief that you are intimidating. It’s good to be confident, but not too confident. If someone offers exercise advice or to be a spotter, accept it to show you don’t believe you’re “all that”.

  1. And Finally, Suck it up!

You are not the only one who feels awkward in the gym and most likely others have it worse than you. Plus, isn’t getting attention and looks a compliment? Eventually you’ll get used to it.

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Do these tips make you a bit pissed off? Yeah, me too! So, here are some tips and insights that might be more helpful.

  1. Change Gyms:

If you feel uncomfortable every time you go to your gym, it could be because it’s not the gym for you? The gym environment can be a very social one (which is great), but if you feel you don’t connect with the other members and don’t feel that you don’t belong, you don’t have to force yourself to be there. If you can, try finding a place that feels more welcoming for you. Lately, there are more options from Crossfit boxes to your local YMCA that cater to different needs and populations. But, if your current place is the only one available to you, try finding a friend who would join you.

  1. Don’t believe the advertisements:

It’s common for commercial gyms to show advertising of their services and products by displaying images of very fit models using the equipment with ease. Although it can make their product appealing, the reality is that most who exercise look like average people (maybe a bit fitter looking). Social media posts on fitness can also lower one’s confidence, but there is a lot that is hyper glamorized and sexualized, that contains distortion from reality.

  1. Know that every single person in the gym was a beginner once.

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In order to become stronger, get in shape, and more fit you need to gradually work harder and harder several times a week for many years. Those who go to the gym who look muscular, lean, and perform advance exercises and lift heavy weights weren’t that when they started. As long as you are consistent, work hard, do it safely, you can become more confident in your efforts to become fit and healthy. A key point to know is that despite how a person may look or perform in the gym, he or she may still feel unhappy with his/her progress based on his/her ideas of progress (this is very linked to point 2.).

  1. Hire a fitness professional/get resources

If you are unsure on going to a gym because you don’t know what to do, invest in some training, go to a beginner class, or read some great books and articles on how to start on the right path (I’ll be sending a list of recommended resources soon). If you have any medical concerns or injuries, having a trainer is highly recommended as a professional can give you the knowledge and tools on how to exercise properly to get you the best results without risk of further injury or health problems. Feeling competent in your workouts greatly increases your confidence levels and keeps you motivated, and later who knows, you might actually start to enjoy the gym.

  1. Report Harassment

Lastly, if you wanted to leave a gym because of bullying or harassment, report it. These behaviours are inappropriate in any setting, the gym is no exception. If the management at the gym is not taking you seriously or responding properly, that is the fault of the staff, not you being irrational or bothersome. Harassment is sadly a common thing, especially for women, but if we work to report it and support those who speak out, more efforts will be made to reduce it. Unfortunately, most don’t speak up.

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What are your thoughts and experiences with gym intimidation? Do any of these tips work for you?

 

 

 

 

Most of what we know about obesity is right: A Huffington post rebuttal

Huffington post published an article: “Everything we know about obesity is wrong.” The title is eye catching as obesity is viewed by the health community as an epidemic that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. There is a diet and weight loss industry making billions a year and yet nothing is really changing. Hoping to learn about a breakthrough medical finding, or just a conversation starter on educating people about health, we ended up with a confusing piece that misinterprets its sources, uses outdated and inaccurate claims, and fails to gives us a message on where to stand when it comes to our health.

Here’s the original: https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/everything-you-know-about-obesity-is-wrong/

The article provides an account of people experiencing discrimination and hate for being obese. Not only is the shaming coming from bullies in school or from strangers on the street, but also from medical professionals. Obese people have reported being name called and humiliated by their doctor. It is documented that rapport between doctor and obese patients is lower than non-obese patients, and doctors would often place blame on the individual for their obesity.

Yet, doctors receive very little diet and nutritional advice training, and are usually too short on time to provide enough education that could help someone. The basic “move more, eat less” is not helpful for someone who’s probably tried dieting and exercise several times before with no success.

One example in the article was about a woman who admitted to her doctor that she was starving herself in order to lose weight. He replied to her “whatever you are doing, it’s working”

The ill advice the medical doctor was giving to his patient is shocking. No one, whether they have a medical degree or not, knows that the patient’s behaviour is dangerous, and a sign of an eating disorder.

Is fat shaming a real thing? Absolutely. Does bullying make a person lose weight? No. Does stigmatization prevent a group from receiving proper care? Hell, yes it does!

What the article showed that this type of behaviour reduces the likelihood of obese patients seeing a doctor or any other health professional. And feeling shame after being ridiculed by the rest of the population, brings damaging depression and less future efforts to improve health.

Here’s what the article left out. The hard truth. Obesity is highly correlated to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, and osteoarthritis. Obese people have a greater mortality rate than non-obese people, and live 5-20 years less than non-obese.

Reducing body fat is related to a decrease in all of these medical conditions.

So, it’s obvious that the medical community would view obesity as a health concern, and promote a reduction of body fat to reduce risk of…well dying.

The inappropriate behaviour is unacceptable and ineffective, but not addressing the risks of obesity and possible ways to reduce risk of many diseases, does nothing either.

Being obese brings a high risk of medical problems. The article mentions a OB GYN clinic in Florida turning down obese patients. The author uses this example as way to show discrimination but left out why they were turned down. It’s because it is more dangerous for obese women to carry a pregnancy than non-obese women. The clinic’s physicians felt that they were not equipped enough to work with these patients and the chance of complications was too high to be worth the risk.

The article addresses that a certain percentage of obese people are “metabolically healthy.”

What does this mean? Based on one meta-analysis, metabolic health means having a normal blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, triglycerides and plasma glucose levels. This means having no risk of stroke, heart disease, or diabetes.

The same meta-analysis explained that studies on the health of overweight and obese participants showed that between 6-75% of them are metabolically healthy. The range is massive and each study showed a different number. So, to say that one’s obesity isn’t going to cause a metabolic disease is hard to say based on the huge variance in the research. Plus, just because someone doesn’t have those problems yet, doesn’t mean that they won’t get them later in life. Metabolic health is also one part of overall health: osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and fertility issues are also linked with obesity and reduce quality of life. You may not get diabetes, but you could still get cancer.

What is going on with people trying to lose weight? The article stresses that dieting and weight loss success rate is extremely low. The author mentions Dr. Stunkard’s 1959 study that showed 95% of the overweight participants in the study failed to lose any weight.

The study has been used many, many times as to prove dieting doesn’t work. The article gives more examples of failed dieting outcomes and the slowing of one’s metabolism after weight loss makes it seem an impossible feat. Along with mentioning studies that show some obese people are metabolically healthy, is the message of the article: losing weight is not possible and that the health problems associated are far overblown? Perhaps it is better to stop any efforts of weight loss.

The study from 1959 used a small sample of 100 people. It is hard to make a generalizing statement about a population. Further, what exactly was the dieting advice given to the participants? The 100 people were given a diet and were sent on their way. Every person got the same diet plan with no education about nutrition and no recommendations on exercise. Dr. Skunkard even said “we know better now.” Many new studies show much lower numbers of people gaining the weight back. Although the number is still high, it is closer to 35-50% within 5 years, not 95%.

Article mentions study that shows people are eating less. The paragraph suggests that calories are not the problem in our health. This point is misleading: though people may be eating less but that does not account for activity level (which is reducing) and aging (population is getting older). The study mentioned even notes that the change is a positive step and may result in a reduction of body weight population wise. Instead the article uses the study to show that calories do not affect weight. That is completely wrong. Being in a caloric deficit, taken in less calories than expending, leads to weight loss. We may absorb and utilize different sources of calories in different ways, but what you eat, absorb, and utilize, must equal what you expend through activity, in order to remain the same weight.

The article is right about the mistreatment of overweight and obese individuals by medical doctors, and the feelings of shame prompting people to resort to extreme measures to lose weight is horrible. We should have all learned from school that bullying is wrong, but I guess not.

But to suggest that being obese is not very unhealthy, and that reducing caloric intake does not lead to weight loss is not helpful in the slightest. People do lose weight on a caloric deficit, obesity can be deadly, and weight loss can extend life. It’s tough but it is the truth. Even a small reduction of body fat prolongs life.

Obesity and its causes should be viewed as an societal phenomenon, not a pure individual occurrence. Like the article mentions, we are exposed to a large amount of advertising of junk food and sugary drinks, many are surrounded by fast food with no grocery store in sight. Healthy food can often be more expensive than non-healthy food. The article used an example where calorie for calorie unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy food. And these factors impact our efforts to be healthier.

To place all the blame on the individual isn’t appropriate, and neither all the responsibility should be placed on the individual to drastically change his or her lifestyle. But I believe we can change for the better individually and as a society. Supporting healthy behaviours such as exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables are some examples. Even just walking a few minutes more a day helps and costs nothing.

Sources for fact checkers

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25040597/

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.175.4474&rep=rep1&type=pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3901982/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3387402/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1322866

http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2011-05-16/health/fl-hk-no-obesity-doc-20110516_1_gyn-ob-gyn-obese-patients

http://garfield.library.upenn.edu/classics1983/A1983RP56700001.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5401682/

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/oby.20384

https://health.usnews.com/wellness/food/articles/2016-12-07/how-much-do-doctors-learn-about-nutrition

https://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/25/health/95-regain-lost-weight-or-do-they.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665513/ 

https://www.precisionnutrition.com/weight-loss-calculator

No Period, No Problem? Amenorrhea and Exercise

I recently wrote a blog post about weight lifting and menstrual cycles and how our hormones can greatly affect our performance both positively, but sometimes negatively. But there is another less talked about issue in regards to menstrual cycles and exercise, and that’s not having a cycle at all.

A few years ago, I stopped menstruating. I had assumed it was due to my birth control medication but after being off birth control for several months, it seemed something wasn’t right. I was very active due to my work and exercise routine and also underweight. My weight had become a concern, and I knew I wasn’t healthy, so I gradually added more calories to my diet. I am now at a healthy weight, but it was not until recently than my periods had returned.

When I wasn’t menstruating, I knew it wasn’t a good thing, but I also didn’t mind not having a period. It made things pretty easy not having to buy tampons and having no cramps every month. My doctor wasn’t all that positive about my issue. She wanted me to see a dietitian and have a bone density scan.

Amenorrhea means not having a period for at least 3 months. It can mean not being able to become pregnant and can lead to a decrease in bone density. The hormone, estrogen, is less in the body of someone with amenorrhea, which leads to an increased risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become brittle and weak, leading to fractures. Imagine breaking a shin bone on your daily run, or breaking a wrist trying to open a jar of pickles. Not a good thing to have.

How common is not having a period? For athletic women, it can be as common as 70%. Athletes tend to have less body fat than non-athletes at between 14-20% whereas non-athletes have 21-31% body fat. Those in sports such as gymnastics are more likely to have less body fat than those in sports like basketball.

When learning about the health risks related to body fat, the literature was very strong on that a higher level of body fat (over 30%) is highly correlated to medical conditions. However, not much is talked about the health issues related to lower levels of body fat. A low BMI of less than 18.5 is associated with an increased risk of health problems. For athletes though, using the BMI scale isn’t appropriate. BMI measures a person’s total body mass and height to estimate body fat. An athlete with a high amount of muscle mass might have a normal to high BMI, yet have a low amount of body fat.

Amenorrhea is related to the Female Athlete Triad. A phenomenon where a female does not have a period, is undereating for the amount of training she goes through, and is at risk or has a reduction of bone density. Coaches and fitness professionals need to be aware of the triad as it can be an indicator of potential health and psychological problems for the athlete. The triad is similar to anorexia, a mental disorder in which a person is refusing to gain body fat yet is at risk of developing health problems of having a low body fat percentage. However, the athlete might feel that she is eating enough and not show disordered eating behaviour.

The hard part with athletes or those who are very active is that they might be eating more food than a non-active person. They might not show the typical signs of anorexia due to their eating habits and maybe even their appearance. On the outside, they might look fit.

Some women who have a current healthy body fat percentage might also have amenorrhea if they went through a large reduction of weight in a short time, or are exercising a high amount while not eating enough calories to support the activity.

For about 2 years I really felt I was at or very close to my ideal and healthy weight. Yet, still had amenorrhea. My exercise routine was very heavy and I worked at high intensities sometimes a few hours a day. After speaking with a dietitian, I decided to slowly add more calories to my meals and reduced some of my activity. Soon after the periods came back. Not only that but my weight stayed relatively the same, and my exercise performance, strength, and muscle mass increased.

What does this mean? Although I wasn’t losing weight, I was still undereating for the amount I was working. For those especially going through weight loss, adding more calories can be anxiety provoking. We tend to fear gaining fat and are surrounded by many who are trying to cut down on calorie consumption. However, we need to see that food is fuel. Fuel to repair and grow muscle, recover from exercise, boost our performance, and keep our hormones at healthy levels. Same goes with training. Cutting back on exercise and training might feel a bit scary, but the end result can lead to an increase in performance, not the other way around. Recovery is just as important and the work itself.

I believe that more needs to be shared about amenorrhea in female athletes and active women. A woman who fits the female athlete triad criteria might have an eating disorder and would need professional help. Missing periods can be detrimental to health in the long term, as osteoporosis is a serious health problem. However, it is very hard to see or measure the issue without actually asking women whether or not they are or have experienced a loss of their period.

If you are someone who has amenorrhea or is having irregular periods, it’s best to see a doctor. Sometimes the period loss is due to a serious medical condition such as PCOS or hypothyroidism. If you think you have an eating disorder, speak to a counsellor as this can become a serious problem physically and mentally. Here are some resources:

http://www.femaleathletetriad.org(all on the Female Athlete Triad)

http://nedic.ca(Eating disorder information and help)

http://www.cwhn.ca/en/node/44804On PCOS

Want to learn more about how to train and eat for optimal health and performance: visit my website at www.superwomentraining.com

Sources for fact checkers!

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/losing-period-because-exercise-is-bad-sign#10

https://www.livestrong.com/article/188526-what-is-the-typical-body-fat-percentage-for-an-elite-athlete/

https://www.builtlean.com/2010/08/03/ideal-body-fat-percentage-chart/

https://www.opalfoodandbody.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/summary-of-dsm-5.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435916/

How to Successfully Start on Your Goals.

Authors: Florence Scheepers, personal trainer and nutrition coach, and Dr. Elisabeth Scheepers, therapist and personal & executive coach.  

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”- Tony Robbins

The above is a very strong quote that best reflects our motivation to change. We make the decision to change our behaviours when we say “enough” and when we understand that our current state is not serving us or making our lives better, but is making our lives more difficult. People do not just make changes, they need to be ready and this “readiness” follows a process from precontemplation to contemplation, to preparation, to action, followed by maintenance (DiClemente & Prochaska, 1998). Not all trials result in positive change and people may fall back before trying again.  For a great summary go here

Often people make a choice to change their behaviours after a particular incident, or life altering event. This can be a warning from a family doctor,a new relationship, the birth of a child or the death of a good friend.

However, to change can be very painful and appear overwhelming. We envision ourselves in a better position than our current state, and create a goal that matches with our overall vision. Unfortunately, we may create goals are too far out of our reach, unrealistic or way too big and these are the reasons why people feel that they failed.  Attempting to reach unattainable goals – and consequently failing – can lead to depression and anxiety. We might view ourselves as a failure, and lose confidence in ourselves and therefore the hope that we can ever accomplish “anything”. These negative thoughts, often referred to as “internal dialogue” exacerbate symptoms of depression.

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If we imagine ourselves reaching perfect health, including our ideal weight and fitness level, within three months’ time after having been inactive and eating too much or not the right food, we expect too much. Imagine trying to reach the perfect piece of fruit from the top tree branch. But, there are ones below it that are also good and in reach.  If our goals were to walk 10 minutes every day for five days a week and to eat a healthy breakfast for 5 days a week, rather than run 10 km a day and eat a 100% whole food, zero junk diet, we are much more likely to succeed.

If you ask yourself honestly on a scale between 1 and 10, what’s the probability of running 10 km a day, chances are, it’s a low number. But on a scale between 1 and 10, the probability to be able to walk 10 minutes a day for 5 days will be much higher. Small successes are confidence building and confidence in ourselves feels good as we will have hope that we can maintain the change and do even better!

When embarking on a change, picture what you would be like if you had everything you needed and wanted. Imagine how your life would be different, what you would be doing, how it would make you feel. Perhaps it’s been a long time since you’ve exercised and you want to improve your fitness; can you imagine yourself being fit, feeling fit, and exercising regularly? Then create a goal that matches your vision. Think about action goals. Goals that promote change need to be actions or behaviour that are concrete, rewarding and achievable. If your vision is to be more fit, working out and exercising are behavioural goals.

If you dream about being a homeowner but you have never saved a dollar in life, you will need to start writing down your monthly expenses and identify where you can cut some of your spendings. This activity might give you confidence that you can easily put away $50.00 or $100 per month.

When you are not satisfied in your career and are envious of those who have more responsibility as well as a higher income, you might have to start with identifying your interests and match these with your abilities and personality. This means thinking about different careers, what you like about these and finding out what background and experience you require to be successful. In addition to this, the career you have in mind needs to be a good fit with who you are as a person and with your values. A career coach can help.

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Once you have a goal, ask yourself, on a scale between 1 and 10, how confident are you that you can reach that behavioural goal most days of the week? If the number is lower than 7, change the goal to something more manageable. Maybe exercising 5 days a week is a 3/10, but working out 2 days a week is a 9/10. Pick a goal that you can reach with some degree of confidence.

Once you picked your goal, track how many times you have reached it in a week. If you can reach the goal 5-6 days of the week with ease, 3-4 times out of the month, you might be ready to add another goal or up the ante. Remember, the most important component of the goal setting is that they are consistently achievable with a reasonable amount of effort – while also being enjoyable. That is also the reason why it is better to do these new behaviours 5 out of 7 days rather than every day of the week.

Progress isn’t a straight line. There are many turns, ups and downs. But any progress, no matter how small, is progress. With each small victory, we become more confident and are more likely to reach more complex goals with gradually on directly observable results. Often, working on behavioural change, looking at end result only, can be daunting as progress is slow. Giving yourself credit for your engagement in a project no matter how small, helps you to focus on the process as well. To use the example of walking, when walking in nature, enjoying the warmth of the sun on your back and the mild breeze in your face, helps you to stay in the moment and find some joyment in the activity. Having achieved your goal of the day in walking time or distance, is the added bonus! Engaging in enjoyable activities increases happiness and when an activity is fun we are more likely to repeat the same.

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When you are unsure how to start, consider asking a coaching professional who can help you with giving you guidance and support. A coach asks you questions and helps you to identify the right goals and a coach can help you with a template to record and measure your progress. Also, a coach can hold you accountable for reaching the goals you have set for yourself, giving you a better chance to succeed.

Whether it’s related to fitness, nutrition, relationships, or career choices, a coach with the right expertise can be a great asset.

 

Training and Periods!

Let’s start with a topic not many like to talk about: menstruation. Why? Because it is something most women go through for most of their life, it’s not often understood, and it can both positively and negatively affect your fitness training.

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Women are unique in various ways to men, and yet these unique qualities are often misunderstood and not well researched. Both men and women have different hormones circling through their body, which affects everything from mood, metabolism, sleep, muscle growth, and exercise performance. A greater understanding of the patterns of our hormone levels may help women athletes and regular exercisers learn how to train appropriately at each stage of their cycle, and have a deeper connection to their body.

Women who ovulate experience fluctuations in strength, stress levels, mood, and appetite, depending to the stage of their menstrual cycle. Though it is often believed that symptoms are only expressed during a woman’s period, a woman’s cycle can affect her  both negatively and positively at any stage of her cycle.

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There are two main hormones than fluctuate massively during a woman’s cycle: Estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is often viewed as opposite to testosterone and is explained as a large reason why men and women differ in their muscle strength and size. However, estrogen is not a blocker for muscle growth. It, in fact, can be viewed as an anabolic hormone, meaning it can increase muscle growth and repair.

When estrogen level is at its highest, women who train experience an increase in pain tolerance, endurance, and maximal strength. This occurs at the follicular phase (between day 7 and 14), and at ovulation. If you wanted to test your Personal Record (PR), this would be a good time.

After ovulation, women enter the Luteal phase (day 14-28) when estrogen levels drop and progesterone rises. This is where women may experience a decline in performance, feel stressed and tired, and experience PMS symptoms by the last days. Metabolism changes too: More fats and less carbohydrates are burned for energy. Endurance exercises, such as long runs, may appear less challenging and unaffected by this stage, but explosive and maximal strength performance might decline. As frustrating as it can be, know that these experiences can be due to your cycle. No one is saying that you cannot do heavy lifts at this phase, but respect your body and make sure you are not pushing yourself too far to risk injury.

What about during menstruation? This is when you are on your period and the cycle starts again – estrogen levels rise and progesterone levels normalise. Although you may feel that you want to curl up in a ball and skip the workout during this time, exercise can help relieve cramps and increase your energy. It can even boost your mood and reduce water retention and bloating. You may find bracing your core and ab exercises more difficult depending on the severity of your cramps, but most exercises should be fine. Your body temperature is also a bit lower than before, which can make working out in warm weather and at high intensities a little easier. 

Do you find highs and lows in your training performance at different times of the month? Do you find it hard to exercise during your period, feel indifferent, or perform better?

Got more questions regarding to fitness and nutrition? If you want more info on fitness and nutrition coaching specific to women by women, please visit my site at www.superwomentraining.com

Cheers,

-Florence
References
Barrie, 2015. https://www.health.com/menstruation/5-things-to-know-about-exercising-during-your-period

Bruinvels G, Burden RJ, McGregor AJ, et al Sport, exercise and the menstrual cycle: where is the research? Br J Sports Med 2017;51:487-488.

Body Form. 2016. https://www.bodyform.co.uk/our-world/exercising-during-period/

Lowe, D. A., Baltgalvis, K. A., & Greising, S. M. (2011). Strength in Females, 38(2), 61–67.

Phillips SK1Sanderson AGBirch KBruce SAWoledge RC. Changes in maximal voluntary force of human adductor pollicis muscle during the menstrual cycle. J Physiol. 1996 Oct 15;496 ( Pt 2):551-7.