Everyone is taking up a new diet or detox without any thought to the implications on our physical and mental health. Historically, the most commonly marketed way to rapidly lose body fat was to eat as little as possible and to train hard: 1200-calorie diets and hours of cardio. We are just now starting to understand the serious health implications of this old school methodology.
What is metabolism?
Metabolism is not linear progress but a global functioning of several different systems and reactions that take place to build up and break down the body. Healthy cell function is required for healthy metabolism and when we are not adequately providing energy to our body we end up with unhealthy cells. This in turn creates unhealthy organ systems and when one process is affected it has a chain effect throughout the body’s functioning.
Chronic dieting versus yo-yo dieting?
Long-term chronic dieting and yo-yo dieting harm our body’s hormones and different body systems. Chronic dieting is a long-term restriction of energy intake. This can be brought on by disordered thoughts about food or an extremely restrictive diet, or both. Long periods of very low calories, cutting out whole food groups and an obsessive focus on ‘eating clean’ can all contribute to very low energy intake.
Yo-yo dieting is periods of extreme dieting and restriction followed by periods of intense overeating. This too can negatively impact our hormones and our body is unable to regulate hunger, temperature, mood and gut health when we are never in a period of homeostasis. This yo-yo dieting also makes it extremely difficult to maintain a healthy set bodyweight as our body is constantly trying to make up for lack of energy or manage and store excess energy in case another period of famine comes
How do we mess it up?
There are a multitude of ways to mess up a metabolism. One of the biggest ones, which is becoming more prevalent, is low energy availability. This can occur from a lack of energy intake and a history of over-training.
Relative energy deficiency in sport (Red-S) previously was only found in athletes who were participating in sports which required specific body composition or size such as dancing, running and gymnastics. These athletes were also training for hours a day most days of the week and competing regularly. Proper nutrition and fuelling were required to keep their bodies functioning at the highest level and they were often found to have not enough energy intake to maintain the output. This then impacted on bone health, menstrual function and eating patterns.
Unfortunately, Red-S is becoming more and more common in everyday women who are consistently exercising at high intensity and under-eating. This old school methodology of “eating low, training high” is now showing up for women who are having long-term health challenges with hormonal function, auto-immune function and fertility issues.
Key signs your hormones might be hurting:
- No period or irregular cycle
- Low sex drive
- Cold all the time
- Low energy
- Low mood
- Poor concentration
- Consistent injuries and niggles
Where to from here?
Understand that fitness messages such as: train until you can’t move, eat clean and skip breakfast, and get that pre-baby body back as soon as possible, are encouraging you to put your results first and health second. That is an old paradigm and it is time to get behind intelligent movement and smart nutrition.
If you are concerned about your hormones, speak with your GP for full testing of your bloodwork and hormonal functioning.
For movement, find a trainer who understands how to train smart. Get support from a nutrition coach or dietician who can help you to understand how to fuel your body.
If you are concerned about your relationship with food, seek out a specialised therapist to help you rebuild your mindset.
Lu-lu Thompson is a sports nutritionist, counsellor and personal trainer who can help you repair and rebuild your relationship with food. You can find out more about her here.