Stressed out? What it is doing to your body

Most of us have been there before, where you feel overwhelmed with responsibilities, anxious about a decision or lacking in sleep because something is on your mind. Stress is the reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response, in a combination of physical, mental and emotional responses.

Now I am a very relaxed person; easy going, not uptight, and fairly happy with most things in life. However, lately I’ve been stressed. I don’t show my stress at first, and carry on with every day life in a regular happy way, until a mix of sleeplessness, fatigue and anxiety becomes too much and I break down (read: tears for no reason and the desire to do nothing but have a nap). This only lasts a day and the next morning I’m up and at ’em with a spring in my step, feeling rather sheepish about my previous lapse in dignity, luckily still having the ability to laugh at myself!
It got me thinking about how stress affects different people, and what stress can do to your body. When continual bouts of stress are unresolved and there is no relaxation in between, we refer to it as ‘distress’ which is a negative stress reaction. Physical symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, skin problems, elevated blood pressure, chest pain and sleeping problems can become apparent and can also bring on or worsen disease or illness.

When you are suffering from stress, you may find it hard to eat healthily, or have the time to prepare healthy meals. Emotional eating is also often triggered with stress, where food is used for comforting and excess consumption may lead to weight gain. Stress also causes the body to release more cortisol – a stress hormone that that increases sugars in the bloodstream. It also curbs functions that are non-essential such as immunity and digestion, and this stress hormone can cause the body to retain more tummy fat – the dangerous kind around our vital organs. These physical symptoms can be very detrimental to your health and may not be resolved until your stress levels are managed.

It’s not only physical implications but also mental ones, including increased anxiety, worsened depression, lack of motivation or focus and irritability. This can lead some to change their behaviours to overcome their anxiety by means of under or over eating, drug or alcohol abuse and social withdrawal.

These are pretty serious consequences which I urge you all to take care of before things get too bad. But how do you manage stress levels? Physical activity, meditation, yoga and relaxation methods can help to overcome stress, as can a healthy diet and plenty of sleep. Easier said than done, right?

Routine and preparation is really important to manage stress levels during challenging times. Making things as simple as possible might be the answer for you during these times, by eating the same thing each day and sticking to your usual exercise routine. Saying yes to extra plans may not be possible and it is best not to overbook yourself – something I am still combatting! However everyone is different and manages stress in different ways. Me? I like to be busy, I thrive on multitasking, however learning your limits is certainly valuable when it comes to preventing breakdowns (and breakouts!).

If you feel yourself beginning to feel overwhelmed or anxious, take time out – go for a walk, work up a sweat, eat lots of fresh food rather than sugary junk, and ensure you get yourself to bed at a decent hour.

After my breakdown last week, where a mixture of happy and frustrating feelings collided, I had the best sleep I have ever had in my life, falling to sleep in record time, and am now feeling ready to take on the world! (one step at a time, of course…)
How do you manage stress?

20131029-163709.jpg

Advertisements

2 weeks to go? No problem with HIIT

With a friend’s wedding fast approaching and a dress to gracefully squeeze into I had to pick up my game in training so that I’d be feeling my best on the day. Us girls know that it’s important to feel good to look good, and it really does come down to taking care of your body in the lead up to the event. But what can be done in 2 weeks?
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a form of training that allows you to exert yourself at high intensities for a short time, followed by a period of low intensity to recover. For example, sprinting for 1 minute then walking for 1 minute and repeat. This type of training does wonders for your metabolism as it urges your body to burn more fuel in the following 24 hours. In fact studies have shown that HIIT causes your body to produce excess post-oxygen consumption (EPOC) which means that the body increases the rate of oxygen intake following strenuous activity. EPOC is accompanied by an elevated consumption of fuel where fat stores are broken down and used. So this means that training this way will essentially cause you to burn more fat through the day and the best news is that you only have to do it for a short period of time to get the best results. 15-30 minutes of HIIT is plenty of time to continually raise and drop your heart rate via the different intensities that you’re training at and help to torch the fat – exactly what we want with 2 weeks to go! HIIT can be easily incorporated into your training program either on the end of your strength workouts, or as an added workout for up to 30 minutes. Try doing this on your usual walk or jog by increasing your pace for a short time then decreasing it to recover. Hills are also a great way to increase intensity and should be included in your runs or walks to amp up the intensity.
Personally, I like to add 15-20 minutes HIIT treadmill training on the end of my workout where I sprint for 1 minute and walk for 1 minute repeatedly. In the lead up to an event, ensuring that you’re burning those extra calories over the course of the day means that a leaner, more toned and more confident person is revealed. HIIT is just one of the ways to really tighten up your training program, but when completed 2-3 times per week it can make the difference in your fitness as well as how comfortable you feel in that dress 🙂

20130918-221823.jpg
Wedding fun!

Nutrition Myths

With so much information on nutrition available, it leads many people to be confused about what’s healthy and what’s not. I was lucky enough to attend the Egg Nutrition Council breakfast to discuss nutrition myths and unravel the maze of information that is out to confuse everyone!
The first myth discussed was “Are carbohydrates bad for you?” This is a topic that comes up regularly due to the bad rap that carbs have been given in the past when it seemed like everyone wanting to lose weight was cutting carbs! It is important to consume low GI and high fibre complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread and legumes rather than simple carbohydrtaes such as sugar as they provide nutrients for gastrointestinal health and bowel problems and can help to reduce risk of colon cancer. Refined simple sugars like those in cakes, biscuits, white bread and many other processed foods are of little nutritional value, however fruits should still be included as they contain vitamins and minerals important optimum body functioning. However, this does not mean that we are to consume carbohyfrates as much as we like. Moderate consumption of high fibre complex carbohydrates is recommended to provide essential vitamins and minerals as well as keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Those who exercise regularly will make better use of good quality carbs during their workout over those with low levels of physical activity. This does not mean that if you exercise you can eat what you like. Instead it is best to use food as fuel for your body to exercise. If you put in bad fuel (unhealthy food) you will put out bad performance (less gains in sports performance). Supplementation in sports nutrition can also be used for convenience, however it is always best to get your adequate nutrient intake from whole foods, according to Exercise Scientist and Personal Trainer, Damien Kelly. Protein supplements are to be used as a back up only, and preparation is the key to adequate nutrition.
Another myth that was discussed is whether eating eggs is bad for your cholesterol. Eggs are actually very high in omega-3 oils and are Heart Foundation Tick approved. This means that they are actually a helpful food source in lowering risk of heart disease. Instead, it is saturated fat that we must consume with caution. Fatty cuts of meat, full fat dairy and many processed foods contain saturated fat that can increase blood cholesterol levels and eventually block arteries, leading to heart disease. Eggs are a good source of nutrition and can be introduced early to infants in their cooked form to lower the risk of egg allergies. Whether eggs are from free range, organic or cage hens, the nutrient content is very similar, therefore it simply comes down to ethical choices. 6 eggs per week is recommended by the Heart Foundation for optimal health.
So are eggs perhaps the new ‘superfood’? The word ‘superfood’ is perhaps an overused term which describes a very nutritious food source, however, according to Dr Grant from the Egg Nutrition Council “there will always be a new trending superfood as long as there is money to be made.” It is important to eat a combination of wholesome healthy foods to give you all the nutrients your body needs, rather than relying on a new ‘superfood’!
Another question addressed was “is eating organic food more nutritious than non-organic food?” The nature of organic food means that it is often seasonal, where the vitamin and mineral content is at its optimum level. Homegrown fruit and veges are possibly the most organic you can get, however purchasing non-organic foods when they are in season provides similar nutrient levels, therefore it mainly comes down to cost and availability to you. As most Australians do not consume the optimum serving of fruit and vegetables, more important than choosing organic foods is simply aiming for 2 serves of fruit an 5 serves of vegetables daily.
Supplements are available everywhere now, but are vitamins and mineral supplements better than whole foods? A healthy, balanced diet should contain all of the nutrients you need, however if you take part in lots of physical activity, aren’t getting enough rest or are feeling fatigued, then a good quality multivitamin can help. Of course, a healthy diet is the first and foremost aspect, however supplements can be used as a great back up. More specific supplements may be required such as folate and Vitamin D during pregnancy, but nutrients from your diet are always best.
Another myth discussed was “should sugar be avoided?” Refined sugars such as biscuits, white bread and confectionary are of little nutritional value, however natural sugar from fruits containing vitamins and fibre should still be included in your diet. When cutting back on refined sugar, take care not to compensate with artificial sweeteners or salty foods.
Accordng to Damien Kelly, many individuals need a structured diet plan and exercise regime with shopping lists and further follow up for success. It is important to make healthy eating easy and a health priority to get the best possible results.

Boost your metabolism

Metabolism refers to the physical and chemical processes that occur in the body which keep us functioning normally in order to stay alive, such as breathing, blood circulation and nerve function. To carry out these processes, our body converts energy from the food we eat. Chemicals in our digestive system break down food into fuel, which is either used immediately or stored in the body’s tissues.
In other words, metabolism refers to the all of the processes in our body that occurs to keep us alive, and determines how much energy we use throughout the day. Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) determines the amount of energy we use without accounting for any physical activity. Our BMR is largely determined by genetics, gender and age however there are definitely a few things we can do to increase it. What is the benefit of increasing our BMR? Overall you will burn more calories throughout the course of the day aiding in weight management and energy levels.
The best way to boost your metabolism is by creating a body that burns more fuel just to exist. Muscle tissue is an active tissue that requires energy to contract, while fat tissue is inactive tissue and is simply a store of excess calories that does not require energy to exist. Building lean muscle tissue will enable you to burn more energy even when you’re not exercising making fat loss much easier as your body will use our fat stores as fuel to meet this higher demand. The best kind of exercise to build muscle is resistance training by using weights or your body to strengthen each muscle group, creating a larger proportion of muscle mass in the body. Hard-working muscles need plenty of energy to burn. Regular exercise increases muscle mass and teaches the body to burn kilojoules at a faster rate, even when at rest.
Crash dieting, starving or fasting means you will be eating too few kilojoules which misleads your body into starvation mode and causes the body to slow the metabolism to conserve energy which can drop your BMR by up to 15 per cent. Ensuring that you eat every 3 hours will get your body used to the constant intake of food and speed up your metabolic rate as it starts to expect the extra fuel. It is important to limit portions though by sticking to 5-6 small meals per day. The thermogenic effect of food can also play a role in boosting metabolism as food requires energy to digest and breakdown. Protein requires more energy than other kinds of food to breakdown and is therefore a great inclusion in each small meal to increase your rate of burning calories. At first including more food into your diet may be a little strange, as many are used to restricting their diet to very minimal amounts when trying to lose fat. You may actually feel quite full for a change, but after a few days your body should start to adjust to the increased consumption and you’ll begin to feel hungry around the 3 hour mark – a sign your metabolism is increasing!
So how is all of this relevant to you? If you’re looking to tone up, lose a bit of fat or simply sick of a sluggish system, drag yourself to the weights section, eat more mini meals, increase protein in your diet and enjoy your well deserved energy boost!

20130823-162119.jpg

Pre-workout, post-workout

Lately I’ve been concentrating on the idea of fuelling your body to get the results you want in your workouts. Nutrition pre- and post-workout is super important in order to achieve gains in muscle, loss in fat and boost in metabolism, and I’m going to tell you why.
When you workout you use energy to contract and relax your muscle fibres. In order to make the most of your workout, this energy needs to be readily available for your muscles to generate contractile force to fully exert your muscles to their full potential. During this process, muscle fibres tear slightly due to the excessive force placed on them during a workout. It is during the repair process after you workout that the muscle fibres are rebuilt with amino acids that are floating around in your bloodstream. In order to carry these amino acids to your muscles, you need some glucose to provide the energy for transportation throughout your body.
Enough of the scientific jargon. What this means is, pre-workout you need some food in your body to fuel your workout to prevent energy depletion so that you can make the right gains in results during your workout. We’ve established that your muscles require energy to contract and relax, so this energy can best come in the form of a light snack containing carbohydrates and a bit of protein. An example could be a dairy food such as yoghurt or a smoothie which contain a good mix of easily digested carbs and small amounts of protein. This snack about 1-2hrs before a workout is ideal as it gives enough time for it to digest and be utilised by the muscles.
Post-workout it is important to refuel your body and provide it with the nutrients it needs to repair and replenish your muscle tissue. We have established that we need amino acids in the bloodstream to send straight to your muscles for repair, but what are they and how do we get them? Amino acids are the building blocks of life (basically every living tissue is made up of amino acids in some combination) and they provide the molecules that make up protein. So in order for us to get some amino acids to our muscles we must eat some protein after a workout. Examples of protein include meat, chicken fish, eggs, tofu or the more convenient protein shakes or bars. My preference is whey protein as it is easily absorbed into the body and enters the bloodstream quickly to fuel your muscles with a plentiful supply of amino acids. However, you also need the glucose to transport the amino acids to where they are needed, which means that you need to have some carbohydrates post workout too to provide the glucose for energy. An example of this post workout concoction containing both protein and carbohydrates could include a whey protein shake mixed with low fat milk, a slice of toast topped with low fat cottage cheese or eggs or a fruit smoothie with a scoop of protein powder added. Of course you can come up with your own combinations based on carbs and protein foods, however these are just my examples that I eat on a regular basis.

So what does this look like in an average meal plan?

Breakfast:
Yoghurt with banana

Workout

Post workout:
Whey protein shake and an apple

Lunch:
Tuna salad with chickpeas

Snack:
Handful of almonds and skim cappuccino

Dinner:
Steak, salad and boiled potato

Dessert:
Homemade apple crumble topped with yoghurt

As you can see, the breakfast acts as a pre-workout meal in this scenario and mid morning snack is actually your post-workout. Eating surrounding your workouts is very important in ensuring you get the results you wants whether its weight loss, muscle gain or performance improvement.
Let me know what you do pre and post workout!

20130818-114525.jpg

Fueling your body

For the first time in my life I am not trying to lose weight. For years, the obsession with diets, exercise and the scales has caused me stress that was doing more harm than good!
A few months ago I made a goal for myself in a bid to lose 2kg: I called it ‘FitFeb’ where I devised a nutrition and exercise training plan that I promised myself I would follow to the tee and not break at all. After 28 days I hopped on the scales and to my dismay I had only lost 500g! This upset me greatly, especially after all of the hard work I had put in for the full month. I could tell that my fitness had improved, my strength had increased and I felt much better internally, however that number on the scales had meant the world to me! I guess this was a bit of a wake up call to realise that the number on the scales does not mean a thing. Sure, if you’re obese then losing a few kilos will definitely be beneficial to your health, however for someone within the healthy weight range it is best to ignore the scales and focus on another measure instead. This is something I tell my clients all the time, however when it came to my own body, I was completely shocked! This is when I started looking at a different approach.
I thoroughly enjoyed my new exercise regime; exercise to make gains in strength and fitness rather than focusing on the calorie burn. Since FitFeb didn’t exactly meet the goals I’d had in mind, I thought I’d focus on the weight training and maintaining my weight. I increased my calorie intake to a whopping 2000 calories (much more than my usual 1500) and realised that not only did I have a lot more food to eat and enjoy, but I actually had so much more energy, was able to train harder, I was constantly hungry indicating an increased metabolism, but I also weighed in at my lightest weight in a long time! Losing an extra 500g from eating way more than usual sounded absurd, however I was eating wholesome food, healthy fats, lots of fibre, more carbs and enjoying my meals so much more. My mind was in a healthy place, learning to use food to nourish my body and provide me with energy to train and get results.
It’s been these past couple of months that I have actually been complimented on my results, people asking if I’ve lost weight (answer? not really!) and that I have felt stronger than ever before. Using food to fuel your body is an art, and can be a little scary! Increasing your calorie intake, not worrying about your weight and focusing on weight training can be hard to get used to, especially if you’ve been like me and restricted your food intake and been a cardio queen for the majority of your life.
I am loving the results that I’m getting through this method and will be continuing on this path to meet my long term goals – a healthy, fit body throughout the entire year!

20130808-203428.jpg

Life gets in the way

Recently I have been bombarded with a string of social events that can sometimes lead my healthy choices astray. This is all too familiar with most people, many complaining that they can’t stay on track when they have birthdays, weddings, dinners, work functions – you name it, I’ve heard it! But if I’m being I honest with you, I believe it’s true. Being socially active can take its toll on your diet which can also affect your ability to ‘get back on track’ for the next meal.
My recent social outings have included a trip to Bali lasting ten days, coming home to my boyfriend’s birthday celebrations with his family, followed by my brother’s birthday dinner, then my boyfriend’s night out for his birthday, followed by a Chinese banquet the next night for a date, and lastly my boyfriend’s birthday dinner with my family where he requested a cake of the full fat variety! (Spoilt? I think so). As you can clearly see, I practically ate my weight in food over this busy social week, so yes, I would agree that life does get in the way of your healthy choices. However, usually I do not have this many events jam packed together so this is a slight exaggeration, but it is important to realise that having a cheat meal/day/week is not going to ruin the hard work you have already put in. So long as you jump straight back to it after the deed is done you can get back to feeling in tip top shape in no time at all. You see, the foods that you have probably indulged in are mostly processed foods which can impact your body by making you feel bloated and lethargic so you feel the need to claim a ‘fat day’. Once you return to your usual healthy eating routine your body will flush out the added toxins and you will started to feel like you’re back to your pre-indulgence figure. Now this is not a case of yo-yo dieting, where one minute you’re eating no carbs, the next you’re scoffing pizza, it is committing to a healthy lifestyle everyday of the year and allowing for little slips which keep us sane! As a self-confessed foodie, there is nothing I love more than indulging in fine foods (dessert especially), however it’s about balance and moderation.
The way to do this is to be satisfied with the treat that you’ve had, and not give in after a few chocolates. Many people have an all-or-nothing approach where everything is black and white, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy. It helps to realise that just because you’ve had a schnitzel and chips for dinner, does not mean you may as well have the mud cake for dessert! Take one indulgence and leave it at that. You can have the dessert another time.
If you have chosen to have both, it’s usually the morning after a big meal when you’ll feel the full effect, however ensuring that you drink plenty of water and get straight back to your usual fibre-rich breaky will have you feeling amazing in no time at all!
Do a workout; this will help your conscience and burn off many of the extra calories consumed. Exercising affects the hormones floating around in your body, particularly cortisol (the hormone which promotes belly fat) so a workout can prevent the extra calories being stored around your mid section. The endorphins you release whilst exercising will also put you in a better mood!
So after realising that life does in fact get in the way, this week I have been ensuring that I’m eating all of my veggies, fuelling my body for exercise, and erasing the evidence of full fat birthday cake.
Continue reading