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Note: If you’re confused about the term “adrenal fatigue”, read this article to understand why I use this term for this condition.
As a health professional, there’s a lot of pressure to be healthy, for obvious reasons.
As a business owner, there’s a lot of pressure to be financially successful. Again, obviously!
As a woman, there’s a lot of pressure to be physically attractive and have little body fat in the wrong places, and enough body fat in the right places. I wish this one wasn’t obvious.
I’ve been under a significant amount of stress over the past few years as I went through grad school, started my business, and launched an online program. While I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for another job, the stress was starting to get to me last year.
I felt tired all the time, I was getting injured from my workouts, and I was gaining weight despite trying to keep my calories and carbs low.
There’s a saying in the healthcare world that as a provider, you should never be your own patient. I was completely blind to the fact that many of my day-to-day choices were causing my health to deteriorate.
Some of those choices included:
- Constantly fretting about my Paleo diet and avoiding “too much” carbohydrate in my food
- Berating myself for having gained ~5-10 pounds during grad school and feeling negatively while I examined my body in the mirror
- Participating in Crossfit and bootcamp type workouts that left me barely able to walk the next day (and thinking that was a sign of an effective workout)
- Spending far, far too much time on the computer doing work, or checking social media
- Staying up past 11PM watching TV as a way to decompress
- Drinking multiple cups of coffee in the morning to get me going
- Surrounding myself with friends, boyfriends, and fellow grad students who caused me to stress over school, question my personal worth, and engage in behaviors I regretted later
- Never taking a full day off from work even on weekends
At the time, I thought what I was doing was completely normal for a 20-something entrepreneur.
I was working hard, training hard, playing hard, and hustling in all areas of my life.
I was looking for a way to earn my self-worth through my appearance, my financial success, my online popularity, and even the men I dated. I was constantly comparing myself to others to see how I stacked up, and where I could improve to move up the ranks.
It. Was. EXHAUSTING.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I was in a car accident last year, which caused whiplash and a concussion that left me physically incapacitated for several weeks.
I had to take time off work because my brain fog was so severe that I was forgetting words when I was speaking.
I couldn’t exercise because even the slightest bit of exertion caused a severe headache and dizziness. Going from 5-6 days per week of exercise to 0 caused me to gain almost 10 pounds.
I laid around in a stupor of muscle relaxers for several days when the pain and stiffness was just too uncomfortable to bear.
My hormones started going crazy, my PMS was worse every month, and my progesterone dropped into the toilet.
I started feeling really sorry for myself.
I started questioning my entire life. What was I doing? What was the point of all of this?
Fortunately, a few months before my car accident I had met a group of people who had come to Raleigh to plant a church, who were very encouraging to me and kept me from completely giving up on myself (these people, unsurprisingly, are now the closest, most reliable friends I’ve ever had.)
I knew I had to make a change. My body was failing me, despite all the work I was putting into it. I decided to make some radical changes in my habits that came from a place of self-love and self-compassion, instead of self-hatred.
Here are the most important changes I made:
1. I started eating WAY more carbohydrates
Even though I am a champion for the healthfulness of a moderate (or even “high”) carb Paleo-ish diet, I was still suffering from carbophobia.
I was still under the impression that carbs were what caused weight gain, and if I mostly avoided them, I wouldn’t gain weight.
Not only did I gain weight despite keeping my carbs low, I also felt like absolute crap. My anxiety levels skyrocketed. I had terrible exercise tolerance. I frequently felt cold and shaky. I had trouble sleeping many nights.
Eventually I challenged myself to really increase my carbohydrate intake to ~40-50% of my calories to see how this would change my health.
I didn’t gain any weight, and I’ve actually lost about 8 pounds in the past year. My workout tolerance significantly improved, and I started making major progress in the gym. The nights I ate a high carb dinner, I slept like a baby.
I now allow myself to eat as many carbs as I needed from any whole food source. That means I might eat 3 bananas in a day, 2-3 sweet potatoes, multiple cups of rice, and even some natural sugar from maple syrup, honey, and coconut crystals here and there.
I feel so much better on a higher carbohydrate diet, and even though it took me years to get comfortable with carbs again, I’m so glad I did.
2. I completely changed the way I exercised
I used to think the sign of a good workout was how sore I was the next day. Not being able to walk down the stairs after a bootcamp class, or having trouble lifting my arms after Crossfit seemed to be a good sign that I had done something effective.
Boy was I completely WRONG.
I’ve been training with a strength and conditioning coach for nearly the past year, and it has completely amazed me the physical progress I’ve made without ever getting injured or being too sore to function the next day.
I can do chin ups, deadlift over 225 pounds, squat my body weight (160#), and do 5-10 solid pushups in a row. I couldn’t do any of that when I started training, despite my many years of high intensity, soreness-inducing exercise.
My training routine is currently only 2 days of heavy lifting per week, plus walking, hiking, and yoga here and there. I’m hoping to add a 3rd day of training to my routine, as long as my stress levels aren’t too high.
When I train, Matt and I work together to ensure that I’m working out in a safe, effective way while still challenging me to try things I’m nervous about. Matt has made it completely okay for me to listen to my body and say “no” if he asks me to do something that my body is telling me not to do.
The fact that I have made so much progress in the past year without ANY injuries is a testament to a style of training that is intense but also completely rooted in body awareness.
Learning to listen to my body and respect its boundaries, while still challenging myself to try difficult things and find my “edge”, has made all the difference in my fitness.
3. I prioritized my bedtime
This may be one of the hardest things for me to do, but it probably pays the highest dividends.
Two things prevent me from getting enough sleep now that I eat and train appropriately. One is my work: I’m often on the computer until 9 or 10 at night catching up on emails, planning my work for the next day, or finishing a project for Chris Kresser.
The second thing is that when I’m not working, I often use electronics as a source of entertainment and “decompression” after a long work day.
A few weeks ago I got caught up watching HBO’s “Girls”, and stayed up way past my bedtime several nights in a row. It may not surprise you to learn that I got sick that week, and I stayed sick for 10 days.
After that experience, I committed to a 40 day period of no TV watching. I’m about 2-3 weeks into that commitment, and I’m sleeping so much better now that I am not staying up hours too late watching mindless TV.
(I think this extra sleep could be the reason I finally got my first chin-up this past week!)
I really struggle with this part of my “healthy lifestyle” because there is so much TV and internet entertainment that is available to zone out after using my brain all day. But I’ve chosen instead to read, listen to an audio book or music, or literally just go straight to bed rather than watch TV, and my body is thanking me for it.
4. I changed the way I spoke about my body
This change has been years in the making, but what really pushed me into active self-love was my participation in an online group program with one of my fitness idols, Neghar Fonooni.
Neg challenged us to identify the negative thoughts we were having about our bodies and how that was causing us to engage in self-destructive behavior, whether that be exercising too much or too little, eating too much or too little, or simply giving up any time we tried to make a change in our health behaviors.
Having Neg there to guide us with her inspirational lessons of love, self-acceptance, and stepping into our power, plus having a community of 30 other women going through the same journey, really helped me start implementing the changes I knew in my heart needed to happen.
Online group programs can’t replace a one-on-one relationship with a practitioner, but it’s amazing how much they can do to stoke your inner fire so that you commit to implementing the necessary changes to improve your health.
For me, approaching my health from a place of self-care rather than fear or shame was a huge game changer for me.
Now I can make choices that support my higher intentions for my body. This may mean I eat extra kale with dinner or add in a 3rd day of training into a week where my schedule and energy allows it. Or it may mean I take a day off from exercise, or I have a bowl of ice cream. But I make those choices out of self-love and desire to enjoy a healthy, balanced life, not out of shame about my appearance or fear that I won’t be accepted by others or successful in my business.
5. I spent more time with friends who challenged me to change my way of thinking
I’ve struggled to find a supportive community for most of my life. In college, the majority of my friends were friends of “convenience” who caused way more drama in my life than was healthy or appropriate. I have a history of being attracted to men who don’t treat me very kindly. I got to a place where I thought I’d rather be alone than be faced with insincere or insecure relationships.
But we weren’t designed to be alone, and my avoidance of social situations (using “work” as my excuse) was actually causing me to feel more discouraged and hopeless than ever, despite all the success I was having as a new business owner.
I truly believe finding the friends I have now was blessing from God. Being with people who allow me to be vulnerable and share my deeper thoughts and emotions without judgment or condemnation has been incredibly liberating. I feel so much more capable of dealing with the stress of life now that I truly believe God loves me, and having friends who love me in spite of my flaws has been essential for me holding onto the belief that I am loved.
It sounds really silly when I write it out, but struggling with feeling unloved was really the root cause of most of my self-destructive health behavior: excessive dieting and overtraining, staying up too late on social media envying others’ lives, drinking too much alcohol to give me courage to be myself around my peers, and working way too hard on my business to derive a greater sense of self-worth.
I’m not perfect and I still struggle with self-worth every day, but I am infinitely more confident and secure in my own worth now that I’ve put God at the forefront of my life and allowed Him to bring relationships into my world that push me to change my thoughts and behaviors while still loving me where I’m at today. Sometimes I cry when I think about it, I’m so grateful.