The more I hear about different ways to lose weight, different diets to try to find that "perfect way of eating", or all the miracle pills, powders, surgeries, and strategies to help you finally lose that weight and achieve your full potential, the more I want to take a stand. I'm done being angry about contradicting information in the health industry because it will never go away. One day you'll hear that eating low fat is the way to go, the next day low fat is the worse thing you could do. One day coconut oil is better than anything else, the next day it's not. So with all of the contradicting information we have, what can we TRULY believe?
I will be discussing some of the most common "health" claims you've probably all heard at some point or another and explaining why they can be extremely deceiving and how some them are downright lies we've been fed to keep us unhealthy, overweight, and living in fear.
1. Exercise More + Eat Less = Weight loss
This is probably one of the biggest deceptions that we've been told when it comes to weight loss. And the worst part about it is that 90% of the world believes it. Does exercise burn calories? Yes. Does eating food add calories? Yes. But we are more than just calorie burning machines. We are organic human beings who need more than just a math equation to function optimally. I want everyone to know that I am in favour of movement. The body was created to move and to move beautifully and functionally. What I am not in favour of is how so many of us use exercise. We use it to punish the body into submission when we feel we have an extra pound or two to lose, we exercise out of a place of disgust with our bodies, and we create a stress response that will end up lasting for far too long. This means that the entire time we are exercising, we are creating an even bigger stress response and singling the body to stop the production of lean muscle and to start inhibiting the body of burning fat. If we are in this state, a state of self loath, our negative thinking creates stress in the body. Because exercise is a stress in itself (even though it's a good stress), and overabundance of it is a recipe for disaster. We tend to really go for it in the gym when we feel the need to be somewhere with our bodies, so we push and we push hard. The central nervous system literally takes a beating, the psyche takes a beating, and our hormones take a beating. Mix this with a low calorie diet used to "lose weight", and you have the perfect storm.
When you restrict the body of calories or any nutrients for that matter, the body becomes undernourished on every level and has no other option but to slow down. It slows down the metabolism to utilize the little food it's being given, it slows down the immune system because we aren't getting the vital nutrients we need for it to ward off infection, it slows down the digestive tract, the reproductive system, and it slows down the rate in which we burn fat and build muscle. The body is literally just trying to survive in this state. Not only are we physically undernourished, but we are emotionally and spiritually undernourished. This is itself perpetuates the already raging stress response that's going on.
Anything that puts the body in a stress response will inhibit its ability to shape shift. Period. When I talk to my clients about exercise, I encourage them to adopt the word "movement". Exercise has a very rushed and frantic connotation for most people, but movement gets us to tune into body wisdom and what the body needs specifically each day for each individual. Does that mean I don't agree with going to a gym to workout? Absolutely not. As long as it's for the right reason. Why are you exercising right now? Is it to lose that belly fat, trim your thighs, lift your butt? Or are you doing it for the health of your body? It's ok to want to look good, there's nothing wrong with wanting to put your best foot forward and feel sexy, but when it's done from a place of criticism and judgment, and a place of "not good enough", the body will predictably fight back. You won't lose the weight you want, your body won't change in a sustainable way, and you put your health and your body at risk for injury and disease.
2. No Pain/No Gain
I have lived a life of many struggles, and I always thought (and sometimes still do) that I've got to live life from one struggle to the next. I always thought that if I'm not struggling, I'm not making any progress, that everything has to be a fight. I found out that this was a very toxic belief that I had to purge. What happens in life when we live from one struggle to the next is our perception of success becomes dysfunctional. We then create unnecessary drama so that our situations feel more "normal" for us, and we sabotage our efforts. Consider this postulation though, life is not meant to be a struggle, but a journey.
This became very real for me when I chose to stop lifting weights. I had this no pain no gain mentality where I always had to work really hard, sacrifice my energy and time, my health, or whatever it took just to be "fit". While I continued to live in this routine, my body started to fight back and I gained weight. I would exercise even harder thinking that just a few more sets of exercises or twenty more minutes on the treadmill would do it, but to no avail. When I started to listen to what my body was telling me, I started to slow down (it pretty much forced me to). I started to walk instead of run, and I started doing Pilates. If you know anything about Pilates, you know that although it's not easy, it's defiantly not fast...it's slow...really slow. This was a big leap of faith for me to take. "What if I don't sweat each time, what if I don't feel my legs aching the next day, what if it doesn't make me gasp for air"?!?! These were all the thoughts going through my head. What happened when I finally let go? My body let go. I stopped weighing myself everyday, I stopped restricting my food intake, and I stopped compulsively exercising. I do Pilates 4 times a week, walk a few times a week, and eat food that is high quality and that gives me pleasure. This was my outcome. Needless to say, what I was doing wasn't working for me, and it would have continued to not work for me. It was only after I slowed down and listened to my body that I finally gave it the chance to change.
Another situation that this rang true for me was with the way I ate. I thought that I always had to be on some form of diet or another to truly get the body I wanted. With every diet I tried, I failed. Nothing worked sustainably, and it never would have. I started to eat foods that I enjoyed. Finally I was able to eat what my body truly needed and wanted, and what happened when I let go of my restrictions is that my body naturally gravitated towards certain foods and away from certain foods. I've always eaten healthy but I had all sorts of notions about "good" and "bad" foods. For example, one thing I found out was that my body doesn't like coconut, and that my body likes dairy. I don't care how many Paleo hacks say coconut is the miracle food, for my body, it's not. I react when I eat coconut, but when I cook with butter or cream, I don't get bloated and my tummy doesn't hurt. You tell me who's right, Paleo protocols or my body wisdom? Eating food doesn't have to be a struggle to get your body to where you want it to go. When we have pleasure (and I'll talk about the importance of pleasure in another article), the body switches from a stress response into a relaxation response. Does that mean I'm saying to gorge yourself on cookies and ice cream? No, no I am not, if you think that's what I'm saying, you need to grow up. But the body was designed to receive pleasure. The moral of the story, I work diligently at what I do, but I don't kill myself. I do some form of exercise 5-6 times a week but I don't brake my back to do it. I eat healthy, high quality food that I prepare with love, but I eat what I want and what my body says it needs on any given day. I do not follow one specific diet, I refuse to live in extremity anymore.
It's time we start putting a little more faith and trust in our bodies. It is trying to relay information to you all the time, we are just too busy to give it a word in edge wise. It doesn't matter what any weight loss or diet strategy claims, it won't work if it's going against what your body actually needs. When we put faith in our body wisdom, we activate the relaxation response and turn off the stress response. This just so happens to be the state where the body naturally lets go of unnecessary weight and is able to function optimally on every level.