Happy Thursday! Today I want to highlight my friend, Sheena Johnson. She is a sweet mom of two and makes the BEST nut butter in town! Seriously – I would not joke about something like that ;-). If you’re local, you should give it a try! Sheena is so knowledgeable when it comes to fitness and nutrition, and she has so kindly shared some of that knowledge with us today. Please read below for some fantastic facts on listening to your body and avoiding the mainstream restrictive “diets!”
Guest Blog: Sheena Johnson
It really bothers me how eating restrictively has become characteristic of discipline and will power. We are told less is better when it comes to calories and every where you look, there is someone telling you that carbs are bad or instructing you to run from fat or that low protein is ideal. We have come to believe that we know what our bodies need more that our bodies do. The more I have challenged these things in my own life, the more I have become amazed at my body and how God has designed it to work seamlessly.
First, let’s talk about calories. Your body uses them to do anything and everything: breathe, scratch your nose, eat, run a marathon and load a squat rack, to name a few. Your metabolism relies on calories to carry out all of the chemical reactions necessary to keep you alive. When a person restricts calories too much to tries to lose weight (or in the desire to maintain weight), the metabolism WILL adapt in an effort to more efficiently use what energy it IS getting. Our bodies are so smart. It will decrease the rate at which it consumes energy doing daily activities and exercise leaving you tired and fatigued. It will even start to eliminate functions that it deems unnecessary for survival (anyone lost a period?). A few other side effects are loss of bone and hard-earned muscle, foggy thinking, abnormal hormones, and poor sleep. The body is all about self-preservation, after all. This metabolism adaptation can explain why you see some people lose and gain weight in cycles. They overly restrict calories (or over exercise and don’t compensate with nutrition) and their metabolism adapts. When they hit that “happy weight” and want to think a little less about every calorie, their metabolisms have already slowed drastically and their bodies want to be back at homeostasis. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to be able to eat as much as possible and have my metabolism going as hard as it can, so I can go as hard as I can. If you think you may be at a calorie level too low for you and your activities or weight loss seems impossible, consider a slow reverse diet. As you slowly start adding back calories, you may even lose weight as your metabolism amps up whether losing weight is your goal or not.
Now, on a concise elementary level, let’s talk about macronutrients…where we get those calories. Although there are millions of nasty man-made sources to get these nutrients, carbohydrates, fat and protein in themselves are not man made. They are God-made. God knows what He is doing. He has programmed our bodies to seek out each for different purposes. I find it fascinating. I also find it frustrating that there is so much advice out there telling you to eliminate one or the other. While it is true that we are all individuals and some people do better on more carbs or more fat than others, there is not a one size fits all. I once read that men, in general, do better on carbs than women do which makes me think of our God-given roles. Hello men, hunter-gatherers, eat some carbs and go wrestle a buffalo for supper!! Whether that is true or not, we do know that it varies from person to person because we are all different with different daily activities, muscle mass, different goals (muscle gain/fat loss), training methods, etc. Carbohydrates are most readily used for fuel. You need them for energy production, brain, kidney, and nervous system function, fat metabolism and the list goes on. Fat helps to cushion the organs, allows absorption of those fat soluble vitamins (think A,D, E and K), maintains core temperature, and is a back up source of energy. Everyone knows that protein is used for building muscle and the growth/repair of tissue, but that is not all they do. Most enzymes are proteins and some hormones are proteins as well. It is also important for immune function. As you can see, each macronutrient has a reason for being created by our Father. No matter what specific ratio your body thrives at, it does need some of all of them to work optimally.
Briefly before I wrap this up, I want to provide a real life example of restriction through eating too little or exercising and not nourishing my body adequately. I started in fitness at age 15 with no goals as to my weight. I was happy where I was but as I started to see muscles develop, I wanted more and decided to incorporate a diet change to the conventional “healthy” diet guidelines. Not long after these changes I lost the ability to ovulate. In college, I worked out 2 hours a day 5-7 days a week and spent the rest of my time either in class, training multiple personal training clients a day or teaching spin classes. I did this on 1500-1800 calories (and less when I was REALLY being “disciplined”) with very little fat intake. I thought that was likely what I needed because I wasn’t losing weight. After I graduated and started working full time, I continued to eat an average of 1600 calories a day and my weight stayed pretty stable. It was about 7 years ago that I decided I wanted babies and I needed to increase my body fat percentage in order to regain my cycle that I had not had in years and years. (NOTE: I know now that hypothalamic amenorrhea is not just about body fat.) That is when I changed to a REAL food diet with good fats. I ate grass milk butter for the first time in years!! Yum! Guess what, I didn’t put on those extra pounds. I lost weight easily and quickly. This baffled me so I went to a dietician. As she increased my caloric intake even more, my weight continued to fall. Now I know that my body was desperate for the food. My metabolism responded by speeding back up to where it needed to be. It took a while to get to a place where I could gain weight. I recently calculated an old meal plan to see how many calories it was and it took around 2800 for a slow gain. Did I mention that at that time, I was only working out 1 hour a day (not 2) and the rest of the day I was at a desk job? I just wanted to share that as an example. Our bodies really need more than our brains have been programmed to believe.
To sum up my little rant, I just want to say that it is hard and it is a mind game, but make sure you are nourishing your body. I myself am now breastfeeding and wanting to gain weight and it is HARD to even eat my maintenance calories right now, much less what it would take to gain. However, I want to encourage everyone to eat enough calories to fuel your fit self. Slowly find your total daily energy expenditure if you think you are at too large of a deficit. EAT all of those yummy macros. Don’t make any of them the villain. Get them from real foods with lots of micronutrients and healthy benefits. If you don’t eat grains, that is fine. There are plenty of carb choices to choose from. Yet I personally see no flaw in eating grains in moderation if you have no intolerance and you seek to prepare your grains as healthy as possible. Eat fat. It won’t make you fat. (I am looking at you fellow nut butter and avocado lovers!!) Get enough protein and don’t go overboard (and if you are pregnant or nursing, I cannot stress that enough! Protein is necessary for growth). Lastly, no one’s body is exactly like your body. Get to know your needs and where you thrive and ignore the mainstream advice.