It goes without saying (but I am going to say it anyway) that a lot has happened since I last updated this blog.
Coronavirus took off in a way that I am not sure any of us expected. Entire countries are shut down and the world is in some weird limbo between freaking out and finding greater global connection than we have ever experienced.
At the beginning of this week I was feeling like many of us do at the start of a new goal. I was full of excitement and dreaming of the possibilities.
The program seemed fool proof. I just have to walk more, follow an intermittent fasting protocol I have done in the past, and eat gut-friendly foods.
By the second day the reality settled in. The second day. Talk about feeling defeated.
As you can see from the image, Monday stadted strong but as the days went by my step count declined. I found myself laying in bed feeling like I really couldn't get up, and this was better for me. This wasn't the only thing going through my mind though.
In my last post I mentioned that I had 2 weeks until my next period. Well... that was false. I am in the final few days before my next period.
If you know me, you know that I do a lot of research. If I feel a new feeling, or find a new weakness, or experience a certain food sensitivity, I then obsess over it. Last year when I had some serious hormonal issues, I did a deep dive into all things menstrual cycle and female hormones. In this research I discovered that in those 5-10 days before a period, the body and mind will naturally want to nest. It is a time of organizing and preparing the body for the period.
So as soon as I realized that I was mistaken about what time of the month it was for me, I realized that what my body would crave most is nesting. So I gave myself permission to nest. When I found the energy I would go for walks and get fresh air. And something amazing happened.
Listening to the nesting instinct
Instead of forcing myself to work really hard and push through those nesting feelings, I took each day slowly. I got done only what I needed to get done, and the rest of my time was spent feeling cozy.
I think I mentioned this in my last post, but the Thursday before each period is typically a crazy day for me. It feels like someone else has control of my body and thoughts and there's no rescuing me.
Well this week was very different. Although I felt low energy and tired Monday - Wednesday, by Thursday I actually felt really energetic. I went to the gym and had a great workout. I made myself really great food. I got a lot of work done. I had the energy to be social and to be pleasant while I was being social (not to say I am ever unpleasant, but I felt like I could give more of myself to my friends).
As I write this (Friday) I am feeling very energetic and positive.
The simple act of listening to my body has rewarded me with a much more steady approach to my period. My cravings also aren't out of control. With that said I did have a few cravings on Tuesday night, which I gave into, but since then my appetite has been pretty steady.
Week 1 Progress
Okay so despite some of the setbacks, there has been progress this week. I have already mentioned the general progress in my mental and emotional stability, but there are other areas of progres I want to touch on.
I am going to get this one out of the way first. When I was in Dubai last week I was 69.5kgs. When I weighed myself on Thursday I was 69kgs. So I have seen a drop of 0.5kgs in a week. Not only is this healthy, but it also aligns with my theory that keeping stress levels low should help reduce inflammation in the body, thereby reducing some of the retained water in the body. If you look at my progress photos below you'll also see a slight de-puffing of the body.
This one is really important for me to manage. I have had hormonal acne once and I really do not want to go back to that. With what I have been eating - ie. reducing processed carbohydrate intake and increasing healthy fat intake and water - the little allergy-like bumps on my forehead and cheeks should have gone away. I also should have seen a mild pre-period breakout.
The little bumps on my forehead and cheeks have definitely gone down. Unfortunately I do not have a picture from earlier this week, but here is my skin this morning. Some breakouts on the chin, but other than that, my skin has really improved in just a week's time.
The final metric I mentioned in the last blog was my mood. Again, ahead of my period I typically get quite moody and even slip into a depressed-like state of mind.
As I mentioned before, I typically have a crazy day about 5 days out from my period. That has not happened this week. Although I felt slow and fatigued Monday-Wednesday, I handled that by listening to my body and not going overboard with my surrender to cravings.
So I'd say that so far this program is working well for my mood. I usually have this feeling of "What do I need to do next??? SHould I be DoIng MoRe?!?!? I nEed to GeT thIs DoNE Now!!".
Those tried to cross my mind a few times this week, but I just reminded myself that this month is about reducing and managing stress. So chill out - everything will get done that needs to get done.
With this week's data, I am adjusting my goals slightly. Before I started this program I was getting an average of 8,000 steps a day. So to essentially double that is a pretty far reach. I know that setting realistic goals is key to achieving them. So I am adjusting my goals. Instead of 15,000 everyday, my fitbit is set to a goal of 10,000 steps a day. Just 2,000 steps more than more average.
On Mondays and Fridays - the days I usually have the most motivation to do stuff - I will aim to go above 10,000, but if I only hit 10,000 steps, that's still great.
I am sticking with my intermittent fasting and 1 day/week of strength training.
Next week when I have my period I will likely feel a little run down and depleted, so I'll make sure I am including a lot of healthy fats and proteins into my diet, with room for carbs high in soluble fibers. That should keep my mood steady and energy high.
Looking forward to reporting back on this next week!
Do something good for your body today!
The beginning of every month is a great opportunity to set new goals and try new programs. Last month I incorporated more ab exercises and decided to make my workouts more playful.
That style of workouts was exciting and I was able to show myself that I am still capable of things like TRX rows, pull ups, and box jumps. These were all very rewarding aspects of the workouts and I really did enjoy the progress I felt.
For the month of March I am going to be doing something a little nerve-racking, but hopefully with good results.
I know that I can get very stressed. Despite my best efforts to minimize stress and take plenty of "me-time", I still notice signs of stress in my body. This includes breakouts, carrying weight around my middle, cravings, fatigue, and mental fog.
So for March I really want to work on reducing my stress levels. More specifically I want to take actions that have been shown to reduce cortisol levels.
After doing a ton of research over the last week there a number of ways that I can reduce cortisol in the body. I'll start with nutrition first.
One of the hormones that is linked to cortisol in women is estrogen. Having high levels of circulating estrogen means having high levels of cortisol. High levels of cortisol typically means high levels of insulin as well. To tackle all of these issues at once, I will be reintroducing intermittent fasting into my life.
Intermittent fasting allows the body to regulate insulin levels and use fat stores for energy. Instead of being in a constant state of high insulin from eating every 3 or 4 hours, I will be giving my body the chance to reset every night.
There are so many ways to do intermittent fasting, but the way that has worked the best for me in the past has been the 16:8 protocol. 16 hours of fasting, and 8 hours of "feasting".
During those feasting hours I will be focusing on a few main nutrients. I'll be consuming soluble fiber as often as possible as that has been linked to lower cortisol levels. This will likely show up in the form of apples or blueberries. I will also be keeping my sugar content as low as possible, meaning that I will do my best to avoid processed sugars for the next month.
When I am stressed I have a nasty habit of justifying eating sweets, despite knowing the effects of processed sugars on the body. This is one of the more difficult aspects of this month's plan as breaking the habit of eating refined sugars can resemble going through withdrawals. For this I am going to take pictures of everything I eat and post them to my ririsdiscoveries instagram page so that I am held accountable.
The next nutrient I will be focusing on is healthy fats. It is really easy for me to eat chicken and ground beef while I am here because it is the main protein sources that my host family eats. However, I would like to eat more fatty fish instead to see if I can balance out my hormones. I've recently noticed that my PMS irritability has been crazy these past few cycles. I can anticipate at least 1 day about 5 days out from my period where I don't feel like myself. It feels like someone else has taken over my thoughts and feelings and I can't escape it.
From my research on healthy menstrual cycles, eating fatty foods is a great way to help support progesterone production, and keep estrogen levels from getting too high. Remember - insulin and estrogen are tightly linked, so by eating foods that cause very small insulin responses, I am also helping to regulate my estrogen levels. Prior to our periods, if our estrogen is too high and we do not have enough progesterone, that is when we experience the classic PMS symptoms like cramping, irritability, breakouts, and eventually a heavy flow during our periods.
This is where the plan becomes a little scary for me, but I know it will benefit me in the long run.
Although my high intensity training is really fun, it also causes a spike in cortisol. Yes - this rise in cortisol is actually beneficial to the body as it helps facilitate the adaptations that the body must undergo in order to be ready for the next training session. However, if I am working to keep my cortisol levels low this month, I am going to try and train at an intensity level of about 40% of my maximum.
More specifically I am going to take on a walking program. That's right - walking.
It seems really simple, but walking is the perfect exercise. It is low impact and free to do. I have set the goal on my Fitbit to try and hit 15,000 steps a day. That will be my main exercise focus.
On top of that, I am going to step away from the ab exercises like leg lifts and knee drives, and go back to core basics. This will include deadbugs, planks, side planks, and shoulder taps. All movements that will help stabilize the core, but not necessarily build ab muscles.
In addition to the core exercises, I will be doing my breathing exercises to further engage my core muscles and retrain healthy breathing patterns. By taking 5-10 minutes every day to work on just my breath, I will also be encouraging a more relaxed state and reducing my cortisol levels.
I do plan on having 1 strength session a day where I will work squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and bench press, but this will also be designed to be lower intensity. No more supersets. Just straight sets of each exercise, with adequate rest periods in between.
Unfortunately I do not have a way to test my cortisol levels at home. So I will be working off of my general feelings. I have my next period in about 2 weeks, so I will be monitoring my mood closely during that time.
I will also be keeping an eye on my skin. Currently I am experiencing breakouts and itchy spots. They aren't big, painful breakouts, but more like hives. Small, little bumps, that I really can't do anything with on the surface. I also have small patches on my cheeks of itchy bumps. They are not proper breakouts, but again, they almost feel like an allergic reaction of some kind.
Lastly, I will be tracking my weight throughout this process. I typically do not track weight when it comes to my programming, but if my theory is correct about stress causing me to hold onto weight, if I am successful at reducing my stress, then my weight should go down as well. I will also take progress photos to visualize the "depuffing" that this program should promote. High cortisol levels typically means high levels of inflammation as well, which can lead to a rounding of the face, puffy eyes, and extra fluff around the body.
I have struggled in the past to hold myself accountable to new goals, so for this month my accountability system will be instagram, and this blog. Every week I will share my experience including my step totals, progress pictures, weight, and general mood throughout the week so that you have the most honest picture of how this program works for someone like me.
I am someone who has been consistently training for almost 5 years now. Ever since college I have been doing weight training and high intensity training, so for me to take a step back and only have 1 day of weight training, and the rest of the days are just walking is very different for me.
Again, I am hoping that the research I have done will serve to make this a successful month of less physiological stress, so that I can get back to weight training with a healthier and happier mindset next month.
Do something good for your body today
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's discoveries as she develops her skills as a marketer, and finds new and sustainable ways to stay healthy.