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.