Guest post by Kaely McDevitt, Registered Dietitian
Have you been doing it all – eating right, exercising more – but not seeing results? Or maybe you saw some results initially, but now they’ve plateaued and you’re feeling worse? Well, there is such a thing as doing “too much” when it comes to diet and exercise. Read on to find out if under-eating and/or overtraining are to blame for how you’re feeling now.
How does under-eating and overtraining affect hormones?
We’ve gotta take a few steps back to see how this whole system works first. The female body is a SMART, finely tuned machine with multiple systems that interact to keep you safe, healthy, and happy. Healthy hormone levels go hand in hand with healthy fertility. Whether or not you are interested in conceiving, being fertile is a sign that all systems are aligned in your body. In order for your body to support fertility, it needs to feel that the environment is conducive for bringing a baby into this world. This is your body looking out for you!
So, what does that mean if you are under-eating or overtraining (or both)? When we do either of these things for an extended period of time, we are essentially sending a message to our brain that food availability is scarce and we are in a high stress environment. Your body, in an attempt to look out for your best interest, takes this input to mean that now is not a good time for children and shifts resources away from the production of your sex hormones. Your body then goes a step further and decreases your thyroid hormone output in an effort to conserve energy by decreasing your metabolic rate.
To summarize the hormonal adaptations to prolonged under-eating or overtraining:
- Decreased sex hormone production
- Decreased thyroid hormone output
- Low energy
- Low drive/motivation
- Low libido
- Decreased ability to lose weight
- Unexplained weight gain
What is under-eating?
Under-eating is defined as eating below your body’s maintenance needs for a prolonged period of time. It is very important, even while dieting, to not drop your calories below your basal metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the estimated number of calories your body needs to maintain function at rest.
While there are no perfect ways to measure this short of metabolic testing or DEXA scans, you can plug your information into a calculator like this to get a rough idea. You’ll notice that calculator adds additional calories to your BMR based on your level of activity. This is important because as your activity increases, so does your calorie need.
What is overtraining?
Overtraining is defined as a level of training that surpasses the level of recovery. This takes into account training duration, intensity, and total volume as well as your ability to recover from training via sleep, stress management, nutrition, etc.
Since overtraining isn’t as easy to identify as under-eating, you’ll have to pay attention to body cues. A few signs that you may be overtraining include increased or prolonged muscle soreness, poor performance, decreased interest in training, poor sleep, injuries, and feeling run down/depleted after training sessions. Exercise should make you feel great! If that is not the case, it’s time to investigate whether or not your recovery is sufficient.
So, what do you do about this?
- Audit your nutrition by using a tracking app like My Fitness Pal or Chonometer and comparing to your estimated needs.
- Audit your exercise by looking at overall training volume over the course of the week and comparing that to how well you recover from training.
- Adjust as necessary!
Signs things are recovering/on the right track:
- Better sleep
- Increased energy level
- Better mood
- Increased drive/motivation to train
- Increased sex drive
- Regular periods
- Easier time with weight loss
What it all comes down to is listening to your body and making adjustments to your diet and lifestyle to support optimal hormonal health. When you take care of your body with adequate nourishment and healthy movement, it’ll have a much easier time balancing your hormones for you.
Kaely McDevitt is a Registered Dietitian that utilizes functional lab testing to help her clients personalize their nutrition for optimal health and hormones. After experiencing the pitfalls of conventional approaches to women’s health and nutrition first hand, she has dedicated her career to specializing in women’s health and digestive issues. Kaely runs a virtual private practice and is a co-creator of the online women’s health course and community, Her Hormones Academy. She is energized by helping others take the driver’s seat on their journey to their happiest, healthiest life. You can get a taste for her approach by checking out her Instagram @kaelyrd.