Beware: You May Be Burning More than Just Calories
Robin Treasure is a colleague of mine. We both went to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. While I work with women with PCOS, she works with purpose-driven businesswomen who know they will enjoy greater success if they bring their health back to where it should be. Often at the core of these women’s’ issues is severe stress and a breakdown in the adrenal system. I’ve asked Robin to share her thoughts on exercise and how it affects our adrenals. Adrenal health is so important for women with PCOS as well.
Guest post by Robin Treasure
“Just do more cardio, and you’ll lose that belly fat and get a surge of energy”, right? Wrong! While some form of exercise is beneficial for nearly everyone, it’s important to pay attention to what type of exercise your body responds best to, because you might be sabotaging your own efforts without realizing it.
We’ve spent decades glorifying the “burn” of intense exercise like P90X and marathon running. But what about the countless women who sweat out their lives on treadmills and in spinning classes, only to feel chubbier and more exhausted? What’s going on there?
In a way, the answer is quite simple, and it all has to do with the body’s stress response. Endurance exercise and intense cardio are perceived by the body as stress, which results in a surge of the hormone cortisol. Made by the adrenal glands, cortisol is vital to our lives, and it’s supposed to follow a natural high-to-low pattern over the course of the day.
But if you’re faced with high levels of stress – from your job, your diet, and even your exercise routine – your cortisol levels will remain unnaturally high. The result? You’ll hold onto excess abdominal fat, even when you think you’re burning enough calories to lose weight, because cortisol promotes fat storage. (Speaking of calories, check out my short video on Why Calories Don’t Matter).
If that pattern of unrelenting stress continues unchecked, your body may stop producing enough cortisol, resulting in a condition known as adrenal fatigue, or burnout. You can think of it as “burning up” your adrenal glands (or more accurately your stress response system). At that point you’ll feel tired all the time, and you’ll no longer get that yummy boost of energy that you’d expect from your workout.
The relationship between intense exercise and unnaturally high cortisol levels is important for women with PCOS, because one of cortisol’s main jobs is to raise blood sugar. High blood sugar creates the see-saw effect between cortisol and insulin, which is troublesome for women with insulin resistance.
So you may be wondering “all right then, what’s the right exercise for me?” Unfortunately there’s no simple answer, as it all depends on the individual. But if you struggle with fatigue, especially adrenal fatigue, and if you find yourself feeling more tired after a workout, you need to dramatically cut back on the intensity of your exercise. And if you’re facing a lot of stress – as many of us do! – the goal is to find a form of movement that calms your stress response system, rather than adding to the stress load, like a leisurely walk in nature, or gentle yoga.
It might be natural to think that reducing the intensity of your exercise would mean weight gain, but you’ll find it actually helps you lose unwanted pounds simply by reducing your cortisol levels, for the reasons I mentioned above.
Driven women often find it difficult to let go and do less, but when it comes to adrenal health, as well as your waistline and energy levels, less really is more. When you find a form of movement that works for you personally, you’ll feel a shift in your energy and overall wellbeing.
Robin Treasure is a Wellness Strategist who coaches purpose-driven businesswomen experiencing adrenal fatigue, low energy, difficulty managing stress, digestive trouble, and hormone imbalances. Her private coaching and online programs take a step-by-step, comprehensive approach involving nutrition, lifestyle and mindset.
A former marathon runner herself, Robin experienced the “perfect storm” of stressful life events that brought on a number of chronic health issues. With time and countless hours of research, Robin successfully recovered her own health. She then knew she had to share her learnings with other women who expect too much of themselves while lacking the know-how to remain resilient in the face of all they do.
Robin completed her professional training with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a Certified Health Coach (certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners) and has received valuable education from the Weston A Price Foundation and esteemed mentors. A free podcast download with tips on stress reduction is available at her website www.robintreasure.com
This is me! I am so tired after a workout. I see so many people who are refreshed and gain a boost of energy. I just want to take a coma like nap. This makes so much sense now.
You have just described Dercum’s Disease or Adiposis Dolorosa. Each of the symptoms you mentioned are seen in Dercum’s. This disease is just becoming known in the US but has been treated in Europe for over 30 years.