It’s been over 9 months since I’ve written anything and in my defense it hasn’t been because of my usual procrastination; I’ve actually been working non-stop since my last post.
Around July last year I completed a very personal goal and became certified as a Specialist in Fitness Nutrition with the ISSA. Why? I’ve been very vocal about how eating better made the biggest positive impact in my hormone imbalance journey and over the years I found myself somehow becoming the unofficial ‘food coach’ to a lot of friends, family and even strangers. Added to the fact that in my personal time I love researching food facts and exercise routines (I promise I’m a fun person), I thought why not combine the two things that I genuinely like doing and see if I could help other people in their own health/fitness journey since I personally know how much harder it is to stay motivated when you go about it on your own; especially if you don’t understand how to use food as fuel.
The first thing I did upon certification was take my newfound knowledge to the test. Everybody, and I mean about 95% of people, are always trying to lose fat so I decided to embark upon my own 6 weeks fat loss program. My problem areas (and most humans) have always been that stubborn lower belly fat and love handles so I based my results on the reduction of fat in these specific areas.
Why 6 weeks? In three weeks, even though the evidence that backs this is more empirical than clinical, creating new habits, for example, in the way we eat will start to become instinctive or second nature to us. The other three weeks are to reinforce these new ‘habits’.
So what’s the ‘C’ word I’m referring to and how did it affect my fat loss journey? If you thought cardio, you’re wrong. It’s Carbs. Yes, carbohydrates. The macronutrient that everyone loves to hate but don’t understand. So here’s the 101 on Carbs:
- The human body metabolizes (Re: how it processes nutrients) both simple carbs (e.g. white bread, pasta etc.) and complex carbs (e.g. peas, beans, vegetables, whole grain etc.) into glucose, also known as blood sugar which is the body’s primary source of fuel/energy.
- Starch (which is a complex carb) and sugars are the major sources of energy. Starchy foods are low in calories, high in fiber and nutritional value. Simple carbs are the opposite.
- Carbohydrates are high quality fuels as compared to proteins and fats and relatively little work is required of the body to break them down in order to release their energy.
- Glucose, the only form of carbs that the body can use immediately, is essential for the functioning of brains, nervous system, muscles and various organs.
- Any glucose that it not needed for immediate energy is converted into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles; when it is required, the liver turns the glycogen into glucose.
- The liver can only store about 100g of glucose in the form of glycogen. The muscles also store glycogen. Muscles can store approximately 500g of glycogen. Because of the limited storage areas, any carbohydrates that are consumed beyond the storage capacity are converted to and stored as fat. There is practically no limit on how many calories the body can store as fat. In other words, that two doubles you had for breakfast and the fries you had for lunch will store as fat unless you actively try to burn it off i.e. turn that glycogen back into glucose.
- When glucose levels run low, the body will first turn to protein and then to fat to convert them into glucose. It is not wise to burn protein however as it will rob the body of lean muscle tissue.
Now that you have a little more background knowledge on carbs, I’d like to add that I listed all the above only so that you can fully understand and appreciate that carbs are the backbone of a healthy diet.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize this until I decided to do my fat loss program longer than two months and ran into some serious health issues.
Here’s what I did wrong and what I believe a lot of people (mainly women) also do incorrectly when approaching fat loss; I overdid the cardio and I went too low on my carbs in my diet. This was a big and dangerous mistake for a woman like me with a hormone imbalance.
While going low carb can cause weight loss and improve metabolic rate, going too low carb for long periods of time may disrupt hormones in some women. For me, it disrupted my menstrual cycle. When I realized that it was very late (which it almost never is) I immediately stopped exercising, because I knew something was wrong, and also started eating more carbs. I finally got my period eleven days later (it felt like a lifetime though).
A breakdown of the events in the featured image are as follows:
Mid June – Part of my ISSA exam was to develop a Fitness and Nutrition plan for someone and submit my findings. I decided to develop a Fat loss plan testing the reduction of fat in the lower stomach and side fat and test it on myself. I mean, how could I advise people on how to lose fat if I hadn’t done it myself? The picture shows my body prior to my fat loss plan and how my body looked for quite some time.
Beginning of July – Three weeks into my fat loss program and I was seeing good results while still feeling great.
End of July – I completed my 6 weeks fat loss program and my exam (with a 94% final pass by the way) and I was so happy with the progress I made that I decided to continue the program for another month. This is where the problems began.
End of August – At this point I had dropped my carb intake too low for too long, while still going hard on the HIIT workouts. I had realized that my period due date had passed even though I kept having my usual PMS symptoms like bloating and fatigue. This was a red flag for me and after I did some research I immediately stopped exercising and increased my carb intake with more simple carbs. My period came two days after this picture. I had stopped exercising nine days prior.
Mid September – After my period ended I dove heavily into research mode and finally found a diet formula that gave my body a sufficient intake of complex and simple carbs while still allowing me to maintain my fat loss. As you can see from the picture in End July when I completed my fat loss program to this picture, my fat increase was minimal.
Even though it may sound great not having a period to some women, this is usually an indication that something is going awry internally (unless you’re on birth control of course and you planned it that way).
When a woman is on a low carb diet (and too low calorie also) or even exercising strenuously (in my case I was doing both), her body will recognize this negative energy balance as a threat to her survival. Therefore, her body will shut down “non-essential” body processes such as reproduction. In other words, if your body has deemed that you are under too much stress, it will stop you from getting your period in order to stop you from getting pregnant because it deems pregnancy as another added stress to your body. In simple terms, a woman’s body is extremely sensitive to energy fluctuations.
In hindsight, going through the above as a woman made me learn, appreciate and respect my body so much more. It also gave me added knowledge on what the true elements to long term, sustainable fat loss are. I was also able to then successfully test my fat loss program on a few of my friends (both male and female; with and without hormone imbalances) with great results, which I will share in my next post. If you want, you can peep their results on my ig @divaleigh23.
In the meantime, if you’d like to do my Fat loss (or Muscle Gaining) program, please feel free to contact me.
“I save my carbs for wine. It’s called priorities…” – Author Unknown