Posted in fitness, life hacks, lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness

Monday Matters: Why am I not losing weight despite working my ass off?

Those of you who regularly read my blog will know that my Monday Matters series is generally concerned with mental health and wellness. So, you might be thinking, how come this post has veered off that topic completely and is about weight loss, or more importantly lack of? Well, if you are trying to lose weight yourself through a combination of dietary changes and increasing your activity levels, you will know that when you step on the scales each week (or maybe even daily) to check your progress, it feels pretty rubbish if they read exactly the same as the previous time (or even worse, the number has crept up!). And the likelihood is, that this has a really negative affect on your mental health in terms of mood, confidence levels and motivation to keep going. So really, this post is totally on topic.

For the benefit of myself and any other readers who are working hard on their fitness and hoping to lose a few pounds on the way, here’s a collection of reasons why those scales might appear to be stuck and what you can do about it…

You’re not resting enough

I talked about the importance of rest days in my previous post here where I gave suggestions on how to create a workout for beginners but I didn’t know at the time that exercising too much could actually cause weight gain. Apparently, if you over exercise, your body can get stressed out and increase the production of cortisol (the stress hormone) which can contribute to you putting on weight. The solution for this one, is to make sure you incorporate rest days into your workout schedule where you don’t do any intense working out such as aerobic exercise or HIIT programmes (High Intensity Interval Training. Fitness experts recommend you train five days a week and have two rest days.

You’re not getting good quality sleep each night

Also related to rest is our sleep habits. If you’re not getting enough Zzzzzs then you’re not giving your body the chance to repair muscles and tissues. In fact, lack of sleep can also lower your metabolism which doesn’t help on the weight loss front either. Different people need different amounts of sleep to function well but you’ll know what feels right for you. I personally like to get between 7 and a half to 8 hours each night. If you’re struggling with getting good quality sleep, you can check out last Monday’s post in which I presented some ideas on how to get better kip.

Another issue with lack of sleep is that it can drastically affect your mood. If you’re sleep deprived, you can feel irritable, confused, depressed and lethargic the next day and this can reduce your general activity levels or make you reach for quick energy boost food and drinks which are often not healthy choices. As well as tracking your meals, you could also track your sleep and your mood to see how they affect each other and your food choices.

Your calorie intake is too high

According to dieticians, a woman needs to eat approximately 2000 calories to maintain her weight. For weight loss, you should be eating less than this each day. Obviously, this depends on age, weight and height as well as a range of other factors but the simple fact is that in order to drop some pounds, more calories need to be expended than are entering the body. I have a Fitbit which tells me how many calories I’ve burnt each day (usually around 2400 on an active day) but I really have no idea how many calories I have coming in because I don’t measure them. Some people swear by counting calories religiously but I think a better solution is to keep a food and drink diary so you can see exactly what you are consuming each day and how often you’re eating highly calorific items. This will help you examine your diet and can help you see if you’re making bad food choices or overeating.

Your calorie intake is too low

Conversely, it’s also possible to eat too little due to a highly restrictive diet and this causes you to go into starvation mode. The effective of this is that your body tries desperately to conserve energy which can prevent you from losing weight. A common symptom of starvation mode is that you feel extremely tired all the time which is certainly not good for your health. Again, I would recommend keeping a food diary so you can track how much fuel you are giving yourself each day. You should also check that you are getting a balanced diet and not avoiding any food groups. There’s lots of advice online about making sure you eat properly and as I’m no expert on the subject, I’ll just share this link from the NHS.

You’re eating and drinking ’empty’ calories

The source of the calories that you do take in is really important if you want to lose weight. If you are eating a drinking things that have little or no nutritional value then you may find that this is preventing weight loss or even causing you to gain. Food and drinks that contain a high level of solid fats or processed sugars are generally to blame. These are found in fast foods, pre-packaged desserts, fried foods, carbonated soft drinks, salted snacks, energy drinks and alcohol.

If you don’t want to deny yourself of these types of food and drinks altogether, you should at least make sure that they are the occasional treat and don’t feature too heavily in your diet. You should also try to balance them out with healthier choices and ensure you increase your activity levels accordingly. Keeping a food and drink diary can also help you to spot how often you are eating these types of items.

You’re focusing wholly on weight loss and ignoring other indicators of success

When you step on your bathroom scales you are simply learning how much you currently weigh. What you’re not finding out is how much of that weight is muscle, how much is fat, how much is water and how much is your bones and your bodily organs. So really, checking the scales is quite a limited way of discovering your progress and success levels. Therefore, if weighing yourself isn’t providing you with the motivation you need to stick with your current eating and exercise plan, you might be better off with a different approach. I’ve already shared my exercise tracker that I have as part of my bullet journal set up for May and I’ve really enjoyed filling it in and celebrating my achievements. Here’s the partially completely version (I moved BuJo part of the way through May so I photocopied them and stuck them in).

As well as monitoring your workouts, you could also find other ways to check in with yourself, for example, you could be more mindful of how your clothes feel and fit or you could do a pictorial record of what you look like each week in your exercise gear using your camera phone. You might also try setting yourself some performance related goals and congratulate yourself when you achieve them e.g. with a nice, bright workout top or some new leggings. My husband and I have both noticed positive changes with my body in terms of better posture from my yoga, toned muscles from my aerobics, weight training and targeted stretching and slimmer waistline and face.

If the scales are leaving you feeling discouraged, I also recommend writing some fitness related affirmations. They might not directly cause you to gain muscle and lose fat but they can be a great way to provide or increase motivation. Here’s some that I’ve recently added to my BuJo:

My overall health and mood are improving as a result of my increased exercise levels.

I enjoy working out and the energy it gives me.

My body is getting stronger, fitter and healthier every day.

I am proud of myself for exercising regularly.

You’re suffering from water retention

Water retention is when your body is failing to eliminate excess water. This can happen for a number of reasons and is particularly common in women at different times in their hormonal cycle (e.g. the week before your period). If you are being really careful about your diet and are exercising regularly but it’s having absolutely no effect, you may be carrying excess water weight. Physical signs of water retention include swelling e.g. of your ankles, breasts, fingers or stomach, puffy face, hips and abdomen and stiff joints.

Fluid retention can sometimes be caused by medication so if you think this might be the case, have a chat with your doctor about it. Other causes can be too much sitting about in one position so to combat this, try to get moving for a few minutes each hour (Fitbit watches are great for reminding you to move!).

You can also make dietary changes to reduce excess water, for example, increasing your intake of magnesium (found in whole grains and leafy green veg), vitamin B6 (found in bananas, potatoes and walnuts) and potassium (found in bananas, avocados and tomatoes).

You’re not staying hydrated

Talking of water, you need to make sure you’re getting plenty throughout the day so that you stay properly hydrated. Your body actually tends to store water when you’re dehydrated which can cause bloating and weight gain. You should try to drink at least two litres of water a day and more if you are doing intense exercise that causes you to sweat. You can also add hydrating foods to your diet – some of my favourites at this time of year include watermelon, strawberries, peaches and nectarines. Staying properly hydrated helps to flush out extra fluids and sodium from your body. It also helps you to avoid constipation which as well as being unpleasant can also cause extra pounds on the scales.

You’re eating mindlessly

Mindless eating is when you’re not giving your full attention to what you’re eating. This could be because you’re busy doing something at the same time e.g. watching a movie and snacking on crisps or chocolate or because you’ve let your attention wander to something else e.g. chores you need to do or what you want to do later in the day. Mindless eating can lead to overeating and the feeling of being ‘stuffed’ as you tend not to stop when you start to feel full.

The complete opposite of this is mindful eating which is where your attention is wholly focused on what you are consuming. If you are eating mindfully, your conscious of every bite or every sensation in your mouth until the point you swallow. This makes you eat more slowly as you savour each mouthful of your food. It also helps you to know when you are full and satisfied with what you’ve had which makes you more likely to stop before you become overly stuffed.

There are many ways that you can eat more mindfully. Always try to sit down for your meals, preferably at a table and away from any electronic devices. Spend some time appreciating what’s on your plate visually before you start to tuck in. Think about where different elements of your meal have come from and who has helped to make them available to you. Do you feel grateful for what you have to eat? When you start eating, go slow and take small bites, really savouring the taste and texture. Focus on enjoying each and every mouthful until you feel full.

Your medication is causing increased appetite

When I went through a bad spell with my mental health, I started to take two forms of anti-depressant medication alongside each other. One of these was Mirtazapine, and although my mood greatly improved, I found that I was constantly hungry even after eating a large meal, whereas before I had no appetite and lost weight. I’ve now stopped taking this particular drug as I watched my weight creeping up and didn’t want it to continue. When I talked to my doctor about it, he said that all antidepressants can cause these issues. According to my online research, when you start to feel better, things begin to become more pleasurable and this can include food. Now, I’m not going to stop taking my Citalopram and wouldn’t suggest you stop any medication which helps you but it is worth bearing in mind and monitoring your food intake closely.

A final recap

In summary, the key thing to focus on when trying to get fit and healthy is fat loss and developing a well defined and toned body. So, make sure you measure your progress in a range of different ways instead of just obsessing over your weight. Also try to ascertain if your calorie intake is less than your expenditure by doing some basic monitoring of your diet and finding out roughly how many calories you burn doing the different exercises in your weekly workouts.

Wishing you lots of success on your health and fitness journey, keep up the hard work!

Posted in fitness, lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 8 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Photo credit: Bruce Mars, Unsplash

I’m sure we’re all well aware of the physical benefits of exercise such as strengthening our bodies, reducing fat, generally making ourselves more muscular and toned, plus reducing our chances of major illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. But, there are also lots of ways that exercise can boost your mental health too that you might not have even considered. As many of my followers will know, I recently upped my activity levels in a bid to get fit. You can see my workout record that I set up for May in my Bullet Journal here and ideas for creating a routine here. But it’s not just physical changes that I’m starting to notice, I’m also feeling so much better in terms of my general wellbeing, including my confidence levels. So, for today’s Monday Matters, I thought I’d do a little research into what I’m getting out of exercising in terms of my mental health and why it’s vital to keep going with my plan if I’m to reap all of the many rewards. Hopefully, this post will help to motivate you to fit in a little more exercise into your daily routine.

8 ways that exercise helps improve your mental wellbeing

1. increased energy levels

Finding time to get moving each day works wonders for your energy levels. This in turn, helps you to deal with all of the physical and mental aspects of your day and basically anything else that life throws at you. By getting some exercise in each day such as a gentle stroll around your local park (maintaining the recommended 2 metre social distance at all times) you’ll feel more alert and will get more done. This will increase feelings of achievement which is guaranteed to boost your mood.

2. better quality sleep

Recently, I’ve found that by the end of the day, I feel physically worn out and completely ready for bed (by 8pm actually, but I always manage to keep my eyes open until at least 9pm ha ha!). This is because research shows that although physical exercise boosts your energy levels for several hours after you have worked out, it also promotes good sleep. If you fall asleep quickly, you are less likely to start thinking things over in bed (ruminating) as you lie there and a decent night’s sleep will leave you feeling more refreshed and ready for action the next day.

3. reduced depression

Exercise is well known for releasing endorphins which are a group of hormones that are secreted into the brain and nervous system. These have been scientifically proven to enhance pleasure and reduce pain which of course helps combat depression. In fact, when I went to my doctor when I was struggling with depression, she asked if I was getting plenty of exercise and I was able to tell her that I was having a brisk walk each and every day. Also, if you do your workout outside, as long as you take appropriate measures to protect yourself from The Sun, you will also be boosting your Vitamin D levels which has also been shown to reduce depression.

4. reduced anxiety

As well as being shown to combat low mood, exercise has also been found to be great at alleviating anxiety. It is thought that one of the reasons for this is that moderately intense activity uses up excess adrenaline and helps to reduce anxious thoughts. Also, if you exercise mindfully, paying full attention to how your body feels, it allows you to switch off from stresses and worries.

5. emotional comfort and support

With the current lockdown, you are only allowed to exercise with family members that you live with, but getting a workout in can ordinarily be quite a social experience too. When I was attending my yoga class, I would chat to the instructor and the ladies before and after the class and we would even talk about the difficulties we were having with some of the poses and which were working our muscles really intensely. I also received lots of praise from my teacher, saying that she was impressed with my ability and that I didn’t seem like a beginner. This was a real boost to my self esteem and made me trying even harder. Support and encouragement when you are exercising is really good at keeping you motivated.

For now, smiling, saying good morning or hello to people you see when you’re out and about for your daily exercise can help you feel a connection to others and give you a little boost. You can even strike up a brief conversation about the weather as The British are fond of doing!

6. increased self esteem

Sticking to your exercise plan is great for your self esteem in a number of ways. I’ve found that as I’ve start to see improvements to my body, I’ve begun to develop a much better self image and this has been a huge boost to my confidence levels. I’m also really proud of myself for keeping up with my new routines and the support and encouragement from my husband has increased the feeling of positivity too.

7. a boost to your brain power

Aerobic or cardio exercise has been shown to keep your brain cells healthy and improve their connections. This has a positive impact on your cognitive functioning, giving you a better memory, greater ability to make decisions and an increased capacity for learning. This enables you to learn faster and more effectively and also has a positive impact on your concentration and general productivity levels.

8. increased confidence

Depression and anxiety have a tendency to completely wipe out our confidence levels and self belief. By setting small exercise goals and meeting them you can feel a sense of accomplishment and this will give you the confidence to set your sights even further and aim higher. This can have a knock on effect on other areas of your life too.

Photo credit: Dee @ Copper and Wild

As you can see, there are so many amazing mental health benefits to exercise which can increase your wellbeing just as much as your muscle tone and fitness levels. And research shows that you don’t have to be a complete workout fanatic to reap the benefits. Moderate exercise on a regular basis such as walking, cycling or even housework such as vacuuming, mopping and sweeping can work wonders too. I’m certainly going to keep up with my routines as I’m starting to look better on the outside and feel much better on the inside and my husband has noticed so many changes already.

Last night, Boris Johnson gave us updated recommendations about daily exercise in the UK. He has said that, from this coming Wednesday, we can, with caution and a continued focus on social distancing, spend as much time as we like outdoors in communal parks and gardens. We will also be able to drive to different destinations so that we can go to other beauty spots. This is good news in some ways but there are quite a few unanswered questions for me, such as whether car parks for forests and woods and gardens will be re-opening and even more importantly, if you are travelling a long way and maybe enjoying a picnic with your family, whether public conveniences will be available for use!

We will have to wait and see what happens I guess!