Women (and men) come to me to lose weight and get their hormones in check, and while I do help them shed pounds and lean up, I remind them that we can’t sacrifice health in the process. What’s more, when our mission is to see the scale trending down, it’s hard to give a hoot about things like good digestion or a dead lift – but they are no less important.
But the good news is: you can have it all. You can be healthy AND lean, but often times we are so overly focused on the getting lean part that we lose sight of the bigger picture and if we’re not careful, can make ourselves unhealthy in the process. And the opposite is true as well – if you’re doing everything right and still not dropping weight then some of these often overlooked factors may be to blame.
Let’s go beyond body fat percentage and BMI for a second and look at some other markers that reflect good health – and if you don’t have them, get them! Not only are they important for good healthy – they are necessary for dropping fat.
Waist:Hip Ratio of 0.8 or less. Research shows 0.7 or 0.8 for a women is ideal, whereas higher ratios are associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Take waist measurements at the narrowest part of your torso and take hip measurement at the widest part of your hips/butt. Many women have a healthy waist to hip ratio and yet their ideal body is slightly out of reach – but with this reflection of healthy insulin function, you are well on your way. If you are above 0.8, tighten up carb servings (4-6 bites of high fiber starchy carbs like fruit, sweet potatoes, whole grains, etc.) and meal timing.
Strength. Being able to do a full pull up, doing regular pushups from your toes, being able to dead lift at least your body weight are all things us girls should be able to do.And if they can, women often neglect what big accomplishments they are! On the flipside many women don’t realize their importance. Being strong not only means you can rearrange the furniture by yourself or carry 50 or so pounds of toddler in your arms – but having more lean muscle mass is a BETTER predictor of future health than having a lower percentage body fat. This is just one more reason why strength training is an essential part of your fitness regimen.
Have a sense of wellbeing. If you are feeling anxious or depressed more often than you are feeling happy…something’s gotta change girl! If you’ve got a reason to feel stressed or agitated for a bit, that’s normal. That’s life. But if you wouldn’t describe yourself as having a good sense of wellbeing and being happy then something is off in your neurochemistry. Those same neurochemical molecules that control your moods also tell a muscle to when to contract, dictate what foods you crave, and of course they are behind how motivated you are to do what you need to do for yourself. If you’re feeling off, don’t put off getting that fixed! And be sure to do more of the things that make you feel good – like laughing and relaxing.
Healthy Blood Pressure and Health Blood Markers. Women who exercise regularly have lower blood pressure, even without a healthy diet (although both together show the most improvement – duh!). Remember, blood pressure being too low can be an issue as well – such as getting dizzy when you stand up quickly. This dizzinesss upon rising is a sign of low adrenal function. Low cholesterol, like low BP, can be another sign of adrenal issues or prolonged stress. I see many women that need to lose weight but have normal cholesterol, great BP and other markers of good heart and overall health. If you fall into this group, you’ve got a few things going for you, so don’t overlook them.
Consistent Energy. Consistent energy means blood sugar is stable and not bouncing all over the map causing surges in cortisol, adrenaline and insulin as well as sending a big “store fat’ message. Not to mention these blood sugar swings cause a swell of inflammation markers to sky rocket and this isn’t good for your body – or your brain. Uneven energy throughout the day – particularly a dip mid afternoon can signal adrenal fatigue or low thyroid function, both of which can thwart your fat loss efforts big time. With thyroid or adrenals out of whack your fat loss efforts will be very difficult. Addressing this will make a world of difference, so manage stress and obligations, sleep well, eat regularly and get help from a qualified practitioner if needed.
Good quality sleep. Getting 7-9 hours is simply mandatory for fat loss – especially if you are struggling. It’s your body’s time to reset hormonally and it keeps those adrenals healthy so your blood sugar and cravings aren’t all over the map the next day. Napping will help fill in the gaps when you can’t get enough sleep. Even a 10-20minute catnap will help – get it while you can! Good sleep means neurochemistry, as well as stress hormones, are in balance. This means less cravings, even keel hunger and less fat storage. You should fall asleep easily, stay asleep and wake rested.
Good digestion. When you eat a meal, you shouldn’t necessarily feel anything physical except that you are no longer hungry. If you are noticeably energized – your blood sugar had dipped too low prior to eating (tighten up your meal timing, add more fiber and possibly more protein). If you feel sleepy or lethargic after eating, your insulin probably went too high – again add more fiber and more protein, and really watch your starchy carbs (keep to the 4-6 bite rule).
Feeling sluggish after a meal can also indicate a food allergy or sensitivity – feeling amped up or agitated after a meal could mean the same thing. Food allergies, low digestive output and stress can also cause bloating, a sense of fullness (like the meal just sits there) or other digestive upset after eating. Food allergies can be difficult to discern on your own as a reaction may be as subtle as an increase in heart rate of a mere 10 points – so you may need help from a qualified practitioner to properly identify these. But if you feel bloated either immediately after or even a couple hours later, have difficult to resolve skin issues such as acne or eczema, have a thyroid condition or any other chronic illness, it’s wise to consider food allergens and digestive health.
And finally: enjoying healthy food several times per day. Eating a clean, healthy diet should feel great! Don’t dread eating more veggies – revel in the fact that you are taking such good care of yourself. Each time you choose nutritious, whole foods over garbage food you did something wonderful – enjoy it!
So how many of these do you have? Feel great about the ones you do and whether you are stuck in your fat loss pursuit or still cruising along, aim to have everything on this list…you’ll be healthier and fitter for it. If you aren’t experiencing all of the above, then handle those things first (before you assume your current nutrition and exercise plan are to blame) – you’ll be surprised how much easier fat loss is when all of these are dialed in. Particularly if you’ve hit a plateau after a period of successful fat loss or losing weight is just plain harder for you.
Keep your eye on the prize if you are working towards a goal, but don’t forget the mini-victories along the way – like a pull up or even just being happy. Many of these seemingly little things pack a big punch when it comes to your overall health and well being…and it makes the journey a whole lot more positive!
BETTER Body Thoughts
Replace unhelpful – often harmful- thoughts with more empowering and productive ones:
I won’t be happy until I reach my goal weight/body fat percentage/dress size.
BETTTER: Being happy on the journey to my perfect body will be inspiring and fun.
I am too busy and stressed to sleep more – I barely get my workouts in!
BETTER: Good sleep resets my hormones and helps me burn more fat.
Everyone has low energy in the afternoon and needs coffee to keep going, its normal.
BETTER: Normal or average is not optimal – I want to be in optimal health and fitness and feel great!