There’s nothing that frustrates me more than putting 100% effort into training, watching everything I eat, and no I’m not talking about the ‘see food and eat it’ diet, and still not dropping that last layer of stubborn body fat.
Thanks to my family genetics, for me those annoying last few pounds sit right around my middle, the good old muffin top.
Relaxing at the beach one hot summer's day, my muffin top frustration hit an all time high. I looked around at the average bikini clad female frolicking carefree on the water's edge and noticed that even though most were carrying more body fat that I was, they didn’t have the same issues that tormented me.
No extra fat sitting over their hip bones making their waists look short and stumpy, no additional layer to grab on their love handles creating an unflattering lower back roll and no orange peel thighs that dimple in the harsh unforgiving summer sun.
As my training was strong and consistent and my diet healthy, I realised there was a vital piece to the fit body puzzle that I was yet to find.
With Dr Google in full force and highlighter at the ready, I re-read my text books from my personal training qualification and searched for every article I could find on how to lose those last few kilos. It was then that something finally jumped off the page, something I hadn't given much importance to up till this point…. Sleep…. Could it really be that simple?
Turns out yes… and no.
I was lifting heavy at the gym five to six days a week, and due to my impatience in wanting to see results, I didn’t make time for rest and recovery. I felt lazy if I didn’t get to the gym, even if I was tired or sick and would spend the rest of the day feeling guilty. But as it turned out, that lack of sleep was undoing all my hard work and keeping my muffin top in full bloom by messing with my hormones.
Getting more sleep sounds so simple right?
The reality was something different all together. I rearranged my life to make time for 8 hours sleep a night. I even changed jobs as I couldn't make it work where I was due to travel time. So there I was, in bed by 9:30 at the latest.
Some nights it was bliss and I was asleep the minute my head hit the pillow, this usually happened after a heavy weight day. Other nights however, I tossed and turned, getting frustrated that I couldn't fall asleep. Every little noise irritated me, my pillow was too lumpy, it was too hot or too cold, my brain was planning out my entire life or replaying every childhood memory instead of sleeping and recovering as I’d hoped.
The morning following a good night's sleep I’d wake up with ease, a spring in my step and what to face the challenges of the day. My body had repaired and rebuilt over night, my hormones are in check and I’m firing on all cylinders.
However, if it was a night where sleep evaded me or I’d struggled for hours to nod off, thanks to the wind banging something against the house, or the rain dripping through the downpipe, I wake up like a bear with a sore head. I feel physically ill, my head pounds, I have a sore throat, my body aches all over and my patients with everybody sits at an all time low as I struggle my way through the day.
That lack of sleep also throws important hormones that control my appetite completely out of whack. Being tired brings on the irresterable intense chocolate cravings. Actually, anything sweet will do, as my body craves the instant pick-me-up from sugar. This is where I realised my diet and willpower to eat healthy has a direct relationship to quality of sleep. In addition, it also dictated whether my body burned the food I consume that day or stored it as body fat, adding another layer to the every increasing muffin top.
There are two key players in the hormone battle my sleep deprived body has to battle to get through the day. Leptin, a hormone that tells me when I’m full and should stop stuffing food into my mouth and Ghrelin, the hormone which basically does the opposite of Leptin and tells me when my stomach is empty and I need to eat again.
When these two hormones go haywire you can imagine the chaos.
By not getting enough sleep, my leptin levels don’t have time to replenish overnight, effectively breaking my ‘stop eating' signal and if that wasn’t enough, my Ghrelin levels didn’t have adequate time to drop and instead continue to signal that my body needs more food, when really I just need more sleep.
With effectively broken internal hormone signals, the day ahead is a nightmare of battling an extremely short temper and resisting crazy food binges. I know I don’t need extra food, but my body is screaming for it and if I give in, no matter what I eat it won’t be enough to stay feeling satisfied, and so the cycle of feeding the muffin top repeats.
From here my body has one more line of defence in its arsenal, one more plan to plump up the muffin. Even if I make it through the day by the skin of my teeth without resorting to chocolate, cake or ice cream my body falls back to its primal setting of thinking I’m starving and prepares for what it thinks is a food shortage by slowing down my entire metabolism and storing everything I eat that day.
There are the days where willpower and sheer determination not to undo my work at the gym are all I have left. I scrape through the tasks of the day trying to get to bed early without eating every chocolate coated, high carb food that calls my name. On the days I’m weak and can’t find the willpower I need, I fall into the same trap as most, known as the ‘what the hell I've blown it now anyway’ diet, where that one bar of chocolate turns into a binge lying in front of the tv surrounded by empty ice cream tubs and colourful Smartie boxes (my two vices).
So next time you're still watching TV well past bedtime, or watching Youtube videos into the wee hours of the morning, remember that late night will affect everything you do tomorrow. One late night can lead to another and before you know it you’re on the path to unbalanced hormones and overeating. Everything and everyone will irritate you, small problems become big issues, your strength at the gym will decrease along with your muscle tone and in my case, worst of all the ever expanding edges of my muffin top creep out a little further over my waistband.
Eat well, train hard, hydrate often, SLEEP LOTS, love yourself and repeat for life.