So I don’t like to make a weight loss a huge part of the conversation in Move Happy classes. I'm passionate about moving to feel good, to connect, and get that ever-important endorphin fix. And of course to promote a healthy body and mind.
But many of us do exercise with weight-loss as a goal - perhaps our only goal. And not necessarily as the natural follow on to doing what our body is innately and originally designed to do (which is to move, often with significant periods of rest in between).
We might also think we need to put ourselves through gruelling, relentless and potentially unenjoyable exercise regimes in order to reach a healthy weight.
But here’s the thing – sometimes, and for some people, slowing down and actually doing less, can promote weight loss. And it all happens through our incredibly clever, always busy, subconscious. We just have to take a break here and there and give it the chance to do its thing…
So take it back a few steps, and think for a moment about everything you do every day, and the never-ending to-do lists we make for ourselves. Most of the tasks we set ourselves fall into one or more of the following buckets, as we spend so much of our time trying to simultaneously be several if not all of the following:
- Standout employee / business owner
- Nourishing and fun mother
- Loving partner
- Supportive friend / neighbour
- Thoughtful daughter/ sister
- Manager of house and garden, keeping all of the people inside fed, watered and dressed to an acceptable standard
- Someone who looks as if they find it a breeze doing all of the above, while at the same time appearing reasonably fit, healthy, with it all looking entirely under control
So the above list may well not be exhaustive - add more of your own buckets where appropriate – but no wonder for many of us the struggle and sense of overwhelm is REAL!
Before going on, I do want to make clear I am not undermining the importance of any of these things – they rightly make up our worlds. But just consider just how EXHAUSTING this can be every day for the mind and the body, particularly amid a pandemic when many of us had to add home schoolteacher to the list and do all of it against a backdrop of huge anxiety and uncertainty.
We are too often asking ourselves to be superhuman, almost robot like, every single day no matter how our body feels or how other external factors impact on the wider circumstances around us.
It is stressful and sometimes even charged with a negativity towards ourselves that, no matter how busy we are, we are either not accomplishing enough or even if we complete the tasks set, we haven’t done everything to the best possible standard.
But before we add to the load by spiralling down with guilt for being so hard on ourselves – (also not the intention here!) we should recognise this comes from a natural place of wanting to please and support those around us, and also feel a sense of individual value every day.
But it is the emphasis on the doing rather than the being (I can totally hold my hand up here) that can mean we don’t actually enjoy completing any those tasks we set ourselves, and at the same time we are sending our nervous system into overdrive. This can have a profound impact on our long-term health and ability to burn fat.
So what is happening on the inside?
While you go about your business, consciously engaging your brain to do things like work, order the food, book the dentist, remember birthday cards, renew the insurance, get kids new shoes AGAIN, book the yoga class - the other side of your nervous system, your autonomic nervous system (ANS), is also busy, busy, busy. But it’s all in the subconscious.
This autonomic nervous system (ANS) system is made up of two parts – the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which drives the fight or flight response. And the Parasympathetic (PNS) which promotes rest and digest, or the rest and repair response.
Ideally these two aspects of the nervous system work together in balance, to keep us safe from harm, healthy and rested. We need them both to function optimally, if not equally.
But here’s the kicker. For too many of us, what we try to accomplish in our day to day lives means our SNS – that which is concerned with the adrenalin charged flight or flight response - is too dominant. It is in overdrive.
We rush around, worried about dropping one of the balls, operating as if we are under some kind of bodily or physical threat, on high alert. And we don’t allow the other side, PNS to do its job of balance. We continue to cram it all in, we say yes to everything, and we don’t take the down time. Ever.
And just reaching for the bottle of wine / gin / other preferred stimulant at the end of another crazy day to force ourselves switch off, though it may serve some purposes, fortunately or unfortunately it doesn’t count in the same way.
Nervous system and body fat
So how does this relate to the size of my waist/upper arms/booty? Rushing can actually cause many women to store unnecessary fat.
Our body requires fuel all day every day for everything we do, not just exercise. We even need fuel to sleep. And our body makes decisions on which fuel to use, based in the information at hand.
There are two options – glucose (sugar) which is fast burning, or fat, which offers a steady, slow release form of energy.
(Just to note we don’t use protein for fuel. Protein is broken down into amino acids and then converted into glucose)
As we know, adrenalin communicates to every cell of your body that your life is in danger. It prepares you for fight or flight – a safety mechanism incredibly useful to our hunter gatherer ancestors, if you can imagine them running from a predator. Over the years our perceived stressors have changed and are generally a little different (the to-do list? The need to keep up?) but we produce that adrenaline all the same. When we do our SNS is activated. If our subconscious mind believes we are stressed or under threat in some way, pumped full of adrenaline – regardless of what our conscious mind is telling us – our body will perceive we need a fast burning fuel.
We can unintentionally slip into survival mode, and then our body doesn’t feel safe enough to use fat as its fuel. We can only burn fat as fuel in a PNS dominant state (rest and repair response). And too often this is the function, or side of the nervous system that is not getting a look in.
If you’re training often, eating well, and working hard, and really struggling to see why it’s not making a difference to your weight, it may just be that your nervous system needs a little TLC. Doing one or more of the below could really help to find that necessary balance and support.
· In the morning, choose ahead of time the point at which you are going to down tools in the evening – no more work, tasks, or jobs. Stick to it, unplug the phone, and chill
· Get to bed early. It doesn’t have to be every night, but perhaps a couple of times a week to start with. And try and enjoy the time you spend doing it. New book, a candle, bath oil, whatever you like to make it something to look forward to
· Think about a time in the week ahead when you could choose not to rush – is there one less thing you could do – would anyone else even mind, or notice?
· If you love HIIT, perfect! It’s an incredible and efficient way to promote weight loss, but the benefit comes when we also allow proper rest and repair between sessions. If you’re a HIIT junkie think about also bringing in some restorative work as well like yoga or pilates (or even my new Full Body Conditioning class? 😉)
So there it is - my fairly cursory intro into why slowing down can help. If you want more do pick up a copy of Rushing Woman’s Syndrome by Dr Libby Weaver – such an eyeopener into what is really going on for a lot of women today beneath the surface, and full of tips on what can make a difference.