I’ve always prided myself on being a healthy eater, but what I realize now is that how good you eat doesn’t matter as much as you think.
As a kid I grew up with a father who had a heart condition, dinner was always balanced with a lean protein, vegetable and starch, and I had to clear my plate before I could have dessert – making sure I ate all the “good stuff” first.
In college, I did my best to carry on the good eating habits my parents had taught me, and although I wasn’t perfect I definitely ate healthier than the majority of my peers. Plus, I hit the gym and ran regularly to offset my indulgences.
But my weight was always up and down despite my healthy eating and exercise habits.
As I entered my late 20s, I was determined to get my weight under control and have the body of my dreams, so I started doing endurance races – first running, then adventure races, and finally mountain bike races. Plus, I continued to lift weights regularly.
I cut calories, I trained harder than ever, I ate small meals throughout the day and I drank gallons of water. My daily food intake usually included oatmeal and berries, yogurt and berries, a protein bar or shake, and chicken breast with a vegetable such as broccoli or zucchini for lunch and dinner.
Super healthy right?
And on race day I was always super lean – but that only lasted for a few days.
Sure I looked great on the starting line, but the second I relaxed on my diet and training routine after each race, I ballooned back up and weighed more than I did before training for the competition!
Along with the rebound weight gain, my fatigue, brain fog, and insomnia intensified. I could barely keep my eyes open or think clearly in the afternoon after having 3-4 cups of coffee and but as soon as evening hit, I was wide awake and couldn’t sleep.
At the time I didn’t connect the dots between my fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, and insomnia, so I just kept trucking along and decided it would be a good idea to amp up my race schedule to get my weight back under control.
I also worked with a nutritionist and ate as cleanly as I possibly could. My food included way more protein and vegetables, and way fewer fruits and grains.
My improvement on the bike was incredible. I had massive personal records and actually took 1st overall in a team race, earning a free spot in the national race and 3rd overall for females and 37th overall including men in what is considered the hardest mountain bike race in the United States, feeling good in my body but still struggling with fatigue, brain fog, and insomnia.
And just like before, my results didn’t stick. Most of the weight came back, and I continued to struggle with my energy and sleep.
I questioned myself, and all that I knew about diet and exercise. I was the healthiest person I knew but I didn’t feel or look like it.
I went searching for answers and that’s when I started to realize how good you eat doesn’t matter as much as you think.
When I found the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® (FDN) Certification Program (the certification that I hold) all of the pieces fell into place.
I had been an athlete most of my life and did a ton of research about fitness, nutrition and health. I even took classes. But not a single class or article I read addressed the actual functional components or importance of diet, rest, exercise, stress reduction and supplementation and how all of these pieces worked together like the FDN certification course did.
What I came to find is that…
Your diet is only as effective as the rest of your lifestyle.
You could be the healthiest eater in the world but if you’re burning the midnight oil, over- or under-exercising, and dealing with a ton of physical and emotional stress, your healthy eating efforts fall to the wayside.
The body is a complex network of systems that all work together. If you want your healthy eating habits to be effective for weight loss, increasing your energy or resolving other health issues, then you need all systems online and working right.
You have to learn to value sleep and stress reduction as much, if not more than, diet and exercise.
Focusing on diet alone may get you some results; maybe you’ll lose a few pounds, notice a small increase in your energy or some symptom relief but eventually progress comes to a halt unless your lifestyle also supports your healthy eating habits.
For example, one night of poor sleep or going to bed late can have significant impacts on your body’s ability to balance blood sugar and your hormones, both of which directly correlate with weight gain or weight loss resistance.
Over exercising or exercising too intensely when your body is already depleted and tired also directly impact hormone balance, which will dictate your weight.
And then there’s emotional stress.
When you’re stressed, your stress hormone cortisol goes up and surges in cortisol have been linked to weight gain right around your midsection (the “spare tire” effect).
I was guilty of all of these things. I stayed up late, worked long days at a stressful job, worked a second job as a college professor part-time, had a failing marriage, and constantly pushed my body beyond its limits when it came to exercise, and my functional lab tests showed it!
No wonder I was struggling.
My cortisol was out of control, my sex hormones were low, I had a congested liver, copper toxicity, and some pretty nasty bacteria growing in my gut.
It was no wonder why I felt fat, tired and broken down even though I was eating healthy!
Ok, so here’s how I finally got my weight and allergies under control, and my energy back once and for all…
I shifted my focus to be equal parts diet, rest, exercise and stress reduction by:
- Paying more attention to what foods made my body feel good
- Setting a goal to be asleep by 10pm at least 5 nights per week
- Incorporating 1-2 days of restorative exercise such as beach walks and yoga
- Creating a daily mindfulness practice using a variety of meditation and breath-work tools
And I also worked on restoring function to the different systems of my body using functional lab testing as my guide.
Now my healthy eating habits are as effective as they can be, and one or a few days off my normal eating routine doesn’t throw me completely off course.
I’ve seen a similar story over and over again with the clients who have come through my health coaching practice.
They’ve tried various diets such as Paleo, Whole30 and Keto but get little to no results because it’s the only thing they’ve been focusing on, and their lifestyle wasn’t supporting the expected results of their eating habits.
But once we run some functional lab tests to identify their healing opportunities and get them on a more personalized plan with a balanced focus, the weight starts falling off, their energy instantly goes up and any other health issues start to diminish or go away completely.
If you’re frustrated with the lack of results you’ve been seeing from your healthy eating habits, then let’s explore what’s holding you back.