Last week in Part 1 we started talking about the missing link in your health and wellness chain. What is stalling your progress? What is keeping you from reaching your goals even though you feel like you’re doing everything right? We looked into nutrition and fitness, the two major components that people tend to think about when making healthy changes. But what if you’re sure that your nutrition is on point and your fitness plan is top notch, but you’re still not making the progress you envisioned? Today we dive into those other factors that can be the missing link to your health and wellness success.
Sleep. Oh, precious sleep.
This might be the number one sneaky reason that you’re not making the progress you want. Sleep is one of the single most important things we can do for our bodies (stay with me parents of new babies, it will get better, and I know you can’t really help it right now).
Sleep is a huge, no, monumental factor in our hormone regulation, cellular repair, mental processing, immune response, and many many other processes that are essential to staying well. But to break it down into one thing that most people care about and can identify with, a lack of sleep will absolutely throw your hormones out of whack in a way that will make you feel significantly hungrier and energy deprived during your waking hours. Too little sleep too many nights in a row? Say hello to constant hunger, cravings upon cravings for carbs, and an almost inability to feel satisfied even directly after eating. It’s biology, and it stinks, but it’s true. Sleep is one of the most important factors in keeping your hormones, and thus your hunger and satiety signals, in check.
Do you identify with any of these feelings? Hungry all the time despite eating plenty of protein and enough calories? Constantly feeling sore or worn down? Take a look at your sleep schedule. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night, or at least more than the 5 or 6 you’re getting.
Sleeping enough but still feeling on edge all the time? Or feeling like you can’t get the sleep piece under control because of your racing mind? Let’s take a look at your stress level and the ways in which you manage that stress.
First off, I am in no way claiming that we can all live stress free, blissed out lives all the time. It’s just not possible with families and responsibilities and just, well, life. Stress is a part of our existence, but the key here is learning strategies to help you cope with is so that it’s not overwhelming in your every day.
Increased stress can impact your health and wellness in so many ways, not the least of which is with long term health complications. But in the shorter term, it can create an inability for your body to recover from exercise, can increase aches and pains, and can also (you guessed it), cause some hormonal imbalances and changes that make fitness and health progress virtually impossible.
So if you feel that stress may be the sneaky culprit stalling your progress, what can we do about it? It’s not easy, but there are some practices that you can incorporate into your life that can help. Mindfulness practices and deep breathing exercises, as “new-age” as it sounds, can work wonders on stress levels. Taking small moments most days for a bit of self care, getting outside for a walk daily, even a five minute meditation can be helpful ways to decrease stress levels to a manageable level.
The key here is to understand that high stress periods in your life should not be dealt with by adding additional, high intensity stress on top of it (ie, high intensity workouts most days of the week). This is a perfect recipe for burnout, injury, and illness. Instead, practice compassion and self care during these times in your life. Yoga, taking extra rest days, and including more recovery work into your workouts can be great ways to combat stress, while still allowing yourself the stress relieving benefits of fitness and movement.
What else is there?
As we start to put together all of the pieces, we’ve now touched on all of the “heavy hitters” that can wreak havoc on your health and fitness progress. Nutrition, fitness, sleep and stress are probably the top four aspects of your life that deserve a deeper look if things are stalled or just not moving along the way you hoped. But what else is there? What else can act as a major roadblock along your wellness journey?
- Life Changes – This can certainly fall under stress, but it’s worth mentioning that anytime you have a major life change (new job, new baby, new house, moving, etc), it’s perfectly normal to have that impact your health and wellness even if you think you have everything under control. The most important thing in these circumstances is to practice forgiveness when your schedule gets a little out of whack, do what you can in the present, and know that life will resume to “normal” in due time. The little ups and downs in life can certainly make progress harder, but this is why we are adaptive creatures — we can’t expect to be able to keep the same workout schedule all the time, or follow the same food prep schedule every single week, even when life has turned upside down. Adapt, focus on keeping consistency wherever possible, and you will get past this phase.
- Relationships– Whether beginning or ending, relationships can have a huge effect on health and fitness goals. This is somewhere that we can actually try to focus a little bit more. Take the time to enjoy your new relationship (or mourn your old one), but try to take some time each week to focus on you and make sure that your goals are staying in check. It’s so easy to let your own goals go when you’re trying to get to know someone new, but before you know it, your previous goals could be so far gone that it feels almost impossible to find yourself again!
- Support System – If you are putting your all into everything, but you don’t have support from those around you (spouse, partner, friends, colleagues, etc), it can be extremely difficult to stay on track towards your goals. Try to find ways to ask for support — plan one day a week where you cook a healthy dinner together as a family, or set up a weekly check in system with a friend who has similar fitness goals to you. The fact that you will have ups and downs in your health and fitness journey is inevitable, and without support, it can become too easy to succumb to the set backs.
Readers, what do you think could be your sneaky set backs in health and fitness? As you look back on Part 1 of this series and this post today, are there any of these that really stand out to you? Is there anything else you would add to this list that you find challenging?