How to heal a damaged metabolism…

For years, I had fallen into a trap of over-exercising and under eating.  Typical patterns for me included:

  1. Being really “good” all day (meaning I ate a low number of calories) and then coming home and feeling the need to eat everything in sight.
  2. Running/training for marathons + strength training/yoga for 90 minutes or more a day and eating far less than I needed to support that level of training
  3. Eating, but picking low-calorie fare that was voluminous, but not highly caloric.  (Think LOTS of salads, egg whites, low calorie dressings, low-fat, etc.)
  4. Cycling through periods of being “leaner” due to tremendous amounts of running and then more heavy when I couldn’t sustain that level of running or my low calorie eating.

I honestly felt trapped.  I KNEW I needed to eat more, but didn’t understand how I could.  Whenever I would try on my own to up my calorie intake, I would gain weight.  And, what’s worse it seemed that I gained weight in the same place- my midsection.  I felt trapped in this crazy cycle.  I felt like the only way I could be at my “ideal” weight was to exercise a ton and eat very little.

I later learned that my weight gain during my injury was due to an inflexible and damaged metabolism.  When I ate so little and exercised so much, my body went into starvation mode.  In essence, I was telling my body that food was scarce, so it stored any extra energy that came in (either from decreased exercise or increased calories).  It slowed my metabolism down to a drip and shut down any non-important functions (mainly my reproductive system).  And, when I did gain weight, my body would store it as fat as a way to protect me from future “starvation periods.”  In short, I had trained my body to be a fat-storer, not a fat burner.  Not exactly what I was hoping for!

 

Me at my leanest (running a ton and undereating), me feeling the worst about my body due to weight gain from an injury- still working out and eating less than 1200 calories, me at 1500 calories, exercising less, and weight stable.  Note: my weight is the same in the middle picture and the picture on the far right, but you can see the difference in fat loss. 

 

Over the past year, I’ve been working with a doctor to heal my metabolism through a process called reverse dieting. In short, I’ve been pulling my metabolism back up to a high rate so that I can eat and fuel appropriately.

I am NOT  a medical professional and am NOT offering medical advice….these are just some things that have helped me repair my metabolism.

  1. I learned I needed to eat more.  I worked with my doctor to slowly increase my caloric intake (between 50-100 calories/week), but was strategic in the way we did it.  We started with protein, then fats, then carbs.  The goal of this was not to lose weight, but maintain it during this time.  I was teaching my body that a “new amount” of calories was coming in and my metabolism responded by speeding up.
  2. I learned that it takes time!  I couldn’t just jump from eating 1000 calories to 1500.  It’s like  and dumping logs on embers and hoping for a roaring fire.  Instead, I had to SLOWLY build it back up by adding 100 calories a week.
  3. I had to eat often.  By eating every 2-3 hours, I gave my body the signal that everything was a-okay.  Energy was coming in frequently, so my body could start to let go of some of the stored “starvation fat” and start repairing some of the systems it had shut down.  (My cycle is now regular and my hair and nails feel so much stronger).
  4. Lifting weights was KEY.  One of the biggest indicators of a high metabolism is lean muscle mass.  I focused a lot of my working out on picking up heavy stuff and putting it down.  I cannot emphasize enough the power of lifting weights and focusing on lean muscle.  My trainer once told me that for every pound of lean muscle you gain, you burn an additional 50 calories/day.  Muscle needs far more energy and support than fat does, so LIFT!

I am still in my process of reverse dieting, but here is what has happened so far by implementing the tips above:

  1. My weight is STABLE, but I’ve LOST 3 lbs of fat and gained 3 pounds of muscle.
  2. I’m down a pant size (another reason why the scale doesn’t show the whole picture)/
  3. I have my period again!!!
  4. My hair isn’t falling out and my nails are stronger.
  5. I feel so much more energized on my workouts.

This process has been hard and SCARY for me, but I am so, SO glad I’ve done it.  I know this sounds silly to some, but I NEVER thought I would be able to eat 1700 calories (the amount I am eating now).  Ever.  The fact that I can fuel my body and not gain weight feels more freeing than I can ever describe.

As always, I am an open book.  If you would like to know more about the nutrition plan I’m following around timed nutrition, please reach out to me.  I am happy to share my plan with you and talk about how timed nutrition has changed my body and my perspective.  I know so many women feel “trapped” in a cycle of dieting/undereating/weight gain and it is my mission to stop the madness so that we can eat intuitively and give our bodies what they need.

And, if you are struggling like I did, I wish you support (you deserve to get help and have a plan), healing, and self-love.



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