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Flipping the Metabolic Switch

light switch

For most people that blog about the way people eat I easily have the best folks to work with.  People who do Crossfit and eat correctly basically make what I talk about extremely easy.  I have worked with body builders, power lifters and models in the past.  Most of those populations are trying to put a round peg in a square hole.  Imagine working with a PowerLifter that needs to lift in a weight class trying to pull triple their body weight with less food.  Body builders and models are legendary for eating disorder type behavior but those populations are getting a lot smarter as more scientific information gets out there.  For us Crossfitters, our focus is simply, to get better at Crossfit and we know from the many folks around us each that are all “ab’ed” up that it really does work.  But it’s not working for everyone, for every #SOGO warrior out there, there is also someone in the back of the gym kind of pissed off that they are killing themselves every workout with marginal gains in the mirror.

Why Ketogenic Diets work and when they become a metabolic disaster?

I talked yesterday about the fact that John Kiefer has two books, Carb Back Loading (check out my article on CBL adjusted for Crossfit and Paleo populations) the one I recommend, and Carb Nite Solution–which I don’t recommend.  John is a pretty smart dude and CNS is so drop dead easy that the book is basically all about why the diet works.  Go figure, an author that actually explains the processes that make the diet work.  In my opinion it’s the best Ketogenic book on the market but Crossfitters don’t need another Ketogenic diet.  They need a performance way of eating and that is the gaping hole that Carb Back Loading fills.  Wait, what? That’s right, the way you are eating combined with your activity level nets out to about the point where the Ketogenic Diets become effective.  To flip the metabolic switch when you are an inactive individual the key is strategic carb days like I describe below.  For active individuals, the approach takes on a life of its own and many options become available.

In 2007, I lost nearly 40 pounds as a relatively sedate individual, this left me “skinny fat” but still probably a somewhat healthier version of myself.  I wasn’t moving but I was seeing results.  I fought through all of the headaches and the sleepless nights and got to the other side.  Towards the end, I looked like the walking dead and there is no way in hell I could have done Crossfit.  Basically, I did a Ketogenic Diet with a cheat day.  That cheat day often left me sick, I would obsessively make lists of all the foods I really wanted to eat and just pound them on that one cheat day.  Gradually I was able to manage things a bit better and looking back, all of the pieces of the puzzle were there I just hadn’t put them all together yet.  Instinctively I reduced the window of cheat days from about every 7th day to about every 4th day, otherwise the scale wouldn’t move.

You have to remember I was NOT doing Crossfit at the time.  Which is good, because I couldn’t have done it.  Because I didn’t understand why what I was doing worked and at that time, I didn’t know the details on how to not get sick in the process.  In the end, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I was a metabolic disaster.

I will never recommend a Ketogenic Diet, for anyone, even good ones like John’s because when the scale stalls, the only option people feel they have is to start eating less.  I have found they are unnecessary and can lead to harm in the wrong hands and I think it’s only natural that when the scale isn’t moving you push the panic button, eat less and that’s when things get real bad.

I was just too smart to be fat

If you want to know a synopsis of my life it’s pretty simple.  I don’t follow the crowd.  I walk into most situations with a skeptic’s eye.  There are varying degrees of success people have with “eat less do less” diets but they don’t end up more whole as a result.  I often describe this as the best version of themselves.  Not only active and healthy but those results can be shown on paper through bloods tests and or body fat analysis.

If you aren’t eating any starches and one piece of fruit I am going to say you are probably hurting yourself.  No amount of “rah rah” cheerleading bullshit is going to make that better.  Also no amount of “sugar addicted” proponents can truly explain to you why their approach isn’t working for you, after all, maybe you are just being a baby (does it not stand to reason that with few energy dense options craving sugar represents craving more energy, this isn’t rocket science folks).  “But it’s working for everyone else”.  Is it though? I mean really? Because I hear a lot of people talking about progress but it doesn’t really show.  Not in the mirror and not really in the gym.  “But I am faster and I am stronger”.  This does happen and I can explain it easily.  From a cardio perspective if you pull all of the water out of your body (that’s part of what Ketogenic diets do) you are going to weigh less.  Do you think that would be favorable as it relates to your cardio abilities? Seems obvious right?  But what about strength gains, people often PR while eating low carb and Crossfitting, so what I am saying might not jive with those folks.  Here is that answer and I am just going to lay it on the line.  You weren’t all that strong to begin with.  As someone that knows a fair amount of powerlifters I can tell you that they hone in on their areas of weakness and just hammer those spots.  Then after hammering it they find different ways to hammer it.  In some ways powerlifters are the perfect example of what I am talking about even though many of them are thought to be on the heavy side.  To lift real big you have to realize your muscles potential, powerlifters are a great example of this.  By keeping insulin high they gain muscle but many of them also get fat in the process and they become reluctant to lose weight because they think it might compromise their strength (they are probably right without proper guidance, however even with proper guidance there are no guarantees).

Your Diet Sucks

Your Diet Sucks was a book concept I came up with after many years of not knowing the little details of why all of the diets I was on didn’t work out in the end.  I am not going to lie to you, when you read Carb Back Loading it’s a bit shocking.  It doesn’t seem real and if you haven’t read the book you probably think it’s a book exclusively about making poor food choices work.  The exact opposite is actually true.  The concept I wanted to write about was going to describe some level of metabolic flexibility where I learned to move from one energy system (fats) to another energy system (carbs) and not only was it favorable it allows you to become the best version of yourself.  And then I started hearing about Carb Back Loading.  It has a few warts and if you come from a Paleo background it’s probably difficult to see all of the donuts and cherry turnovers.  I am not even an ardent low carber and it got to me a bit.  Kiefer has talked about this on multiple occasions and has said that while a super Paleo version of carb back loading might not be totally optimal it’s actually pretty close to the way he eats.  He and Robb Wolf are positively gushy talking to each other.

The only book that I could have wrote would not have been technically better than Carb Back Loading but it would have been aimed at regular folks that might not need every detail covered.  I have talked about this a bit, can you do carb back loading without reading the book, that answer quite simply is yes.  But there are some details that make GIGANTIC differences.  By the time I found Carb Back Loading I was doing things mostly right and I found tips in every chapter that made big differences for me and I have gained about 15 pounds of muscle in little over a year.  Those tips only helped.

If you are considering buying the book I would ask you to use the various links on this site.  I don’t recommend a lot of stuff so I need readers to know that it keeps me blogging when you purchase things directly from me.

Here is my blog on CBL for Paleo Crossfit type folks. There is a download link on that page and also one on the sidebar.

Five Things You May Not Know About Fat Loss

Fire

Metabolic Flexibility is the book you get when you become a Science Lab Member.  Here is a link on what other benefits you get as well as the costs. 

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

This post will be quick and dirty.  These aren’t commonly acknowledged tips (although they really should be).  As it relates to mobilizing fat, athletic populations have some unique needs and abilities that need to be discussed.  The standard path to fat loss (eat less and exercise more) may be applicable to completely sedentary individuals, but as far as high-performing athletes are concerned, it grievously leads them astray.

1.  Not only do you not need a deficit to mobilize fat, but if you’re very active, it can oftentimes work against your favor.  Most sport training is a distinctive combination of cardiovascular conditioning and resistance training; as such, it places an incredible strain on both your central nervous and musculoskeletal systems. While acute bouts of stress are necessary to trigger positive adaptations, chronic metabolic stress kills progress as it relates to body composition.  As an athlete, you are infinitely better off keeping your calories high so you have the materials and energy necessary to recover from your training, especially when you first start off.   Don’t fall into the trap of eating chicken and broccoli every day because conventional wisdom says it’s “healthy”.  This brings me to my next point; energy density.

2.  Whether you follow “Paleo” or “The Zone”, you are probably doing it wrong.  The diets themselves aren’t necessarily to blame; a lot of my frustration stems from individual application under improper context.  Despite the “marriage” between the two, Paleo was not intended specifically for athletes.  It does not provide us with many energy-dense food options. For a sedentary person, this is an advantage; however, for athletes, it can become a big problem. Because of the emphasis on eating high quality animal proteins and fats, it’s incredibly common to feel satiated on Paleo while operating on a caloric deficit.  This can lead to a highly efficient metabolism that will gradually stall fat loss, muscle gain, as well as performance. I’m not crazy about The Zone diet either, but I’m not a real hater; it’s my experience that for the effort, it’s not worth it to adhere to strict 40:30:30 ratios of carbs, protein and fat.  You should ask yourself, “Can I do this for life?”  For most people, I don’t think The Zone fits that criterion.  Paleo has similar shortcomings that can be made up for by exercising a little common sense and integrating “friendly” starches around training.  Human metabolism is flexible and athletes can benefit from both high fat and high carb days.

3.  People often come to me and say, “I have twenty pounds to lose.  Can you help me?”  The answer to that particular quandary is typically “No.” because they likely don’t have nearly as much to lose as they think they do.  You can bet that they’ve been riding the “eat less, do less” train for a while and more often than not, they’re using a low carb approach to do it.  When I suggest to them that going very low carb could potentially be part of their problem, they are baffled.  Here’s why:

  • For each gram of carbohydrate you eat, your body is required to hold roughly 4 grams of water.  This is part of the reason why a lot of people are chronically inflamed and heavy.
  • If you lose 20 lbs. on a low carb diet, a good portion of that weight loss will come from systemic dehydration; your fat, muscle, bone, skin, and other organs will expel water.
  • This dehydration means that your body will also deplete glycogen storage, leaving your muscles starved for energy during your training.  This makes it increasingly difficult to perform at a high level and maintain a healthy metabolism while you lose weight.  In the end you will be weaker, skinny-fat, and as confused as ever.

By following a more balanced approach, one that doesn’t put you into a state of chronic cellular dehydration, you get a much better idea of how much fat you’re actually losing.  Eat more food, stop restricting carbs too severely, lift more heavy things; you may establish that you only needed to lose 5 pounds, and that by focusing on your performance, it just kind of came off naturally.  If you Eat To Perform, you can lose fat, build some muscle on the way, and achieve the lean, athletic physique you’re after.

4. No matter how much or how hard you diet, you won’t see a terrible amount of muscular definition anywhere on your body unless you’ve already spent some time building mass. If you diet down without a solid foundation of strength and dense muscle tissue, you’ll end up skinny-fat, weak and unhealthy.  You might have “abs” but they won’t be very impressive; without a doubt, you’ll have better pancreas definition than anything else.  As an athlete, you should almost always be in muscle-building mode.  Training for your sport will keep you lean, and if you aren’t there yet it might just be because you can’t stay out of your own way.  It could be (as I talked about in the previous section) that your plan isn’t working out; you’re diligently banging away but the nail won’t budge.  Listening to your body and using the signals it’s sending you to balance training and nutrition become increasingly important as you perform at a higher level.

5. Homeostasis is physiological stability.  What this means is that the systems of your body automatically regulate their functions to achieve a suitable, sustainable balance.  When your endocrine system is working, and if you provide it with the right stimuli, your homeostatic balance will shift positively towards a more muscular, lean version of you (the organism).  However, prolonged periods of improper signaling (underfeeding, overfeeding, under-sleeping, poor nutrition, overtraining) can result in a negative homeostatic shift; in extreme cases, this can manifest itself in the form of obesity, diabetes, hyper/hypothyroidism, loss of immune function, cardiovascular disease or worse.  Less insidious adaptations like stalls in weight loss and poor performance are the tip of the iceberg, so you need to pay attention to how you look, feel and perform to determine whether or not you’re giving your body the right stimulus to get where you want to go.  It could mean the difference between success and failure.

Fat loss is best achieved through a gradual, sustainable approach that allows you to maintain training intensity and continually improve at your sport.  Short-term weight loss on low carb diets is misleading and there’s really no such thing as a one-size-fits all fat loss approach; you have to figure things out for yourself and balance theory with practice.  Always take into consideration that what’s in trend isn’t necessarily what works for everyone.  A gradual approach to body re-composition is usually the best place to start, and minor adjustments that suit your lifestyle can oftentimes result in some major changes, without all the heartache.

Summary

  • You don’t need to eat at a deficit to mobilize fat; your training will keep you lean.  Stress is good, but the stress of dieting compounded with the stress of training intensely day in/day out will probably be too much and will likely have a negative impact on your body composition.  You’ve got to eat to perform and let your body do what it needs to do!
  • Most diets work, but the wrong diet for the wrong person can be a disaster.  A diet should ideally become a lifestyle that you can adhere to long-term.  There is no magic macronutrient ratio ala The Zone Diet.
  • Energy-dense foods are the way to go if you’re an athlete.  Sedentary people may benefit from the standard “eat fewer carbs” Paleo diet but active people will tend to underfeed if they avoid starches and fatty meat.
  • “Eat less/do less” low carb/low calorie diets can help you lose weight quickly, but most of it’s water.  It can be hard to tell how much fat mass you’re losing vs. how much water you’re expelling on a low carb diet, and it definitely has an impact on performance due to chronic glycogen depletion.
  • You need a significant amount of muscle mass before you worry about having abs!  You can starve yourself for months and strip off every ounce of fat on your body but you won’t look the way you want to without a solid foundation.  Focus on training and eating to fuel performance/muscle gains; you’ll look and feel much better.
  • Homeostasis is physiological stability.  Your body is great at adapting and finding its center when you feed it properly and get enough sleep.  When these factors get out of whack, body composition will degrade and you can start to underperform during your training/events.  In extreme cases, you become obese and develop metabolic disorders/cardiovascular health problems.  It’s important to look at your nutrition, training, and lifestyle as a whole when determining how you proceed with your plan.  Dynamically alter your strategy to fit in with your life, NOT the other way around.
  • A gradual, personalized approach will save you a lot of heartache and keep you free of injuries.  Don’t gamble on your health by trying to force things.

Four tips on why Diets have it backwards

Met Flex for Fat Loss is simple, eat the majority of carbohydrates around your workouts.  This would work for people trying to gain or trying to lose.  When you buy the book you get Webinars where you can talk to coaches that will help you as you try to make sense of all of this.  Along with that you get the support of over 1,000 people in the Private Forums that are all on a similar journey.

Weighing-Scales

Whatever diet you are on is based on some sort of caloric restriction, some will even attempt to guess at what your daily caloric burn would be but I do not think that I have ever heard of one system that suggests what I am about to suggest.  Firstly let’s assume you have attempted to address inflammation in your body, even if you are not restricting calories at all you can significantly address your weight by addressing the level of fluids your body is holding.  Truthfully this is a lifelong process and unless you are extremely lean you are simply starting late, it does not mean you should not start at all.  You can significantly affect your health right now, so why not start?

Which brings me to my big suggestion

Why would you want to know how little you can eat? Would it not stand to reason that if you compromise your energy intake you would also compromise your energy output? So let’s assume you have started to make some changes, you are eating healthy fats, more vegetables and some fruits.  What I am going to suggest is that you should eat as much of them as possible and this is the one instance where the scale will help you.  Here is what I want you to do.  To start this process weigh yourself in the morning and whatever that weight is we are going to try and pack in as many healthy nutrients into your body daily with the end goal being to simply weigh that same amount.  This differs for men and women, for men I suggest a week, for women I suggest a month.  The reason for the difference is simple, women retain water differently than men unrelated to food intake.  Also if you view this as a way to gorge on pizza and ice cream you are missing the point of the exercise.  By the way, speaking of exercise do as much of it as you feel, there is no restriction at all, in fact, intaking more energy (food) should fuel your want to be more active.  Also, if you lose five pounds you did it wrong.  If you gain five pounds you really did it wrong.

Yes this does mean you will have to track your foods for this time using a site like Fitday.com, Myfitnesspal.com or Fatsecret.com.  All work in a similar manner and have mobile options.  Also people think they eat more of a variety than they tend to eat, what you will find is that you eat the same foods over and over so the logging should not be that big of a hassle.  Besides, other than re-establishing your maintenance calories for a higher activity level you will not have to count calories going forward.

Simply check in with the scale occasionally to see if you are on track.  The mirror also can be helpful in this respect.  Most of us know the days where we get off track a bit and consume more than a few of the items we should avoid.  Let me give you a few examples I have learned doing this (my most recent one was 2895 a day, I was really mad at myself that I did not maintain 3,000 calories a day, oh well, there is always next time).

I suppose I should mention why this is important because it is not to just eat unrestricted, the exercise is to point out that the calories you can take in daily are often a lot higher than you think, especially when you rely less on energy dense foods for nutrition (think snack foods).  Also once you determine what your “maintenance calories” are in an unrestricted state it gives you a much clearer path to weight loss because you realize that losing pounds is as simple as just not eating sunflower seeds for a month (300 calories a day multiplied 30 is almost 3 pounds).

backward

Here are some tips to think about

1.  Every carbohydrate that you take in requires your body to store fluid, it is one of the reasons ice cream makes you so damn thirsty.  What this does not mean is to avoid carbs altogether but if you have an excessively high carb day and the scale moves a couple of pounds simply be more conscious of carbs the following day and prioritize fats (in balance) and proteins.  Obviously any day higher in sugars can move the scale causing anyone to panic, that is unnecessary, a reasonable amount of carbs the following day will allow your body to release that fluid.  Remember that the majority of your carbs are coming from vegetables and fruit.

2.  Let’s assume you do not eat wild caught salmon every single day, if this is the case you need to be conscious of your fats as well.  So all meat proteins high in Omega 3′s are gold as well as grass fed beef, if these are not options go lean.  Also be careful on nut butters, they tend to be high in Omega 6′s and also very energy dense.  You should always try to get your Omega 3′s from real food but most people can not, this is why I strongly recommend daily Omega 3′s from fish oil.

3.  Take in the majority of your carbs in the evening.  I realize this is contrary to everything everyone has been told for a long time but this trick works for a bunch of reasons.  When you save your carbs for the end of the day you naturally eat more fats starting the day, this provides your body with a more stable energy source.  Carbs also make you sleepy so you tend to be less fatigued.  Did I mention that carbs make you sleepy? Oh yeah, because when you go to bed you will sleep great and you will be full.  This is important in many ways but when you sleep better it is favorable is it relates to fat mobilization so you retain less water.

4.  Rely less on energy dense foods like snacks for your nutrition mostly because they are easy to overeat.  My strategy is just to keep them out of the house altogether.  That way when it’s time to eat I make a meal rather than graze on foods higher in calories.  While yes I do eat them I at least have to be inconvenienced to go get them and often times I just eat the good food that is in my house.  If you are not relying on snack foods for energy you may be surprised at the amount of foods you will be able to consume.

 

Preparation, Performance and Precision

The three p’s.  I often argue for preparation over precision but knowing your actual maintenance calories without restricting your activity is very enlightening.  Performance is different for everyone, for some people it might just be enough to walk more, others might feel motivated to start lifting weights or jogging.  No matter what they all may have a role in your journey but I suspect if you are like me and you can focus on them in the order I am presenting you will enjoy your journey a lot more.  Counting every calorie for life is not something most people want to do so as an alternative making sure there are fresh cut vegetables in the house and time allotted for activity probably makes more sense for most people.  If you want to count calories do it the opposite way, now that you have calculated the values of the foods that you eat for a week or month simply find some of the foods that you can either reduce or be rid of for a short time, earlier I mentioned sunflower seeds, when I am looking to lose a few pounds the seeds have to go.

 

 

Sleep Tutorial

Sleep Like a Baby

 

The role of sleep in terms of recovery can not be over stated.  Mike Nelson covered this heavily in his recent update to Met Flex for Fat Loss (it was on Metabolic Damage).

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

Sleep is a common problem for so many people, but few learn to tackle it like they do nutrition; they barely give the time of day.   The importance of adequate nightly rest is vastly underrated, but it’s a vital component of keeping yourself healthy.  Sleep is the body’s time to perform routine maintenance and set up the endocrine system up for the next day.  It’s also a valuable fat burning window.  Unfortunately, people waste years of their lives lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering why they can’t catch some shut-eye.   From crying babies (or cats, let us not forget about cats) to stressing out over work the next day, sleep disturbances make a huge impact on the quality of your sleep.  On top of this, real sleep disorders like apnea (a condition where you stop breathing during sleep) exist that make every night a living hell.

No one should have the spend the night tossing and turning only to sneak in 15 minute naps during their lunch break when they should be eating.  You quickly reach a point where naps and caffeine don’t make a dent in your energy levels.  You become more and more stressed and fat starts hanging around your midsection.  You begin to look like a raccoon preparing for hibernation and walking to the other end of the office is a chore.  If mid-day fatigue, morning restlessness and a carton of 5 hour energy is your idea of making it through life, then you’re probably not going to look or feel very good.  Something must be done!

Cortisol and Sleep

A lack of sleep directly affects hormone function.  You begin to produce more of the hormone cortisol, at all the wrong times.  Cortisol is a key player in activating the sympathetic nervous system and stress responses.  When we’re scared or we feel threatened, cortisol jacks up our nervous output and helps us respond to the situation.  However, due to the way we live in modern society, this entire process is screwed up; we’re chronically stressed out.  We shouldn’t have to panic over our jobs, but we do.  We shouldn’t spend hours each night surrounding by lights, listening to cars racing in the distance, but we do.  As our stress response becomes overwhelmed, it becomes more and more difficult to function. Our appetite becomes ravenous and we need stimulants to get going in the morning because we are so worn out.  The system becomes overloaded and it crashes.

As you can see, at certain times of the day, you need elevated cortisol levels to get your blood flowing and stabilize plasma glucose levels.  One of the most easily predicted releases of cortisol occurs right as you wake up.  Low cortisol in the morning is usually tied to high morning blood sugar and low blood pressure.  Likewise, at night, when you should be enveloped in darkness, cortisol should be low.  Elevated cortisol at bed time interferes with growth hormone release, which will directly impact your ability to lose weight or gain muscle.

Top priority in resetting your sleep cycle is learning to react to natural external stimuli.  When you get up in the morning, immediately getting some sunlight is crucial to alerting your brain that its day time.  The same goes for bedtime; as the sun sets, you need to start turning lights down and turning electronics off.  If you don’t set up an environment that mimics our natural sleep and wake cycles, then it will be that much more difficult to establish a healthy sleep pattern.

Establish a Routine

A routine is key to getting good sleep.  That doesn’t mean living every day of the rest of your life in darkness from 6pm onward, but until you get a handle on your sleep, you need to follow a routine. It may seem boring going to bed early, but you’ll thank yourself later.  In the morning, open the windows and let the sun in.  It’s also a good idea to have a large, protein-dense breakfast.  When adjusting to a new sleep schedule, eating a lot of protein and exposing yourself to bright light will naturally balance cortisol levels.  This will also go a long way to stem cravings and hunger problems.

The Pre-Game Snack

Now for the evening; a huge protein meal won’t be beneficial in relation to sleep like it is in the morning.  In the evening, you’ll be winding down, so a different strategy is required. Fat can assist in regulating blood sugar levels throughout the night, and a slow digesting carbohydrate source will allow serotonin to level up with dopamine in the brain. A sweet potato with coconut butter is a surefire win here.  Trust me on this; when your hormones are up and running, your dreams will inform you that something is right.

This is an update from what I previously wrote.  In May of 2013 I started using Progenex’s Cocoon, it’s a slow acting protein with a key ingredient as a sleep aid L-tryptophan.  If you can afford it I would HIGHLY recommend this product.  I have used melatonin in the past but L-tryptophan gives me more “restorative” sleep and I wake up refreshed. When you order it through our site you get 10% off.

 

Don’t Go To Bed Hungry!

Hunger stresses you out, you produce more cortisol, and you wake up.  See where I am going with this?  The chain reaction of hormones that wake you up in the morning will also keep you awake at night.  You’re making your life a lot harder if you’re avoiding food (and particularly carbs) at night so you can lose weight.  You brain will be unable to shut down for sleep if you’re hungry.  A hungry brain is a never ending brain of revolving thoughts.

One Hour Before Bed

Start your nightly routine; wash your face, brush your teeth and dim the lights.  No distractions, no electronic devices.  This is the perfect time to look out the window at the stars, stretch, meditate, or read a book by candle light.  Make falling asleep at least as big of a priority as your favorite television show and give it one hour nightly.

30 Minutes Before Bed

Decaffeinated tea can help you wind down, as well as spending some quality time with your family or roommates.  It’s likely that if your children were asked whether they’d like to spend the last 30 minutes of the day with mom and dad, or watch an all new episode of a hit Disney show, they’d want the television. Tough cookies though, they also need to eat their vegetables regardless of the fuss. This works the same way.  My wife will often read poems from Shel Silverstein.  Sometimes, we have the kids read to us.  It is optional activity though; you have to want to be there and they do too.

Bedtime Means Lights Out!

I mean complete darkness.  That little light blinking in the corner or your DVD player?  Get rid of it.  Get new curtains if the street lights are shining in.  Darkness tells your brain to produce natural melatonin.  When first starting the routine, you may feel uncomfortable and squirmy in bed. It takes the body and mind a little bit of time to synchronize. Don’t expect everything to resolve itself over night.  Instead of being anxious about getting to sleep, think of this as “me time”.  This is where you can clear your thoughts, close your eyes and just enjoy the cozy comforts of your bed.

You should be setting aside 10 hours for this; one hour to get to bed, and nine hours for sleep.  You may not think you can sleep for nine hours, but give it time and you will.  Even if you only sleep 6 or 7 straight hours, that is six or seven restful hours.  The worst thing that can happen is that you simply wake up early and get some extra work done.

If You Still Can’t Sleep

If none of this stuff works, it might be time to see a doctor and ask for a 24 hour cortisol saliva reading.  A greater degree of hormonal derangement may require assistance from a sleep specialist.  You can put a band aid on the sore, but since sleep is such a big deal, you’re better off covering all your bases and getting sleep help from someone who helps people for a living.

My Trial

I gave up coffee for 30 days when I started this; I just needed to know if coffee was the problem.   I slept better and it seemed, at the time, that coffee was indeed to blame.  It was uncomfortable for a while, but I adjusted after a week or so and I was getting nine hours of sleep regularly.  I eventually re-introduced coffee and found that I was okay now.  In the long run, everyone is different.  I definitely believe that reducing my caffeine intake played a role in reducing my cortisol levels overall, and that was a good thing.

Mental Games We Play With Ourselves

The messages we send ourselves when alone need to change.  If you get five hours sleep one night, do not sweat it. You may want to lay off the five espressos to get you through the day though, because the routine will start again that night when you’re still wired from caffeine. That is sending your brain mixed signals.  I know people think they can drink coffee up until noon and “half-life caffeine.”  You will never truly know, until you are less reliant upon stimulants, if they really are affecting you.  I am drinking espresso right now because I have established my routine but when you are first starting off, you might want to try and lose the stimulants.  Lastly if you take a stimulant BECAUSE you are tired, ask yourself if you really want that added stress on top of an already stressful situation.

Summary

  • Sleep is one of the most underlooked aspects of achieving health and recovering from stress.  The importance of a good night’s sleep in regulating hormone function cannot be disregarded.  It’s also a great time to burn fat! 
  • Dysfunctional sleep can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels and low levels of growth hormone, resulting in poor body composition and overall health.
  • Exposure to light and dark can help you establish a more natural sleep cycle.  Get some sun during the day and try to spend less time on the computer at night.
  • Eat protein and good fats during the day to keep insulin levels low, your blood sugar stable, and growth hormone up.
  • Eat carbohydrates at night to maximize fat burning and anabolic signaling during sleep.  Don’t go to bed hungry!
  • Once you’ve developed a routine, stick to it and eventually it will become second nature.
  • Cut back on stimulants (like caffeine and energy drinks) when you’re trying to regulate your sleep cycles.  Excessive use can really aggravate the problem.  In general, try to avoid coffee after the morning is over and make sure you drink plenty of water.

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