Over doing it? Training, hormones & body image

Usually, my blogs are either inspired by my own personal experiences or by the many amazing people I am fortunate enough to meet. Recently, I’ve totally shifted my attitude to my training and yoga practice and begun to reflect more on this since meeting Dr Maria Ridao Alonso from Dubai Herbal Treatment Centre.

A ‘conventional’ doctor, she also trained as a doctor of Chinese medicine so has an amazing integrated approach to medicine and health. We began talking about why with all the activity I do and eating well, the most frustrating thing was how frequently I am hit by viruses. This brought us onto the topic of ‘over doing it’.

Over doing it doesn’t always show itself in obvious ways. When I was training for my White Collar fight, it was clear I was over doing it but I had no choice. I hardly slept through the three months leading to the fight as there was so much adrenaline rushing around my body – training three hours a day, three days a week plus sparring, plus yoga, a full time job, plus my cycle was non existent while my body fat dropped to an unhealthy 12%.

But when it’s just a habit, something you do because you love it, you’re less likely to notice it. You get results; performance, aesthetics, whatever you look for, you love it, you keep going. Until recent months, it was normal for me to do something, twice a day, several days a week. I did it not because of any other reason than it’s just a way of life. I enjoy movement and I love variety. But of course, everything, good or bad, needs to be done with some moderation, not least, for women. Of course this isn’t relevant to everyone, we are of course all unique and built with different genes, engines, tolerance levels, anatomies. It’s just a case of knowing your own body well enough that you can be your own best doctor.

So how do you know if you’re over doing it?

* Insomnia (you find it hard to fall or to stay asleep)
* Inability to lose weight (or the opposite…)
* Mood swings
* Irregular or no periods
* Food cravings
* Muscle cramps/fatigue
* Frequent bouts of illness (colds, flu etc)
* Susceptibility to injury

Women must focus on training for health, not aesthetics

Dr Maria says: “Some of the women I’ve seen were close to an eating disorder, their body weight had dropped so low. They were conscious of body weight and shape and that’s what they were training for rather than training for the purpose of being fit and achieving something. None of those women were professional athletes.

“It’s hard to tell people to change these things. They’re in their best shape and they think what they’re doing is healthy. With the women coming to me with fertility issues or those who realise they are suffering with anxiety, it’s easier to tell them because there is a goal, but for a young woman to be told that what she’s doing is creating the opposite of healthy, is difficult.”

Fat is a bad word…

“There’s still a conception overall that fat is bad. To change their eating habits, they think everything will go down the drain and undo the work they have done so it’s difficult to tell someone they have too little fatty tissue.”

How do you know you’re back on track?

“If you get the periods regulated again, that’s the indicator that you’ve reached a balance of what’s good for you.”

And what about the men?

“For men it’s more about the fatigue and chronic infections. They don’t have a proper recovery and will be much more prone to multiple injuries. To make guys understand is easier. It’s easier to tell men to take things a bit slower. There’s not such a self image of being very very slim and having no fat.”

Everything in the extreme…

“Nowadays it’s the extreme of everything … extreme exercise, ultra marathons, triathlons … Suddenly fat is bad so it’s about no fat. Carbs are seen as bad so it’s no carbs not just low carb, it’s ‘no cholesterol’ when we actually need cholesterol to build up hormones. You need something in between so as not to go to these extremes, from one extreme to the other. It’s as bad as an extremely sedentary life.”

Long term impacts

“In extreme cases, long term injuries can be a problem, osteoporosis can occur in women who don’t get treated after years of hormone issues and no periods. Your demand for [good quality] supplements goes up as does your stress, even if you’re doing it to counter the stress at work, so this too can be counter productive when talking about ‘health’. A lot of people forget about the need for supplements so they’re becoming deficient in certain vital things. Your body gets a lot of free radicals from the high intensity training so you can get problems to the immune system, muscles, osteoporosis etc.”

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