The rush of fitting it all in and make everyone happy can sometimes lead women to make unsuitable choices both physically and mentally. Dr Libby Weaver's new book encourages positive change.
Take a deep breath and come on a journey of food and hormones, thoughts and perceptions, energy and vitality with me. Naturally there are variations in the details of what I am about to describe but I think you'll get the gist.
A typical pattern of food intake that I witness regularly is this: you get up in the morning, inhale some sort of processed breakfast cereal, and race out the door to work. Your blood sugar soars, and your pancreas subsequently releases a surge of insulin. Welcome to fat storage situation number one of your day. You take shallow breaths all morning due to the perceived pressures and deadlines in your day and your to-do list is never all ticked off.
After your peak in blood sugar from your cereal, by mid-morning, your blood sugar plummets, and concentration levels are waning. You are relieved when you look at your watch at 10.30am. You have not achieved an awful lot up until now in your day other than trying to get on top of emails that you actually never seem to get on top of, but at least 10.30am means morning tea time, an opportunity to get away from your desk, either with colleagues or by yourself, and head to the nearest coffee cart or cafe.
You justify your desire, and subsequent purchase of a muffin, along with your large double shot skinny milk latte, by telling yourself that you have a big day ahead and you'll probably go to the gym later anyway. Welcome to fat storage situation part two of your day, thanks to your coffee and muffin.
You return to your desk and push on with some work, but after a couple of hours you are fidgety again and want lunch. Your blood sugar has come down from its high brought on by your mid-morning snack. You look at your watch again ... thank goodness it is lunch time. And out you go for lunch. You know you feel better in your tummy on days when you don't eat bread for lunch, but you tell yourself that you are busy and you need to be quick. A sandwich, bagel, or a roll is always quick and easy. You inhale it. Then you want something sweet. Hmmm. Chocolate? No, not yet.
Fruit. OK, good choice, you think. And, on the inside, your blood sugar and subsequently your insulin level surge again (fat storage situation number three for the day). Within half an hour, you feel utterly exhausted, probably bloated, and you are berating yourself because you feel fat. You are, in fact, simply bloated but your discomfort and the wind building in your tummy, coupled with your "fat"abdomen makes you feel gross. You work in an open plan office, so you are conscious of hanging on to that wind in case it has an odour. And so even though your colleagues may be (unknowingly) grateful, the bloating and hence the size of your tummy increases over the afternoon.
The psychological process that goes on in your head, particularly if you are a woman, after lunch when you reflect on what you have consumed that morning, is incredibly detrimental to your health and your cortisol levels and, hence, your waistline. You feel like all you did was eat all morning and sit on your bottom. You think about the dress you were planning to fit into to wear to an event three weeks from now. Even though all you have done is eat breakfast, a muffin, a coffee, and a roll, in that moment, you believe that you will never fit into that dress and even though you were thinking you would go to the gym that evening, having not achieved very much over your morning, you know you will stay back at work and not go. You think about the gym membership that cost you a bomb and that you haven't used for the past three months, and you feel useless. You think again about the "massive" (as perceived by you), amounts of food you have eaten that day so far, and you hate yourself and your swollen abdomen. Then... light bulb! A thought that suddenly makes you feel better flashes into your mind. You suddenly feel back in control. What was that thought? There at your desk in this bloated abdomen post-lunch state, you decide that you won't eat afternoon tea. You feel better immediately because you have found a way out of your perceived eating frenzy and expanding (bloated) waistline.
Yet your blood sugar and insulin picture over your morning resembled a roller coaster, and just because you have decided that you are not going to eat afternoon tea, how do you expect your blood sugar to be any different from the way it was in the morning? The answer is it won't be. By 3- 4pm, your blood sugar has plummeted again, and you feel exhausted. The momentary elation from your "no afternoon tea" thought after lunch has vapourised and you are now "starving" to the point that you could eat your arm off. Your blood sugar is rock bottom. So, instinctively, what type of food do you think your body will desperately want you to eat in this situation? You guessed it. Sugar. Almost nothing raises your blood sugar faster, and your biochemical drive for survival knows it. But you said you wouldn't eat afternoon tea. And now you feel so desperate for it, nothing is going to stand in your way. But if you give in and you eat something, when you said you wouldn't, what emotion do you feel? G-U-I-L-T, guilt. And what stress hormone do you think guilt drives your body to make? C-O-R-T-I-S-O-L, cortisol, which, when produced in excess, is another fat-storage hormone. What a vicious and exhausting cycle.
So you give in and you eat whatever sweet fix you can lay your hands on. Some women will placate the need for food at this time and get their second coffee for the day. There is no way a black coffee would hit the spot at this time of day; it has to be milky - you need "substance". Those who choose the coffee partially feel good because they didn't give in and eat, but then these people"know" in the back of their mind that subsequent coffees are not ideal for them either.
New clients express precisely this to me every day of my working life. But they console themselves with, "at least I didn't eat". Those who do eat feel momentarily better with yet another elevation in blood sugar and consequently insulin. Hello fat storage situation number four for the day. And then the self-directed cruel statements silently begin. "You are hopeless. You have no willpower. Look at your stomach." It is the "will I? won't I? I said I wouldn't, but I did" syndrome. And, from that headspace, you lament from your desk at 6.30pm, when you are still there trying to get on top of the work you didn't do that day because you were so busy thinking about food and exercise and dresses and your stomach and not passing wind, that you can't go to the gym now because it is already 6.30pm. You still have more work to do, and if you work until 7.15pm, well, there is no food at home so you will have to go to the supermarket, and, if you do, it will then be 8pm before you get home and then you still have to cook, eat, and clean up, and so it will be around 11pm before you are finished doing all of that, and you probably need to do more work at home that night. But you have to wash your hair in the morning and then straighten it and so you need to get up earlier to do that - and then you get up and do it all over again, and you wonder why you can't lose weight when you don't eat "that badly".
Yet there are four scenarios above that have the potential to promote fat storage rather than accessing fat to burn for energy and drive surges and plummets of energy and happiness.
This is a pattern common to so many women. I call it Rushing Woman's Syndrome. Although I may have exaggerated some of the details of the scenario above (or not really!) and there are many variations to what I have described which may include children, partners, parents, friends and work not based in an office, I meet women of all ages who live like this day after day.
There may or may not be big, traumatic stresses going on, but there is a daily, relentless juggling act that never ends. It is typical of adults between the ages of 25 and 65, although it tends to be far more prominent in those between the ages of 30 and 55. It often stems from a desire to be all things to all people, from being a "pleaser" in your nature, behaviour that was probably rewarded in childhood. It makes people like you, and you feel good assisting and being there for others, but you never, ever put yourself first. You are exhausted and, the only time you don't feel that way is when you are living on adrenalin.
The cocktail of hormones being made while all this goes on mostly involves cortisol and insulin. This disastrous cocktail in turn interferes with progesterone production, so estrogen dominance prevails, giving you heavy, clotty periods and PMT. This downregulates thyroid function, so you drink coffee, wine, or both to speed up and cool down respectively each day, and your liver gets a regular thumping, and still no one eats enough green vegetables.
Throw in some emotional confusion and chaos and you have Rushing Woman's Syndrome.
So on the one hand, the way to solve this health picture is through food, through dietary change that evens out your blood glucose and hence your insulin production. Yet on the other hand, you can also see that it is not about the food. Because that rushing feeling, even when, if you paused, you would know in your heart that there is no need to rush, as well as your unconscious need to please and your disparaging self-talk - these tend to be the common emotional factors that can lead us to make these food and beverage choices. It is time to slow down, precious people.
* The way you breathe is key, even though that sounds too simple to make a difference.
* Start the day with 20 long slow breaths before you get out of bed or alternatively, breathe and move your diaphragm while you wait for the kettle to boil (to make your lemon and warm water of course!) or while you sit at traffic lights.
* Enrol in a breath-focused movement class 2-4 times a week, such as tai chi or restorative yoga.
* Start the day with movement, followed by an egg-based breakfast for 2 weeks and notice if this sets your day up better.
* Swap coffee for green tea and notice if you feel calmer and more energised an hour later after a week of doing this.
* Add more fat to your meals, particularly lunch, in the form of avocado, nuts, organic butter, tahini, oily fish and observe if your desire for sweet food mid-afternoon diminishes. That way you can choose a healthy afternoon tea, rather than be ruled by that eat-your-arm-off feeling.
* If you recognise that you do tend to try to be all things to all people or perhaps you walk on eggshells around a boss or a family member who at times has an explosive temper - consider seeking the assistance of a health professional with this and learn how to change the way you approach these situations. The patterns mostly get set up in childhood. My suggestions include:
* My Essential Women's Health Weekend and/or DVD
* Seeing a cognitive-behavioural therapist-trained (CBT) psychologist
* Seeing an NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) practitioner
* Seeing an EFT (emotional freedom technique) practitioner
* Consulting with an NSA (network spinal analysis)
* Dr Libby's new book, called Rushing Woman's Syndrome will be released in January, 2012. Viva readers have the opportunity to pre-purchase the book for $22.45 (25 per cent off the RRP) and receive it before it hits the shelves. Also, as a special offer to Viva readers, Dr Libby has just released her Essential Women's Health DVD series, covering health pictures such as estrogen dominance, PCOS and menopause. Normally priced at $154.95, Viva readers can purchase the DVD for $99.