Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Results of My Walking Challenge :)

For the past several years I’ve been trying to lose weight. I tried Weight Watchers, I tried various eating plans--low carb, glycemic index-based, hormone balancing--I tried exercise—cardio and strength training--I tried combinations of all three. I was determined, come hell or high water, to shed those excess pounds that had gradually appeared around my middle.

Well, hell is exactly what I got.

PMDD begins with an imbalance in a woman’s hormones, but through some complicated process scientists and doctors have yet to fully understand, the end result involves a lack of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Lack of serotonin in the brain = depressed mood.

One thing that helps to create serotonin in the brain is carbohydrates. What do women with PMDD crave? Carbs. So no, you’re not crazy, and you don’t lack willpower. Your body is telling you what it needs with a vengeance. Your craving for carbs is simply your body telling you what it needs to bring it back into balance. This is why at times we can’t seem to stop ourselves from eating the sugar, the pasta, the chocolate, the quick fixes.

The problem only worsens when we reach for carbs with little or no nutritional value to feed our need for serotonin, but that’s a post for another day.

Today I want to talk about diet and exercise and PMDD. Exercise overall is good for anyone, so let’s get that right out of the way. While you’re exercising, you’re boosting your immune system and endorphins, strengthening muscles, including or especially your heart, building bones, toning, firming, and burning calories. The problem for a PMDD woman, however, is when our bodies are out of balance, and especially when we’re having an episode of PMDD, exercise can make the PMDD worse. (Again, for you to experience the full benefits of any exercise program, you have to balance your hormones first.)

What do most diets tell you to restrict these days? Carbs. What does a PMDD woman crave? Carbs. What happens when she doesn’t get them? PMDD. What happens when she gets the wrong kind of carbs? More PMDD. What does any kind of cardio or strength training exercise do? Burns carbs. What does a PMDD woman need? Carbs. Do you see where I’m going with this?

This time last year I was a mess. I had made a vow in January of 2009 I was going to lose those excess 20 pounds, no matter what it took. I was restricting carbs and doing 45 minutes of cardio five times a week. That wasn’t working, so I upped it to an hour a day. I ended up with such a lack of serotonin in my brain that my PMDD episodes were lasting not just days, but weeks.

Something had to change. I went on a research binge and read everything I could get my hands on about PMDD. I found out I was causing my own problems by restricting my carbs and exercising so much, thereby burning the very carbs I needed to produce serotonin in my brain. My body was screaming in protest, sending me into longer and deeper troughs of PMDD.

So the first thing I did was start listening to my body. When it wants carbs, it gets carbs. I did, however, slowly get rid of 95% of the non-nutritional carbs in my fridge and cupboards, and replace them with healthy, nutritional carbs. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, you know the drill. The problem is not that we don’t know what’s good for us, it’s that we’re unwilling to make the change to better eating habits, until the pain of living in hormonal misery all the time forces us to make the change.

My eating habits today are 100% better than they were a year ago, and they weren’t that bad to start with. I’ve never been a fan of sugar, can’t eat corn syrup at all. It gives me a headache and makes me grumpy. Sugar makes me nauseous. So I started with eating better. I realized I was self-defeating myself with so much exercise, and made the mistake of stopping altogether.

Just until I get my hormones back on track, I told myself. Well, four months and ten pounds more later, my hormones were still out of whack and I was well out of shape…

Slowly, one baby step at a time, I had to get back into the swing of things. I had to get my body back up to the level of exercise I had been at before, or risk gaining even more weight, plus increasing other associated health risks.But boy did my body protest. No matter what I did, every time I moved it in a different way, it got stiff and sore for a day or two. Before long, everything was hurting. This didn’t make sense…what the heck was going on?

Well, for one, I’m getting older, and it takes longer to get into the swing of things again once you’re older. Even if you’re just a little bit older, I quickly learned, when you’re at my age, which is 52. Muscle response times just aren’t the same.

So after pulling a few muscles and nearly incapacitating myself, I settled for walking. Baby steps. I joined a walking challenge at my YMCA, 100 miles in 100 days. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? I started with 1-2 miles a day, and quickly moved to 2-3 miles a day, then 3-4 and 4-5. It was amazing how the miles piled up. In the first 50 days, 19 of which I skipped off and on, I already had 85 miles. How was that possible? I was going to reach 100 well before the deadline.

So I upped my personal challenge to 200 miles in 100 days. With just three miles a day of walking, I could easily make that. An added bonus was we could use time on the treadmill, cardio, or cycling machines to count toward our mile totals. During the course of the second part of the challenge, I started with ten minutes of cardio on the elliptical, and worked my way up to 30. Any more than that, I’ve discovered, starts sending me into the negative carb column again.

On Monday I completed my walking challenge. I did 203 miles in 100 days. I’m now regularly walking 20 miles a week. And you know what? I haven’t lost a single pound. I weigh exactly the same as I did at the beginning of the year, when I once again made a resolution to lose weight.

So….I improved my diet 100%, and I went from nothing to walking 20 miles a week. Things shifted, sure, and tightened and toned, but the scale, she wouldn’t budge.

It’s the hormones. They’re still not in balance. I can tell by the way my body feels, and how it responds to exercise. The harder I exercise, the worse I feel. 4-5 miles a day was too much. 3 is a good number for me, in a combination of the elliptical and walking. Too much cardio and I burn too many carbs and feel wiped out afterward. A two-mile walk, however, especially on a bad day, energizes me and improves my mood.

So…now that I’ve got the eating and exercise habits sorted out, next on my list is balancing the hormones from within, through good nutrition. In the meantime, if you’re cutting carbs and exercising like a fiend and still feeling miserable, maybe this post will help you to figure out why.


Sheryl said...

How come all the foods that are bad for us, taste sooo good? Or is that just because they're naughty! :) And why is everything "naughty" called forbidden fruit. Fruit is good, right? :)
Take heart, Liana. You have done extremely well. As a regular walker, two miles every day--for as long as I remember (it's the dogs, y'know--they insist), I KNOW it helps keeps the pounds off. Having been unable to take my regular walks a couple of times due to recovery after various minor surgeries, I found the pounds sneakliy popped back on. After a couple of months back walking, they slipped off again--and I didn't even notice. :)
Keep at it--and WELL DONE on finding the balance. That's really important.


jodi said...

lol, you might want to delete the joven post. It's spam. :(

Wow. That really sucks. All that walking and you didn't lose a pound?? *sniffle* I just started walking again.

I'm glad you're finding balance. :)

Tannie said...

Hi, Just wanted to say that your problem sound so much like mine.Have you considered asking the Doctor to do a thyroid check and a diabetes check. Sound like more than hormonal changes.Thyroid is a hormone as well even if it is not an estrogen/testosterone/progesterone type. Triglycerides and cholesterol play an important role in hormonal balance. If you work out? and you don't see changes in your weight have you tried to decrease you caloric intake along with it.I wish you health and well being! Tannie

liana laverentz said...

Yep, thyroid and diabetes have been ruled out. Been through all the tests. Thanks for stopping by!