“I’m so tired that I can barely get out of bed, but I force myself to go to the gym anyway because I need to lose weight.” This is the story of about 80% of my patients on their first visit. Most have been pushing it to the max for months and seeing no results. What if I told you that pushing through the fatigue might not be the best way to achieve that gym bod you’re looking for?
When most people think of how they can best maintain metabolic function, they think of exercising more and eating less. However, this can really backfire. You see, the thyroid gland, when working properly, should ideally maintain our metabolism. However, we can influence her activity with our activity.
Our bodies are incredible at adapting to change. Evolutionarily, our body does not want us to lose weight, so when we influence our metabolism in one direction, our body responds to counteract it (enter plateaus 2 weeks into a weight loss journey). The driving force behind our metabolism is our thyroid so it makes sense that when we push our bodies to the max in the gym, our thyroid will be the first organ to slow down to counteract the expenditure. Thus, if you’re in the gym on a cardio machine for 2 hours straight, you may actually be pushing yourself further away from your goals.
When we completely exhaust ourselves in the gym over and over, our bodies have a difficult time recovering. We only have so much “gas in the tank” before we start running on empty. When your thyroid slows down, you start to feel tired, drink a little more coffee, and turn on your adrenals to pick up the slack. This works for a while, until they slow down too. If this cycle continues you can be left with no energy, crummy metabolism, and poor digestion. Sound familiar?
Don’t feel like this means that you can never have a super extreme workout. As a crossfitter, I am very much looking forward to lying on the floor gasping for air and making sweat angels following “Murph” in a couple of weeks so I get it. It simply means that just like with anything else, you need to train your body to be able to exercise. So if you’re super gung ho about your new regimen, don’t start by running 10 miles. Do what you are capable of, while still increasing a metabolic burn. Lift weights (with instruction from a trainer if you’re a beginner) and improve strength before jumping into extreme cardio. Try doing 10 minutes of high intensity intervals and build up to 20 and eventually 30 minutes. Your body will build up a tolerance to this level of exercise and stop trying to fight against you.
If you’re already feeling like you’re running on empty all the time, try taking one intentional week off from the gym. Avoid all sugars in your diet and fill up with clean, whole foods (no calorie restrictions!!!). Get 8 hours of sleep per night for the entire week. Try to limit caffeine to 1 serving per day during this time as well. Think of this as an “energy cleanse” to reset your hormones. Then start your exercise regimen again at a more sustainable pace, building up to your personal peak.