We are taught, mostly thanks to society, to push and push and push ourselves beyond our limits (body and mind). So when is enough? How do you know when to push and when to take a step back? At what point are we stretching our perseverance or breaking ourselves down, physically and mentally?
Here is where my realisation came, my own personal turning point if you will. If you read my blogs or have seen my website you will have seen that I have ‘no bones’ sharing my prior struggles with eczema, allergies and years’ worth of ongoing bouts of colds and flu. You would have seen that I managed to turn all of the symptoms around for the better, purely by changing my nutrition and what I fed my body. I learnt to nourish and NOT punish. I learnt that food heals! I learnt to look after my body and not torture it. I felt good, no great!!
Having gone through two ‘flawless’ pregnancies and births and proudly managing to breastfeed both my kiddies well over a year, I was pretty proud of myself. Why was I suddenly always so tired then? I woke up tired. I went to bed tired. My tired was tired. I still ate perfectly, I drank my water and I exercised. My body felt like someone else’s! Lead filled almost. Every move was a chore and exercise was becoming very, very difficult! Each workout was a battle. My muscles felt HEAVY and my breathing during exercise was so laboured, it felt like I had a rock on my chest. My heart rate was through the roof. I wasn’t sick with flu, I wasn’t unfit, so naturally I must push and it was just mental fatigue and stress surely? I was juggling work, home, two kids and studies, so that was it, right? So I pushed and pushed, because that is what I knew to do! Mind over matter, right? Wrong! My body was sending signals, little white flags of ‘surrender’ that I was ignoring because I was ‘just’ tired and ‘stretched’. Surely it would pass?
I analysed every aspect of my nutrition, was it a nutrient deficiency, no, my macro and micro nutrient split was where it needed to be. I used ‘nature’s pharmacy’ to boost my body in every form. I was managing to maintain my daily routine but there was no progress and like I said, it was a struggle! Something wasn’t right. So after a few months I finally plucked up the courage to make an appointment with a naturopath (A general practitioner with 46 years’ experience in the medical field that had decided to turn to more natural forms of treatment.) This wonderful man does live blood analysis and this is what piqued my curiosity. I could sit across from him at his desk and watch my OWN blood under a microscope. What a better way to figure out what was going on with my bod. I highly recommend it. Long story short, I was and still am ever so grateful that I went because turns out that a nasty little bugger of a virus called “Epstein Barr” or “yuppie flu” as is it more commonly known (which 9-10 people get at some point in their lives these days) had decided to not only hitch a ride in my bod but take up residence in my heart muscle. You see, this little critter can either just come along and stay for a few weeks or it can find itself a spot to hide out and get comfy. Mine chose to nestle itself in THE most important organ in my body. Have a wee bit of a holiday, if you will. No wonder I felt like I’d been steamrolled.
The doc did an ECG and my poor little ticker was working so much harder than it needed to. My resting heart rate was 84, my average is usually around 54! YIKES! By me working out HARD every day (training with my clients AND training on my own) along with unnecessary high stress levels, a full schedule, lack of quality sleep etc. my heart was just under too much strain. As a result, I was put on a forced ‘go slow’. No more super INTENSE workouts that pushed my heart rate through the roof. NO more pushing to beyond my limits. My heart depended on it. Thank goodness I went when I did! It took me a few months to listen to my body, hahah but fortunately I eventually did because had I not have listened my poor little ticker may have…I’ll let you fill in the blanks. Anyway, not a fun scenario. The doc put me on a series of natural meds (not antibiotics) to get rid of the little ‘critter’ and I had to take a step back from my favourite mode of training, HARDCORE! This is the point where I developed my love for yoga. Yoga filled that gap. It was tough and it was effective but it didn’t put pressure on my heart. Happy me! I incorporated other workouts that where much lower intensity than I was accustomed to and lighter workouts that still stimulated my muscles but didn’t agitate my heart. I learnt to listen to my body. If it didn’t feel right, I stopped and changed mode. This went on for almost a year. Only a handful of people knew. I think I only told a handful of trusted people because I felt like it was a weakness, how did I miss it? How did an exercise and nutrition specialist miss this? I know how, I made no room for weakness; it was always mind over matter, push push push! I had to be an example. There was always room for improvement! I now know that the only weakness was me not listening to my body. After all, it’s the only vessel I have to carry me around for the next 95 years or so.
So, what exactly am I getting at? YOU CANNOT POUR FROM AN EMPTY CUP! There is a time to ‘fight’ and there is a time to breathe. There is a vast difference between laziness and knowing when to cut yourself and your body a break. This counts for every aspect of your life. There is a time to ‘fight’ and a time to breathe. ‘You cannot pour from an empty cup!’, one of my most favourite quotes. If you continue to fight and fight and fight, ignoring every signal your body (or your family nucleus) sends, something is going to give! It might not be physical, as it was in my case, it may be psychological, and you may retreat into your corner and push the outside world out. You may become the Grinch and chase everyone you love away. Take heed of warnings your body sends. They are not for nothing. Fight yes, persevere yes and never lose that will to fight but always LISTEN TO YOUR BODY first and foremost! You are only an asset to those around you if you look after yourself as well, if your cup is full.
I’m sure that without too much thought you can think of a scenario of someone you know personally, or an athlete/celeb you have read about that has ‘pushed themselves’ too hard and something has ‘cracked’. Athletes that have trained when they are ill and as a result have had a heart attack. Overuse injuries, from too much repetitive movement on a specific joint. People who take on too much because they cannot say ‘NO’ and then have nervous breakdowns or regular anxiety attacks. We dare NOT ask for help, this would surely look weak? Stress is the leading cause of illness and death these days; heart attacks are top of the list. Poor nutrition isn’t helping; people are rushed so they grab easy, processed options that take a few minutes to prep, as opposed to taking the time to enjoy cooking a wholesome meal from scratch. Food isn’t grown anymore, it is cultivated, to human specifications, under controlled conditions to speed things up and make things more viable and their shelf life longer. Food is blasted with chemicals to ensure no pests take a nibble and so things look perfect, but we are ingesting chemicals that harm us! But it looks perfect, so yay! Human Lifespan is so much shorter and it’s almost considered normal for a person to only make it into their sixties or seventies, as opposed to eighties or nineties. Any why? Because we can’t slow down, everything needs to move faster, grow faster and be used faster! We have missed the boat.
We are taught to push. We are taught to just keep going, head down and get things done! It’s a gigantic rat race. We have developed a society where fast paced is the only pace. We are breeding a bunch of crazy people screeching from one appointment to the next, one task to the next, at what cost? Our sanity, health and quality of life, that’s at what cost. We seem to deem ourselves more ‘worthy’ when our schedules are jam packed and we have more hay on our fork than we can carry. Why is that? It’s more acceptable, almost favourable, to tell people how ridiculously busy your life is as opposed to saying that things are actually quite calm, quite lovely and slow really. Worst of all, we are doing this to our kids! I don’t even really have to expand on this; we all know what I mean. There is even a movement called ‘unschooling’ now, that’s how badly we are damaging our children with unnecessary expectations and pressure. A child is put through a full school day, tons of homework, multiple sports, tasks, cultural activities and then weekend activities and games. When does it stop? Does it ever stop? It won’t, unless you put a stop to it and break that cycle! It doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, we need to work to survive and stress is a given but it’s our choice how we deal with it and how we internalise it or let it go. It’s our right to choose which battles we fight and which ones we side step.
When you get to your last breath one day, are you going to remember how marvelously full of tasks your days were? NOPE!
Take it from me; you really cannot pour from an empty cup! I tried. Your body and your mind only have so much they can give before you start giving less in an effort to survive. Why live at 30% when you can live slower at 100%?
So let’s get a bit more scientific, from an exercise perspective, when do you draw the line between pushing too hard and pushing to try and progress? It’s actually quite easy, listen to your body (not your mind, because your mind will lie to you!). Your body will send you physical symptoms in an effort to warn you that things aren’t okay. There are two conditions that the body is susceptible to when you train hard (not average paced workouts, I mean hard!) regularly; it’s a case of over-reaching syndrome and over-training syndrome. Over-reaching is when you have been pushing yourself for an extended period of time and your body starts to struggle to keep up with the constant load, a more short term situation that can be reversed with a few days of rest, whereas over-training is when you ignore the symptoms of over-reaching and fail to rest and allow for recovery and the body starts to breaks down. Over-reaching can be ‘undone’ with a short period of rest and recovery, whereas over-training is far more serious and can take up to 3 months to recover from. Over-reaching and over-training develop when you combine these factors into your daily workout routine:
- Adopting a pace you can’t carry full out. I.e. combining modes of training in a single session that are excessively tough on the body, such as hill running at fast pace or heavy weights with high reps and then keeping this cycle going for an extended period of time with little to no proper rest.
- Improper nutrition to back up your heavy training load, low calories or cutting out certain necessary food groups.
- Inadequate rest periods or a cycle to alternate the heavier and lighter workout days
- Enough sleep
- High Stress levels
There are early warning signs and symptoms you can identify when you are experiencing over-reaching, these include:
- Elevated resting heart rate. Take my situation with the Epstein barr. My resting heart rate is normally around 52-54, for the few weeks before I made my doctor’s appointment my resting heart rate was more around 76 beats per minute. That is not normal for me; this should already have sent warning signals off.
- A lack of response from your muscles, a feeling of heaviness in the muscles and lack of mobility in the joints.
- Failure to elevate your heart rate whilst training. The body sort of goes into a ‘limp mode’ like a car trying to protect its engine when something is wrong.
- DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness occurs 24-48hrs after a workout). Some muscle soreness is normal after a workout, but that should subside, when it doesn’t go away for a few days you should start to take note!
- Loss of muscle weight (no ‘YAY! skinny me’, this isn’t a good thing)
- Change in appetite and sleeping patterns.
When you notice these symptoms, it’s time for a break. Feet up for at least 2 full days (yes, no workouts) then ease into a workout schedule with a much more toned down pace for the next few days. Eat well, sleep more and lie in Epsom salts baths to make sure you detox and put some magnesium back into your muscles. Generally just recharge! After these few days, the symptoms should subside (if they don’t, you are already knocking on over-training’s door!) If you ignore these symptoms and you push through without a break OVER-training kicks in and that aint pretty.
Over-training looks a lot like over-reaching except the symptoms that exhibit are more severe. More fatigue, less sleep, less appetite and frequent recurring bouts of illness due to suppressed immune function, heavier feeling muscles, aches and pains that don’t go away for weeks. YEAH you, I’m talking to you. Hmmm? Anything sounding familiar here? Then it’s time to take a seat, literally. Your body is tired, it’s broken down and if you carry on, you will not be happy with the outcome. As it is, over-training can take up to 12 weeks of recovery time!!!! That’s 3 months, if your maths is as ‘good’ as mine, har har! Can you really afford 3 months off? No, so here’s what to do. Symptoms of over-training are as mentioned above, just more aggressive! Treatment of over-training is not as simple as over-reaching; 2-5days just won’t cut it here!
Over training can go as far as to change your hormone profile! It can even affect your amino acid level in your blood and if you haven’t been taking proper care of your body nutritionally and feeding it adequate protein and carbohydrate levels then you are in even more serious trouble. Normally protocol dictates that you seek a medical professional’s assistance for a proper evaluation, just to see exactly where you are at with your blood work, mineral levels, hormones etc. That way the proper level of treatment can be decided upon. Rest, for the entire amount of weeks it takes to recover! You know your body better than anyone; you will know when you are back to normal! Also, keep consulting with your physician to check up on any hormone levels, blood profiles etc. and see what changes have occurred. Sleep a lot! YAY! Sleep is the only time your body can really just reset itself and focus on recovery! Lastly, make sure your nutrition is spot on! Consult with a nutritionist if you must, but heal your body from the inside out! Above all else, listen to your body!
This should filter through to all aspects of your daily life. IF you are feeling like an athlete suffering from over-reaching syndrome or even worse, over-training syndrome then take a page from a gym bunny’s book. Rest, recoup and heal yourself from the inside out, mentally and physically. Do what makes you feel ‘whole’ again. Take walks in nature, go visit with friends who ‘lift’ your spirit. SLOW DOWN. Things will also get done at a slower pace; you just won’t look like a screeching lunatic whilst doing them. That bundle of unfolded washing that has been moved three times, that now is hiding in the pantry where no one will see it, that can wait another day. Have tea outside with your family. Watch the sunset. Yes, I am speaking from personal experience because my OCD and I have many an old fashioned dual and ‘I’ choose to win (most days)! My house is always clean but it isn’t always tidy! There is a vast difference.
My kids play, they bake, they make bread and half the flour reaches the floor before it gets to the bowl, the dogs bring mud into the house, the chickens have learnt to use the cat flap and they like to chuck all the dog chunks out and yes, I do still get a tiny ‘twitch’ in my left eye but I choose to breathe, I choose to enjoy the moments and then just calmly tidy up afterwards. I exercise every day and I look after my body, some days I train harder than others and I always challenge myself but I don’t BREAK myself, I listen. This is the difference I had to learn. I listen to my body and I try to teach my clients to listen to theirs. I always have, except I was somehow exempt from this! Why?
I cannot pour from an empty cup, I don’t deserve it and neither does my family! If you, like me, have been pouring from an empty cup take a step back, reassess and re-evaluate. Find ways to slow down! Learn to recognise the difference between being a sloth and needing to cut yourself a break. Your body (and mind) will thank you, and so will those around you!
FILL YOUR CUP!