How often do you workout, dumplings? Up until this year, I used to proudly proclaim that I workout 5-6 days a week, sometimes twice a day (morning run, barre after work). Nowadays, I workout on average just 4 days a week. Does that mean I’ve become more efficient and go harder in a shorter amount of time? Nope, I also push myself less and don’t stress out over making every minute count.
This might go against everything you’ve ever heard about needing to challenge yourself to shape up and see results, but I’ve actually slimmed down and gotten healthier from pushing myself less.
Exactly a year later, July 2018, in Long Beach, NY. (Do you prefer the Atlantic or the Mediterranean? I’m a Mediterranean Sea lover, for sure.)I notice the difference (granted the pic on the left was taken after 2 weeks of pasta 2x a day and no workouts)–not sure if it’s that obvious!
The reason I decided to cut down on my workouts wasn’t to slim down, however. Weight loss was the farthest thing from my mind when earlier this spring, my acupuncturist told me my eczema flare-ups were a symptom of liver toxicity. I asked her whether NYC pollution could be building up the toxins, and she said, “Yes, but the biggest factor is stress. Go to sleep by 11 p.m.”
I was floored by the diagnosis. Here I was, doing everything I can to be healthy, including an organic vegan diet, reduced plastics and obesogens, and working out 5 days a week. And yet I was being told that my lack of sleep was the root of my severely sensitive skin.
In order to follow her advice, I had to let go of working out on days when I have a lot of work. One *could* potentially squeeze in a half-hour DIY session at home, but I didn’t even want to stress over it and just gave myself the gift of time. And even when I did go to barre, I would vary my intensity level by how I’m feeling that day. The teacher might be all, “You only have 50 minutes today to do this for yourself. When you start to shake, when you just can’t anymore, that’s when you make a difference.” But I would stop short of going to that level of pain where it’s not just pleasantly challenging, but psychologically and physically stressful.
Not only did my eczema clear rapidly through this lifestyle change, but I also noticed other benefits.
- Your productivity soars. Since I vowed to stop working at 11 p.m. as much as possible, I thought the work would pile up and I’d be branded a laggard at work. No such thing has happened, and I get way more done while I’m at the office, which reduces the amount of stuff brought home, and lets me go to bed earlier. Virtuous cycle!!
- You do slim down. When I used to sacrifice sleep in order to fit in my workouts, believing that’s the only way to maintain my weight, I was frustrated by how bloated I felt on a daily basis. Both sleep loss and intense exercise pump out your cortisol, which is linked to increased abdominal fat. In a study published in Obesity Research, high waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) women were shown to produce more cortisol in a stressful situation than low WHR women. Now that I choose more sleep over more workouts, I feel significantly less bloated, probably all over my body but especially in my midsection and my thighs. And even just a single night of reduced sleep increases your cortisol level by 37%. Imagine that being compounded for years, and I’m pleasantly surprised that I’m even alive to type this right now.
- You’re less hungry. Cortisol also causes your blood sugar to drop, making you crave fatty, sugary foods. Lack of sleep / overexercise was making me crave a lot more energy-dense foods. I was worried that not burning off all my food will lead to weight gain, but au contraire, I’m so much less hungry now which makes it easy to maintain my weight.
- You feel more emotionally stable. In the same Obesity Research study, High WHR women (higher cortisol subjects) were characterized by “poor coping skills” and “a helpless reaction to uncontrollable stress.” This, I really really get! Many a times in my life have I felt on the brink of a nervous breakdown from a confluence of stressful events (did I tell you about the time I had jury duty and my laptop broke down?). Now, I’m more likely to weather the storm with a calm frame of mind–it’s amazing how much less you feel like crying once you catch your body up on sleep.
- Your skin gets glowing. I can’t thank my acupuncturist enough for putting me on the true path to solving my eczema. The redness on my skin has all but disappeared. I also experience fewer breakouts, fine lines, and dark circles. In fact, “cardio and running can cause more oxygen or free-radical damage, which can break or damage the skin’s supportive fibers” like collagen and elastin, according to Dr. Annet King, director of training at Dermalogica. A 2008 study in Free Radical Biology and Medicine showed that very strenuous exercise leads to cell damage, while moderate exercise (40-60% of your max heart rate, 3-5 days a week) improves your skin. It’s hard to judge what feels like “moderate” and “very strenuous” exercise for each person, so you be the judge of what feels great, positively challenging, and rejuvenating–or what feels like your mitochondria crying out for help.
Have you tried prioritizing sleep? Did you see any positive results?