So, I’m doing this diet and exercise thing and I can’t believe I’m posting about it! I’m nervous that posting about this while I’m in progress will feel like an accountability program, which I despise (hello #RebelTendancy), but I love you guys and I absolutely think this is a thing worth sharing with you.
Last year when I moved from the land of flowing abayas that covered all my curvy flaws (Saudi Arabia) to the land of lots of skinny people walking around and biking everywhere (Japan) I felt pressure to look thinner.
The thing is, I’ve never been on a diet before in my life. I’m 41, premenopausal, and for the first time in my life I tried a diet and exercise program. I’ve always been naturally “skinny enough” not to be bothered with actively managing my weight and body shape. Well, then premenopause hit. My midsection grew to where I’d get questions about being pregnant (when the last time I was pregnant was over 6 years ago!). Not fun! I was having hot flashes and wonky cycles. I try to eat reasonably healthy, but if I want to eat chocolate cake, I eat chocolate cake. I’ve never been on a diet where I restricted what I could eat or how much I could eat, and I’ve never been on a self-managed exercise program. The whole diet and exercise world was a mystery to me. And truth be told, a lot of that world still is a mystery to me.
I tried a few different programs, but the one that I ended up falling in love with is Metabolic Renewal. The thing is, I was starting from a place of ignorance of all the various trends and best practices in the diet and fitness world. It’s just not my geeky wheelhouse. What I do know is fertility charting and the female hormonal cycle. So, when I came across a program that specifically looked at how to leverage the normal hormonal changes in the female cycle, I was interested!
Metabolic Renewal gave me the starting framework I needed to figure out the best practices that would work for me individually. They use the phrase “Metabolic Detective” to think about the various practices they are implementing and if the practice is helping or hurting you. They also give you a fantastic standard by which you should evaluate your progress and it has nothing to do with weight or clothing size. The program teaches you to evaluate your SHMEC. SHMEC stands for Sleep, Hunger, Mood, Energy, Cravings. So, you keep a journal where you assess your SHMEC each week. This program is also specifically geared towards women and talks about when in your cycle to leverage your diet and exercise habits. It also had some great tips for premenopause, which I’m very grateful for. If you are losing weight, but your “SHMEC is not in check,” rest assured that the moment you slip from your restrictive diet the pounds will pile back on. The way to change that sticks is to be your own Metabolic Detective and find a diet and exercise routine that keeps your SHMEC in check.
My Keys to Evaluating My Progress
- SHMEC in check
- Cycle chart is ovulatory and easy to interpret biomarkers
- Measurements are heading the the right directions
What’s Working For Me
- Daily walks are a big deal. If you can’t figure out how to fold in a special exercise routine, just focus on adding in daily walks of 30 mins to 1 hour at a relaxed pace. This is not power walking. This is movement and relaxation. A little bit of movement and lower stress does wonders for the waistline.
- I need to get at least 1.5 L of water in me at the beginning of the day. After that I can drink as much or as little as I want. I have more energy if I do this.
- The exercise plan was done for me with videos and it was one less thing to figure out. Super simple!
- The Monday-Wednesday-Friday 15 min. HIIT exercises included with the program has a “rest based training” approach. I’m not in the fitness world, so I have no idea how broadly that term is used, but in the MR program there’s a big emphasis on tuning into what your body is telling you and responding to that, which I really love. It’s what I’ve naturally done most of my life, but now I’m learning how to apply that same principle in a more purposeful and managed way. I love the approach that encourages you to trust your body to discern when you need to rest and when you have the energy to push yourself.
- I added simple, low impact exercises on my Tuesday-Thursday exercise “rest days.”
- I realized that I can simply “look” a lot thinner if I just improve my overall posture. So, one of the exercise routines I added for my rest days was posture exercises. I really like Michelle Joyce of Posture Makeover for posture exercises.
- I also added a few simple diastasis recti exercises to my rest days. I have ab separation from all my pregnancies (and bad posture). In order not to further injure myself, I needed to modify some of the Metabolic Renewal exercises, like pushups, and add in some low impact, healing exercises. I really like Olivia Cagle for DR information.
- I decided to add in intermittent fasting (IF), but I found I can’t do IF in my luteal phase. I turn into a crazy woman if I try that. In my follicular phase I can tolerate all sorts of diet and exercise stuff happily. In order to do this change in behavior between cycle phases it involves charting your fertility biomarkers and then changing your routine once you see that ovulation has passed. Check out my course if you’d like to learn Cycle Charting.
- I struggle somewhat with mood in my luteal phase and eating sweet potatoes has really helped that. For more information on where I came across that, see “Potatoes Not Prozac: A Natural Seven-Step Plan to: Control Your Craving” by Kathleen DesMaisons and Radiant Recovery.
- I decided to stick with one MR exercise phase per cycle. The MR program has 4 exercise phases that are meant to be done for 3 weeks at a time. I realized my own behavior is that sometimes I skip exercising when I’m on my period. I also learned from MR that my rising estrogen ovulatory phase is the best time for low appetite and high energy, which is a golden place to be for weight loss. However, when I do a phase per cycle, I don’t need to worry that I’m going to miss doing various exercises in my follicular phase near ovulation, the best time to do them, because the 3 weeks fell at the wrong time. Every MR phase gets a rising estrogen ovulatory phase when I focus on sticking with one exercise phase for an entire cycle.
- I’ve also added in a supplement routine to encourage better ovulations and hormonal health largely based on what I’ve read in “Period Repair Manual” by Lara Briden.
- The diet I settled on is no carb, low sugar all day until dinner. At dinner I just eat whatever the family is eating, carbs, sugar, and all. In my follicular phase I fast in the mornings and I eat lunch and dinner. In my luteal phase I eat breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner. However, I’m flexible about this routine on weekends.
- MR recommends to not increase calories in the luteal phase, because you don’t have your high-energy-low-appetite super power at that point in your cycle, like you do in your rising estrogen ovulatory phase. However my SHMEC, especially my mood and energy, can’t take much of limiting intake in my luteal phase. I see my luteal phase diet as my baseline and my follicular phase diet as limiting my baseline. I try to stick to certain kinds of foods, but I don’t really limit my food intake too much in my luteal phase. If I’m feeling food cravings, but I’ve already had a reasonable amount of food, then I try to eat half a sweet potato first to see if that helps.
Before & After: First Try
Earlier this year, from about the start of the year to the beginning of June, I did various aspects of what I’ve just described and lost about 10 inches off my waist, which was the main place I wanted to look thinner (see my before and after picture below). I didn’t perfectly do all four exercise phases, I added and subtracted various things as I went along, and it was just a mishmash, but even applying everything very imperfectly, I was still very happy with the results. Not only did my waistline improve, but so did my cycles, energy, mood, sleep, and the hot flashes that were plaguing me vanished. Also, remember, all that improvement was from me bumbling through the program in a vastly imperfect way and tweaking things as I went along. Then I completely took the summer off while we were in the US. Terrible place to fall off the wagon, I know! But I honestly didn’t gain back that much (encouraging a resilient metabolism with MR may be why).
However, now that I’m back home, I wanted to get back into the routine of being more careful about my diet and exercise, but I want to take it slowly. So, I’m folding in small micro routines each week.
Micro Routines to Help Me Get Started
- I figured out a few simple meals I can eat during the day and made sure I had all the ingredients on hand, did batch cooking when necessary, to help things go smoothly. Basically, I took some time to set myself up for success with eating.
- Then I worked on getting in a routine to drink enough water. I fill a big water jug each night and set it by my bed so it’s ready to go first thing in the morning, no hassle.
- Then I worked on getting back into the daily walk routine. Initially, I also had to take some time staring at Google Maps to figure out a circuit I could walk in about an hour so I didn’t feel like I was just wondering around everyday for my walk. I can just enjoy my walk, following the preplanned path, and not worry about how long or how far I’ve walked.
- I planned on starting low impact workouts next, but the daily walk routine was hard to get back in the habit, so I held off on adding another thing until the daily walk felt like my new normal.
- This new cycle I’ve added in MR phase 1 workouts. I was going to start on CD1 (cycle day 1), but I just wasn’t feeling up to it so I waited until the first Monday after my period stopped.
- I’ll add in the low impact workouts next when I feel ready for the next thing.
Basically, I ended up giving myself about a month to ease into starting the full program. If you are like me and still feel really uncertain about the whole diet and exercise thing, then give yourself a month to develop micro habits, sort out the details, and basically set yourself up for success before really diving in.
So, I’m once again diving into the Metabolic Renewal program. If you’d like to join me, you can get the program at the link below. There’s a private FB group for those that join the program. Feel free to tag me in the Metabolic Renewal group if you want to geek out on cycle chart + MR questions.