As a dietitian and coach, I’ve learned that at the start of a program, most people have no idea how good they are designed to feel. They have come to mistakenly accept common symptoms as normal. When asked how they are currently doing, they often shrug and somewhat disenchantedly report feeling “fine.”
When was the last time you took full stock in how you’re physically feeling from day to day? If it’s been awhile, think of what words you would use. Are you well-rested, refreshed, and high energy? Or are you fatigued, bloated, and over caffeinated?
At Life Time, we believe that your symptoms are a direct reflection of your underlying health. You deserve to be better than “fine” – you deserve to feel truly optimal. We also believe that what’s going on under the hood is directly connected to your health and fitness goals and has a huge bearing on how you do (or do not) respond to your nutrition and exercise programming.
If you’ve ever wondered why certain approaches (keto, vegan, Paleo, intermittent fasting, lots of cardio, strength with minimal cardio) work well for some people but not others, or why news stories seem to flip flop on what is healthy or not (eggs, red meat, coffee, red wine, etc.), the answer lies in each person’s unique metabolic story. The key to a personalized plan and knowing what works for you is frequent, regular assessment of both subjective symptoms and objective testing to better understand how and why your body functions the way it does. If you’re working with a well-rounded fitness professional, these assessments will undoubtedly be part of your programming.
All of that being said, there are a few top issues that are common, but most definitely not normal nor optimal. Read on to learn about five symptoms that indicate that it might be time to dig deeper.
We’ve all been there at some point: Breakfast was beautifully planned, lunch was packed, the afternoon latte and vending machine successfully side-stepped, dinner was homemade, balanced, and somehow on the table on time. Then, we sit down after a long day… only to need a little something. Before we realized what happened, we’re at the bottom of a bag of chips or pint of ice cream. What gives?
Carbohydrate cravings are nothing to be ashamed of. Believe it or not, there’s often physiology that’s driving them, and physiology overrides willpower. (That’s worth reading again.) While a short-term solution may be to find a healthier alternative to your favorite guilty pleasure, a long-term solution is found in addressing the root issue so that the cravings are minimized or gone in the first place.
Most commonly, blood sugars that are swinging too high, then too low, are a culprit. Another possibility is out-of-balance stress hormone levels such as cortisol (which can be influenced through certain diet, exercise and lifestyle tweaks), due to its close ties to blood sugar regulation.
Tossing & turning at night
I’m amazed at how often I get a laugh in response to the question “when was the last time you slept eight hours straight?” Estimates say that almost one in three adults have some trouble sleeping, and even this statistic is likely under-reported.1
Adequate, quality sleep is one of the biggest non-negotiables for optimal health, and it’s also a secret weapon for better results. Studies show that a single night of poor sleep can alter how our body processes carbohydrates, which can trigger cravings.2 Plus, lack of sleep can impact learning, emotional wellbeing, and even appetite, making you hungrier, yet unable to feel satisfied.3 If you’re in a state where you’re both craving carbs and feeling insatiable, it is going to be really difficult to see the results you’re hoping for.
Most adults require 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and ideally, it should be uninterrupted. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, consider avoiding blue light from electronics and changing your nighttime routine. If that does not work, be sure to work with your health care team to rule out issues like sleep apnea, while exploring other potential causes, such as low overnight blood sugar, progesterone imbalances, and gut issues.4,5
It’s often been said that digestion is the foundation of health- and for good reason. From everything that you eat and drink, your gastrointestinal tract dictates what gets absorbed and what gets eliminated; it’s like a gatekeeper.
Without healthy gut function, cells struggle to get the vitamins and minerals needed to provide you with energy, burn fat and help build muscle. It’s closely tied to body composition, as well as overall metabolism and even brain health. The bacteria in your digestive tract have a massive impact on your overall functioning, and they even impact how many calories you absorb from the food you’re eating.6
There’s no way around it: your bowel habits are an important barometer to your gut health. Slow bowel motility (not having a movement daily) or fast bowel motility (frequently loose or liquid stools) are both big red flags. (It’s worth repeating here: common does not mean normal.) If irregularity in either direction applies to you, consider potential common food sensitivities (like gluten and dairy), and work with a coach and your health care team to determine what nutrition and supplement approach might be best for you.
Irregular periods or discomfort
Ladies, while many struggle, that time of the month does not have to be- and should not have to be- a time of misery. If the timing of your menstrual cycle is a guessing game, or if you experience painful cramping, mood swings, or fluid retention, something may be awry.
Pre-menopause, there supposed to be a fairly consistent symphony of hormones that varies throughout the month but repeats itself with each cycle. Typically, estrogen rises the first half of the cycle, triggering luteinizing hormone and ovulation. After that, progesterone is the dominant hormone (and raises your body temperature), then finally the liver works to clear used hormones and “reset” for the next cycle, which begins with the next menstruation.
Excess estrone (a type of estrogen), lower progesterone, liver health, stress hormones, and high blood sugars (which can lead to higher testosterone in women), to name a few, can all throw this symphony out of tune. This hormonal balance can impact where you store weight (read: thighs and belly) as well as the overall ability to burn fat. The right solution lies in determining the root cause of the imbalance through appropriate, comprehensive testing, then being strategic in how it is addressed.
Trouble losing body fat
If you’re making healthy changes (inclusion of produce, proteins, fiber, healthy fats, baseline supplements, daily movement and resistance training) and sticking with them relatively consistently (think at least 80% of the time), you should be seeing some progress.
If not, you may be dealing with underlying metabolic barrier, along with associated symptoms you might have unknowingly been accepting as your “normal.” This can be troublesome, as a metabolic barrier to fat loss now might potentially evolve into a medical condition down the road.
For example, no one goes to bed perfectly healthy one day to wake up the next day with diabetes. There’s a process, often over the course of several years that can lead to imbalances in blood sugar, then prediabetes, then eventually diagnosable diabetes. In most examples like this, symptoms worsen as the imbalance progresses. In all examples, however, earlier identification and intervention can lead to better outcomes and results.
The healthier you are inside, the more of a noticeable, positive impact your nutrition, lifestyle and exercise changes should have on the outside. If you are finding otherwise, connect with your doctor and a nutrition coach to collaborate on next steps and the appropriate objective testing for you.
Always remember: Perfection should not be a prerequisite to results. You should be able to live your life, and your long term program should be sustainable and free of unrealistic rigidity.
While five common symptoms are highlighted above, note that there are several to keep tabs on in effort to take control of your health, success and progression towards your fitness goals. The best way to objectively track them is with a monthly or quarterly questionnaire, then using the results to implement an appropriate, regular cadence of objective assessment. If you’re interested in understanding your personal questionnaire results, determining the best steps for deeper testing, and arming yourself with the information needed for a personalized program, connect with an in-club nutrition coach or message our team of dietitians any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are honored and happy to help!
Samantha McKinney, Registered Dietitian, Program Manager — Life Time Lab Testing
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.