PREVENTING METABOLIC DAMAGE: Creating an Efficient Machine with Your Body
By: Wendy Fortino
By: Wendy Fortino
Defining Metabolic Damage
There is a very severe condition that people face on a regular basis right now world-wide. Unfortunately, there is a very concentrated population of people who experience an extreme version of this condition within the fitness industry: OUR INDUSTRY. This condition is referred to as "Metabolic Damage".
As much as I would like to avoid this topic due to its highly controversial nature; I feel it is extremely important for someone like me (with the education) to address it so that people can understand it on a deep level moving forward; and potentially be helped. It is also important, because in the business that my husband and I are in, this condition is beginning to occur more and more, and we want people to know that we do not subscribe to the thought of creating this horrible condition with the clients that we work with. We aim to set people up for lifetime success before, during, and after they may potentially compete.
First of all, how would I define MD? Well, I would define this condition as the result of a very inefficiently running machine that has been created with your body. Essentially, it may seem as if nothing “works”, and that your body is working against itself. Your thyroid is low, your adrenals are shot, and there may be damage to some of your other organs and systems as well. The result is that your metabolism is slow, you have extreme water retention, high fat retention, and your body does not respond at all to training or restrictive dieting. In addition, no matter how much you decrease your calories, your body fat does not decrease. A decrease in calories actually compounds the problem.
This is a terrible place to be, and solving this condition is much more difficult than preventing it. I will follow-up with an article aimed at addressing the "solution", that will include supplement choices, as well as diet and training ideas to get you to reverse this problem (if you are already "there"). Once this condition has taken over your body, there is no choice; it must be solved.
Before addressing a solution, my focus here will be on preventing MD from happening in the first place. I understand that this topic can be sensitive for a lot of people. So, if this is something that you have or are suffering from, please do not get angry at my “prevention” approach. I also understand that different people come from different places, and no one wants to feel a "blame finger" pointed at them. I get that completely - please do not take this that way. Being in that place is very frustrating and completely annoying. I have written this article with the intention of helping people become healthy, the “healthy” way. By first understanding how to prevent this from happening, you may discover things that you didn't realize along the way, and may be able to prevent it from happening AGAIN.
Why do we hear so much about Metabolic Damage right now?
I believe that we are hearing so much about this condition because there are so many people right now who not only want a “quick fix” with weight loss; but more people want to go the extra mile now due to being inundated with images of ultra-fit individuals. More people want the EXTREME version of fitness, and they want it NOW.
One fast track to achieving the EXTREME version of fitness that tends to motivate people, is training for a bikini, figure, or bodybuilding competition. I know what you’re thinking – “but Wendy, HELLO! You compete too!”… I would have to say, yes, I do compete in figure competition. However, believe it or not, I do not believe in an extreme approach to dieting and training. I do believe in achieving a high level of fitness, but If I train hard, it is because I am fit and ready to do so. If I am not at a high level of fitness, I slowly build my fitness to get there. I believe in being strong and fit ALL of the time, with ebbs and flows to challenge my body and give it rest when needed. I achieve a high level of fitness without having to go to to extremes to get there because I am always close to my competition conditioning. It is not "easy", but I never have to suffer.
Many times, people make the decision to compete in a show that will get them to the extreme version of fitness that they desire; however, some people who decide that they want to compete may need to initially lose weight, create a healthy relationship with food, and find a common ground with their mind, body, and spirit (again, NOT pointing fingers or placing blame - this is completely normal and understandable; nothing to be ashamed of). Making a regular lifestyle out of eating clean foods, getting fit, and training consistently are things that need to be established before even thinking of competing. However, with a deadline approaching, what often happens is that calories need to be cut too low, cardiovascular activity and weight training need to be drastically higher than what the body is ready for, and potentially the use of prescription medication is in play to increase the body’s natural mechanisms for burning fat and increasing muscle (I cannot avoid mentioning this; it is a terrible reality).
What is the result from all of this? Instant physical gratification; but with a HUGE price to pay. The body has, believe it or not, essentially morphed into an extremely inefficiently running machine. [SHIT!]... Yes, and now it must be fixed. But in a state of extreme vulnerability, you may become depressed and ashamed; causing you to eat, not want to show up to the gym (which means little to no working out), and the downward spiral has begun.
Stop the problem before it starts…
Now, let’s talk about how to create an “efficient machine” with your body; because essentially, THAT is how we prevent MD.
First of all, your body has a ton of mechanisms that it carries out daily to keep everything on an “even keel” so to speak. Considering how terribly we (as a whole) treat our bodies, it is amazing that we are even able to function in some cases. We feed our bodies with processed foods that we are not designed to break down properly, we douse poisonous alcohol in our bodies (think, “fermentation”), we do not get enough sleep, etc. etc. etc… We are pretty naturally efficient if you ask me! Our bodies are naturally so resilient to so many things. Which means, if you enjoy yourself once in a while - there is no need to fret! Your body will regulate just fine if it is not done all the time.
For example, something we can all relate to… When you eat a huge serving of sugar in one sitting (like a slice of cake), your body has taken up way more sugar (energy) than it can process at once. Sugar elicits a huge spike in insulin from your pancreas, which in turn causes a HUGE drop in your blood sugar. What happens next? A craving for more sugar, and hunger pains – believe it or not! Because now, your blood sugar is too low! Crazy, right? That is why you cannot stop. Your body is trying to regulate itself, but you are fighting it every step of the way.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, when you eat a meal with slow-digesting carbs; such as rice, oatmeal, or sweet potatoes, with protein and veggies, your blood sugar does not explode, your insulin does not spike, and your body continues to use its natural mechanisms to regulate your blood sugar naturally. Over time, eating like this consistently aids in creating a healthy, efficient pancreas.
FOR EVERY ACTION, THERE IS AN EQUAL BUT OPPOSITE REACTION
Every single system that your body has operates this way. We are super adaptive, and naturally efficient (it is amazing!)
Remember this forever: “For every action, there is an EQUAL but OPPOSITE reaction". So, high sugar= drop in blood sugar; tons of weight loss in a short period of time=tons of weight gain in a short period of time; taking medication to increase your thyroid=massive destruction to your natural thyroid production; too much caffeine=shot adrenals… The list goes on and on. Name a system that your body carries out, and I will tell you how you can royally destroy that system by going overboard with trying to enhance it, or in some cases, de-enhance it (of course, some people never diet and exercise at all and have created an inefficient machine that way).
When your body has achieved a low body fat percentage through extreme dieting and training, the natural follow-up usually includes a brief period of immediately stopping your exercise program, and consuming a lot of high calorie foods that your body has been so deprived of for so long. The result?... The pounds will pour on FAST. Because this happens immediately after achieving something so amazing with your physique, the natural desire is to get it back immediately. Competition after competition, the extreme up and down simply wears out every single system in your body, and your machine is not ONLY inefficient; but it will literally SHUT OFF. The result is that your body will not utilize your fuel properly; it will become tired and any exercise that you do will only start to break you down. ALL BAD. Let’s reverse to square one and keep that from happening in the first place. I have a bad feeling that with more and more people delving into this sport, we are going to hear of many more cases of this happening, and if I can potentially save you, then let’s go!...
Time to create your machine
Now that I have helped you to understand how MD works, let’s talk about how to create an efficient machine with your body.
My definition of an efficient machine:
An efficient machine is one in which every system that your body carries out will be in complete harmony. Your skin will be clear and tight with a slight, healthy “glow”. Your body will be fit and trim with minimal, evenly distributed body fat. Your muscles will be pliable and resilient. You will be free of lower back and neck pain, joint problems, muscle spasms, or other “mystery” injuries that correlate to everyday wear and tear. You will feel rejuvenated every time that you eat a meal, and everything that you put in your body will work for you, as if to put fuel in your car tank to make it go. Your digestive system will metabolize your fuel seamlessly, and you will be completely regular with normal bowel movements and proper nutrient absorption. You will fall asleep easily, and your body will know when to wake up without the use of an alarm clock. You will never feel anxious, stressed, or tired. You will be completely healthy in every sense of the word. Longevity will be in your future with quality until the end. This is the definition of an efficiently running machine.
THIS is what we are after, right? - Everything working optimally. Well, maybe it is not realistic to be exactly this way, but at least as close to it as possible. To get to this place, the goal must be to create a “set point” with your body. To do this, your exercise and nutrition must be at a place that is maintainable forever (yes, FOREVER) in order to achieve your desired weight. Consistency, effective training, clean eating, and adequate sleep are essential to establish long-term (not just for a competition). It is not impossible; it is very do-able (I understand that some people suffer from various health conditions, so there may be more to the equation if this is the case for you)
Your Machine and FOOD:
People often think of “clean eating” and “dieting” as a horrible chore, because it is usually associated with a short-term, extreme drop in weight and body fat for a competition, a wedding, or even a cruise. Basically, it is something that we suffer through to get what we want really fast. My question is, why on earth does “clean food” have to be this way? Have you ever tasted a bowl of oatmeal? Enjoyed a cup of fresh blueberries? Bit into a fresh, crisp apple? Devoured a spoonful of peanut butter? How about a barbecued chicken breast, or fresh grilled tilapia? Or a spinach salad with dried cranberries and walnuts?! Come on, you cannot tell me these things are not delicious! They completely are! If you are not trying to shave a bunch of weight in a short period of time, these things can be enjoyed in moderate amounts without even thinking about it.
The problem is that because these things are used in restricted amounts during extreme dieting, we grow bitter towards them. We scorn at the thought of eating them. “I can eat a slice of pizza! My contest is over!” Then, the downward spiral begins…
Your Machine and EXERCISE:
When it comes to exercise, the right mind-set is also critical in order to achieve long-term results. If you have never exercised regularly before, or it has been a long, long time, then it is likely not realistic to imagine yourself performing 1-2 hours of cardio a day to get in shape for something extreme. Fitness must be established. Gaining fitness and efficiency with your cardiovascular system is a process. Yes, 1-2 hours of cardio will burn calories, but how on earth can someone begin a plan like this when they cannot efficiently deliver oxygen to their muscles for 20 minutes straight? When we are unfit, we take longer to recover; and when we workout while the body is recovering, our bodies will go into a state of shock and STOP producing results. Continuing on this path leads to little to no results; followed by frustration.
With that said, it is imperative that we start small. If you do not currently do cardio consistently (at least 4-5 days per week), then starting with 4-5 days of light cardio (such as walking, jogging, elliptical) for about 30 minutes at a time is a great place to start. As a matter of fact, do not be tempted to hammer through interval, high-intensity training until this “base level” of cardiovascular fitness has been established for at least one full month. Again, slow progress means that you will be able to maintain what you gain at the pace that your body needs to.
Leap forward with success
I would just like to conclude by making it clear that everything is a process. Think about your goal with your weight. Will you simply be satisfied once you have reached this goal?
It is much more than what you fantasize about achieving. You should want to enjoy your life, and be happy without struggling. And you certainly do not want to create any damage to your organs and functions of your bodily systems.
If you are thinking of doing a competition, or you have already done a competition, I challenge you to change your mindset. Think of your competition as the “cherry-on-top” of all your hard work (no pun intended!). Yes, you will likely need to become a little stricter in order to achieve an extreme version of fitness for the stage; but be sure to establish a healthy lifestyle and healthy weight before considering putting yourself through a preparation for a contest.
I promise that when you do it this way, you will be setting yourself up for success. At the end of the day, your “end result” is never the end. It never ends, so create a program that you can (and want) to maintain forever!
Again, I will follow-up with this article by providing you with a blueprint for solving the condition of Metabolic Damage. Good luck, and please remember - you are living in the ONLY body you will EVER get. Nourish it, train it, and help it carry out its systems to the best of your ability.
Wendy Fortino, M.S.