How did you sleep last night? A question that is more often than not answered with not that great or not as long as I should have. People underestimate the value of getting a good night’s sleep to their weight loss goals, yet alone their health.
If you’re feeling sleepy at work, you may be tempted to reach for a cup of coffee and a doughnut or sugary treat for a quick shot of energy. Later you may skip the gym, too tired to get your workout in. Then, you pick up takeout on your way home to your family -- no time to cook. When you finally find yourself back in your bed, you are too wound up to sleep. It’s a vicious cycle, and eventually this sleep deprivation can sabotage your waistline and your health.
It starts out innocently enough. When you have sleep deprivation and are running on low energy, you automatically go for comfort foods. The immediate result? You may be able to fight off sleepiness. The ultimate result? Unwanted pounds as poor food choices coupled with lack of exercise set the stage for weight gain and further sleep loss.
Let me clear something up first, it’s not so much that if you sleep, you will lose weight. It’s more the consequences of being sleep-deprived. This means that you are not getting enough minutes of sleep or not enough good quality sleep, your metabolism will not function properly.
Cutting back your calories? Studies show that a reduction of sleep by 3 hours is associated with more weight loss come from muscle rather than fat compared to a rested people. Not only is it linked to our hunger or activity level, but the bodily functions and hormonal responses leading to a higher body fat percentage.
Not interested in weight loss? Trying to bulk up? This applies to you too! Sleep appears to be somewhat associated with hormone levels that are responsible for building muscle. Yep, slacking on getting those precious hours are going to greatly impact your gains in the gym.
Now we know how important getting good quality sleep is to reaching your goals regardless of what they are, how do we fix it you ask? Well here are some top tips to get you sleeping better by tonight:
1. Stick to a sleep schedule - Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This applies to weekends, holidays and days off too. Being consistent creates a sleep-wake cycle and helps you ultimately sleep better at night. If you don't fall asleep within about 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Go back to bed when you're tired, don’t stress it!
2. Pay attention to what you eat and drink - Don't go to bed either hungry or stuffed as your discomfort might keep you up. Also limit how much you drink before bed. Nothing worse than those middle-of-the-night trips to the toilet.
3. Create a bedtime ritual - Do the same things each night to tell your body it's time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. Choose a ritual that doesn’t involve bright screens of any kind as they will make you more awake even if you don’t realize it. Make bedtime your time.
4. Get comfortable - Create a space that is perfect for sleeping, meaning keeping it cool, dark, and quiet, with optimal bedding that includes a comfy pillow and mattress that is right for your body.
5. Limit naps – Yes that afternoon or noontime nap. We all love them, but long daytime naps can screw with nighttime sleep. If absolutely have to nap, limit yourself to maximum of 30 minutes and make it during the midmorning or midafternoon.
6. Include physical activity in your daily routine – Activity promotes better quality overall sleep from falling asleep to staying asleep. Make sure you don’t exercise too close to bedtime however, as this will spike those happy hormones keeping you wired.
7. Manage stress – Probably the hardest thing to do out of this entire list. When you have too much to think about or do your sleep is likely to suffer. Consider healthy ways to manage stress like getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Before bed, jot down what's on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.
Writer: Alysha Coughler (Sports Dietitian - Personal Training Specialist - Health Coach)
DNF: an abbreviation for the three words that can shatter an athlete’s world; Did Not Finish. For the first time in my life I received a DNF for MY event of the year, the Muskoka Half Ironman. For many of you, you may be thinking that a DNF is a sigh of relief to make it so that you don’t have to swim 1.9km, bike 90km and run 21.1 km all back to back, but it’s soul crushing for a triathlete.
Many of you have seen ‘Ben the Sports Dietitian’’ write before but this is the first time you’ll see ‘Ben the Triathlete’ write and that’s because this post so personal. It was an extremely personal experience; it brought me to tears on the bike course. I was cussing my voice dry and desperately trying to figure out how I could finish the race. But when the downward force put down on my pedal going up a steep hill snaps your chain and the bracket for the derailleur at the 13km mark, there’s just no way to recover. I was so desperate to recover that I even started running with my bike in my clip on bike shoes for at least 1.5km, causing a mild injury.
Why was I so upset? Why did I just fold up and start crying up on the side of the road? Well aside from the fact that I love this sport, I had invested 6 full months of 5am runs and swims followed by nighttime runs and bike rides and sacrificed countless social events to maintain a full 6-month training schedule. All those kilometers I racked up in training suddenly didn’t mean anything at all if I couldn’t finish. I was hopeless and helpless as I watched all the other athletes pass me asking “everything ok?” with the best intentions to see if I needed an extra inner tubing or a small wrench to fine tune something. All I saw was my only Triathlon pass me by. The race officials finally got to me an hour after I just decided to sit next to my broken bike crying. There was nothing the race officials or I could do. My triathlon season had ended.
Why did I end up crying? Why did I have this crazy f*cking emotional reaction? Well aside from everything that I wrote in the above paragraph, this was the first time in my life that I couldn’t find the silver lining.
You see, I have the same philosophy as one of my favourite musicians, Maynard James Kennan; “I never lose, I either win or I learn.” But there was nothing to learn here. It’s not like I could have gone “Ok, your running pace started to slow down after the 8km marker so we need to look at carbohydrate timing” Or “I need to focus more on Hill training.” My f*cking derailleur snapped off my bike! There’s no lesson in that. It’s just a shitty thing that happened. And now I’m ashamed that those three letters, DNF, will forever taint my race record.
Why am I feeling this shame? After all, objectively this is not my fault that a part of my bike decided to fail on me. At one point I laughed because I could take it as a compliment that my quads are strong enough to put enough force to break a solid metal bracket. And then I realized that I’m feeling this shame because I expect perfection from myself. I expect myself to be the best version of myself. Each day I need to know that I’m growing and getting better at literally anything in order to sleep at night. Then I felt more shame because this is one of those things that I counsel, unrealistic expectations. You see, many athletes and people walk into my office daily and expect perfection, which is unrealistic. This unrealistic expectation only leads to disappointment and excess stress (which kind of explains why I burned out 3 times this year before the end of March!) As soon as I realized this, I almost had a follow up assessment with myself on the side of the road (If I had a mirror or my phone I actually would have counseled myself and tried to read my own body language!).
This was my turning point. I was happy again because I could spin this now; I could find the silver lining. I’m not going to lose. I’m not letting myself lose. Another one of my heroes, Bruce Lee, had always said “Defeat is a state of mind; No one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as reality.” For that brief 45 minutes crying on the side of the road with a broken bike I had temporarily forgotten the words of my heroes and accepted the defeat. But the moment I had that revelation, I was no longer defeated. I quickly shot up and said “F*ck you, I’m not losing. I’m going to learn and find that silver lining” and started cheering on my fellow triathletes to send all my good vibes onto them. After all they had at least 77km left in one of the most difficult bike courses in the Triathlon world followed by a half marathon run, they needed all the love and support they could get. I had learned and at that point I began to smile again and the tears started to go away.
Now knowing that I expect this level of perfection of myself I can head into next season stronger than ever. Being a bit easier on myself for the things that I cannot control is the lesson here. We all want control in our lives but sometimes it just isn’t up to us. Sometimes pure stupid luck happens no matter how we try to gain control. And we still can have control, but that control is over how we react to these unfortunate events rather than the event itself.
Triathlons are less about the physical endurance but more about mental endurance. Only the toughest and strongest willpower out there can survive a Triathlon. And the beauty of this DNF is that it’s lit a fire under my ass to motivate me for the 2018 season. This fire burns, always. As long as the silver lining is found, I’ll never lose, I’ll always win or learn. So watch out next season because I’m coming back with a vengeance!
Before getting into the argument of whether or not greasy burgers and fries can have a place in a healthy, balanced lifestyle, I need to say this: I have a problem with cheat meals. It’s not the greasy, salty, high fat, high sugar foods typically associated with cheat meals that I have a problem with, it’s the term itself.
As I’m sure many of you have learned throughout your life, cheating is bad. If you cheat on a test at school, punishments can range from detention to expulsion. If you cheat in sports, you can be disqualified. For most of us, doing something “bad” elicits feelings of guilt. If you have ever cheated on anything, I would be willing to bet that you experienced at least a small amount of guilt. Using the term “cheat meal” implies that your meal is bad and may make you feel guilty for eating it. I am a firm believer that food should be enjoyed. If food is meant to be enjoyed, why do we attach a word with such a negative connotation to it?
Now that I’ve ranted to you about cheat meals (thanks for sticking with me), we can get back to our original question. At this point, I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I say that I wouldn’t call a burger and fries a cheat meal. However, you may be surprised when I say that I would consider it part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Let me explain.
A healthy lifestyle is more than just physical health. In fact, there are 7 dimensions of wellness that contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle:
Having a burger and fries may not contribute much to your physical health, but it may positively impact your social wellness by allowing you to eat out with friends. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you consume these foods frequently, but I do believe they have a place in a healthy lifestyle.
Some people follow the 80/20 rule where 80% of the time they eat healthy, and 20% of the time they choose foods that are considered less healthy. However, this is just a guideline and you will find what works best for you. Maybe you are more comfortable with a 90/10 split, or maybe you would prefer 70/30. Regardless, it is important to remember that taking care of your social and emotional health is arguably just as important as your physical health.
For more information on Cheat Meals/Cheat Days, watch this ESN video with Ben and Alysha!
Remember: ENJOY your burgers and fries, just not to the extreme like Patrick over here: