It’s not easy being the girl with the wonky hormones. It’s not easy being the one whose efforts produce only a fraction of the results someone else may get. It feels unfair. It’s frustrating. I get it.
It takes time and patience—and often expert advice and support—to dial in your own hormonal issues and get a better understanding of the extra care you need to give your thyroid, your ovaries, your adrenals, your gut.
During that process you become aware that you have to do things differently than most women, and that realization can feel isolating.
If you’re brave enough to share what you’re going through, a well-meaning friend of family member likely has “the best” new diet for you to try, and you’re inevitably tempted by the shine of a fresh promise. It doesn’t look so bad, you tell yourself. You can white-knuckle your way through another strict diet for 30 days, right? You’ve done it a hundred times before.
Alas, you’ve been down that road, and you know it usually just leads to even more hormonal haywire.
So, you pause.
You remember that you’re eating well, but not to the point of deprivation and misery.
You’re training, but not killing yourself.
You show the heck up for yourself every day. Your hormones symptoms have been improving, and yes, your progress is slower and your gains seem smaller, but they are there, so you stay the course.
It feels slow and often quite unfair. You know the effort you have to impart is far greater than many of your friends can understand. When someone looks you up and down and says, “Huh. I didn’t realize you were so into working out,” well, it makes you want to cry.
I get it.
I am one of you.
For years I operated from a place of frustration, and I tried to punish my hormones into submission. Luckily, I’ve gotten wise to what works better for me. I’ve found a balance between my goals and my lifestyle that factors in my unique hormone challenges. I still have “bad” days, when I want that shiny, new, über-strict diet and a few extra workouts.
When it gets hard like that, here are some perspectives that help to refocus:
Own it. Full-out own it. No justifications or explanations are necessary.
There are times when I fear judgment on my body, and I want to scream, “Do you know what a mess I would be if I didn’t do everything that I already do?” I want to explain myself to people. I want to let everyone know that my body fat could be a lot higher given my genetics. I want to justify. I want people to know, “Hey, I’ve had two kids, ya know….and I run a business, and I have a husband that’s always away… blah, blah, blah.”
I want to explain why I strength train when someone at the gym looks at me in horror and shockingly says, “Wow, you lift so heavy for a girl.” I want to explain that my not eating gluten is not a weight loss strategy or a fad that I’m trying because vilifying gluten is en vogue.
It’s tempting to make excuses, give explanations, and justify our choices, but all of that is unnecessary—and it downplays what you do and why you do it.
If someone is generally interested in your hormonal situation, and you’re comfortable sharing, then by all means share. But don’t feel like you have to explain yourself or justify your choices. If you’ve uncovered a food sensitivity, you can avoid that food without providing a double blind placebo controlled study to everyone who thinks food sensitivities are bunk. (Although more and more research like this is helping us understand the causes and effects of things like wheat and gluten intolerances, beyond Celiac. So hang in there, it’s getting better for us.)
It’s just too darned exhausting to make your case to everyone, and it’s simply not necessary. Do what works for you. No one needs to understand it or approve of it. Assume someone’s heart is in the right place, smile, and listen. And by all means take a compliment with a simple thank you instead of, “Oh, really? Thanks, but I should be doing so much better…..”
You do not need to explain why you “should” be showing up differently than you are. Just say thank you and resist the urge to keep talking.
Your body and your hormones are your business. You can choose to share if you want to, but you don’t have any obligation to do so. Remember that you don’t owe anyone an apology or explanation for how your body looks today, what foods you choose to eat, or what type of (or how much) exercise you do. Own it.
Respect the body you have, along with its hormonal imbalances. If you push your system too hard, it will break down—usually not beyond repair, but it will take more time, money, and patience to undo the damage caused by restrictive diets, over-exercising, and questionable medications or supplements that promise fast results.
It’s not about having “no excuses” or “not wanting it badly enough.” It is about having a healthy respect for yourself and your body.
All day long, your metabolism is trying to keep you going—all night, too, for that matter. Sure, it’s doing a bum job on some fronts, but it’s trying! Respect that.
I see things like #PCOSfighter and #hashimotoswarrior and #fightforyourhealth all over social media, and I really, really don’t like this. “This” being the fighting. Your hormones and health conditions are not something you have to fight. In fact, the more you fight them, the more they push back with low energy, cravings, erratic periods, poor sleep, acne, bloating, and mood issues. Fighting isn’t the answer. Being a warrior isn’t the goal. Being your own best friend is.
Your best friend would nurture you and treat you with compassion, but wouldn’t let you sit on the couch eating ice cream all day, feeling like a slug. She would encourage you to do something, but not everything. She would urge you to care for yourself with good food and rest and appropriate exercise because you deserve the care. She would not set you on a warpath against your body. Your best friend understands the urge to wage war with your frustrating metabolism, but assures you that doing so will cause more harm than good. Instead, she encourages patience and kindness, and motivates from a place of nourishment, not punishment.
Your best friend reminds you that you’ve got this.
Work to Make Your Body Its Best, Not Someone Else’s Best
We live in incredibly cool fitness times, ladies. Experts are just a few keystrokes away on YouTube, on websites like this one, and on every social media outlet. All day long, as we work toward our goals, we can get tips, newsletters, free plans, videos, coaching, and more. It’s awesome, but it can also take us down a weird path.
I used to really struggle to love my big, strong thighs. At my leanest, they still touch; they are still bigger than most. I’ve always worked out in an effort to change them, shrink them, make them into something they are not. Hence my many years as a runner.
I hated running. Like hated it, hated it. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but all my friends who ran had smaller thighs than me. So, I kept hitting the pavement, motivated by that kind of result for myself. Yes, they got smaller than they are now, but here’s what didn’t change: their shape, their capability, and my sadness about them.
When the goal was always to be something I wasn’t, of course, I was constantly frustrated and sad. When I finally stopped trying to turn them into smaller, leaner, “runner’s” legs, and focused instead on the kind of activities they are best suited for (heavy squats, sprints, etc.), they got a touch bigger. They are also took on a leaner and more defined appearance. Who knew! Bonus: my aches and pains from running disappeared, as did my heartache over trying to be something I’m not.
I now have super-strong legs that are bigger than my girlfriends’ legs, but these days I’m totally cool with it because I love my workouts and my lack of back pain, and I love that I’ve finally embraced their bigness.
We can look to our favorite fitness professionals and admire their bodies—and even follow their training and nutrition advice—while embracing our own bodies.
I will never have legs like Jen Comas, for example. Not only is she is about a foot taller than I am, she has different parents and various other unique characteristics that make her Jen…the way that mine make me Brooke.
Embrace what your mama gave you. Make your body its best. Don’t waste time trying to recreate So-and-So’s shoulders or thighs. Train the body you have to look and feel its most awesome. This may be the best fitness tip you’ll ever hear. Embrace you. When you do, you’ll find peace.
Take A Tip From The Pros
Nearly every fitness pro we adore—from our Advisory Board Members like Neghar and owner Molly Galbraith to our GGS besties like Jill Coleman—is admittedly happier a few pounds heavier than she was at her leanest.
Many women cling to the notion that they will finally be happy when their body is a certain size or looks a certain way.
When they finally get in shape.
When they finally see those abs.
But many women have been there done that, and each in their own way came to the realization that their happiness didn’t come as a result of being really lean. It came from something much deeper. Having tapped into that deeper place, they have found happiness and peace within their bodies at any body fat percentage.
These women still look incredible to us and not just because of their strong muscles, but because of the way they share their big, beautiful lives with us. They bravely share the reality of their experiences and flawed moments in a business in which looks are currency, and being in anything less than “cover model” shape is often looked down upon or brings their credibility and expertise into question.
When I look at them, the way we all look at women we admire in the fitness world, I see that true fitness is more of a glow than a goal. They model not being a slave to the gym or to a diet plan, and remind us that true fitness is much more than skin deep. It’s a way of being in the world: strong, confident, empathetic, smart, and capable.
So ask yourself: if this is as good as it gets, if today this body you have never changes, can you be happy? The answer has to be yes. It just does, because when you have this type of love for yourself you can accomplish any goal—inside or outside of the gym—in a healthy, sane, enriched way.
This is the practice of acceptance without resignation, as I call it.
It isn’t about never wanting more for yourself. It’s knowing that you can want more and work toward that without hating yourself right now.
With all of these women reporting that they found their joy, their comfort with themselves, their life expanding beyond the gym (and the scale, and Tupperwares of broccoli and chicken) a little heavier than their leanest, well… it is something to think about, huh?
Don’t be a jerk.
Listen to your cues (remember my acronym ACES: appetite, cravings, energy and sleep) and heed the messages your hormones are sending you. If you don’t, they will only get louder and more in-your-face, in the form of breakouts, bloating, and more fat around the midsection. Or they might give you a messy week of PMS or a loss of a period all together. Your hair will start falling out, and anxiety or depression may show up.
Bottom line: when you don’t listen, they will get louder.
At that point, you have to go see your doctor to help you untangle this mess. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to help. It’s my work, and I love it. But like you, I brought much of my own hormonal trouble upon myself. Sure, I was dealt kind of a crappy genetic hand, and many of my life choices that brought on much stress (like moving to NYC, or having kids, or working toward my degree) I would do over again in a heartbeat.
The problem is that when things start to go awry, we tend to think that those symptoms aren’t such a big deal, or that there will be time to deal with them later. We think that we can’t spend the time, money or effort to care for ourselves As I hear at some point almost every day, “There’s too much going on right now.”
As advisory board member Erin Brown says, “Self-care every damn day.”
That’s the deal ladies. When your hormones talk, make it a priority to listen to them and respond with care. They aren’t going away. Those symptoms often get worse, not better. When your body tells you, “Hey I’m really hurting,” don’t make her tell you seventy times a day, or she’ll get nasty with you, having to yell, “Listen b*tch, things are a freakin’ mess in here. Pay attention, or what I do next will be totally nuts.”
If someone you loved was hurting and asking for your help, you wouldn’t ignore them, so don’t do it to yourself. Be your best friend. I get it, because I’m one of you. It can be hard sometimes to act with kindness and compassion toward yourself when it feels like your body has other plans. Just remember you’ve got this.