Now please do NOT hear me wrong on this: exercise is not bad for you, changing diets to suit conditions you will face is not bad for you not fully understanding your body IS.
Prior to Everest training I considered myself a mere fitness junkie, I loved the adrenalin and endorphin rush that made my body feel so ridiculously good however during Everest training especially in the final lead up to the climb to be I came to know myself as an athlete. 30hours in the gym, solo trail adventures each weekend, psychology training and educating myself on the mountain I was to conquer made me feel well rounded and confident in my ability to succeed. However I did not account for the impact, physically and psychologically, that would occur if I couldn't complete something I trained two years for. So fast forward to July and I find myself an exhausted, highly emotional, depressed individual who was frustrated with herself on a daily basis for being incapable of completing simple tasks like staying awake past 12pm (after waking at 7am).
After frustration upon frustration, no motivation to exercise and multiple pregnancy tests; even though I knew it could only be an immaculate conception if I was pregnant, I acted on advice by a good friend and headed to a nutritionist and naturopath. The first time in my life. At the end of an hour consultation my mind was blown. My body had experienced physical shock as a response to the deep emotional attachment I had to long hard effort and a sudden cessation of many hours of exercise. My body had begun producing so much adrenalin that by 12pm I was exhausted of adrenalin needed for everyday activities. I had no iron stores, virtually no vitamin D, or b12. The diagnosis I was told: you present as a clinically depressed person, you'll need natural drugs to recover and don't expect your body to be back to full capacity until 6months later. Then I met my new world of supplement tablets and vitamin injections.
As an epileptic (despite not experiencing the symptoms for 4 years now) tablets were not something new to add to my daily routine however at 5 a day already taken for normal functioning I wasn't too enthralled about this latest discovery. Either way I had no choice, I was feeling like a crazy person. So began 8 shots of vitamin D a day, iron tablets, 4 tablets to stimulate my adrenal glands (where adrenalin is produced), magnesium chelate and a multivitamin. At 19 extra substances (tablets or injections) a day it was (and still is) a tiresome process.
Along with these natural medications I was advised to force myself to exercise to stimulate my body more to produce its own adrenalin for longer periods of time and to remove the cortisol (stress hormone) that was taking over my body. Talk about tiresome. I had gone from a 430 or 5am riser every day of the week to someone who slept for 12 hours (6more than I am used to), wake a 7am exhausted and be struggling to stay away 5hours later. Stacey my naturopath and nutritionist encouraged me to get up regardless of how tired I was and walk for 10minutes even if afterwards I got back into bed. I was back to the very basics.
Words cannot describe the frustration I felt, going to the gym and doing a workout ending in tears because my body was incapable of completing something I had done thousands of times over. Exercising for 10minutes instead of 2 or 3 hours at a time. Struggling to get out of bed even for the 10minutes. Not being able to put my hiking shoes back on my feet. Add to this my ridiculously poor diet of comfort eating, copious coffees a day or take outs (because I was barely awake at 5pm) which only added to the negative effects on my body because I was trying to fuel a broken body with nutrient lacking food.
Stacey (my nutritionist and naturopath) told me that to feel better I had to forget the diet, change my mindset about exercise and rest. It was quite ironic because I thought my lesson from the Everest debacle was about resting my body. I wasn't wrong, but I didn't expect this. Now I am fully back to basics and I must say it has taken a while to change a mindset but I'm getting there. Now I am learning about feeding my body well for exercise (so you don't have to take protein powders etc), recovery and daily function right down to the molecular level. It has changed me for the better- you see I'm not wrong about silver linings in everything- so I am going to share with you what I have learnt.
1. Eat fats, carbohydrates and protein in every meal. Now before you say this isn't rocket science I want to tell you why and how you do this. The fats you eat should be predominantly healthy fats (like from foods such as salmon, avocado, nuts, 70% + cocoa chocolate, full cream milk and yoghurt). You can eat normal fats (chips, sweets & ordinary chocolate) but at a molecular level your body will be craving the healthy fat foods to satisfy dopamine and serotonin (predominantly) to aid in increasing mood, reducing stress and anxiety and therefore increasing happiness. It'll mean that indulging in these (still in moderation) healthy fats won't make you feel guilty or leave your body unsatisfied and therefore craving more.
2. You must exercise everyday. Exercise doesn't have to be long and hard and it MUST include rest. Restful movement helps effort filled exercise to be more effective. Restful movement that is beneficial can be walking bare foot (the bare foot free sense is important) on the beach, swinging on swings or yoga for example. The most important part is recognising that you are disconnected- no phone/technology, just you and the space you are in. This was the hardest thing for me to learn because I didn't count walking on the beach as exercise. What helped? Honestly- getting a fitbit. It told me how much that 'lazy, relaxed' stroll added to my health and it was all I needed.
3. Sleep. Sleep and sleep well. I have always said since I bought my $3,000 bed that I was the best investment that I had ever made and I'm not wrong. I am out like a light every time my body hits the latex pillow top and my neck, shoulders and back are supported into the perfect slumber. Whilst I have always slept enough for my exercise I didn't realise how much routines prior to bed affect my sleep. This is my sad truth about my routine..check facebook, check Instagram, check pinterest, set alarm, put on bedside dock and sleep. Again I didn't realise I wasn't in a deep sleep immediately and it was due to my technology habits. As soon as I acted on advice by Stacey and shut all internet devices off an hour before I was due to go to bed I slept remarkably well. I also must say how lovely it was to know that the hour prior to bed each night was my own. I was 100% in the company of others or 100% committed to an individual, vegetative, relaxed state prior to snoozing off. This advice- second best investment yet.
4. Let yourself off the hook. This final piece of the puzzle that forced me to get back to basics was and still is difficult for me. A competitor, I suppose my whole life, I always competed with the person I was yesterday. Whether it be in sport, work or in life. I still don't like mistakes or not being good enough. I guess it's part of me that somehow got convinced that I can control and eliminate mistakes. Big problem- I'm human and practice doesn't even make near perfect. So when I fall of the health wagon or any other life path and make a mistake crucifying myself (and yourself if you are the same) achieves nothing positive. It will however create more cortisol and help you gain weight and steal your positive outlook. Now, letting things be (more frequently) makes me realise that the effort I make to run or help someone out is an effort that isn't easy and I need to celebrate those efforts. Once I did that, once you do, you realise letting yourself off the hook (when it is reasonable) is easy and feels good.
So there you have it. The mindset of an athlete. To me it is something worth sharing because despite what 'everyday' (not what I call them it's what non-Exercising people call themselves) people say being an athlete is difficult, you are constantly learning and you are not always getting things right. Many of us struggle with the 'fall out' when events don't go according to plan or set goals get rocked by physical roller coasters. I never imagined something I felt so successful in would end (thanks to natural events) and I'd be where I am now, back at the basic building blocks for health. I know though when it comes to my health and my next Everest attempt I am better for it physically and psychologically.