Ask a Health Coach: Sleep, Weight Loss Stalls, and Skipping the Gym

How bad is working and eating late at night? Wondering why you’re not losing weight? And what if you don’t want to go back to the gym? In this week’s edition of Ask a Health Coach, Erin is back to answer more of your questions. Keep them coming in the comments below or over in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook Group.

Jacob asked:

“My nighttime habits are the worst. I stay up too late working, then I’m hungry and go looking for a snack at 1 or 2 am. I don’t think I should be working and eating that late, but how bad is it really?”

Your intuition is spot on here, Jacob. The late-night artificial light. The late-night insulin spike. The stress of a disrupted sleep cycle. It all comes down to your circadian rhythm, which as reiterated in this study, 1 can lead to a myriad of metabolic ramifications. For those not familiar with circadian rhythm, it’s basically your internal, 24-hour cycle of biochemical, physiological, and behavioral processes.

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Some things help it work optimally. Other things like blue light, nighttime snacking, and even the temperature of your room can cause disruptions. If you’re staying up late working — and not wearing blue-light blocking glasses — you’re compromising the amount of melatonin you produce. Melatonin is the sleep hormone and having less of it will make you feel more alert and even disrupt your REM sleep. 2

Late-night snacking can make the problem worse. Not because “eating late at night causes you to store fat” (as our misinformed culture likes to tell us), but because, in a manner of speaking, your body can either produce metabolism hormones or sleep hormones — not both at the same time. The production of melatonin will slow or cease in order to metabolize your evening snack. This study from scientists at Universidade Federal de São Paulo in Brazil backs it up, finding that men and women who consumed high amounts of calories right before bed spent even less time in REM sleep.3

On top of that, you’re at greater risk for diabetes when your sleep is compromised on a regular basis.

I’ll stop the lecture here since my guess is that you’re already in tune with a lot of this info. So, my question to you is: what’s preventing you from doing what you need to do? If the idea of totally revamping your nighttime routine feels overwhelming, think about small steps you could take.

Could you do some of your work in the early morning instead of at night?

Could you print out what you’re looking at instead of viewing it on a screen?

Could you stop eating once the clock hits 9pm?

Could you go to bed earlier 3 nights this week?

You don’t have to do all of these at once. But by taking actionable steps to shift your melatonin production, you’re doing yourself and your circadian rhythm a huge favor. Not only will you get a better night’s sleep, you’ll feel more energetic, focused, and productive during the next day.

Karin asked:

“Now that my gym is open, I’m trying to go 3 times a week, but most weeks I’m only going once and sometimes not at all. I’m really beating myself up about it.”

Listen, you probably spent the past several weeks adapting to a new normal of working and working out from home. So, jumping into another new routine might not be as easy as just deciding you’re going to do it.

But beating yourself up about it won’t do you any good.

Your resistance to getting to the gym could be based on a few different things. And the more you understand where that resistance is coming from, the better off you’ll be. Since your gym is open again, you might feel like you should be going, especially if you’re getting charged for your membership. After all, who wants to waste good money?! But when you say things like “I should go to the gym” or “I should have lost weight by now” you’re really just judging yourself.

You’re holding yourself to the standards that either someone else has made up for you, or standards that might not make sense for where you are right now.

Ask yourself why it’s important for you to go to the gym 3 times a week. Is it because you can? Because that’s what you did before the stay-at-home orders started? Because your neighbors are posting about it on Facebook?

Hopefully some of these questions will get your wheels turning. You might even discover that you actually felt better about yourself by NOT going to the gym to do your workouts. Maybe you realized that, because you’ve been forced out of society for a bit, that being surrounded by floor-to-ceiling mirrors, fluorescent lighting, and cellulite-free bodies is not your idea of a good time. Maybe subconsciously comparing yourself to the uber-fit person on the elliptical trainer next to you makes you temporarily forget how miraculous your body really is.

If optimal health is your goal here, it’s essential to remember that your mental state is as important as having rock hard abs.

Sarah asked:

“I need a little help figuring out what I am doing wrong. I started eating Primally about 3 months ago, and after initially losing 10 pounds, the scale hasn’t budged! What gives?”

I hear this a lot with my own clients. So, trust me, you’re not alone. Who doesn’t love the exhilaration of watching the scale go down? Or seeing a number (that in your mind is too big) get smaller?

I get it.

Here’s the thing though. Weight loss isn’t necessarily what you want. What you really want is fat loss, which may or may not show up on the scale. Take for instance a study where female participants were assigned to either a low-protein diet of 68 grams of protein per day or a high-protein diet of 125 grams a day. Both diets had the same number of calories, AND both groups lost about the same number of pounds. However, the high-protein group ended up losing more fat and less muscle.4

I admit that the scale is the easiest way to measure your progress, but it’s not the most accurate. Most often, when the number changes, it’s due to fluctuations in things like water, glycogen, and waste. Even if the number is consistently going down, there could be a good chance you’re losing lean muscle tissue, not fat!

So, instead of focusing on an utterly pointless number that’s not moving — or moving in the wrong direction — there are better indicators that your body is losing fat. Here are some of my favorites:

Your pants feel looser
Your tops close more easily
Your face looks slimmer
You’re sleeping better
You’re less hungry in between meals
You have more energy
People are asking if you’ve lost weight

If you’re really interested in knowing how well you’re doing, go ahead and get out the measuring tape. I had a client once who would measure herself consistently each Sunday, keeping an Excel spreadsheet of every single change. From week to week, she was seeing only small changes, but when she looked at the data over the course of a few months it was pretty mindblowing.

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References https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5142605/https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/89/1/128/2840303)https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.1476https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12566476/

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