Monday, October 13, 2008

Stress, Heavy Training and Weight Loss....A Husbands Point of View( revised)

I asked my brilliant husband, Mark, Master RKC Instructor, to write a guest blog, in his words, his thoughts about what I've been going through in regards to my bodyweight, diet and training these past months. I feel for husbands that live with wives constantly on diets, and I hope to give him some relief from it soon. He has always been my biggest support and fan, as well as the love of my life.

Losing over 100lbs was easy, and straight forward, compared to this recent weight gain of 5-10lbs. If you have anyone if your life that has been going through something similar, or if you yourself are having this experience, this may give you more information, and possibly some relief.


Tracy asked me to write a guest blog relating to her recent post about weight loss, stress and low calorie diets on her other blog, Food and Thought. Just a note: I am not a Doctor and don’t play one on TV OR the internet. I am just an athlete and trainer and have been around the dieting block more than few times, especially with my stint as a competitive bodybuilder and bodybuilding coach. I have made an intensive personal study of nutrition, physiology and have experimented with many forms of dieting myself including the extremes of vegetarianism, fruitarianism, macrobiotics, extended fasting and competition bodybuilding diets for almost as long as I have been training.

It began at 14 years old when I decided that my terrible acne problem might be solved nutritionally and I never lost the interest and connection between nutrition,health and the training lifestyle. I gained and lost 50 pounds twice in one year going from 175 as a bodybuilder to 125 as an ultramarathoner and bulked myself up to 200 pounds in an attempt to get bigger for bodybuilding as well. So I have some experience with diets.

Training mostly women during my 29 years of personal training has also given me insight into the mindset and habits of women and the dieting and bodyfat issues they face. I have also been here as Tracy lost her 125 pounds, maintained her weight at 130 and 18% bodyfat for over a year and half, got very close to anorexic at 123 pounds and have watched her present struggles trying to shed the last 8 pounds or so to get back to her ‘ideal’ weight.

For many years I have scoffed when people say they are eating less and less calories and ‘cannot lose the weight’, believing they were not being honest with either their calorie counts or their activity levels . It is a know fact that when one goes too low with their caloric intake the body will slow the metabolism down in an effect to conserve fat and energy. This makes sense: if you were stranded on a desert island, with very little food to eat and lots of physical activity necessary to survive would you want your body’s response to be to increase the metabolism and speed up the burning of precious body fat? No, you would want your body to conserve its reserves of fat and slow the metabolism down, awaiting your rescue. Now, at a certain point( starving!) you would lose weight regardless of how much the body wants to conserve but that is starving and not dieting and there is a difference. So most people truly are not eating as little as they say, nor are they training as hard as they think.

This is NOT the case with Tracy as I have observed her food intake and training loads over this time period and she is eating LESS than ever, training more and harder than ever and yet the weight moves down very slowly and is much quicker to return after a (much needed) high calories break in the diet. By the way, this method of low calories during the week and a break in the diet once a week a time tested method used by bodybuilders for many years as a way to tolerate extreme dieting and jump start the metabolism ( and save the mind!) each week. This worked perfectly for Tracy for many years. It hasn’t seemed to work that well lately and there are a few reasons that I think this has been happening.

Two major points: the first is her age (45) and with that the possible onset of perimenopause. Almost every woman I train and talk to about this issue (45-55 years old) ALL say they have experienced weight gain, especially around the hips and waist that they never had issues with before after this age. Regardless of how hard they diet and train. Things that previously worked before no longer work. This can be especially frustrating, especially if it is just a few short months ago that previous methods worked well.

Yet it is almost like saying everything was fine right before one hit puberty and then all kinds of crazy stuff happened after that! One cannot go back to a pre-pubescent state no matter how much they want to. Once the hormonal shift occurs you are a different person metabolically and things have to be treated as such. New methods have to be employed and techniques that had success before have to be discarded. New hypotheses and new experiments have to be performed to find out what works RIGHT NOW, with this new body and this new hormonal environment.Tracy is doing so with changes in her training weights and intensities as well as her meal plans.

The second, and, I believe, the most significant part of this is how the surgery might have affected her body and hormonal levels, perhaps even triggering early perimenopause. At the very least increasing total body stress and cortisol levels which are hugely implicated in body fat increases in men and women. No way around it, it was major surgery and a major stress on her body. Stress can do ANYTHING to your body. Given that enough can kill you it’s no joke. It’s a vicious circle as well as a double edge sword: increased stress increases weight which increases stress which ……you get the picture. The stress also increases adrenaline output which can deplete the adrenals as well as increase cortisol levels. High levels of cruciferous vegetables can also block iodine absorption which can lower one’s thyroid output( one should increase sea vegetables (seaweeds) to balance this. If you have an inactive or slow thyroid one will gain weight as well.

Cortisol also increases sugar output ( for the fight or flight) which can lead to unstable blood sugar levels and increased hunger as well. It’s a tough mix when one is trying to lose bodyfat.
And not just the bodyfat but the reserves of fat as well, which the body will give up very sparingly. It’s just not in the body’s interest to go into the last reserves of fat, which it knows it will need for emergencies. It’s like depleting your savings account, when the car breaks down how do you pay for it? Reserves are important in all areas of one’s life.

Again, just because one could do it at a certain time period previously does NOT mean it will work again, indefinitely. As my powerlifting coach Louie Simmons loves to say:” everything works but nothing works forever.”One must be flexible in their approach to training and diet. You don’t have to be, but things probably won’t work out as you want them to and then what?

And to that point, I also believe that the combination of very heavy training,especially for the type of volume that Tracy has been doing has made it much harder to keep the calorie count down. High intensity training, regardless of the weight on the bell ,really taps into the blood sugar stores as well as the stored glycogen levels and creates a HUGE demand to replace those sugars. Tracy's calorie count was within range for fat loss, but the heavy and high intensity training created much more severe hunger pangs. When the bell is actually very heavy (say 1000 24 kg swings/ high volume 16 kg snatches?) these sugar demands are even higher. And so is the appetite.

Even doing high speed work with lighter weights can tap into the blood sugar levels strongly, not to mention activating the white muscle fibers, the ones that actually GROW bigger. This is great if one's goal is to increase muscle size, and should be considered a validation of the kettlebells ability to grow muscle BUT if one's goal is to get SMALLER and LIGHTER, than smaller weights and lower intensities should be employed more often. At least until the goal weight is achieved. Think jogging instead of sprinting. If one reads back to Tracy's earlier blog post you can see the preponderance of the 12 kg bell and longer slower sets. This is what we are headed back to with the exception of even longer sets for more of an endurance effect and fat/muscle loss effect. Yes, muscle. Muscle and fat are intimately entwined and one invariably loses muscle when one loses fat and vice versa. This is precisely why bodybuilders train and diet as they do; for a specific peak.Trying to maintain that peak year round is, needless to say,very tough. One must be willing to do what is necessary for a result regardless of what one wants to do (Tracy is DYING to train with the 16 kg again!).She will again soon but with much lower volumes.

One more thing about stress. Everyone has a level of stress that they can handle at any one time.You can fill it up with one thing( training, job, relationship,hobbies worry, DIETING,etc) or a combination of all of the above. But you can't exceed the limitations. When you add the stress of trying to take in less calories than the body needs to do it's job things get really dicey. Especially when one does large volumes of intense training. It's like putting in half a tank of gas and expecting to get double the mileage. Just ain't gonna happen. Not without a fight.
And trying to go hard on fumes is tough on many levels.Even on spouses :))

Another important point is the pressure on people to be perfect and to be at their ideal(whatever- size, weight, strength, speed, etc) all the time. No bodybuilder or strength athlete would try to stay at their peak for any length of time because they know it’s impossible. They train and diet for months to get the peak, then back off as they rest up for another run at the gold ring. I know people will say “ but I did it so easily …… “ fill in the blank. Last year, last month, last week. Which may be true. But if it ain’t working now you have to change course.
Remember the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. I totally understand how frustrating it is but that’s the way it seems to be. I don’t make the rules, I just know ‘em, lol. I have to live by them too. Everyone does.

To sum this up, I think the main thing that’s important is to take the pressure off to be perfect so one can relax into where they are now, all the while still aiming for the long term goal. Once you realize that the stress of constant extreme dieting is more deleterious towards accomplishing the goal that should become the main concern: NOT stressing. How that is accomplished has to be individual but realize that if one is constantly berating oneself for not living up to ones goals and is holding one’s breath waiting to be perfect the chance of that happening get smaller all the time. I know, it sucks.

This comes back, imo, to living the lifestyle, training consistently, eating as clean as you can, giving yourself breaks and trying to accept where you are RIGHT NOW all the while not giving up the long term goal. Inching yourself towards the goal while not increasing the stress of doing so any more than is necessary, and taking the steps to decrease stress as much as possible.
The goal of training is NOT to induce anorexia, it is to build strength, condition, endurance, flexibility, power and ability. Health. At any weight. One must eat enough to fuel the workouts and your life. You can’t put half the gas in your car and expect double the mileage. Just ain’t gonna happen.It’s like anything else, one must find a balance. And learn to live with our imperfections.The challenge of this passage between ages 45 and 50 will be very demanding for probably most women , and one must find their own path through the jungle. I believe it can be done, that the goal of a light body, leanness, strength and endurance can all be had. And we won’t stop til we figure it out. BUT you have to enjoy the trip or what is it all about?


Kelly Olexa said...

What a great and timely post!!! Incredible! I will likely quote this tonight on my blog. I've been going through major sudden changes in my body the past 6 months - have had to go on and off the Pill and wow did it dramatically impact my body. Suddenly, suddenly suddenly my boobs went up 2 sizes and suddenly suddenly suddenly I have pudge around my tummy and I NEVER gain weight around my tummy! Now, I've also been dealing with a severe skin infection virtually all summer long- which is why I had to go back ON the Pill, and now am going OFF the pill. It's been a nightmare. I am 39 years old and my doctor thinks I could be in early perimenopause.....who knows?? It is frustrating and I am trying to NOT stress and just press on. Thank you for a GREAT POST!!


Tori said...

Great post!

Nomads2 said...

Mark, you comments are just about right as far as going through the "change." After our two children were born, my wife worked hard and was in great shape, running and lifting weights. When she hit forty things started getting weird so she went to the doctor, and after some convincing on my wife's part, the doctor tested her for menipause, thinking nothing would come of it. The doctor described it as "full blown." The weight gain came no matter what she did. Even when a certain diet seemed to work, she would quit after a small weight loss. After years of testing and working she is on the road to getting back to where she wants to be. We use kettlebells and the warrior diet, plus walking, hiking and just about every trick to burn some calories. We have been married for 33 years and she is the best! All three of your blogs are great. Thanks.

Cindy said...

Mark, your post is amazing and, I believe, so right-on! When I was 40 I was able to go from 139 to 129 in ONE MONTH! (I'm 5'9") When I was 45 and had gotten back to 139 again, I tried the same approach and it took three months to lose just 5 pounds. Now at 49, I'm still struggling to get from 139 to the 135 where I want to be. Most of the excess is around my hips and waist. My hormone levels indicate that I am not yet in menopause and my TSH is fine but at this rate I wonder what lies in wait for me in the next few years. The bright spot in all this are Tracy's blogs and I really enjoy incorporating her workouts into my own. I started KB training in June 2007 and I will never stop! Keep posting Tracy, it keeps me sane!

Jen said...

Hi Tracy & Mark,

Ahh, what our wonderful husbands go through. Surgery, my case, surgical menopause...these things are a blow to our bodies, but since we are wonderfully made we find ways to work around it. You're right Mark, we just use different techniques since the same stuff we used before sometimes stops working. Tracy is so fortunate to have you and I have my Greg to cheer me on. My situation is a bit different from Tracy's...but I'm happy to report that I've finally dropped 10 lbs...even in menopause. I agree that one of the biggest keys is being kind to ourselves.... thanks to you both for the great posts!! xoxoxo Jen

fawn said...

Excellent message Mark! Thanks for posting, Tracy, thanks for the idea.

Christine said...

That was a phenomenal post, I'm obviously not the only one that it spoke it on a deeply personal level!

Pamela said...

Thanks Tracy and Mark,
For the timely message. I started my journey at age 45 weighing 269 pounds. Todate I'm at 155 still wanting to lose at least 20 pounds (I'm 5 feet).

My goal at 45 was/is fit by 50 and I'm still moving towards that goal. I've had a couple of set backs and noticed what worked before isn't working so well now.

So I shift every few weeks to confuse my body (or myself ;)).
Again, great post and I'll probably quote it too!

Mark Reifkind said...

wow, thanks all, I guess it IS a timely topic.It's been so hard for me to watch Tracy suffer so much while she has been working so hard doing " the right things" that worked before and still not getting the result she wanted.
Bringing up the idea of perimenopause, hormonal fluctuations and other issues NOT related to simple calories in, calories out has been tough.
especially when what she has done for the last three years has worked so well and so consistently.
I also have noticed major changes in my endurance,strength and recovery ability as I have aged.I thought when I hit 573 in the squat at age 40 600 was just around the corner and I would get stronger til age 50.
Ah, no.things just fell apart, I got weaker then I got seriously injured.
right after the best peak of my life.I kept trying the same things and nothing worked.
I really think we are onto something now with changes in her training and eating patterns as well. I can already see the differences in her body size and shape,even this quickly.
I always think of the body as a scientific experiment so you have to adjust if the experiment doesnt give you the results you want.
And as always, its TOUGH to fight mother nature. glad this post spoke to some people.


Tracy Reifkind said...


One of the only ways I found any releif from this experience was to ask myself often, "What am I supposed to learn from this?" I have a new repect for that extra 5lbs I never had before, and a new repect for the people that have this experience. It's not just about willpower and discipline.

Tracy Reifkind said...


I noticed you changed the name of your blog, but no new posts! What's up with that?

Tracy Reifkind said...


The vicious cycle this creates can be a downward spiral.....

It hasn't been the actual weight (in pounds), but the feeling of defeat, the feelings of failure, that created the negative emotions I'm not used to feeling.

Tracy Reifkind said...


The bright spot is the KB training, and the luxury of such an incredible life Mark provides for me. Good foods, KB's, yoga, etc..

Mark is the most supportive husband a girl could ask for and now that he comes to yoga class with me, could I ask for anything more?

Tracy Reifkind said...


We'll have to drag Greg to a Bikram class when Mark and I come to Santa Barbara! I hope you're still practicing!

Tracy Reifkind said...


See what you have to look forward to! LOL

Tracy Reifkind said...


Well get this part of our lives right! That I know.

Tracy Reifkind said...


I cruised your blog and I got an unexpected inspiration for a blog post....

You remind me of myself. I think there are "levels" of overweightness, for a lack of a better desciption. I've experienced being 100lbs + overweight, and now I've experienced being 5-10lbs over what I say I want to weigh.....

Yes, this is a different situation, but sometimes we let those old behaviors that got us into extreme overweightness creep back.

Tori said...

Trying to find the time is my problem with blogging! Between working 32-40 hours a week and going to school two nights a week I just don't have the down time that I used to. I hope to use it as a journal to document changes in myself throughout my 2 years of my nutrition therapy program. It will get there, I just need to get more organized!

Jen said...

Hey Tracy,

Yes, Greg NEEDS to go to a Bikram class sometime...but hasn't been yet. I'm on hold for now. Still going to Physical Therapy 3 times a week but I'm making good progress and am promised that I'll be 'back in the saddle again'! LOL! I may even be able to get into some of the poses that were previously elusive! My structure is really changing for the better and range of motion....but for now, baby steps. Greg can breathe easy for a little while longer... LOL I know he'll love it once he tries it.

Bill Fox said...

Good stuff smart boy.

Franz Snideman said...

Holy Moly!

This is incredible! I would like to see this post in artilce in the Hardstyle magazine!

Rif, this is bang on!

Mark Reifkind said...


thanks that would be very cool.

Beth said...

I can attest to the sudden weight gain and trials of losing weight (I am 51 and in/at menopause--no period in almost 3 years now).

I gained 15 pounds in a span of two months doing nothing. I swear it scared the heck out of me. It was as if my body were simply just adding more and more weight and my clothes were getting tighter and tighter literally each day!

I agree that everything works and nothing works forever. I changed out my plan from counting every miniscule calorie I ate to just eating as clean as I could and smaller portions of GOOD FOOD. That worked! I have lost 12 pounds in a month by changing my diet and emotionally RELAXING! I can be very OCD about anything that I am focused on and I became that way about calorie counting until I thought I'd lose my mind if I had to count another calorie! I was so stressed out about how many calories were in something...arrrgh!

I still know in my head a general total calories I consume each day and I am eating about 500 MORE a day on average than I was before and not losing, but gaining!

Thanks for sharing!

Mark Reifkind said...


THANK YOU for the great post and testimonial. I think that relaxing is probably as important a part of this as anything although I can imagine it would be the toughest part! Hard to relax when everything you are trying is going in the opposite direction.But less stress has to be as important in this as any other consideration.
thanks again.

mark said...

Awesome post. I agree with Franz, this would be great in the hard style magazine.
I am going to print this for the women in my studio. Thank you both!

Keturah said...

Great post, Mark. And what a great idea, Tracy, taking us directly to the best source :-) I gleaned some good and helpful information, even though I'm far from perimenopause.

Anonymous said...

Great Post Mark.

I have heard so much information, but a lot of it was from people that either have never had to lose weight or have not really worked with others that need too. It was not until I worked with Tracy for the time I did, that I understood that what I was doing or had been told was not working for me. I am down to 149 lbs. I am about 19 lbs from my goal. Thank you both for what you teach and inspire.


PS. I am heading to the Philippines tomorrow to see relatives, I'll hopefully have some great pics of the cuisine I will be having while there to email to you.

I will be having a cooking class with one of my relatives who is a very busy caterer for large parties and gathering and I'll report when I get back.

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

Intermittent fasting helps so much, try that. I'm 40 and I'll never eat all day every ever again.