Stress and Lack of Sleep May Contribute to Weight Gain

Anna Boom

How many days a week do you run or workout? How many calories do you burn during those runs? Do you ever wake up long before the rest of the house, or even the sun in order to get those extra miles in? Or maybe you stay up late, trying to get everything done before the next day begins.
Now, how many nights do you get adequate sleep? Currently that is set around 8 solid hours. And research is pointing to how sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain.
What?! Seems unfair that waking up early so we can run can also be a reason that we gain weight, doesn’t it?
Here is how it works: when we don’t sleep enough, we put our bodies into a stress mode, in turn putting us into alarm mode, which makes us put out more of the hunger hormone, ghrelin (the enzyme produced by stomach lining cells that stimulate appetite). It also makes us decrease the output of satiety hormone, leptin (produced by fatty tissue and believed to regulate fat storage in the body) so we get hit both by being hungrier and also not feeling as satisfied.
There is also research into the taste of high calorie foods, when you are in alarm mode, as in they are tastier and you crave them.
And those late night fast food tv ads are just like the commercials they show on the kids channels–designed to bombard you with images that tell your brain how much you need that thing. A sleep deprived brain sees that and can’t resist the high calorie quick energy fix. The average number of additional calories that sleep deprived people eat every day, compared to well rested is
So am I saying you skip the next 6AM WOOT run? No way! Instead, try and get to bed early the night before. Of all the work we put into improving ourselves, the easiest health improvement that gives huge benefits, is getting enough sleep. Dishes, laundry, picking up can wait til the morning. After our WOOT run, that is!


Jannine Myers

Anna raises an important point, and one which I’m sure has caused many of you to start calculating how many hours of sleep you’re getting each night! Hormones are great, when everything’s humming along nicely, but as you read above, they can also wreak havoc on our health (and weight) when we create scenarios that throw them off balance. And here’s where the sleep-deprivation issue gets even drearier – add to that a life filled with excessive amounts of stress, and you’re going to fire off yet another weight-inducing hormone; the stress hormone known as cortisol.

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands when the body experiences elevated levels of stress. It’s presence during stressful or dangerous situations is to provide extra energy (flight or fight response), and it does so by assisting other hormones in the breaking down of fats and carbohydrates. Energy stores are conserved through a loss of appetite, as our bodies enter a state of alertness.

Later however, when stress levels have returned to normal, cortisol appears again, but this time in an attempt to restore energy levels that may have been depleted during the threat response. The problem though, is that a noticeable increase in appetite will be experienced, even if little or no energy was expended. In other words, you may end up gaining weight that was never lost in the first place!

So, in summing up, the advice that Anna and I have for you is this:

  • Get a good night’s sleep (as often as possible)
  • Continue to regularly exercise/run (with WOOT!!!)
  • Keep stress levels to a minimum (or at least, try to manage the stressful situations that you have some control over)

And one last thing to keep in mind – stress and lack of sleep also adversely affect how you look, feel, and act. Picture the mom who drops her kid/s off at school, still clothed in her pajamas, hair looking wild, and a clearly agitated look as she pulls away from the curb and glares at the driver who she just cut in front of. I don’t know about you, but I kind of know that woman (I may even be that woman, occasionally) – and if I can help it, I’d like to stay clear of her!

Shifting Goals May Be Necessary for the 40+ Female Runner

Jannine Myers

Years ago, when I worked as an administrative assistant at a fitness center, I used to admire the team of fitness instructors who worked at the center, and in particular, some of the older women who led and mentored the younger instructors. These women were highly motivated, incredibly strong, and extremely passionate about helping others to succeed. I loved these women, but secretly, I was also happy to be a young woman, still in my 20s, and still full of youth and vitality.

Today, in my, ahem, early 40s, I realize that I am now the “older” woman amongst my athletic peers (thankfully, I have several friends on my team – you know who you are!). I guess I never really thought about it before because I often feel like I’m still in my 20s. But regardless of how I feel, the fact remains that I am indeed in the middle phase of my life and whether I like it or not, I have to be willing to accept that a gradual decline in performance is inevitable.

In accepting that fact, I am also faced with one of two options: a) cry about it and be miserable, or b) continue to give my best effort and be happy with my results. Since I don’t care too much for misery, I think I’ll go with option “b” and keep slugging it out. And although it may be true that my best days (in terms of race PRs), are soon to be behind me, I’m happy to say that I have found another way to challenge myself.

Yale economist and marathon runner, Ray Fair, analyzed record running data to predict the rate at which our running ability deteriorates as we age. His research concluded that a steady rate of decline  occurs between ages 35 and 70 to 75, and a rapid decline occurs thereafter. The decline, according to Fair, takes place in the form of a decrease in time of  1% , for most people. For me, that equates to 2 minutes per year!

Curious to see if Fair’s estimations have any shred of credibility, I entered my information in his online time predictor calculator:

And, sadly, his predictions seem accurate, at least in my case. I entered my best marathon time, and my age at the time of my PR, and according to his predictions, my race times would decrease by approximately 2 minutes every year thereafter. My second best marathon time, which was achieved just one year after my PR, is…… guessed it, two minutes slower! Sigh…..

But that’s okay, as I said above, I’m not one for wallowing about in self-pity. I can use this information in a positive way – here’s how:

I read somewhere that many people tend to get a sense of satisfaction out of doing better at something than they are expected to. I can think of one example right off the bat which lines up with this statement. One of my running clients recently exceeded the requirements of a workout I had prescribed for her (she ran faster than the pace range I had set for her), and when she later gave me feedback, she said she saw the pace range set for her and couldn’t help challenging herself to run just a little faster.

I think we all have an inherent desire to run “just a little faster,” or run “just a little further.” We’re driven by a quiet but competitive spirit which urges us to continually try and beat the odds. And that’s what I hope will push me to keep trying, rather than settle for mediocrity. Granted, I don’t expect to keep beating my race times, especially since I’m no longer in that younger age bracket of runners, but I now have a time predictor model which I can use as a bar upon which to set my race goals. Or, if I’m daring, I can race against my predicted times and try to beat them.

But that’s essentially my grand plan – the strategy I intend to employ as a means of warding off any negativity that aging tries to impose upon me. Yes, I may be past my prime, and my run times may in fact be getting slower, but I can still set goals and and I can still challenge myself. That’s enough incentive for me to stay motivated and excited about running in my 40s and beyond.

And on a final and positive note, I also read recently that research conducted by the Cooper Institute revealed that a woman in her 40s who can run a mile in under 9 minutes, is considered “quite fit,” and at less risk of developing heart disease in her later years. Conversely, a woman in her 40s who runs a mile in 12 or more minutes may have a higher risk of heart disease later in life. Fortunately for me, I fall into the former category – another reason to stay happy and excited about running!

Still happy to be running!

Incidentally, the research also showed that a woman in her 40s, who runs a mile in 12 minutes or more, can potentially improve her mile time and subsequently decrease her risk of heart disease.

The Real Workout Starts When You Want to Stop

Jannine Myers

Last week Anna made some very valid points about forcing the body to keep going, even when your brain is screaming, “NOOOOOO!!!!” Recently, while out walking (and yes, you read that right, we were out “walking”), Anna and I talked about this whole concept of training the mind to “accept” new levels of pain and discomfort.

In Hokkaido, the extreme heat conditions caused Anna’s brain to fire off a wave of warnings in a desperate attempt to shut down her body and force her to stop running. But, as Anna told us, she ignored the warnings and kept running. What happened? Did she pass out or collapse? No. Why? Probably because her brain was able to perceive a heightened level of tolerance and re-set it’s danger threshold.

[Disclaimer: Before I go on, I just want to say that what Anna and I have discussed and what we have concluded in our own minds, is simply that! We are not offering professional or backed-up information, and nor are we saying that you should all continue running when you are in pain, or when you don’t feel “right’.” What we are saying however, is that we think it’s possible to train ourselves to push through those really trying moments and come through successfully.]

I remember a friend once telling me, that in preparation for an ultramarathon she ran, she often went out on her training runs alone. She recalled one particular hike she did by herself, where she climbed the mountain behind her home and spent seven long hours doing so.

Some of you may have seen this picture already on our Woot Facebook page – this is the mountain behind my friend’s home!

I asked her why she deliberately set out on long, solo runs and hikes by herself, and her response was, “Well, when you run an ultramarathon, you often find yourself running alone for long stretches at a time. If I don’t train myself to feel comfortable in that type of situation, then how will I handle it on race day?” Of course, why hadn’t I thought of that! Why had it not occurred to me that a well-rounded training regimen should also include some aspect of pyschological training?

While I’m no expert in “mind-training,” and therefore unable to offer much advice in that area, I can however, provide for you some great insight on this topic, by four-time Kona Champion, Chrissy Wellington.The following is a compilation of some of my favorite excerpts (in no particular order) from her book, A Life Without Limits:

“You should maintain the same level of concentration in training as you would when racing. It’s no use imagining you will miraculously develop that focus on race day. It won’t happen, and you will have neglected a fundamental part of your program. You wouldn’t go into a race without any physical training, so why would you go in without any mental?” 

“There is a lot of repetitive activity in an athlete’s life…and you need to learn how to handle it. The best way of improving your capacity to endure boredom is to endure boredom. Spend time training on your own and challenge your mind to stay focused.”

In an endurance athlete’s life, pain is never far away. As pain is little more than conversation between your body and your brain, this is another reason why a fit mind is important. The brain is the master computer of the body. Even when we are working on the efficiency of the peripheral components – the legs, the arms, the butt cheeks – we can recruit the seat of all power to enhance the effectiveness of our work. It’s a question of testing limits. For a start, there’s the importance of keeping an open mind. The brain is programmed to protect us, and that can mean imposing limits on what it thinks we can or should do. Constantly push at those limits, because the brain can be way too cautious. Not too long ago I would have laughed if someone suggested I could do an iron man. Imagine if I had allowed that attitude to persist. It is up to each and every one of us to change the “I can’t” into “I can.”

“I am motivated above all by that little voice inside that urges me on to fulfill my potential. Everyone has that same voice in them somewhere, but many are too scared to listen to it, too scared to try, too scared of failure. That fear is immobilizing, but it is also our own personal construct and therefore doesn’t exist in reality. Never imagine anything is impossible, and never stop trying out new things.”

“The brain is constantly trying to impose limits on what it thinks it can achieve. We should constantly question it, fight it. That means enduring pain. …Not the mechanical kind, which warns us that something has broken down – but the pain that is our brain’s way of telling us it doesn’t like how hard we are working. …This is not gratuitous masochism. This is a very real process of refinement going on. You are not just working your muscles and lungs, you are working your brain to learn to accept each new level of exertion as something that can be endured safely. The brain will try to dig it’s heels in. Eventually it will prevail, because of course, there ARE limits. Having a sense of what really is too much is always crucial. The key is to push that point back as far as possible. The interface between the conservative and ambitious impulses in the brain should be a front of continual struggle. And remembering the pain of previous sessions or races we have successfully endured gives us the confidence to go through it again, and the evidence to present to the brain that we are capable of handling it.”

Remember ladies, the real workout starts when you want to stop!

The Body Achieves What the Mind Believes

Anna Boom

The body achieves what the mind believes.

That has been my motto for many years. Whatever we can believe and work towards, we can physically accomplish.

There is another concept that I have since incorporated into my motto and I want to share it with you:

The mind believes what the body achieves.

This really had meaning for me on the last marathon I ran, the Hokkaido Marathon on August 26, 2012. The starting temperature was low 80s and managed to climb up to high 80s with almost 100% humidity throughout the race. I had trained hard all through the Okinawa summer, thinking the weather on Japan’s northern most island would be fall temps by late August. Weather wise, I thought it was going to be a piece o cake. Boy, oh boy was I wrong.

As some of you know, the Boston Marathon heat back in mid April 2012, took a big toll on me and I DNFd at mile 17. As I ran the hot sticky Hokkaido course flashes of the same thought went through my mind:

You lost your Boston qual time

It’s too hot out here

Everyone is dropping out

You should drop too

Instead of listening to what my mind believed, I made my body achieve. I kept running. I shut out that negative voice and kept moving forward. As my body moved forward, in what seemed like inches at a time, my mind changed:

Maybe I can gut this out

What if I just run hard for 40 more minutes

I did lots of tempo. Just run like that

It also helped to have one of my best friends waiting for me out on the course. I kept thinking Amy was standing there waiting and I was late, and better get moving. When I saw her, she jumped in to run along beside me, carrying a small container of ice and asking every runner we passed if they wanted ice. Almost all happily said yes with surprise at the crazy running ice maid. I wonder how many of those runners she helped finish that day with that small gesture of kindness…

Now that it is over, I am happy that I had the opportunity to face the same conditions we had in Boston. This time, I finished!

So I improved my motto:

The body achieves what the mind believes and the mind believes what the body achieves!!!

Or for mile 20 when your blood sugar is so low, you can hardly do the math on how many miles are left:

Believe it, achieve it. Achieve it, believe it!!


Running And Weight Loss

Anna Boom
When you think of runners, what do you picture? Do you see yourself as this runner in your mind?Running is a great way to lose weight, no doubt. TV shows like, The Biggest Loser, show the participants huffing it out on a treadmill, personal trainers yelling in their face, every week. And then, at the end of the season, 13 weeks later, they have lost massive amounts of weight. Seems incredible. The reason that they are able to lose up to 10 lbs a week (very hard on your body and heart) is partly due to running and partly to food choices.

For part of the exercise regimen, contestants run on treadmills and are kept in a steady state of moving. This way of running is great for beginners and can be an impressive weight loss technique. This may be the first time, or the first time in a long time, the contestants have been pushed to maintain an intensity rate for a long period of time, known as steady state training. While running, the heart rate reaches a certain level and stays there while the runners maintain the pace. Oxygen consumption also remains constant at that pace.
When starting, the intensity is low. The body’s energy consumption leans more towards fat burning resources, which allows the contestants to keep running for a long time. The downside of this is that this is a ratio, fat burning vs. glycogen. So yes, they are burning more fat than glycogen, but also burning less calories. And losing weight is math: burn more calories than you eat. To increase your weight loss, add the intensity, which will burn more calories.

Jannine Myers

Adding to Anna’s words above, I often hear or read complaints from women that they are running but not losing weight. Or worse, they are running and gaining weight! What in the world…..

Read the following (sourced from a Performance Fitness Systems blog post):

According to research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine this year, you may actually gain weight—especially if you’re a woman—training for a marathon. In the 3-month study, researchers put 64 individuals on a marathon training program, 78% experienced no change in body weight, 11% lost weight and 11% gained weight. However, among those who gained weight, almost all were women.

Why is it that some women take up running and immediately start dropping pounds, while others do just the opposite. I searched through various articles and books to come up with the best answers for you, and below is a collection of what seems to be the most commonly agreed-upon factors:

Problem One: Calories In Versus Calories Out:
As Anna points out above, in order to lose weight it comes down to simple math – you need to expend more calories than you consume. Easier said than done! When training for a marathon, there’s often a tendency, for women in particular, to start eating more. There’s a few reasons for this:

  • Reward Syndrome – Running coach Jenny Hadfield describes in a Runners World blog post, how one of her “newbie” clients would celebrate every long run by enjoying a larger-than-usual breakfast of “a post-run chocolate milk, followed by an omelet, fried potatoes with gravy, toast, mocha coffee, and a cinnamon roll the size of Texas.” It’s very easy to fall into the reward syndrome mentality and tell yourself that you “deserve” the extra calories, but too often the extra calories (added up throughout the week), end up exceeding your weekly training expenditure.
  • Increased production of appetite-regulating hormones: exercise appears to cause hormonal changes which prompt a desire to eat more. Exercise may also affect insulin levels, causing a change in how the body burns fuel. Women are unfortunately more susceptible to these hormonal changes, most probably because our bodies are wired to retain fat/energy stores for reproduction.
  • Compensating – this was an interesting one, I thought. Similar to the hormonal changes that women experience (as a result of the body trying hard to maintain it’s energy stores), compensating also has to to with the body recognizing when it’s gone into negative energy balance, and then quickly doing something to reverse the situation. In her book, The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Gretchen Reynolds refers to a type of compensation that’s been labeled as “non-volitional exercise-induced inactivity.” Basically, this concept implies that some people who exercise to lose weight, may inadvertently sabotage their efforts by remaining sedentary throughout the rest of the day. I believe this may be especially true of females who train for a half or full marathon for the first time – the increased training takes such a toll on them that after they are done running, they’re not as inclined to be as active throughout the day as they may have been prior to the training.
  • Eating the wrong types of food – some beginner runners, in an effort to control increases in appetite, try to satisfy their hunger by eating more carbohydrates and less protein and fat. But too many carbohydrates, especially highly-processed carbohydrates, can start a vicious cycle of over-eating due to never-ending cravings.

What to do:
Manage your food intake in several ways:

  • Eat more on long-run days, eat moderately on shorter run days, and eat less on rest days
  • Track your calorie-intake by using one of the many free food logs online, such as, or MyPlate on
  • Choose healthy carbohydrates that keep you feeling satisfied for longer, for example, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains; choose also nonfat or lowfat dairy products
  • Hold off on eating a “recovery meal” after your long run, followed by another meal – time it instead so that you eat a full and balanced meal within the first hour of completing your run (this can save you a few hundred calories)
  • Balance your meals with healthy fats and protein – Hadfield points out that “eating two organic real eggs with avocado and veggies versus egg whites and toast with no butter will stay with you much longer and prevent hunger cravings later.”
  • Note: the general recommendation for athletes wanting to lose weight while training, is to not drop below a 15% caloric deficit between calories burned and calories consumed. For example, if you burn in one day a total of 2500 calories, you should consume at least 2125 calories – total calories burned:2500 minus 15% (375) equals 2125 calories.

Problem TwoLarge increases in training coupled with insufficient fuel
Some women, in an effort to lose weight while training for a marathon, may try to restrict calories and yet be shocked to discover that their weight is increasing rather than decreasing. If the duration and intensity of their training is much more than they are used to, sparking a significant increase in calories burned, some serious hormonal shifts can occur if the new energy needs are not being met. Essentially, the brain sends a message to the body to slow down it’s metabolism and conserve energy, or in other words – “start storing more fat reserves!”

What to do:
Start your training from whatever fitness level you are at, and increase your weekly intensity and mileage by no more than 10% (allow your body to adapt). As your training increases and you expend more energy, make sure you also increase your calorie intake, but don’t overdo it! Your increase in calories should be just enough to ensure that your energy and recovery needs are being adequately met.

Problem Three: Increased muscle efficiency equals less calories burned
As you run farther and faster, week after week after week, your muscles eventually become stronger and more efficient. The problem with increased muscle efficiency, is that fewer calories are burned as a result.

What to do:
In order to continue burning more calories, you need to frequently change up the intensity and/or duration of your workouts. This is not too difficult to do, since you can easily incorporate different types of speedwork into your weekly workouts, and if you’re training for a marathon, you will already be challenging your body with weekly increases in long run distances.

Note: on the bright side, greater muscle efficiency equals less energy burned – equals less fatigue -equals greater ability to run longer at lesser effort.

[ – Coach Jenny Hadfield; Runners World Magazine Oct 2011 Pamela Nisevich, M.S., R.D.; NYTimes Phys.Ed Column Author, Gretchen Reynolds; YahooPrecision Health and Fitness Owner, Ross Harrison.]