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All high-performing executives battle with stress. It comes with the territory. And more than a few pride themselves on their ability to cope with high levels of it. (Perhaps that's you.) Some even claim to thrive on it, stating it's their ability to manage more stress than the average person that makes them so successful. At least that's what they believe, until their metabolic system starts failing them. I should know.
Last year, I had one of the busiest, exciting, yet most stressful years ever running my company. Like most Type-A personalities, I chose to fight back. After all, I'm no stranger to stress--and I thought I had the solution. Eat healthy and exercise like crazy. A fitness junkie and instructor for more than decade, I thought increasing the intensity and changing the routine would keep me in peak performing mode--just as it had always done. It worked for a while, but then ...
Regardless of my best efforts to keep things in check, I found myself sick with a nasty cold I couldn't shake. I was tired all the time. And, no matter how many cups of coffee I drank, I couldn't get my brain to focus the way I was used to. I wondered if stress had finally beaten me. That's when I went "stark naked."
I was introduced to Brad Davidson's book, The Stark Naked 21-Day Metabolic Reset. A long-time personal trainer turned health and wellness coach, Davidson came up with his program after experiencing his own metabolic burnout. In spite of being in top physical shape, he was diagnosed with male menopause at 32 years of age. His doctor told him he had the testosterone levels of an 80-year-old man and wanted to put him on hormone therapy. That's when Davidson became determined to figure out what was causing his body to fail him. Turns out, the answer was in the way the human body handles stress.
We know when the body is stressed, it creates cortisol--a hormone that gives you a shot of energy. Tapping into it when you need it is a good thing, but what happens when your body uses it all day long, and for extended periods of time? Davidson explains, "It turns out all stress is like a lion--it scares your body." Regardless of the type of stress you experience--e.g., worrying about your family, making a tough decision at work, exercising for an hour, etc.--your body reacts by elevating your cortisol levels. However, the human body wasn't designed to stay in a constant state of stress. Davidson explains, "It's like having a car with a broken motor, but you keep pushing on the gas pedal as hard as you can hoping it will go faster." Good stress (exercise) or bad stress (worrying), it doesn't matter. Too much total stress will hurt you.
Davidson showed me that my body was in a metabolic breakdown. My elevated stress levels from a high-achieving lifestyle caused toxicity and food-induced inflammation, which led to altered hormones and a lethargic metabolism. This meant I would have to heal my metabolism to get the results I wanted. I had to go "stark naked." Davidson calls it that because the word "stark" in German means "strong." And, being naked is being vulnerable--which is scary for us high-achievers. But by then, I was ready to try anything. Or, so I thought.
Davidson warns repeatedly that the first week is the toughest. "Your body has to let go of all the toxins so it can start to heal." He was right. I was miserable. Tired and with the worst brain fog of my life, it was a chore to get through each day. I also had to, in Davidson's words, "give up everything I had ever known about health and wellness." Not easy for a person who prided herself on being informed and on top of the latest fitness trends. The metabolic reset required me to give up coffee, drink half my body weight in ounces of water, and follow a strict diet that was unlike any I had ever participated in before. Many foods I normally ate were off limits because my body had potentially built up a toxicity to them. I also wasn't allowed to do any intense exercise. I had to put my body in a state of physical and mental recovery. I slogged through the week, hoping it would get better.
By the second week, the exhaustion was over and I felt very calm. I was sleeping better, too. But, I still didn't have the razor-sharp brain I needed to feel like myself. Davidson says the lingering brain fog showed just how badly my body needed to recover: "The higher the level you want to perform at, the more recovery your body requires."
In week three, the real change hit me. I suddenly felt energetic for the entire day. My brain was on fire again. I had my mojo back. And, while I wasn't looking to, I had also lost some weight, specifically around my waist. The bloat was gone and I felt like me again. I was finally letting my body and mind heal.
My one piece of advice to anyone who checks out Davidson's program is to really read the entire book and go all-in when you try it. He provides a huge reality-check backed with lots of data that will definitely motivate you to get started. But, you need to dig deep and push yourself to stick with it. It's not going to be fun. He's the first to tell you so. That being said, you need to ask yourself, "How much longer can I go like this? And "If I could have fixed it by now, why haven't I?" A little soul searching will tell you it's time to do what you do best, high achiever: Suck it up and get it done.
Published Feb 2, 2016. Inc.com