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Self-confidence is ‘linked with good psychological health, body image, physical health, and mattering to others; whereas low self-confidence is associated with depression, health problems, and antisocial behavior.’(1)
Instinctively we know that improving physical health through good nutrition and exercise results in improvements in body image, energy, health and wellbeing. Helping people make improvements in the gym or kitchen enables them to trust in their abilities and reduce other negative aspects in their lifestyle, and you have the pleasure to watch as their confidence re-appears.
We know there is no magic pill, but it appears that self-confidence and great health lies within maintaining a healthy metabolism via hard work and dedication!
Metabolism is defined as “The chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life; Including digestion and the transport of substances into and between different cells”(2) Our metabolism maintains the balance within our bodies cells called homeostasis.
Hormones are released in response to biochemical signals within the body to maintain homeostasis. (Biochemical signals can be other hormones, internal changes in nutrients, environmental changes like light and dark, or neural signals, fear or stress.)
When hormones are released they signal changes or act upon cells to regulate their balance in some way. E.g. Darkness triggers the release of Melatonin, the sleep hormone, helping you drop off to sleep at night; the ingestion of carbohydrates trigger the release insulin, that in healthy individuals make cell membranes porous to blood sugars allowing cells to use it for energy or store it.
The food we eat and the role of exercise in the management of certain hormones is key to keeping your metabolism revved up. When we neglect or over-emphasize an aspect of our diet or exercise we tend to see negative changes in hormonal profiles that ultimately will trigger negative changes in the body, eventually possibly causing changes to our confidence. when we improve our habits this process can be reversed.
When hormones are constantly stimulated to unnatural levels the body tries to cope by pouring more hormones at the problem. So lets say you are constantly dealing with multiple problems, work, over or under eating, lack enough or do too much exercise etc. for extended periods of time, your body pumps more and more energy and hormones at the problem and less and less at repair and replenishment.
If the body does not get the chance to rebalance while you keep bombarding it with problems you eventually trigger a cascade of less pleasant side effects or a ‘metabolic shit storm!’– Irritability, anxiety, high blood pressure, weight loss/gain, and depression etc. Over longer periods of time this can contribute to chronic problems such as diabetes or chronic stress neither of which are associated with high levels of self-confidence!
Food and gut health are hugely important in regulating your metabolism, the quality, quantity and type of food you consume will have a huge effect.
Too many carbs, fast food or fat or to few nutrients can affect mood, which in turn can affect confidence and self-esteem. Feeling sluggish and tired can make you less out-going. However, foods that have a slow release and a reasonable fat content will give you more energy over a prolonged period of time promoting better health.
Recent studies found an association (3) between higher quality nutrient intakes and better mental health in adults with mood disorders. Another found people, who follow a whole food or Mediterranean style diet, benefit from nutrient induced anti-inflammatory effects (helpful in restoring homeostasis); thought to be due to the greater intake of antioxidants from fruit and vegetables.
The study of adults with mood disorders found dietary calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, Iron and Zinc, were correlated with higher levels of psychological functioning and low intakes of Iron displayed more symptoms of depression and low Zinc levels caused more mania.
Exercise in any form will trigger the release of a cascade of hormones along with endorphins (opiate type substances that block pain receptors and make us feel good by blocking pain receptors.)
When we exercise the body needs to sweat, breathe, and move muscles more frequently or with more force, this requires your metabolism to speed up to cope with demands and of course mobilise energy.
The type of exercise you are doing will somewhat affect the ratio of hormones released and the balance of energy consumed.
The most commonly discussed hormones are cortisol, testosterone and growth hormone due to their roles in controlling energy consumption and for supporting the growth and repair of cells once the exercise has finished.
It is also well documented that people with naturally higher levels of testosterone and growth hormones are likely to be leaner and more healthy individuals this is because these hormones trigger adaptive responses within the body to exercise, you become stronger and fitter because your tissues and metabolism adapts and you feel better because your body works more efficiently.
Cortisol is a stress hormone and is often blamed for a whole host of problems related to chronic stress including weight gain; yes levels can be elevated to chronic levels over extended periods of time if the body is never able to rest, yet this hormone also triggers the breakdown of fats for energy during exercise, so its important to consideration its role when designing fat loss training programs.
During resistance or HIIT training cortisol is released alongside testosterone and growth hormones negating its negative side effects and allowing fatty acids to be released into the bloodstream along with sugars. Intense workouts will use up the sugars but not the fat, the fatty acids will circulate after the session has finished for energy while the body works to return to homeostasis and repair any muscular damage etc.
If fatty acids are not used up they will be restored so a 10-15 minute cool down is advisable to mop up excess fatty acids, whilst aiding in de-stressing your body lowering your heart rate and restoring homeostasis.
Low-level cardio exercise such as leisure walking, dancing, playing golf etc. are all enjoyable ways to relax keep cortisol levels low and burn fat so advocating these activities is essential. Pair this with three resistance training sessions or two HIIT sessions per week including a good cool down and you will stimulate your metabolism, release excess energy stores and protect valuable muscle mass.
I should also mention that exercise aids the release of the happy hormones serotonin and dopamine. The increase in concentrations of these neurotransmitters occurs by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system (4)
Low levels of Serotonin are linked to depression because “it regulates mood, sexual desire, appetite, sleep, memory and temperature regulation while Dopamine affects movement, emotional response and your ability to feel pleasure.” (5)
Exercising frequently may boost the brain’s ability to absorb serotonin from the bloodstream while also improving dopamine production and feelings of wellbeing.
A study published in 2011reported participants who did aerobic exercise had lower levels of depression. (5) Additional studies found exercise triggers neurogenesis – the creation of new neurons in the brain which it important for mental health especially in anyone over 30 years old when production of neurons begins to decline. The study found “Aerobic exercise reinforces neural connections by increasing the number of dendrite connections between neurons, creating a denser network, which is then better able to process and store information. This suggests possible preventative and therapeutic effects for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that progress via the loss of neurons”(4)
So aerobic exercise will trigger fantastic hormonal responses within the body to aid happiness; while anaerobic or resistance training preserves important muscle tissue; both then serve to improve your metabolism, health, body composition and therefore your self confidence and wellbeing.
The quality and quantity of food too will impact or alter your moods whilst improving or undermining the effectiveness of your best exercise efforts.
So perhaps the key then to improving self-confidence and its associated disorders lies in ensuring the smooth running of your metabolism, consuming the right nutrients, vitamins and minerals along with following a relevant exercise and recovery plan? Sounds a lot better than the alternatives to me!
(1)Myers, Jane; Willise, John; Villalba, Jose (1 January 2011). “Promoting Self-Esteem in Adolescents: The Influence of Wellness Factors”. Journal of Counseling and Development 89: 28–30. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2011.tb00058.x.
(3) KM Davidson, BJ Kaplan (April 2011) ‘nutrient intakes are correlated with overall psychiatric functioning in adults with mood disorders’ Canadian journal of Psychiatry 2012;57(2):85-92