Saturday, August 9, 2014

Can you exercise yourself thin?

Not on your life

Ever heard these laments (or made them yourself)?
  • "I work out at the gym several times a week, but I can't seem to lose weight."
  • "I go to zumba and aerobics, but all I get is hungry."
  • "I do yoga every week, but never drop a pound."
  • "The reason I don't lose weight is that I'm gaining muscle, which I've heard weighs more than fat."
And what about these excuses?
  • "I just burned calories in my step class, so I can have an ice cream or pizza."
  • "I can have that extra helping of potatoes because I'm going to aerobics class later today and will burn it off."
  • "My program (weight watchers/myfitnesspal, etc) gave me extra calories because I took a walk this morning, so I can eat a little more and still stay within my calorie goal."
So why do you think you aren't losing weight?

You can't lose weight from exercise alone

The reason you're not losing weight is because you're overeating. It's that simple.

To be sure, exercise is so good for you. It is essential to a healthy life. In fact, it's essential to keeping your body in shape and at a good, balanced weight. Being active will help you stay healthy and fit.

Exercise is not, though, the answer to weight loss. And anyone who thinks it is should attend some aerobics, spinning, yoga and zumba classes. They are filled with overweight people, thinking it is the answer to their weight problem.

There are two factors working against the notion that you can exercise off weight:

  1. You don't burn that many calories during exercise (unless you're a marathoner). In fact, you only burn about 300 calories during a half-hour of vigorous exercise. if that. This is a calorie "deficit" that is almost immediately wiped out by one latte. (And don't believe the calorie readouts on the exercise machines at the gym, for the obvious reason that they want you to think your workout is achieving results.)
  2. Any exercise calorie "deficit" is often quickly made up by an increase in food intake because doing the exercise made us hungry, or we feel entitled to a reward.

I'm not sure why Weight Watchers and myfitnesspal (as examples) carve out extra calories for you when you exercise, but it's probably to encourage you to do it. Please, though, don't think it's easier -- or more effective -- to exercise an hour than to cut out some calorie-rich food item from your day's intake. And please don't be foolish enough to eat those extra calories that you gained from exercising. Who are you fooling anyway? Only yourself.

Plus, who knows how many calories you have actually burned doing that exercise? And did you enjoy it? Or did it feel like a chore? Wouldn't it have been easier to just cut out those two extra cookies?

While it's true that exercise burns some calories, the simple fact is that you can't get control of your weight unless you change your eating habits.

So what should you do?

  • Follow the strategies and recipes I've outlined here (look to the right and click on "strategy" or "recipes").
  • If these don't resonate with you, find a strategy that does.
  • Stop making excuses for overeating.
  • Stop using exercising as an excuse to eat more.
  • If exercising brings you below your calorie goal, good. Don't use that as an excuse, though, to eat those extra calories "just to be sure you don't miss anything."
  • Find exercise opportunities that genuinely give you pleasure -- not something you suffer through because you think it is burning calories.
  • Switch from aerobics and yoga classes that take you through meaningless exercise after exercise (sometimes difficult, sometimes even damaging), and switch to something that thrills you.
  • Include movement and exercise in your life -- for good health and fitness, not for losing weight.
Once you start moving around in ways that are enjoyable, you will be in a healthy frame of mind and not even need to overeat to compensate for the exercises you are doing because you think they will help you lose weight. 

Am I the only one who believes this?

Maybe you're hearing this for the first time. Maybe you've heard it before. Just to let you know that I'm not alone in this view, check out this article: lose-weight-in-your-kitchen-not-your-gym.

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  1. I agree with what you are saying, although my initial reaction was immediate rejection. I have taken some time to reflect on this idea and began noticing not only my actions both before and after exercise, but those I see at the gym who are heavy. I heard a woman yesterday say that she did three classes in a row and didn't lose a pound so she is quitting the gym. I myself have used exercise as an excure to eat more. One year I had a workout buddy and after our workout we would go out to breakfast.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Elyse. Very thoughtful and heartfelt.

      Yes, I've done the same thing. Sometimes I want to blame the weight-loss industry for convincing us that we can exercise the pounds off -- whie eating anything we want. Or maybe the type of exercise we choose is just so hard that we feel the need for a reward, without questioning the consequences.

      I've noticed, though, that if I exercise in a way that is totally enjoyable, I don't finish with a need to eat. In fact, I feel totally satisfied and ready to get on with my day. For me, it's doing something like a walk on the SUNY campus or on a trail and bycycling. For others, it might be swimming. I've given up on yoga or aerobic classes that have a bunch of hard moves I don't understand (and can't always do) and subsituted classes that leave me totally satisfied and feeling better than I did when I arrived.

      I'll be curious to know if anyone else has a physical activity that makes them feel enriched.


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