Is exercise the answer to weight loss?
What if I told you that going to the gym is NOT the answer to losing weight. That all those hours you’re spending on the treadmill or cross trainer aren’t helping you get the Instagram friendly bum you want. Or that the 100 sit ups you did before work aren’t making any inroads into the six pack you’re desperate for. I’m joking, right? I’m not – and I’ll explain why.
Because I’m a gym owner and the fitness industry is growing all the time, every week I see people interested in joining, all with the same needs. They want to lose the weight – often it’s abdominal weight. They used to be fit and slim but sitting at a desk has taken its toll and the weight has crept on. They’ve got a bit older, stopped running around after the kids so much, maybe. Got too busy for that weekend football game. They want to look and feel better as soon as possible.
Of course I’m not going to turn people away and tell them that the answer to their problem actually lies in the kitchen, not my gym. Getting fit has a huge number of benefits – it can prevent diseases like dementia, help with anxiety and depression, improve bone and joint health, help you sleep better, give you more energy, and so much more.
But to really be at optimum fitness and as healthy as you can, good nutrition and exercise MUST go hand in hand. Look at it this way, you have spent a small fortune on a top of the range sports car. Are you really going to fill it with cheap fuel and oil, let the water run dry? Of course you’re not. You want to take care of it so that it lasts and runs well. Your body is no different!
There seems to be a belief that exercise gives us the green light to eat whatever we want. Whether it’s hours slogging away on that treadmill or a short intense HIIT workout, we tend to use it as an excuse to justify eating badly afterwards (and sometimes before!) ‘I’ll work it off later.’ ‘I did a big weights session earlier, I deserve it.’ ‘I need to eat before I train or I’ll run out of energy.’ Sound familiar? But it’s so easy to overeat and wipe out all that good work – especially if you’re making the wrong choices with what you’re putting into your body. Remember the car – your body will run as well as you have fuelled it to run. Fill it with cheap crap fuel and it will run like its fuelled on cheap crap.
So what does this all mean in terms of weight loss? Losing significant amounts of weight is a long term goal – a marathon rather than a sprint. There are no quick fixes and exercise alone is certainly not going to do it. We need to consider calories in versus calories out – but we also need to think about the nutrient value of the calories consumed. Yes, exercise will burn calories but if we replace then with the same number or more calories from nutrient deficient foods we will never reach our goals.
It is first important to understand how many calories your body needs on a daily basis to function well. For instance, on average women need 2000 calories a day to maintain her current weight, and 1500 to lose one pound of bodyweight per week (a healthy, gradual strategy, by the way). If you would like to know how many calories you should be consuming there are a number of calorie counters online that just need your age, gender, weight, height and activity levels to let you know, so its worth taking a moment to check that out.
When looking at how many calories consumed in comparison to how many calories burnt during a one hour workout the average would be somewhere between 300 to 500 calories for women and a little higher for men. This of course depends of the type of exercise. For instance if you include some resistance training into your workout you’ll burn through more of those calories in comparison to just sticking to cardiovascular exercises like running. To get a good understanding of many calories you are actually burning, I would recommend wearing a heart rate monitor over the course of a week to get a clearer idea of your calorie consumption in comparison to your calories expended. It is easy to overestimate how many calories exercise can actually burn and therefore over eat in compensation; as well as getting hung up on daily consumption rather than looking at the data over a broader time.
Then, once you are know broadly how many calories you need, the next step is to think about where those calories come from. A calorie is a calorie, right? Wrong. A couple of hundred calories of sugary, over processed cake (even a so called ‘healthy’ energy bar) is going to spike your insulin levels, feed your cravings without filling you up, cause inflammation that can make your joints sore and stomach bloat, and to add insult to injury, leave you hungry again shortly after. But swap those calories for a couple of boiled eggs and some avocado or nuts, and you are giving your body protein, healthy fats and a host of nutrients. You will feel fuller for longer and you won’t be left desperate for more sugar.
I know that it can feel confusing. There is so much information about diets and what we should and shouldn’t out there, and a lot of it is conflicting. Should you be following a ‘clean eating’ plan? Should you be gluten free? How much protein do you need? Is a paleo diet best? And so on. I can address some of these questions about diet in future blogs, but if you are at the start of your weight loss journey, my biggest tip is a simple one:
When you going shopping, stick to the fresh food aisles. Avoid anything in a pack with a long shelf life, and you can be pretty sure you’re eating nutrient rich foods. You’ll be sticking to meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, some grains. Be wary of anything with too many ingredients or that claims to last till next year. Your basket will probably be full of different colours and look inviting. It should be ingredients, rather than ready meals.
And I know that if you are used to picking up a microwaveable lasagne or box of cereal, this can feel daunting. You might get your shopping home and think, ‘what on earth do I do with all these vegetables, I last ate a boiled egg when I was a child, and I don’t even know where to start with cooking this fish – it isn’t in breadcrumbs!’
First of all, don’t panic. There is a lot of information easily available even for inexperienced cooks. Some simple books that I like are Paleo Comfort Foods, A modern Way to Cook and NomNom Paleo; there are websites such as >https://paleoleap.com/paleo-101/ or https://stupideasypaleo.com and blogs with recipes you can try https://sarahfragoso.com/recipes/. A small time investment learning to prepare your food so it keeps as many nutrients as possible is a great one to make, and you may well get the cooking bug. Oh. And take that microwave to the tip – they ruin your food and are bad for you!
Knowledge is power. There is so much information out there now to help us understand how the body works and what it really needs.
So you see, if you can dedicate a small amount of time learning how to make healthier food choices , it will pay off in faster weight loss, increased fitness and a healthier, happier, and – dare I say sexier – you! Enjoy the journey.