If you are exercising just to lose weight then STOP!

When it comes to it, there are only three proper reasons to exercise:

  • Connector.

    To improve your health

  • Connector.

    To improve your fitness

  • Connector.

    Because you enjoy it

That’s it!

It seems that anything over and above ‘moderate exercise’ is pointless when it comes to just losing weight.

Evidence is emerging that shows highly active people often aren’t using more calories than ‘moderately active’ people.

The paper was published in Current Biology and was authored by Herman Pontzer, a professor at Hunter College in New York. He said that

“Total energy expenditure plateaus at higher activity levels.”Herman Pontzer

The impression we are given by fad diets and slimming groups though is that there is almost no limit to the amount of weight that can be lost through exercise.

It seems as if they are saying “exercise more and lose more weight” but the evidence from research does not back this up.

With this being a new avenue of research it is still unclear why this plateau effect happens. There are a couple of theories.

Theory #1 why excessive exercise doesn’t lead to increased weight loss

The first theory is proposed by Diana Thomas from Montclair State University in New Jersey. She suggests that more active people make fewer small movements throughout the day. These movements might be things like shuffling in their seat and fidgeting etc.

All these movements use energy. When this energy is added up over a day or a week it could equal hundreds of calories.

“Those movements have very low energy expenditures and they’re hard to capture” Diana Thomas from Montclair State University in New Jersey

Theory #2 why excessive exercise doesn’t lead to increased weight loss

The second idea is that the bodies of highly active people might be better at using calories efficiently. As a result they use fewer calories. This is as a result of exercise and just from the body keeping itself functioning.

Theory #3 why excessive exercise doesn’t lead to increased weight loss

A third idea is that the body adapts. It has been known for a while that the body changes how it uses the resources it has available depending on what is being asked of the body and the environment it is functioning in.

For example if a person was in a famine then the body would adapt by slowing down metabolism to use the least amount of calories possible.
Maybe a similar thing is happening at the other end of the spectrum.

Maybe very active people are doing a similar thing. Their bodies ‘know’ that a lot will be demanded of them on a regular basis so they use the fewest amount of calories possible to enable that activity.

When you exercise it’s harder to control how much you eat

Think about it this way. Your body is seeking to keep things as balanced as possible and to maintain your health as best it can under the circumstances it finds itself in.

When you exercise the body understands that more is being asked of it and that extra activity requires energy. If that demand placed on the body is regularly happening then appetite is increased to get more resources into the body to make up for what is being used through exercise.

‘Compensation’ is common in heavy exercisers

‘Compensation’ is when someone who exercises allows themselves to eat and/or drink in a particular way because they think the exercise they have done off-sets what they might consume.

We have all heard someone do this (or maybe you have done it yourself!) It’s where a person says “why not? I did an extra long work out this morning so I will have a slice of cake thanks.”

This indulgence often is greater (in calories) than the benefit (calorie reduction) that the exercise provided in the first place.

Zoe Harcombe who is an obesity researcher has said

“Exercise is seen as being deserving of a reward. Weight Watchers even builds the concept into their programmes, giving you extra points for exercise.

But, all too often, the treat that people reward themselves with is out of proportion to the amount of exercise they’ve done.”Zoe Harcombe, obesity researcher

This was demonstrated in a recent study by Arizona State University, which looked at women who were seriously overweight and who had sedentary lifestyles. There were asked to live their life as normal but to add in three sessions on a treadmill per week for 12 weeks.

This research showed that the women got fitter but that they didn’t lose any weight. In fact some of the women got bigger, possibly due to compensation.

There are 2 main reasons for this compensation:

  • 1) people are notoriously bad at estimating the calorie content of food and even food labelling is often wildly inaccurate.
  • 2) The calories used during a work out are often not the actual number of calories used.

OK, so point number one…. People are really inaccurate at estimating calories or what constitutes ‘a portion’ The best example of this you can test yourself is by using cereal. Put ‘a portion’ of any cereal from your kitchen cupboard into a bowl. Then have a look what weight of that cereal is considered ‘a portion’ by the manufacturer.

Chances are your ‘portion’ will be significantly bigger than their portion.

And yet if you factor the calorie content of that cereal into your daily intake it will be based on the manufacturer’s definition of a portion so significantly less than you ate.

Even when you do have a portion that matches the recommended portion size the calories you are told are in food are often incorrect.

The second reason compensation happens is because when your running machine or Fitbit tells you how many calories your workout used it is not that accurate anyway. The number of calories you are told you have used in a workout is a combination of two amounts.

The first is the number of calories that you have used exercising and the other amount is the number of calories your body has used just by virtue of being alive. Your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR, is the number of calories your body would use if you were doing absolutely nothing and just sat on the sofa.

For example, a 10 stone average person uses about 70 calories an hour just from sitting doing nothing. If the running machine says that you have ‘burned off’ 200 calories you have only actually used 130 from exercising and the other 70 would have been used anyway as a result of BMR.

If you then rewarded yourself with a Starbucks latte you’d have put in 190 calories from the drink, more than you actually used up exercising.

As a result you would have been better off, calorifically, if you had sat on your bum watching TV than going to the gym!

If your focus until now has been on calories in/calories out, which means decreasing calories and increasing exercise, it could be that you are missing a trick. The calories in/out approach is very simplistic and often leads to people struggling to lose weight. If you go down the route of regulating what goes in and out of your body it is a LOT more complicated than you have been lead to believe.This is why many people put on weight when they try to regulate calories in/out.

An alternative many people are finding works for them is through listening to their bodies more. This approach has helped many women to have more natural and less painful births and a similar approach can help in weight reduction.

Through focusing on how you think and feel about yourself rather than what you are putting into your body you could find a more natural way to be in control of your body. This could reduce or even remove the temptation to reward yourself for being good and the whole yo-yo diet phenomenon.

For more information about taking control of your thoughts, feelings and weight check out www.weightlossmastermind.co.uk

About the Author

Richard Hennessy

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Richard is a therapist and coach based in Sheffield, UK. He has been helping people to take control of their weight since 2009. He advocates the use of a more natural and intuitive method for weight control that does not insist on calorie counting or exercising. It models what naturally slim people do and helps you to do the same.

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