Ok, now that I have your attention, don’t get me wrong, I love a workout. Any workout, really. I find it so cool to be able to move my body in ways that I am not initially sure is possible. I love feeling myself get stronger, I love learning new skills and I love feeling the force of life running through me as I sweat and burn and fine tune this earth suit (stole that reference from the incredible Cervix Whisperer, Patty!).
So, to be clear, this is not about why you shouldn’t work out. Workouts are great for pain relief, healthying up your heart, firing endorphins, boosting your mood, getting you strong so you can move well through life, and a ton of other reasons!
But as I’ve now been working with clients for over a decade to help them achieve their goals, I have come to see a lot of ways people are sabotaging their healthy living efforts through their approach to working out. I can tell within minutes of meeting a new client if they will be successful or if they will get stuck trying to climb over the barrier their attitude toward workouts has created for them. For this article we’ll stick to the relationship between workouts and weight management (I’ll write a whole separate article about workouts and healthy movement patterns).
So, with that in mind, do any of these sound familiar to you?
You feel like you know what to do, it’s just your self control that gets in the way of your weight loss efforts.
You rely on your workouts to keep you from gaining weight/create the calories deficit you need to lose or maintain your weight.
The amount you exercise and your, mostly healthy, eating habits feel like they should be moving the scale but they’re not.
You don’t like working out but you do it reluctantly because you know it’s supposed to be good for you.
If so, then read on! I might blow your mind! Or I may say some things you don’t want to hear, but bear with me and see if you can try to open your mind to seeing a new approach to your workouts. I can almost guarantee that a couple small changes will leave you feeling better than ever!
As a weight management specialist, I see a LOT of healthy and unhealthy habits in various forms as I work with clients to find the solutions to get them to their weight-loss goals. So when we are looking at it from purely a weight loss perspective, your workouts may be doing more harm than good.
Here are the barriers I see in creating a healthy balance with your workouts and maintaining a holistically healthy lifesyle (ie. Physical and mental health on fleek):
Workouts for caloric deficit: Many people decide that they “can’t” (translate that to “won’t”) stick to healthier portion sizes or consistent nutrition plans so they decide to use workouts to create the caloric deficit needed to lose or even not gain weight.
While many forms of exercise will burn a lot of calories, this approach won’t work for any long term weight loss goals and will, in almost all cases, cause unwanted weight (fat) gain over time.
Too much cardio: We all know by now that only focusing on cardio without strength training is no bueno for the body. It’s also no good for those weight loss goals you are busting you a$$ for! Yes, you burn calories, but you are putting your body in a constant state of stress - increasing the stress hormone cortisol, and depleting your stores of adrenaline.
High cortisol levels have been strongly linked to weight gain and retention in the mid-section, but living with constantly elevated cortisol and depleted adrenaline will also affect your sleep, hunger, cravings and, yes, motivation to get active. ALL factors in causing weight gain.
Guilt and stress: Even if you’re incorporating strength training in your workout, the stress you are putting on yourself by feeling the NEED to get in a long and gruesome workout to get the calorie burn to counteract an unhealthy diet, causes a rise in the stress hormone cortisol as well.
So you may be getting in the workouts you feel you need to create a deficit, but what’s happening is you have created a source of stress based on consistent guilt over poor choices in your nutritional intake. Your mental health is just as, if not more, important than your physical health.
A balance between the two is absolutely necessary to create the healthy lifestyle you are looking for. Without it you will never feel satisfied with your results and you will be significantly less likely to stick to a consistent routine.
Over-estimate activity: Just because you get in a few hard workouts that burn 500 calories each, doesn’t mean you can rest easy. In the grand scheme of things, you may feel like you’re ahead of the curve so you opt out of all of the other places you could be choosing to get active.
Smaller workouts, walks with friends, and just living an active lifestyle get passed up because you feel like you’re already getting in your gnarly workouts and burning enough calories to balance your intake. But what happens is you are unknowingly reducing your choices to be active in places where you could be choosing to be active which, over the course of a week, you would be creating a much bigger caloric deficit than the workouts you got in.
So this is where someone who is consistently active on a smaller scale will end up burning a LOT more calories over the course of a week or month or year than the calories you’re burning in your workouts.
You may eat more! Not, as you may think, because you are more hungry. Actually, working out has been shown to be an appetite suppressant, but because you feel like you “deserve” or maybe even need that extra meal or snack. So you let a lot slip and at the end of the day all of those little “well I did a big workout” bites add up to way more than you may realize.
Does this mean you have to STOP working out hard?
NOT AT ALL! Look at circus artists, for example: Some of the most physically fit people in the world, don’t you agree? Acrobats don’t take it easy when we are training. Our workouts are hard. And we love them! But what we do is eat. A lot.
We eat a lot of super nutrient dense foods.
We eat often and in large quantities.
We focus on protein and fiber with unlimited fruits and veggies.
We watch our intake of fats and sugars to be able to manage our caloric intake to fit our needs. We need to be slender to fit into all that spandex but we need to be strong and healthy.
Our workouts focus on making us strong and healthy and
our nutrition focuses on maintaining the weight we need to make our art possible.
So what’s the take away here? It’s quite simple.
Keep in mind these 4 tips not just for optimal weight management but for making sure your workouts are working for you (and not vice-versa!) and keep you living a life you love:
Workout for FUN. Find things you love to do that get you active so you look forward to moving and exploring your incredible earth suit.
Move in a lot of different ways. We didn’t touch on this one much here, but make sure you move those ball and socket joints in all the directions - make the range of motion you use as big as your body allows. Create strength throughout the entire range of motion your joints are capable. Love spin class?! Great! But make sure you get those hips and shoulders moving differently by doing some yoga, pilates, or even Zumba dance, too!
If weight management is your focus, use nutrition for that. Your workouts are icing on the cake, not the foundation. Your workouts can absolutely supplement and speed up your results and can make some room for a BIT more indulging, but sticking to a consistent and nutrient dense diet and getting active whenever you can is where you need to focus.
And consider being happy with your body just the way it is! If you feel good, you sleep well, your energy is up and everything is healthy at the doc - try just loving on your body just the way it is! Your body is yours and if you want it to look a certain way for YOU, go for it! But try to remember why you want that healthy body in the first place. You may already be there!
Boom. Goals accomplished. Healthy living made easy. You’ve got this!