Work Out More…Gain More Weight?

Portrait of a young girl after exercisesHow many times have you decided to start working out…exercising…and then realized you were actually gaining weight? Relax…we have all been there. And some real issues as to why it happens to us…but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ve been there and experienced it just as you probably have at some point. For me it was when I decided to get back into running. I always enjoyed running and decided I would get started again. I put on a few extra pounds and decided this would be a great way to kill two birds with one stone…I could get in better shape and lose the extra weight. Wrong! I started running 3 – 5 days a week and started gaining weight…some extra body fat around my belly. What! I was running and exercising and now I was actually putting on weight…and in a place I didn’t want it. Have you ever experienced this happening to you when you exercised? Not to worry…there is a solution.

A study that was done by Arizona State University in Phoenix showed that 70% of the women involved in the study actually gained an average of 10lbs of fat after 12 weeks of a vigorous cardio program three times a week for at least 30 minutes.

When it comes to kicking off a new lifestyle program, most of us come out of the gate at full speed. Lots of hope and dreams and energy. We declare that we are only eating healthy foods and we’re going to start exercising every day.   While this may seem like a good place to start, this approach usually backfires on us.

Here’s what happens to our bodies when we start with this approach. When we cut back our calories or increase our energy output, our bodies go into a state of panic, kicking our bodies into what is known as “protection mode.” In essence, our bodies are feeling like they may run out of nutrition so they begin to desperately hang on to “bad” fat as a way to ensure they have enough energy to support our body during this time of stress. While this is going on, our bodies also try to make up for the calorie deficit by taking energy from “good” fat and muscle tissue.

The bottom line…we end up working against our own bodies and as most of us have experienced, our bodies win. It wins out because it also has control of our brains and so it initiates habits that cause us to stop because we see the weight gain and other changes.

Here are some facts about what happens. The higher the muscle mass, the higher our resting metabolism. When we lose muscle mass, it actually slows the rate at which we burn that unwanted fat and in many cases, we can actually gain fat. One reason for the fat increase is because when we lose muscle mass, our fat percentage increases. Another reason is because exercise stimulates hunger (the brain and habit issue). It can often result in us overeating, which obviously works against our goals. So in the end, even our best intentions get overturned by our bodies and brain doing what they were built to do…protect us.

Here’s the good news… I’m all for exercise! It is wonderful for stress reduction, cardiovascular health, combating disease and improving mood. However, it’s important to understand your body and how it works if you are trying to use exercise as a source of weight loss. Too much too fast may actually slow down your desired results. At this stage when you are trying to shed some weight, it is more important to focus on what you are eating instead of what you are doing.

If you want to exercise and still focus on some weight loss, let me give you some tips that will help you be successful:

  1. Slow down – approach exercise at a slower pace. It’s important to be active but it doesn’t have to be vigorous to get results.
  2. Rest – It’s okay to have a day or two of rest. When first starting out, the body is still trying to get used to the new activity level and rest will be important.
  3. Rest doesn’t mean “Do Nothing” – Even on your rest days, taking a nice stroll around the block helps keep your mind and body active and creates some great chemicals for your mood as well.
  4. Have fun! – Staying active doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself on a treadmill or go for a 10 mile run. Try doing something you love, such as swimming, hiking, rock wall climbing or even dancing. You would be amazed how much exercise you get from an evening of steady dancing! Not only will you be engaged in some form of physical activity and enjoying the experience, but these activities will be fun and help you continually stay active.

So get up and get out and have some fun…your body will reward you with better health and not turn against you because it feels threatened. Combine this with some nutrient dense foods and you have a winning formula for Optimal Health!

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