Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen an image like this:
But Biggest Loser, popular health and fitness magazines, some trainers, and many doctors continue to place too much focus on the idea that exercise is the best way to lose weight. Exercise is great for many, many things…but weight loss isn’t at the top of the list.
When people start exercising to lose weight and don’t see results in the first couple of weeks, it can be frustrating at best and discouraging at worst. Muscles grow gradually, and are oftentimes there, but hidden under stubborn layers of fat. By placing exercise on a pedestal as being a panacea to weight loss, we’re selling ourselves short. Also, do you know how ridiculously easy it is to undo any calorie burn from exercise? 30 minutes of running burns on average 300 calories. A handful of nuts here, a soda there, some salad dressing…it’s almost too easy to “undo” the calorie burn.
Before you think I’m knocking exercise, think again! Exercise has a whole litany of other incredible benefits. Really!
- Promotes positive mood
- Reduces stress
- Improves sleep
- Reduces depression and anxiety
- Strengthens your bones and muscles
- Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes
- Reduces your risk of some cancers
- Increase your chance of living longer
It’s basically like a miracle drug! If someone offered you a pill that could give you all of the above, you’d probably jump at the chance to take it. I know I would.
And weight loss is certainly possible too, don’t get me wrong. Some people successfully lose some weight simply by adding in exercise and keeping their eating habits the same, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Because if you lapse even a bit in your workouts, then those pounds will slowly creep back on. However, If we view exercise as being beneficial for our overall health, it’s far easier to stick with a workout routine.
What if you’re super motivated, and thinking about starting a brand new exercise routine AND vowing to eat healthy? It’s important to be realistic. Making too many broad, sweeping changes all at once can be a recipe for burnout. I know, because I think back to all my monthly resolutions to run 5x a week, go to 3 spin classes a week, eat 100% healthy, drink only water, etc. If I missed a workout or ate something junky, I felt like a total failure. That is NOT the way to make lasting changes! No one is perfect. You will miss a workout. Or a week of them! You will eat too many slices of pizza. It’s not the end of the world. The key to lasting change can be found via one of the following paths:
OPTION A: You start exercising because you know that it will make you feel more energetic, happier, and stronger. Your workouts start to improve your overall mood, and you find yourself feeling on top of the world. You like how you feel, and wonder what else you can do! You begin gradually adjusting your diet, focusing on adding more healthy foods. Then you slowly start to remove some unhealthy foods. After a while, you begin to see physical changes, which makes you feel better, which makes you eat better…and tah-dah! The circle of health.
OPTION B: You begin eating more fruits and vegetables, replacing your daily soda with water, and cutting back just a bit on your intake of junk food. After a few weeks, you feel lighter, are more alert, and have more energy. And hey, you even noticed that your clothes are fitting more loosely! At this point, you’re hooked. You begin gradually adding in some exercise, because you want to keep feeling amazing and because you have the energy to do so. Pretty soon, you’re a lean mean working out and eating healthy machine!
Two different paths, but each gets you to the end destination: a place where you feel physically fit, and where you are fueling your body properly. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to health and fitness, which is why it’s so important to do what works and what feels best for YOU.
But please, please, please. DO NOT begin working out solely as a means for weight loss. I want you to have a lifelong love affair with exercise for what it can do for your whole body, not just because you want to quickly drop some weight to look good for an event.