Saturday, November 9, 2013

Too much exercise will make you fat!

I had a friend who believed that her obesity struggles would resolve with a gym membership and an hour of strenuous exercise every day. . .but with no diet changes. (And there was rarely a fresh fruit or veggie in it!)  I have found this to be a commonly held belief and something very driven and determined people lean towards. . . seeming to be gluttons for punishment. The truth is, "to lose weight just through exercising is very difficult. You would have to exercise at high intensity for three to four hours or more a week. . .The idea that exercise, and running in particular, will lead to weight loss, is a common misconception."

At first trying this method my friend claimed that she did lose some weight, (probably water weight) but she quickly found it again, and more then ever. Presuming as most would, that it couldn't have been the one thing she believed she was doing "right", she got discouraged and quit.

Many people unlike her though, don't even begin to lose weight with lots of exercise! Either way it is a discouragement to your weight loss plans to try so hard and end up the same weight or gaining weight in the end. Lack of weight loss, or even weight gain isn't always a instant reaction to over exercising though, sometimes it takes years! Classically people who were very athletic people in their youth end up overweight. I come from a very athletic family, and this is the pattern I have seen.

If this is the case, why does this happen you could ask? One of the obvious justifications for the weight gain from the very start is the fact that exercise turns your fat into muscle, which is heavier. This can be encouraging, but the moment you stop, that muscle is converted into fat, and probably more then you started with!

Another reason you will likely gain weight, or at least cancel out the weight loss, is that exercise causes you to be hungry. A study, from the University of Massachusetts, found that not only does exercise increase hunger by increasing levels of insulin and leptin, (both appetite-stimulating hormones) but it also found that women are affected more than men.

Most people, feeling this hormonal effect of hunger, and the need for energy giving glucose in particular, feeling justified to have -and crave- a little treat, they usually go for a sweet drink or carbs (both of which digest as a sugar) after a vigorous workout. (What they are probably feeling is actually thirst, and drinking water after a workout is often what is really needed.) 
Sadly, while it can take an hour to burn off 400 or 500 calories, and takes just two minutes to eat that many calories. You might be surprised to see that 500 calories looks like. (Check out a sampling here.) You need a deficit of 500 calories a day to lose a single pound, and as exercise will just increase the desire and need for food, it is a vicious cycle.

Yet another reason why pushing yourself to exercise hard is a bad idea is that it increases our levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which leads to a decreasing amount of progesterone, causing an estrogen dominance, leading to tummy fat. Also the body often goes into a state of "self preservation", which is characterized by slowed metabolism, fat preservation, decreased thyroid function, and for woman, anovulatory menstrual cycles and infertility, as well as other symptoms . . . Mind you, these symptoms are largely related to dieting or nutrient deprivation, (such as low fat diets) that often naively accompany any intense effort to lose weight with exercise.

Thankfully, you do not have to torture yourself with strenuous exercise or skip food and go hungry to lose that 500 calories worth of food a day. Nor do you even have to keep track of calories at all. Those who fixate on the numbers tend to miss out on some of the best super foods: like the good fats. Nuts, avocados, coconut oil, eggs and butter have all been demonized for their caloric content, but are actually great for you, (depending partially on the source) and will even help you lose weight!

This is because most people are fat because they are malnourished, not because they are eating too many calories. (Just the wrong ones.) And as exercise only increases the need for nutrients, you will need to have an increase in good food, or you will only get more deficient! (And consequently get fatter!) So while quality food is the main player in any weight loss plan, it is important not to downplay the benefits of exercise. The part it plays in weight loss has long been overstated, but it has a crucial role in our physical health, in fighting disease, bone loss and in our mental health. You just need to eat more good food and lots of water while doing it, or you might as well skip it. . .as you won't be doing your body any favors.
Presuming you plan to keep to whole foods and water to hunger though, it is a great thing to be active. If you don't get enough activity in your day with spurts of running after kids, gardening, or some other heart pounding work, this is a fine routine I stole:

  1. Warm up for three minutes
  2. Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should feel like you couldn't possibly go on another few seconds
  3. Recover for 90 seconds
  4. Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times
As you can see, the entire workout is only 20 minutes. 
 Dr Mercola recommends and calls this a Peak fitness routine. I for one will try to do this, as well as roller skating, gardening and normal life with 5 young kids, and most importantly, eating healthy food. Doing this I have no doubt that I will lose my bit of baby weight in a timely fashion as usual, and I know you can do it too.


  1. I love the way you write's as if you were actually talking to us! You are so right about good food and water. Since May of this year I increased my daily walking to about 4 miles and in June went up to six miles and have kept it there. During the summer months I drank more water, ate more fruits and managed to lose 10 lbs. Now that the weather is much cooler I've noticed my water intake has declined and I've become hungrier! I have not, however, gained any pounds which I still credit to always walking at least 6 miles a day. Luckily my dog is my main motivation along with walking many dogs at the Humane Shelter. I like the idea of intense exercise for 30 secs and recovery for 90. Jumping jacks just about kill me so I'm thinking of giving those a try.

  2. Well thank you, and I believe you should be fine, though taking the slow way to loose weight. If you enjoy it, and it's not too time consuming or strenuous, and you eat good snacks, you should at least not gain weight., and may loose it even . .until you stop anyhow.