Weight Loss Expert & Author. End Dieting Forever, Eliminate Cravings & Stop Overeating! Passionate at helping people transform their bodies!
Many of us feel obligated to exercise in order to indulge. I know. I used to feel like I had to exercise in order to have an extra helping of food at dinner or dessert.
Sometimes what we thought would help us lose weight, actually backfires and causes us to gain weight though. If we are not doing the right type of exercise or exercising in the wrong way (which nearly everyone does), we may actually gain weight. It’s essential that you understand how to prevent yourself from becoming susceptible to this type of weight gain.
Let’s understand why you may not be losing weight from exercise, and may even be gaining weight. There are three main problems.
1. Increased Appetite From Exercise
Ever heard of the saying, “you worked up an appetite?” Yes, this is in fact true. Our body reacts to the calories we just burned through exercise by increasing our appetite.
How many of you work out in order to eat? Or think, “Oh I just worked out, so I can treat or reward myself.” If you’re like most people, the answer is yes, we do feel like we can reward ourselves after exercising. Especially today with our craze over with staying lean, we often exercise to compensate for unhealthy eating or overeating.
The key word is "compensation."
To us, more exercise means we can eat more or eat unhealthy. Unfortunately, we often overestimate the amount of calories we have burned during a workout while underestimating the calories we consume.
Here’s the facts: If you’re 155 pounds, 30 minutes of jogging on the treadmill is only going to burn around 300 calories. That’s one more slice of pizza for dinner.
30 minutes of jogging is a lot for some of us! It's almost 3 miles of running, and it can be exhausting. The problem is we feel like we have burned more calories than one slice of pizza. We want to reward ourselves with more than just one slice; we want to add a milkshake and other tasty treats.
In reality the amount of calories we burn during exercise is pretty insignificant. We really do not burn as many calories during exercise as we think, and it's very easy to consume more calories than we burn off.
This is only worsened by the second problem.
If you’ve ever had an exhausting workout, you know the feeling, “I could eat a horse.” You’re so tired and burned out from the workout that you crave energy! You want to eat and replenish your energy reserves.
As a former collegiate athlete and current coach, I see it happen everywhere. Kids and adults alike run themselves into the ground through exercise. It may be lifting weights or running for extended periods of time. Whatever it is, we exhaust ourselves through exercise. It may be to decrease stress or because we want to lose weight, but either way it has ramifications in the eating habits we develop.
The issue is we confuse our true biological hunger with the psychological exhaustion from our workout. Our real hunger is not nearly as intense as the psychological hunger we feel. As a result, we eat way more than we should.
I often hear this excuse:
“But don’t I need to eat a lot to refuel my muscles? I need proteeeeein! Otherwise I won’t build muscle and recover properly.”
Studies actually show that post-workout meals are often unnecessary. They are only beneficial when pre-workout nutrition is already inadequate. Unless you start the workout starving, a meal after your workout may not be mandatory.
It’s best to be in tune with how hungry you are than force food down your throat because you think you need the nutrition.
Furthermore, exhausting workouts repeated over time, like the ones that we use in conjunction with dieting, can burn us out. Many of us have started a diet or workout program and had a lot of motivation to do it at first. We are super excited and committed to it. Over time, our motivation decreases and we lose the drive we initially had.
We may have lost a lot of weight after a couple months of exhausting workouts, but burnout will get to us. We may lessen the intensity of the workouts or we may even quit cold turkey. In either case we are going to gain some if not all of the weight back. Exercise always needs to be done in a way that is sustainable over long periods of time—not just a quick month or two stint.
3. Cortisol Is Sabotaging You!
Exercise is often touted as the solution to stress, but if approached and performed incorrectly, it can actually release too much of the fight or flight hormone cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.
Research shows that elevated levels of cortisol increase appetite and cause the body to preserve more fat, especially around your midsection! Excess belly fat is a strong indicator of elevated cortisol levels. Your cortisol levels will normally increase from too much stress at work or not sleeping enough, but you may also have elevated cortisol levels if…
- You are exercising too much.
- Exercise has become something you feel obligated to do.
- Your workouts have become monotonous.
Exercise will automatically increase your cortisol levels because exercise is a stressor on the body—it breaks down your muscle tissue, and your body is required to repair it. On the other hand, exercise also increases the amount of endorphins, or feel-good chemicals, in your body.
When we exercise properly, the amount of cortisol released is offset by this influx of endorphins. We always release both during a workout, but a few factors determine whether the net result is a greater amount of endorphins or a greater amount of cortisol.
When we exercise excessively, we do not give the body enough time to recover and heal. When your body is under severe strain like this, your cortisol levels increase and your metabolism slows down to actually help you conserve energy. This reaction is a survival mechanism that has allowed humans to survive for millions of years.
Furthermore, when exercise becomes merely an obligation or too monotonous, we derive no pleasure from it! Working out should NOT be something we do just to lose weight. It should never be something that causes us anxiety or stress just by thinking about it, as this will only increase your cortisol levels (and fat storage) further.
The Best Way to Work Out for Weight Loss
If you are seeing no weight loss from your workouts or you are even gaining weight, you need to understand what’s going on. You may be affected by the three problems listed already, and/or you may not performing the correct types of workouts!
It’s true that the workouts we perform account only for a small portion of daily calorie burn, but that doesn’t take into consideration the metabolic changes that occur. There are specific types of workouts that will keep burning calories and blasting away fat for up to 48 hours after! These are the types of workouts we need to start doing.
The right type of workout will:
- Burn calories for hours after the workout,
- Shred fat while you are sleeping,
- Develop lean muscle mass
We would normally think the long, strenuous burn-out workouts (running on a treadmill for an hour, lifting for 2 hours) help us out the most when it comes to weight loss. However, this approach can cause more harm than good. Since overly intense workouts can cause increased appetite, burnout and elevated cortisol levels, it is oftentimes best to do less.
Workouts that incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are your best bet for maximum fat burning. Personally, I've trained clients using a 20 minute HIIT protocol only twice/week with fantastic results. Remember less can be more!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.