How exercise can pile on the kilos
Ever spent hours pounding away on a treadmill, then coming to the end of the week and finding your weight hasn’t shifted at all?
Or how about eating cake in the knowledge you’d been for a long cycle ride, yet somehow piling on the pounds?
You’re not alone - or going mad. You’ve simply fallen foul of something scientists are increasingly recognising: exercise often doesn’t help you lose weight. And worse yet, there’s increasing evidence that it could even make you fatter.
Just last month, in an article for the British Journal Of Sports Medicine, doctors said we have wrongly emphasised that physical activity can prevent people becoming very overweight.
The truth, they said, is that while physical activity is useful in reducing the risk of disease, it “does not promote weight loss”. That false perception, they claimed, “is rooted in the food industry’s public relations machine, which uses tactics chillingly similar to big tobacco companies - denial, doubt and confusing the public”.
In addition, the Mayo Clinic, an eminent medical research group in the US, says studies “have demonstrated no or modest weight loss with exercise alone” and that “an exercise regime is unlikely to result in short-term weight loss”.
Here are the reasons why your gym membership isn’t giving you the whittled waist you want. . .
You reward yourself without realising
There are a lot of conflicting reports about the effects of exercise on appetite. We’re all familiar with the idea of going for a walk to work up an appetite, but most research seems to suggest that exercise doesn’t necessarily make us eat more. rather, it can make us eat the wrong things.
The post-workout bar of chocolate to celebrate a job well done - or even a healthy banana — can undo all your good work without you realising.
This is known as “compensation” by sports scientists: a person who exercises cancels out the calories they have burned by eating more, generally as a form of self-reward.
This was demonstrated in a recent study by Arizona State University, which focused on the effects of exercise on 81 overweight women with sedentary lifestyles. The researchers asked them to participate in a 12-week exercise programme involving three treadmill sessions a week. They were told to follow their usual diet.
The research found that while they were fitter, there was no noticeable weight loss and 70 percent of the women had piled on some fat.
While the study didn’t track the women’s eating and movement habits away from the lab, it is likely that those who gained weight began eating more and moving less when they weren’t on the treadmills - “probably without meaning to”, say the scientists.
Obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe believes that exercise has a psychological affect on what and how much we eat. “Exercise is seen as being deserving of a reward,” she says.
“Weightwatchers even builds the concept into their programmes, giving you extra points for exercise. But, all too often, the treat that people reward themselves with is out of proportion to the amount of exercise they’ve done.”
Study after study has shown that we’re notoriously bad at estimating the number - and type — of calories we’ve consumed.
One, which looked at more than 5 000 adults, found the participants under-estimated their consumption of fats, oils and sweets, and overestimated how much fruit and protein they’d eaten. By the same token, most of us woefully underestimate how much exercise we need to offset indulgences.
The other issue is that, even if you did nothing, your body would be burning calories. For example, a 63kg person just lying watching Tv for an hour will burn about 70 calories. But exercise machines show you the total number of calories burnt — what your body is expending on its own and the extra you’re burning while doing exercise.
The rowing machine may tell you you’ve burned 250 calories for an hour’s work, but you’ve actually “earned” only a 180-calorie reward.
So if you reward your 20-minute run (218 calories expended, but actually only 148 extra calories) with a latte (180 calories), you’re, in fact, taking on more calories than if you hadn’t exercised.
Multiply that on a weekly basis, and you can see how things get difficult. Stress is sabotaging you We’re often told exercise is the solution to stress, but it actually releases the fight or flight hormone cortisol — also known as the stress hormone.
If our bodies are functioning properly, most of this cortisol is offset by endorphins (anti-stress chemicals) which the body also produces during exercise. However, according to personal trainer Janey Holliday (makingthingseasy.com), if you’re already stressed and your hormonal system isn’t working as it should be, that excess cortisol won’t be efficiently offset, leading to even more of the stress hormone in your body.
“Cortisol is bad news for anyone wanting to lose weight,” says Janey. “research shows that high levels of cortisol cause the body to hold on to fat and boost appetite.”
Worse yet, cortisol encourages fat to be stored around the middle, and it’s known that fat in this area is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer.
“If you’re stressed and want to lose weight, you might be far better off working on improving your sleep and relaxing by doing a bit of power walking, rather than throwing yourself into a punishing routine,” adds Janey. Danger of the secret calories Are you the type of person who swears they just can’t shift the pounds? Annoyingly, there’s probably something in it.
A recent review of studies related to exercise and weight found that people lost barely a third as many kilos as would have been expected, given how many calories they were burning during workouts.
Many studies also report enormous variations in how people’s waistlines respond to the same exercise programme, with some dropping kilos and others gaining fat.
— Daily Mail.
showed that after two minutes of thinking of the positive outcomes of a tough experience, participants felt happier and more in control of their lives. So when you’re freaking out about a presentation because you’re certain you’ll bomb, remember that you’ll learn from the experience, no matter how terrible or awesome.
Make a Stress Playlist A group fitness instructor on the side, Mcgonigal loves making playlists to help her power past rough patches — just like she does to help her get through a workout. “Exercise is a way of practicing being good at stress. It’s uncomfortable, but there’s also the payoff,” says Mcgonigal. Create a list of songs that would hype you up if you were an Olympic athlete about to compete. “In the moment, when you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, put on one of those songs. research shows music can shift the physiology of your stress response and increase your confidence,” says Mcgonigal. Lady Gaga, anyone?
Remember That Stress = Meaning Even though stress is scary, it helps make life more worthwhile. “One study found that people who have meaningful lives also experience more stress, any way you want to measure it,” says Mcgonigal. researchers let participants define “meaning” however they liked, but summed it up as a life with “purpose and value.” The study authors found that people who had experienced the most stressful events were also the most likely to think they led meaningful lives. — CNN
Exercise might not guarantee weight loss, but some is better than none.
If you can embrace stress, you can make it work in your favour.