Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Fat and Care Bears

It's 4.30am and I can't sleep, so I finally decided to get up, brew some Peet's and talk to you about fat. Aren't you glad?

One of my big pet peeves is the assumption so many people make that exercise is all about losing fat weight. Someone actually once said to me, "Why do you exercise so much? You're not overweight."

I can think of about one hundred thousand reasons to exercise that have absolutely nothing to do with the number you see when you step on a scale. Ok, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little on the 'one hundred thousand' part, but there are a LOT. In fact, to some extent, exercise can actually hinder fat loss efforts. Here's why:

1. Exercise can make you hungry. I was actually a little nervous to start heavy weight lifting again, because the last time I did it (P90X, if you must know), I became so ravenous after workouts, I wanted to eat my hand. I had a very, very, very hard time eating with any sort of moderation and ended up puffy. Strong, but puffy. Those weren't really the results I was going for, but I will say it was nice being that strong. Intense endurance cardio can produce a crazy, hard-to-control hunger, too. Now, I believe in eating when you're truly hungry, but the crazy-hungry I'm talking about can lead to binging. When I was doing P90X, I'd hoover anything that wasn't nailed down, and some of it wasn't the most... shall we say, nutrient dense? Happily, I have not noticed any particular uptick in my appetite since I've been doing Drop Two Sizes, but sometimes you have to play around with your exercise routine to see what works.

2. Exercise can get you to hoard fat. Certain types of intense exercise can actually raise your body's cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone your body produces under stress, and excess cortisol can slow your metabolism and cause you to hold on to body fat. It's very important to remember that God designed our bodies to live. When our bodies sense threat, they are going to do whatever it takes to keep us alive, and having fat stores is really helpful for surviving.

3. It is really easy to eat what you just burned in a workout. This is a painful truth. I typically burn between 300 and 400 calories per hour of exercise, according to my heart rate monitor. Sometimes I'll get close to 500, but that's the outlier. Do you know how easy it is to eat 400 calories? I can do it in about 30 seconds. Just hand me a spoon and a jar of Skippy Natural and start the clock.

That is a HUGE problem with exercise and it's purely psychological. In our zeal to get people off the couch, we have grossly oversold the weight loss benefits of exercise to the point that people think they can eat whatever they want as long as they workout. EEEHHHH. Wrong. I don't mean to be harsh, but it's true. I say this with Care Bears in my heart.

I'm going to rant about this for another minute, so bear with me. (Keep looking at the care bear if you feel like I'm being too mean.)

There is a point in Physique 57 Thigh and Seat (which is excellent, btw. You knew I was going to say that) where sweet little Shelley Knight is massively hurting me. My thighs are on fie-yah and she tells me I can 'eat whatever I want for dinner.'

IT'S A LIE. I love you, Shelley. Truly, I do. You're cute as a button, but you're also probably twenty-five and maybe at your age you can, but I CAN NOT. Repeat after me: I can not eat whatever I want for dinner.

So let's say, for argument's sake, that you are actually twenty-five and can, at this point in your young life, eat whatever you want for dinner without gaining weight. That's super and I'm happy for you. But really, if you don't deal with those unchecked Nutella binges soon, they are going to bite you in the bum. (Again, Care Bears. In my heart for you.)

Ok, clearly I'm a little fired up on this one, but really, people tell me all the time to eat more than I need to because I work out. "Oh, go ahead. Have that cookie. You exercised." Now, I'm not down on cookies. I eat them from time to time and enjoy them and I think you should, too (or whatever food it is that you enjoy) but don't do it 'because you exercise.' Do it because it's a special treat. Not because you exercised, ok?

I hope I'm being clear.

4. Lastly, lots of people think a hard workout entitles them to sit around for the rest of the day. "Oh, I don't need to take the stairs. I worked out today." Please, take the stairs. Sure, there is a season for elevator use. I have a button-pushing two-year-old, so I'm there, but there is a lot to be said for taking the stairs. You'll get way more steps on the Fitbit and it will increase your NEAT (see my last post) and thus, your blessed metabolic rate. If your workouts wear you out so much that you are shattered for the rest of the day, you might want to take it down a notch. Sometimes less is more.

Despite all of that, I do find exercise can be really helpful in weight control, but it's really important to be aware of the above. If you have fat to lose, consider these things.

I'll talk about the 'pros' and 'how-tos' of exercise for fat loss later this week, but it's now 5.30 and the small people are stirring. Yes, we are that kind of household. Before I go, I want to say one more thing: I titled my last post, 'Oh, to be Amish...' just because I envy all the steps they get. I would really never want to be Amish. I'm not just saying that because I get to watch Netflix. Oh, that crushing law under which they live... all those rules... yikes. I wouldn't mind hanging with them for a few days, though. For the steps... that and I hear their food is really yummy. I just wouldn't eat too much of it, even though I'd be getting a lot of exercise.


  1. So true! Most intense workouts cause me to gain weight; my body apparently interprets anything more intense than intermediate level workouts as "stress".

    1. It does take some trial and error to figure it out, though, doesn't it?!

  2. Sing it, sister! I have preached the very same thing myself, and particularly in almost the very same words you used in #3. I also recently read a study where people who thought weight loss was mainly about exercise lost significantly less weight than those who thought weight loss was mainly about eating. For myself, I have had to get completely out of the mindset of exercise helping with weight loss, or it will backfire, because my food-loving self will gladly accept any excuse to eat more. So I do it for fresh air, for my heart, for my brain, for a chance to listen to my audiobook, for the satisfaction of numbers on gadgets, for all the many benefits it has besides the paltry calories it removes from my day.

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