Trainer’s Question of the Week: Exercise to Eat What You Want?

piece of cake

“Oh, go ahead. Eat the cake. You’ll just burn it off anyway.”

Someone told me this the other day, referring to the theory that because I exercise, excess calories must automatically, effortlessly burn off me.  So would I really burn off that cake?  Maybe…but maybe not.

If I ate a high-calorie diet every day, even though I exercise almost every day, I would still consume excess calories, every day.  It’s simple math.  Doing this, I might still be muscular, but I’d also eventually have more fat covering those muscles.  To maintain or lose weight, calories consumed must be equal to or less than calories burned.  If I was an elite athlete or had an amazingly fast metabolism, this may be possible while eating a high-calorie diet.  But the unfortunate truth is, for most people, exercise cannot keep up with it.  It is very easy to “eat through” a workout.  An hour on the cardio machine can be easily erased by one fast food hamburger or two pieces of pepperoni pizza.  Ugh.  I’ve always disliked math.  So…using exercise to offset unhealthy eating habits may not be the best idea.

Both exercise and nutrition work together as integral pieces of the weight-loss puzzle.  Let’s rephrase that, the fat-loss puzzle.  Muscle gained through exercise (and no, girls, you will not bulk up!) speeds up your metabolism and burns excess fat–Not to mention that it makes you look and feel awesome, prevents diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, among others–and gives you a much better quality of life.  Ever heard the term, “skinny fat?”  If someone is thin but has little muscle, don’t assume she is healthy.   Exercise is essential for creating that lean physique you’re looking for.  But you need good nutrition to fuel your workouts and maintain a slight calorie deficit every day for it to work.  For this reason, good nutrition is actually a larger piece of the puzzle than exercise when it comes to weight loss.

Here’s a fairly common scenario:  Someone looking to lose weight begins a moderate exercise program.  Because she’s burning more calories now, she feels hungrier and consumes more food without realizing it.  When she finds out that she’s lost no weight–or maybe she has even gained a little weight–she blames it on the exercise, thinking that it must’ve bulked her up, when in actuality, it was due to the excess calories she inadvertantly consumed.

Studies show that people tend to overestimate the amount of exercise they do and its impact, and underestimate their caloric intake (which isn’t hard to do in our super-sized-portion culture!).  In addition, if one is exercising for a half-hour, three times per week, but spends the rest of her time sitting, exercise is not going to have as much of a benefit for that person as if she were maintaining a moderate level of activity even when not working out.  That makes a huge difference.  For instance, take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Park in the back of the lot.  It all adds up.

To maintain a slight caloric deficit every day, eat foods that give you the most bang for your buck–Or the most nutritional value and/or fiber content for the amount of calories consumed.  Often, these foods are naturally lower in added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat.  Eating them will keep you fuller longer and therefore make it easier for you to stick with your weight-loss goals.  They will also provide the vitamins, minerals and energy necessary to fuel your workouts and keep you feeling better overall.  And, you may be surprised that you actually like some of these foods.

You wouldn’t fill your vehicle’s gas tank with garbage, right?  So why fill your own with junk?  Treat your body like a well-oiled machine, feeding it the best fuel you can, and you’ll be amazed at what it can do.  An elite athlete actually would burn off that piece of cake, but even she can’t eat junk every day.  She must carefully plan her meals to provide her with the proper fuel and nutrition her body needs to perform in her sport.

If you know someone who’s in terrific shape and claims she can eat whatever she wants, don’t take her word for it.  This could mean a number of things.  Maybe this person naturally craves foods that are fairly good for her.  Or, that this person does not tend to eat large portions anyway.  Or, that “eating whatever she wants” could mean that she only feels like splurging occasionally.  The bottom line is that, for that one person, you’ll find a hundred others who are in terrific shape and work out–and do claim they watch what they eat.  I know I have to.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy an occasional dessert.  But when I do splurge, it’s not a big deal for my system–because of all the other days, when I’m trying to be good.  And, doing it this way makes it sooo much more enjoyable when I do indulge.

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2 thoughts on “Trainer’s Question of the Week: Exercise to Eat What You Want?

  1. Weight Loss Plan says:

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