Anne Rollins MS CSSD RD LDN

Work Out More, Eat Less!!

Doesn’t seem to be working….

We have all been told that if we want to lose weight we should cut back on portions and get some exercise.  When that doesn’t work, we do what’s only natural.  Cut back more.  Work out more.  Feel guilty when we don’t or can’t.  Maybe we even try the new fad diet, and when that doesn’t work, we try the old eating less, exercise more routine again. Soon we find ourselves eating so little food and our weight not budging, maybe even gaining a few pounds.  What’s happening?!?

“I was doing a spin class twice a week, but my weight didn’t budge so I increased it to every day.”

As a sports dietitian, I am constantly reminded that our culture equates exercise with weight loss.  Yes, exercise burns calories, but the true benefits of exercise are NOT weight loss. 

Benefits of Exercise (short list)

  • Improvements in cardiovascular function
  • Increased lean body mass
  • Increased metabolism
  • Potential reduction of injuries
  • Improved balance
  • Endorphin release and improved mood
  • Increased muscle pliability and strength
  • Reduced muscle ache
  • Improved quality of life
  • And more….

So, keep exercising.  Just don’t attach a weight loss expectation to your exercise.  You’ll be disappointed. 

Why?

When we skip breakfast, meals and/or undercut our calories too severely for a day, the body goes into a conservation mode.  The body is mostly unaware of the excess storage we have, and doesn’t understand that we just want to lose a few.  The carefree use of calories (energy) that the body was using to beat your heart, blink your eyelids and get up from a chair becomes protected and budgeted.  “Hm, not enough calories coming in to maintain our weight?  Shut it down! Conserve.  We don’t know when calories are coming again!”  Then, we have large meal later in the day.  This meal often includes simple carbs.  Frequently, when deprived of calories for too long, the body does not want to invest calories in the digestion process, and we typically crave simple carbs.   Protein and fats take a solid 2-3 hours to digest and become available for use, but simple carbs like refined sugars, refined grains (breads, pastas, crackers, baked goods) take under an hour relative to the amount of fiber they contain and bring the blood sugar up quickly. Phew – the body exhales with the introduction of sugars and is grateful for the easily digestible, yet empty calories.  The body will worry about protein, fats, vitamins and mineral cravings later.  Calorie deficit is life threatening. 

To further the problem, the nutrients in that large meal don’t always get fully absorbed.  Digestion is a numbers game.  Imagine you have a shopping cart and need to get food at the store, but you are only allowed to go once a month.  Your cart will be overflowing, and you may not be able to get everything you need.  Maybe you can’t carry it all at one time from the store.  This is the equivalent to a big meal passing through your digestive tract.  You can only grab so much – the rest just moves on by.  Conversely, if you went shopping twice a day, you may be exerting unnecessary energy.  We need to find the right amounts of “trips to the store”. 

If we combine this inability to grab and utilize the nutrients with our underfed and slowed metabolism, the body stores fat even more.  An intense spin class every day without enough calories to maintain basics or the activity sends the body to a new level of stress alert.  The body budgets cautiously, and weight loss is thwarted while weight gain may even be promoted!  Think of trying to set a large log on fire at the campfire without kindling.  The fire isn’t strong enough, and the big log goes unburnt.  Same thing here.  Your sluggish metabolism cannot gear up to digest all the food and much of it gets stored as fat.

In the field of nutrition, we have found that eating frequently, (the number of trips to the store) throughout the day is most optimal for absorption, stable blood sugars and hunger management. You may hear eat 5-6 small meals from many professionals.  Yes.  Keep eating.  Stoke the fire.  Does this mean eat five times as much? No.  You probably will eat the same amount of calories or a little bit more, just split up into 5 or 6 smaller meals.  Exercise with the purpose of the amazing health benefits from the list above, not weight loss.  Eat wholesome low glycemic index foods to promote health and weight loss, if so desired.

Recipe for Health and Weight Loss

  • Eat wholesome foods (no/minimally processed foods)
  • Eat foods that are nutrient rich – vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats
  • Move frequently every day and recover muscles from intense exercise

Pick a bullet point above and get started!

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