- “If I just burn some more calories, those extra pounds I put on will just melt away.”
- “I’ll go ahead and have that extra slice of pizza/cake/pie, I’ll just work it off at the gym.”
- “I know I shouldn’t have dessert, but I can just put a little extra time on the treadmill.”
Do any of these sound familiar? If you’re healthy and at your desired weight and fitness level, there’s nothing wrong with saying these things to yourself occasionally. If you’re an athlete who does daily multi-hour conditioning type workouts, you can probably get away with poor eating habits for awhile. If you’re not either of these type of people, well, how often are you saying these things to yourself, and does it work? The answers are altogether too often, absolutely not.
When you rely on exercise only to achieve and maintain your desired weight, you will fail over the long term. I know this may come as a shock to some of you, after all, if you’re burning more calories than you are consuming, you will lose weight. That’s correct, to a certain point, but eventually your body will adapt, and if you are still eating a poor diet, you will stop losing weight. Also, the concept that a calorie is just a calorie, whether consumed or expended, has been debunked in clinical studies many times over. The quality of your calories is critical to your ability to lose weight, or more importantly, in how fast you gain weight. If you don’t learn to eat well and to understand the importance of proper nutrition to your overall well being, when you eventually go through periods in which you can’t exercise, what do you think will happen? If you haven’t guessed yet, you’ll put on weight. It’s a common tale, told by many a former athlete. But not just athletes. Often, when a person decides to get off the couch and attempts to get fit and healthy, they want to get immediate results, so they embark on a vigorous exercise program. This is a good thing. They’re excited about taking the first steps and they jump in with both feet, usually without professional help. After about 4-8 weeks, the initial motivation starts to wear off, (This is why gym use skyrockets in January, and tapers off by mid to late February) and the daily grind of working out sets in. Old habits start to look good, the siren’s song of the couch calls to you, that is of course, if you haven’t gotten injured yet. So you’ll revert to your former health and fitness patterns that led you down the path to being unhealthy in the first place.
So what’s a person to do? Stop exercising? Of course not. Exercise is critical to your overall health and well being. Maintaining a healthy activity/exercise routine is important to keeping your body moving well and your endocrine system in homeostasis. The real answer to long term weight loss and a healthier lifestyle is your diet. But that’s not so easy to change because our dietary habits are hardwired in our brains. Our daily diet and nutrition habits are deep seated and not so easy to change. So start small. Find the low hanging fruit. We all have those eating habits that we don’t know why we do them, we just do. Maybe they give you a little stress relief, like keeping candy in your desk at work to help you through those stressful days. Maybe it’s something you’ve been doing so long you can’t even remember when you started, like grabbing a couple swigs of juice or milk every time you go by the refrigerator. Either way, they are generally habits caused by some kind of cue that you aren’t consciously aware of, which sets of a routine that is adding poor quality calories (usually sugar related) to your daily diet. So start small, don’t try to make “big” changes in your diet habits. Identify a couple of these small habits and the cue that sets them off, then come up with a strategy to disrupt those habit loops with a routine that won’t be so bad for you, such as taking a walk every time you get a craving to reach in your desk and grab a piece of candy. If you can successfully disrupt a small habit loop, you can use that to build up to disrupting bigger habit loops. Studies have shown this type of strategy to very effective in creating larger lifestyle changes. The best time to start down the road to health and fitness is now, so what have you got to lose? Give this strategy a chance and see what happens.