If you want to lose weight, then your trips to the gym or to that power yoga class on Sundays may be sabotaging your efforts.
Of course this statement runs counter to popular weight loss advice which gets rammed down our throats at every turn:
To lose weight you need to exercise more.
Get your heartrate up.
Push yourself to the limit.
Sweat it out.
But if this advice actually worked, how do we explain the correlation of the obesity epidemic in the 80s with the introduction of gyms and exercise for weight loss at that same time?
If you are anything like me then you are someone who has always been super active (yoga, running, hiking, gym memberships, OrangeTheory, pilates, you-name-it-I’ve-done-it) and yet was still overweight.
How is this possible?!?!
Exercise = Weight Loss… Doesn’t It?
It turns out that when it comes to exercise for weight loss, the opposite is true.
If you want to lose weight, stop exercising.
The reason this works is because when we exercise we exert energy that our bodies then want to replenish quickly with food.
And not just any food.
Energy-dense (read: calorie-dense) foods that will replenish the spent fuel quickly.
In other words, exercise makes us hungry, and hungrier than we would have been had we not exercised.
So we eat.
And our thinking often goes something like this:
“I ate that chocolate cake last night so I have to pay for it today by running 3 miles.”
“I worked out this morning so I can eat at In N Out for lunch today.”
The problem is that our thinking about food and exercise is transactional, while the actual relationship between food and exercise -- calories in, calories out -- is not.
Studies show that the number of calories you consume because you exercised or are planning to exercise is far beyond the number of calories you actually burn when you exercise
But we don’t just eat more of what we would have eaten had we not exercised.
When we push ourselves to exercise in ways that we don’t actually enjoy we feel punished. And when we feel punished, we instinctively want to reward ourselves after.
So we eat the tortilla chips and guac at the Mexican restaurant at dinner or buy the pint of Ben & Jerry’s at the grocery store on the way home from the gym.
The answer here may seem unbelievable, but it works.
Stop exercising for weight loss.
If you want to exercise because you genuinely enjoy it, go for it.
Find forms of movement that you enjoy and do it for pleasure’s sake.
That way you won’t need to “reward” yourself with food afterwards.
Because the movement was the reward.
But the trick is that the movement has to be honestly desired and enjoyed, not transactional with food at all.
When you allow yourself to actually enjoy movement, you won’t find yourself gorging on Oreo’s after and engaging in the vicious cycle of binging, self-loathing, and exercising to compensate.
So go for a walk with your family.
Practice yoga for yoga’s sake.
And watch the weight fall off.
Lia Pinelli is a weight loss coach and educator who helps women put an end to emotional overeating and lose weight, permanently.