Why "Eat Less, Exercise More" is Bad Advice
You’ve probably heard it before … just move more and eat less, and the pounds will melt away. That’s the panacea that some fitness pros and trainers like those on the Biggest Loser promote. But, if it were that simple, we’d all be rail thin, and diet books would cease to exist.
The reality is, our weight is a complex number that is affected by factors like food choices, hormones, age, gender, genes, and lifestyle practices to name a few.
“Eat less, exercise more” is an oversimplified notion that just doesn’t hold up to science and the intricate inner-workings of the human body.
That being said, weight loss does not have to be an insurmountable obstacle. There are some practical steps to take that will help you ditch excess weight without killing yourself in the gym.
Debunking the Myth
When you restrict calories, your body will, at first, begin to burn through glycogen stores and then ultimately body fat for energy. This sounds perfect! However, once your body senses that you’re in a state of deprivation, it’ll quickly begin to hold onto body fat for fear that starvation is imminent. You’ve heard of a weight loss “plateau”? This is exactly what is happening. So you might shed some or a lot of weight quickly, but weight loss will stall and pounds will begin to sneak back on once you begin eating again. This is NOT a sustainable means for permanent weight loss.
In addition, exercise is a stressor on the body. It is absolutely necessary to move our bodies to prevent many illnesses that occur from living a sedentary lifestyle. But a little stress in the form of exercise goes a long way. It’s wonderful to go for long daily walks, to practice yoga, to weight train three or four days a week. But if you’re constantly taxing your body with strenuous workouts or participating in long-distance, endurance training without proper recovery time, your body will begin to break down.
Injuries also tend to occur when the body does not have a chance to rest and recover. An injury can lead to becoming sedentary or even to surgery, both of which are not ideal for our health and can further lead to inflammation and illness.
Excessive exercise also raises our levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Chronic cortisol elevation causes blood sugar imbalances that can lead to weight gain. It also alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. After a while, cortisol puts you at risk for things like anxiety, depression, headaches, weight gain, sleep problems, and even memory impairment.
What is the Remedy?
The reality is that we actually need to be gentler with ourselves and just abide by simple ways of eating and moving if we want to both lose weight and de-stress our bodies.
As mentioned above, it’s good to move every day. Easy movements to incorporate daily include yoga, walking, house cleaning, and gardening. In addition, three or four days a week, aim to do some weight training. Resistance training improves muscle tone, posture, and balance — all of which are necessary and helpful for us especially as we age. Plus, building muscle mass helps us burn calories more efficiently. Then, plan to rest on the days you’re not incorporating weight training so that your body can recover and stress less. This doesn’t mean sitting on the couch all day, but it does mean gently moving your body by choosing one of the daily exercises above. My favorite is walking.
So what should you eat when trying to lose weight? You’ll be glad to know you do NOT need to count calories. This practice is not only unnecessary, but it can also lead to obsession and a deprivation mindset.
Instead, focus on eating real foods. What does this mean? Real foods are unprocessed and typically not made in a factory. These include fruits, vegetables, meats (chicken, grass-fed beef, pastured pork and chicken), wild-caught fish, nuts, seeds, eggs from pastured hens, herbs, spices, and healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado oil, or olive oil. If you opt for grains, better options are seed-type grains like quinoa and amaranth, or ancient grains like millet and teff.
When you eat real foods, your body gets all of the nourishment it needs and isn’t left hungry and searching for more. A rule of thumb to remember is that when you are hungry, your body wants nutrients not just calories. We will naturally become satiated when we focus on eating protein, fats, greens, and good carbohydrates.
Our bodies begin to experience cravings and inappropriate feelings of hunger when we are consuming too many processed carbohydrates and sugars. White flours, white rice, crackers, cookies, pasta, and bread increase our blood sugars and, consequently, our insulin levels. This leads to a vicious cycle of high blood sugar with low blood sugar crashes, leading to more cravings. Insulin is also a fat-storing hormone. Thus, sugar and foods that turn to sugar in our bodies make us fat … not calories.
If you’re interested in learning more about which foods are best for our long-term health and weight control, I recommend Dr. Mark Hyman’s book Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?
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