Diane* came into the hospital based weight clinic, excited to get on the scale. The past month, she had changed her diet and started exercising twice a day for 30 minutes. Tears welled up in her eyes as she read the number – UP three pounds in three weeks! “How could that be?? I have been doing everything I am supposed to be doing?” Based on calculations of calories in and calories out, Diane should have lost weight. She felt betrayed by the scale and by her body.
I asked how she was feeling. She said, “Exhausted!” She is a single mom of a four-year old and works from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. seven days a week. During the five hours she can sleep, she sleeps well, but it is still only five hours a night. She does get some breaks during the day but those are spent with her son, housecleaning, and fitting in exercise. She was sleep-deprived, stressed and now feeling hopeless.
The myth here is that exercise for weight loss is just about burning calories. We can work the numbers all we want but in reality the numbers get in the way. Exercise becomes another thing on our to do list, another “should.” As a result, we miss out on the real benefit of exercise for weight loss – to restore recharge mode.
The body and brain work on a two-way communication system. When we are physically tired and sore from exercise and mentally resenting our body for not looking or responding like it is “supposed to,” the brain and the body are working against each other. The brain sees these shortcomings in the body as a threat to safety. Alarm mode is triggered. Healing, growth and repair are down regulated while all systems prepare for fighting or fleeing. When in chronic alarm mode, the body will resist weight loss because it may need the extra fuel to fight or flee!
Exercise is the antidote to stress only when exercise is not stressful. When we are living in the should, exercising to outsmart the body into losing weight, ignoring pain and fatigue, movement becomes stressful, injury risk goes up, and chances of success with sustainable weight loss disappear.
Diane and I decided she has a great resource that could help her right now. She loves to dance and did not even consider that would “count” as exercise. She finds walking her dog relaxing. Her plan is to use these resources for reducing stress, letting some air out of the ballon when she has a break in her day, so her body can recharge. The relieved smile on her face told me her body and brain were finally working together and she boosted her chances of successful sustainable weight loss by changing exercise from a should to a resource for being well now.
Be Well Now,
*Name changed to protect privacy.