After years of trying to lose weight with fleeting success, only to regain more, my friend describes the state she found herself in:
“I think about it from the moment I get up until I go to bed. It makes my already-busy life more stressful. I know I need to exercise to undo what I ate so I can lose weight, but exercise makes me feel worse, and when I feel worse, I eat more. I am trapped in this deadly triangle.”
Since the introduction of the calorie in 1896, food and exercise have been opposing forces. Burn more calories and you can eat without guilt; don’t burn enough calories and you must exercise more. Soon, like my friend, you are trapped in a cycle of never enough.
There are several facts that make the triangle so deadly.
Calories are more of an estimate than an exact science. Since there is no absolute way of knowing if you have actually burned more than you took in, you are left feeling completely frustrated and worse about yourself when your tracking app is ‘in the green’ but the scale is not budging.
The problem is that the calorie burning model comes with the assumption that the more physical activity you do, the more calories you burn, in a linear fashion. There is growing evidence that what actually happens is that at some point, calorie burning plateaus, even when physical activity is increased.1 When you think about how we are designed to survive, this makes sense. If you are out foraging for food and not finding any, survival depends on the fail-safe mechanism that keeps you from burning more and more calories until you find food.
Seeing how many calories you burned may make you feel better mentally, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. In reality, the amount of calories your body burns is the result of complex chemical and biological reactions all working for one purpose—to keep you alive. The outdated, calorie-burning mindset that turns your body into a machine you have to keep pushing harder will never work. When you push your body beyond its current limits, it tells your brain something is wrong. When you eat to soothe emotions, it tells your spirit to keep quiet. When you put yourself down, it creates an internal war. All of this perpetuates a downward spiral away from what you want from weight loss.
You are not just a body, you are a whole person.
Each part of that whole is in constant communication to help you not only survive, but thrive. With that in mind, try out this definition of exercise: any time you move for self-care.
Exercise then becomes a time to listen to your body, rather than ignore it, so you are able to hear your intuition. A brief bout of movement becomes a way to calm strong emotions so you can think clearly and connect with more ease. The decision about what to do for exercise is based not on how many calories you will burn, but on how you want your body to feel and function so you can enjoy more of life. When exercise is a way to care for your whole person, you’re free of the trap of the deadly triangle and can start an upward spiral of being well now.
How to exercise for your whole person?
Spiritually: Clarifying your Core Why is the way to connect what you are doing for exercise with what is most important to you so exercise makes you feel more alive.
Mentally: Stress is when your body moves into ‘fight, flight, freeze’ to protect you from a threat. Each of these means your body is ready to move when you have mental stress. Adding movement to mindfulness creates a powerful resource to effectively and efficiently get out of a stressed state.2
Emotionally: When you are tempted to eat in response to emotions, remember those cravings are there because your brain has learned that food will give it the chemicals it needs to make it feel better. When exercise is any time you move for self-care, you use movement to improve your mood and calm strong emotions, helping you reduce emotional eating.
Physically: Know that your body has everything it needs to be strong, have more energy, and move with ease. Weight gain has not taken that away. When you meet your body where it is now, you are free to start with the strength, stamina, and mobility you have now, and build it gradually so you feel good every step of the way as you enhance your body’s ability to help you enjoy life and be well now.
The way out of the deadly triangle that keeps your weight stuck is to rethink the purpose of exercise for weight loss. Instead of a way to burn calories, rethink exercise as any time you move for whole person self-care. It is much simpler than trying to burn more calories than you eat, and much more effective at giving you what you want from weight loss.
Get started with a whole new way to approach exercise with a FREE Core Why Call with me. We will get to the heart of what is most important to you about losing weight and discuss how you can use that to restore exercise as whole-person self care. Click below to book a session.
- Herman Pontzer, Ramon Durazo-Arvizu, Lara R. Dugas, Jacob Plange-Rhule, Pascal Bovet, Terrence E. Forrester, Estelle V. Lambert, Richard S. Cooper, Dale A. Schoeller, Amy Luke,
Constrained Total Energy Expenditure and Metabolic Adaptation to Physical Activity in Adult Humans,
Current Biology, Volume 26, Issue 3, 2016, Pages 410-417
- Bigliassi M, Bertuzzi R. Exploring the Use of Meditation as a Valuable Tool to Counteract Sedentariness. Front Psychol. 2020;11:299. Published 2020 Feb 25. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00299