Summary: 

Everything from how we measure weight to the calorie concept is in need of an update! The constant game of trying to eat fewer calories than you burn keeps you stuck in a constant state of trying to be good, but never really confident you can stick with it, this article is to free you from that deadly triangle of weight loss! Rethinking weight loss and exercise with a science-based update about a healthy weight, what exercise can and can’t do for your weight, and rethink weight loss exercise as a resource to achieve your weight loss goals even before you get to your goal weight.  

Weight Loss Facts to Consider

The way out of the deadly triangle that is keeping your weight stuck

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.  

Facts about body weight that keep you stuck

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 Weight Loss?

How long will it take to lose 50 pounds

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. 

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.  

Time to Rethink Weight Loss

What if the gas gauge in your car measured the level of every fluid—the oil, water, windshield fluid, and gas? It would be completely ineffective. You would have no way of knowing if you needed gas!

The same goes for the scale—it’s an all-in-one gauge. It measures everything in your body all at once, not just fat, but muscle, water, bone and everything else in your body at that moment. If it goes up, you have no way of knowing what increased. If it goes down, you have no way of knowing what decreased. Yet those numbers going up or down can send you into a tailspin of thoughts, worries, and guilt.

If you want to lose weight to improve health, this fact about the scale matters a lot. For example, if you lose weight, up to thirty percent of it could be muscle loss.1 According to the research, what that means for your future is less independence as you age and a lower life expectancy.2 Not exactly what you had in mind when you set out to lose weight!

So why do we use body weight?

Your doctor uses weight to help predict if you will be healthy in the future. But does it really predict your health? Over the past two decades, there have been increased pleas for medical professionals to use fitness as a measure of health along with body weight.3 That’s because there is mounting evidence that being a normal weight may not be enough to be healthy and that being fit plays a major role in health.

For example, people who are in the obese or overweight category but are also in the moderate to high fitness category, have a significantly lower risk of dying from any cause and and a 50% lower risk of developing depression than people who are thin and unfit.4, 5 Age does not seem to be a deterrent to this power of exercise either. Older people who tested high on a muscle power test lived nine years longer, no matter what their weight, than people with a lower muscle power level.6 Clearly, the focus for health should not be on how to lose weight, but on how to improve fitness at every weight.

The problem is that fitness is not as convenient to measure as body weight, so we use weight as a measure of health. As Bodie Thoene is quoted as saying, “what is right (or true) is often forgotten by what is convenient”.

What is weight loss success?

You may use the scale to measure your progress toward being healthy, looking better, and feeling better about yourself. It seems so straightforward. Burn more calories than you eat and the scale should go down, like an ATM machine telling the difference between deposits and withdrawals. It’s such a nice neat little equation and if it worked, weight loss would not be a billion-dollar industry. Unfortunately, your body is not a machine and the way it processes calories is far from predictable.

Where did that weight number you are trying to get to come from? What you weighed in the past?  when you felt better? That number represents a different body—with a different mix of fat, muscle, bone, and water—than you have right now. Is it a recommended number based on a chart for your height that was invented by a 19th-century mathematician?7 The number is straightforward, but what it represents is not.

The fact is that number does not mean better health, a longer life, more strength, feeling better, functioning better, or having less pain. So what is the point of using weight as a measure of success? The truth is, the scale is not a way to measure progress toward what you truly want from weight loss; it never was and it never will be. Let’s find a better way to measure what you really want from weight loss.

The new and improved way to exercise for weight loss starts here

The new and improved way to exercise for weight loss starts by trading your weight goal for your Core Why. Getting to the heart of what you really want from weight loss allows you to choose what is worth your time, money, and energy, gives you a true measure of your progress, and lowers your stress level about staying at your goal when you reach it. It’s not as neat as the scale, but it is much more effective.

To find your Core Why for weight loss, start by brainstorming the answers to the following questions:

  • What does weight loss really mean for my body?
    • What do I want my body to feel like at an ideal weight?
    • What do I want my body to be able to do as a result of losing weight?
  • What does weight loss really mean for my mind?
    • How will my thoughts about myself be different?
    • How will it change my level of stress?
  • What does weight loss really mean for my heart?
    • How would losing weight improve my ability to enjoy life?
    • What is most important in my life that I believe my weight is limiting?

Look over your answers and notice a common theme of what you really want by losing weight. Ask yourself “What is the one word that describes how I want to feel as a result of weight loss?” Energized? Confident? Comfortable? Free? Happy? Peaceful? That is your Core Why.

Instead of exercising to burn calories, exercise to feel more of this in your whole person each time. If exercise does not make you feel this way, the problem is not you, it’s the exercise. Adjust the type, duration, location, intensity, and any other variables so exercise leaves you feeling more like you want to feel from weight loss.

How to Measure Weight Loss Progress

The real reliable way to measure progress with weight loss 

Want numbers to tell if you are making progress? Assign a number to the level of your Core Why before and after exercising. For example, if your word is ‘energized’, pause before exercise and ask “What is my energy level now on a scale of 1-5?”, with one representing low energy, and five representing all the energy you need. As you exercise, notice what is happening to that number and adjust what you are doing so it increases your energy. Then ask yourself again when you finish exercising. Writing down the numbers, along with anything else you notice, allows you to see your progress. If that number goes down, make a note of why exercise may have drained your energy. If the number goes up, make a note of what worked. Will this work for weight loss? Yes! Because weight loss is not the goal, and just burning calories will not get you what you really want from your efforts. Instead, you will be writing your own best guide for exercising to get what you truly want from weight loss for your whole person.

But what about the scale?

Whether you choose to weigh yourself is not the issue, it’s how much you are asking the scale to tell you something it can never measure. Shift your mindset from the scale to your Core Why and you will no longer be a slave to pushing your body to do what burns more calories and fat (another rough estimate at best!), and risking feeling worse from exercise. You will be exercising to get what you truly want from weight loss. Motivation science is clear: this internal guidance is a much more effective way to stay motivated to exercise in the long run.8

If your brain starts to tell you this is wimping out, remember that our culture is stuck on the scale and obsessed with calories, which are ineffective tools at best. Stay focused on exercising for your Core Why and you will be healthy, fit, and well, now and in the future.

Remember..

  • The scale is an all-in-one measurement and it does not measure what you want from weight loss.
  • In research, weight does not connect very strongly to health; fitness does.
  • What you really want from weight loss is a more accurate guide than a goal weight.
  • Your Core Why is the way to measure success with your weight loss efforts.

Why can’t I lose weight with diet and exercise? 

If weight loss is about calories in and calories out, why doesn’t diet and exercise always work?  At the beginning of the pandemic, there were jokes about gaining the Quarantine 15 as people found themselves homebound, moving less, and eating more. As we adjust to the ongoing situation, many people are looking for ways to shed that weight and finding it’s only adding to their stress. Unfortunately, stress is exactly why diet and exercise don’t work. This article tells you how to address stress in a way that puts you in a state where you can shed the extra weight. 

What really causes weight gain

There are three main factors in the perfect storm of how stress makes it difficult to lose weight:   

  • The stress response creates chemical changes that tell your body to hold on to fat, by creating new fat cells and increasing storage in existing fat cells.  
  • Most of our modern day food is specifically engineered for your brain. Comfort foods flood the brain with dopamine, serotonin, and the other chemicals your brain is looking for to make you feel better when stressed. These cravings override your natural signal to eat when hungry and stop when full.   
  • Our modern culture has made exercise for weight loss more stress-producing than stress-reducing. The concept of calorie burning translates to ‘more exercise is better’, which leaves you feeling like you should be doing more, which leaves you feeling more stressed. 

That last point is the tipping point for this whole problem of weight loss, and it has nothing to do with calorie burning.  

Stress is the body preparing for movement 

We call stress a “fight or flight response” because stress is your body preparing for movement so you can attack or get away from a threat. Our modern day stressors, however, are not usually solved by attacking or physically running away, so we can get stuck in a stressed state.    

Well is the opposite of stress and is when healing and repairs happen. When moving your body and trying to get enough exercise is stress-producing, your ability to get back to that state of well where your body can lose weight is seriously limited. Diet and exercise just won’t work when they are another stressor in your life.  

Stress is not a problem, being stuck in stress is the problem

Stress is a normal part of life, but it’s not stress per say that causes weight gain, it’s the lack of opportunity to move in ways that shift your body back to a state of well. Scientists found that it’s the 24/7 stress state that signals the body to store more fat. When each stress response is balanced with something to bring you back to a state of well-being, stress does not interfere with weight loss.   

Making the shift from stressed to well

Okay, let’s look at the big picture. 

  • The stressed state is the body ready to move. 
  • Being stuck in a stressed state tells the body to hold onto fat. 
  • The main purpose of exercise for weight loss, then, is to literally move your body out of a stressed state as often as possible each day.   

There are many brain-based ways to reduce stress, but without movement, they are incomplete. There are many ways to exercise, but if they take too much of your time or energy, or leave you feeling worse about yourself, they will not get you back to a state where weight loss happens, no matter how many calories and how much fat you burn. To make exercise work for weight loss, start by rethinking exercise from calorie burning to well-restoring.  

Your body has what it needs right now 

No matter your weight, your body still has all that it needs to improve your stamina, strength and mobility and thus your ability to feel better in every day life.   If your weight is getting in the way of you exercising, your body is not the problem, the exercises you are doing are the problem. Forcing your body to do an exercise so that some day, when you lose weight, you will feel better only backfires in the end.    Shedding the stress of the scale so diet and exercise work starts with knowing that no matter your weight, your body has what it needs to move to reduce stress and regain your stamina, strength and mobility.   You dont need to lose weight to be fit, you only need the right way to exercise for your body to be well now. 

The evidence is clear: exercise works for weight loss when it moves you from stressed to well

The exercise that is best for weight loss is the one that your body can do in a way that leaves you feeling and functioning better from the first day. That way, exercise can both reduce stress and improve your strength, stamina and mobility, so you are putting your body in a state where it can not only lose weight, but also be well.  It’s a win/win.  You get to stress less and get be well each step of the way to your healthy weight! 

How to shed stress and move the scale:

  • Stress is your body preparing to move.
  • Chronic stress signals your body to store more fat weight.
  • Exercise that is not stress-producing puts your body in a well state where weight loss happens.
  • Your body already has everything it needs for you to be healthier at any weight. 
  • Exercising for weight loss means movements that fit your body, so it reduces stress and puts your body back in a state where weight loss happens

Get what you want from weight loss before reaching your goal weight

One night a policeman found a man searching for his wallet under a streetlight. He joined to help. After hours of searching, he found out that the man had lost his wallet in the park. “Then why are you searching here?” asked the policeman. “Because this is where the light is,” replied the man.

Every year, countless hours and billions of dollars are spent on weight loss. For every person trying to lose weight, there are teams of researchers trying to find the right formula for weight loss, and multitudes of programs with professionals who dedicate their life to helping people get to a goal weight.  

And what is the result of all of that investment in time and money? 

The average American weighs more now than ever! It’s pretty clear what we are doing is not working. The problem is not a lack of trying, the problem is, like the man searching under the streetlamp, we are looking in the wrong place for the solutions.  

The problem with using the scale to measure success

We look to the scale to measure success. Yet the scale is an all-in-one gauge that will never tell what you lost or gained. We need to find a better way to measure weight loss success. 

We have developed amazing technology to help us track the calories we eat and calories we burn yet this is still a rough estimate at best. We need a more accurate way to decide what to eat and how much to exercise. 

We research the types of exercise and diets that work best for attaining a goal weight, yet goals are by definition a way to get to an endpoint, but a healthy weight is not just a momentary achievement. We need a mindset about weight loss that promotes lifelong habits, not temporary changes.   

This starts by reexamining what weight loss success really means. Surveys that ask people why they want to lose weight reveal the answer. The top reasons people give are to be healthy, improve mood, reduce pain, have more energy, and feel better about themselves. Can you achieve all this before weight loss? Yes!  

Being healthy is not measured by weight

Regardless of their body weight, people who exercise regularly

  • Are healthy, with a lower risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dying from any cause1
  • Have a better mood, with lower rates of depression and anxiety
  • Feel better about themselves with higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Have more energy
  • Have less chronic pain

I don’t think anyone would say they just want to get to their goal weight and don’t care if they are healthier or feel better. The fact is weight loss is not a goal, it’s a method for getting what you want. We have become so focused on weight loss as the goal that we lose sight of the fact that it’s not what we ultimately want.

The question we often ask is “how much is enough exercise to lose weight” This question will never produce useful answers. The real question to ask is  “what are the types and amounts of exercise to improve my health, reduce pain, improve my mood, and give me more energy?”  

Once we’ve asked and answered that question, the next question is, “what will make exercise a habit so I keep getting those results? The answer comes from merging what we know from exercise science with what we know from motivation science.  Your brain is hardwired to choose what will make you feel better now.  Only exercise that makes you feel better now will become a lasting habit. 

When you stop searching under the streetlamp for the best way to exercise to burn calories and tone your body, you eliminate the exercises that increase pain, drain energy, and leave you feeling worse about yourself.

What you are left with are ways to exercise based on the way your body is designed to move well, reduce strain and increase strength for everyday life movements. You restore trust in your body, and are better able to give it what it needs to feel better today and each day. Your brain starts to encourage you to exercise, because it knows that is what will truly make you feel better now. You’re less likely to spend time foraging through your kitchen for ways to feel better.  

When you redefine the best way to exercise for weight loss success in light of these facts, you discover you don’t have to wait until you get to a goal weight to get what you want from weight loss. Exercise to be well now, and you can get what you want each step of the way.  

How to Exercise if your Limited by your Weight

Exercising Well When Limited by Weight

 What if the gas gauge in your car measured the level of every fluid—the oil, water, windshield fluid, and gas? It would be completely ineffective. You would have no way of knowing if you needed gas!

The same goes for the scale—it’s an all-in-one gauge. It measures everything in your body all at once, not just fat, but muscle, water, bone and everything else in your body at that moment. If it goes up, you have no way of knowing what increased. If it goes down, you have no way of knowing what decreased. Yet those numbers going up or down can send you into a tailspin of thoughts, worries, and guilt.

If you want to lose weight to improve health, this fact about the scale matters a lot. For example, if you lose weight, up to thirty percent of it could be muscle loss.1 According to the research, what that means for your future is less independence as you age and a lower life expectancy.2 Not exactly what you had in mind when you set out to lose weight!

Your Body Weight and Exercise

Your body weight is used to help predict if you will be healthy in the future. But does it really predict your health? Over the past two decades, there have been increased pleas for medical professionals to use fitness as a measure of health along with body weight.3 That’s because there is mounting evidence that being a normal weight may not be enough to be healthy and that being fit plays a major role in health.

For example, people whose body weight puts them in the obese or overweight category but are also in the moderate to high fitness category, have a significantly lower risk of dying from any cause and a 50% lower risk of developing depression than people who are thin and unfit.4, 5

Age does not seem to be a deterrent to this power of exercise either. Older people who tested high on a muscle power test lived nine years longer, no matter what their weight, than people with a lower muscle power level.6 Clearly, the focus for health should not be on how to lose weight, but on how to improve fitness at every weight.

Learning to Be Well Now at your current weight

The new and improved way to exercise for weight loss starts by knowing how to exercise in a way that keeps you out of chronic stress and supports your self-motivation to continue exercising no matter what the scale says.

This mindset reset about exercise from a way to burn calories and fat, to the foundation of your whole-person health means you don’t have to wait to feel better or be healthy. You don’t deserve to be in pain, suffer through tough workouts, and feel embarrassed about how your body moves just because you are carrying extra weight. You deserve to Be Well Now.

When you want to be healthy in your whole person, but your weight is keeping you from exercising, learn how to move to Be Well Now. This is the simplified, science-based way to exercise in the body you are in right now, so losing weight is not stress-producing, and exercising strengthens your self-motivation skills that have a carry-over effect to other habits for your whole-person health.

Posture helps Strength Immensely

We all know we shouldn’t slouch. We should stand and sit “ up straight”.  In our culture this usually means military type posture –  chest out, shoulders back. Think about the change in the load of a heavy object when it is held far away from the body and then brought in close to the body.  It seems to get lighter. The weight of the object and the strength of the muscles did not change, we are just better able to access our strength with this simple shift. In the same way, how we hold our body changes our weight and strength instantly. Seems simple enough.  Let’s take minute to play around with this together and see what we can discover. Ready?  First let’s slouch. 

Just notice how the body feels.

  • the weight of the head and shoulders
  • the effort of the back muscles
  • how breathing feels

Now, let’s sit up straight,  with “good posture”  chest out shoulders back. What do you notice?

  • the weight of the head and shoulders
  • the effort of the back muscles
  • how breathing feels

Now, let’s sit in the chair with the feet on the floor.  Tilt the hips until the weight of the pelvis is neither on the tailbone, nor the front of the pelvis, just balanced in the center. Then tilt the rib cage up and down until it is like an upside-down bowl facing the pelvis. (Placing a hand on the breastbone can be helpful.  It will be straight up and down, not tilted front or back in this position) While keeping the rib cage in that position, rather than pulling shoulders back, gently open the shoulders and chest area. Finally, let’s move the head around until it feels almost weightless. Continue to make small adjustments to the position of the pelvis, rib cage and shoulders until the the torso feels comfortable.  Now lets notice.

  • the weight of the head and shoulders
  • the effort of the back muscles
  • how breathing feels

How much effort does it takes to hold each position? Just like Jenga blocks, all lined up, they are quite sturdy and stable.  Out of alignment, the blocks need extra support to stay upright.  In the same way slouching and military posture both create more work on the body. When the skeleton stacked as it was designed, we become lighter and stronger all at once.  We reduce wear and tear on joints.  Breathing is easier.  With the body at ease, the mind can rest easier too. In this aligned position, the core muscles are perfectly designed for their job of stabilizing and supporting the spine (and all the other important “stuff” in our torso).  

Alignment is the foundation of core strength. When we are exercising is another great opportunity to notice our alignment in order to access our strength while supporting key areas of the body. Out of alignment, the body uses its language of pain and other symptoms to say “help, we are working too hard – we are not designed for this.”? Discomfort in the neck, shoulders, hips, knees, and feet, pelvic floor issues, a hernia, digestive symptoms, and low energy level are just a few ways the body speaks to us about how we are using it. Alignment is a science (biomechanics) and the body is complex.  Yet this awareness can be an amazing resource for finding ways we can take charge of our health and well-being.

Here’s the thing though. The pile of all we should be doing for our health can weigh us down.  Let’s be careful alignment does not add to the pile.  These “should’s” have the opposite effect on our health. To keep it truly healthy,  the intention is about giving the body what it needs to be well as a way to be kind to ourselves. We can start by simply shifting our attention inward, listening to what the body is saying, and gradually discover our natural alignment. Alignment then becomes a practice of mindful self-compassion. In this way, learning about our own natural alignment becomes one of the simple yet powerful ways we activate our own well-being.

Cardio and Weight Loss

The risk factor for heart disease that is responsible for the most worry and guilt is body weight.  Overwhelmingly, when I ask clients why they want to lose weight, the answer is “I want to be healthy.”  We connect being overweight with being unhealthy and thin with being healthy. Ready for a shocker? The research does not support this when it comes to heart heath.

The “obesity paradox” is the term used when research shows people with a higher body weight have a lower risk of heart disease and premature death than those at a recommended body weight. But, as with so many things, the beauty is in the details! When fitness level is included in the data, there is no paradox! In every weight category, people who are fit had a lower risk of a heart event and better survival, even if they already have heart disease!

There is considerable evidence that high levels of cardio fitness eliminates or significantly lowers the risk of cardiac death in people who are overweight and obese, even in those with heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes. Therefore, cardiac fitness is more important than obesity in long term prognosis.*

Here are some more key findings:

  • People who are unfit had double the risk of dying, regardless of body weight.
  • Year to year changes in fitness were better at predicting future risk of developing hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and high cholesterol than changes in body weight.
  • When people remained fit, even when body weight increased, their risk of  heart disease and risk of dying from any cause did not increase.
  • People with heart disease and heart failure but with preserved fitness had good survival regardless of body weight.

If you are looking to lose weight to be healthy, and are exercising regularly, be confident! You ARE healthy already. Let go of the worry, because it only drains health.  Certainly, there are other benefits of getting to your healthy weight. Based on the overwhelming evidence,  we can define a healthy weight as the weight that allows you to stay fit.

Will strength training help me lose weight? 

Let me ask some questions that may help with the answer to that question.

What do you want to lose?  The scale is an all-in-one gauge. If the gas gauge on your car measured your water, oil, wiper fluid, and gasoline, how would you know what you needed when it was low?  The scale is an all-in-one gauge too.  It measures everything in your body: water, bone, fat, muscle.  About 25% of weight lost without strength training is muscle.  Muscle is your strength, function, and metabolism.  Muscles support joints so they function better, even with some arthritis.  If you don’t want to lose muscle, strength training is essential.  

Why do you want to lose weight?  Is it just to be able to say you weigh a certain amount, or wear a certain size? For most people it goes deeper than that. Our weight can affect how easily we move, how comfortable we are in our own skin, how confident we feel around others, and our freedom to do all we want in life. It does not have to, but for too many, extra weight limits life. However, at any size, you can be stronger and more fit. Your body still has all it needs to do that. Since some popular exercises are not as comfortable when carrying extra weight, having modifications makes it feel better for your body and that makes it sustainable.

Do you find comfort in food?  Comfort food starts showing up on the front page of checkout counter magazines this time of year (winter, holidays). Those extra calories came in handy during winters long ago where we were working hard physically and didn’t have much heat. Today, however, comfort foods are designed to comfort our brain. Do they work? Sure they do, for a bit. They boost dopamine and our brain knows it. That’s why we crave them. However,  physical activity does too. It raises not only dopamine but serotonin and norepinephrine too. It releases this chemical cascade in a balanced way so our brain does not get a huge hit of one feel-good chemical that it will crave more later.  Movement is our natural boost for mood, focus, and optimism.   Not all exercise programs are designed for this, though, which is why not everyone gets the “comfort” from it.

Strength exercise is a key element to successful weight loss, but only when it is done with mindful self-compassion. That combination rebuilds whole-person confidence so you stay on track with greater ease. Plus you get to enjoy whole-person health each step of the way.

Weight Loss Exercising Conclusions

As scientists gain a greater understanding about the body, it’s becoming clear the ‘calories in, calories out’ concept for weight loss is merely an attempt to simplify something that is much more complex in our body.  What happens to the calories we eat is dependent on many factors, not just the total number we consume in a day. 

Factors such as stress, sleep deprivation, and the type of foods eaten all change what happens to those calories in our bodies. Also, the amount of calories we burn is unpredictable and does not continue to increase as we are more and more active, showing that more exercise will not necessarily lead to more weight loss. As much as we wish it were true, solving the weight loss problem is not just simple math.

Backed by science, I extend to you an invitation to be free from trying to exercise to lose weight. 

Enjoy this freedom in three ways:

  • Freedom from the notion your body needs fixing. The truth is every system in your body is charged with the mission for keeping you alive and well. Exercise, when well designed, helps these systems function at their best, instantly! No “fixing” or goal-reaching is required.
  • Freedom from exercises that don’t make sense to your body, for example, sit-ups and crunches. There is no functional reason to do them. Absolutely none! They do nothing to help the body in daily life, nor do they slim your middle (dare I say planks too – but that is a story for another blog!) No wonder no one likes doing them!
  • Freedom from letting the scale and the mirror (aka our culture) hijack your motivation. These external motivators can easily trigger automatic self-critical thoughts. Studies show that external motivators and criticism are great ways to get a surge of motivation.  Yet, no research has ever proven that criticism leads to lasting motivation. You no longer need to let the scale tell you exercise is “working” or waste any more time on the most common ways to “trick yourself” into wanting to exercise.

Over the years, countless people have told me why they want to lose weight. It all boils down to one reason: “I want to feel better.” Physically as well as mentally, they want to feel better. We all do! That is our motive to do anything in life: to feel better in some way. Now that you can stop trying to burn more and more calories, you are free from trying to use all kinds of gimmicky, exhausting exercise programs to get “results.” 

You don’t have to talk yourself into doing exercises that makes you feel worse so someday you can feel better. You are now free to work with your body and brain to design exercise in the way that leaves you feeling better every day!

Whole-person Health Weight Loss Case Study

The Myth of Exercise and Weight Loss

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 downregulated 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.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Sources:

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