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Should we disassociate weightloss goals from exercise?

This might sound controversial but I am going to start this blog by saying that I don’t recommend exercise to my clients who have weight loss goals. How odd does that sound? Because surely by exercising we burn calories and if we burn calories we lose weight, right? But let’s look at the topic of this blog from a slightly different angle to explore why perhaps using exercise programmes as a primary focus to losing weight may be detrimental to the achievement of this goal. The clue is in that word used 3 times!

My biggest concern as a Personal Trainer is that people with weight loss goals may begin their Personal Training journey with a plan to engage in 1 – 2 hours of training per week and a belief that this will lead to a dramatic reduction in excess body weight without any other changes to their lifestyle. If there is some truth in this, then the blame should not be put on that person, when we consider the ludicrous advertisement promises that many big gyms or exercise equipment companies spout out claiming to transform bodies in just 6 weeks with this exercise programme or to sculpt your muscles to this extent with this outstanding piece of training kit (Q… body building physique model). How can these seemingly quantifiable claims be made without any knowledge of the user’s day-to-day lifestyle and nutritional habits? Will the body of a 20 pints-a-week man suddenly change to a block of muscular steel in 6 weeks through a training programme whilst still hitting the pub at the end of each taxing work day? Let’s do some equations to help paint a picture of what the impacts of exercise and eating/drinking can be. Before we do, it’s important to quickly acknowledge that weight loss can occur through a multitude of factors, not just energy imbalance (calorie input vs calorie output). But if there were a league table of these factors I’d probably put energy imbalance in the Champions League places right at the top. I believe it must always be incorporated into any plan for weight loss or gain.

Here are some equations that I hope will paint a good picture of what might happen if we only use exercise as a means of losing weight.

(Please note, these equations are approximate and based only on body weight of 75kg but should give a rough idea of the comparable)

  • 3 pints of lager = 624 kcals = 8km in 50 minutes
  • 3 glasses of wine = 375 kcals = 220 Press Ups in 11 minutes
  • 1 Snickers bar (standard size) = 250 kcals = 30 minutes of squats (approx.)
  • 16oz Starbucks Chai Latte = 240 kcals = 3 x 4 min HiiT Tabata Exercise (12 mins)
  • PRET Classic Super Club Sandwich = 548 kcals = 50 minutes of Bootcamp Exercise

ALL THE ABOVE = 2,037 kcals = 2hrs 13mins of intense exercise, something like a half-marathon!

By looking at these equations we can see what we might need to do to simply maintain a body weight through exercise if we are eating and drinking certain things. Is it possible that one person may consume all 5 of these food and drink choices in 1 day? If so, that’s 2hours and 13 minutes of intense exercise, just to break even on a weight- loss goal. So, unless we are willing to run the equivalent of a half-marathon each day to maintain or possibly lose weight, it stands to reason that nutrition needs to be the main focus.

The above exercise routines will of course offer plenty of other health & fitness benefits and should not be discounted on these grounds! Weight training and cardiovascular exercise reduce the risk of disease, ill health and stress –  to name but a few.

Understanding the importance of nutrition & food / drink consumption in weightloss goals

I’d like to use an example of a client of mine Paul who began training with me in October 2016. It was clear when we first met that Paul was in an ‘action’ phase and understood the importance of nutritional changes in weight loss. He had already begun to change some nutritional habits to healthier options and, within the first month of training with me, had achieved a weight loss of 16lbs / 7kg. He had reduced his daily calorie intake and completely cut out all refined carbohydrates as well as reducing his alcohol intake. With due respect to the exercise levels he had reached within that first month, I can safely say that his weight loss resulted essentially from those nutritional changes.  In cases such as Paul’s, weight loss occurred very quickly but it is important to stress that this is not always the case for everyone. Often, visual signs of weight loss such as a drop in trouser/dress size or a comment from a friend on appearance can occur before the actual weight numbers do. My advice in these circumstances are to use these signs as your indicators of progress to keep you motivated. Again, if we can find a way of enjoying the changes in how and what we are eating then this will really help.

The importance of understanding habits and lifestyle trends to support weightloss goals

To support clients with weight loss goals I have created support programmes that not only look at what they eat and drink, but why and how? My Level 3 Nutrition Support – Nutrition & Lifestyle review gives time for reflection on habits and current lifestyle choices and offers clients a holistic action plan that has been created from their own findings.

Contact me to find out more information and to set up a consultation meet.

Although there are some hard and fast rules surrounding nutrition and weight loss, no one person is the same and factors such as hormones, stress, sleep and food intolerances will all play a part in changes to our weight. That’s why it is important to look at a range of lifestyle factors that are in play alongside calorie imbalance. Take sleep for example. If we are sleep deprived, our body releases more of the hormone cortisol which is directly linked to our metabolism and insulin response. We may find ourselves feeling hungrier, not because we have not eaten enough, but because we have not slept enough. Cortisol is also linked to stress levels. So, it would stand to reason that if we are focusing on a weight loss goal, we must consider the hours and quality of sleep we are getting as well as finding good ways of reducing stress in our day- to- day lives.

Whenever a client explains that they have a weight loss goal, one of the first questions I ask is “who do you live with?” Who we share our home with can have a huge impact on what, when and how we eat, especially if it’s not you that does the cooking. There could be lots of benefits to not doing your own cooking, for example, if you are living with a very health-conscious person who loves to cook and prepare dishes with lots of lovely fresh, green and lean produce! However, there may also be detrimental aspects to not cooking yourself. Eating out is a prime example of how we can lose control of the quality of our food intake. What has the meat you have eaten in that restaurant been cooked in and do we know the quality of it? 150g of salmon could be a wonderful choice if grilled and garnished with fresh ginger and garlic. However, that same piece of Salmon pan- fried in sunflower oil and topped with a sweet chilli sauce completely changes the nutritional value.  It is vitally important to understand the nutritional value of what we eat. I’d like to stress that it is also important to spend time thinking about how we eat. What are our habits and routines? When do we feel hungry and in what quantity do we consume our meals? The support I offer my clients with weight loss goals is as much based upon behaviour change as it is on food choices. As I discussed earlier, calorie imbalance plays a vital role in weight management, but many contributing factors are based upon our psychological relationship with food as well as hormonal responses.

By understanding and taking positive action towards lifestyle and behavioural changes, we may find that we simply eat less and/or opt for more healthy choices. When we look at a weight- loss programme from this angle, we can begin to see it as a more holistic lifestyle approach, rather than a calorie- restrictive diet that may not realistically be sustainable. I believe the term ‘diet’ carries many negative connotations and I avoid using it at all costs. If we are going on a diet we seem to be cutting things out. Immediately we will feel we are missing these things which may lead us to crave them more. It is not always the case that someone needs to restrict their calories to lose weight. It may be that they simply need to make some positive replacements of certain food choices.  Eating foods that have less refined sugar will reduce the dramatic spikes in blood sugar levels which lead to very quick dips leaving you feeling hungry once more. If we can action positive food choices at the same time as addressing lifestyle factors such as stress, poor sleeping levels and regulation of eating intervals, we may need to worry less about the number of calories and we may begin to foster a more positive and healthy relationship with our food.

Concluding thoughts & actions

I wanted to end this blog with a conclusion set out as an Action Plan which I hope may be of support to anyone focused on a weight loss goal.

  • Use exercise in your weight loss programme to compliment your primary focus around your nutrition.
  • Approach your exercise programme with a focus on your health & fitness – reduction in ill health, disease. Increased sense of well-being. Strength & endurance. Enjoyment. Endorphins. Setting you up for the day.
  • Give yourself time to achieve your goals. If you’re in it for the long term then there is no rush. A sustainable and steady approach is always better
  • Consider factors such as stress levels and quality and length of sleep. Our hormones play a big role in our body weight and increased stress and lack of sleep have been proven to be detrimental to weight loss goals.
  • Be realistic and know what your healthy body weight is.

Photo by Taylor Kiser on Unsplash