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The Under Eating & Over Exercising Trap 06/02/11

Nutritionist Vanessa De Ascencao shares why you shouldn't under eat and over exercise.

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A large calorie deficit and too much exercise can actual hinder weight loss, not improve it.

Is your diet the key to burning body fat or is exercise the answer? Well, by dieting as if you aren’t going to exercise will go a long way to creating a lean physique.

I recently came across an interesting article in Time magazine about diet and exercise. It was entitled:”Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin“. To sum up the article without going into too much detail, it’s easier to create a large calorie deficit through your diet than by exercising. And that, at the end of the day, is what losing weight is all about.

A calorie deficit is created when your body burns more calories than you consume each day. To lose 1kg of fat per week, for instance, you need to create a daily calorie deficit of 1,000 calories (2lb or 0.9kg of fat contains 7,000 calories). So the question is, would you rather exercise for two hours or just not eat those calories in the first place?

To create a 1,000 calorie deficit through exercise alone is difficult, as you would have to do moderate to high intensity cardio for close to two hours, which can be brutal if you try and do this everyday! A better suggestion would be to eliminate 500-700 calories from your diet and burn the remainder through exercise.

Take this as an example: A big muffin contains 400 calories. Do you realise how much exercising it takes to burn those calories? Well, about an hour on the step machine at a moderate pace would do the trick! So, by relying on exercise alone you would only be back to square one after an hour of cardio. You probably won’t lose weight at all by doing this, especially if you added a full cream milk latte to the mix or a fat free frappe, which is considered by most to be a skinny meal.

Diet is more important than many people realise
If you are eating excessive amounts of calories then a large part of your time spent in the gym is a waste if your goal is to lose weight. Your diet is key to getting into great shape as it lays the platform for optimal weight loss. The ones who don’t realise this are the ones you see at the gym, week in and week out, doing intense exercise with little or no result.

Another mistake people often make at gym is that they copy the workout routine of a person who is in great shape. The real reason that person is in great shape is because of their strict diet. True weight loss happens outside the gym when you eat well.

To get a true indication of what your daily calorie consumption should be you can use this general formula as a starting point. Take your body weight (in pounds) and multiply it by 12. For example, a woman who weighs 150lb (68kg) would need around 1,800 calories per day. Then, based on the results, you can make adjustments as required. The average person should aim to lose 1-2 pounds (0.5 to 1kg) a week.

Where the wheels can come off
Having worked out this equation, many people often try to accelerate weight and fat loss by increasing the amount of time they spend in the gym, while reducing their daily calorie intake even further. However, there are some interesting hormonal issues that arise when people under-eat and over-exercise, which I’ve seen and personally experienced over the years, whereby a combination of a large deficits and large amounts of activity can slow or completely stall fat loss.

We have all heard about the stress hormone cortisol, which is released by the body in response to all kinds of stress. In the fitness and weight loss world cortisol has had an almost exclusively negative stigma attached to it, but the truth is it does play an important role. For example, the morning cortisol pulse actually helps to promote fat mobilisation, while in contrast, chronic elevations, especially in the face of high insulin levels, tend to promote visceral fat accumulation.

Both exercising and dieting can generally be considered a stressor, which can lead to an increase in cortisol production, and the more extreme you go with each discipline the greater the stress imposed.

When you are doing both of these activities in extremes on a daily basis your cortisol levels go through the roof. Chronic cortisol elevations can cause many issues, such as water retention and leptin resistance in the brain.

When the normal leptin signal to the brain is blocked a lot of things can go wrong metabolically.

A perfect example is when an avid gym-goer, who doesn’t miss a day of cardio and follows a strict calorie controlled diet goes on holiday. This is often accompanied by feelings of anxiety about where to find a healthy meal, how to eat well five times a day and where she will find a suitable place to train.

However, this type of person will, more often than not, come back two weeks later looking amazing – lighter and leaner than when they left. It happens all the time and it has to do with a reduction in these stressors and the positive effects it can have on your body. The point is that if we are willing to take more time and find the correct balance with our dieting and training the results would be much better.

The other issue with excessive exercise is the fact that we tend to crave more food after a heavy cardio or weight training session. If we give in to these cravings then we simply undo all the hard work done in the gym by allowing our calorie intake to exceed our expenditure. This is a major reason why a large percentage of people who work hard in the gym get stuck at the same weight for long periods of time.

Many people also like to reward themselves after a good workout. They reason that since they have had a tough workout they can ‘get away’ with eating more. Other people will exercise more to make up for eating too much. But this just perpetuates the ‘more with more’ mentality, which is a big mistake. Don’t fall into this trap as it never pays to eat more if you want to lose fat!

You can lose weight without exercise

To be honest, if you were on a strict diet you could get lean without the need for exercise, but you would lose out on the toned and shapely physique, and wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of increased health and vitality achieved through regular cardio and resistance training.

However, the challenge with exercising is actually getting to do it regularly enough to create that daily deficit, as there isn’t always time in our hectic schedules.

My suggestion would therefore be to keep your diet in check at all times, and exercise as often as time and life allows. But if you have your diet right you need not spend endless hours on a treadmill, unless you’re specifically training for an event or want to get some ‘compensation’ cardio in before a night out or a long awaited treat.

At the end of the day the equation is a simple one – just keep creating that deficit with your diet, but don’t go to extremes. If you do you’ll quickly find that you lack the motivation to work out, you’ll be tired, grumpy, irritable and, worst of all, you wont achieve the results you want.

By combining this calorie restricted diet with adequate sleep and some exercise that you enjoy doing will yield the best results. I personally love being active, being outdoors and building up a good sweat, which makes the exercise component easier. But I would say that 80-90% of your results in terms of weight loss comes from your diet. Even your health and energy levels will deteriorate if you are not eating properly, and you will never out-exercise a bad diet!

Vanessa De Asencao (Masters of Science in Nutrition, USA).For more information visit www.ecodiet.co.za or email vanessa@otcpharma.co.za.

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2 Responses to this article

Jodi Allemeier June 2, 2011 Reply

“A large calorie deficit and too much exercise can actual hinder weight loss, not improve it.”

The article doesn’t explain this sentence or am I missing it? The article seems to be more about how “a calorie deficit is easier to obtain through diet than through exercise”.

I agree with that (from personal experience, lol), but would emphasise that no diet will give you a great bod if you don’t also exercise – there is such a thing as “skinny fat” (i.e. skinny but flabby! – also discovered through personal experience ;-P )

I would also add that when trying to achieve a calory deficiency it is really important to keep track of nutritional intake – you don’t want a nutrient deficiency at the same time.

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vanessa June 4, 2011 Reply

Thank you for your response. The core of the article is that too much exercise coupled with undereating is detrimental to weight loss for a number of issues, most especially hormonal.
When creating a calorie deficit, like you say it is imperative that one eats a nutritonally sound diet, which is easy when you eating REAL food, balanced and nutritious,
Exercise is NB for health reasons too, not only aesthetic reasons. Walking and Yoga are my two favourite forms of moving the body and enjoying it, each one of us needs to find what we enjoy doing, but its doesnt mean we have to kill ourselves on the treadmill. It isnt worth it, in my professional view, many women do this to compensate, work off what they have eaten or about to eat, which is unhealthy in itself,.

The article is exactly about the fact that too much exercise coupled with a large calorie deficit hinders fat loss in many people. Undereating and over exercising.

Have a great day Jodi!

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