What Is And What Should Never Be

*The title of this post was taken from the Led Zeppelin song of the same name*

I had a conversation with a new client recently and it reminded me of a common obstacle I see with some folks.

All too often, individuals use their workout as an excuse to eat poorly. As the adage goes, we overestimate how hard we train and we underestimate how much we eat.

Let me show it to you by the numbers:

Assume you’re supposed to eat 2000 calories a day to maintain your weight. Assume also that you’ve packed on a few extra pounds over the last several months because you’ve let your calories sneak up into that 2200-2300 range. That’s not hard to do. It could be an extra glass of wine (5 oz.) and 2 extra squares of cheese (approx 150-200 calories) that you’ve conveniently paired together.

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Then you decide to start working out because the midsection is a little bit larger and softer than you’d like it to be.

However, while the working out part isn’t so difficult to do, you opt not to change your diet. You assume that since you broke a good sweat and you were at the gym for 30-40 minutes that you certainly burned enough to start seeing some weight loss.

Let’s keep the numbers going and say that with 30-40 minutes of exercise you burned 500 calories. I’m being generous with that number but I’ll allow it to illustrate my point. So, your daily intake is upwards of 2200-2300 a day and your daily burn is 500. That brings total daily calories to 1700-1800. If we didn’t screw up any of our calculations, it would take you roughly 1 week to burn off one pound of fat. Not terrible but not really motivating either. That’s also assuming that you worked out EVERY day.

Bear in mind, there are some other things that could play in your favor. Your water intake could be extremely high and you “might” see an increase in lean muscle mass. So, my numbers might be skewed slightly.

But not by much.

Also, keep in mind that the 500 calories you burned initially will change over time because your body will become conditioned to the training. So, unless you really start to ramp up intensity/duration/etc. it will be more difficult to burn 500 calories in each workout.

In addition, there is the chance that your increased activity drives your hunger up. Now, you’ve got insatiable hunger signals and you start telling yourself it’s okay to eat a bit more because you had such a good workout. Unless you have your calories perfectly portioned out, there’s this other little wrinkle which might get in the way.

This is why it’s important to get both food and exercise working together for the same goal. Decrease intake AND increase activity. However, try not to run things too far to either extreme. If you cut calories too much, you can affect sleep, recovery, hormones, and more. If you do too much activity, you risk greater chances of injury and potentially impair your ability to recover from workouts.

For our hypothetical individual mentioned above, decrease calories to roughly 1600-1800 daily and increase activity to account for another 350-500 calories burned. These are estimates and each person needs to find their happy place.

In efforts to explain this obstacle, I have simplified the problem and the solution. For many of you, you may need to start with the path of least resistance and focus on one change before committing to the other. For instance, maybe decreasing intake and raising activity simultaneously is too much change at one time. Work on the challenge that is easier for you to implement immediately. In other words, if committing to exercise 5 days a week is easier for you to do right now, then go that direction and allow the commitment towards better food choices to follow.

All of these ideas are assuming you don’t have a pre-existing medical issue or medication that could potentially be keeping you from losing weight. If that is the case, please consult with your doctor about a medicinal/supplemental regimen that can facilitate the change you want to see.

There’s another adage that you can’t outrun the fork. Actually, you probably could. But unless you’re training for marathons or triathlons year-round (you likely are not), then the chances of you winning the weight loss game without changing your food plan aren’t great.

We can help you find the sanity in all of this.

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