You know what it is like when you decide to make some healthy changes in your life - you wake up one day thinking “This is the day! Today I am actually going to make it happen!” You are motivated and willing to give it your all.
You sign up to your local gym or group fitness class and commit to exercising 6 times per week (after all, every magazine you read says you have to exercise at least 6 times per week in order to lose weight, so it must be true, right?).
This is exactly what I did. So determined to lose weight I tried to do too much too soon, and to my dismay I not only did not lose weight, but I actually gained weight. Shocked and disheartened I gave up on my rigorous exercise program and resigned myself to the idea that exercise wasn’t the answer.
Years later, now that I have established a healthy lifestyle that I love and am an expert on fitness and wellbeing, I can see how it all went wrong. I tried to do too much too soon, and my body just wasn’t ready. It wasn’t until I stopped exercising and focused on other aspects of my wellbeing such as reducing stress, eating well and ensuring I was getting enough sleep, that I finally started to lose weight!
How can exercise cause you to gain weight?
Exercise places a lot of stress on the body, especially if you are not used to leading an active lifestyle. This stress sends us into a fight or flight response, causing our bodies to store fuel instead of burning it, slowing down our metabolism and releasing hormones such as cortisol, all of which can lead to weight gain.
On top of this stress, sudden increase in activity levels requires more energy and therefore an increase in appetite. While you may think it is fine to eat more as you are exercising, if you body is storing fat instead of burning it due to stress you will be likely to put on weight.
How can you get the benefits of exercise without over doing it?
1. Start slow. Being healthy is a lifelong goal, not a quick fix. Start by committing to one exercise session per week and then slowly increase. While it may take longer to see results, you are more likely to make lasting lifestyle changes by making realistic goals.
2. Make small changes. Instead of participating in 6 grueling hour long workouts per week, aim for 3 functional training sessions and focus the rest of your week on building healthy habits such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, going for a walk on your lunch break, or riding your bike to work.
3. Focus on nourishing your body. Don’t try to deprive your body with sudden diets which will also cause your body stress. Instead, focus on nourishing your body with wholefoods. Nourishment comes from a balanced diet that makes you feel energised, healthy and lighter.
4. Fight stress. Now that you understand the negative effect that stress can have on your health and your weight, focus on eliminating stress wherever you can. Identify factors that cause you stress, such as work, relationships, or money, and find ways to combat these. Effective stress release may include meditation, time management, massages, and deep breathing. Don’t forget to make time to look after yourself - your health, and your weight, will benefit.
Remember: Don’t give up! Weight gain when you start an exercise program is a big reason most people give up before they see results. If you start slow and persevere with realistic and achievable changes, you will discover the many benefits you can receive from regular exercise.