Um, duh. Why is this news, you ask? Because many of us seem to forget this simple fact. In our society, there is a real disconnect between the physical cues for hunger (growling stomach, salivation, heightened sense of smell etc.) and our eating habits (eating past fullness, eating just because it’s there, eating to relieve boredom, stress, anxiety, in-laws…).
Many women get caught in the trap of exercising primarily to lose weight and then becoming frustrated as their bodies demand more food to sustain the increased activity. Courtney Thorne Smith (of Ally McBeal and that show with the dumpy husband and the hot wife that I’ve never really watched but somehow still know of its existence but apparently not enough to know its name or care to look it up) summed it up nicely in this month’s Fit Pregnancy:
I used to run 8 miles a day, then go to the gym, do weights and then yoga, until I realized that I was so hungry and tired all the time. So I stopped doing all that and started just walking. I feel so much freedom now: I don’t have to stay in a hotel with a gym and I’m never so hungry that I panic. A lot of women are in a crazy exercise cycle; they’re so afraid they’ll gain weight if they stop, and it’s especially hard when they get pregnant. What they need to realize is that if you’re not exercising so much, you don’t have to eat so much, and your body adjusts. It sounds so simple, but you really do have to listen to your body.
I know I’ve had this mindset. When Mark Sisson challenged me to try his workout for two weeks and I discovered that entailed cutting my cardio by 75% and my weights by 50%, I almost had a panic attack. I was positive I was going to gain weight. But after two weeks, I hadn’t gained an ounce. AND I was doing significantly less exercise. After a month on his “Cardio Diet” I was down a pound or two and had less joint pain (from overuse). How could this be? By exercising less (just less people, I’m not giving you the green light to go all couch potato), my apetite naturally decreased and *deep breath* I was fine. No weight gain. No muscle loss. A little bit of fat loss. All around success.
But Wait – There’s Research!
And in case my anecdotal evidence isn’t enough for you, you know I have research to back me up:) New York Magazine ran a fascinating article called the Scientist and the Stairmaster addressing this very issue. The article is rather long but definitely worth reading. If you are time crunched though, here are the high points:
– Exercise alone (without modifying one’s diet) has not been shown to lead to weight loss in any studies. I know this seems contrary to what all the exercise professionals have been telling us – but it is true. Exercise is correlated with weight loss but, repeat after me, correlation is not causation.
– The more you exercise, the hungrier you will be and, unless you tightly control your food intake, your weight will maintain.
– Our weight is not a “black box” where calories go in as food on one side and come out as exercise on the other – there are a lot of factors involved like hormones, genetics, stress etc.
But for pity’s sake, don’t stop exercising. Just don’t make weight loss your primary reason for exercising. Getting your heart pumping is good for your body, your mind and your sanity. If you do want to lose weight, it’s a one-two punch of nutrition and exercise. And, like anything, more of a good thing is not necessarily better. Bring on the sanity!