You’ve decided to lose weight and you think know what to do. You’ve got to eat to less and you have to start exercising. Maybe you aren’t quite ready for radical changes in your diet but you were into sports in high school and you know you can move your body. Maybe you start walking or maybe you start doing orange theory. You work out faithfully for 5 days a week for 3 months and you lose NOTHING. Does this sound familiar? I hear it all the time from my patients and I sense the frustration that they are feeling because I’ve experienced it too.
Once upon a time I thought I would try to exercise my weight off. I started training for sprint triathlons and exercised every day. Running, swimming, cycling, weight lifting. I did something almost every day. And truthfully, I felt great. I finished a couple of those races and felt a sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t felt in a long time. But guess what? I gained 5 pounds. Oh sure some of it was muscle mass but I still had enough fat mass on me that technically I was in the unhealthy category. I know how demoralizing it feels when you’ve exercised your ass off and you have “nothing” to show for it. Here’s the deal. Your magnificent brain is hell bent in protecting your energy balance and so it is almost impossible to exercise your weight off. The more you exercise, the hungrier you get. So, what’s a girl to do? Stop exercising? That’s a big NO. But you can no longer use “ I can’t exercise” as an excuse to not try to lose weight.
Let me reiterate the good news: you don’t have to exercise to lose weight! You know the bad news is coming so let me just lay it out for you. While you don’t have to exercise to lose weight you do have to exercise to maintain weight loss so I don’t let my clients off the hook. You also HAVE to exercise for heart health. Since February is the month of all things heart shaped including the one in your chest, I will remind you that we physicians recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise a week to maintain your ticker health. This should be everyone’s long term goal. This is my long-term goal. So, how do we get there?
First I want to define exercise: exercise is physical activity done expressly for the purpose of cardiovascular or muscle improvement over a finite amount of time. If you aren’t doing any it can also be daunting. I also define it as a radical expression of self-love/ self-care. I think this is why most people intuitively turn to exercise when they are losing weight. So, should you order a Shaun T DVD to get started? HELL TO THE NO. I recommend starting with small changes first which is why I want to talk to you about NEAT.
NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis but what does it mean? NEAT encompasses all of the energy you use for any activity that is not exercise, digestion or sleeping. You can actually burn more than 2000 calories by increasing your NEAT in a day and you won’t likely even break a sweat. This means that you park far away when you go shopping at Target. You take the stairs instead of a people mover when you can. You go visit your neighbors by walking around your block. If you have a sit-down job, you get a standing desk. Anything that allows you to move your body more will increase your NEAT. Play with your kids outside, ride a bike to the store, walk the damn dog (I’m talking to you kids). Push mow your yard, pull weeds, do lunges while taking out the trash. Hold a squat while peeing in a public restroom, have a nightly dance party with your family, count your steps with a tracker. Start a hobby that won’t let you sit on the couch at night. Pace when you talk on the phone, do knee lifts while cleaning up after dinner, put your washer and dryer in the basement. Every day see if you can increase your activity by just a little more. Pretty soon you will be ready to tackle the big E.
Once you’ve decided you are ready to exercise do not do any of the following: buy a new outfit or tennis shoes, sign up for a gym membership, purchase a new piece of exercise equipment or hire yourself a personal trainer. Now these things aren’t bad but you don’t want to shell out a bunch money on something you might not even like. Honestly, I recommend that everyone start by walking. This is something almost all of you can do and it doesn’t cost a thing. I teach my clients to start out walking 5 minutes a day 5 days a week. Come hell or high water you put on your shoes and you take that walk. Some of you may be thinking that you are already doing 5 minutes a day. Great! Just add 5 minutes onto whatever you are doing. Then, every month you add 5 minutes to each day, still getting out there 5 days a week. By the time you complete 6 months of weight loss, you will be walking 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week which equals the IOM recommendation. This sounds like a breeze but let me tell you that it takes relentless determination to get this done. So how do you get relentless determination?
- Come up with 3 unwavering reasons why you should exercise. Write them down and stick them on your mirror, put them on your phone, carry them in your car and purse.
- Plan your exercise like it’s a meeting with your boss. If you wouldn’t miss that meeting, don’t miss your exercise.
- Know that you will not want to exercise. Your brain will come up with 100 reasons to not lace up your shoes. Ignore your brain and lace your shoes anyway.
- Have courage. No one ever knows if they will succeed but your certainly won’t if you sit on your ass. Life happens, have a back up plan. A serious back up plan.
- Life happens, have a backup plan. Dream up every obstacle you face and come up with at least 3 solutions.
Everyone has obstacles or what I like to call excuses. Let’s review a few and see if you can come up with a solution.
Lack of time: Everyone has an extra 30 minutes in their day. Delete Facebook from your phone, stop watching television after dinner, use your lunch hour. Hell, stop washing your hair every day.
Fatigue: We are all chronically tired. Do you know what helps with this? More sleep and better nutrition. And guess what also helps with fatigue? Exercise.
Guilt: If you are a working parent, you know the parent guilt. You see your family so little every day, taking more time away from them feels hard. I get around this by exercising while my kiddos are sleeping. Also, exercise and the stress relief you get will make you a better parent. Your kids would rather see you less and happy then more and irritated.
Pain: Sometimes joint pain or injuries can make certain types of exercise difficult. Find an exercise that doesn’t hurt. Try swimming in a heated pool or a lower impact type of exercise like yoga. Also, as you lose weight, you will notice that you have less joint pain and it’s not just from a decrease in the mechanical forces of weight. Adipose tissue is inflammatory and losing adipose or fat mass will help.
Embarrassment: Girl, no one is looking at you or judging you if you are exercising. I’ve spent countless hours in a gym and I can’t remember ever thinking “that person shouldn’t be exercising”.
Boredom: Look we all get bored. Switch up the type of exercise or find ways to make it fun. I always feel better watching my dog get so excited to take a short walk. Talk a friend into joining you. Nothing makes miles move faster than a good conversation. Can’t make it interesting? Deal with the boredom. I can honestly say that I have never gotten excited about brushing or flossing my teeth but I still do it multiple times a day anyway. Ditto with going to the grocery store or paying bills but I do it because I have to. Deal with exercise similarly. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Start small and build on habit. Use motivational mantras or a friend. Be committed and plan ahead. In other words, relentless determination my friend, relentless determination.