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Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight

I want to let you in on a secret.  If you want to be successful with a fitness program, do not exercise to lose weight.  Before you start thinking, “why am I wasting my time at the gym?” or “thank goodness!  Now I don’t have to worry about moving my body!” I am going explain what I mean.

Imagine this scenario:  You reach a tipping point on the scale, you see a ‘fat’ photo of yourself, or your pants that used to be loose no longer zip up.   You decide that enough is enough, and diligently commit to a vigorous exercise program.  You set your alarm an hour earlier each morning and go to the gym alternating between 30-45 minutes of cardio one morning, and a weight circuit the next.  You don’t miss a day.  You are committed.  You feel accomplished, and more energetic.  You are standing a little bit taller.  After two weeks you get up in the morning for a weigh in.  You’re a little nervous, but excited to see the results.   You go to the washroom, take off your slippers, and step on.  The number is exactly 0.2 pounds less than it was before you started.  You start thinking, “After all that hard work, I’ve only lost 0.2 pounds?” You stuck to the program diligently; why didn’t it work?   You feel defeated, disappointed, and less enamoured with the thought of getting up at 5AM to go the gym.

Does that scenario sound familiar?  I have most certainly seen this happen before- and it hurts me!  I see people who make such fantastic progress: they’re feeling better, they have more energy, and can do so much more than ever before, but get completely defeated when the number doesn’t move as quickly as they’d like.

Ultimately, we have very little control over the number on the scale.  The number on the scale accounts for the total sum of your body mass: bone, muscle, water, all your organs and tissues.  I have worked with hundreds of clients, and some lose weight quickly, some lose weight slowly.  Some build muscle faster, some build muscle slower.   Stress, genetics and other lifestyle factors impact the number on the scale.

Now, I never said, ‘do not exercise’; I only said ‘do not exercise to lose weight’.  Personally, in the past (and likely in the future- I’m a work in progress), if I feel like I need to exercise because I’ve gained weight, the last thing I feel like doing is going to the gym or out for a run!  All I feel like doing is staying in, and eating more.

Instead, I’ve learned, for focus on the wonderful, life-enhancing benefits of daily movement:

1. Exercise improves your mood and overall sense of well-being. Often people will say “I’m a better mom” or “I’m a better husband” when I workout.

2. The right exercise will help you build muscle, which will improve your body composition, boost your metabolism, and give you that toned look that will make you want to be sleeveless all year round.

3. Exercise will help you sleep better.

4. Exercise gives you energy and improves your mental stamina.  You’ll be more productive and focused at work and during daily activities.

5. Exercise reduces your risk or heart disease, diabetes, and other lifestyle related illnesses

6. Exercise can put a spark back in your sex life.  Exercise improves blood flow and circulation, and can make you feel more confident and sexy.

7. Exercise is critical for weight maintenance.  People who lose weight and keep it off exercise regularly.

8. Exercise prepares you for all the fun activities you may want to do in life, such as going skating with your grandkids or hiking with a friend.

As humans, we are meant to move.  Movement should be enjoyable, or at the very least, tolerable.  If you workout because you want to feel good, be more focused at work and have more energy for your family, you’ll likely have a better attitude toward exercise, and it will become something you look forward to.  As a result, you’ll become a lifer.  On the other hand, if you associate exercise as a means to burn extra calories because you overate, or as punishment for gaining weight in the first place, you won’t be as excited to move your body.  Or, you may push your body through unnecessary discomfort, and perhaps not even listen to your body for signs of needing rest because you feel you need to burn the calories.

So, for long term success in fitness, break up the relationship between exercise and weight loss.  Instead focus on the immediate benefits of moving your body such as how much energy you have, and your mental clarity.  You can also remind yourself of the long term benefits to your health.  Enjoy moving your wonderful, unique body!