Does exercise make you hungry? That’s just one of the unexpected pitfalls of exercising for weight loss. Exercise alone doesn’t work for weight loss. Here’s what to eat to get exercise working for you.
I ran a marathon just before I turned 40.
It was the realization of a goal I had set for myself earlier in life.
I wanted to do it for the whole pride thing: “Look what I can do”.
But I was also stoked about it because I looked at it as an opportunity to burn a whole heck of a lot of calories.
Becoming a marathoner, I figured, was my ticket to eating whatever I wanted, AND being lean and trim.
Yeah, that didn’t pan out.
Relying on exercise alone for weight control didn’t work.
I did really well on the ‘eat whatever I wanted’ part of my plan, but the lean and trim part did not naturally come, even though I was running for hours many days a week.
After 4 months of intense training, I found myself at the starting line of the race heavier than I had been before beginning training.
Did exercise or attitude make me gain weight?
Well as it turns out, it was a bit of both.
The problem of not losing weight with exercise alone was not unique to me.
The scientific community has done a lot of research to find the answer to this bewildering question:
Why does exercise alone make some of us fat?
It sounds so illogical.
After all, the whole weight loss equation is based on the fact that when you burn more calories than you take in, you lose weight.
CALORIES IN < CALORIES OUT = WEIGHT LOSS (right?)
We know that exercise burns calories, so why doesn’t your body say, “Thanks for the exercise, here’s your weight loss”.
There are multiple theories:
1. Leptin resistance
While it’s a cruel fact, exercise might make you hungry if you are overweight.
Dieting and exercising go hand-in-hand. However, combining the two activities might cause you an internal struggle.
According to a study published in Science Daily, a lean, fit body and an obese body are not created equal when it comes to exercise and appetite control.
When lean and in-shape individuals exercise they feel less hungry. The opposite is true for most overweight individuals; when they exercise their appetite is not diminished, and may even increase.
The study pointed to leptin resistance as the culprit, which is a common condition in those that are overweight.
Leptin is a hormone that curbs your appetite. It’s made by fat cells, so overweight people have a lot of it. However, overweight people tend to become resistant to the actions of hormones.
In other words, leptin doesn’t do its job very well when you are overweight. So, the brain of a person who is overweight never gets the message to curb hunger.
2. Self-control goes down as blood sugar goes down
In an article published on the American Psychological Association website, Roy Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, explains how willpower is depleted by low blood sugar levels.
When you exercise, sugar is used for energy, lowering the level available in your blood.
Any mental willpower energy you had before the exercise gets wiped out by your body’s diminished blood sugar level. (See my post, Why Willpower Will NOT Work for Long-Term Weight Loss for more on this topic)
Worse yet, to restore blood sugar levels, your body turns up your hunger and cravings. This is an attempt to get you to eat carbohydrates, which are the foods that quickly restore blood sugar levels.
3. Increased cortisol
Cortisol is the stress hormone we hear about associated with belly fat. The stress that causes it to increase is not just emotional stress; physical stress, such as overdoing the exercise routine can cause a spike as well.
While an oversimplification, the basic gist is that when cortisol levels go up, so does your weight.
4. Power of persuasion
Let’s not overlook the power you have over yourself. It’s easy to have the mindset…
“I exercised, therefore I can eat cookies”.
The truth is you cannot outrun a poor diet. Exercise alone is not a strategy that works.
If you are using exercise alone as a way to keep eating junk food, you will be more likely to gain weight, then to lose it.
How to tip the weight loss scale in your favor
The bottom line is that you should exercise to improve your health.
And, if weight loss is your ultimate goal you want to tip the scale in your favor by eating more of the foods that encourage weight loss (i.e. veggies) and avoiding the foods that encourage weight gain (i.e. sugar).
Follow this advice as you exercise to help your body give up the stored fat.
1. Cut the sugar
Added sugar, sugary treats, and processed foods that are high in sugar provide you will little more than empty calories.
Yes, calories are energy, but let’s put this into perspective.
Do you really need that much energy?
2. Boost your intake of non-starchy vegetables
A focus of your diet every day should be on these nutrient-dense, low-calorie, high-volume foods. (See Non-Starchy vs. Starchy Vegetables – Which is Which?)
Set a daily goal to have a large salad and large serving of cooked non-starchy vegetables.
Exercise alone is not the path to long-term weight loss. But, if you are exercising along with this simple eating plan, you will find that your body responds beautifully. Your energy will increase and your hunger and cravings will decrease.
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About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.