The MYTHS about EXERCISE
Yes, it's good for you, but it won't help you actually lose weight. Why? It's what you eat that really counts. And the will power that disciplines your body to put in the time at the gym is drawn from the same limited pool as the will power that talks you out of the doughnut or french fries.
For the last twenty years, in particular, our culture has flocked to gyms and fitness industry gurus seeking to lose that belly fat, baby fat or other excess pounds that our doctors have nagged us about. We sweat on the treadmill, suffer in spin class and push weights till we are bored to tears, and yet our jeans get tighter every year. We exercise, obsessively even, injuring knees, shoulders or tendons and returning home to our families exhausted and ravenously hungry. In the last decade, fitness club memberships have doubled and 10% more of us report exercising regularly. Yet two thirds of our population is considered overweight or obese, a dramatic increase over that same time period.
As recently at the 60's, doctors did not encourage rigorous exercise citing the risks for injuries. Gradually research suggested that regular physical activity provided positive health benefits ... less cardiovascular disease, reduced cancer risk, less diabetes, more functionality in the physical body..... These benefits have, again and again, been identified with just 30 - 45 minutes of moderate daily exercise, like walking, cycling or swimming. And that does not have to be a solid block of time. How many times have we read that parking the car a five minute walk away from the mall and taking the stairs can be effective wellness strategies?
Despite that myriad of fitness marketing that we see, the truth is that the equation for weight management is simply calories in and calories out. We need exercise to keep healthy, absolutely, but it is ineffective for burning massive amounts of calories, unless you are an elite athlete training several hours per day. For example, that muffin that you grabbed at Tim's this morning (yes, the whole grain fruit one) was probably 350 calories. For the average 150 pound female, that's an hour on the eliptical or a 1.5 hour walk or a 50 minute spin class. Ok, so you made it to the gym and burned those muffin calories, whew. The rest of your caloric budget today is only 1500 calories. It takes major discipline to pare our daily diet down that far. And we're exhausted and feel entitled to a little treat, seeing as we worked out!
Our systems have stepped up the calorie burning furnace during vigorous exercise and now we want to eat! Recent research suggests that, as humans, we have a particularly lousy ability to modulate calorie storage and usage. Rats, for example, have a high percentage of "brown fat", fat that doesn't welcome excess calories easily and therefore lets their bodies expell excess calories quickly. Our fat loves company and our bodies perceive excess calories as something to really welcome, hold on to and prepare for the upcoming famine. Scientists didn't even think we possessed "brown fat" until a short time ago.
Add to this physiological reality the element of stress in our lives. We all experience environmental stresses... constant media noise, environmental chemicals, financial pressures, even the sheer number of other humans we contact each day stresses our inherent coping mechanisms. Add the stress of making time for 60 - 90 minutes of exercise on top of an already jammed schedule and then the stress of eating so little when you are starving... it might be a familiar scenario. Am I the only one who feels incredibly guilty that I can't keep up?
This stress is producing hormone responses in your body that directly interfere with your weight loss efforts. Hormones like cortisol, that recent research shows holds belly fat. Hormones like adrenalin that leave us "pumped" and, from an evolutionaly standpoint, ready for "action". A body that is poised for "flight or fight" needs calories, and fast, so they can "compete" for survival. Do you really need that kind of dynamic sabotaging your will power?
What's the magic prescription for a healthy weight? Balance. Yes, exercise. Moderately and doing something that brings you pleasure and that you can weave into your lifestyle without gargantuan effort. Blend walking with visiting with a friend. Slip in a bit of stair climbing at the office building over lunch. Dance with your baby on your hip. Just 30 - 45 minutes a day, consistently, is enough.
And diet. No one is perfect all the time, but be perfect most of the time. Do a food diary for a week or two. Be brutally honest and add up those calories. The hidden devils are in restaurant foods (the bun on a Subway veggie sub has 23 grams of sugar!) and portion sizes (a serving of cereal is 3/4 cup; most of us eat double than that per bowl). Know that a gram of fat contains 9 calories and a gram of carbs or protein has 4 calories. We all need fat, but 12 almonds and salad dressing with olive oil is adequate each day. The internet is a vast resource for lowered fat recipes. Mastering menu planning for you and your family will probably reduce the convenience foods you use and save you dollars in the end (reducing financial stress!).
You found this article on a yoga website, so you know that a connection would be made sooner or later, right? Yoga can help.
1. Balance those stress hormones with relaxation ones and turn down the cravings to eat.
2. Become closer to your body and thoughts. Know when you are truly hungry or just bored/stressed/pissed. Feel when a food is supportive to you, and when something isn't right for you.
3. Try yoga breathing before eating. You'll enjoy your food more and probably eat less. Consider returning to the practice of saying grace, just silently to yourself. Think of the journey that this food has made to your plate and give gratitude for the elements that brought it to you.
4. Use your yoga practice on the mat to make peace with your beautiful body. Heal from all those "guilt" messages that the fitness industry has used to manipulate you into parting with your hard earned dollars. Feel how strong you are becoming and build confidence as you try different poses.
5. Incorporate relaxation poses and practices each day. Instead of the cheesecake in the fridge before bed, take a 10 minute savasana or practice alternate nostril breathing. Do you still really want it? Or would a piece of fruit do?
6. Yoga class does burn calories, but leaves you in relaxation mode, meaning that there isn't likely to be excess adrenalin or epinephrin pumping through you, tempting you with fries on the way home. Yoga class leaves you mellow and craving things like sprouts and herb tea and organic cotton.
Our culture is food obsessed ironically crossed with skinny obsessed. This is a bipolar disorder on a grand scale and a disastrous combination. You really don't need to spend large sums on fancy gym equipment or buy another fitness dvd. Step away from the chaos. Breathe. Make friends with your body again.