Lose weight, get fitter, eat better or resolve to be generally healthier are amongst the top new year resolutions, and, it will probably be no surprise to many of you that only about 30% of these make it past February.
Here, Bryn Kennard of Body Works, a leading fitness and wellness centre in St Julian’s, gives a low-down in layman’s terms of the ‘science’, as it were, behind why so many of us fail in our resolve. And how we can start afresh and on the right track now it’s February.
So where are we doing wrong?
Are we all completely devoid of any motivation to improve ourselves in a positive manner beyond the initial New Year drive or is it simply that we don’t really take our resolutions seriously because each year we simply fail to fulfil them? Why is it that so many of us give up on our fitness or slimming resolutions, especially, in light of the fact that there is so much information out there guiding us on how to do so?
For many who set out in the New Year to lead a healthier lifestyle or lose weight the approach that is generally adopted is centred on the premise of “eating less and exercising more”, a concept that has been around for a long time and the advice that seems to make perfect sense. What this concept basically states is that if we consume fewer calories (through eating) than we burn (through exercise) we will lose or be able to manage our weight. However, there’s good reason to believe that this approach not only doesn’t work, but that it can’t work. What a lot of people might not know is that eating less and exercising more triggers changes in the body designed to resist change.
Experiments show that when people eat less, they tend to spontaneously move less too. One way, perhaps, to counter these effects is to step up one’s level of ‘aerobic’ activities such as walking or running. However, studies reveal that such measures are generally ineffective for the purposes of weight loss. Why? Well, as anyone who has ever exercised on a piece of gym equipment that counts calories will attest to, caloric ‘burn’ during aerobic activity is generally depressingly slow. Plus, we have the added complication that exercise can ‘work up an appetite’, and tends to drive us to want to eat more as a result.
And then there’s the food equation to factor in..
Another stumbling block associated with the application of the calorie principle is that it can shift our focus away from fat and towards carbohydrate, on the basis that a gram of fat contains about twice as many calories as carbohydrate. The issue here is that carbohydrate is the chief stimulator of insulin secretion, and it this hormone that, through several known biochemical mechanisms, drives the deposition of fat in our fat cells. And it gets worse: carbohydrate tends not to be as satisfying to the appetite as, say, protein, and can disrupt blood sugar levels in a way that stimulates hunger, particularly for sugar-charged foods such as chocolate and biscuits. For reasons that have nothing to do with discipline or self-control, eating a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet dooms most of us to failure and may be the main reason that resolutions do not go further than February.
How to resolve to get beyond February
So rather than resolve this year to eating less and exercising more revolutionise your approach instead. Eat a diet, which lowers insulin levels while also sating your appetite appropriately. When insulin levels fall, fat is released from the fat cells, which is precisely what we want. But the benefits of this go way beyond weight loss. Fat released from the fat tissues goes first into the bloodstream and then tissues, including the muscles, and here, it can be burned as fuel to generate energy. As far as your body is concerned, fat liberated from fat cells is food, and that means it has less need to drive us to eat. Studies show that when individuals eat right, they automatically eat less, but without hunger. The research shows spontaneous reductions in intake in the order of several hundred calories a day. The fact is, addressing eating habits is not about eating less, it’s about eating right.
Failure is based on false expectations
The main reason people embark on an exercise regime in January is to lose weight. However, the benefits of exercise as a tool for weight loss has been widely overstated; research has shown us that for about 10 hours of moderate intensity exercise we can expect to lose 0.5 kg – ie. depressingly little. When the results do not match the energy or effort exhausted it is not surprising that motivation will drop accordingly. It is not merely a question of will power or discipline but a question of false expectations that are presented and in this case an expectation that is doomed to failure before it has even started. Exercise concepts generally promote volume and intensity as the main fulcrums to achieving results and while they are important they are not as important as sustainability whether you be exercising for aesthetic reasons or general health.
Focus on food first, then exercise for fun
Rather than focusing on exercise for weight loss, finding other reasons to exercise and managing the expectations accordingly may put you in a better place to go beyond February. Deciding on criteria that matter most to you i.e. ‘toning’, ‘convenient time’, ‘sociable”, ‘relaxing’ should be the focus and exploring the options that match this criteria may actually bring you closer to what is ‘best’ for your needs, and, provide a more fulfilling and less tiresome relationship with exercise. As with all forms of exercise when you start to explore them you will be presented with the benefits and it is important to remember that these are the benefits in an ideal world whereby you do not have the normal constraints or pressures of life. Balancing the ‘ideal’ presented with what is ‘manageable’ in terms of volume (time you have available) and intensity (level in which you feel comfortable working at) will put you in a better place to manage your expectations. The ever-elusive sustainability should be the primary goal of exercise as those who do benefit from exercise are normally those who are consistent in their exercise habits, not necessarily those that work the hardest.
Resolve to revolutionise your approach to health this year by stepping off the diet and exercise wheel and realising that there is a much easier way to approach your health and weight than by ‘eating less and exercising more’.
For further details on fitness and exercise-diet programmes, contact Bryn Kennard of Body Works:
Tel: (+ 356) 2138 4957 or (+ 356) 2010 2970.
Photo: Rachel Baranow