When Working Out is NOT Working 10/09

October 2009


Even though I work out three or four times a week, do yoga, walk, cycle, row or do whatever suits my physical fancy, I am gaining weight. And it’s not bulging muscle. How can this be? Well, it’s quite simple, really. I am intentionally consuming about 500 additional calories a day in order to bulk up after a bout of pneumonia last winter left me shy of a healthy weight. I have a reverse weight challenge.

I tell you this because many people who take up physical activity in order to lose weight end up gaining instead, and then give up in frustration. Understandably, it’s disappointing. Rather than throw in the towel and give up – listen up!

Weight gain can easily happen regardless of physical activity because we often overestimate how hard we’ve worked, or the calories we’ve burned, and consequently we overeat. It’s true that the more active we are the more calories we need, but it may not be as many as you think. While we often overestimate activity, we also underestimate our consumption. Convenient, isn’t it? It really doesn’t take much food or drink to sabotage our efforts.

The other mistake we can make is rewarding ourselves with food for working out, or any number of other reasons, for that matter. This is just counterproductive – a bad idea. Rewards are important, so let the reward feel a little frivolous or self-nurturing…and be something other than food.

Though there are many variables and complexities regarding weight gain and loss, there is one constant. It takes 3,500 calories to gain or lose one pound. A basic understanding of this delicate balance of calories in, calories out will put you in a better position to lose weight, if that is your goal.

There’s no need to get into calorie counting, but if you’re curious or confused, here are a couple of resources that might help. For nutritional perspective on your favorite foods and your daily calorie requirement, check this out: www.nutritiondata.com.

Look here for a calorie burn calculator: www.healthstatus.com/calculate/cbc. Remember, these are only estimates that can’t possibly consider all the variables.

If you’re not getting the results you want, you will need to fine-tune your intake and/or your output. Consult a fitness trainer and/or a dietitian if you need help with this.

There are many good reasons to be physically active. Weight loss is a bonus and hopefully not your only reason. Please, please, please don’t use exercise as punishment for your consumption. You will never learn to like it if you do that. Physical activity is the closest thing we have to a magic pill to cure everything that ails you, so use it for any of these other reasons.

  • to enhance mood
  • to increase energy
  • to prevent disease and injury
  • to increase muscular endurance, strength and flexibility
  • to improve sleep
  • to improve thinking/clarity
  • and because … IT’S FUN!

Weight gain for me is very slow, like weight loss might be for you. If I really wanted to beef up, I could drop the physical activity, which might help. But I really like being active and my ultimate goal is health, so what would be the point in that?

As Yoni Freedhoff, bariatric specialist says, “Your best weight is the weight you’d reach living the healthiest life you actually enjoy.” Comforting? Yes, and I’m guessing that is advice we can all live with!