Conflicting views of exercise

January 14, 2010

I confess to being one of those people who hold a few conflicting beliefs around exercise.

  • I think exercise is really important to health
  • But I think weight loss is 90% about what we eat (and how much)
  • I don’t believe that weight loss is as simple as ‘calories in, calories out’, i.e. I don’t think you can really completely “burn off that donut”
  • I believe exercise increases hunger
  • I feel better when I exercise, and exercise is a great stress-buster for me.  Except when it becomes a SOURCE of stress, and that’s happened to me a few times.

Several years ago I sat next to a cardiologist at a dinner party who told me that he always tells his patients to separate thinking about diet & exercise.  That a healthy diet is one thing, to be followed to the best of ability, and that exercise has completely different effects and also needs to be followed to the best of ability, but for different benefits & results.

What he said really resonated for me, and since then I’ve been striving for that.  To think of exercise as something every healthy body needs, for oxygenation, muscle strength, etc.  But not specifically for losing weight or for it’s contribution to weight loss – and that’s a big change for me.  It’s also made me find peace with exercise.  Not a ‘must do it daily’ attitude, not the pushing myself so hard I broke my back my sciatica a few years ago!), not linked to my periods of weight loss off & ons.

I also see how different this attitude is from what is in the media & in common thinking today.  Everything you see mixes ‘diet and exercise’ as a single entity for weight management and sometimes health, but in fact the two are very different.  Over the years I’ve seen a lot of studies saying that the exercise component on it’s own doesn’t lead to weight loss (here’s a recent article by Time).

For myself, I know they actually ARE correlated.  Eating well & losing weight gives me more energy & makes me so much more aware of my body that I want to exercise.  Exercising requires planning & effort, skills that reinforce healthy eating, and the many many minutes it takes to burn off a few hundred calories makes you much more conscious of how many I take in in the first place.

Over the past few months I’ve become a regular exerciser again – more on that in a future post.

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