My newest TV addiction is MTV’s I Used to be Fat, which chronicles the lives of overweight or even obese high school seniors who are afforded personal trainers in order to whip them into shape before heading off to college. I cannot get over the incredible transformations that these kids make: unhealthy, unhappy youth emerge as svelte, confident college bound students after three months of intense ass kicking, provided by hardcore trainers. If I exercised that intensely, I could have a perfect physique, couldn’t I?
Maybe not. I’m not overweight but, hey, no one’s perfect (except maybe Halle Berry or Madonna). Everyone can stand to improve his or her bodies a little, including me. But apparently, exercise is not the key to slimming down. In fact, in some cases, it could be keeping you from losing weight!
According to Eric Ravussin, exercise researcher and chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University, “in general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless.” While exercise burns calories, it also stimulates hunger. Many (if not most, according to the increasing population of obese people despite the increasing number of gym memberships) give into these hunger pangs and eat even more than they normally would. This is called “compensation,” and it also takes the form of being less active than usual in your daily routine after you hit the gym. Surprisingly, there is more than one study that validates this occurrence – and the weight gain that goes along with it.
You might think that all one needs is a little self-control to combat the issue. But, according to the journal Psychological Bulletin, self-control is like a muscle – it weakens each day after you use it. Essentially, humans aren’t built for willpower.
In theory, if you exercise a bit less, you may choose to walk to a friend’s house instead of driving. Or you might spend a little extra time cooking (something healthy) and cleaning (burning calories).
Moral of the story? Exercise doesn’t have to mean killing yourself on a treadmill for two hours. It can mean being moderately active all day long. This is not to say you should cancel your gym membership; but you may want to focus a bit more on diet and a little less on exercise. Those kids on I Used to be Fat were put on strict diets that deviated enormously from their old eating habits. That old adage “you are what you eat” seems to be truer by the minute. Everything in moderation – that goes for both pizza and the treadmill.