"What are your thoughts on using exercise to contribute to creating a deficit?"
My own personal thoughts are that it's futile at best and incredibly destructive at worst. Calories in / calories out doesn't work like that, a simple math equation where you exercise more and the deficit gets bigger. Your body is a master of weight regulation. If you exercise more (especially dramatically more), you might increase the deficit briefly, but your body counters by burning fewer calories during workouts and at rest, by making you hungrier, by lowering body temperature, by curtailing spontaneous movement, by increasing cravings for high-calorie, high-reward foods.
If weight is all about food, and too much exercise worsens your eating, it becomes an obstacle and not an answer. This is independent of the dietary chaos that occurs with restrictive thinking, guilt, punishment, and the idea of earning your food.
It took me years to untangle food and exercise, and exercise and weight. There were dozens of times I was exposed to the idea that they were separate. I remember talking to Alwyn Cosgrove about why people gain weight during marathon training. There was a study where people added an hour of cardio every day for a year (or something like that) and on average they gained a pound. I remember that video with Craig Ballantyne running on a treadmill while Brad Pilon eats pizza. It was such a vivid illustration of how quickly you can eat thousands of calories and the insane time and effort involved with even making a dent in it through exercise. There was that blogger who lost over 100 pounds and felt that untangling food and exercise was key. There was that post of Georgie's with photos of not exercising for a year. She lost weight. I experienced that myself. I broke my leg and couldn't walk for a couple of months and lost weight so easily it totally blew my mind. My appetite decreased really dramatically. It became far easier to eat less because I wasn't hungry, exhausted, and obsessed with all sugary, carby things. Years later I read The Obesity Code and Health at Every Size. They really hit home why it's not a simple equation where you exercise more and burn more. And of course I read all the non-dieting books and blogs about how restriction and overexercising fuel binges.
I love to exercise. I love to move. I do it every day because it feels amazing. It's fun! IF (big if) I listen to my body and only move in ways that feel good. There are so many benefits to exercise. I do it for the mood boost, strength, flexibility, power, endurance, balance, coordination, confidence, joy, and overall wellbeing. It doesn't have anything to do with weight or food intake.
I realize that if exercise more, my appetite will increase. If I exercise less, it will decrease. So peace is all about finding that happy middle range. I know when I'm there because I'm appropriately hungry for my meals but my appetite is polite and cooperative, not trying to kill me in my sleep. More exercise is not better. Overdoing it makes everything harder and worse.
It's so true that someone who has been enthusiastically active for decades doesn't have to worry about accidentally becoming completely sedentary. You can stop smashing yourself and still be a healthy, active person. I really love moving on my own terms and not having to follow any arbitrary schedule or program. I love that my workouts always make me feel better, not worse. I don't think I've done 3-5 sets of the same exercise for like the last 15 years. That is so boring. Someone might love it, but that person is not me. I like for each exercise to be something new and fun and for none of it to repeat. The only exception is if a particular sequence is so fun, I want to do the whole thing again. Mostly, I walk around a lot at a slow pace. That's my favorite activity, and one that doesn't create any fallout HEC-wise.
It's ironic that I exercised with so much intensity and dread in an effort to get and stay lean, but when I quit doing that, I got leaner. I wasn't so hungry and tired, wasn't retaining so much water. I wasn't feeling like I'd earned more food than I could comfortably eat. I wasn't consuming a crazy amount of protein that served no purpose. It just all got easier when I backed off on the grueling training schedule and bodybuilding nutrition dogma.
This has been a great discussion, even though overexercise is something I haven’t done in ages. My health issues took care of that for me, and these days, I even have to motivate myself to go on walk breaks during work. It’s quite easy for me to stay completely glued to my chair or sofa, and doing gentle movement throughout the day is something I have to be mindful of. But I’m learning from reading your experiences with too much exercise, and am now more careful in what I tell others because you’ve shared your issues. Thanks for making me more empathetic.
I know it's only a start but today I opted to walk instead of run or do any other structured cardio. I taught the last 4 mornings so I know my body was ready for a rest and I'm glad I listened to it. It wasn't like I did a brisk walk even because I was with a friend and our dog and he likes to stop, smell, and pee on every blade of grass. There are still moments when I know (like this afternoon) when I may want to be active, but I'm focusing on the ideas that running on hamster wheel is only going to increase my appetite and I really want to try and even out the hunger and cravings. I know I keep mentioning Jade Teta, but he talks a lot about HEC (hormones, energy, and cravings) and if the way in which you're eating and exercising is throwing HEC out of check then something isn't working. I have to agree that lifting super heavy or slinging weights around in a gym stimulates my appetite. I really don't love weight lifting right now so, as I mentioned before, most of my strength work comes from specific Jazzercise formats that incorporate weights. My abs, arms, and legs still get sore from time to time so I feel like I'm doing something, but I just can't fathom going back and doing 3-5 sets of one exercise of anything.
Anyway, I'm happy this thread has been rejuvenated and I hope to keep reminding myself that structured/formal exercise usually does more harm than good. I'm enjoying walking on the days that I'm not teaching - I'm catching up with some great podcasts and audiobooks.
Also, @skwigg i thought the same thing when I read that article about frying my system with heavy weights. When I lifted heavy and was trying to progress with weights constantly, I think I was more exhausted and felt worse than when I over did cardio even. If I’m doing anything intensely with weights, if I even have to think “dig deep” to myself like one time then I feel like I’m overdoing it now.
This discussion really hits home for me too! @happyme, I loved when you said that you’ve loved being active for the past 30 years so why would you suddenly get lazy and turn into an unfit blob?! I think there is this secret fear among over exercisers that we will suddenly turn into someone else without all the exercise, and we’re secretly terrified of being a “lazy person.” I’m like you, I prefer active everything, even active vacations and I feel depressed if I don’t exercise and “do” stuff. Although now I’m learning that there is a good balance with exercise and over exercising can also cause depression and unwell feelings. Anyway, thanks, loved the post!
I love this discussion. So timely for me. I've been stuck on this "More exercise means I can eat more" line of thinking for about 3 years now and it's definitely taking a toll on my body. I need to untangle food and exercise again. I've done it before but it was SO HARD. I was moody the whole time. It was like caffeine withdrawal, but worse. I didn't have a husband and kids at the time. I know that I'd be a better person in the long run if I can just push through and separate food and exercise, but I'm so caught up on how the "withdrawal" will impact my family - which is ironic because my moods right now a pretty unstable and crappy anyway because of all the exercise. I'm also someone who loves to move. I feel really crappy both physically and mentally when I sit to long. But I know that exercising AND all the general movement I do during the day is not doing anything good for me.
This is hugely helpful @happyme and I appreciate you taking the time to write. I think the thing for me is that I LOVE exercising, I love movement (stretching, yoga, walks, etc) and because I have the extra time (when the kids are at school and I'm not on Zoom calls) I feel 'obligated' to exercise. Or I use it to fill my time. Or (and this is probably the biggest "or") I get to the point where I feel a giant urge to eat all the things (usually like 4 bananas w/almond butter) or I eat 1 banana w/almond butter and then stop myself by doing something active (usually the elliptical). So far every single time I've attempted NOT to go on the elliptical in the afternoon I've ended up eating a time. I know it doesn't have to be black/white/all/nothing but that's sort of what it feels like in the moment.
Anyway, my point is that I'm really starting to understand that exercise does nothing in the way of weight. Or at least it doesn't for me. Maybe a ton of working out works for some, but for me all the extra cardio fuels my appetite. Unless I'm replacing eating with working out and even then my weight doesn't change.
Here's a little interesting real-life experience that I could share. So, I've been teaching from home for a year now. This means I have much more time to exercise in the morning since I don't need to get dressed, eat, have a lunch and drive to school to get ready. I love to work out as we all know, but have long since ditched over-exercising. I have definitely been getting in more this last year for several reasons besides the one that I love the feeling. I have more time, there was nothing else TO do for many of those months, I was working far less hard physically, I sat most of the day, I could take a quick nap, I slept in longer, I gradually built up more fitness, and I wasn't do hot yoga on top of all this.
So, I wasn't over-exercising for me at this point in my life, but I was doing quite a bit more and more frequently. The result in my body shape/size/composition? Nada, zilch, nothin'. I wasn't restricting food so I was naturally eating more and moving less when not in the (garage) gym. It was winter for much of this so I was taking less dog walks. I didn't gain weight or flab because I was compensating in other ways and not overdoing it, but I didn't lose weight, look tighter or show more muscle. The point? IT. DOESNT. MATTER.
When I go back to actual school here in about 3 weeks (yes! yes! yes! I often comment that distance learning will kill me before any virus does), I will naturally turn this way down. I'll be on a schedule. I'll be tired. I'll have way less access to food. I'll sleep in. and since I'm fully vaccinated (thank you) I'll go back to yoga again. It all works out if you're doing what works for you. ANY forcing of the exercise (for me. And I admit I did do that still sometimes when I worked because I'd skip several in a row and think I "should") - none of that matters.
I've been active for about 30 years consistently because I love it. I hike, do yoga, walk, snowboard for fun. I LOVE active vacations. I'm not happy or well sitting too much or going too long without using my body to exertion. So why would I EVER need to "worry, plan or force" exercise. While I love those typically fun activities, I also love jogging, stair climbing, jumping rope, battle ropes and weights. This is not a person I'm describing here who ever needs to be concerned that they'll stop and fall into one big blob of unfitness (?) on the chair.
More exercise? There's a season for that for me (non working times) and less? There's a season for that, too. None of it makes any difference in the way my body looks or what the scale says. None. So if you don't like to exercise, don't worry is my take. If you do, great and it's for sure healthy for you (to a degree). Too much is most certainly worse than too little in my case. I'm reading a book right now called Exercised. It's all about this topic by a scientist who studies biomechanical movements of the body or something. It starts by comparing Ironman athletes to these native people I forget where who do a 30 hour competition but it's TOTALLY different and the results. The native folks kick a ball, run slowly, have a whole party of it, have others join in and drop off at times...I've only started it but it's fascinating and i'm sure I'll be back to share on it.
I love the Jade Teta post. That’s exactly it. More exercise doesn’t make for a bigger energy expenditure over time. Actually, the harder you exercise, especially without proper recovery, the more tired and stationary you become, the more efficient your metabolism. Your daily energy expenditure is similar regardless. I seem to expend the most energy when I'm rested and fed. I'll waste energy all over the place. I become legitimately bouncy and enthusiastic. When I'm killing it with hard, hour-long strength circuits and HIIT, I really just want to lie motionless the other 23 hours per day. If I force myself to ignore that and keep moving, the result is feeling like I've been hit by a bus. It's not weight loss.
I don't know about weightlifting being the ticket to exercising for weight loss. Intense strength sessions fry my central nervous system and make me hungry as hell. They can be as bad or worse than cardio in that regard. The best exercise is what you love, in an amount that improves your health and happiness rather than hurting it.
Thank you for bumping this! I'm going to copy and paste what I wrote in your journal:
I am 100% on board with the idea that exercising increases hunger, throws hormones out of whack, induces cravings, and overall messes with your body (and mind) in really bogus ways. Even though I logically know this I still can't freaking stop the train wreck I hope on every. single. day. For 2 weeks I maintained my Jazzercise teaching schedule 2-4x a week and only walked Koda on the days I didn't teach. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't itching to run when I saw others jog by, but for 2 weeks I kept at it. I can't say I noticed any difference in hunger, cravings or fatigue (nor did I expect to because, hello - 2 weeks) and before I know it I was back on the cardio wagon. I truly believe your body adapts to whatever you put it through (tons of cardio? Ok...you need to do that PLUS more to maintain weight AND you're pissing me off so I'm going to make you feed me more and throw hormones out of whack) and yet, as I said, I can't stop. Perhaps this was a better post for the "Exercise for weight loss" thread but I got a little carried away. :-D I actually love Jade Teta and he recently did an awesome IG post on this same subject.
I'm also going to copy and paste something Jade Teta made on IG the other day. Perhaps not everyone agrees with his ideas, but I personally think he's very knowledgeable and since this falls under that topic here you go:
"I am going to tell you something about exercise you aren’t going to believe and yet research is absolutely clear on. Exercise does not add calories to your TDEE expenditure the way you think it does. If you burn 2000 calories at rest and then burn 300 calories in a workout, you wrongly think you burned 2300 calories.
You also might think that if you worked out intensely with weights you’ll get a substantial after-burn effect for several hours or days.
In fact, we are starting to learn your metabolism does not exactly work this way. It does not work in an additive fashion, but rather constrains energy use in the days and weeks that follow. In other words, it’s more like a rubber band.
When you exercise you burn some calories and stretch out the rubber band. If you exercise intensely and get some after-burn you stretch it out a lot. But like any rubber band it recoils back. In the case of the metabolism, it shrinks back even more than it was before.
So you think you burned 2300 calories or more. In reality, you burned much less and TDEE did not change much. See other slides for a graphical representation taken from the work of @hpontzer PHD author of the book BURN where he highlights much of his research in this area.
Also, exercise makes many people hungry. In one study on menopausal women I often use, 60minutes of jogging 5 times per week resulted in no weight loss in 50% of the women. 25% of those women actually gained weight. The other 25% did lose a small amount of weight. That’s a lot of activity for a 75% failure rate. And imagine doing all of that work and gaining weight? That’s because we misunderstand how exercise works.
Does this mean don’t exercise? Of course not. It’s exceedingly healthy, it just won’t do a damn thing for most people trying to lose weight. Think of diet as the weight loss part of the equation and exercise as a means to maintain lean body mass. This is why weight training may be the best bet for weight loss. It MAY have less negative impact on appetite and it helps shuttle extra calories into lean mass development."