In my last article I talked about some of the reasons your gym routine might be holding you back when it comes to seeing results. This week let’s talk about FOOD.
I’m pretty sure all of you know the calories in/calories out theory. Science proves that we cannot lose fat unless we have a calorie deficit. This deficit can come from a reduction in food, an increase in exercise, or a combination of the two. There are many other nuances that affect our metabolism of course, things like our stress levels, our sleep quality, the types of foods we’re eating, our age, and our hormones. So even though we do need to be mindful of our calorie totals, that is absolutely not the only thing that matters. In fact I’ve written a couple blogs about a year ago on the topic of calories and macros that you can read HERE and HERE.
So, where is the biggest stumbling block for the average woman who hits the gym regularly, puts a decent effort into her workouts, eats fairly healthy, and is managing her stress, but still fails to see results? Essentially it comes down to one main problem – she’s probably eating too much. It’s that simple. This is why I’m a really big fan of tracking your food intake. It’s not something you have to do forever, but if you’ve never done it and you’re completely stumped as to why your body never changes, I highly recommend seeing where your numbers are at.
Again, I really want to remind you that there ARE other factors at play here, so I don’t want you to think I’m discounting those things. Hormones pay a HUGE role, as does, stress, sleep, age, etc. But a VERY likely reason that women struggle to lose fat is becasue they consume more food than they need.
So let’s dive into WHY we might be eating too much. In my experience there are 3 main reasons why women tend to overeat.
- They feel like they “deserve” it simply because they worked out that day. Plus they also highly over estimate the amount of calories actually burned in their workout (thinking therefore that the treat won’t matter).
- The workouts are increasing their appetites so much that they over consume foods and negate any calorie deficit created by the workout.
- They’re emotionally eating and have some kind of disordered relationship with food.
The whole “I deserve this because I worked out” mindset is a really common trap. In fact many women literally workout just so they CAN eat more (or drink more). I am not a fan of this mindset, nor do I think it’s healthy or helpful when it comes to fat loss. First of all the types of foods we choose in this scenario are generally not healthy and are typically processed or high in sugar. And secondly, in my opinion, we should workout because we enjoy moving our bodies, NOT so that we can consume more crap! Most likely the workout didn’t burn as many calories as you assumed (fitbits are not 100% accurate!) so you’re not actually “breaking even”, but instead ending up with a calorie surplus. In fact, you’d probably be better off if you hadn’t worked out at all and consequently “treated” yourself!
This brings me nicely into the second reason women are overeating. It’s very common that the workouts are too long and intensive, resulting in a massive increase in appetite. We literally cannot fight the body’s cry for more calories! This happens more so with excessive chronic cardio. If you’re doing long hours of cardio everyday and then finding yourself in the cookie jar several hours later, take a look at the root cause. The body doesn’t like feeling depleted and it will let you know! Strong, seemingly uncontrollable urges to eat carbs, is likely a reaction to the excessive amounts of exercise you’re doing. This is one reason why I’m a big fan of weight training as the main exercise choice. It won’t give you that huge appetite stimulation post workout. So please keep your workouts to an hour or less, try and choose weights as your main exercise, and if you like intense cardio, add it as a quick HIIT burst at the end lasting no more than 10-15 minutes.
And the last reason women tend to over consume food on a regular basis is due to emotional eating. Typically there are things going on in our lives that we aren’t dealing with and are turning to food for comfort. Food IS comforting, there’s nothing wrong with that generally speaking. But if it’s affecting your health and weight in a negative way, it’s time to address this issue. This topic is a difficult one, and my main advice would be to seek counselling if this is something you’ve been struggling with for years. But a few things to possibly look at doing right away would be simply talking it out with a trusted friend or loved one, journalling, and simply even admitting that there is an issue. Starting with awareness is key in dealing with this complex issue. But even on a basic level – if we feel sad, lonely, depressed, bored, etc we often turn to food. So if you find yourself in one of these situations, stop for a moment. Before reaching for that food, just ask yourself why you’re doing it. Have a seat, close your eyes, and take 5 breaths. See if it truly is the food that your body needs right now. And if you still decide to consume it, at least you’re doing it on a conscious level and not standing at the counter or hiding in the pantry shovelling it in.
One final thing I wanted to bring up is what to actually consume post workout in order to help you feel recovered and less likely to over indulge later on. After a regular workout session you don’t need to slam back some protein and carbs immediately. In fact, research now shows that the “30 minute window” concept is not accurate. Yes we do need to replenish our bodies, but the average person is not stressing themselves out to their max while at the gym. There really is no need to consume anything extra at all, other than water. Now, on a heavier weight lifting session, it might benefit you from consuming some extra protein after your workout, or after a really long duration of cardio (let’s say you’re training for a marathon) then some extra carbs would be a good idea. But other than that, as long as you’re consuming whole foods in a balanced manner (carbs/fats/protein) through regular intervals during the day, you’ll be just fine.
So to recap, don’t be fooled into thinking you deserve extra food because you’ve burned a ton of calories during your workout. And if the only reason you’re at the gym is so that you can eat extra or drink more alcohol that day, then perhaps it’s time to take a good look at your priorities and understand the reality of those choices. Workout because you enjoy it, because it makes you feel good, and because you want to be strong and healthy. Don’t over stress your system with long durations of cardio and then end up in an exercise/food binge cycle. And lastly, if you feel that your food choices are coming from a more complex place, seek out a certified counsellor to help you get clear on what you can do to break these patterns.
In Wellness, Krista