Exercise can make you fat (and what to do about it)

Wait a second – what? How can exercise make you fat??

Easy. But let’s dig into a few things first.

As I was working with a client last week who had ‘bad balance’ (which by the way is not true – she was just out of practice), we talked about how things change as we age.

I have a three and one-half-year old, and we do not have to tell him to exercise, he does it all day long. Kids are smart that way. They run, jump, lift things, stretch, bend, twist, balance and PLAY all day long.

They constantly test their limits and see what happens if they climb this, or balance on that (well, ok, kids who aren’t glued to electronic devices, but that’s a totally different soap box).

Kids learn great balance because they spend a ton of time each day OFF balance, learning to compensate.

What happens when we start to get older? Exercise becomes a class we have to take in school and get marks on.

Then as adults, unless we make an effort, it goes away completely. Traded in for a desk, a car seat, a couch, a chair etc. Or manual labour, or standing all day or something similar.

We stop playing.

Let me ask you something: do you enjoy exercise? Is it fun? Or something you do because you ‘have to’ or ‘need to’. Here is the problem (and the source of the fat gain): If you do not like exercise, and you do it because you ‘have to’ or ‘should’, and you drag yourself to the gym, or to your training appointment or force yourself to get on your treadmill, you are doomed to fail. Why?

Because we as human beings, compensate for anything that we deem to be suffering, by seeking pleasure.

Had a hard day at work? Time for a treat! After all, you deserve it!

If you think that exercise is some sort of terrible thing you have to endure, then the likelihood of you justifying a donut, or a 500 calorie beverage or some other indulgence to compensate for your suffering is beyond your ability to counteract in most cases. It’s human nature, and it’s powerful!

Have you ever gone hiking in the mountains on a beautiful day, got to the top and enjoyed a nice healthy bag of trail mix and a bottle of water? Me too! It’s a favourite thing to do!

Now picture climbing a stepper or an elliptical trainer for two hours in a gym watching the news. Research shows conclusively that you are FAR likelier to crave an Iced Capp or a donut than that healthy trail mix after suffering through that torture session.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way! We really need to put the FUN back into exercise!

For that stepper workout, you could play your favourite music, or watch a great movie you love, or listen to a book on tape that really inspires you. Instead of wandering around the weight floor picking this and that to lift and count, go to boot camp with your friends and have a BLAST! Try a fitness class where fun is the key!

Another way to help, is to choose something that will help you get fit that you genuinely love to do, like dancing, or cycling, or stand up paddle boarding, or kayaking down a river. You will not only get fitter, but you will be having FUN and your quest after the session is to nourish your body with good food, rather than have a treat to compensate for the awful torture session you were forced to endure. The fact is: exercise plus good nutrition works – it really does.

But if you hate exercise, then you are pretty much guaranteed to feel the need to have a treat that likely won’t support your goals of leaner, stronger, better. At that point, you will out eat your training, and get the opposite result you wanted. So either do something fun, or make what you do fun, and enjoy eating to fuel your amazing body, rather than satisfy your need to have an unhealthy reward for your suffering.

Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.

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