Monday, February 20, 2012

Is Exercise A Good Way To Lose Weight? My Surprising Answer: Maybe Not at First!

Ok this post is for all my readers that have been courageous and made major lifestyle changes in the last few months—whether its becoming a new vegan, newly sugar-free, newly gluten-free, etc.  Lets see a show of hands if your New Year’s Resolutions included BOTH a new food plan AND a new exercise regimen?

If you are anything like me in the past than I’m going to see a lot of hands. 

Next question, how many of you are struggling to meet BOTH the dietary and exercise goals?

What if I told you that in my experience its best to start by focusing on ONE thing at a time?  If you are struggling, pick food first!  Let me tell you why.

In the past, every time I started a combined new exercise and diet program I failed!  So for the first 3-4 months of my 12 step based overeating recovery program I did something different—I just focused on diet without adding gym sessions to the mix.  And it was very successful for me.  I think the key is to be smart, start small & celebrate the little victories.  I say this because in the past I started big & specialized in punishing myself for not meeting my athletic AND weight loss goals!  For my overweight patients, I usually counsel them to pick food first, lose a bit of weight and then start exercising.

The issue is really the time it takes to make a successful behavioral change.  I think it is extremely time consuming to make a dietary change—we spend a lot more time thinking about what to eat, what to cook and how to shop.  Adding exercise into the mix can actually make things even harder to execute the plan!  And also, if you are very overweight, it can actually be dangerous at first.  

I don’t watch TV often but I did catch a few episodes of the Biggest Loser a few years ago and was pretty appalled.  The contestant's accomplishments were so inspiring and I am ALL for people losing weight, BUT, I could not believe the intensity of the physical activity portion of the weight loss program.  It is truly a miracle that these folks didn’t get seriously injured!!  And trust me, I’m a rehab physician!  Seeing folks with injuries due to starting ill advised aggressive exercise programs is EXTREMELY common!

In the past I often used exercise in to try to keep my disease of compulsive overeating in check.  One my main techniques to manage my weight was alternating periods of weight gain with periods of vigorous exercise.  Over the years the weight gain periods got longer and the vigorous exercise got more dangerous—I seemed to get injured every time I tried to hit the gym!  My body just couldn’t take the abuse—the obesity itself interfered with my movement by itself, but it also punished my joints! 

The end results of the pressure of my ever increasing body weight on my knees were muscle strains, sprains and (my favorite—just kidding) shin splints!  {Side note--I often tell my patients an interesting fact:  Did you know that your knees carry FOUR times your body weight?!  So extra bonus—for each pound you lose, you lose four pounds on your knees!  All my arthritis folks take note :-)}    

Important pointThis is not to say that exercise is not important—in fact it is CRITICAL to preventing disease and living a long life.  Check out this fun & entertaining video that the Healthy Librarian posted!  Exercise produces endorphins and elevates mood.  But you know what really makes you depressed (at least it did me), not being able to maintain my newly healthy lifestyle, staying obese, staying sick, staying sad.  So I’m here to tell you that unless your doctor is telling you to immediately start exercising vigorously than wait.  Wait just a month or two until you feel SOLID in your new food plan.  Be gentle with yourself!

Now I'm not saying that you should give up physical activity completely!   You may not be working a freestanding exercise program—i.e. doing aerobic videos, lifting weights, power walking, running, etc, but you do need to make a concerted effort to be more active in everything you do.

A few things I did during my waiting period before starting an exercise program included:
  • Parking my car further away in the parking lot so I had to walk a longer way to school and work
  • Making myself take at least one flight of stairs when moving between floors.  I would walk up one flight and take the elevator for the rest.  By four months in I could walk 4 flights without being out of breath!
  • I put a pedometer on during my work day and tried to walk more each day compared to the previous day.  I didn’t set a big goal, I just looked at what my steps were the day before and then tried to walk more than that the next day
Other things that are really easy to do to make your life a bit less sedentary include:
  • Doing tummy exercises while watching TV or sitting at your desk.  Every commercial break puff out your stomach to make it bigger and rounder and then pull your belly button into your spine as far as you can go.  Hold that for a few seconds and then release.  Work up to doing five per commercial break while watching TV or five per hour when you are at work or driving in the car (while at a stoplight of course!)  If you have cardiac or blood pressure issues, check with your doctor first before doing this because it increases pressure in your abdomen which could effect your heart if you health is fragile.
  • Put your remote control on top of the TV.  Every time you want to change the channel then walk up to the TV to get the remote.  This forces you to get out of your seat to avoid the commercials.
  • If you have dogs try walking them a bit faster than before.  Or a bit longer.  Just don’t go crazy.
When you have gotten a handle on the food, your body will be much better able to exercise if you have prepared it by creating a more active lifestyle in general!  Becoming more active during your regular day is easier than learning to set a new routine with gym time, video time, running time, etc.  It’s a good starting point.

Next time I’ll share about my experiences with exercise now that I’m coming back from my neck injury and starting a new fitness program (a struggle for me!).  

For now, I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on this?!!  Maybe you all have experiences different from mine!   I’d love to hear your success stories and tips if you were able to combine both food and exercise together from the start!  I’d also love to hear if you are struggling. 

Oh!  And if  YOU have some tips to share on how to be more active in your daily life I’d love to hear them too (and so will the other readers!)!  

Thanks for listening.  We are all in this together.  Go team! :-)
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  1. I totally agree with you on the Biggest Loser - it was hard to see those people be put through such punishing workouts. Exercising should be about feeling good!

    1. Totally agree!!:-)) Thanks for commenting!:-)

  2. For us, cutting out dairy & oil has made a huge impact & boosted our energy levels - we've naturally wanted to be more active without really thinking about it... We want to go out for long walks, on waking we want to stretch & in the evenings we dance around the kitchen while preparing dinner. Our work is physical - we clean large houses, but we're whizzing through them now! Before - we'd come home & collapse for the night, but now we're busying about until late (we don't have a TV) & it feels good. Taking one step at a time is a much kinder way of treating our bodies, so I would say change your diet first & just go with the flow.

    Kay :)

    1. Thanks for sharing Kay!! I love how you describe how much energy you both have after making the vegetarian to vegan transition and choosing Dr Esselstyn's no oil program!:-))

      My husband and I have noticed that we have more energy too--long walks with the dogs are more fun! Especially if we do it together:-)

      We don't have a TV either so similarly ita hard to be stuck on the couch (unless we are reading:-))

      The TV tips I mention is what I suggest to my patients and it works well for them:-)

      Thank you as always for commenting!


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