Exercise Strategies to Reach Your Weight Loss Goals
January has come and gone, and that zest and passion for making your New Year’s resolutions a reality has long faded. If this story sounds familiar, you’re not alone! Shortly after committing to those New Year’s resolutions, many people are already feeling frustrated and discouraged with their annual diet and exercise goals, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Diet Versus Exercise: What’s the Verdict on Weight Loss?
The million dollar question is whether diet or exercise matters more in the scheme of weight loss. The truth is that upwards of 70% of weight loss will come from dietary changes. Don’t get me wrong, there are endless health benefits of regular exercise like improved cardiovascular health, more energy, increased bone density, and balanced hormones, among many others. But it only plays a small role in the weight loss puzzle.
Partly, it’s because many people increase their calorie intake when they begin to exercise more. Sometimes this is due to actual increased hunger (often caused by chronic cardio—more on this in a minute). Other times, it’s due to the feeling of “needing” or deserving to eat more. However, unless you are a professional athlete or are working out extensively every day (say, more than 1 or 1.5 hours), your nutritional and caloric needs haven’t changed. And if you eat as if they have, you will probably gain, not lose weight.
Quick Fix: Instead of increasing your calorie intake, time your workouts so you can have a protein-containing snack or a full, balanced meal within 30-60 minutes after a workout. This shouldn’t be an extra meal or snack; you’ll simply adjust when you work out to make sure you can follow it with something to keep your blood sugar balanced and stay satisfied. If sugar cravings are derailing your weight loss goals, have a Sweet Defeat right after the workout to stop cravings before they start, then have that healthy meal or snack in an hour, after the sugar cravings have passed.
The Type of Exercise You Do Matters
I would never discourage exercise, but the type of exercise you do actually makes a big difference in the results you get. For both men and women (but I find in my experience that’s it’s even more prevalent for women), it’s important to choose exercise that supports balanced hormones and doesn’t overstress the body, two factors that can directly cause weight gain when out of whack.
“Chronic cardio” is a term that refers to regular, long-distance cardio such as running, elliptical, biking, spinning, etc. It’s not that these forms of movement are inherently bad, but they do have the potential to increase cortisol levels (your primary stress hormone) and can actually lead to weight gain for some people.
For this reason, switching up your exercise routine is key. If you love long-distance cardio, by all means keep at it! But alternate some days with strength training and some high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Strength training can be bodyweight exercises at home or in the gym—squats, lunges, push ups, and so on. These exercises will increase your metabolic rate, meaning you’ll burn more calories all day long while at rest. HIIT has been shown to provide a myriad of impressive health benefits, such as increased fat burning and metabolism, better endurance, and improved heart health.
How to Get Strategic with Exercise to Reach Your Goals
To ensure that your goals truly become a long-term reality, you’ll need to have a plan. Here are four ways to use exercise to help you meet your goals:
1. Manage Your Stress: Stress has a profound impact on health and wellness, and makes losing weight extremely difficult. Find what works for you, whether it be meditation, evening walks, dancing, or a book club. On this same note, make sure your exercise plan isn’t adding stress to your body in an unhealthy way.
2. Include Strength Training: Strength training makes sure you’re gaining muscle, which, together with a healthy, low-sugar diet, improves body composition (less fat and more lean muscle). It also helps protect you from future injuries, improves balance and flexibility, and increases your metabolic rate. Shoot for 2-3, 30-minute strength training sessions per week.
3. Try a HIIT Workout: Including 2-3, 20-30 minute interval training sessions per week, added to the strength training, can be an excellent way to jump-start weight loss. The beauty of HIIT is that it works for every fitness level: you’ll simply alternate between periods of your maximum effort and periods of rest. Start with a 5-minute warm-up, followed by 30 seconds of all-out effort (which, depending on your fitness level, could be walking uphill, sprinting, jumping jacks, etc.), and 30 seconds of rest. Repeat this 5-10 times.
4. Don’t Eat More to Compensate for Exercise: Remember not to overeat! Exercise is wonderful, but usually doesn’t allow for eating more. Plan your healthy meals and snacks accordingly to avoid this common pitfall.