Health is what your body desires, and no matter what you do to it it seeks to repair and restore balance. Under eat and hunger will step in, over exercise and fatigue will kick in. We have the ultimate compensatory behaviours to attempt to maintain our existence no matter what we (or our Personal Drainers, Tracy Anderson, Boot Camp etc) throw at us.
Exercise brings with it a compensation factor, and after a hard trip to the gym, a class or a long run we typically become hungry and need to eat. Various arguments exist regarding whether the exercise always makes you hungry, or whether it is because you seek a reward for good behaviour (remember most of us are conditioned towards behaviours with so called positive reinforcement).
I used to people watch between clients, mystified at the (mainly) women going for cake and coffee after aerobics. Maybe its the reward factor, the social need (not something I truly understand), or more likely it is mainly the need to replace the energy they've just used up. So, in this respect the body compensates for this energy expenditure by inducing the behaviour that sees you replace the energy. An odd concept in a world built on burning calories...surely the net loss (if it were that simple) could be more easily achieved by avoiding the class altogether?
Since 2002 we have discussed the effects of dieting, or semi-starvation and the simple fact that we need energy to survive. The more we try and burn away energy stores the more the body will increase appetite to protect itself. Eric Ravussin, chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and a prominent exercise researcher agrees stating;
"In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless"
Researchers from Columbia University in The journal Obesity Research (2001), found that a pound of muscle "burns" approximately six calories a day at rest compared to two calories for a pound of fat. So by converting (which is the mythical offer in most gyms), 10lbs. of fat into muscle, you would in theory only get an extra 40 kcal allowance per day! Yeah, now you're a real calorie burning muscle machine.
Despite spending our hard earned cash on personal trainers, fat or boot camps, aerobics, zumba, marathons, Tracy Anderson blah blah blah, we aren't any thinner (remember I tried all this **** in 1999-2001. After an hours class we crave sugary calories like nothing on earth. Sure some use willpower or break down muscle tissue to help them cope, but for most a sports drink or a banana replaces all the energy burned in about 30 seconds. Now, I'm not saying thats a bad thing, remember the body is trying to stay healthy and you've just been personal drained so its fighting back to maintain its balance.
Willpower can help a few people avoid the post exercise calorie cravings but our physiology isn't designed to do that. We are after all designed to replenish our energy reserves after a bout of activity, so most people crumble (note the food based apple crumble link, even thinking about exercise is making my brain consider food). Steven Gortmaker, the head of Harvard's Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity, states that "The most powerful determinant of your dietary intake is your energy expenditure, If you're more physically active, you're going to get hungry and eat more." He suspiciously points the finger at McDonald's restaurants, asking "Why would they build those?", referring to the playgrounds they all seem to have nowadays. He points out that, "I know it sounds kind of like conspiracy theory, but you have to think, if a kid plays five minutes and burns 50 calories, he might then go inside and consume 500 calories or even 1,000."
The International Journal of Obesity published a paper by Gortmaker and Kendrin Sonneville which found that "there is a widespread assumption that increasing activity will result in a net reduction in any energy gap", (energy gap = the difference between the number of calories you use and the number you consume). Gortmaker and Sonneville found during 18-months observing 538 students that when kids start to exercise, they end up eating an average of 100 calories more than they had just burned.
To other way our bodies can compensate for this outburst of activity is by making us less active post exercise. As mentioned earlier, the body wants to stay in balance and preserve itself...health is of upmost priority. We hear all the time that our leisure physical activity has decreased since the 80's, funny how that right around the time exercise gripped the nation. Walking, getting out in nature taking a stress free stroll all sound great but as a nation we seem obsessed with being abused by a personal trainer at the gym.
Researchers from Peninsula Medical School studied 206 kids, ages 7 to 11, at three schools in and around Plymouth. The first school was private academy where they got around 9.2 hours per week of rigorous physical education. Kids at the two other schools, one in a village and the other an urban school got just 2.4 hours and 1.7 hours of PE a week. The kids wore ActiGraphs, which measure the amount of physical movement and the intensity. The kids at the private school had significantly more physical activity at school, but overall they didn't move more. Alissa Frémeaux from the study commented;
"Once they get home, if they are very active in school, they are probably staying still a bit more because they've already expended so much energy," and that "The others are more likely to grab a bike and run around after school."
What and how you eat (remember my blogs about the dangers of not eating) is far more significant in weight loss than how hard you try punish your body. I know you'll claim that you feel good after exercise, and I'll cover that in another post soon. Why not save your cash, avoid the beasting by your PT who makes your throw kettlebells around, skip the post exercise treats and avoid crashing on the sofa, and exchange it for, eating real food and going for a walk.