It’s easy to lose motivation on a fat loss goal when you aren’t seeing results.
You think you're doing everything right: counting calories and hitting the gym or the pavement hard.
Yet, despite these diet and lifestyle shifts, nothing in your body composition has changed.
Oh sure, it's possible to achieve optimal body composition through a combination of extreme exercise and disciplined portion control. You only have to look at the impressive physiques of fitness models and elite athletes to see that this approach can be successful.
Unfortunately there are numerous factors that make this approach difficult to impossible for most people.
Genetic advantages for maintaining low body fat and exceptional muscle tone only affect a small percentage of the population.
Despite monitoring and reducing calories, a grain-based diet promotes excessive insulin production, making it impossible to lose that last 5, 10, or 20 pounds that represent the ultimate goal.
Not everyone can work out and meal plan for a living. Sustaining a very time-consuming training program puts these routines out of reach for most people who have additional daily responsibilities and interests.
The difficulty of pushing the body through extreme workouts makes this approach unappealing and unsustainable to all but the most motivated and disciplined people.
Of course sensible exercise delivers extremely positive benefits and can promote weight management and body composition improvement by improving insulin sensitivity, building lean mass, and regulating appetite.
However, the idea of a direct relationship between calories burned and body fat reduction is deeply flawed. As I shared in this post, 80 percent of your body composition success is determined by what you eat, with exercise essentially adding the finishing touch to a low insulin-producing diet.
Keep reading to find out the truth about how your body responds to exercise.
APPETITE & HORMONAL EFFECTS
Recent scientific research suggests that calories burned through exercise are more than offset by increased caloric intake. Exercise does burn stored energy, but it also makes us hungry, which leads to hormonal changes that promote fat storage after the workout is over.
In the book Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes explains it like this:
Exercise triggers a rise in HSL (hormone sensitive lipase), enabling both glycogen and fat to be mobilized from storage and dumped into the bloodstream to be used for fuel during the workout. Once the workout is over and your energy requirements diminish, HSL levels drop and levels of LPL (lipoprotein lipase) rise. This post-exercise rise of LPL promotes the restocking of both glycogen (carbs) and fat to speed recovery. When LPL levels are elevated, cells literally reel in nutrients (calories ingested) circulating in the bloodstream and lock them away in storage.
Besides the appetite and hormonal effects of exercise that negate the calorie-burning effects for weight loss efforts, there are additional behavioral effects involved too. We respond both consciously and subconsciously to a workout by being less active and eating more calories in the aftermath.
Consciously, we reward ourselves for exercising by seeking more rest and relaxation options and indulging in foods we might not ordinarily eat. For example, after a vigorous workout, we might be more likely to take the elevator instead of the stairs or indulge in dessert after dinner.
Subconsciously, your body compensates for the stress of exercise by conserving energy—by slowing metabolic rate, generally moving slower, and being a tiny bit lazier after a workout. If you've experienced the "crash" following a hard morning workout, or experience repeated periods of lingering fatigue in response to a pattern of chronic workouts, you can attest to how your body compensates by being sluggish.
The body's effort to slow down and conserve or store energy is a genetically programmed mechanism to promote survival and avoid exhaustion.
This caloric compensation is particularly relevant when the exercise pattern is chronic, because a depleted body will become even more inclined to consume additional calories, store them as fat, and conserve energy in every way possible throughout the day.
As Mark Sisson said in the Primal Blueprint Transformation Seminar, "Your brain directs you to overeat because it's thinking, 'I better be prepared if this clown tries this [chronic workout] again tomorrow!'"
CALORIES IN-CALORIES OUT
Another flawed conventional approach to weight management is the practice of balancing the calories we eat to the calories we burn. It proves to be illogical because this balance is impossible to achieve outside of a controlled laboratory setting. For example, eating only 20 "excess" calories per day (about one macadamia nut) would theoretically add two pounds of body fat per year!
While the calories in-calories out equation remains true in a literal sense, It's likely that your daily caloric intake and energy usage are far more at odds than commonly thought, and that your body regulates energy burned and energy stored hormonally in a way that promotes homeostasis.
These hormonal influences override any simple equation involving the readout on your exercise watch and the nutrition facts at Starbucks. In this light, the principle of calories in-calories out should be rephrased calories burned versus calories stored.
As you can see, there are numerous variables that influence the end result in terms of body composition, and the average level of insulin you produce strongly influences whether you are predominantly in a fat-storage or fat-burning mode, which directly affects the results of your exercise.
THE FAT ADAPTED EXERCISER
In contrast, caloric compensation becomes less relevant in fat-adapted and Primal-aligned exercisers. Those who are skilled at burning stored body fat through a low insulin-producing eating pattern, who expertly balance stress and rest in workouts, and avoid chronic exercise, have less appetite stimulation and need for immediate calories after workouts.
It is for this reason—to align with our genetic expectations—that I recommend a blend of frequent low-level activity (comfortable enough to not overstimulate appetite or cause exhaustion) and brief, intense strength and sprint sessions (which are brief enough to not overstimulate appetite or cause exhaustion). A more sporadic Primal workout pattern brings much less risk of burnout than the typical modern approach that preaches "consistency" as a pillar of a successful fitness program.
Want to find out how to spend less time exercising and more time living? Work with me to gain the freedom from burnout and lose weight effortlessly.