Last week, a friend posted a meme on Facebook that read, "If you went to the gym and forgot to check in, did it really happen?" If I checked in every time I went to the gym, my friends would all block me from their news feeds. I've been a regular gym-goer, averaging five workouts each week, for the last year.
That is, until this month. I've hit a very stubborn weight-loss plateau. I wrote earlier this year that I was going to take my mind off the number on my scale and instead just focus on my healthy-eating and gym-going routine. Thirty to 60 minutes of exercise each day and 1,400 to 1,500 calories per day. That's it.
Well, turns out that didn't work as well as I had thought. I slipped a few pounds down after my no-scale month, but they came back on. And I've not budged since. (Thankfully I've not increased either.) So, here I am again, facing a decision. I need to get going on my weight-loss goals, but I don't know what to do to get there. I've increased exercise intensity. No dice. I've tried new fitness routines to give my muscles a surprise. Nothing. I've even taken to working out in the evening rather than morning (because someone told me that worked for them). No change.
Then, over the weekend, I realized something I had been doing that I'm fairly certain is responsible for my plateau: I'm exercising.
My four to five exercise sessions each week, while great for my heart health and mental clarity, are actually working against my weight loss.
Here's why I suspect that: When I work out, I kick up my metabolism. I'm working out first thing in the morning, so I'm hungry all day after an a.m. gym session and frequently graze on the available snacks at the office. Then, there's the bad habit I have of eating over my calorie goal because, well, "I did go to the gym today." Sure, I exercised, and I burned more calories. But have I been burning enough to really eat so much over my goal? Calorie estimates from fitness trackers are notoriously way off, so am I really gaining any calories in my everyday treadmill walk? I suspect not. All of that adds up, and maybe that's the problem: I need to focus more on my food, less on my foot movement.
Now, before you think I've fallen off my rocker, I'm not saying this is right for everyone. It's just, as I read in a New York Times story on Monday, I might not be wrong. Studies show, time and time again, that sedentary people are no more likely to gain excess weight than physically active people when they're both eating a calorie-structured diet. In other words, exercise isn't as important as eating less.
Before you think I'm shunning the gym and stowing my tennis shoes for good, let me clarify this one thing. I'm not going to stop being active. The link between physical exercise and heart health, as well as the reduction of a whole host of other diseases and physical ailments, is too strong for me to say there is no space for exercise and movement in my life. So I'm still going to take my good, healthy walks around the office. I'll still stroll my neighborhood at night, and on the weekends, when I have several hours of free time, I'm probably going to put in a good sweat session at the gym. But every other day, I'm going to focus on food first. When I have a healthier relationship with my energy intake, maybe then I can get the results I'm seeking.