It may come as no surprise whatsoever that not all types of exercise are suited to everyone. Exhibit A: you smash yourself at the gym 4-5 times a week – one hour solid workout sessions that leave you dripping with sweat and exhausted, muscles aching and too stuffed to really eat anything afterwards. And speaking of afterwards, your diet is borderline perfect. You eat well, always small portions, low in refined sugar and starchy carbohydrates and are very cautious of what you put in your mouth. Yet the scales will not budge. In fact you might even be gaining weight.
Sounds like you? Well this example is very real and I see it happening every day at my gym, where girls and guys bust their guts and eat really well, but aren’t seeing any real results. It’s painful to watch, yet the trainers are simply pushing them harder, making them do more despite them not making any physical changes.
So what’s going wrong?
As with food and diet, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise and over exercising certainly does not work for everyone. In fact it may actually cause your body to gain weight as these hour-long sessions impact on your adrenals, causing cortisol (the “fight or flight” stress hormone) to rise due to increased stress and therefore blood sugar levels increase, leading to insulin resistance and fat storage.
What can you do if your exercise is making you fat?
- Mix up your routine. Instead of hitting the gym hard every other day, add some less strenuous activities to your routine. Try and do some yoga, Pilates, swimming or walking and change the level of intensity.
- Swap your usual hour-long gym sessions for some quick interval or ‘Burst’ training, no more than 20-30 minutes per day, with large rest periods in between. Do 20-30 seconds at 110% intensity (eg squat jumps) followed by a 1 minute rest. Build up to 1 minute training at 110%, followed by 2-3 minutes of rest, for 20 – 30 minutes (no more than 30 minutes). Trial this out for a week or two and see if your body starts to change.
- Get more sleep. Sleeping reduces the stress response and allows your body to repair itself. One hours sleep between the hours of 10pm and 3am is worth two hours outside these times, so get to bed earlier and give your body the rest it deserves. Try taking some magnesium for muscle relaxation and hot almond milk with honey for calcium before bed if you’re struggling to sleep, and make sure you turn off all electronic equipment at least 30 minutes before bed as these are too stimulating for your brain.
- Get your adrenals tested, specifically cortisol. Hormones are behind every single thing we do and if you’re truly struggling to lose weight but doing everything you know right, you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue and elevated cortisol levels causing insulin resistance. See your health care practitioner or natural therapist who can help you get your adrenals regulated and save you the pain of busting your butt with no results!