Not Losing the Weight? Maybe It's Your Workout

Don’t get me wrong: I’m in no way suggesting exercise is bad. But I’ve been seeing more proof that the way many of us approach working out may not help our weight-loss goals—and may even cause us to gain additional pounds.

One small study published last month in the American Journal of Physiology found that overweight men who exercised 30 minutes a day burned more calories and lost more weight over three months compared to a second group who exercised for 60 minutes a day over the same time period. The shorter workout may have left participants with more energy to do other physical activities throughout the day; the longer workout may have triggered the impulse to eat more to make up for the extra burn. The takeaway? Cutting your workout time in half may yield even better results for weight loss and body fat. 

In my research for the Digest Diet weight-loss program, I also uncovered these reasons your workout could be making you fat:

1. You equate exercise with eating whatever you want.

Current research shows that when it comes to weight loss, diet is much more important than exercise. Exercise alone leads to a very modest decrease in body weight—less than 3 percent. So thinking you can eat whatever you want as long as you work out later is a dangerous mindset.

Get smart: Think of exercise as something you do for your health—to feel energetic, invigorated, to have a healthier heart, brain, and more—than as something you do just to counter the calories. And think about what you eat as part of your overall health, too. The mental changes ought to make you think twice before you act. 

2. You overdo it after you work out.

Aerobic exercise, the kind that makes your heart pound and your body sweat, demands that you increase your energy output. Because your body is always trying to stay in balance, this type of movement may actually act as a biological cue to make you eat more. Researchers also believe that cardio may cue additional eating because it depletes glycogen stores in the liver and muscle in order to make glucose available for fuel.

Get smart: Follow a high-intensity interval training program—in which you surprise your body with short bursts of fast, hard aerobic or strength moves, followed by more mellow ones. This pushes your body into fat-burn more, and lets you work out more effectively in far less time.The Digest Diet plan has just a 12-minute exercise routine, and it really works.

3. You think you’re exercising harder than you really are

Again, it's all about your mindset: How you look at the exercise you do affects whether or not you’ll keep the weight off. One 2010 study noted that women who reported feelings of low energy and poor emotional health thought they were working out more, when they weren't. And if you truly think that you’re working it hard when in reality you’re taking it easy, you won’t lose as much weight as you expect to.

Get smart: Keep a log of the time you spend moving each day and write out exactly what you did for exercise. It may surprise you.

4. You treat exercise like a chore

Doing something that you intensely dislike will get in the way of long-term weight control. So find something active you like: walking through the park, riding a bike with your kids, or going to that Zumba class with the friend who’s been begging you to join. It might not be easy, and you might try on different things. But keep at it.

Get smart: Focus on creating a positive attitude about exercise (and everything else weight-loss related, for that matter). One study found that if a new behavior evokes positive emotions, people are nearly five times more likely to continue it more than a year later.

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