How many times have you said something along these lines “It’s OK to splurge on this giant cupcake because I’ll burn it off at the gym later”. Or, “I had a hard workout today so I deserve to have my favorite takeout tonight.”
While it’s true that one benefit of exercise is burning calories, exercising in addition to eating the right amount of food for your body is very different from exercising so you can eat more than your body needs, or to make up for times that you eat more than your body needs. We encourage our clients to have fun with exercise and to embrace the different reasons to stay active. With the exception of one: Canceling out excess calories. Check out the responses we got to this on Facebook.
Here are our top 5 reasons not to play the exercise compensation game.
1. The timing might not be right. You’re at the mercy of your schedule if you eat something high in calories, with the plan to burn it off on the treadmill later. What if something unexpected pops up and you can’t make it to the gym?
2. You cancel out the fun, too. Suddenly you have to exercise to burn calories. You might be less likely to hit up a yoga class with pals or head out for a hike because you’re tied to a machine that gives you a calorie reading.
3. Nutrients are missing. If you’re working towards a weight-loss goal, you’re eating just enough to give your body the nutrients it needs and to fuel energetic workouts — without excess calories. Treat foods like sweets, fried foods, and alcohol don’t provide a huge amount of nutrition, but do pack in calories. Eating large amounts of these foods means nudging out more nutritious choices. So, even if you exercise extra to burn off the calories, you miss out on nutrients that can give you glowing skin, prevent disease, and boost energy. It’s better to eat a smaller portion of treat foods each day (about 150 calories-worth for people working on weight loss) and factor it into your daily calorie allowance, than to eat a large portion with plans to burn it off at the gym.
4. You’re probably overestimating your calorie burn. Unfortunately the compensation game math doesn’t usually work in your favor. Research shows that most people underestimate what they eat and overestimate what they burn at the gym (or the machine you’re on does the overestimating for you.) It’s too easy to overeat by 500 calories and definitely not easy to burn an additional 500 calories through exercise. So that cupcake that you ended up splurging on only gets about half burned off.
5. Consistency is missing. Put your focus on canceling out calories via exercise and you’ll likely get locked into a pattern of choosing less healthful food options. But, put your focus on making consistently healthy food choices, regardless of exercise, and you’re more likely to adapt stable eating patterns for life.
Let’s all make a healthy-living pact. Make a mind-shift about the relationship between food and exercise: Eat in a way that gives you the energy (fuel) you need to exercise rather than exercising so that you can eat more (or to make up for over-eating).
Who’s with us on this?