Shaping up (why it’s not all about weight loss)
If you think of getting back into shape purely in terms of body shape, the formula is simple:
exercise + diet = weight loss.
That is, increase your levels of exercise (even modestly) and follow a healthier diet and you will lose weight.
But, starting a program of exercise and diet can be deceptively easy because rapid weight loss is the norm when starting out.
When you cut calorie intake, your body gets the energy it needs by releasing its stores of glycogen, a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and liver. When your body burns glycogen for energy, water is released and weight loss follows.
Why won’t it budge!
But, as you’ve probably guessed, the effect is temporary. As you lose fat, you also lose some muscle and it is muscle that maintains the rate at which you burn calories.
Hitting this ‘wall’ can be demoralising, but understanding why we ‘plateau’ is important.
As we adapt to a level of physical activity coupled with a new diet, our body often becomes more efficient, using less energy (calories) to complete any given task.
Challenging your body by changing the intensity, frequency, or type of activity can help to push you past the plateau, while fine tuning your diet with more healthy changes can also contribute to weight loss.
Weighing up the positives
Despite the odd disappointment, it’s worth persisting because we know regular exercise and a healthy diet bring so many rewards:
- Beneficial sleeping patterns
- A reduction in stress
- Improvements in mood
- Increased energy and stamina
- Greater mental alertness
- Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
- Improved cardiovascular fitness (the number one predictor of premature mortality)
- Increased interest in sex (true!)
Exercise also improves mental health by reducing anxiety and depression, and raising self-esteem and cognitive function.
Keep physically active and you’ll feel the benefits in both your personal and professional life – regardless of what the scales tell you.