Why exercise could be causing weight gain

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5:2 Diet founder Dr Michael Mosley discusses the hidden traps of working out.

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We’ve been conditioned to think that the formula for weight loss is exercise plus a good diet, but according to 5:2 Diet creator Dr Michael Mosley, hours spent at the gym can be a trap when it comes to reducing the number on the scale.

“In most of the studies, we see that people do exercise but they don’t lose much weight and the question is why? What’s actually going on? Because you would have thought that on the surface it’s pretty obvious: you burn some calories, you lose some weight. But that’s not always what appears to happens,” he says to myBody+Soul.

“There are various possible explanations for that. One you’re not doing enough. You have to do quite a lot of exercise to burn off what you’re eating. So you’d probably have to run 50 or 60ks to burn half a kilo of fat, so I think people underestimate how much you have to do. I think the other thing is that people often overcompensate by eating more.”

In order to put this to the test, Dr Mosley and his team got a group of people to eat a certain amount of calories for breakfast and then measured their hunger hormones. The following day they got them to either cut 500 calories from their breakfast or burn 500 calories by going for a run. Then they measured their hunger hormones afterwards and got them to fill in questions on how hungry they were as the day progressed. What Dr Mosley found was that exercise, at least in this group of young, fit people, seemed to suppress their appetite.

“So what appears, on the basis of this, is that the reason people are eating more after exercise is not so much because they are hungry, but because are unconsciously rewarding themselves. So we think to ourselves ‘I’ve been to the gym and done half an hour on the treadmill, I’m going to have a muffin.’

“One of the messages is that if you want to lose weight is has to be a combination, you need to keep a close eye on what you’re eating. Exercise has a lot of benefits… but don’t expect it to burn off lots of fat.”

So if exercise isn’t the sole answer to weight loss, what is? Dr Mosley suggests these four things to do to help with those unwanted kilos:

Watch your fluid intake:

“When we drink juices and smoothies or lattes they contain calories that we will consume and they’ll make no difference to our appetite, we’ll eat exactly the same amount for the rest of the day,” explains Dr Mosley.

“So in a way the easiest calories to cut out are the ones you drink because your body doesn’t really register them as calories. If you eat three or four apples you’d find yourself pretty full but if you drunk the equivalent in apple juice it wouldn’t impact your appetite at all – in fact it might make it go up slightly. One of the key things there is the fibre – you’ll have fibre in the apple not the apple juice and the fibre will help keep you full.”

Making sure you get adequate sleep:

“Sleep is hugely important,” says Dr Mosely. “When you don’t get enough it really disturbs your restorative process.”

Noticing that after a bad night’s sleep, Dr Mosley “felt these terrible cravings for carb-heavy food,” he decided to do an experiment.

“We asked a group of people to have broken sleep, then the next day we monitor them carefully and noticed they did increase their calorie intake due to eating more carbs and sugary food – which is often what you crave when you’re tired. So sleep can be a real driver of appetite and if you don’t get enough then it’s likely you’ll be reaching for the snacks.”

For those who are having trouble getting some shut eye, Dr Mosley suggest getting up at the same time every morning regardless of whether it’s the weekend or not as this will help you establish a good rhythm.

He also says to wind your way up to going to sleep. “Prepare yourself like an hour before hand. One of those things should be avoiding screen time as the blue light interferes with your sleep hormones, particularly melatonin. You have to say to yourself at 9pm ‘I’m switching off’ and doing that twice a week.”

Ensure you do resistance exercise:

“A lot of people go for runs and walks which is good but that’s aerobic fitness for the heart and lungs, you also need to do the squats and push-ups because muscle is one of those things that burns calories even when you’re sleeping the way fat doesn’t,” says Dr Mosley.

He adds that after the age of 30 we lose two per cent of muscle mass a year and that muscle then just turns to fat if we aren’t working it properly.

Increase your fibre intake:

Dr Mosley explains that in Western diets the average person has around 15 grams of fibre a day but you should be consuming around 30 to 40 grams. Fibre binds the sugar in food, which stops a person’s blood sugar from soaring, which in turn stops you eye that cookie jar at 3pm.

Dr Michael Mosley’s new six-part series Trust Me, I’m a Doctor airs at 7:30pm on Feb 27.

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fitness | body+soul

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