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Articles & Inspiration

Exercise balance vs eat less, exercise more?

Eat less, exercise more, right? Although many of us are very aware of the shortcomings of that statement, it still strongly lives in many of our subconsciouses. If we put on a few extra pounds, we just think to ourselves: “oh yeah, that's right, I've got to exercise more and eat less!”. So let's explore the exercise aspect of this statement. 

Little to no exercise

In order to examine exercise, one of the best things to do is to look at the extremes. So the first one to look at is going to be a lack of exercise. Many of us are aware of the issues of little movement and the atrophy that will occur within the body. If there is no movement within the body, then death very quickly follows at a cellular level.

There's all kinds of ramifications for mental health and the health of the body from a lack of movement. The muscles themselves start to break down, the body becomes very frail, the joints become painful and stiff etc. This is very clear and well understood.

Female top athletes

top athlete - cura romana

But let's also explore getting plenty of exercise and the best way to examine this is to look at top athletes, those that are training at a very heavy schedule in order to compete at a high level. Let’s take a look at women in particular.

What is often said somehow jokingly within top athlete circles is :

If you want to mess with your hormones, become a top athlete!

We tend to look at athletes and top athletes as being the pinnacle of health, the image of what to aspire to if we are wanting to move into a healthier lifestyle. What is often not shared is just how disruptive training five or six times a week can be to the body.

It is producing a chronic fight or flight state. It is producing a significant increase in cortisol which often causes a female athlete's body to not get their periods on schedule or sometimes even stop menstruating altogether. 

Those that are top athletes have trainers that are aware of the tremendous challenges they put the body through with this kind of army-style exercise five, to six times a week. Those trainers know how to take special care of the needs of these athletes. They do so by: 

Adding in additional vitamin/minerals because the demands of the body when in a stressed state are considerably higher.

Calming the stress through using practices to support the relaxation response, such as meditation, cold water therapy and rigorous sleep practices. These give appropriate downtime to relax and to reassure the body that this is not a life-threatening situation, but that it is simply a choice.

But for the rest of us, that simply look at top athletes and see their training schedules and see how energetic and physically strong they appear, we often hold them up as the perfect image of what we are looking to achieve. 

what you see is the tip of the iceberg

spin class - cura romana

So what does this mean for us, who only see the tip of the iceberg? We try to emulate them and just push to do more. It often means a continuing aggression towards our own body; so we’ve had a hard stressful day at work and then, instead of resting we want to beat our body into submission by doing perhaps a military boot camp style exercise regime or a spin class with a trainer that is going to ask you to keep pushing and pushing, and we often believe that this is beneficial for our body.

More often than not though, this is not the case. What this does, particularly when it comes to strong aerobic activities, is that it places the body into a fight or flight state and a chronically stressed and inflamed state as the body is - at a deep level - concerned for its own survival. Majority of the functions within the body shut down, particularly digestion, as all the resources go to the heart, the lungs and the muscles. This state is not optimal for weight loss although many still believe that this is. If anything, it will actually cause the body to want to hold on to more potential energy reserves as well as bypass the normal function of the body - because let’s face it : who needs digestion when you’re just needing to survive? 

the complete opposite

So, if we then return to the old saying of “eat less, exercise more”, we can see just how aggressive this statement is to the body. When we eat considerably less, we cause the body to move into a stressed state. It is concerned about its energy needs and its energy reserves. So, when we couple this with strong aggressive push, push, push aerobic exercise, then you can certainly see why the body is not going to respond by gently and gracefully losing or eliminating the excess weight it carries. Often, what will occur is the complete opposite.

Now I am in no way saying that exercise is bad; it has been shown time and time again just how beneficial exercise is for the body. But listening to the body’s needs and wants, and try to honour them is more beneficial to its balance than heavily exercising at all cost.

What I observe so often is the aggression that so many people feel towards their own bodies, the sense that their bodies are broken, that they have to continue to beat them into submission in order to achieve the goals that they want, and this kind of thinking is often reinforced within our society. 

listen to the needs of your body

We are always looking to the external for guidance, but instead we should look inside to honour where our body is in the now, in the present. If it is struggling with inflammation, if it has extra weight that it is wanting to shift, then be aware that your body is most likely already in a stressed state. It already may have excess cortisol. It may already be struggling to find balance within the autonomic nervous system. So then to put it into a spin class or aggressive boot camp style exercise regime will simply be the straw that breaks the camel's back. 

It will just cause more frustration, whereas if we listen to the body and if we honour it, then we will be more able to support it and to restore its balance. Start off small, start off with simple changes to how you eat, how you move, how you honour the body's need to unwind and de-stress, then you’ll have a partnership that will work to achieve your goals with grace and ease.


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