We all have tried to lose weight at some point in our lives. Whether it was a special event, a health issue, or just a wish to boost one’s self-confidence, weight loss seems to play a crucial part in the process. But the question is – How many of us have succeeded in accomplishing that? The sad truth is that very few of us have managed to shed the extra body fat off our bodies.
So now another question pops in our mind – What could you be doing wrong? Is it the food that you are eating? Or perhaps you are doing too little exercise? Maybe you are doing way too much exercise and getting too little rest whatsoever. In today’s article, we will discuss exactly that – The potential link between too much exercise and the unsuccessful weight loss results. Is improper exercise the enemy of your weight loss journey?
What is crucial for a healthy weight loss?
Weight loss does not have to be expensive or hard. However, most of us have the habit of losing too much time, money, and, unfortunately, our health, for weight loss. The truth is that you only need to keep an eye on two things, as simple or difficult they may seem – nutrition and physical activity (1, 2, 3).
Let’s focus on nutrition for a moment there. One of the biggest mistakes that often lead to a weight loss failure is eating too little or too much food. Weight loss requires a certain calorie deficit. This calorie deficit ranges anywhere between 200-400 calories depending on various factors such as your age, height, weight, physical activity, job, etc. By going into a calorie deficit, your body is burning more fat to keep its energy levels high. At the same time, you are not starving yourself and eating yummy, healthy food to fuel your body. This is where things can get complicated (4, 5, 6).
People often refer to the so-called “diet foods and shakes” to help them lose weight when in fact they need more clean protein, healthy fats, and fiber to keep them full and satisfied at the same time. Organizing your diet around these three nutrients will help you stay away from binge eating and empty calories which are the enemies of the healthy weight loss process.
Now let’s discuss the second part of the equation – exercise. If you want to lose weight, you need to move your body. If you want to maintain your health, you need to move your body. It is as simple as that. Any physical activity that makes you burn calories and releases those endorphins into your blood counts. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), every adult aged 18-64 years should do at least 150 minutes of any moderate-intensity physical activity a week (7). For some, this can be dancing or power yoga, for others it can be jogging or hitting the gym. There is no simple rule here – as long as it keeps you moving and happy, go for it!
Can too much exercise prevent weight loss?
We can only imagine how reading this headline makes you feel. But before you go ahead and make the conclusion that exercise is bad for you, take a breather. Exercise is essential for our health. It builds up muscle, trains your heart and lungs, maintains your hormone levels, and boosts your mood, among other beneficial effects that it provides (8, 9). So, no, exercise is not bad for you. But like with anything in life really, too much exercise can have a poor effect on both your health and weight loss results.
Speaking of your health, too much exercise puts you at the risk of injury. You may feel muscle and joint pain and aches that do not seem to go away. Overtraining may also decrease your immunity, exposing you to the risk of infections, especially those of the upper respiratory tract. Your mood may also suffer as well (10, 11). What once was able to put you in a great mood may now become an activity that you do not engage in lightly. You may start dreading the moment you enter that yoga class or the gym.
But we are here to focus on excessive exercise and how it can negatively impact your weight loss results. If you are reading this then you are probably wondering how is it possible that you have stopped losing weight, even though you are working out twice as hard as you did before.
Naturally, when we work out, we burn more calories as compared to when we are sedentary. The longer and/or harder you work out, the more calories you burn. But the truth is that there are limits to how many calories you can burn before your body starts to preserve what body fat and muscle it has. So, the short answer is – yes, too much exercise can prevent weight loss. But how exactly? It all has to do with a hormone called cortisol which you may know under the name of the stress-hormone.
Cortisol is famous for being a part of the “fight or flight” mechanism that activates upon a threat or a dangerous situation. When our body feels threatened, it starts releasing cortisol and adrenaline. Both of these hormones are important and essential. Once the threat passes, the adrenaline and cortisol levels drop back to normal. As a result, our appetite increases in order to replace the energy used up prior. In case of chronic stress, this can lead to weight gain and obesity (12). So how does exercise fit into this picture?
The link between exercise and cortisol
Many people exercise for the benefit of getting in a great mood. It all has to do with the power of exercise to release endorphins despite the fact that you are sweating and your muscles are aching. But like it or not, exercise still puts a great deal of stress on our body. This is, of course, not true for all types of exercise as different types cause different amounts of stress.
And where there is stress, there is cortisol. According to a 2008 study, moderate- and high-intensity exercise causes an increase in circulating cortisol levels. Unfortunately, our body is unable to recognize the difference between exercise stress and normal stress. Because of that, our body reacts to exercise stress the same way that it would when faced with an actual stressful or dangerous situation. And so, it starts releasing more adrenaline and cortisol (13).
The study also showed that these changes in the cortisol levels are acute, meaning that the levels go back to normal. With the proper amount of sleep, your cortisol levels are expected to go back to normal (14). This, however, will not happen if you work out too much, too often and do not get enough sleep. Doing a moderate- to high-intensity intensity exercise more than once a day or every day will result in persistent high cortisol levels.
In a state of high cortisol levels, your body is no longer able to metabolize body fat. The high cortisol levels will also stimulate your appetite, causing you to overeat fatty and sugary foods which will make weight loss even more difficult. The persistent high cortisol levels put you at risk of numerous health issues. Chronic stress has been linked to insomnia, obesity, diabetes type 2, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, etc. (15).
In women, the persistently high cortisol levels can result in an increase in their testosterone levels. This may lead to a hormone imbalance in which their progesterone and estrogen levels dropdown. A common result of this situation is a state called the female athlete triad. It is a combination of three symptoms as a side effect of the hormone imbalance which includes absent periods, lack of energy, and low bone density.
Ultimately, what is meant to make you stronger can actually do you harm so you need to be careful when trying to lose weight. This, however, does not mean that you should give up on your dream of losing weight and improving your health. That is never an option when it comes to your health. Exercise is essential for good mental and physical health. But you also need to remember that a well-rested body is just as important as a well-trained body.
Everyone’s goals are different, but also everyone’s body is different as well. You may need to work out more or less than the people that you see at the gym. That is why you should never compare to anyone other than yourself. Instead, you should adjust your workouts and fitness goals to your own body. Find the balance between your workout and your cortisol levels. Also, find the workout that you like the best. Whether it is dance, yoga, or cardio, do what makes you happy.
Another important segment is to never ignore your body’s call for recovery and rest. As a general rule, the recommended recovery time is around 24 hours. Yes, you read that right. Your muscles need at least 24 hours to properly rest and recover after a workout. And the more intense your workout is, the more rest you will need. This is a great guideline to use when planning out your rest days.
Plan out your recovery days the same way you plan out your workouts. But instead of laying on the couch the whole day, focus on doing a low-intensity activity. The list includes activities such as taking a walk or going to a vinyasa yoga class. You can also do a quick stretching session at home or go swimming. Anything that puts you in a relaxing mood is more than welcome. And never forget about the power of sleep. It is always important to get your recommended 7-9 hours of sleep. Restful sleep allows your muscles to recover and grow. It also prevents any hormonal disbalances and significantly reduces your high cortisol levels. Never underestimate the power of restful sleep.
Common mistakes that stop you from losing weight
Other than overtraining and having no recovery days, more factors can significantly impact your weight loss results as well. In the following, we will discuss three other common mistakes that will make weight loss a more difficult task to handle
You are afraid of lifting weights
Most people, especially women, are afraid of lifting weights. They are either afraid of getting injured or getting too muscular physique. That, however, is not true. We would say that the perfect formula for weight loss consists of doing both cardio and weight training. Doing cardio over and over again can do you harm, affecting your cortisol levels greatly. It can also be quite boring to do the same thing again and again.
Focus on doing a combination of high- and low-intensity cardio and weight training. That way, not only will you burn the extra body fat, but you will build strong muscle at the same time. So, you are getting the best of both worlds – losing weight and building your body and self-confidence with each passing session.
You do not track your calorie intake
Another great mistake is to not track your calorie intake. Calorie tracking can be somewhat harmful especially if you struggle with an eating disorder. But for anyone else, this is a great way to enhance your weight loss game especially when you have a certain weight loss goal in mind.
We discussed the importance of nutrition as a part of the weight loss process and this is something that you should never forget. Keeping track of your calorie intake can assure you that you are staying within your recommended calorie deficit. It can also help you identify any behavior that may lead to binge eating and overeating as well as the circumstances under which this keeps on happening.
You rely too much on “diet foods”
When we are trying to lose weight, many of us have the habit to stock on the so-called “diet foods” thinking that they are good for us. So, you may see people switching from original Coca-Cola to a diet one or using protein shakes as a meal replacement.
While some of these foods are good for you, most of them are still filled with way too many calories and too few nutrients for you to benefit from. On top of that, you often end up paying more for less. We would highly recommend focusing on eating as many whole foods as possible. Start meal planning and prepping to help you stay organized and on track with your nutrient intake.
As if weight loss was not hard enough, now you may be doing something wrong and preventing the results from ever happening. While being an essential part of the process, exercise, when done improperly or done too much, can cause adverse effects. Insomnia, weight gain, anxiety, and even injury can all possibly happen. If we learned anything today, it is that our bodies need their rest. Exercise can have great weight loss effects but only when done in a proper manner. So, take a breath and relax. Plan out your recovery days and see as your muscles grow even stronger than before and replace that annoying body fat around your belly and thighs.