Kym at the Gym: Episode Two
Kym at the gym back again! In this episode I want to talk about exercise, particularly weight baring exercises. Yes, I will be talking about weight loss however that is only one small fraction of the benefits to daily exercise and in fact, I don’t even care to correlate exercise to weight loss at all. Even though weight loss is a goal many people have I believe we have been led astray when it comes to thinking we need to lose weight, and how, to be healthy or be accepted but also that arguably any “extra” weight, or as I like to say, weight that prevents you from living your life to the fullest, is a symptom of an emotional or mental cause. Treat the cause and the symptoms will eventually remedy themselves.
Before I get into the nitty gritty let me set some parameters around this as there is quite a lot of confusion, judgement and misinformation out there. Yes, there are some guidelines out there for people to consider when looking at their health, and weight is one of them. Not the only one and definitely not the most important but it can be considered one. However, different bodies can handle different amounts and types of weight while still being perfectly healthy. So, for my work I determine what is a healthy amount of weight by this simple rule. Do you carry weight that gets in the way of you living your life to the fullest? For some that could mean weight that is causing health problems, for others it could mean not having enough weight (strength) to pick up their kids or grandkids without pain. This determination though is for no one else to decide other than you and your doctor. Everyone else can piss off! Which brings me to social media, and bullying.
Go look at any ‘plus-size’ model on Instagram and there will be at least one person per post who will tell the beautiful model that they’re promoting obesity simply by being themselves on a public platform. How dare they! In fact, look at just about any post and there is someone in the comments critiquing that person’s body for being too big, too small, too pretty, not pretty enough or whatever else keyboard warriors think is acceptable to post. Here’s my opinion, which I’m assuming you’re at least curious about as you’re reading my blog. Yes, there are some health issues to be concerned about if a person carries too much fat mass (FOR THEM) particularly around their internal organs. Things like heart disease, joint pain, diabetes are the main ones that get thrown around. The things that don’t get mentioned as much are things like depression, anxiety, fatigue and panic disorders. These are the ones though are most likely the cause of this kind of weight issue as they prevent people from being able to consistently work out or eat balanced. So, what came first the chicken or the egg? (Trigger warning: a run on sentence is about to happen) Was someone perfectly healthy with simply a little more weight than the “average”, whatever that means, when they were growing up and because other people thought it was their place to comment this person started into the cycle of crash/fad dieting and/or extreme cardio in order to fit these completely arbitrary ideals and their perfectly designed body reacted like it should to protect itself so they started yo-yoing to higher and higher weights, then because people are shit and kept commenting this person then developed depression, anxiety and body dysmorphia to the point where their weight did become unhealthy for them and now they’re stuck in between a rock and hard place with nowhere to go? Or was that person just “lazy” with no “will power” and promoting obesity? My opinion, that person developed an eating disorder because other people couldn’t keep their ignorant, judgmental comments to themselves. If we are constantly being told in various ways that if we don’t have the perfect body that we are lazy, we start to believe that about ourselves. It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Okay, run on sentence and rant over.
This is where muscle mass plays a role in not only recovery but also in maintaining a healthy weight, for you, and a healthy frame of mind. Speaking from my own experience with disordered thinking/eating I have felt first hand the mental change that happens when one starts to aim for nothing more than to be strong. If I could change one small thing about our ideas on how to get healthy it would be the automatic assumption that the first step is always weight loss. Even for people whose extra weight is preventing them from living their life I still propose that the focus should be on getting stronger more than merely losing weight. I’m an optimistic person by nature but I also find that the subconscious body works in positives. Tell someone they can’t have something, even if they didn’t really want it to begin with, and suddenly they believe they really want it. Try to take away weight from the body and the subconscious will want it back! It will slow metabolism and alter hormones to try and get back to that set point, essentially throwing a temper tantrum. Even years after weight loss has occurred. So how do we combat this? Well, how to lose weight is still simple, not easy but simple. A slight caloric deficit with daily exercise, preferably something that you find enjoyable in some way, and patience. Once you’ve lost weight the strategy needs to change. I believe the maintenance to any weight loss is to focus on building muscle. This might result in gaining weight back, but the weight would be mostly muscle mass not all fat mass. Let me explain a bit more.
Metabolism and hormones are two words that are thrown around a lot! Be it pills that “rev up your metabolism” or a special diet to “fix your hormones” there is a lot to fish through. The thing is though, if you really needed something like this to be healthy, it wouldn’t need to be advertised! Your metabolism for example, is just a name for all the chemical reactions that occur in the body. Thinking a thought is part of your metabolism and there are things that slow it down and speed it up throughout your day. Any kind of activity will speed up your metabolism, momentarily. Strength training will speed it up for a longer period after you’ve stopped working out than cardio, though both are good for lots of other reasons. Resting will slow it down, again, momentarily and things like meditation or stretching are ways to boost mood stabilizing hormones while also giving the body rest. Hormones are also a part of this, our signal makers if you will. We have hormones that spike when our bodies need food, or rest, or for women when it’s time to shed uterine lining. Now things get tricky when we look at someone’s set point. What we are seeing is that in people who’ve lost weight, mostly rather quickly and using extreme methods but also in other individuals who used more moderate weight loss methods, is that the metabolism including our “hunger hormones” aren’t finding a new set point even years later. Now, I’m no expert but a theme I see when I read these studies is not only the method of weight loss but also the approach to maintenance. Take the biggest loser studies, that competition in general is a bit of mess in that people were put on very strict diets with insane amounts of exercise. None of which could be maintained after the show by anyone I know including myself, and I live in a gym! Baring special populations who need to lose weight fast for medical reasons, most people should aim for one half to one-pound weight loss per week. No matter how much you think you need to lose.
Now you might lose more, you might lose less, you might stay the same weight for a while, but your jeans feel looser. Your focus should remain on eating in a slight caloric deficit while getting all your servings of fruits and veggies with a moderate amount of protein. Then finding daily activity! For weight loss that is it! Then the focus needs to shift on the exercise portion and focus on getting stronger. I’ll dig more into these concepts in another post because I want to get in to the mental health benefits of exercise. Mainly, endorphins!
Remember when we talked about hormones? Well endorphins are a kind of hormone that do a lot for us and exercise is one way to get a boost of endorphins. The thing I get out of lifting, is that my body learns to deal with stress. Exercise, however good for us, is a type of stress. Which is why it’s not always a good idea to just push through a workout when you’re getting sick or emotionally tired. There is lots of ways to get daily activity and sometimes it’s best to forgo the lifting for something lighter in impact. However, when you do lift and lift consistently your body learns it’s limits. You also learn that it’s not only a good thing to fail sometimes but how to fail safely. You learn your body and over time you learn how to better navigate not only stress but also times of depression and anxiety. I’m in no way saying you should just dump any medication you’re on, please discuss your options with your doctor first. What I am saying is that the more you teach your body that “negative” feelings and stress are normal parts of life that you are so perfectly designed to handle, in tandem with what your doctor has you doing, the more you are able to handle life’s ups and downs and the less you will be to feel the need to over eat or participate in another kind of vice.
I see this especially in working with chronic pain clients. The first question I ask all my clients and classes is “How is your body feeling today?”. I get a lot of information from this question, mainly in how they answer. Their body language can tell me how they’re feeling and from that I can gage their pain level. It’s not an exact science but 9 times out of 10 I’m spot on. They always respond in amusement asking how I knew. I respond simply with the question “Where do you think your emotions live?”. I believe they live in our tissues our guts and our spine. Why is back pain so closely related to depression? Why is emotional eating so closely tied to gut bacteria? These are the places our issues live. My point with all this is that nutrition, movement and mindfulness walk together in building a healthy body and more importantly a healthy life. So, don’t think the only way to be happy is to try and run yourself down in the gym or cut out an entire macronutrient/food group. In this race, slow and steady win every single time! So be happy, be healthy!