Are Your Workouts Making You Hungry and Fat?

Who said regular exercise is a green light to eating everything in sight? Several months ago I wrote an article about a client who would run to Starbucks for a latte and a muffin immediately following her workout, devour tablespoons of peanut butter at the bewitching hour, 4 pm and so on, and then cry about her defeated weight loss efforts. Well, HELLO out there! For starters a latte, muffin, ( at Starbucks, no less) and 3 table spoons of peanut butter can easily bust the daily calorie bank to a 700-800 calorie – wear- it- on- your – butt and thighs the next morning, nightmare!  Simply stated, working out does not equal eat whatever you want when you want it.  Unless of course you don’t care about human muffin tops, back fat, knee fat and a host of nasty health troubles. Though I do commend you for engaging in regular exercise let’s get to the real issue- the “hunger” problem that impedes your weight loss despite the workouts.

According to Wikipedia, hunger is a feeling experienced usually followed by a desire to eat.  The often unpleasant feeling originates in the hypothalamus and is released through receptors in the liver.  Although an average nourished individual can survive weeks without food intake, the sensation of hunger typically begins after a couple of hours without eating and is generally considered quite uncomfortable.  The sensation of hunger can often be alleviated  and even mitigated entirely with the consumption of food.

But, is it always food we are hungry for?  We are programmed to dash for the pantry or refrigerator the moment we feel a hunger pang. We never consider the possibility that we may really be hungry for companionship, quiet time, work or play, water or maybe exercise. The choices to stomp out “hunger” when we really don’t need food are boundless. Studies have shown that 20 minutes of moderate exercise, (walking, yoga, gardening, house work etc.), can eliminate those nagging hunger pangs completely. Try this: the next time you feel “hungry”  tell yourself it is your body’s desire for exercise, for fresh air or tension releasing yoga. See what happens!  Give yourself 20 minutes, a chance to change your behavior. Make a habit of it!

What about the increased feeling of hunger resulting from your workouts?  Are you indulging in second helpings because you think you might starve to death? If you are engaging in this fattening behavior on a regular basis, you will get fat on exercise. The woman who gets up in the morning, skips breakfast, heads to the gym or class for 60-90 minutes of exercise followed by a latte, muffin, tablespoons of peanut butter,  salad for lunch (without protein and whole grains) and a binge at 4pm is likely to be the same woman complaining that her exercise routine is making her fat.

The healthy decision to add exercise to your daily routine is a great one but if you are looking for weight loss, hoping to avoid miserable hunger pangs or simply staying at your present weight; proper food consumption is absolutely necessary. Let’s look at a typical healthy woman on a typical day of exercising and eating right.

1. Wake-up at least one hour before your scheduled workout so you have time to eat a small nourishing breakfast.  Complex carbohydrates are a must for lasting energy before exercise. Try a cup of oatmeal with skim or soy milk. A slice of whole grain toast with 1 tablespoon of almond butter or a cup of low fat yogurt with berries. Drink water! Never skip breakfast!

2. You have a 60-75 minute window following your workout to repair and restore muscle and keep your blood sugar level. This requires ample protein and some complex carbs.  If you allow your blood sugar to drop you will be exhausted and hungry, leaving you vulnerable to over eating and making poor food choices.  Remember, eat protein and some complex carbs. Try a whey or soy protein shake with berries, a yogurt with fruit, 1/2 turkey sandwich, or a protein/energy bar.

3. Eat small meals throughout the day instead of two or three large meals to avoid energy and hunger pitfalls.  Be sure to include lean protein and healthy carbs with each meal.  Drink plenty of water and indulge in watery fruits and vegetables to avoid dehydration. More often than not, fatigue and thirst are easily quenched with water instead of unnecessary calories.

4. Exercise will not make you fat but improper eating behavior will!  Take responsibility for your diet and stop blaming “exercise” for your weight gain!

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  1. I eat teeny meals all day long and try to eat nutritious meals, too. I am plagued with food allergies, though. UGH, so I am very limited; but I agree, Allison; never realized how ‘eater unfriendly’ muffins were until I spied the greasy bottom, one day, and found myself shocked and dismayed ( adore corn AND blueberry muffins.
    I am still searching for the spinach soup recipe someone mentioned on this site around two months ago.

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