The ice has finally melted and colorful foliage has begun peeking through the thawing earth. Spring has sprung! Along with the melting of the winter snow, the warmer weather is motivation to start melting away any excess winter weight. Perhaps you are starting fresh with a new fitness routine or ramping up exercise by putting a spring race on the calendar, all with the hopes of lightening up.

However, spring marks a time when countless clients come to me frustrated that their increased exercise has led to weight GAIN!  How could an increase in exercise lead to this? This month’s blog addresses potential exercise “pitfalls” as well as strategies to get your eating and exercise habits in sync so that you can hit the ground running in the direction of your goals this spring!

4 Potential Exercise Pitfalls:

1)    Eating is Easy, Exercise is LESS Easy. Most people would agree, it is “easier” to eat 100 calories than burn 100 calories through exercise! 100 calories adds up quickly when we grab a handful of M&M’s from the secretary’s candy bowl or finish the French fries off our child’s plate compared to the work it takes to burn 100 calories in a 30-minute gym workout.

2)    Exercise-Induced Appetite.  For many, exercise will naturally increase your appetite to eat. Whether or not we are aware of this appetite surge, we often respond by serving ourselves more, or grabbing an additional snack. Unfortunately, these small increases in food intake undo the calorie deficit we aimed to create.

3)    Over-Estimated Exercise.  Don’t let them fool you, that elliptical or on-line exercise calorie calculator almost always overestimates how many calories you burn.  These tools typically do not obtain enough personalized information to give you an accurate calorie count.  Even though more sophisticated tools such as Garmin or Polar watches are more precise, they still are likely to overestimate calories burned.

4)    Entitlement.  We’ve all said something of the following to ourselves at one time or another: “I can splurge on X because I trained for X minutes today.”

Making the Most of Your Exercise

1)    Do Exercise, Don’t Diet.  Exercising is a great way to lose weight because it doesn’t slow your metabolism like cutting calories does.  If you commit to a healthy balanced diet or make small calories cuts such as 100-200 calories per day, the weight should begin to come off.  Significant calorie cutting has been shown to slow metabolism and therefore makes it both hard to lose and keep weight off.

2)    Incorporate Interval Training. Interval training is a type of training that integrates short bursts of increased intensity into your workout.  As an example, instead of walking at a constant speed of 3.5 mph on the treadmill for 4 miles, incorporate short bursts of jogging or faster walking at 5.0 mph every 5 minutes or so.  Interval bursts can be incorporated into any type of exercise and will cause you to burn more calories and become stronger.

3)    Re-direct Your Focus: If you find yourself slaving over the elliptical machine or dragging yourself to Zumba class just for the sake of burning calories, pick another mode of exercise.   Commit to physical activity that you will enjoy and look forward to doing.  Choose to train for an event with a meaningful cause to you, such a 10K race, and surround yourself with others who enjoy and share similar goals.

4)    Move Beyond the Numbers. Focus on other benefits of exercise beyond calories or your weight on the scale.  Monitor body fat and muscle mass changes by having your body composition tested.  Commend yourself on the new definition you notice in your arms, or the smaller pant size you fit into.  Enjoy increased energy and/or better sleep. These are all worthy benefits of a commitment to being more active.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.