Thursday, September 17, 2015

Exercise Calories: To Eat or Not To Eat

I know that there is a little bit of a debate about whether or not you should eat your exercise calories.  For the longest time I ate most if not all of my exercise calories every day I exercised.  For the longest time it didn’t impact how I lost weight, at least as far as I could tell.  I would still lose weight, an average of a pound or two a week.  A couple months ago, I tried to start a new effort to relose the last 20 pounds to get back down to my goal weight that I had originally reached 2 years ago. 

When I started this most recent effort to get back down to my goal weight, things went good for a couple weeks, then something that has happened so many times to me in the past started happening again.  I was gaining weight.  1 pound a week.  1.5 pounds a week.  I was at my wit’s end and had a mini-meltdown.  That’s when I had a one-on-one conversation with the leader of the weight loss support group I’m a member of on Facebook.  The main thing we talked about were my eating habits.

The main decisions that were made in that conversation were that I would eat 1300-ish (or less) calories per day for my calorie allowance and that I would NOT eat any of my exercise calories anymore. 

Now, I do have my MyFitnessPal calorie allowance set to 1550 because of the occasional splurge day.  But I’ve only had one splurge day since starting this new way of eating.  Most days, though, are right at 1300 or less.  I try to stay between 1200 and 1300, but some days I do eat as few as 1100 calories. 

In the spirit of entering this online debate, I’ve looked up some online articles concerning this topic. 

From the MyFitnessPal blog, I found this quote: “It’s easy, and fairly common to overestimate calorie burn (both from everyday activity and from exercise) and underestimate calorie consumption. By going out of your way to eat back every calorie you expend during exercise, you may unintentionally undermine your efforts to lose or maintain your weight.”  This is so very true.  Unless you’re hooked up to one of those super expensive machines at a fancy university, there is really no way to accurately measure how many calories you’re ACTUALLY burning during your exercise.  This right here is one reason that when I started using the FitBit Surge and it said I was burning far less calories than my other activity trackers said I would burn during the same activity, I didn’t mind one bit.  And now that I’m no longer eating my exercise calories, I actually don’t care how many calories I do or don’t burn during my workouts.  The amount of stress that has been lifted from my shoulders is amazing…and all just because I don’t eat my exercise calories anymore!

I found this quote on a forum for weight loss:  “I didn’t see the point in working so hard and not being rewarded by weight loss.”  In my current point of view, I cannot agree more with this statement.  Weight loss is the reward for all your hard work.  Weight loss and fitness gained. 

For the past 5 weeks of not eating my exercise calories at all (not even a little bit…except for that one splurge day), I have lost AT LEAST 2.5 pounds every week, except for last week.  Last week I stayed the same.  But, I did lost .1% of body fat which basically translates to about .17 lb of fat traded for muscle.  Not much, but a victory and success nonetheless.  I have eaten 1300-ish or less calories every single day for the past 5 weeks (except for the splurge day) and I have not once felt overwhelmingly hungry.  I’ve never felt starving.  I have felt “kinda hungry” and when that happens I just chug some water and/or go for a walk.  In the past, neither one of these “tricks of the trade” ever worked for me.  For some reason, now they do!  I couldn’t be happier that they are working for me now.

Back when I first started trying to lose weight, I put myself on a 1200 calorie a day diet and exercised an average of 30-60 minutes every day with workout DVDs.  I lost 24 pounds in 2 months.  But then the wheels fell off my cart and I gained it all back in 3 weeks.  Why do I think this time around is different for me?  Because I have put my foot down and said “enough is enough.  I’m done.”  Done with what?  Done with the yo-yo effect.  This is it.  I will succeed this time. 

Don’t confuse all this recent success with controlling my urges to binge eat with me thinking that my eating disorder is gone or no longer an issue.  On the contrary.  An eating disorder is considered a mental illness according to the medical community.  Mental illnesses don’t disappear or go away, BUT they CAN be managed.  I think part of the reason I have been successful in controlling my urges lately is because I have been doing weekly therapy sessions.  And of course, part of the reason is because I put my foot down and said I was done and that this would be the last time and that I would succeed.  Hopefully me putting that little tidbit out there doesn’t come back to bite me in the bum, but I feel it’s important to shine a light on the power of the mind.  Mind over matter.  It’s totally real. 

I will have to struggle with my eating disorder for the rest of my life, but like alcoholism, it can be controlled.  Unlike alcoholism, I cannot just completely abstain from my addiction, that which feeds my eating disorder (pun not intended…ha!).  I have to work hard to continue to keep my view of food as a fuel for my body.  I have to continue to find things other than food to reward myself with when I do good or when I hit a goal.  I’m not saying I can never have a cheeseburger or pizza or birthday cake or cheesecake ever again.  I can have it whenever I want.  I could go today and get some if I wanted.  But, 1) I don’t want it and 2) if I did want it, I would just eat a small amount and either share the rest with whoever I was eating with or set aside the rest for later.

I saw an ad for Carl’s Jr and their burger that has fried onion rings on it.  2 months ago my mouth would have been watering.  But now?  Now it just looks disgusting.  I want to keep that view. 

So, I got a little bit off topic there.  This post was about whether or not to eat your exercise calories.  For me, it is working to not eat my exercise calories.  It is working for me to believe that the so-called “starvation mode” is a myth and only actually happens when you get below about 5% body fat and actually ARE starving.  But YOU do what works for YOU.  If eating your exercise calories works for you and doesn’t impact your weight loss and you’re still losing a pound or two a week, then great!  Keep it up!  Ultimately, it is a personal decision and I urge you to do some poking around on the internet and see both sides of the argument about why you should or why you shouldn’t eat those calories back.

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