You’re a typical 50-something woman, fit, 70kg (154lbs 5oz), 30 per cent body fat and you go to the gym every day, running for 35 minutes on the treadmill at 10km/h. But, somehow you still can't lose weight. So what's going on here?
Many people seem to put in a lot effort to exercise but the weight does not seem to come off accordingly. Let’s explore why this may happen and what you can do about this.
How do you actually 'lose weight'?
Let's start by considering the body as a store of energy. The body can be divided into two components.
One is fat mass, and the rest of the body is called fat-free mass. It's mostly water, but there's also bone and muscle protein. Fat contains much more energy (and thus requires more energy to burn).
So in order to lose weight, one has to go into energy deficit: energy out must be greater than energy in. The amount of weight that one loses will depend on whether you are losing fat or fat-free mass.
It takes a much bigger energy deficit to lose a kilogram of fat than a kilogram of fat-free mass. We also need a bigger energy deficit per kilogram of weight loss if we are fatter to start with.
For most people, it takes an energy deficit of about 27-32 kJ to lose a gram of body weight.
If you run for 35 minutes at 10km/h on the treadmill, you will generate a deficit of about 1500kJ, so you will have lost only 50g (1lb 1oz) in a session. If you do this five times a week for a year, however, you will lose over 12kg (26lbs 7oz).
Except, of course, you don’t. After a year you’re still stuck on 70kg (154lbs 5oz). Why?
Eating more to compensate for exercise?
The first possibility is that you are eating more to compensate for the extra exercise. Your 35 minutes of treadmill running will be entirely undone by a glass and a half of merlot that evening.
There is some evidence people use food to reward themselves for exercising.
A recent analysis suggested women may be particularly prone to fuel up after exercise. So you may be unconsciously munching or drinking away that energy deficit.
A reduction in your resting metabolic rate?
One of the unfortunate side effects of losing weight is resting metabolic rate — the rate at which you use energy when you're sitting doing nothing — starts to fall (meaning you burn less energy).
A recent study of contestants on The Biggest Loser found their resting metabolic rate was depressed six years after having lost and regained most of the weight.
So you could, in principle, be exercising and not have changed your diet or activity pattern, and yet still not be losing weight because of your lower resting metabolic rate.
However, when weight is lost by exercising (as opposed to diet), resting metabolic rate is generally maintained.
So what’s happening?
In one simple answer, the input does not equal the output. When you planning your next meal, think about much time you need to spend on the treadmill to use up that energy. That ask yourself, is it worth it?
Originally published in The Daily Mail.
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