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‘Crushing it’ at the Gym and not Losing Weight? Here’s Why?

If merely going to the gym was the solution to losing weight, how come we have more fitness apparel, more fitness companies and yet many more are still struggling to lose weight…


It was 7 years ago as a house officer (intern) at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), thanks to my consistent bad eating habit; a large doughnut and a bottle of soda for breakfast, a pack of biscuits (HobNobs) and juice during call hours – I gained weight overtime and decided to join a gym. I’m not sure this decision was influenced by the weight gain as much as it was influenced by the fact that the nearby gym I discovered was really clean, had a shower more like a jacuzzi (running water was a nightmare every now and then in LUTH) and good music too. It had a really nice ambience.

So off to the gym I went and I was consistent too. The trainers made me go so hard (I ended up with a swollen knee cap one of those days and a compulsory bed rest to go with it). Some of the routines really stretched me and I got compliments saying I was really flexible after a yoga class, which felt good *wink* but. . . . . I was not losing weight. Though a medical doctor, I did not know much about weight loss and nutrition so after three weeks of going hard at the gym I weighed myself and had gained weight. Say what!!!! All that energy I was putting in, how come? The trainer eloquently explained to me in his ‘Britmerican’ accent that I was building muscle hence the weight gain. According to him, in the first few weeks of intense physical activity (I’m sure he meant hard labour), you don’t lose weight instead you build muscle and then after a while you start losing weight. What did I know? I agreed with him.

Like me 7 years ago, I’m sure you can comfortably name 3 people you know who have pretty gym clothes/ensemble, never miss a day at the gym but have still not lost weight. So if going to the gym or exercising is very crucial for weight loss, how come most of the people in there are not losing weight?

To at least lose one pound a week (which for sustainable weight loss is the most ideal), you need to create a deficit of 500 calories everyday. That brings it up to 3500 calories at the end of the week.

The truth is:

  1. You can’t ‘out exercise’ your bad food choices. You see, if it was as easy as go to the gym and eat healthy, nobody will be struggling with their weight. Worse still, we have a limited capacity to control what goes out. Most experts/studies suggest you burn an average of 100 calories after running a mile and you burn more calories while working out if you are in a larger body. It is HARD to keep up with burning 500 calories every week.
  2. The concept of ‘calorie in calorie out’ should not be mistaken to mean that you can expend as much calories as you consume. You cannot burn in one day the 2500 calories or more you consume in a day. Also bear in mind that all calories are not equal.
  3. Weight loss is science and as such relies on a minimal calorie deficit to compound in weight loss over time. Emphasis on minimal because if you create a huge calorie deficit, your body quickly responds by slowing down metabolism which means you stop losing weight. It is even worse when you are ‘going hard’ in the gym and cruelly restricting calorie intake.
  4. After physical activity, most people really feel famished and may just need to drink water or snack on an equivalent of one boiled egg to feel better . However, our brains trick us into rewarding ourselves with food for a job well done so we eat even more consoling ourselves in the fact that we will ‘out exercise’/spend that tomorrow. Sadly, that is a failed formula. What happens is even though you are burning 100–150 calories daily during exercise, you are probably eating an extra 250 calories and not letting that calorie deficit take place.

Now we have established one basic fact — if your nutrition is not properly cared for, going hard at the gym CANNOT aid weight loss. Note: most people will lose weight by focusing on their nutrition without intense physical activity but no one can lose weight by focusing on intense physical activity alone.

Imagine having to take stock of everything you ate with the intent to burn it at the gym the next day. Take this image I found on Google for example, let’s say you’ve had your regular meal and for snack, you opted for tortillas, coke and oreos. What would your life look like at the gym tomorrow?

Photo Credit: Google

I so don’t want to be you.

Now think about it — Would you rather spend 3 hours in the gym or choose your foods wisely, eat mindfully and watch your portions? You Choose!

Need help figuring out how to win with portion control? Join my Facebook community — Healthy Yummy Mummies (trust me its not exclusive to mums). I kicked off a portion control training series this week and we would round it off over the weekend with a portion control challenge.

Remember, eating too much of any meal or snack even if you think its super-healthy can mean the difference between feeling great about your progress and being frustrated about all that effort you put in.

PS: I was at LUTH last year and at least 3 people walked up to me and said, ‘did you work here before?’ As soon as I reply ‘YES”. They narrow their eyes, give me a look over and say ‘but you were chubby then’. Lol! I guess that was a mild word for saying you were bigger/in a larger body/fatter then. I did take it as a compliment for a job well done and most importantly without a gym membership.

Originally published at medium.com

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