Working Out and Getting Fatter? How to Eat to Lose Weight

We all know that to lose weight, you have to work out, right? But the New York Times recently reported on a new study showing that couch potatoes who started an exercise program got fitter, but fatter. So, should you throw your Nikes in the garbage? Absolutely not, and I’ll tell you why.

It’s an old story. Eating is so easy, and exercise is so hard. If you spend 45 minutes in the gym, you must have burned a thousand calories. And that tiny little sandwich you just got at Panera? That’s probably like two hundred calories, right? Try switching those amounts and you’d be a lot closer to the mark.

Additionally, most people give themselves a lot more diet leeway when they’re exercising. They feel like a little sweating entitles them to carte blanche when it comes time for their next meal. Most Americans also have diets that draw heavily from processed foods with tons of fillers and additives. Put all that together and you’ve got yourself a recipe for weight gain, even if you’re working out and becoming more fit.

The recent study, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, made no mention of what kind of diet the women in the study ate, or what their eating habits were, but the results are hard to dismiss. According to The New York Times, “Almost 70 percent of the women had added at least some fat mass during the program, and several had gained as much as 10 pounds, most of which was from fat, not added muscle.”

The truth is, tons of people aren’t eating well. Whether it’s fast food, snacks, pre-packaged frozen meals, or “diet” food, if you aren’t focusing on whole and responsibly farmed foods, you’re eating things that aren’t good for you. In his bestselling book “Clean“, Alejandro Junger, M.D. explains that “diets in America are substandard, lacking essential nutrients due to soil depletion, unnatural growing conditions, and global toxicity. Instead, Americans are eating too many processed foods loaded with chemicals, simple carbohydrates, and fats designed in laboratories.”

Ok, that sounds completely sucky, but what does that have to do with losing weight?

If you’re eating mostly processed foods with all that toxic junk in it, you’re not ever gonna feel that great. Also, because processed food is so nutrient deficient, you’ll end up eating more to feel satisfied. Dylan Schenk, certified nutritionist, explains, “Many processed foods have added sugar, salt, and gluten, which makes them higher in calories and fat, and harder to digest. Whole, unprocessed foods are lower in calories and higher in key nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. When you choose whole foods, you can actually eat more and be satiated.”

Additionally, eating crap can even cause you to give in to cravings more often and eat when you’re not hungry. Dr. Junger says “the standard American diet, with its quantities of refined grains and sugars and engineered, processed foods, has also created a roller-coaster ride of cravings and energy swings.”

Obviosuly, that’s all super terrible. So, how do we fix it? What kinds of food do we need to eat to lose weight? According to Dr. Junger, “one of the most powerful ways you can reduce your exposure to toxins and increase the nutrient content of your food is to spend more on foods with safer pedigrees – when possible, buy fresh foods from local sources.” In other words, go to the farmers market. Invest in a CSA share. Research the sources of your animal products. Buy organic. When you go to the grocery store, shop for food around the edges, not in the middle of the store.

If you visit your local farmers market to buy unprocessed ingredients, you can get food that’s delicious, nutrient dense, and even support your local economy! You can cook and eat and get full and feel fantastic. Then, take that additional energy and pour it into your workouts for even more caloric expenditure. And that’s how you lose weight and keep it off.

If you’re eating processed foods and can’t lose weight no matter how hard you try, change your diet. Eat clean, exercise, get happy, and watch your self bloom.

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Image: Sarah Olive Bergeson