Workout complete. You killed it. You’re pouring with sweat, looking redder than an embarrassed lobster and beaming with accomplishment.
Hunger however, has hit. You’re starving. You’re famished. You’re five minutes away from gnawing off your trainer’s hand.
Head home, open the fridge and devour half its contents. But… you earned it right? You burned XX amounts of calories. You worked out for X hours. And it’s Friday. Before you know it, you’ve eaten half the fridge and you’re still hungry for more.
“Go for it,” The greedy demon on your shoulder whispers. “You earned this.”
Sound familiar? The post-exercise self-justified binge is far more common an issue than we realise. With terms such as ‘exercise calories’ and ‘calorie deficits’ being thrown around, is exercise being used as an excuse to go crazy in the kitchen?
Rather than burning our fat away… Can workouts actually make people fatter?
According to research, a staggering 62.2% of all British adults were obese in 2013. Even more surprising, is that although obesity has continued to rise over the years, gym memberships and exercise classes are also thriving. In fact, research published as recently as March 2015 stated that 31% of overweight (and 19% of obese) adults were exceeding the recommended activity levels. Yet we’re still getting fatter. So what gives?
The truth is, eating is as much as a mental process as it is physical. So if you’re binging on vast feasts after intense cardio, there’s multiple reasons behind it. For one, we may be using food as a ‘reward’ for our anaerobic efforts – especially those new to exercise. But using calories as a justification for gluttony will quickly encourage sinister eating disorders such as BED and bulimia.
Using food as a mechanism of emotional fulfilment will not only ruin your efforts in the gym, but also reinforce feelings of guilt, self-punishment and low self worth – potentially three of the main reasons for excessive exercise in the first place.
What’s more, we tend to overestimate how many calories our workouts have actually burned, staring at machine estimations or fancy iPhone apps for proof of our labour. Whilst research states that we should technically crave 3 additional calories for every 10 burned, on average, people consume 11 for every 10. That’s almost 4x more than we physically need.
Overeating is the body’s primitive response to starvation – but it’s important to slow down when eating and view your food as a meal rather than a plate of calories, nutrients and macros. Especially for those just starting out.
Although BED may be statistically more common than both HIV and breast cancer, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate both your exercise and dietary habits. If you’re still not seeing results or if you’re heading to bed with a bulging food baby, it’s time to be honest with yourself. Really honest. Keep a food diary, track what you’re eating and take note of when/where you’re entering ‘feast’ mode.
Choose to snack before your workout – a light meal will prevent your brain going into overdrive afterwards. What’s more, choose filling options rich in protein and satiating flavour. Never let yourself get too hungry – and remember, exercise is something to enjoy.
So don’t let your workout wear you out. Don’t fall into the exercise versus calories trap. Most importantly, everything’s cool in moderation. Just don’t go crazy.
Till next time – Soph. X