Have you ever heard the saying that weight loss happens 20% in the gym and 80% in the kitchen? We happen to agree. However this approach is still a bit too simplistic.
Within your body, for every internal and external change, there is a complex hormonal balance that manages everything from your mood to your temperature. There are ways of influencing the chemicals in your body to enhance or sabotage your weight loss goals.
In regards to fat loss, the stress hormone cortisol encourages the body to store fat, and can be elevated when you exercise too hard or too long(1)! In fact, chronic stress (such as what you experience at work) can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels(2), which can not only contribute to weight gain, but interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, and contribute to heart disease, cholesterol, and depression(3). Exercise at 80% or higher has been shown to increase cortisol levels, and therefore for some people (like the chronically stressed) will benefit from moderate exercise rather than hard exercise. In this way, there’s no “one size fits all” strategy to weight loss! With people with elevated cortisol, they will be more successful in their weight loss goals if you can teach them to RELAX – not hammer them, thereby compounding the problem.
Obese people have a whole range of dysfunctional hormonal issues, which can make weight loss near impossible without expert help. Leptin, for example, controls a persons appetite (6). Even though Leptin is produced by fat cells, and therefore obese people have higher levels, they are also less sensitive. Can you imagine trying not to eat if you had no inner sign that it was time to stop? Can you imagine being hungry all the time, even when you’re full? Obese people also generally have lower Growth Hormone levels, one of the hormones responsible for muscle gain (and higher metabolism that results from higher muscle mass).
These hormonal issues must be identified by a professional if we are going to set our client’s up for success in the gym.
In addition, i am sure you’ve considered “motivation” – the stereotype is that some people have it, and some people don’t. On this front we disagree. Motivation seems to us like a mythical beast. What we see daily is people who have healthy habits, and those that struggle to break unhealthy habits. A habit is formed by a repeated “cue, routine, reward” cycle; for example, eat dinner, clean teeth, feel refreshed. Once a habit is formed the cycle retreats deep in to the Basal Ganglia, where it needs little to no brain activity to enact(4). Self destructive habits have to be acknowledged, and worked on from a deeper level than with “self control” and “motivation”. Conversely, those with healthy habits from childhood will enact those routines with less effort that those who have to lay new foundations (5).
This is why a gym is not a “one stop shop”, however diet and exercise can neutralise many of these issues. Yoga can reduce cortisol, and has been shown to be equally beneficial to exercise in regards to improving and maintaining mental and physical health(7), resistance training can increase Growth Hormone(8), leptin sensitivity can be improved with diet changes (9), and a new habit can be formed through repetition and reward.
Our programs for our clients must be individual, and recognise that no one is inherently “lazy” or doing something wrong. For some people, it will be an uphill battle, which is not as simplistic as eat well and go to the gym. I challenge you to refrain from judging the next obese person you see, and have compassion for the struggle of life that they endure on a daily basis. Can you imagine back-squatting 100kg every time you get out of the car or up from the table? Can you imagine you 10km walk with a 80kg weight vest on? How would your feet, knees, and back feel?
So yes, weight loss happens both in the kitchen and in the gym, but it happens within the body first and foremost.
- The Power Of Habit, Charles Duhigg, 2013