Before I tell you the answer to the difference between exercise for weight loss and maintenance, consider what you believe each of these approaches to exercise should look like? How do you exercise to lose weight? What are you expecting you will have to do to keep it off?
Okay, so the difference between what you have to do to lose weight and what you have to do to maintain weight is….
There is absolutely no difference. In fact, if you have a ‘go for the gold’ mindset during exercise for losing weight, you are less likely to stay motivated when you get to your goal weight.
The thing about goals, even if they are ‘smart goals’ is they do nothing to prepare you to keep going once you achieve that goal.
Same thing with habits when you think habits are formed over time, like 21 days or 30 days, depending on who you listen to.
Weight loss is not like going for a gold medal. What you do to get there is exactly what you need to do to stay there.
The word exercise means “to practice”. What are you practicing when you are exercising for weight loss?
Ignoring your body’s pain and hunger signals or listening to and trusting your body?
One type of movement, like cardio, or a balance of strength, stamina and mobility?
Putting life on hold until you reach a goal or making self-care a part of your lifestyle?
Whether you are trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss, take a moment to check in on what you are practicing. If its not what you want for your future, start today by making adjustments so each day you are practicing what you want for your body, your health and your wellbeing.
I am one week out of surgery. If it wasn’t for the exercises, I would of had a much harder time. I had plenty of strength right after surgery. I am strong in places I didn’t realized would be. The exercises before surgery help me so much with getting up and doing other things in these early stages of recovery.
This is a patient, who was a regular exerciser when younger, had a major back injury from a work related accident struggled put that on hold for a long time. Living with pain for many years had taken its toll on him not only physically, but mentally too.
When he committed to having surgery, he committed to regular exercise. He purchased exercise bands so he could exercise at home. He started walking short walks, listening to his body and not pushing through pain. He added small stretching breaks to his day to keep his body feeling as good as possible each day.
Motivation was also an issue. The gym used to be motivating but now it was a stark reminder of how far he had come from his younger more fit self. It made him feel worse and that led to put off going. He knew he needed to move more but was afraid of making things worse and struggling with motivating to get started. Doing a little at a time, at home where he felt comfortable helped him get out of the overwhelming state of thinking about how far he was from his goal. Instead he focused on what he could do to feel his best each day. He also committed to regular exercise visits every few weeks to ensure he was staying on track.
This is the struggle for most people who are trying to lose a large amount of weight. You know you need to exercise but your body is limited. You cannot just jump back into what you used to do or what everyone else is doing. You are in a unique situation and need exercises that are meant for the state of your body and your mind right now. This is why we need exercise programs that are specifically for people who are preparing for weight loss surgery.
The problem is, the area of prehabilitation before weight loss surgery has very few studies and most bariatric surgery programs do not include professional clinical exercise guidance as part of the preparation.
The current research shows that exercising before weight loss surgery provides the benefits that make surgery and recovery easier for your body and improves your chances of success with weight loss surgery. The key is, only exercise can provide all these benefits.
One of the most important benefits unique to exercise is the improvements in muscle strength and the prevention of muscle and metabolism loss with weight loss. Muscle loss is one of the down sides of weight loss surgery. Rapid weight loss has been shown to lead to loss of muscle mass, which is one of the largest parts of your metabolism. In one study, people who didn’t exercise after surgery, 22% of their weight loss was muscle. No wonder it is so difficult to keep weight off! But studies show those who exercise greatly slow or even prevent this loss during weight loss.
The common thought is that people who are carrying extra weight tend to have more muscle mass, and this is true but they tend to have lower muscle strength. This is like having a really cool sportscar in your driveway but not being able to use it. Strength and muscle mass don’t go hand in hand because strength is the function of muscles. That depends on how you use them. Exercise, specifically strength training, tells your muscles how to function well and be strong. Only exercise can do this for you. Since functioning better in daily life is one of the main reasons for weight loss surgery, exercise is an essential part of success.
Studies support other benefits of exercising before weight loss surgery is:
better blood pressure control
better blood sugar control
decrease of inflammation
improvement of cardiovascular function (Ie; less shortness of breath, lower risk of heart attack, more energy)
If you want to lose weight to be healthy, isn’t it nice to know you can be healthier while losing weight!
Fitness is a measure of your function in daily life. The image above shows that people represented by the grey line, who didn’t exercise before or after surgery don’t improve their fitness levels after weight loss surgery. Having weight loss surgery is too much work to miss out on this key benefit of weight loss!
As shown in the top two lines in the chart, people who exercise improve fitness and thus are probably enjoying the most success from weight loss surgery. Notice though, the people who do best are the ones represented in the blue line. They are the ones who exercise before and after weight loss surgery.
Exercising before weight loss surgery is one of the best ways to prepare for surgery and up your odds of success after weight loss surgery. Exercising prepares your body by giving it the strength and stamina it needs for surgery and recovery. You are also preparing your mind for making exercise part of your lifestyle, so you stay strong and function better with every pound lost. If you feel stuck, unable to exercise, know that the problem is not your mind or your body. You simply need exercise that is specifically for you, someone who is preparing for weight loss surgery. When exercise addresses the unique needs of someone preparing for weight loss surgery, those physical and emotional struggles with exercise are much less.
Hopefully in the future more research will provide the incentive for more bariatric programs to make exercise a part of their program. UMass Memorial Weight Center is unique in their commitment to including clinical exercise support and guidance as part of the preparation for surgery and success after surgery. If you are preparing for weight loss surgery, make the commitment to include exercise as part of that preparation, seek guidance and support from professionals who understand your unique needs, and give yourself the best chance for success before and after surgery.
Getting results is the big motivator for exercise isn’t? When you see the scale, your measurements or clothing size go down, when you look better in the mirror it means exercise is working. Yet, the lack of these results means it’s not working and your motivation takes a nose dive.
We all want results. Its the whole reason we are motivated to do anything. The more instant and the more tangible, the more your brain lights up. But exercise results are not instant. The scale, measuring tape, and clothing size makes them feel tangible. But, have you ever stopped to think about who decided those are the results of exercise?
We live in a culture where being fit is a look. We measure exercise by the calories it burns or the steps you get (which is another way of measuring calories burned). We have been led to believe that the feeling of the burn in muscles is your body burning off fat. This has led to a whole list of exercises and machines for the sole purpose of burning fat off certain areas of your body so you can sculpt it into the shape you want.
Along the same lines of melting fat, sweat has come to mean a ‘good workout’. It has been assumed that if you are sweating you are burning more fat, melting it off your body.
Pain has also been associated with progress. The ‘no pain no gain’ mantra that was invented to tell athletes pain is just a side effect of gaining a competitive edge has morphed to mean that you need to feel pain to make progress.
So we are inundated with media images of people doing exercises and looking ‘toned’, sweating and looking trim and in pain and looking fit. These images trick our brain into believing that our body can be molded, trimmed and sculpted if you are just dedicated and tough enough to push your body to exercise in this way.
Keep in mind, the whole premise of marketing is to make you believe you are not enough. The way the body changes slowly is just not marketable. The facts about how you really cannot choose where your body burns fat is also not going to make anyone millions of dollars.
With this awareness, you can look at everything you see in the media and question if its marketing science or body science.
The fact is exercising a certain area will not make you lose fat in that area of your body. That means toning is a term that is marketing based not science based. There are only a handful of scientific evidence that you MIGHT be able to change the look of your skin through strength training. Cardio machines that ‘work’ certain areas of your body and ‘toning’ exercises’ made to give you long lean muscles have no scientific basis.
Another fact is that more is not better. Exercise does not need to be high intensity for weight loss. Soreness does not mean you are making progress, it means you have slowed progress in getting stronger. High intensity and muscle soreness make more work for your body to heal and repair. More than is needed for health and for weight loss.
Exercise works best when you do it consistently. Your brain is hardwired to avoid what makes you feel worse. If high intensity exercise leaves you feeling physically or mentally worse, it will not work for lasting weight loss. Real results come from consistency not intensity.
The results you really want from exercise for weight loss is to feel and function better. What good would it be if you got to a goal weight but felt worse and could not do all the great things you wanted to do? The purpose of exercise is to make you feel better now, and function your best in the future. Those are the real results from exercise, based on body science.
Take a moment to question what you consider results from exercise. Define your own results based on how you want to feel and what you want to be able to do. Any time you see results in the media and are tempted to do an exercise that looks hard and painful but that promises to change the look of your body, question the motive. The job of marketing is to tell you all the ways you are not enough so you have to keep coming back for more, never feeling satisfied with how you look. The job of exercise is to remind you that you ARE in fact enough, no matter your size, so you want to keep coming back for more because it makes you feel better every time.
Its a complicated world out there when you are trying to lose weight. Here are three simple truths about exercising for weight loss that can save you some time, energy and stress.
#1: What you do to lose weight is the same for maintaining weight
Weight loss is not the kind of goal you achieve and forget about. Everything you do to lose weight needs to be sustainable to keep that weight off. Before you start an exercise plan, consider how sustainable it is for both your body and your lifestyle. For example, if you are doing a high intensity exercise program to get weight off, ask yourself if you want to do that for your whole life. HIIT training may ‘work’ to burn more calories, but if its not something you want to keep doing, it won’t really work.
#2: If it feels good now, it is good for weight loss
No matter what anyone tells you, even if they are a top trainer or have years of experience working with people in weight loss (myself included), if it does not leave you feeling better now, it will not lead to long term results. Why? because anything that makes you feel worse, sets up a habit to avoid it in the future. When exercise makes you feel better now, your brain wants you to repeat it.
The thing is, only you know how it feels for your physically and emotionally. Exercise that leaves you in more pain, or without enough time to do the things you need to do, or feeling shame about your body or yourself, will keep you struggling to stay motivated. It does not matter how many calories you burn, or how much weight you lose. The way exercise is most helpful for weight loss success is when its sustainable. Listen to your body and exercise in the way that leaves you feeling better physically and mentally and emotionally right away, and your weight loss is much more likely to stick.
#3: There is no one best type of exercise; your body needs a balance of all three
Every physical activity we need and want to do requires a combination of strength, stamina and mobility. If you want to function your best at every stage of weight loss and when you get to a goal weight, your body needs a balance of each of these abilities. That means no one type of exercise is better than the other. Stretching, cardio and strength all help your body feel and function well. Strike a balance between these three types of exercise each week and you are helping your body have the ability to move with more ease at every stage of weight loss.
Test this out for yourself. Look back at past exercise attempts and see what stuck and what faded away. See if these are true for you when it comes to just not losing weight, but keeping it off.
This is the most wonderful time of the year to be an exercise physiologist! Everyone I talk to is more motivated to exercise now that the weather is better!
In this lovely time of year, you have two choices with how you think about exercising that can make all the difference in your future springtime enjoyment:
Enjoy spring and summer and don’t think about winter. Hopefully next winter will be better…
Enjoy spring and learn from what you are noticing right now to help you become a self-motivated all season exerciser
Option number two may seem like more work, but when you think about, its much less work than option number one. The discomfort of being in a body that is not ready for the spring activities you want and need to do takes a lot of mental and physical work. The guilt of not exercising all winter when you know you should is a big energy drain too!
Let’s make option number two easier. Take a few minutes to go through these three steps. Writing them down increases your chances of success:
Write down what you notice about what your body lost this winter, based on how you feel now. Do you wish you had more strength? Stamina? Mobility? If you feel great and ready for spring, write down what you did that helped you keep your strength stamina and mobility through the winter.
Write down what you want to enjoy now that is challenging. If you are able to enjoy what you want, write down what worked to keep you ready for that activity all winter.
Brainstorm all the things you are thinking you could have/should have done this winter for exercise. If you did exercise all winter, write down what kept you active.
Tuck this away in your September calendar. In the fall you will be so glad you have a personalized guide to get you started with a motivating plan for exercising through the winter. I will remind you to look at this list when the weather starts getting colder and the days get shorter again.
Now, let’s get out there and enjoy this beautiful weather!