Back when I was fresh out of grad school and my interest in health and wellness was starting to ramp up, I had a coworker who often used the phrase “you can’t outwork a bad diet.” At the time, I agreed with her, but now many years later, I can’t think of anything that makes more sense.
How many times have you worked your butt off in the gym for weeks, or months, only to see the scale barely move? When I was a college athlete, I was working out A LOT, but I weighed significantly more then than I do now. It wasn’t until I changed how I ate that I actually noticed a difference. We’re told over and over that as a country, our problems with obesity are caused by our laziness and lack of exercise. We’ve been engrained with this idea that a healthy weight is all about calories in vs. calories out-if you exercise enough and eat fewer calories, you’ll lose weight.
There’s a documentary I really like (Fed Up- it’s about sugar- if you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend it! It’s free on Youtube) that follows a few children who are overweight. Throughout the film, you see them exercising, and exercising, and getting frustrated because they aren’t seeing any changes in their weight. You also get to see what they eat. It becomes clear throughout the documentary that a calorie isn’t a calorie. My husband and I argue about this concept a lot, because, how can a calorie not be a calorie? I get it. Scientifically, calories are the same, but, when you consume a calorie, the way it affects your body is not always the same. 100 calories of candy is not the same as 100 calories of broccoli.
The human body is a HIGHLY complex biochemical system that has elaborate processes to regulate energy balance. Different foods go through different metabolic pathways, some of which are more efficient than others. Also, the foods we eat have a major impact on our hormones and other factors that influence when, what, and how much we eat.
One example of how different foods are metabolized differently is the glycemic index. When you consume 100 calories of soda, the sugar in that soda is absorbed into your bloodstream pretty much instantly, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar. On the other hand, when you consume 100 calories of almonds, because of its lower sugar and high fiber content, your body breaks it down slowly, and your blood sugar barely changes. When you eat a food that causes a rapid increase in blood sugar, it tends to lead to a crash in blood sugar later, causing you to crave another high sugar food to bring your blood sugar levels back up again.
The glycemic index is just one of many processes in your body that affect how your food is digested and how it affects your weight, your health, your mood, and more. Our bodies were created to consume real, whole foods, so it’s no wonder that eating highly processed food-like substances makes it harder for us to maintain a healthy weight.
Don’t get me wrong, exercise is important. I work out most days of the week, and we should be moving our bodies and getting our heart rate up on a regular, consistent basis. There are MANY benefits to regular exercise, including stress relief, decreased risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, better sleep, decreased risk of osteoporosis, and more- but, like I said before, you can’t outwork a bad diet. The benefits of exercise are stifled if you’re refueling with chips and pizza, and amplified if you’re eating mostly real, whole foods.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make changes to your diet and exercise routine, visit bettertodayhealth.org to see how health coaching can help!