Everybody has heard the mantra that if you need or want to lose weight then you’ve got to cut calories while increasing exercise. Well, you all know how bogus I think the whole calorie counting crap is because not all calories are created equally. But the push for more exercise is also full of sh!t. There is no doubt that moving our bodies is important and being a couch potato isn’t the best thing in the world, but the blanket recommendation for everybody to increase their heart rate every day and run or bike across country to lose weight is ignorant at best and staggeringly dangerous at worst.
For years, I had noted the correlation between exercise and autism as well as infertility amongst clients, friends and acquaintances, but it wasn’t until I began to dig deeper into my own challenge with a whopping 20 lb weight gain during the two weeks following a traumatic car accident that I realized how horrible exercise can be on the human body. Before you jump down my throat and say that I must have been eating a ton of fat, cake or whatever, that’s not the case. During the two weeks following the accident I had virtually no appetite. In fact the few times that I ate, I only ate some cucumbers and drank water. That’s it. And if you think that I’m a lazy person who hates exercise, you’re partially right. I’ve never been one for exercise just for the sake of exercise. Yet, at the time of the accident, I was a belly and hula dancer. So I was getting plenty of exercise up until the day of the accident.
Unfortunately the accident sent my body into a tailspin. And during the two weeks immediately following I had absolutely no energy to do anything. However that still should not have equated to a 20 pound weight gain. Especially since the only thing that I was eating were cucumbers and the only thing that I was drinking was water.
Over the coming weeks, my body got weaker and weaker. I slipped into depression and felt horrible. I tried to exercise, but would feel completely exhausted every time I did. I tried things that to me were counterintuitive, but in an attempt to try anything, I ate a diet of only fruits and vegetables for three weeks to see if I would gain any positive results. It wasn’t until the very end of the three weeks that a few of the pounds started to come off. However as the weight began to come off, my body began to feel weaker and weaker. All I could do was sleep all day getting up for a few hours of the day to nibble on something and go straight back to bed.
The worst part was when I realized that exercise only made the condition worse. One weekend I attended a bellydancing workshop and within two days of eating a little more than tuna fish and drinking a few glasses of water, I had gained a whopping 6 pounds! And no, it wasn’t muscle! I also attended a Chinese dietetics class over the course of that year. The class took place in New York City which was over an hour from where I live. The class took place one weekend per month for 10 months. During the weekends when I had class, I did very little eating and drinking and lots and lots of walking to and from the train, during my lunch break, and at the end of the day when I would stay my friend’s house which entailed a 20 minute walk from the subway station. Once a month I could expect to gain at least 5 pounds during the weekend when I attended my Chinese dietetics class. Again, it wasn’t muscle, but water and bloating. If exercise and this kind of effect on my body, then I wanted no part of it.
It wasn’t until several years later at a nutrition conference that I learned not only was my condition very common, but that leading doctors, nutritionists and healers were all recommending the same method of healing this condition. Rest! As it turns out, when the body is under stress, particularly from trauma such as a car accident, it becomes inflamed. And any kind of exercise, even something as simple as walking, can cause the body to pack on the pounds even in the absence of food. This type of trauma can also come from things like the death of a loved one, not having enough access to sunlight or fresh food, living in an abusive household, and many other things that you probably would not have considered. But this revelation was not only a solution to my problem, it brought to light the problem that many of my exercise, fitness and dance friends were suffering from — pushed past a certain point, the body (in many people) will interpret exercise as punishment!
The adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, are responsible for managing stress. When they are not happy, they signal the kidneys to hold on to water and minerals in an attempt to protect the body. Even though we are often said the concept that exercise brings joy, to some people in certain conditions it is clear that exercise becomes a major stressor, triggering the adrenals to sense fear.
To correct this condition, it is necessary to supply the adrenals with their primary foods such as those which are high in vitamin C and natural salt, such as Celtic sea salt. In addition, it is necessary to allow them to relax. That includes getting lots of additional sleep. Going to bed before 11 o’clock at night and waking up after 9 AM is ideal. In addition, you would also want to make sure to get a nap in the afternoon, preferably in the sunshine so that your body is supplied with plenty of vitamin D, which is calming to the body. So break out the lounge chair!
Another thing to keep in mind is that drinking plain water can be very stressful to the body in this condition. The adrenal glands will be overstressed with trying to process too much water. So make sure to keep consumption on the low side and to primarily get your water from fresh foods during the recovery period.
So if you, like me, have had to endure the misery of gaining weight more fat than muscle by exercising, don’t let the fitness gurus beat you up and make you feel shameful about your condition! They are simply regurgitating a mantra that everyone has had rammed down their throats for the past 40 years. A mantra that describes an activity that only seems to be beneficial for about 1/3 of the population. In all likelihood, if you are in a state of adrenal fatigue or exhaustion, you do NOT need to exercise more. If anything, you need to exercise less. Much less. If you’ve had a sudden shock, you may need weeks or months to recover by allowing the adrenals to rest lots of times per day.
Take some time to get to know your body. What things feel comfortable? What makes you exhausted? And what makes you feel rejuvenated? Are you exercising 10 hours per week, but pudgier than people who only exercise 2 hours per week or less? No matter what it is, whenever you’re not getting the results you want, try going in the other direction. Just because everybody, even the experts, is saying there is one tried and true method to receive a particular outcome, that doesn’t mean that that method will work for you. Have you had a situation where exercise made your health worse or made you gain weight? I’d love to hear from you and all about your experiences. Please leave a comment below!
2 thoughts on “The Exercise and Weight Loss Myth”
This is really interesting as I wonder how it applies to people with chronic illness whose fight/flight response is overstimulating just trying to survive, being blamed and ostracized for being ill, and coping with pain and fatigue. Particularly I think about people with myalgic encephamylitis (spelling?) also called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome who literally get more sick or whose symptoms flare up if they exercise.
This was exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote this. Not sure why I hadn’t mentioned it. Probably because I go off on too many tangents. But even Dr. Wilson, who is an adrenal expert, discusses how people in severe adrenal fatigue like with ME, FM and CFS should not exercise aside from some gentle walking IF they feel up to it. Otherwise, it does more damage than benefit. Great question! Thanks!