Lifestyle

Wrong diet, too much exercise can sabotage weight loss | Gustafson

You think you do everything right. You stick to a lean diet and you go for runs and workouts in the gym. Still, the numbers on the scale won't budge. It's a frustrating experience many Americans go through during 'resolution season' when the damage from the holidays is supposed to get undone.

Weight loss strategies may not work if applied inappropriately

There can be multiple reasons for unsuccessful attempts at weight loss. Surprisingly, some of the most logical measures such as calorie restriction and fitness training can be among them. How is that possible?

"A healthy diet and consistent exercise are a safe bet at dropping pounds, yet research and evidence suggests that other factors may contribute to how easy it is for you to gain and lose weight," says Jenna Morris, a personal trainer and writer for Livestrong.com.

Of course, making changes to eating habits that resulted in weight gain may be necessary. But you should proceed with caution, warns Morris. "If you dip too far below your recommended daily intake, then you risk actually slowing your metabolism and making weight loss even more challenging."

If your weight loss efforts are too aggressive, you may deprive your body in unhealthy ways. A simultaneous reduction in calorie intake and increase in expenditure can cause you to burn valuable, metabolic-boosting muscle, which can make it harder to lose weight, warns Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist and contributor to CNNhealth.com.

Studies on the effects of different levels of exercising on weight loss have found that high-intensity training may not always produce the desired (or imagined) results. People who watch weight loss shows like "The Biggest Loser" on NBC often come to believe that exhausting workouts are the answer, when in fact moderate but consistent exercise routines have shown greater long-term success.

"People who exercise less may end up burning just enough calories to lose weight, but not enough to feel compelled to replace them, either by eating more or remain sedentary otherwise," said Dr. Mads Rosenkilde of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the lead researcher in one of the studies. "Those who exercise a lot (...) may feel more drained, which prompts them to compensate."

There also can be other factors involved such as interference from medications or medical conditions like an underactive thyroid gland or Cushing's syndrome. Or genetic components to weight and metabolism may play a role. There are hundreds of genes that are responsible for weight regulation, says Dr. Jampolis, many of which are designed for survival by preventing starvation. In our modern environment where food is plentiful, they still function, but often in the wrong way.

For healthy, lasting weight loss, she recommends introducing smaller changes over time. If you still can't lose weight, it might be better to just accept your current weight for the time being and focus on the prevention of more weight gain, which is for many a hard task in itself. But don't give up on your regular exercise routine, she advises. "It is much healthier to be fit and overweight than to be thin and inactive."

Timi Gustafson RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book "The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun," which is available on her blog, "Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D." (www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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