For many people, the idea of having to exercise – of forcing themselves to go to a large impersonal gym at some crazy hour of the morning or making themselves pound the streets late at night or spend hours on that treadmill – puts them completely off the idea of trying to lose weight.
For others, its the idea of walking into a gym full of beautiful people in their gym attire is so intimidating that it makes them give up the whole idea of losing weight before they even start. Or perhaps, you are someone that cannot exercise because of a disability or an injury. Or maybe you’re really busy and can’t seem to fit it in right now..
Well, I have good news for you! On Atkins you can lose weight without exercising! And you can do it in the comfort of your own home – or your own kitchen to be precise! No spandex or gym membership required and no need for expensive new runners!
It varies for everyone, but you can lose up to a stone in two weeks purely by following the Induction Phase of Atkins. You did read that correctly – you can lose weight by changing your eating habits alone – without exercise! In fact, if you have not done any exercise in a while, Atkins recommends that you do not start a new or more intense exercise program at the same time as you start the diet. So there goes the guilt about not starting a frenetic gym routine the day you embark on your healthier lifestyle – it is actually recommended that you don’t!
All joking aside, there are a few practical reasons for not starting an exercise regime when you start on Atkins. For a start, you are about to change your eating habits for life. While this is not as daunting as it sounds – see this post on tips on how to get started – it is going to take some time and effort at the beginning. You will need to spend some time planning meals, making sure you do your food shopping in advance and getting used to the amount of carbohydrates in different foods. You will also need to try out some new recipes so that you make sure you are eating foods you enjoy. Of course this way-of-eating will all become second nature after a short time and you won’t need to think about it so much. But during that initial stage, give yourself a chance to get the diet right and find the recipes and meals that work for you and develop those new eating habits. This way you set yourself up for success with it.
The other very practical reason for not jumping into a new exercise regime straight away is that your body is going to need a few weeks to adjust to burning fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. For some people, this might mean that they may have some fatigue or headaches in the first week or two. The reason for this is that when you consume carbohydrates you retain water so when you switch to using fat for fuel instead you lose a certain amount of water. For some people, this is too much of a good thing as you are losing salts along with water – this is what causes those symptoms. Happily these symptoms can be avoided completely by just drinking broth or Bovril each day to replace the lost salts – see the Top Tips section on the page on Atkins Induction for more info. While this eliminates the symptoms, its no harm to give your body some time to adjust before jumping into an exercise program. Of course if you are already active and exercising, then its fine to continue with that. Just be aware that you may have to take it a little easier for two or three weeks while your body adjusts.
Another good reason to wait a while before beginning to exercise if you haven’t done so in quite a while, is that once you lose a stone or two, you will find it easier to exercise. For one thing, your energy levels will have improved – many people report having more energy than they’ve had in many years. Many people also report that they sleep better. We also have a number of customers who told us their joint pain lessened – one of these was a lady who is 72! The same lady also found that her energy levels were so good she no longer needed or wanted a nap in the afternoons! At this point, even the most exercise-adverse people find that they want to begin exercising. Also people often find that when they do lose some of the extra weight, they are more motivated to exercise, more capable of it and less intimidated about it. Plus at this point, the diet part has become a more firmly ingrained part of your life so it doesn’t require as much effort as it did at the start.
The idea that you have to exercise in order to lose weight has been so pervasive over the last few decades that most people believe it is not possible to achieve any weight loss without it. However, any good personal trainer will tell you that when it comes to losing weight, what you eat is 85 or 90% of it. Exercise accounts for just 10 or maybe 15% of it. As one well known Irish personal trainer Dominic Munnelly puts it on his blog – “You can’t out train a bad diet”. If exercise played such a large part in losing weight, then anyone who has run a marathon would be really slim. But if you’ve ever watched the Flora Mini Marathon or the Dublin City marathon, you would know that this is not the case. How could that be? Anyone that has completed this grueling 26.4 miles has had to put in hours and hours of training in the year or more leading up to it. It is an incredible achievement to be able to complete it. Yet despite this, many people that do cross the finish line are overweight. Now obviously, not everyone that takes part in the marathon does so to lose weight – there are many other reasons for taking part. It just demonstrates that even such intense exercise does not do the trick when it comes to losing weight. It plays a part all right but a relatively small part.
Many regular gym users will also be able to attest to the fact that exercise alone does not help them to get trim. One man told me that he had been going to the gym regularly for years and had put in the hours, sweat and effort but had not see any change in his body shape. His diet was relatively healthy i.e. no alcohol, takeaways and junk food – in short he was following the food pyramid and the current guidelines for healthy eating. In his sixties at this stage, he said he just couldn’t continue with such a tough regime without seeing any results. Following the current guidelines and exercising was not working for him.
In short when it comes to losing weight, exercise is hugely over-rated. In his book “Why We get Fat and What to do About it”, Gary Taubes looks at the scientific studies that have been done on exercise and weight loss. One study published in 1989 was carried out by a team of Danish researchers to study the physical effect of exercise on weight loss. They actually trained a group of sedentary subjects to run a marathon. After 18 months of training and running a marathon, the 18 men in the study had lost an average of 5 pounds. As for the 9 women they reported that “no change in body composition was observed”. Another study carried out in New York the following year had a very similar result with some participants losing weight and others losing none. So taking the stairs instead of the lift or parking at the far end of the car park is really not going to do anything to the number on the scales or your waist measurements.
In a recent, hugely positive move for weight loss and health, the Swedish health authorities have switched from recommending low-fat diets to recommending low-carb-high-fat (LCHF) diets exactly like the Atkins diet. This happened after an expert group spent 2 years reviewing 16,000 studies on diet. One of the highlights of their report was that exercise was very good for health but not very effective for weight loss:
Systematic reviews of the literature show that the addition of physical activity to a dietary intervention for individuals with obesity have, if any, a marginal effect on weight loss at the group level.
You can read more about this report and Sweden’s move to low carb here.
However, the good news is that once you have the basic elements right i.e. you are following the Atkins diet correctly, you are taking care to get enough sleep and drink enough water, then adding exercise to the mix will accelerate your weight loss or mean that you can increase the amount of carbs you eat.
While exercise does not play as large part in losing weight as we’ve been led to believe, it does have remarkable benefits for health and well-being as the following excellent video shows:
When you do get to the point where you want to begin exercising, and Atkins does recommend that you do consider adding some activity once you are in phase 2 or Ongoing Weight Loss, do keep in mind that there are many choices out there. It does not have to mean joining a big box gym and putting in the hours on a treadmill. You can join a dance class, take up Pilates, get into cross-fit training, go swimming, join a hiking group or do resistance training. In my opinion, resistance training is excellent for women as well as men. I would recommend Evo Fitness – their sessions are just 20 minutes long and with just 3 people in the gym at a time with a personal trainer, you get lots of help and support. Just as its important to spend time finding recipes and meals you like with the Atkins diet, it is important to pick an exercise program or activity you enjoy. This means you are more likely to stick with it.
So what has your experience been? Have you always believed that you needed to do lots of exercise in order to lose or even just to maintain your weight?