As much this notion has been hit on the head countless and countless times, you’d think that we (girls, I’m talking to you) would just get it by now: Doing more cardio is not the answer to your how-do-I-lose-weight-and-feel-better conundrum.
I’m still surprised that with all the top trainers and health coaches advocating against the use of cardio for weight loss, that I still meet clients who are still stuck in this run to lose weight mentality.
And to some degree, they are correct.
Doing excessive cardio, can help you lose weight…if you know, you like using your muscle, tendons, ligaments, bones and other connective tissue for energy, then by all means go right ahead.
Weight loss derived from cardio-based exercises typically work initially, but over time, can create a whole lotta probs, like overuse injuries, a lower metabolic rate (including hypothyroidism), insomnia, digestive discomfort, blood sugar handling issues, and even weight gain.
This is what I typically see happen:
Jane is in her early thirties. She has been able to maintain a decent weight through her 20’s with wishy-washy eating, drinking, and running 6 days a week. She was lean, skinny even, and didn’t really have to worry much. If she gained a little weight, she could easily take it off with a week or two of restrictive calorie counting and a few extra runs. The weight would melt away.
Then, some mysterious hormonal shift occured, and Jane is now having trouble losing weight. In fact, she’s actually gained some. She’s not “overweight” per se, but she’s not seeing any results in her workouts. She’s tired, can’t sleep, has PMS, and is constantly gassy, bloated or constipated.
She decides to run more, but that isn’t helping. So she cuts down on food, but that isn’t helping. So she decides to run more, but that isn’t helping. So she cuts down on food some more, but that isn’t helping…I think you can see where I’m going with this.
Jane is now tired, sad, and frustrated. She begins to think something is wrong with her body, and thus creates an emotional state of fear, anxiety and guilt, because her body isn’t responding the way it did in her early 20’s. She feels horrible, and just wants to feel good in her body again and to feel confident in her own skin.
I wish I could be making this story up, but sadly, this is truth for most women that I work with. Which is precisely why, I actually recommend NO cardio for most of my clients when we initially work together. Not even interval training.
Why You Should STOP Running If You Want To Lose Weight
You see, clients like Jane are in a depleted state: mentally, physically, emotionally, energetically, and most times, spiritually as well. By doing more cardio, they are further exacerbating this depletion.
Their bank accounts are empty, and they are piling up the overdraft fees. And at some point, they will have to pay them back. However, in the case of the body, the payback isn’t cash money, it shows up as chronic fatigue, food intolerances, anxiety, weight gain, and hormonal irregularities.
Couple this with caloric restriction and you’re putting yourself more and more in debt. Not only are you piling up the overdraft fees, but you’re charging $1000’s onto your credit card. It’s a short term fix with long term consequences.
Exercise in general, regardless of how you slice it, whether its strength training or cardio, is catabolic. Meaning, it breaks muscle tissue down.
Less muscle = more flab.
Over time, when you lose muscle mass, you also lower your metabolism, putting you in a hypo-metabolic state which then affects your thyroid, your adrenal glands, your blood sugar regulation, and eventually, even your sex hormones, which can cause all sorts of issues, especially in women.
When you stop running or doing excessive cardio, you also stop the rate at which you are breaking down muscle mass. Meaning, you stop taking out money you don’t have. When you do this, you allow your body time to rest and regenerate, which in turn rebuilds muscle, helps to heal your metabolism, and overtime, allows your body to lose weight healthily.
What Kind Of Cardio Am I Talking About?
Well, that really all depends. For most (and when I say most I basically mean all) clients, that includes:
- Anything done on a machine (treadmill, eliptical, bike, rower, etc)
- Any running or jogging done outdoors
- High impact cardio-based classes
- Road races (even if it’s just a 5k)
What I do not include in this list, is walking outside for leisure without the intent of having it be exercise. In fact, I recommend that clients strive to get at least 5000 steps per day, which is about 45 minutes of total walking. This includes all the walking you do at home, to and from work, catching the bus or the train, walking to the grocery store etc. So, the steps add up throughout the day.
Meaning, you don’t have to walk straight for 45 minutes, although, taking a 10-15 minute walk in the morning, at lunch and after a dinner is a great way to get your steps in for the day and an even better way to spend meditative time on yourself to reduce stress.
The ONLY Form of Cardio Worth Doing
Aside from walking, the only other form of “cardio” which I will ever recommend, (if I even think it’s appropriate for a client), is interval-based training. And to give you some ideas about that, here are links to a few articles I wrote on the subject:
In the articles above you will learn what interval training is, the science behind why it’s more effective, and how to make your own interval programs. You’ll even be able to download 3 interval training workouts that you can use in conjunction with your fitness program, so be sure to check those out.
More Cardio + Less Carbs = Weight Gain
At this point, Jane has tried it all. She’s tried running more, she’s tried cutting out ALL carbs, and heck, maybe she’s even hired a trainer to help “whip” her into shape. But yet, she’s still tired, and unhappy with her results.
But, she can’t really help it because she doesn’t really know any better. It’s worked for her in the past so why isn’t it working now?
The combination of more cardio and less carbohydrates, while it may intitally trigger some weight loss, puts your body into an even more depleted state because your body has to use stored sugar in your muscles and in your liver (called glycogen) for energy. This creates an even more stressful response, triggering the release of cortisol, which puts you into an even deeper hole.
Overtime, your metabolism slows down, and something that once helped you lose weight, is now putting the weight on, as a form of protection. This is a survival response that kicks in, and is a clear sign that your body is crying for help.
So what’s a cardio-girl to do?
I’ve worked with some of the most cardio-obsessed women who have actually lost weight and felt better overall, without the use of the cardio. Sheesh, the way I describe it you’d think I was talking about a drug…and frankly, the runner’s high from cardio acts very similar to a drug, which makes it a very difficult habit to break.
But, it can be done! Take for instance one of our most recent Lean Body Challenge participants, Kate S., from California.
“When I got back from London late last year and quickly realized that all my work clothes were tight, I refused to buy new stuff until I lost weight. So I wore tight and uncomfortable work clothes for the past 8 months. I tried everything to get the weight off, but it wasn’t until LBC, that I was actually successful. Finally my clothes fit like they’re supposed to. Proud of myself for sticking to the plan and believing in me! And now, I have the formula to maintain it.” – Kate S.
You could literally put her name in place of Jane’s from the story above. A cardio-lover, Kate was a bit apprehensive about doing “no-cardio” for 28 days. She was regularly doing cardio, 2-3 mile runs, several days a week, on top of seeing a trainer 2x a week. Although she was nervous about the cardio bit, she was eager to learn how to eat better, and was willing to fully dedicate herself to the Challenge.
After a month of no cardio and mindful based eating, Kate lost almost 7 lbs. and over 7″ inches in her measurements. All while eating more carbohydrates and doing less cardio.
The No-Cardio-Eat-More-Carbs-Get-More-Sleep-And-Reduce-Stress Plan
One of the main aspects that we address, not only in our Lean Body Challenge, but in private coaching, is the role stress plays in the body. What is important to understand about stress is this:
A body under stress does not metabolize food the same way as a body free of stress.
A stressed body cannot metabolize carbohydrates efficiently and thus a stressed body actually stores more fat and loses more muscle than a body free of stress. Don’t forget:
Less muscle = more flab
And so running more, adds more stress to the body. Take away some of the stress, and you allow your body the ability to metabolize food more efficiently, thus leading to healthy weight loss.
Stress is such an important aspect of healing that it is one of our four-pillars of the LBC: Feed, Rest, Move, Love
Each pillar is addressed in the program, and each pillar is a necessary component to overall health and healing.
We feed our body the most optimal foods for our metabolism that are organic, local and fresh as possible, minimizing processed foods and grains.
We rest our body by getting to bed before 11 pm, sleeping at least 7-8 hours a night, and reducing our overall stress levels.
We move our body through effective exercise that’s appropriate for our state of healing.
We love our body by practicing self-acceptance, gratitude, and happinness in all that we do.
These are the same principles that our participants learn during the Challenge, and the same ones that allow you to stop running, to lose weight, and to feel better.
It is possible to do. You can lose weight and feel better without running, and without depriving yourself of carbohydrates.
And you know what? You don’t have to do it alone. I, we, are here to help. Over the last 9 months, we’ve built a strong, loyal, and supportive group online to help you change your body, and feel better in the process.
If any of this blog post resonated with you, please consider joining us for the next round of the Lean Body Challenge which starts on Sept. 24th. Join Kate and the other 60+ women who have participated in the Challenge and who now live a healthier, happier and more energetic life.
Space is limited, so if you’re ready for a change, now’s your chance.
And if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at Sirena (at) SirenaBernal dot com.