21 micro habits that make weight loss stick #9: Exercise, but not for weight loss.

Food Psychology Coach Laura Lloyd talks about her own experience of movement vs exercise.

She explains why, if you want to lose weight and maintain weight loss, exercise is definitely your mindset friend – but it’s not necessarily all about fat burning.

In fact, thinking of movement in utilitarian fat-burning terms really wrecks the beauty of it.

The weight loss industry has tied together ‘eating less’ and ‘exercising more’ – and it doesn’t help. 

Of course, linking exercise to weight loss is based on the basic premise that to lose weight, you have to create a calorie deficit – which is a fancy way of saying you have to take in less energy (through food) than you use up (by being alive, moving etc).

All diets work this way. Eat less, or exercise more, or both. OK, we get it. We heard that before. 

We barbarise exercise when we lump it into the diet equation. 

For a start, we all know that exercising is good for health – physical, and mental health. 

But when we conflate exercise and weight, we make a lot of assumptions about health that contribute to fat prejudice.

  • Some overweight people exercise a lot.
  • Some overweight people are very healthy, or even completely healthy. 
  • Some underweight people are completely sedentary, or are unhealthy. 

We have wrecked our relationship with exercise.

Wrecked it by knowing that ‘it’s good for us’ and making exercise fat-burning focused – unsporty as we are, or judge ourselves to be.

We have woven that into our idea of what we’re allowed to eat, what we can get away with, or how we could make up for our regrettable food choices by ‘burning it off’ in the gym later.

I have news for you: That’s way too complicated. You’ll wear yourself out offsetting cake with aerobics, or being allowed an extra sandwich because you did spinning. This is all just thought.

It’s all in your mind: ideas of what you deserve, and what you’re allowed, and what you’ve earned the right to eat.

Let it all go.

If you want to lose weight, it’s as simple as this: you need to eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’ve had enough, but aren’t full full.

Any logic overriding this mechanism of your body to let you know how much food you need is just nimble antics of your habit-brain, trying to get you to relent to urges through excuses, justifications and other horse-dung.

So you might say, ‘if it won’t help me burn fat, what’s the point in exercising?’ 

There is point! There is so much point! (Can you hear me hopping up and down getting all worked up about this?)

Because – 

if you’re missing the chance to be with your body in movement, you’re missing your most immediate experience of aliveness.

laura lloyd, food psychology coach

It doesn’t really matter if it’s t’ai chi or boxercise, mud wrestling or a walk with your headphones. Do it. Do it as your utmost priority. Do it for you. Do it because it makes your blood flow the right way round your body, metaphorically not medically speaking.

Do it because it oxygenates your body. Do it because you can feel yourself grasping at life. Do it because it’s your experience of uh uh uh uh stayin aliiiiive.

(Only click that link if you want to get sidetracked into a beejees video. It’s sooo good. But later. Watch it LATER – delayed gratification is a muscle you’ll need for your weight loss, so you might as well start now!!)

Here are some common mindset mistakes around exercise, with respect to weight:

 1. Using willpower to force yourself 

The thing is, when we exercise and we’re trying to lose weight, we sometimes switch into the not-useful part of our brain: the pushy, shovey, drill-sargeant part of ourselves. We try to accelerate the weight loss.

2. Using exercise to make up for being out of control around food 

You might find yourself trying to compensate for a bunch of random eats. Saying “it’s OK to eat these biscuits, I’ll go for a run later”.

3. Using exercise to purge after a binge

Making ourselves pay. Trying to carbon offset our lack of skills around managing our mind when we’re in food situations. Trying to get back to a clean slate. Full of regret and self-punishment. 

4. Using exercise as an excuse to eat past satisfied, to overeat

I went for a walk on the beach – so I can have fish and chips now.  

I went to the gym, so I can have second helpings.  

Doesn’t add up. Have you seen ‘fish and a rice cake‘?. Athletes don’t eat a lot extra.

Move your body, for the sheer visceral, physical joy if it.

And that, my dear human friend, is a potent, transformative, uplifting, incredible string to your weight loss bow. 

That’s all from me. I’m off to strap lights and a high-vis ‘fire warden’ tabard onto my body and go for a run through puddles round the country lanes in the dark. It really does it for me!

A snippet from my story:

I talk about my relationship with exercise a lot in this episode of Restorya podcast.

It took me a long long time to learn the obvious: That exercise is not for calorie-burning. Not for getting buff and working on your shape like it’s a piece of sculpture.

Exercise is for your head. It’s for your heart.

It’s so that your immediate, physical sensations become so immediate and demanding and all-consuming that you can’t mentally stand outside your body any more. You can’t be a traffic warden putting a penalty notice on your body for not being as it should be. You can’t be a brain outside a bod, you are embodied, even if just for a few minutes.

And the binding effect of that experiencing, the embracing of yourself, is a kind of high.

Growing up, there were transformative, positive experiences, and I hardly noticed them. And, there were some less great influences too… 

Less great… At school, during PE, I just hated getting hot. I hated the burn in my throat and chest when I was out of breath.

“I’m not sporty”, I learned to say, I don’t know how early. I was proud of it, because I was top of the class at everything else, it gave me something to be modest about and not hated.

And my God! Deep down, I was so competitive, I couldn’t even allow myself to compete.

D’you know what I mean? I couldn’t bear to risk being the loser.

The possibility of slow, incremental improvement that I’d have to work at patiently was completely alien to me. I thought, “I’m either an overnight success,  or I’ll try something else.“ I wasn’t down with trial and error. Fail until you succeed. None of that for me.

Also less great… Growing up, my parents weren’t ‘sporty’ in my eyes. I don’t remember my brother being sporty either, though he’s learned to play football and cycle as an adult. So there wasn’t that role modelling. But Mum and Dad did get out for a walk once or even twice each day. My mum walked with the dog. My dad walked with his camera. 

But there were good things amongst it all… Luckily, me and my brother were outdoorsy kids together, always in dens and trees. I enjoyed having a body – trampolining and swimming and having water fights. Family walks were the usual weekend entertainment. Holidays on the beach in Wales.

As I hit my teens, I also loved sunbathing in the garden, swimming in the river, being elevated by trees and flowers and beauty. I could lose myself in having a body, but only occasionally.

It’s easy to remember the negative influences… But in school, I avoided teams. Also, anything with a ball, apart from a brief foray into hockey. I was tall, and booby, and spotty, and unpopular. When PE lessons came around, I used to opt to go for ‘road runs’ instead of team sports. Down the lane by the school, past the abattoir (it STANK!), over a few fields. I’d walk most of it. I’d see it as a total chore.

So, the idea of ‘deliberate’ exercise didn’t even enter my head until I wanted to change my body shape. For me, exercise didn’t have a prior purpose. It wasn’t fun first, healthy second. It wasn’t belonging to a team, and also (as a pleasant side-effect) good for you.

So, when I tried to exercise – I took up a regime that was illustrated in Company magazine, and bought some Callanetics books – it was with self-loathing behind it. “I’m not alright. I have to change”. It was horrible, and I couldn’t keep it up. And that, of course, reaffirmed my idea: “I’m not sporty”.

You have to rewrite the story you tell yourself… What I didn’t tell myself was this fact that was also true: That I loved to mess about at the inflatables session at the swimming pool. And I loved to go to nightclubs and get wasted and dance, and dance, and dance. And I loved to climb mountains.

When I stopped trying to be good at sport, stopped measuring it, stopped trying to achieve anything other than fun, and just started loving movement, I found an instant way to love myself. To jump into the feeling of loving being me.

Laura Lloyd

Food Psychology Coach

If I want to lose weight, but I hate exercise, is that OK?

Yes. You don’t have to get sporty to lose weight. 

But, whether you want to lose weight or not, you might WANT to make movement part of your life. 

Here are 14 fantastic advantages to moving your body – ‘exercise’: 

  1. You’ll get some fresh air – always feels excellent. 
  2. You’ll wake up your appetite and might reach for healthier foods naturally. 
  3. You’ll take some time for yourself, with nobody asking you to find their charging cable. 
  4. You’ll listen to some great podcasts. 
  5. You start doing something you know makes you feel good after, despite not feeling like doing it at the start. 
  6. You show up for yourself with a daily/weekly commitment. 
  7. You breathe deep and get lots of oxygen, waking up your metabolism. 
  8. You see the seasons change in detail. 
  9. You give life a big YES!
  10. You put yourself first, and make self-care a priority. 
  11. Your libido picks up. 
  12. You sleep better. 
  13. You’re less grumpy, less weary, less depressed and anxious, less manic. 
  14. Your life habits start moving in a virtuous circle. For some reason, when I exercise more, I start waxing my pits and dressing more cheerfully. 

You probably have more things you love about moving your body. You can put them in the comments!

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Just a little side note from me:

Self-judgment is never even slightly helpful, people, if you want to lose weight.

It will stop you in your tracks. Self-judgment creates inaction.

I mean, we think it’s failure that’ll stymie success. That’s not true.

As Brooke Castillo says, failure is not the opposite of success. Inaction is the opposite of success.

Essentially, feeling like a human car crash because you have a lot of thoughts that aren’t helping you, and a lot of habitual behaviours bothering you, just makes it painful to look at what you’re doing, and analyse it.

Which is why we put off leaning in and looking at what we’re really doing when we’re messing up.

But when we do look at it with curiosity, it’s SUCH a relief!

It’s your ability to go into ‘data analysis’ and 'I'm learning new skills' mode that takes the drama out of your weight loss journey:

Scale gone up? Just data – which habit or skill do I need to learn next?

Mum make a snide remark about how you’re ‘getting too thin’? Just data – how can you let other people’s opinions wash off you like water off a duck’s back?

Notice that you ‘can’t’ sit down to work without a road snack to get from the kitchen to your desk? Just data – what am I thinking and feeling about my work?

Go all-out on chocolate one day, and body feels sick and jittery afterwards? Just data – what was I thinking and feeling that day? Does this information from my body change how I think about ‘how much I love’ chocolate?

Self-doubt creates overwhelm. Overwhelm stops you starting. And, once again – that inaction is the opposite of success – not failure.

Failure is very informative. Failure means you’re trying things. It increases your probability of hitting on a solution.

Laura Lloyd

Food Psychology Coach, The School of Food Psychology

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