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Why Your Workout Isn't Helping You Lose weight

The other night, I followed an at-home workout video that targeted my butt, hips, and thighs. Though it was only 30 minutes long, it was the type of workout where all I could think about was how insanely sore I was going to be the next day. How naive of me… A mere six hours later, my thighs felt tight and my butt was tender.

Fast forward to a few days later when I’m at my girlfriend’s apartment for a much-needed session of catching up and painting our nails. Of course, the usual spread was there: Smartfood, brownies, and wine. That’s when the all-too-common thought went through my head, “I’ve earned this Smartfood thanks to my hard workout this week!” 

The Lie We Tell Ourselves  

Growing up, lots of us learn how to behave appropriately through rewards and punishments. Remember those gold stars your teacher used to hand out in elementary school? That was his or her way of showing you that good behaviour is to be celebrated. 

We carry this mentality into our adult lives, too. Whenever we accomplish something — whether it’s getting a promotion or just enduring a tough week — we reward ourselves. 

But for many people food becomes that gold star. That piece of cheesecake reminds us: “I did a good job this week. I’ve earned this. I deserve this. This is my reward.” And oftentimes, food rewards our physical activities in particular. 

Changing Your Mindset

Let’s go back to talking about the workout I recently did… According to the calorie tracker that came with the video, I burned 300 calories. Knowing that many apps grossly overestimate the amount of calories one burns, let’s subtract 30% from that amount to be safe. Now, I burned about 210 calories. Keep in mind: I was dying during this workout. Two cups of Smartfood has almost the same amount of calories. 

Essentially, I’ve just “erased” my entire workout. I’ve not only replaced the calories I burned with Smartfood-calories, but I’ve also increased my overall caloric intake for the day. And remember, losing weight largely comes down to basic math: Calories in must equal calories out. Otherwise, you’ll gain weight. Period. 

How to Change Your Mindset

To stop yourself from falling into this trap in the future, try these techniques: 

  1. Remember how hard your workout was.

  • Eating junk as a reward for your awesome workout is just straight up masochistic. All you’re doing is sabotaging your efforts, and why would you want that for yourself!? Whenever a temptation strikes, say: “Every serving of Smartfood I have is equal to another one of those exhausting, sweat-filled workouts. The more I munch, the more workouts I have to do.” And do you really want to spend your precious energy finding time to excessively exercise? I don’t think so.

2. It’s just a workout. 

  • Obviously you should be proud of yourself for working out. I’m proud of you, too! But let’s be real: you didn’t climb Mount Everest. You spent an hour of your time — or four percent your day — doing something good for your body. This isn’t about undermining your efforts, but the more you over-glorify your workouts, the more you’ll fall into the I-deserve-an-entire-jar-of-Nutella trap. Value its importance, but see it as more-so a part of your daily routine rather than something that deserves to be celebrated every single day. 

3. There are rewards other than food. 

  • Maybe you only allow yourself to watch an episode of your favourite TV show after you’ve done a workout. Or maybe you can finally read that trashy magazine. Whatever it is, make something calorie-free your gold star, not a tub of ice cream.

4. Keep your goal in mind. 

  • This seems like common sense, but truly remain conscious of this. Say in your head, “Eating this will take me one step back from feeling like my best self."

5. See your workout itself as a reward. 

  • If you see your workout as a chore, try to change your mindset. See it as your “me time” — that chunk of your day away from your work, your troubles, or people in general to just devote to yourself. And think about all of the benefits your body is getting from exercising. That, in itself, is a reward, and being in shape is the gift that keeps on giving. 

The Bottom Line

I want you to feel happy in your own skin, confident in your body, and feel energized and clean every single day. Exercise is a great way to accomplish that feeling, but not if you’re constantly replacing it with a high-calorie treat. Change your mindset when it comes to working out and start getting bang for your workout bucks! 

Of course, keep in mind that on some level, all workouts do count! Even if you erase the calories you burned with junk food, you've still taken the time to get your muscles moving, your heart pumping, and more. So, that's always worth celebrating in its own right, regardless of how you act afterwards!

You Tell Me!

Do you give yourself any calorie-free rewards for a workout? Let me know in the comments below!


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