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Exercise and Weight Gain Prevention

I don’t focus much on weight in therapy sessions because I believe that learning how to eat “normally” is more crucial than any number on the scale. In fact, I shy away from weight discussions with clients except when the subject comes up naturally, and hesitate to write much on weight because zeroing in on it, per se, doesn’t generally pay off but does get people anxious and upset. However, recognizing that folks who don’t want to put back the pounds need insights, information, and incentives, I (sigh) write this blog.

According to the American Journal of Physiology (7/8/09), there’s more than one way that exercise helps prevent people from regaining weight they’ve lost or maintaining their “defended weight” (what a person weighs naturally). Of course, we could talk for eons about what an individual’s natural or defended weight should be—the weight you generally carry, the number on the scale when you’re eating “normally,” what you weigh after dieting, what you weighed in your heyday. The article doesn’t really define the term more specifically than saying that it’s the weight your body tries to maintain.

One way exercise helps is by burning fat rather than carbs which signals fullness to the brain. It makes sense that if you’re not feeling as hungry, you won’t be drawn toward unwanted eating. Rat experiments tells us more about how exercise can help. In a University of Colorado-Denver study on sedentary versus active (ie, exercising) rats, researchers found the exercisers “regained less weight during the ‘relapse’ period, developed a lower ‘defended’ body weight, burned more fat early in the day and more carbohydrates later in the day, accumulated fewer fat cells and less abdominal fat during relapse, reduced the drive to overeat, and enhanced the ability to balance energy intake with energy expended.”

Researchers also noted that exercise prevents an increase in the number of fat cells, challenging previous evidence which maintained that each of us has a fixed number of fat cells which cannot be reduced. That is, that you’re born with a specific number of fat cells and keep them for life. The point here is that exercise works—really works—to keep your weight down after you’ve lost it, not merely by burning off calories, but by altering your metabolism, specifically your appetite hormones. Many of you feel stuck and helpless about your weight because you’re still struggling to become a “normal” eater. You know, you’re working on it, but progress is slow. So, please consider that the missing piece of the puzzle to alter your appetite might be exercise.