Many people start their exercise journeys with a weight loss goal in mind. There’s nothing wrong with this, but sometimes motivation can wane if the weight isn’t lost as fast as you’d hoped. This blog will talk about why weight loss isn’t the best motivator, why it can be difficult to see progress and what other factors contribute to weight loss. We’ll also give you some other (really great) reasons to exercise!
LET’S TALK MOTIVATION
There are two kinds – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation:
Intrinsic motivation is when you’re motivated to do a task because you are genuinely interested or enjoy doing it because of how it makes you feel. Doing this task is something you would do even if you never receive an external “reward” for it – such as validation from peers, money, or to avoid failure. You may experience an internal “reward” instead – joy, satisfaction, happiness etc.
Extrinsic motivation is when you are motivated by an external reward to do a task. Maybe you study very hard for a test to get a great mark (rather than study because you have a curiosity for the topic). Or you go for a run because you don’t want to disappoint your personal trainer (rather than run because you love being outside and how the run makes you feel).
Both kinds of motivation can be very powerful. It’s not a bad thing to be extrinsically motivated to do a task (extrinsic motivation is why peer pressure works!). A balanced life will be filled with things that you love to do and other things that need a reward to get done. However, if we can shift our thinking from being motivated to exercise by only external factors (such as weight loss), to being motivated by internal factors (such as how great you feel after a swim), we may start to enjoy exercise more.
If you can develop a positive relationship with physical activity and start to think of it as a privilege rather than a chore, you’re more likely to stick to it! So, having a weight loss goal is fine, but challenge yourself to find some other reasons to workout – we’ll even give you a few ideas later in the blog!
WHY YOU CAN’T JUST FOCUS ON EXERCISE IF YOU WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT:
Many people believe that just getting on the treadmill a few times a week is enough to help them lose weight. It’s important to remember that when increasing activity levels, you might consciously or unconsciously increase your caloric intake. For this reason (among others), it’s critical to focus on your diet as well.
Energy balance is the difference in how many calories you burn and how many calories you consume. In the most simplistic terms, to lose fat you need to consume less calories than what you burn in a day. This is where you need to think about getting the most “bang for your buck”. Create a meal that is high in nutritional value and that keeps you full. For someone who isn’t used to being so mindful of what they eat, it can be really helpful to work with a dietitian. They can give you an individualised diet, tailored to your specific circumstances.
WEIGHT LOSS IS NEVER A STRAIGHT LINE
Many people find they will initially lose weight quickly when they increase their activity levels and improve their diet. However, this initial weight loss is usually water weight. When your body realises it is consuming less or burning more calories than usual, it starts using glycogen (stored energy) from your muscles and liver. When the glycogen is burned, water is released which contributes to your weight loss – but this isn’t fat loss.
However, if you’re consistent with healthy lifestyle choices, you will start to lose fat for a period of time. Then you may find you hit a plateau.
This is a normal response from your body because your metabolism is slowing down slightly and it can be frustrating. You will continue to lose weight by adjusting your lifestyle – it will just be a long process.
That’s why it is a really good idea to have goals beyond how you look. By challenging yourself with different fitness related goals and by thinking about how exercise makes you feel, you’ll stay motivated to continue being physically active. Use exercise a tool to celebrate your body, rather than to punish it. If fat loss is important to you, make sure to focus on your diet to assist with achieving that goal.
FOCUS ON HEALTH BENEFITS RATHER THAN BODY IMAGE:
Because of societal expectations which are further perpetuated by media, many people are self-conscious of how they look. Although we’re starting to see improvements in body positivity, the media often pushes the idea that you need to be a certain weight to have value. This, of course, is nonsense! Your value is not attached to how you look. Your value is based on who you are as a person.
Goals like running a 5km race or being flexible enough to get on the ground to play with your kids, challenge you to rise to the occasion and display your strength and resilience. Weight loss goals that are a result of feelings of inadequacy are often tied to an unattainable beauty standard. It’s OK to want to improve yourself and that may include weight loss – but try your best to set those goals from a place of love and acceptance. And don’t forget to think about the other amazing benefits that can be gained from regular physical activity! Here are a few benefits that you may not be aware of:
1. REDUCES ANXIETY AND STRESS
Research shows that physical activity can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. We also know that it can help reduce symptoms in those living with anxiety disorders. When you bring your heart rate up and get those limbs moving, your body will release endorphins, also known as “happy hormones. It’s these hormones make you feel on top of the world after an exercise session! If you start to shift your focus from how you look to how you feel after exercise, you might find that yourself motivated to move for very different, positive reasons!
2. PROTECTS AGAINST DEPRESSION
Exercise also helps to improve your mood and is incredibly important for your mental health. But it can also help to fight mental health conditions… In fact, a study led by the Black Dog Institute suggested that just 60 minutes a week of regular exercise can help reduce the risk of developing depression. That could translate into three 20-minute sessions or even six 10-minute sessions! With 1 in 7 Australians experiencing depression in their lifetime, reducing your risk is a pretty amazing reason to stay active!
3. HELPS IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY
Physical activity has been shown to help you fall asleep more quickly. Doing aerobic exercise (think: walking, biking, swimming – something that keeps your heart rate elevated) can also increase the amount of deep sleep you get each night. For those who have chronic insomnia, studies have shown that regular exercise can help improve sleep quality. Try increasing your activity levels today and you might be asleep before your head hits the pillow tonight!
4. REDUCES RISK OF DEVELOPING CHRONIC DISEASE
Increasing activity levels can help you reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases such as type two diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, dementia and many other conditions. So, invest in your health now by simply getting more activity into your day!
5. SUPPORTS YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
There is evidence to show when people engage in regular, moderate physical activity (along with eating a balanced diet, sleeping well, reducing mental stress, and reducing risk of exposure to illness) they may reduce the likelihood of getting the common cold or flu. There is also some evidence that regular, moderate exercise can help reduce the severity of the flu and pneumonia. However, it’s important to note that there has not been extensive research done on exercise and immune system function. We still have a lot to learn!
What we definitely do know is that exercise will help reduce your risk of developing chronic disease, which this will leave you healthier and in better shape to manage the cold and flu season!
IT’S TIME TO MOVE YOUR BODY
After reading this article, hopefully you’ve learned that while having a goal of losing weight isn’t a bad thing, there are so many additional benefits to be gained. We hope you will look at exercise in a whole new light and will be setting some new goals today!
Written by Julianna Dreger. Julianna is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and research assistant who is passionate about women’s health.