Exercise: trick or treat?

We all know we need to exercise for several reasons such as fitness, health and reducing stress levels. That’s all very well but in actual fact, one of the most common reasons why some of us to take up exercising is so that we can eat more, and not only just eat more food in general, but also to be able to cheat and eat those high-kilojoule foods that we love but know are so fattening.

Surely the idea is that, if you exercise more (longer or harder), you can eat more of the healthy foods (for example bread, pasta and fruit) as well as indulge in the occasional unhealthy foods (such as chocolate, alcohol and chips).

And of course all this lovely excessive eating, in combination with the increased exercise, will not only not result in any weight gain but might even result in a little weight loss.

But why does this simple formula (exercise more, eat more) so often not work in real life?

The reason is probably multifactorial but the most obvious reason that springs to mind is that most of us are not natural mathematicians and therefore our equation often does not balance i.e. the exercise increase does not quite reach the dietary increase.

So for example, a 70kg person who jogged for 5km could use up about 1465kJ (350 calories) - this exact figure is very individual and depends on factors such as fitness level, gender and body weight.

Now if you have a look at the list below, you will see how easy it is to negate those kilojoules used up for running by what you have eaten or drunk even as you leave the gym or drive home after a run.

  • 1 beer =  586kJ (140cal)
  • 1 muffin = 670kJ (160cal)
  • 1 30g packet simba chips = 670kJ (160cal)
  • 1 cheese and ham takeaway sandwich (untoasted) = 1465kJ (350cal)
  • 1 60g chocolate (Bar One) = 1172kJ (280cal)

So what you need to learn is how to eat excessively, cleverly, and how to cheat wisely. And who knows, you might even lose a little weight.

Here's how to cheat cleverly

1) Some people complain that they get a very real increase in appetite once they start training regularly. Whether it is real or perceived (or a combination of both) is debatable, and in fact some studies have shown that exercise suppresses ones appetite for a while after the training. 

Either way, what you can do is make sure that you have lots of the right foods available so that if you find yourself starving hungry after a long run, you can snack to your heart's (and stomach's) content.

The following foods are very low in kilojoules and comprise mostly water, fibre, vitamins and minerals and therefore can be eaten in excess: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, sprouts,broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, baby marrows, green beans, spinach, Patti pans, gem squash, mushrooms, onions,

Use them to make soups, stir fries or salads and remember to add minimal oil to the preparation or serving method.

So if making a stir fry, use just soya sauce and if making a salad, add just herbs, mustard and vinegar and if making soups use stock. Have soups or salads as starters to your main meal so that the edge is taken off your appetite by the time main course is served. Also use them as snacks in between meals to prevent unhealthy snacking.

2) If you are having alcohol with your meal, leave the starch out of that meal. So for example, have steak or fish with veg and salad (no rice, pasta, potatoes or bread) and enjoy no more than two 125ml glasses of wine.

3) Keep a record of your cheats and try to limit it to 3 – 5 cheats per week. From my experience, keeping a (written) record is the only way to keep the cheats under control. I normally recommend that you save your cheats for when it is out of your control for example when you are eating out at dinner parties, functions or restaurants.

A cheat is the equivalent of:

  • a pudding or a piece of cake
  • a fatty meal for example creamy curry or pasta, steak and chips
  • a chocolate or pastry
  • a high-fat three-course meal would be the equivalent of three cheats

4) Make sure you drink plenty of fluids as many people eat when in fact they are thirsty. Also when you exercise more, you sweat more, so you need more fluids.

5) Ask yourself before reaching for the bread bin, are you really hungry or do you think you just deserve extra because you trained hard? 

Karen Protheroe is a registered dietician for The Lean Aubergine Dietetic Services. Sign up for the monthly Lean Aubergine newsletter by sending an e-mail to kimh.rd@mweb.co.za or karenrd@mweb.co.za

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