Staying fit while staying healthy

When I walked through the CRC Monday evening, I was astounded by the number of people on the bottom floor. Even though I thought I had prepared myself for the New Year resolution numbers that would be present, I was still shocked. As a year-round gym frequenter, I have to admit a certain amount of cynicism for the newcomers.

But from a fitness instructor perspective, I have to have a little bit of hope as well—hope that at least some of those hard at work on the floor have focused their resolutions on a more balanced and healthy future, not just on weight loss goals. Directing energy into weight loss alone can lead to extreme measures in either exercise or in diet, neither of which is good for the body in the long run.

The fact is, there are a multitude of factors that effect weight gain—genetics, body type, diet—and exercise is only one of them, so measuring your progress for fitness by weight is not an accurate unit of analysis. It is highly possible to get in shape and have cardiovascular fitness without losing weight, or as much weight as you planned, for the following variety of reasons.

1) It’s much easier to consume calories than to burn them. 30 minutes of exercise at a moderate intensity will only burn about 150 calories, which is no more than a bag of chips. Plus…

2) You often eat more calories when you work out because your appetite increases. You may feel hungry even after you’ve had enough food because your body is not used to your new routine.

3) Once you reach a plateau in fitness, your body begins to burn calories more efficiently, meaning you burn less calories when doing the same amount of exercise.

4) You may burn fat but gain muscle, making net weight gain/loss zero.

Not seeing desired results from exercise regimes, some people turn to extreme eating habits. Depravation puts huge stresses on your body and your mind, says Dr. Shannon Croft, a psychiatrist at Stamps Health Center.

In addition to many physical and mental health problems, not eating can also be a reason for weight gain. Skipping meals can be detrimental for weight loss because you can send your body into starvation mode—so when you do eat, it will immediately store the energy as fat rather than burn it.

Dr. Croft explains that because of how humans evolved to survive in times of feast and famine, starving yourself also causes you to become more obsessed with food, especially foods high in energy, i.e. carbs. The body tries to point you to carbohydrates with readily available calories.

Considering these facts, I have found that in the long run it is more beneficial to set a fitness goal  rather than a weight loss goal. You will get fit and healthy, and probably lose a few pounds in the process.

Find a 5K race you would like to try, or have deadline for when you would like to increase your workouts from 3 to 4 times a week. Make a fitness test for yourself that you can do at the beginning or end of every month to keep track of how you’re improving. You can gauge how your body is transforming through how your clothes fit rather than by watching a scale.

Tech has several resources available for students interested in achieving a healthier lifestyle. The Body Image Committee is a board of faculty, staff, and students that seeks to provide resources and knowledge on healthy body image practices on campus. The committee advises students to think of body image as what your body can do for you rather than a physical representation of it. Here is what a few of the faculty and staff on the committee had to say about diet and exercise.

“One of the largest detriments I’ve seen when persons go to extremes is the yo-yo affect.  It’s sad to see someone end up back where they started with weight loss because they didn’t have a good balance of diet (as in what they eat) and exercise.  It has to be a lifestyle change,” said Colleen Riggle, Director of the Women’s Resource Center

“I recommend students take advantage of the great resources we have for healthy eating and exercise on-campus.  A consultation with Angie Garcia, the registered dietitian for Stamps Health Services and Dining Services, is a wonderful way to learn more about improving the way you eat (call 404-894-8890 for an appointment).”

“The key to a healthy lifestyle is achieving moderation with both your eating and exercise habits. Extremes in any direction, by definition means ‘exceeding the bounds of moderation.’ In order to achieve moderation, it is best to start with several smaller goals and work towards a larger goal. Smaller goals decrease your chance of injury, such as physical injury from over exercising, and once you achieve each smaller goal, it continually motivates you toward that larger goal of lifestyle change,” said Angie Garcia, Stamps Health Services and GT Dining dietitian.

Dr. Croft and Garcia are also both members of the Eating Disorder Treatment Team, a multidisciplinary group made up of representatives from Stamps Health Services and the Georgia Tech Counseling Center that identifies and treats students with concerns around eating. Students with eating concerns for themselves or friends can contact the team at health.gatech.edu/collegeresponse, key word Georgia Tech, or by phone at 404-894-9980.