We know that how we treat our bodies is directly related to our health but our focus typically lands on one phrase, "I want to lose weight." Achieving a healthy weight is certainly a worthy goal, but how we get there is just as important. Being exceedingly strict with diet and intense with exercise can be just as harmful to our bodies as consuming tons of empty calories and leading a sedentary life. Striving for balance in diet and exercise is a bigger goal than weight loss alone. Moving balance to the top of the task list can really make a positive impact on accomplishing the rest.
Balancing the components of weight loss is similar to creating balance in our lives. We have to juggle family, friends, work, and our personal agenda to create a happy and healthy environment. If one falters, typically the balance is off and we pay the consequences. In weight loss, we know that nutrition and fitness are key players. Losing weight occurs when the body is in negative energy balance. Negative energy balance is achieved by creating an environment where your body is forced to use stored energy or fat for daily functioning or activity. Negative energy balance occurs when you burn more calories than you take in and the deficit is taken from storage. Burning calories from exercise and/or consuming less calories is the manner in which this can be accomplished.
While decreasing caloric intake is a simple, well-known concept, the way we approach this reduction is important to our health and weight loss success. Until recently, there were the classic strategies for creating calorie deficits. Some people overdo it at the gym to burn as many calories as possible, while others attempt to severely restrict their caloric intake. If weight loss is your only goal, then these may work. However, from a well-being perspective, weight loss is only part of the picture. Keeping the weight off, enjoying the food you eat, understanding your body and health, and feeling good about yourself also are goals. So by including a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain items in your diet in a calorie range that is appropriate and sustainable, you can enjoy your food and have the energy to exercise, which is equally important. Without a balance in food, you will not be prepared for the workout necessary to maintain or gain lean body mass, which is critical for weight maintenance.
Even though this nuanced approach is becoming more recognized, the most often forgotten element in this balancing equation is rest. Rest is a crucial component to successful weight loss and weight management. Rest is our recovery time, and it's what makes the other components possible. Rest refers to more than taking a day off from working out, though. It is about obtaining adequate, quality sleep, too. Sleeping is when the body recovers, repairs, and remodels itself so that you are ready to go in the morning. It allows us to be alert, make conscious decisions, use critical thinking skills, utilize nutrients efficiently, and have the energy we need to be active. While there is a debate about whether exercise or diet is more important in losing weight, it fails to take into account the need for sleep. Unless you are a robot, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly is almost impossible to accomplish without sleep. Sleep deprivation has been implicated in obesity, impacting hunger, satiation, increased stress hormone levels, nutrient utilization, and growth. Sleeping more will not make you lose weight, but it will better enable you to balance nutrition and exercise within your life.
Steps to Balance:
- Make time for sleep. There are a million excuses not to get the appropriate amount of sleep and a lot of them are legitimate, but you have to make this a priority. Being tired can make you hungrier, hinder your ability to make good food choices, and leave you with no energy for workouts.
- Eat the most nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, lean meats, and whole grains you can find, and try to adhere to a calorie range that is appropriate for your body type and activity level.
- Include cardiovascular exercise and resistance training on most days of the week. You want to burn calories, but also increase lean body mass to keep your calorie burning capability on fire.
- Remain positive. Balance is important in every aspect of life. Do not beat yourself up if you falter, because keeping a good balance means accounting for the ebb and flow of everyday life.
Cauter, E.V. and Knutson, K.L. (2008). Sleep and the epidemic of obesity in children and adults. European Journal of Endocrinology, 159, 59–66.
Knutson, K.L. and Cauter, E.V. (2008). Associations between Sleep Loss and Increased Risk of Obesity and Diabetes. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1129, 287-304.