Cutting Calories is Hard
When beginning a weight loss program, most people start with cutting calories from their diet. It’s a great place to start, but a major downside of cutting calories is not feeling satisfied from a meal. Adding more vegetables and drinking plenty of water can help, but many are reluctant to give up their favorite calorie-dense foods. That persistent feeling of hunger can cut into energy levels and motivation for exercise. It may seem counterintuitive, but the solution is exercise and more food! Or, as I like to call it, eating your cardio.
Eating Your Cardio
You should be tracking your meals with a meal planner/food diary (links at the end) to make sure that you are getting proper nutrition, and eating the right amount of calories for your goals. Then get an activity tracker (more links) and eat at least half of the calories burned with whatever foods you like.
Whether you eat half or all of your exercise calories, the important part is that you are seeing steady and safe progress: around 1-2 pounds per week. Adjust your diet and exercise as needed to reach your goals.
The key to this is to complete the exercise first, before planning the extra calories. Going out with friends to your favorite burger place? Now that you’ve run three miles, go into your meal planner and change those chicken tenders into a burger, or twice as many chicken tenders! This changes the attitude from exercise as a punishment and makes it a rewarded activity.
Change the way you see cardio
Most people see cardio as a punishment for poor nutritional choices. They feel guilty about what or how much they ate, then punish themselves with cardio. Eventually, this leads to avoidance of the guilt and punishment by altogether rejecting exercise and a proper diet.
However, cardio followed by a larger meal, more food choices, or a treat, becomes a reward for doing something good. This leads some people to look forward to cardio, as it makes their diet more manageable and enjoyable.
Why not just burn more calories and lose more weight?
What’s most important is that progress needs to be sustainable. Most people give up on their diet and exercise program. If we can make cutting calories more manageable and reward cardio, then we are more likely to follow through. Dieting isn’t a race, as there should be no end to healthy eating and exercise. Once you lose the weight, are you now going back to poor eating habits, or once again neglect your body’s health and stop exercising?
The bottom line
Eating your cardio does more than just make cutting your calories easier, it integrates exercise into a part of everyday life. The point of exercise and proper nutrition isn’t to get skinny for a season, it’s about treating yourself right, feeling good, and improving your overall quality of life.
I personally use MyFitnessPal with Strava, and have the two synched, so my cardio automatically shows up on my calorie counter. I chose Strava for its simplicity, and MyFitnessPal for its large database of foods.