Thanks for Your Concern, but I'm Not Here to Burn off the Guilt From Eating

Last week was my birthday (!) and I received lots of birthday messages from random email lists I've signed up for over the years. Most were what you would expect - celebratory messages, some included discounts, but others came with a tinge of guilt.

Exercise and Cake Email.jpg

Yay. Lucky me! Thanks for the "happy" birthday wishes...not really. Also, I would burn calories for those 36 hours after anyway, workout or not, because I am living and I burn calories every second of every day. I know, they are talking about high intensity workouts, building muscle, and their combined effects on calorie burn after a workout, but even that doesn't result in a high calorie burn post exercise that would amount to much when it comes to total calorie intake. So, my question is, why the guilt trip? Why is there an assumption that I, or anyone else, would feel guilty about eating cake ON THEIR BIRTHDAY. They shouldn't, I shouldn't, and you shouldn't. 

Let me break this down...

Yes, Exercise and Nutrition are Connected

Exercise and nutrition are connected and that goes without saying, but they aren't connected because we need to be punished for eating or feel guilty for eating. No. They are connected because we MUST eat to move our bodies. It is a fact that calories are needed to survive and to allow for movement. The end. There is no reason to feel guilty about eating calories...ever because without them we wouldn't survive. Yes, there is a science to nutrition and sports performance. It's also known that the timing of certain categories of nutrients makes a significant impact on sports performance. However, this isn't about that, this specifically points to foods eaten up to 36 hours after working out which literally have nothing to do with the workout itself or performance during a workout. The two aren't connected.

Exercise is More Than a Calorie Burn

Exercise isn't just about calories and I might argue, it really isn't much at all about calories. What is it about?

Exercise is...

  • a stress reliever
  • a mood booster
  • an energy booster

Exercise strengthens muscles including our very important muscles of the heart and lungs.

Exercise helps us maintain our bone density as we age and improves balance.

Exercise boosts our HDL cholesterol, lowers triglycerides, lowers blood pressure and helps in lowering blood sugar.

Exercise helps us sleep.

Exercise is also a way to meet others, a way to challenge ourselves, to set goals and accomplish them. It's a way to enjoy the wilderness or see a city.  Exercise allows us to take a break from our computers, phones, and work.

Exercise is so much more than a calorie burn.  

How Many Calories Did You Burn? It's complicated.

The science of calorie burn during exercise isn't as straight forward as the numbers on the cardio machine have you believe. Calories burned varies from person to person and often, people overestimate calories burned in a single exercise session. There's also some evidence that the number of calories burned might plateau with increased exercise. Additionally, the type, intensity, and duration of exercise influences the calorie burn. It's also a fact that physical activity in general does not contribute much to total calories burned throughout the day for the average person. The majority of calories burned are due to the basal metabolic rate to the tune of 2/3 of total calories. And, there are many other factors influencing metabolism including age, sex, body composition, weight history, and more. If you want to read more on this, check out this article in EatingWell by a fellow dietitian (I'm quoted!). 

Separate Calories and Exercise

I tell you all of this not so that you will start thinking about calories when it comes to exercise, but more so that you will stop. In other words, don't exercise because you ate and don't exercise in anticipation of eating. You should choose to eat foods that help you feel your best. Sometimes that means eating food to give you energy before working out and sometimes that means choosing to eat after a workout to help you recover and repair muscle. But don't use exercise as a punishment for any calorie you have consumed. 

And if it is your birthday, enjoy your cake AND your workout without feeling guilty about skipping or indulging in either one!