Being fat despite exercising | Pakistan Today

Being fat despite exercising

  • Exercise is good for you

 Sometimes, exercise has nothing to with getting thinner.

This is a point I often struggle to explain to people who observe, with an odd sense of impatience, that someone they know is not losing weight despite exercising regularly. What is the purpose of sweating three to four days a week on a treadmill, if one’s not getting any closer to finding a better rishta?

Every now and then, I’m approached by a fitness enthusiast at the gym I go to, commenting on my lack of progress. ‘Progress’, in conventional fitness terms, is the amount of fat you burn and the muscle weight you gain. I weigh about the same as I did about a month ago, when I started going to the gym regularly.

We are all familiar with this specific class of enthusiasts and their unmistakable odour of toxic masculinity; the class that spends a vast majority of its gym time hogging barbells and pulley systems, and very little time on non-aesthetic lower-body workouts.

‘Progress’ doesn’t always show up on the mirror, and it’s not easily quantifiable. ‘Health’ is a big word encompassing far more than just ‘fat’ and ‘muscle’. ‘Fitness’ is not measured in kilograms alone, nor can you judge fitness by visual assessment. When you exercise, your body changes in more ways than you can possibly measure outside a laboratory.

Such fitness buffs are often flabbergasted by my response that I’m not at the gym to lose weight. Why am I there then? A mini-lecture on the importance of losing weight generally follows, which is often redundant at best if not outright condescending. We all do this, sadly. If you’re a fat person who’s been in a room with other fat people, you likely have a habit of curiously scanning their bodies and quickly estimating whether they weight more or less than yourself. Fitness buffs, who’re accustomed to focusing on the size, bulk, contours, and firmness of their own bodies, often do the same with other bodies as well. And, to our annoyance, assume that others at the gym have the same needs and desires as them.

Why am I am the gym if not to take inspiration from hard-bodied, well-sculpted men with 0 percent body fat and a permanent lobster-pose? Why struggle, if we are not struggling to physically resemble these super-toned men and women? I’ll tell you why.

“To improve my mental health,” is one answer, and it’s rock-solid. Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are known to sometimes ‘prescribe’ exercise as an established mood elevater. Numerous studies, the more ambitious of which was published in August 2018 in The Lancet, have verified that people who exercise regularly experience fewer days a month of mental distress. Exercise causes the release of endorphins, and these neurochemicals play a significant role in numbing bodily pain and improving mood. Furthermore, exercise inhibits the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which is strongly associated with feelings of restleSsness and anxiety.

Exercising also improves general stamina and wards off fatigue. The body needs to be ‘warmed up’ for physical activity, roughly the same way as a car engine requires heating. A body that isn’t prepared for physical activity may feel sluggish.

The right kind of exercise can do wonders for back pain and other joint problems. Through ‘physiotherapy’, for example, the body can be trained to cope with different kinds of physical stress. Exercise not only increases muscle bulk, it makes the bones stronger; which is particularly important in overweight and obese people.

Although there are studies supporting this, it goes without saying that exercise helps you sleep better at night. People who exercise regularly usually enjoy a more restful sleep than those who do not. This peculiarity makes exercise a double treat. It exerts a stimulating effect that keeps you active and fully energized through the day, but at night, it takes back what it’s given so you don’t spend the night tossing and turning in bed. This is true, as long as you don’t exercise less than two hours before bedtime.

The list of benefits, in fact, is far longer; and each of these benefits has plenty of scientific backing. Exercise reduces the risk of cardiac disorders, diabetes, dementia, and certain kinds of cancer. It improves libido and sexual vigour. It energizes the immune system, hence the body’s ability to fight infections.

What’s most important, is that most of these benefits are not secondary to weight loss.

Most fat people stop exercising when the weight machine stops giving them the good news they’re desperate to hear. Losing weight can be punishingly complicated, after all. Disappointed and disheartened, fat people often abandon their workout routines. They’re made to believe that the returns aren’t worth their enormous investment in time and effort. This happens when we are measuring ‘progress’ strictly through fat loss and muscle gain.

‘Progress’ doesn’t always show up on the mirror, and it’s not easily quantifiable. ‘Health’ is a big word encompassing far more than just ‘fat’ and ‘muscle’. ‘Fitness’ is not measured in kilograms alone, nor can you judge fitness by visual assessment. When you exercise, your body changes in more ways than you can possibly measure outside a laboratory.

Look for new metrics. Take a moment to enjoy your newfound mental clarity, and the sense of accomplishment that follows a good, vigrous workout. Allow yourself to feel lighter, even if the numbers on the weighing scale refuse to change. Learn to appreciate that you feel better in control of your own body; better able to stand on your feet for longer hours; better able to walk moderate distances without feeling miserable. Congratulate yourself on this progress, and don’t stop moving.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.



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