As a personal trainer, I’m sometimes asked, “What exercise should I do if I want to lose stubborn belly fat? What should I eat – or not eat – to drop 20 pounds and be ready for a trip in four weeks?”
To be honest, there are many different exercises that could help you burn fat. Whether the fat is on your belly or elsewhere. I think the more important question is: what change is going to be sustainable for you?
Consider this scenario: You want to lose 20 pounds and know that if you exercise 30 minutes a day, three to five days a week, you could say goodbye to that fat. So, you make the commitment to do just that. Maybe it’s jogging, maybe it’s cardio class, or maybe it’s lifting weights. You keep your commitment for two weeks. Then Thursday rolls around (or Tuesday or Friday) and you must work extra hours to keep up with a project at work. When the workday finally ends, you’re faced with choosing between exercise or crashing on the couch because you’re beat from all the extra hours of work. Chores are the last thing we want to do when work or other things place extra demands on our time and energy. Your workload doesn’t let up for another three weeks. By then, your resolve to exercise three to five times a week is somewhere between waning and non-existent.
Also consider this scenario: You want to lose 20 pounds of fat and have the energy to enjoy an upcoming trip. You spend a few weeks exploring physical activities to find a couple activities that you enjoy and look forward to. Maybe it’s going for a walk with your spouse after dinner, perhaps playground time at the park with your kids after school, exploring nearby trails, shooting hoops with the neighbor or swimming laps before work. You find activities that keep you moving and that you look forward to because they give you more than what you were looking for. They give you the opportunity to expend calories, build muscle, strengthen relationships, as well as the motivation and energy to keep moving each day.
Which of the above scenarios is sustainable: trying to maintain an exercise routine that you consider a chore or a physical activity in which you find something you enjoy and consider a gift? Willpower doesn’t work for humans. As Lutherans we understand the corrupted human nature and how we perceive things we should do. We understand that to be Law. While the Law is important to show us the standard or where we fail, it doesn’t bring about sustainable change. Gift, which we might consider to be like Gospel, is where we find sustainable change — change for good. Gift is something we’ll return to, even when we feel like we’ve failed more than once.
Dr. Michelle Segar, psychologist and author of “No Sweat” offers some very helpful insights from behavior science for changing your view from exercise as chore to favorite physical activities as gifts. She applies the same insights to diet and food as well. “No Sweat" is an easy read. It’s accessible in print, electronic and even audio to take along on your commute or evening walks. May you find the gift activities you’re looking for this season.
Segar, Michelle. In No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. New York, NY: AMACOM, 2015.