Is exercise making you fat?

Have you ever put in the hard yards in the gym, flogged yourself three or four times a week only to watch your weight gradually increase? 

Some people will comfort you with the old line ‘muscle weighs heavier than fat’, and muscle is a denser material than fat, but that weight gain could also be attributed to an increase in your cortisol levels.

Cortisol is chemical produced in the body at times of stress, like when you have a near miss in your car or when you put your body through the stress of a strenuous workout.

In a nutshell, cortisol increases appetite, more specifically, your appetite for foods that are high in sugar. Why? Because at times of stress humans enter fight or flight mode and either of these responses requires a quick source of energy, ergo the sugar craving.

Just to make things worse, cortisol also decreases leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full. So while you are clocking up the kilometres on the treadmill, you are raising your cortisol levels and post workout you may be consuming higher quantities of the wrong types of food. 

Before you shake your head and vow to give up on exercise, remember that the benefits far outweigh this little chemical glitch. If your scales keep going up no matter how hard you train though, look out for these cortisol cravings and put down the chocolate bar and coke. 

We all know the simple formula for weight loss is energy in (food) should be less than energy out (physical activity). Don’t let cortisol fool you into thinking that the hour you just spent on the bike means you need an extra large muffin. Like all cravings, it will pass quickly and when your friends comment on how good you look, you’ll never look back with regret at that mountain of caramel fudge you chose not to climb.

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