You Can’t Exercise Your Way out of the Wrong Diet


In the spring of 2003, I was living in Texas with my incredible fiancé. We had returned there five months earlier after an 18 month stint in Paris, where we had become engaged (très romantique!) and completed our first triathlon together. We had just moved into our first house, my wedding dress had arrived, and we were eagerly anticipating our wedding day which would bring together loved ones from all across the U.S. and Europe.

It was an incredibly happy time, albeit a little stressful with all the wedding plans that were underway. And then the day came for my bridal portraits… and I was plunged into what felt like overwhelming despair!

You see, despite the fact that I had finished two marathons since returning from Paris and my weight hadn’t really changed since the last time I tried on the dress in that precious Dublin boutique… I could not get my dress zipped! And I don’t mean just a little. I mean there was a 1/2 – 1″ gap between the two sides!

As I’m sure you can imagine… I completely lost it! I yelled at my mom to try harder as I sucked everything in as hard as I could. I called the boutique to question whether or not they had sent me the wrong dress (after all, it fit p-e-r-f-e-c-t-l-y just seven months earlier and I had just run two marathons!). And then I cried… and ate spinach and carrots. Only. For like three weeks. Until I could get the freakin’ thing zipped.

This, my friends, was how I learned that you cannot exercise your way out of the wrong diet.

Since that time, my understanding of this truth has grown by leaps and bounds. And I think it’s important that we all understand, it’s not just that you can’t exercise your way out of a “bad” diet, you can’t exercise your way out of the wrong diet for you!

The magnitude of this truth is increasing for me as I expand my knowledge of functional nutrition and help clients be their most amazing selves. But also as I continue to tweak my own diet.

My biggest “aha” came this year. After completing my elimination diet and discovering that I am sensitive to gluten, dairy and corn, I have removed them from my diet (as much as possible) and am now maintaining my lowest adult weight ever. Even though I’m no longer training for Ironman or any other endurance sport, I feel like my body is functioning better than ever.

Let me explain the reasons why neither you nor I can exercise our way out of the wrong diet…

  1. A “bad” (or unhealthy or unbalanced) diet full of heavily processed foods won’t provide all of the micronutrients your body needs to function properly. In other words, many of us are nutrient deficient despite how much we are eating. For example, many of the B vitamins (like thiamin and riboflavin) are needed to turn glucose into energy. And because Nature is a genius, whole grains tend to be high in B vitamins… until the grains get processed and turned into refined flour. Even when those baked goods are fortified, they never reach the same level of B vitamins as were originally in the grain to begin with and we are deprived of the nutrients necessary to turn the food we are eating into energy… plus any other metabolic function for which B vitamins are required.
  2. If you have an unidentified food sensitivity or intolerance, continuing to eat that food will keep your body inflamed. This results in chronic inflammation because the immune system is constantly responding to the “invader” (i.e., the food) in its efforts to keep us safe. Eating is literally fanning the inflammation flame.

If we are nutrient deficient and/or chronically inflamed, the result can be a whole host of symptoms and conditions like… unnecessary body fat (especially in the abdomen), bloating and abdominal distention, joint and muscle pain, headaches, high blood pressure, allergies, depression, gastrointestinal trouble, anxiety, chronic fatigue, allergies and thyroid issues.

Just for completeness, it also doesn’t matter what you eat or how much you exercise, if something else in your body is off. Whether it’s a toxic burden from chemicals in our food, air and water or your hormones are out of whack or you aren’t sleeping enough or you’re stressed out, those imbalances can also manifest as any of the things listed above.

Look. I’m not saying exercise isn’t important. It is. Physical activity is necessary for cardiovascular health and muscle maintenance. Plus, it helps with stress relief, insulin sensitivity, insomnia and hormone balance. And it can help with the balance of calories in vs calories out (although I’ve already written about how useless this measurement usually is).

But exercise can’t fix any problems you are experiencing that are associated with eating the wrong diet for your physiology and environment.

If you think you might be eating the wrong diet for you, but aren’t sure how to fix it, contact me and we can work together to find your right diet.

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