It happens to all of us at some point: our exercise routines get thrown off by an injury, a work project, or general chaos at home.
When you have to reduce your exercise time for any reason, it can be easy to pack on the pounds.
When you’re not exercising, the body is not demanding as much energy, and over time, your appetite and hunger will likely decrease, just as your appetite increases when you’re more active, said Rebecca Scritchfield, Washington D.C.-based registered dietitian, and host of Body Kindness podcast. “The body goes for balance - homeostasis - where it tries to maintain weight based on energy demands.”
Despite this, many people tend to see their weight rise when they exercise less. Some people err on the side of caution, and concerned about weight gain, try to severely restrict calories, said Scritchfield. This is never a good idea. “In the short term this can cause people to eat uncontrollably later in the day or week if they are not taking in enough food consistently,” she said. And in the long run, “if someone is not consuming adequate amounts nutrition this can put them at higher risk for injuries once they return to their normal exercise routine.”
Other runners go overboard in the other direction. Without the grounding of their regular exercise routine, and the stress release that exercise provides, they eat with abandon. “People fall into the 'black and white' mindset, where they feel if they aren't able to do their regular exercise their eating habits fall off the wagon too,” Scritchfield added.
With a few simple steps, you can stay healthy and fit during your down time, and come back strong. When your mileage numbers go down, here’s how to keep the numbers on the scale from moving upward.
Think honestly about what you’re consuming and where extra calories may be coming from. Have you gotten into the habit of mindlessly snacking on the drive home from work to take the edge off the day’s stress? Are you continuing to indulge in your Saturday morning muffin even though you’re not keeping up your usual long run?
Consider what triggers beyond hunger may be leading you to eat too much, or consume foods that don’t fit in with the healthy lifestyle you aspire to lead. All to often we eat as a means to procrastinate, relieve boredom, stress, or any other uncomfortable emotion. Have a list of food-free strategies that would genuinely help you get through these tough times. Call a friend, clean out a drawer, do the dishes, or just get out of the house for some fresh air. Post these strategies where you can see them when you need them the most.
Stock your kitchen with fresh produce and wholesome unprocessed foods. If you’ve got a weakness for certain salty and sweet junk foods, don’t buy buy them. Keeping temptation out of sight and out of reach drastically reduces the chances that you’ll give into it.
One of the toughest parts of reducing the amount of activity you do is that you are deprived of the physical exhilaration to which you are accustomed, which is a proven stress reliever and tool to feel better. So make a list of the other activities you can do which will provide stress release and enjoyment. Spend time with friends. Read a book. Start a home-improvement project. Plant flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Write letters to long-lost friends. Gather beloved feel-good movies, music, and books that you can take out any time you need a boost.
If you can still work out—even if it’s at a lower intensity—do it at the same time that you’d usually run, so that you get the comfort from your routine. If you can’t work out, try to incorporate more activity whenever you can—take the long route to the restroom, walk your errands, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or park far from a storefront. These extra steps and extra minutes moving add up, and will help you feel invigorated.
If you’re injured, or going through a particularly stressful chapter of life, fill up on foods that offer big doses of vitamins and minerals that your body needs to heal. When compared to other foods, most vegetables and many fruits are low in calories while being high in essential nutrients, fiber, and water. If you’re injured, be sure to get your Vitamin C— a powerful antioxidant and helps regulate the immune system—from foods like citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, broccoli, and kiwi. Vitamin A can help decrease early inflammation in new injuries, she added. So be sure to fill up on A-rich foods like squash, apricots, carrots, and cantaloupe. Magnesium, can help reduce anxiety, improve sleep function and muscle cramps. are nuts, seeds, carrots, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, fish, grains, dark chocolate, bananas, and kiwi. Iron, which you can find in red meat, lentils, spinach, almonds, and fortified cereals, help with energy production she said. Zinc, which you can find in shellfish, is necessary for all tissue regeneration and repair. Be sure to fill up on Tryptofan, which you can find in milk and turkey. It contains amino acid that can help repair tissues. Tryptofan also helps make serotonin and melatonin, which are helpful hormones in sleep regulation, Scritchfield said.