The festive months are upon us and the next two months are going to be a blur of parties, dinners and indulgence. If you’re focused on fitness, health and body image goals, you might think that you could counter the indulgence with some extra exercise in the gym or a longer run the following day. You might even do some preemptive extra training before parties. You may think that it’s a smart way of balancing the scales and beating the party season bulge. Sadly, it does not work that way.
“Trying to compensate for your indulgences by getting in an extra session in the gym is not the correct approach,” says Sandeep Sachdev, coach, nutritionist and co-founder of Mumbai’s EasyHuman fitness studio and cafe. “Let’s take food for example. If you miss your lunch and breakfast, would you eat three meals’ worth of food at dinner time? In the unlikely scenario of you actually doing that, you are most likely to feel uneasy, have a tummy ache and finally since the body cannot digest that much food it would be excreted in the form of puke or poop. Similarly, the human body cannot benefit from extra exercise.”
Festive celebrations are incomplete without some great food, admits Simrun Chopra, founder of Nourish with Sim. “As we go on a spree, we end up eating a lot of sweets and savories which are high in calories, sugar and salt and these lead to weight gain. So, it is very important to shed those extra calories and fats to avoid other health issues. But substituting extra exercise for extra eating during the festivals is not a great idea as over-exercising can prove to be harmful for our body,” adds Chopra.
Trying to exercise to compensate for the food you eat sends out a message that “food must be earned” or that “exercise is your punishment”. None of it is true, says Chopra and this is an unhealthy approach. Doing sessions of extra and excessive workouts regularly is not good for health, says Seema Singh, chief clinical nutritionist at Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj. “The body also needs some rest,” Singh explains.
Instead of feeling guilty, enjoy your indulgence and be mindful of how often you are doing it while sticking to your normal exercise regimen and training plan. As nutritionist and mentor at Comprehensive Coaching Shannon Beer says, “Consistency triumphs perfection.” Focus on returning to a normal routine and training programme without trying to over-compensate, advises Chopra. “You are not defined by one bad day or one bad meal. You are what you do daily,” she says.
In short, compensatory exercises don’t work. On the contrary, frequent extra workouts can cause you serious harm, coaches and health professionals warn. While exercise is good for you and your health, “too much exercise can lead to injuries, exhaustion and depression. It can also cause lasting physical harm,” says Chopra.
There is plenty of scientific evidence of the ill effects of excessive exercise. In 2003 researchers found that excessive exercise alters the immune system and leaves one susceptible to infections. The paper published in the Sports Medicine journal stated that “exercise-related immune-suppression is due to tissue trauma sustained during intense exercise.” Another study published in the journal Acta Medica Martiniana in 2014 found that the main adverse effects associated with excessive exercise and overtraining among healthy individuals were musculoskeletal injuries, adverse cardiovascular effects, exercise-induced muscle damage, exercise-related alterations of immunity, exercise-related reproductive dysfunction, chronic negative energy balance, osteoporosis, and sleep disorders.
Singh feels five days of exercise is ideal. Sachdev points out that rest is as important as the workouts and it should be planned properly, because when your body doesn’t recover you cannot perform at your optimum levels.
So enjoy your indulgences but stick to your training regimen. Also, be mindful of what you eat through the day for the next two months. “Stick to light meals a day before and a day after a party, it will balance out your total calorie consumption,” says Singh, adding, “It’s always a great idea to create low calorie snacks and sweets at home and replacing sugars with dates, raisins or figs.”
It is best to avoid unhealthy snacks at home during the festive season, says Chopra, because you are most likely going to be served plenty of those at parties. If you are hungry, eat fruits or nuts instead, she advises. “They are all filling snacks that do not contain added sugar or unhealthy fats, both of which lead to weight gain,” she explains.
Do not drink packed juices and other sugary liquids. “Too much alcohol can cause dehydration and promote fat storage. It is best to alternate your alcoholic drinks with several glasses of water,” she says. Chopra adds that practicing control without depriving or starving yourself will help you navigate this festive season in a healthy way.With the right mindset and strategies, you could eat all that you want without any guilt, says Chopra.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.