Ep. 279: Are You Losing Fitness?

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Are you *really* getting fewer fitness results as you lose weight? On this week’s episode of the Get Your GOAL podcast, we’re chatting about making the most of your moderate!

You used to be able to go hiking or running for hours on end, lift super heavy weights, and still have the stamina to live your life. But now that you’re exercising moderately – I mean, twenty-three minutes a day, are you kidding me? – to lose weight, you MUST be losing fitness. Right?

Not right.

My friend, on this week’s episode of the Get Your GOAL podcast, we’re exploring the science of menopause and aging and how it affects your fitness, chatting about how your body makes exercise adaptations at any age, and easing your fears about losing fitness while you lose weight. I’ve got the facts about your body, and together we’ll manage your mindset!

What You’ll Learn:

  • Why you’re ALWAYS both gaining *and* losing fitness
  • The REAL problem with moderate exercise, and
  • How to STOP sabotaging yourself with worry and lose weight for the last time

Your beautiful, amazing, miraculous body always wants to keep up with what you are doing right now. Your brain, on the other hand, always wants to think about what it used to do. This episode of the Get Your GOAL podcast will help you work with your brain rather than constantly struggling against it.


Hey GoalFriend, welcome to episode number 279. The one where we are talking about are you losing fitness my friends, this is a question I get asked all the time and sometimes it's not entirely presented as a question. I presented it to you as a question really specifically because I'm going to answer it here in the podcast. But sometimes your brain will say something like, I am losing fitness, or surely I must be losing fitness. Or even while I'm losing weight, I don't want to lose my fitness gains. So first of all, let's start off with a couple of different things that I wanna tell you. First of all, like first and foremost, the reason anybody ever asks me about this is because in my weight loss program for women over 50, The 5-0 Method, I extol the virtues of moderate exercise really specifically as a way to lose weight. And I wanna cover the science of that super duper quickly because I, I know in the 5-0 Method I do explain it, but I wanna tell you a little bit more about it. When you are menopausal in some manner, meaning even like as you are perimenopausal, premenopausal, well not fully premenopausal, when you are premenopausal and like your ovaries are pumping out estrogen like nobody's business, this is not quite the same problem as it is when you are losing estrogen. And when your estrogen is depleted, you actually always still have a little bit of estrogen. By the way, I don't know if you know that because I didn't, I have always heard, you know, oh, with menopause we lose all our estrogen, but you don't actually lose all of it. You still have a tiny little bit because it does a lot of different functions for your body. In any event, one of the things that happens, whether or not it's related to estrogen or not, scientists know that it's related to either aging or menopause or the combination of the two. But as women get older, we recover slower from exercise, particularly like vigorous exercise. The mechanics of it are unknown. I have read a couple of different scholarly papers about it and basically they all said, we think it's related, but we don't know how and we need to research this more. So it is known that older women recover slower from exercise that their muscles need more recovery time in order to make adaptations and do all the things that your body is supposed to do. We're still capable of exercising, we're still capable of putting on muscle, we're still capable of doing all the things that we used to do with the timeline of it just takes longer than it used to. So the reason that I talk about moderation with exercise for weight loss is to account for that recovery time by exercising moderately, you've already kind of built in your, like you're not pushing yourself to the point where your muscles need to go through their full recovery cycle and make all of the adaptations and do out, you know, put out the inflammation and, and all the things that would happen when you exercise more intensely. The truth of it is you can lose weight while exercising intensely as long as you are recovering from it. It's the recovery that is actually the most important part. It's not the exercise itself. And I mean as we have discussed numerous times, exercise itself actually doesn't lead to weight loss at all. It is not the prime driver of weight loss. It's simply something that you do for your body to feel good for health, for all kinds of like wonderful reasons, not the least of which is both your mental and physical health. But the reason that I talk about moderation is not for the reason of you can't exercise or you don't want to exercise or there's no point in like trying to build muscle. None of those have anything to do with the reasons why I talk about moderation. I talk about moderation because it has built in recovery time and we're gonna actually talk about that a fair bit more while we're talking about whether or not you are losing fitness. But I wanted to cover that right up at the top. The other two things that I wanted to talk to you about just right here at the top of the, the podcast is a couple of concepts that we're going to cover during the podcast that I wanna lay out for you here so that it'll make more sense when we're talking about it. Number one is confirmation bias. And this is something that psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers have long since agreed upon. It is a way that our brains work in order to be efficient, which is one of your brain's prime biological directives. Your brain always wants to like burn the fewest amount of calories possible because it's already such an energy drain on your body. Just this is such a little quick note to the aside, fun little factoid. Your brain already uses like I think 25% of your daily calories, and I might be wrong about that. Now that I've said it out loud, I feel like maybe that number is wrong, but it's an enormous amount of your energy, your daily energy output goes to your brain. And so your brain is always, or your body rather, is always looking for ways to make sure that your brain can be efficient so that it doesn't burn through all your resources. So one of the things that your brain does is it tries very hard not to think new things, , which really truly that is the crux of like literally everything we talk about on this podcast, that your brain would rather continue to think an old thing than to think something new. It's why change feels so hard. So confirmation bias is something that your brain does in order to be efficient. It simply wants to agree with itself so that it doesn't have to think something new and burn more calories. So it will continue thinking an old thought. It will also filter in any, any new information, any new perception, any new anything through the lens of how does this agree with something I already think as opposed to what is this new information? You know, let's say factually or objectively, your brain is rarely objective. In fact, I'm gonna go ahead and say it's never objective. Honestly. We just don't think in facts. We just always think through the lens of things that we already believe in. So this is confirmation bias. We are always looking to prove the things that we already agree with. We are always looking to think the things that we already think. The other thing, and this is so fascinating to me, that your brain always does, this is another concept that we're gonna talk about more on the podcast, is negativity bias. This has also been proven through people much smarter than me, that your brain would always rather rather believe the negative of something, the bad part of something. I suspect, and I don't know if this part's been proven, this is, this is my own theory about it. I suspect that this had like evolutionary advantages in terms of if your brain was always looking for a problem, it could be prepared for a problem. I mean, as this, as this shows up now, it just means that we're all kind of walking around with like at least low grade anxiety. We're always looking for a problem and there aren't very many of them, but your brain would love to be prepared for whatever the worst case scenario is. You know, way back when the worst case scenario was, you know, a sabertooth tiger or famine or an ice age or something. This was really helpful. You could store resources, you could build shelter, like you could do all the things that we now do as a matter of daily course. You go grocery shopping, you have a place to live, like there's nothing that you actually need to solve anymore, but your brain evolved to think that you did have problems that needed to be solved. Now we just go looking for them. That's what what negativity bias is. We're always looking for a problem. So even even knowing those two concepts, you can probably already hear where I'm going with this question of are you losing fitness? Your brain has asked you that question. If it has asked you, it is a question, rather than stating it emphatically, I'm definitely losing fitness. Your brain asks you that question because it is looking for a problem. And then with its confirmation bias, it is believing everything that it conjures up as evidence of this being a problem. So I wanna actually talk a little bit now about the actual science of fitness and aging and menopause and how your body works and then we'll dig in a little bit more to how your brain perceives these things and why it is offering you this as a problem. So the science of adaptation is that your body is always making adaptations, like that is one of its prime biological directives. In fact, let's even, let's even discuss that concept really quickly and I've mentioned it a couple times before. I couldn't tell you specifically which podcasts, but this is something that I think it's just really good to know I , okay. I always think it's good to know why your brain and your body are doing what they're doing because then it's almost like a get out of jail free card where you're like, oh, well no wonder I'm thinking this ridiculous thing because that's how my brain is supposed to think and I love knowing that it's not just me, it's how my brain is supposed to work, it's how my body is supposed to work. So in any event, your biological directives, number one is to stay alive. So everything else that your brain and your body do is for the purpose of staying alive. And further to that, staying alive as long as possible, which is why primary directive number two. As far as I know pri honestly primary directive number two is probably to reproduce. I don't talk about that very often. It affects us, but for the purposes of like weight loss, fitness, aging, those kinds of things, it's not super important. It is good to know though. So probably biological directive number three is to stay the same as much as possible. This is what we were talking about with being efficient. Your brain and your body want to stay the same as much as possible. I'm gonna take a really quick left turn here and just mention that this is why we have this mental construct of your body having some kind of like a weight set point. It's not because such a thing exists, it's because your body is always trying to be efficient and trying to stay the same. Your body, however, primary directive number probably four, is to adapt when necessary so that it can stay the same. This is the one I love. Biological directive number four is my favorite one. I'm just gonna come out and say it , I have a favorite and this is it. I love, love, love knowing that I am always 100% capable of changing. Just because my brain and my body want to stay the same doesn't mean I have to. I'm capable. And so you, you can change your body, you can change your brain and both your brain and your body will make these adaptations, I'm gonna say automatically your brain less so than your body. Your brain will make some automatic adaptations, but it is in my opinion a little slower to do. So again, because of that whole energy savings thing, your brain is more reluctant to change because it's already a drain on resources. Your muscles, however not a huge drain on your resources as you build muscle, they do use more energy. This is, uh, muscle is more metabolically active than other types of tissue in your body, meaning that it burns more calories than other types of tissue. But your ability to put on muscle doesn't affect your energy burn in the same way that thinking new thoughts would. And really specifically because your ability to put on muscle is, well it's limited in terms of how much muscle you could ever put on. There's a certain amount of muscle at which your body would not gain more, especially, you know, naturally without, you know, steroid enhancement. You can gain muscle but it a takes a little bit longer than simply thinking a new thought which takes nanoseconds. It B is limited by the fact that you're not going to put on very much muscle, which means that even over time it wouldn't be as much of an energy drain as thinking new things would be. Knowing that your body is always making adaptations is really important. For the purposes of our discussion today, your body is always trying to get better at the exact thing that you are asking it to do. Write now, meaning for example, there were years and years and years when I ran every day I was uh, I was a long distance endurance runner for many years. It was my favorite thing to do. It was my favorite form of exercise. I started off running just a couple days a week and over the years built up to running six days a week. I've never been a streaker. I never actually, I mean there were times when I ran, you know, seven days or more days in a row, but I never intentionally like went on a, you know, I'm gonna run every day for a year kind of a thing. I I like my rest days , so, so, but I ran a lot, I ran a lot of miles, I ran frequently. There was a lot of running. So my body got fantastic at running over the last couple of years for a variety of reasons. One of which was that it didn't feel as good either mentally or physically to push myself that hard anymore. I also had gained some weight from over exercising and I, you know, in, in an effort to lose weight came down to moderate daily exercise. So I, I lost a lot of running fitness over the last year and a half, well, not quite year and a half cuz it's only March. But over the last year and a couple of months, I have really changed my fitness focus towards building strength. I've, I've really enjoyed just slowing down in general. I've really enjoyed doing something different for my body. I've really enjoyed watching my body change in a way that feels, it just feels good to feel strong at this time of my life where a lot of women are concerned about losing fitness. So I have been focusing on, like last year I had a process goal of exercising with weights in my hand for at least two times a week every single week, all year long. And I actually both met and exceeded that goal. I ended up definitely two times a week and actually it was closer, well my average was actually over three times a week, although it was somewhat rare that I did four times a week. But I, I ended up totally smashing that process goal of regular strength training. And then at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, so far I've transitioned into not just, uh, having like a baseline of, of strength work because last year I was really focusing on moderate strength work, just being regular with it, working on my stamina and my endurance with strength work. And now this year I'm really focusing on building muscle and have had just fantastic extraordinary gains of muscle and strength fitness. It's been really exciting to see because of that whole year that I spent getting prepared for it. But while I was getting prepared for those gains, while I have gained, I mean enormous amounts of strength fitness, I have lost running fitness because I don't run the way I used to. So when I'm looking for the answer to the question, am I losing fitness? Yeah, I absolutely have, I have really significantly lost running fitness, like a lot of running fitness. However, that's not the only kind of fitness I might have. I also wanna cover here really quickly. Some of the biological changes that happen with your body as we age that might be related to menopause are very likely related to menopause. Again, that whole, we recover slower from exercise. One of the things that happens when we exercise, so you exercise intensely one time and your body reacts to that intense exercise by sending out a, a good rush of cortisol. Cortisol is actually really good for you in in the doses in which it is good for you. Like everything, it's a bell curve, it's really good for you until it's not. It sends out cortisol, which, uh, gives you inflammation and it's the first part of the muscle repair process. The thing that happens though is that one of, one of the mechanics that I understand is that one of estrogen's jobs was to ameliorate cortisol, meaning that it would tell cortisol, Hey, that's enough, you're good here, vous, but with a lack of estrogen, cortisol goes, I'm not gonna say unchecked, there are other checks and balances, but we tend to have cortisol in our system longer than we used to because of the slower recovery. Cortisol helps you recover. So having it in your system longer is because of that longer muscle repair process. But here's what happens is that what cortisol is doing is it is raising your blood pressure, which is good in small doses, it is raising your blood sugar again, good in small doses because you have just depleted your blood pressure and your blood sugar from the exercise. So it's keeping your body going while you are recovering. But when cortisol stays in your system, and I'm gonna use the phrase too long, I have no idea what the actual length of time is. This isn't like a specific number, it's just I I I'm throwing it out there as a, as a concept. When cortisol stays in your system too long, it hampers the muscle repair and muscle building systems. It actually ends up turning off your, the human growth hormone, which helps you, helps you with lots of things. It helps you with your circadian rhythms, it, which means getting enough sleep, it stops building muscle and in fact can lead to muscle wasting. Having cortisol in your system again for too long, that's air quotes means that it starts catalyzing your muscles for blood sugar. That is where it is raising your blood sugar from your muscles, not anywhere else in your body. It's not taking blood sugar from your liver or from your anywhere else. It is eating your muscles for fuel. So when you exercise intensely and don't recover properly, you are actually losing muscles. Is that the most bizarre thing you've ever heard? I know, I know. It's kinda like that whole exercising intensely causes you to gain weight. Yeah, this is exactly why, because your, your blood sugar is trying to stay high from the cortisol in your system. When you have excess cortisol, the other thing that your body does is start storing belly fat because of these systems that you have in place. The way to help you lose weight is to make sure that you are recovering properly. It's why I tell you moderate exercise. Okay? So anyways, the thing that happens is your brain is looking for, well first of all, it's looking for evidence of what it already believes and it is also conjuring up all kinds of evidence for how this thing that you are thinking could be true. As soon as that question, am I losing fitness pops into your head and here's just something really quick to the aside. It sounds like you're being curious when you ask yourself a question like this, am I losing fitness? But I want you to know that any time your brain offers you a question as an automatic thought, meaning that you don't ask yourself a question intentionally, your brain has actually already answered it and it has already answered it in the, I'm gonna say negative, meaning the negativity bias. When you hear a question in your head, like when it pops into your head, am I losing fitness? Your brain has already answered, yes you are. So you are looking for evidence of how that thing is true, how losing fitness is what is happening to you. And here's how it probably presents to you. You probably have noticed yourself. And the reason I mention this one is because it's something that I do all the time. You have probably noticed yourself comparing yourself to what you used to be able to do when I was exercising more intensely, I could lift heavier weights or I used to be able to go for a longer run. I used to be able to, you know, run six days a week. I used to be able to fill in the blank, whatever you used to be able to do. Now, I'm not telling you you're wrong, but I am telling you that your brain is looking to that specific evidence to prove what it believes to be true that you are losing fitness. The other way that this might present, gee, this whole list is actually things I have done. It might present as occasional over exercise. This is something that I have been managing in my own life for the last, I'm gonna say five years. This is something that still shows up sometime. I love to tell you how I am still a work in progress. You guys. This question of are you losing fitness is one that pops into my head with some frequency. I'm actually recording this entire podcast for me, and you're welcome, , occasional over exercise and the comparison to past self abilities, uh, researching the perils of osteoporosis or muscle wasting, which to be fair, I actually did that to write my book. One of things that I do talk about with, uh, like in great detail in my book, Mindo Menopause, which is coming out in late June, is how your body is changing and how osteoporosis is a real issue and muscle wasting is a real issue and what we can do about it. And just so you know, that what we can do about it, is moderate exercise or intense exercise with adequate recovery. You might also just notice kind of an unspecified worry, just that whole like, gee, I think something's wrong. I don't feel as good as I used to. I'm probably losing fitness. I'm probably gonna, you know, uh, fall more when I get old. I'm probably gonna turn out like my mother. Like you just have those kind of blacky, yucky, I'm getting old feelings. I know you know what those feel like. Those, all of those, all of those thoughts, all of those presentations, all of the ways this is showing up in your life, my friend, I want you to understand that a, this is completely normal, completely natural, exactly the way your brain is supposed to work. And for the purposes of our conversation about how it is affecting your weight loss journey, you could simply refer to this as your brain's way of sabotaging. This is self-sabotage and here's what I mean. Well first of all, first of all, let's talk about the word self-sabotage. I have an entire podcast about self-sabotage, how it's not really a thing, it's just how your brain is supposed to work. You are trying to change your concept of yourself and your brain would rather stay the same. It would rather you not lose weight so that you can continue thinking and being the same thing that you have been. Your brain would rather be efficient. And when you are exercising moderately and doing all the other things that you need to do to lose weight, really specifically believing that you can, journaling, thinking about changing your mind, eating the right number of calories, drinking the right amount of water, uh, getting enough sleep, all those things, when you are doing those things, your brain recognizes, oh my gosh, we're gonna have to think new thoughts, and if we think new thoughts, that's gonna burn more calories. Therefore, we're gonna go ahead and send you some thoughts such as we're losing fitness to slow you down. You are simultaneously losing fitness and gaining fitness when you are exercising moderately. You are correct that you are doing things differently than you used to do before, but the thing that your brain is missing, the big blind spot here is that you are gaining fitness in another area. In much the same way of my example, how I have gained so much strength fitness and lost so much running fitness, you are, by exercising moderately, gaining a brain body connection. You are gaining, if you're doing my workout videos, balance, core strength, an ability to moderate yourself in a way that you didn't have before. You are gaining fitness in ways that your brain is simply not acknowledging right now. When you ask your brain for, well, okay, first of all, when you ask your brain a question intentionally ever, that's what it actually is. Your curiosity, your curious observer, looking for a different way of thinking about things, you will notice that your brain would love to offer you an answer like, I don't know, or probably not, or continue conjuring evidence of all the things that you used to be able to do and how this is definitely not enough, and how if this, you continue to walk down this road, how it's gonna lead to all kinds of terrible things for you, that you'll definitely lose your abilities to do anything. You'll lose your, your bone, uh, density. You'll end up like your mom or your grandma or whatever. By the way, I have a, a family history of osteoporosis and all of the complications that go along with that, so this is one of the things that my brain offers me and actually one of the reasons why I am working on strength after I lost the weight that I wanted to lose. What I want you to understand and take away from this is a couple of things. Number one, yes, you are losing fitness . There's the answer, and also you are definitely not. You are both losing and gaining fitness all the time because your body is always changing and adapting to what you are currently doing. You will never, ever, ever, because of how biology works, get and keep a certain type of fitness. Your beautiful, amazing, miraculous body always wants to keep up with what you are doing right now. Your brain, on the other hand, always wants to think about what it used to do. These are at odds and especially if you are looking to make a specific adaptation, you need to work with your brain rather than constantly struggling against it. The way to work with your brain, first of all, in my opinion, is to understand the science. Understanding exactly how your body is working and why it is doing the things that it is doing is to me the most important part of this puzzle. The other thing is to simply recognize what your brain is offering you and why. When you understand confirmation bias and you understand negativity bias and you understand that your brain simply wants you to stay the same as much as possible, it makes it so much easier to hear those thoughts and recognize them for what they are. They are unhelpful. The thoughts that you are having about losing fitness are actually stopping you from creating what you want. My friend, I hope that this was helpful for you today. I hope that I hope that you can take a slightly clearer look at where you are and move forward in a way that gets you where you want to go. Thank you so much for listening. I'll talk to you again soon.

Listen to the full episode here, and be sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts.

Originally aired March 19, 2023
Are you *really* getting fewer fitness results as you lose weight? On this week’s episode of the Get Your GOAL podcast, we’re chatting about making the most of your moderate!
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Meet Your Host

Mindset expert and certified life coach Pahla B knows a thing or two about changing your mind to change your weight and your life. She’s the creator of The 5-0 Method, Amazon-best selling author of the book “Mind Over Menopause,” and former yo-yo dieter who has cracked the code on lifelong weight maintenance. Join Pahla B each week for the personal insights, transformative mindset shifts, and science-backed body advice that can help you lose all the weight you want and keep it off forever.