Too Exhausted To Lose Weight

“When I get home from a long day at work all I want to do is crash. The last thing in the world I want to do is exercise!”

Exhaustion is a huge barrier to weight loss.  When you feel exhausted, the impulse is to rest, but this can turn into a vicious cycle resulting in low motivation to exercise and high levels of sedentary activity.  If you feel stuck in a cycle of exhaustion, keep reading…

Emotional vs Physical Exhaustion

These are two very different types of exhaustion that require two very different solutions.

Emotional exhaustion involves being tired of thinking, focusing, problem solving and dealing with interpersonal stressors. These activities utilize very little physical energy (i.e., do not burn many calories) but can still make us feel very mentally taxed. Unfortunately our brain is not a muscle so it utilizes very little energy to do its job. If you have a sedentary job but feel very tired at the end of a day, you are emotionally exhausted. After an emotionally exhausting day, our knee jerk reaction is to indulge in a treat and/or hit the couch. However, overeating and being sedentary do nothing to correct low emotional energy, but instead they keep energy levels low.

What’s the Fix For Emotional Exhaustion?

Engaging in a physical activity replenishes emotional energy by increasing mental alertness, reducing stress (by calming stress hormones), and improving memory and cognition. Exercise also utilizes physical energy that has gone unspent during a sedentary day at work.  Try this experiment. On a day you feel emotionally exhausted after work, plan to rest. On another day, take a brisk walk–force yourself if you must. I guarantee you will feel more energized after your walk than before the walk, whereas you will feel more tired/sleepy after resting than before the rest.

Physical exhaustion, on the other hand, results from engaging in a high level of physical activity, so much that an energy deficit is created (you burned more calories than you consumed). Rest and having a healthy snack are indicated in this situation. Most people rarely push themselves to physical exhaustion though. One reason is that we rest and eat when we feel emotionally exhausted which prevents us from ever really seeing the bottom of the physical energy barrel.

Why You Should Physically Exhaust Yourself Once in a While

Huh?!  Yes, I challenge you to plan at least 2 workouts a month that are what I call, “ass kickers.” These are workouts that bring you to physical exhaustion. Usually exercising about 2-3 times longer than your usual workout time will do it.  Doing an intense mountain hike or taking a long bike ride when you normally walk or jog.  Be careful not to engage in dangerous levels of activity, only enough to be truly tired.  What’s the point?  Physically exhausting yourself will acquaint you with the true experience of physical exhaustion (e.g., fatigued muscles, true hunger, physically tired) which will help you to distinguish between physical and emotional exhaustion in the future. It will also increase your fitness and endurance which will make it take much longer to become physically exhausted.

Something to Think About

People who have lost a lot of weight and are physically active almost routinely say, “I can’t believe how much energy I have now.”   If you often feel exhausted, I just want you to trust me that getting active and losing some weight will bring you levels of energy you never believed you could have.

Other Possible Sources of Exhaustion

If you have been feeling exhausted more often than not in recent months, there may be medical causes, including obstructive sleep apnea, medication side effect, depression, or type 2 diabetes.  Talk to your physician to explore medical causes because there are many available treatments that can make a world of difference on your energy levels.

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2 Comments

  1. Krissy says:

    I love this. On days that I feel stressed/flustered/ busy I always want to skip the gym to get stuff done and rest, but experience has taught me that the workout always makes me feel better. I’m glad to know that it’s not just me.

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