Beat Your Body's Fat Traps With Yoga
Photographs by Terry Doyle
Before you launch into yet another slim-down plan, beware: Your workout plan may be working against you. In a study from the United Kingdom, some new exercisers compensated for their workouts by eating as much as 270 extra calories a day—negating more than half of the calories they burned. This self-sabotage has a ripple effect. As the number on the scale inches down at a painfully slow pace, many women give up altogether.
Don't be too hard on yourself, though—it's not entirely your fault. Women's bodies are designed to stubbornly hang on to fat, possibly to maintain their ability to reproduce. A study in the journalAppetitefound that for every pound of fat that women lost while dieting, their desire to eat increased about 2%. Exercise may trigger other defense mechanisms. When sedentary overweight women exercised for over an hour 4 days in a row, levels of appetite hormones changed in ways that are likely to stimulate eating (the opposite was found in men), according to a University of Massachusetts study. And these studies don't take into account psychological saboteurs, like rewarding yourself with dessert after a tough workout.
But here's the good news if you want to learn how to eat less: You're not destined to succumb to your body's stay-fat traps. While half of new exercisers in the UK study ate more, the rest showed no signs of feeling hungrier, ate 130 fewer calories a day, and lost more than 4 times as much weight during the 12-week study. The first step is to know what you're up against—working out doesn't entitle you to eat whatever you want. Next, you need a smart exercise plan that curbs your hunger, coupled with an eating plan that fuels your workouts—not your appetite—so you don't take in the calories you just burned off.
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When it comes to workouts that fight hunger, less may be better—at least in the beginning. In a Louisiana State University study, researchers discovered that overweight women who did an average of 60 minutes of easy exercise 3 times a week lost less weight than expected based on their calorie burn, probably because they ate more, says Tim Church, MD, PhD, director of the Laboratory of Preventive Medicine at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Those who did an average of 25 or 45 minutes of exercise 3 times a week dropped more weight, showing that they did not compensate for their workouts.
That's why our 6-week plan (below) starts with short, moderate-intensity workouts. Then you'll build up to longer, more vigorous routines to help keep pounds off over the long haul. You'll also practice yoga for weight loss which has been shown to diminish binge eating by 51%. Experts suspect that yoga may help by increasing body awareness, so you're more sensitive to feeling full and less likely to mindlessly stuff yourself.
This flowing yoga routine was developed by Laura Madden, a yoga instructor and fitness director of the Scottsdale Resort and Athletic Club in Arizona. Hold each pose for 3 to 5 breaths, unless otherwise directed.
1. Warrior II
Stand tall with feet together. Take a large step to right. Bend right knee into a lunge, right knee over ankle and toes pointing to right; point left foot forward. Extend arms out to sides.
2. Side Reach
From Warrior II, rest right forearm on thigh and reach left arm overhead, lengthening spine.
From Side Reach, place hands on floor, one on either side of right foot. Move right foot back next to left one. Hands should be directly beneath shoulders; body in a straight line from head to heels.
4. Downward-facing Dog
From Plank, reach hips upward, bending body into an upside-down V. Press heels toward floor.
From Downward-Facing Dog, bend knees and lower body to floor. With hands under shoulders, lift chest off floor. Keep shoulders down. Press palms, hips, and tops of feet into floor.
Repeat Moves 1 through 5:
From Cobra, press up onto knees, then feet. Roll up one vertebra at a time so head comes up last as you stand. Repeat series, lunging to left for Moves 1 and 2. Once you've completed all 5 moves, Finish with moves 6 and 7.
6. Tree Pose
Place left foot against right calf or inner thigh, not knee. Lift rib cage to elongate spine, and bring hands to prayer position. Hold, then repeat with opposite leg.
7. Goddess Pose
Lie with soles of feet together and as close to hips as comfortably possible, stretching inner thighs. If this is too intense, straighten legs. Breathe deeply in this pose for 2 to 5 minutes.
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