Dear Hayley,

I'm 27 and for a long time, I was a yo-yo dieter. I struggled with binge eating, and would also go through long stretches where I'd become obsessed with eating healthy and exercising and would lose 25 pounds. And then gain it all back a few months later.

A year and a half ago I lost 15 pounds and 2 dress sizes by lifting and eating healthy. And I've miraculously managed to maintain my weight for a full 18 months, something I've never done before, even though I basically stopped exercising completely, other than a 2 miles walk home 3x per week, when I started a busy new job a year ago. I honestly don't know how I've managed to maintain my weight, but it happened, and is still happening.

I'd like to start exercising again and lose another 10 pounds, now that I know I can maintain it.  But my mindset re: exercise is broken. I'm overwhelmed with the idea of exercising again.  I've only ever exercised 5-6x per week, 1-2 hours per day, or not at all. That's not possible with my current job, so it feels like anything less than that isn't worth it. And part of me is saying "you're 15 pounds lighter than you've ever been, so why bother exercising? You're fine." I recognize that these are not great thoughts, but they're really loud right now.

Do you have any advice? Both on the motivation, and on what the most efficient types of exercise to dedicate your time to if you have 1 hour, 3x per week to exercise? I want to feel like if I'm giving up an hour of my rare sleep / downtime that I'm making the most of it.


I completely understand what you are going through. I have battled with my own body image since I was a young girl, something that I have shared with you many times and it was in university when I decided that I would start to exercise my body to accomplish something, rather than to become skinny. I wanted to view my body as a tool, rather than as something that could fit into a smaller size. But even though I had a healthier attitude for exercise, it did not fix what was happening inside my head.

I remember a moment vividly: I was sitting in the Human Kinetics lounge at UBC with my best friend. It was fourth year and I had a lot on my plate. I was trying to graduate, maintain my marks, work a part time job to pay rent and I was training for a triathlon. It was that moment that I realized I was not training for a triathlon because I wanted to cross the finish line, I was training for the triathlon because I thought it would make me skinny and it would give me the excuse to make exercise my priority. I remembered breaking down into tears and confessing everything to my best friend and telling her that I could not do it anymore. 

But it didn’t stop there and soon I found myself training for an Ironman. It was not until I crossed my second Ironman finish line that I realized my attitude towards exercise needed a serious overhaul. I would find myself with 2 free hours and want to go for a workout, but in my head two hours of exercise was not enough. If I was going to go for a road bike ride, it had to be at least 100km or why bother. This attitude took years to change and required a lot of work. 

Just like you have created a healthy attitude with food, you need to create a healthy attitude with exercise. You need to look at your busy schedule now and realize that you no longer live a life that allows you to work out two hours a day, six days a week. Our lives are changing constantly, and as they do, we need to be rebalancing where we spend our precious time. Time becomes more valuable as we fill our lives with more responsibilities and we need to respect that. Instead of getting upset at only being able to find 30 minutes to get in a workout, be grateful that you managed to make 30 minutes to exercise!

What do you do when you only have 30 or 60 minutes to work out and you want to make the most of it?  You need to work hard. Tabata workouts and HIIT workouts are going to be your new best friends. You are going to learn to get your heart rate up high and hold it there for the entire workout, with just a few breaks. 

Pick five of your favourite exercises and get them all set up, making sure the exercises target a different part of your body. Set a timer that will time your work and your rest (start with 45 seconds work and 15 seconds rest) and go through all 5 exercises. Once you have finished, spend 3 to 5 minutes doing burpees, jumping jacks, box jumps, side shuffles, rowing, or spinning and then do the five exercises again, or pick 5 new ones.

If you want to burn maximum calories and get yourself sweatier than you have ever been, get on a spin bike. Spinning studios are popping up everywhere right now, most of which offer intense 45 minute classes with incredible energy. You are guaranteed to burn 400 plus calories and walk out of the class feeling on top of the world. Any good studio, such as SweatCo where I work, will offer your first class free, and the classes are offered at all times of the day, so whether it’s before work, at lunch or on your way home you can get in your workout.

If you train smart, there is no reason to need to work out longer than an hour, unless what you are training for (like a marathon) requires you to do more. If you spend longer than that at a gym you are simply wasting your time.