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The scrawny girl’s guide to working out without losing weight

Exercising is important for a bajillion different reasons, but everywhere I turn it’s “burn fat” this and “calorie” that. For a scrawny girl such as myself, if I were to participate in any of today’s workout crazes, I’d look like that stick-thin rendition of Minnie Mouse that had everyone’s panties in a bunch last year. These workout tips are for fellow skinny minnies who want to stay fit and keep those pounds where they belong.

Confession: I’m almost 30 and have the innards of an 80-year-old. My dismal attitude toward exercise started early, in public school gym class — I’d take so long to run laps around the school I’d miss the entire class. The only athletic ability I had was in my mind, and don’t even get me started on any sport that ends in “ball.” Then there was the high school wrestling incident of 1999, where not only was there no one in my weight class, I didn’t have a weight class. Flash-forward to my early 20s, when mentioning my need for exercise spawned enough anorexic jokes for a full-blown comedy tour, and you can understand my groans when I have to take the stairs.

Here’s the thing, people: Skinny girls need to work out too! Just because we’re thin doesn’t mean we’re healthy. The automatic assumption that I wanted to exercise to lose weight made me so self-conscious about exercising I turned into the unhealthiest health writer known to women. (Seriously, I looked like a “before” picture.) Luckily, working out without losing weight isn’t as complicated as I once assumed. Listen carefully, grasshoppers — here’s what you need to know:


Learn what calories are and what to do with them

Most of us think we don’t need to keep track of our calorie intake — I didn’t even know what they were until I was 25 (I wish I were joking). To avoid losing weight while exercising you have to replace the calories you burn by eating nutritious food. Be extra-conscious of how many calories you eat versus how many you burn in a workout to make sure you’re replacing them. Take into account the type of workout you want to do, and make a meal plan that will compensate for the burned calories. For example, if you decide to go walking for 30 minutes or more, you’ll need to add about 500 calories more a day to your diet.


Make changes to your diet

Focus on eating more high-protein foods including:

  • Meats, such as chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, lean ground beef, steak and ham.
  • Fish, such as salmon, tuna, cod, crab and shrimp.
  • Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
  • Dairy, such as milk, yogurt and cheese; eggs are also a great source of protein.

As you start exercising regularly, you’ll need more protein to tone your muscles and make up for the calories burned. The general rule of thumb is 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.


No type of workout is off-limits, but…

You might assume you should steer clear of cardio because of how much fat it burns, but such is not the case. Cardio’s very important for heart health. The key is the length of your session: Don’t do a full-fledged cardio workout. If your friends are doing a one-hour workout, yours should be 30 minutes since you’re not looking to burn fat. Marianna Biribin, trainer at Exceed Physical Culture NYC suggests scrawny women incorporate weight training into their cardio workout to develop lean muscle mass.

“Don’t be afraid of heavy weights, as they can aid in your quest to build muscular endurance, not bulk,” says Biribin. “As a bonus, this kind of weight training will strengthen bones, a frequent problem among women who tend to the thin side.”

After all, you like your body the way it is. You just want to be able to go for a walk without stopping to sit on every park bench along the way.

More exercise tips

Resistance-band workouts that tone
The ballet body workout
Yoga poses to tone your arms

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