What’s the Truth About Exercise and Your Weight? How does fitness factor in? If you’ve been working out and eating fewer calories but your extra pounds won’t budge, you may be wondering why that seemingly simple strategy isn’t working.
The truth is you may need a reality check about what to expect from exercise and your weight.
1. Exercise is only part of the weight loss story.
There’s no getting around your tab of calories in and calories out. Obese or overweight individuals complain they’re not seeing the results they want from exercise. They will say, ‘I have been working out three days a week for 30 minutes for the past three months, and I have lost 2 pounds. There’s something wrong with my metabolism’.
Exercise is a very good start, but for weight loss, starting with a healthy diet is vital. First, you’ve got to get a handle on your diet. As you’re losing weight and feel better and get lighter on your feet, you’ll shift more and more toward being more physically active. Then living a physically active lifestyle for the rest of your life is going to be important for keeping your weight off.
Some experts have had success including physical activity early on. But they all stress that the amount of exercise is key.
However, it’s easier to cut 1,000 calories from a bloated diet than to burn off 1,000 calories through exercise. But there are many, many studies that show that exercise is associated with weight loss when done in enough volume and consistency. It depends how much you do.
Therefore, fitness is a crucial part of a weight loss program, but it’s for reasons that go beyond calorie burning. Its mind-body benefits, which will help with motivation over the long haul.
Start by walking as a way to celebrate your body with activity. By actually using your body, you can begin to integrate them back into your life and not use them as a source of torture or torment or shame.
2. Exercise is a must for weight maintenance.
I come back to this over and over and over. You can’t find very many people maintaining a healthy weight who aren’t regular exercisers. Individuals who focus on diet aren’t very successful in the long run without also focusing on physical activity.
Many people can be wildly successful temporarily at losing weight through diet alone. But there’s plenty of data that show that those people regain the weight if they aren’t physically active.
When it comes to weight, you can’t talk about diet alone, and you can’t talk about exercise alone. You absolutely have to address both issues at the same time.
3. Food splurges may undo your efforts.
Exercise may not buy you as much calorie wiggle room as you think. The average person overestimates the amount of activity they’re doing by about 30% and underestimates their food intake by about 30%. Sometimes things just don’t add up.
People think, ‘Oh, I just did 60 minutes at the gym’ or ‘I just did 30 minutes at the gym’ and think that counteracts a lot of what they’re eating. But the reality is our food portions are huge. Plus, you have to look at all the other calories you ate or drank that day and how sedentary you were apart from your workout.
How are you going to burn that stuff, let alone this extra little treat that you just thought you wanted?
It’s hard to accurately estimate how many calories you burn working out. If it is a hard workout, you kind of intuitively think, ‘Wow! That’s cool! I just put enough in the bank for two days!’ and you really haven’t.
4. Exercise machines may not tell the whole calorie story.
Treadmills and other exercise gear often have monitors that estimate how many calories you’re burning. The displays are close, but for each individual, they can vary quite a bit. Calorie displays on exercise equipment should be used for motivation but not as a guideline to how much you can eat.
It doesn’t matter if the display says 300 or 400 calories. If you do that every day or increase from that level, then you’ve achieved your purpose. But I wouldn’t recommend feeding yourself against that. Those machines don’t account for the calories you would have burned anyway without exercising.
It isn’t 220 calories for those 40 minutes of exercise versus zero. If you were sitting at work or playing with your kids, you’re probably burning 70 calories during that period of time. You have to subtract what you would burn if you didn’t exercise. So the overall calorie burn becomes much less.
5. Exercise and your Weight
One daily workout may not be enough. Your best bet for your weight — and for your overall health — is to lead a physically active lifestyle that goes above and beyond a brief bout of exercise. It’s not just about 30 minutes of exercise. It’s about fighting the sedentary environment.
The message isn’t that the 30 minutes on the treadmill isn’t good. It’s that the 30 minutes on the treadmill isn’t going to make up for 23-and-a-half sedentary hours. I encourage you to weave activity throughout their day. Do something to move and make it fun.
Start by setting realistic expectations and taking “small steps all the time” toward your weight goal.
Final Thoughts on What’s the Truth about Exercise and Your Weight
As much as calories-in vs calories-out matters, don’t forget about stress, sleep, and other factors that can affect your weight. We need to look at our total lifestyle, not just whether we hit the gym. Weight and obesity are really multifactorial, and it really simplifies it just to break it down to nutrition and exercise. Those are really big pieces but definitely not the only pieces.
I hope you found this article helpful and inspiring. If you have anything that you’d like to share or any opinions on any of the content on my site, please do speak up. I look forward to your comments, questions and the sharing of ideas.
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