Exercise Doesn’t Work
Exercise doesn’t work. That’s right. I said it. Exercise doesn’t work. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Wait. What’s he saying? Isn’t he a personal trainer who can’t stop talking about strength training and how good it is for you and blah blah blah blah?” Well, yes I am but that doesn’t change the fact that exercise doesn’t work.
Well, maybe I should clarify what I’m trying to say just a little bit. Let me paint a picture: Someone wants to lose weight so they start to exercise. The scale doesn’t move. They exercise harder. It doesn’t move. The cycle continues and they exercise harder and even add a day, but the scale doesn’t move. What’s going on here?
It’s simple. Diet. I’m going to put this as simply as I can.
IF YOU DO NOT CHANGE YOUR DIET YOU WILL NOT LOSE WEIGHT.
I don’t care if you exercise like a house on fire, if you don’t change your diet you will not lose weight. There are a few different reasons for this so let’s go over some of them real quick.
1. You don’t burn all that many calories when you exercise. This is the truth. You know when you hear about people talk about burning 1000 calories during their cardio sessions? That’s not real.
2. When you exercise hard it makes you hungry. What do you do when you’re hungry? Eat! If you haven’t consciously addressed your diet you most likely eat somewhere around the calories you just burnt off, plus a few for good measure.
3. The body is nothing if not smart. It doesn’t want to change and will do lots of sneaky things to stay right where it is no matter how hard you want to change it. Along with making you hungrier it’ll also do things like subconsciously reduce your activity level so that your calorie expenditure matches your intake. Tricky!
OK. So if exercise doesn’t work and your body is working against any attempt to lose weight why even try? Well, don’t give up yet. You can do it but you have to be smart about it. Here are a few things to get you on the right path.
1. Log your food. I know that this scares people and I know it can be a bit of a pain, but how do you know what to change if you don’t know what you’re doing? Oh, by the way if you need to lose weight and you’re not logging your food you DO NOT know what you’re eating even if you think you are. Let me role-play for a second as someone who wants to lose weight after I ask them what they usually eat.
“Well, I usually eat pretty well. I have some oatmeal in the morning or sometimes a yogurt. Sometimes if I’m in a hurry I’ll have some fruit. For lunch I’ll have a sandwich, but sometimes I’ll go out to eat with the people from my office. For dinner it’s usually some meat and vegetables. Oh, sometimes at night I’ll have some snacks. Maybe some ice cream but not too often. Maybe two or three time a week. Oh, we also have a snack jar at work and sometimes I’ll grab a handful of M&Ms. Not all that often, though. On the weekends we’ll go out to eat, too.”
Based on what they’ve told me they could be eating anywhere from 1100 calories a day to 3000 and I haven’t even asked them how much water they drink. In other words they don’t know what they’re eating and if they don’t know how could they possibly know what to change? It’s like asking directions to the mall. The directions are going to be completely different if you’re starting in San Francisco as opposed to Dublin.
Study after study has shown that people who want to lose weight usually underestimate the calories they’re taking in. Accurately log your food and you won’t be just another statistic.
2. Be consistent. The more consistent you are with your diet the easier it will be to know what adjustments to make. Have a couple of proteins that you stick with, a couple of carbs, a couple of fats, etc. It might sound boring but you can mix and match plenty and with a little creativity with your veggies and spices you can do quite well. If you want all the variety and freedom you can have with your diet, that’s fine, just be happy with your weight right where it is.
3. Learn to be a little hungry. If you want to lose weight then at some point you’re going to have to get used to feeling a little hungry. Now, I’m talking a little hungry. I’m not talking about getting to the point where you’re feeling dizzy or you can’t function or concentrate.
Most of the time what we feel as physical hunger is most likely habit or emotional hunger. People eat for all sorts of reasons. Depression, boredom, habit. Sometimes we eat just because it’s there. When you get used to that slightly hungry feeling you’ll be able to tell the difference.
4. Understand that this may be a long-term thing. Depending on how much weight you want to lose, this may take a while. A good average is between 1-2 pounds a week. You might lose a little more at first but 1-2 pounds a week is what we’re shooting for in the long term. I know it doesn’t sound sexy but if you do some math you’ll realize that can be about 15 pounds in two months. If that doesn’t sound that great then tel me how much you’ve lost in the last two months doing it your way.
Besides, if you think you want more than this, then I’m here to tell you that you probably don’t. Remember what I said about the body never wanting to change? Well, if you lose too much at once the body is going to do everything it can to snap back. If you lose a little at a time, the body isn’t going to mind as much and it’s less likely to fight against you so hard.
By that same token you can’t do this forever, so taking a little break after 4-5 months if you have a lot of weight to lose can be a good thing in the long run.
OK. Let’s get back to what I said at the very beginning. Exercise doesn’t work. Obviously, I just wanted to get your attention a little and make a point but I’m not kidding that your diet is really the most important aspect of weight loss. Having said that, in reality exercise is a very important aspect of weight loss for many reasons. Let me run through a few of them quickly.
1. It tells your body to hold on to the muscle it already has.
2. It boosts your metabolism.
3. It sets you up to be able to maintain your weight loss.
4. It helps you mentally focus on what you need to do.
5. It feels good.
6. It helps elevate your mood.
I’ve written many times about the benefits of exercise but I really want you to understand how important your diet is as well.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments and have a great day!
Mitch Rothbardt, CPT, PN Lean Eating Coach, FMS
2861 Grove Way in Castro Valley
I Help People Discover Their Strength!